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Cubs historical sleuthing: Roberto Clemente edition

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Here’s a photo of the late Pirates Hall of Famer at Wrigley.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Once again, there’s a clue to this photo via the Getty Images supplied caption, but not much of a clue:

Outfielder Roberto Clemente #21 of Pittsburgh Pirates racing to first base against the Chicago Cubs during a MLB baseball game circa early 1970’s at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Clemente played for the Pirates from 1955-72.

Circa early 1970s... well, that narrows it down, at least.

The first clue is the Pirates uniform. The Bucs were the first MLB team to switch from wool button-downs to polyester pullovers with the no-belt look. They did so in 1971. Thus this photo has to be from either 1971 or 1972, because Clemente died, tragically, in a plane crash after the 1972 season.

Clemente played 15 games in Wrigley Field in those two years. However, all nine games he played there in 1971 had the Cubs first baseman as either Joe Pepitone or Pat Bourque. The first baseman pictured is definitely Jim Hickman, who was the Cubs’ more-or-less regular first baseman in 1972.

All right, it’s ‘72. Which of the six games?

We are looking at what appears to be an out at first base. The first-base umpire is looking intently at the play and Hickman’s mitt appears to be closed, with a ball inside, while Clemente has just crossed first base. Given where Hickman is facing, this looks like a ground ball to the left side of the infield.

There are two plays in those six games that match that possibility, both ground balls to shortstop. One was in the game June 24, 1972, the other the following day.

Now we have to look at other factors. First, the weather conditions. It is obviously a bright, sunny day. The weather conditions listed in the June 24 boxscore say it was cloudy. On June 25, the weather’s listed as 64 degrees and sunny. The somewhat coolish temperature for late June would explain the players wearing long-sleeve undershirts.

There’s also the matter of the crowd. The few fans you can see in the bleachers imply a larger crowd. 27,543 attended the June 24 game; 35,099 were in Wrigley June 25. Here’s a larger version of the photo where you can see a sliver of what appear to be crowded bleachers:

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Thus I feel confident in saying what you’re looking at here is Clemente grounding out to shortstop in the top of the first inning, Sunday, June 25, 1972.

The Cubs went into the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead and then the Pirates exploded for back-to-back four-run innings off Cubs relievers and won the game 9-2. Sadly, that wasn’t an uncommon result in the later years of that Cubs era.