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Cubs historical sleuthing: Ernie Banks edition

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Here’s another one where the information given was wrong.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

You recognize, of course, Ernie Banks. He played first base for the Cubs from 1962-71, after nearly a decade at shortstop, 1,259 games at first in all.

The information that accompanies this Getty Images photo says:

Ernie Banks #14 of the Chicago Cubs sets to take the throw over at first base as Bob Johnson #6 of the Cincinnati Reds attempts to get back safe during an Major League Baseball game circa 1971 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois

Well... okay. There were two players named Bob Johnson who played in the National League in that era. One of them was a pitcher who was with the Mets, Royals, Pirates, Indians and Braves from 1969-77. He never wore No. 6, but I looked at his 1971 game logs anyway (in 1969, he had no plate appearances and in 1970 he was with the Royals). He never reached base in two games at Wrigley Field, and besides, he was a Pirate then, and this photo clearly shows a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

The other Bob Johnson did indeed play for the Reds and wore No. 6... but only for 16 games in 1968, zero of which were at Wrigley Field.

That led me to an obvious conclusion — that’s not Bob Johnson.

It’s got to be Woody Woodward, who wore No. 6 for the Reds from later in 1968 through 1971, which would be during Banks’ last few years with the Cubs.

I thought this would involve looking through a lot of games, but in fact, it’s not that many. There were only 14 games where Woodward played at Wrigley in those four seasons. Banks didn’t play in five of those games, reducing the number to nine. Woodward was on base by hit or walk 13 times in those nine games, so that makes it guesswork.

Except for this: Three of the games were in late August 1971. Banks was nearing the end of his career; he played only 39 games that year, just 20 at first base (19 starts). It got to the point where photographers would have been present just to document some of the last games of his Hall of Fame career. The Cubs were also in playoff contention at the time; they entered the series 4½ games behind the first-place Pirates.

So I zeroed in onthat three-game series, played August 23, 24 and 25, 1971. And then... reached a dead end, because Woodward walked twice in the first of those and had three hits in the second and third games of the series. It’s pretty much impossible to tell you which of those 11 times on base that would have been, but I will say it has to be from that series. Near-capacity crowds attended those games, all on weekday afternoon. The Cubs won the first game of that set, but then went on a 4-14 run that pretty much ended their chances at winning the NL East.

Banks hit his 512th and final home run August 24, 1971; unfortunately, the Cubs lost the game 5-4. He did play seven more games after that series ended, including starting all three of the final Cubs home games that year, September 24, 25 and 26 against the Phillies, in front of much smaller crowds, and then didn’t accompany the team on a season-ending road trip to Montreal. Banks’ last big-league at-bat was a pop fly to third base in the eighth inning, Sunday, September 26, 1971.