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Cubs historical sleuthing: The kid who coulda been someone edition

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This player never really got a chance with the Cubs.

Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Here’s another photo from Cubs spring training in 1966. As you can imagine, the story of Leo Durocher returning to managing with the Cubs that year was a big deal, and so there are a large number of photos in Getty Images’ archive of that spring training, held in Long Beach, California. I told you the story of that spring season here yesterday.

No. 25 is obviously a tall dude. It was fairly easy to find out who he was.

That’s Don Bryant, a catcher who was originally signed by the Tigers out of high school in 1959. He never made it to the big leagues with Detroit, who sold him to the Cubs December 9, 1965. Bryant, a Florida native, is no relation to Kris Bryant, incidentally.

Bryant didn’t hit all that well in Detroit’s system, likely why they were willing to give up on him at age 24.

Bryant’s bigger problem in making the Cubs was that one week before he was acquired from the Tigers, the Cubs had traded for Randy Hundley, and Durocher was determined to make Hundley their starting catcher. Bryant was assigned to Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit pretty well — .313/.380/.489 (71-for-227) with six home runs in 80 games. Called up in mid-July to a team that was 31 games under .500 and 25 games out of first place, Bryant might have thought he’d get some playing time.

Wrong, per his SABR biography:

After he was called up, manager Leo Durocher told him that Randy Hundley was going to break the record for games caught by a rookie. Bryant appeared in only 13 games for the Cubs, hitting .308 in 26 at-bats.

We all know what Durocher did to Hundley by having him catch over 600 games in four seasons from 1966-69. Hundley blew his knee out in 1970 and was never quite the same after that.

Bryant, meanwhile, was traded to the Giants in April 1967 for Dick Bertell, who had been the Cubs’ mostly-regular catcher from 1961-64. Bertell played in just two games for the ‘67 Cubs before being released. Bryant could have done better than that, certainly.

Bryant eventually got to the Astros, for whom he played 46 games in 1969 and 1970, and later he became a bullpen coach for the Red Sox and Mariners.

Would Bryant have been a useful backup to Hundley in the late 1960s and early 1970s if the Cubs had kept him? We’ll never know, of course, but Bryant was certainly no worse than some of the motley fellows the Cubs used behind the plate to back up Hundley in those years. Durocher was trying anything and everything in 1966 to see what he had; the Cubs set a franchise record that year by using 53 players, a record that stood until 2013.

Don Bryant never got another big-league coaching job after his mentor, Darrell Johnson, was fired in 1980 in Seattle. He went back to his hometown in Florida to run a barber shop and passed away in 2015, aged 73.