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Cubs historical sleuthing: Exactly when was this photo of Lou Brock taken?

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This is a fascinating snapshot in time.

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Last week when Lou Brock passed away, BCB’s Sara Sanchez wrote this article about the Brock trade to the Cardinals, which I commend to you to read if you haven’t.

I mention this article again today not just for that, but for the photo she chose, which you can see at the top of this post. It interested me for historical reasons — when was it taken and who are the other players visible?

Here’s a larger version of the photo:

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

The ballpark is obviously New York’s Polo Grounds. That dates it to 1962 or 1963, the only years Brock could have played there. Had we not known that, there’s another clue to the year in the photo. See the Cubs patch on the right sleeve? Brock was lefthanded. In 1962 and 1963, Cubs players wore the patch on the opposite sleeve to their throwing hand. Why? The answer is lost to the mists of time, but in 1964 the patch was shifted to the left sleeve for all players.

Players often got their photos taken by the Topps Company for baseball card purposes on visits to New York, where the company was headquartered. All MLB players came to New York, since it had and has teams in both leagues, so that made it easy for photographers to grab shots of them. I am not certain whether this photo was taken for that purpose, but that’s not what I’m interested in anyway. Instead, it’s the date and the other players.

Brock was a rookie in 1962. Thus it would have made sense for photographers to want to photograph him on his first trip to New York. That would have been May 15-16, 1962. May 15 was a night game, and as you can see from the background, this photo was definitely taken before a day game.

To confirm that May 16, 1962 was the date, I asked Mike Bojanowski to help me figure out the matchups on the scoreboard shown in the background. Between the two of us, we got it:

NL: HOU/LA, CIN/PHI, MIL/PIT, STL/SF
AL: LA/BAL, NY/BOS, WASH/CHI, KC/CLE, MIN/DET

The only date that matches all those games is, in fact, May 16, 1962. The next question: Who are the three players with visible uniform numbers in the background?

It turns out that all three of the uniform numbers visible were worn by multiple players in 1962. So, I had to go to each player’s game logs.

No. 19 is Daryl Robertson. He played in only nine games as a Cub (in fact, those were his only nine MLB games), from May 4-19.

No. 23 is Bobby Smith. He played in 13 games for the Cubs that year from April 27-June 1 (after being acquired from the Mets!), then was traded to the Cardinals — with Robertson! — for Alex Grammas and Don Landrum.

No. 38 is Jim Brewer, who spent quite a bit of time in the minors in 1962 (for a Cleveland affiliate, not quite sure how that happened). He spent only two short stints with the Cubs that year, pitching in games from May 4-15 (clearly, he must have still been on the roster on the 16th) and September 10-23. Brewer was later traded to the Dodgers for no one you’ve ever heard of and became a solid reliever for them for a decade, posting 126 saves and pitching for them in three World Series (1965, 1966, 1974).

So here you have an amazing confluence of three short-time Cubs and one Hall of Famer, captured forever by a photographer.

Robertson is the only one of those three who played in that game on May 16, 1962. He went 0-for-3. The game was attended by 3,273 and the Cubs lost 6-5 in 11 innings.

Brewer died, far too young, in a car accident in 1987, aged 50.