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Cubs historical sleuthing: Joe Pepitone edition

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The first baseman hit well for the Cubs... for a while.

Bettmann / Contributor

Getty Images provided this information about this photo:

Chicago Cubs’ Joe Pepitone is show [sic] here as he bats against the New York Mets.

Pepitone was acquired on waivers by the Cubs (from the Astros) in July 1970, . Pepitone hit well for the Cubs in 1970 and 1971, then he got into a contract dispute and “retired” in 1972, only to come back at the end of May. Leo Durocher had supported Pepitone, a colorful guy (as Durocher had fancied himself during his playing days), but after Durocher was fired, Whitey Lockman wasn’t as big a Pepitone booster and Joe’s performance suffered. Eventually they traded him to the Braves for Andre Thornton in May 1973.

Back to the photo: At first, you’d think there aren’t many clues. You can’t see the catcher’s number and there are no other Cubs visible.

Ah, but there is one key clue: The uniform style that Pepitone is wearing. That style of Cubs uniform began in 1973, so this photo has to be from that year.

Pepitone played in all four games of a Cubs/Mets series in New York, April 17-19, 1973 (the 19th was a doubleheader). But which one?

The next clue is the plate umpire’s number — 8. Per the 1973 Cubs scorecard, No. 8 was worn by Bob Engel that year. Engel was the plate umpire for the Cubs/Mets game Wednesday, April 18, 1973 at Shea Stadium. Pepitone went 0-for-3 with a walk that afternoon. The outs were a popup to second, a called strikeout and a fly to left.

At first glance it looks like Pepitone has hit the ball here, but look again — the ball is in the Mets catcher’s mitt.

So is this the called K or the walk?

This one... it’s really hard to tell. The batters’ box lines are not visible here, hinting that we are in the late innings. The Mets used two catchers that day. Duffy Dyer started and Jerry Grote entered in the eighth. That’s no help. I looked at photos of those two from that era and they have a similar look. Could be either. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that’s ball four from the walk Pepitone drew in the eighth. It loaded the bases with two out, but Randy Hundley flied to center to end the inning, and the Cubs eventually lost the game 1-0.

Pepitone was traded a month later, and he lasted only a month in Atlanta before he was released. He went to play in Japan and lasted only 14 games before he asked for his release from the Yakult Atoms. He never played in the majors again, though he did play 13 games for the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Hawaii in 1976 before retiring for good.

That trade of Pepitone for Thornton was a good one. It would have been even better if the Cubs had kept him instead of trading him for a broken-down Steve Renko (and Larry Biittner) in May 1976.