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Cubs historical sleuthing: Special 1970s edition

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Everyone wants to play this game! Read on to find out what I mean by that.

Last week, I put out a call for old Cubs/Wrigley photos that I could sleuth. I heard from several people and I promise I’ll post everything I receive.

Today I wanted to share the photo above with you. It came from an unexpected source — Bruce Miles, who retired as the Daily Herald’s Cubs beat writer at the end of the 2019 season. Bruce told me he found this old UPI photo, which he used for a story about Ron Santo in 2003, while going through things at his house.

He didn’t tell me the date of the photo, so I exchanged a few emails with him guessing.

Santo, obviously, is the third baseman. There were two catchers in Santo’s time who wore No. 43. One was John Hairston, brother of Jerry and nephew of Jerry Jr. and Scott, but John caught only three games at the end of the 1969 season and it couldn’t have been any of those.

The other was Chris Cannizzaro, who caught 71 games for the Cubs in 1971.

This one wasn’t easy because it was very difficult to see the number on the back of the opposing player, clearly caught in a rundown between third and home. At first, I thought it looked like the numbering style of the early-1970s Phillies. The only number clearly visible on the player’s uniform is “2.” I thought it might be a number in the 20s and found a game that I thought matched the action. Bruce said it wasn’t a game against the Phillies and gave me one clue, though not a direct one. He said the umpire was “very prominent in his day, of Italian descent.”

That helped break this one open. There was only one N.L. umpire in that era who matched that description, Augie Donatelli.

Now, you might think it would be tedious to go through every game Cannizzaro caught at Wrigley to find games where Donatelli was the third-base umpire, but thanks to Retrosheet, I didn’t have to do that. Retrosheet has every umpire’s complete game log, so all I had to do was look through Donatelli’s game log for 1971 and find games in which he umpired third base at Wrigley and Cannizzaro was catching.

That narrowed things down quickly. It turned out that the number on the visiting player’s back wasn’t a number in the 20s, it was, in fact, just plain “2” in the style of the Montreal Expos and belonged to John Bateman, a catcher for Montreal from 1969-72. The game had to have a fairly small crowd, from the number of empty seats visible in the photo.

This play happened Monday, August 30, 1971, in front of 13,651 at Wrigley Field. In the top of the third inning, Bateman had singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice and held at third on a double. Without video available, I’d have to assume the double was one of those outfield hits where the runner has to hold to see if the ball would be caught.

On the next play, Bateman was caught in a rundown between third and home. Santo eventually tagged him out on the play. It’s not clear from the play-by-play what the hitter did, but it appears it could have been an attempted squeeze bunt.

The Cubs lost the game 6-2. The Expos blew it open with a pair of home runs, one in the sixth, another in the eighth. Notable: Glenn Beckert hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth for the Cubs’ only runs. It’s notable because Beckert had almost no power. He had a lifetime .345 slugging percentage and hit just 22 home runs in 5,572 career plate appearances. 1971 was his best offensive season. He hit .342/.367/.406, finishing second in BA to Joe Torre and got some downballot MVP votes, finishing 11th. Torre won the MVP.

Thanks to Bruce for sending this photo! Again, if you have any old Cubs/Wrigley photos you’d like me to sleuth, email them to me (use the email listed on my profile on the masthead).