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Cubs historical sleuthing: Ernie Banks edition

Here’s Ernie in his final spring training as a player.

Once again, a photo found on Twitter is fair game for sleuthing. Here’s the tweet:

And, here is the full photo:

Those “mountains” are the Papago Rocks, located in Papago Park in Phoenix. They’re visible from Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which is currently the home of Arizona State University baseball.

But for many years before that, “Phoenix Muni” (as it’s known locally) was the spring home of the San Francisco Giants.

No. 2, catching, is Dick Dietz. Dietz was the Giants’ regular catcher in 1970, when he had an All-Star season, batting .300/.426/.515 with 22 home runs. He wasn’t quite as good in 1971, hitting .252/.387/.419 with 19 home runs. That was still good for 3.8 bWAR, a very good year for a catcher.

Why, then, was Dietz suddenly dumped to the Dodgers on waivers during spring training in 1972?

Here’s why, per this Fangraphs article by Bruce Markusen:

On the heels of a respectable 1971 season, Dietz was surprisingly sold on waivers to the rival Dodgers during the spring of 1972. The reason? As the Giants’ player representative during the strike of ’72, Dietz had drawn the wrath of San Francisco management. The Giants decided to punish Dietz by selling him to another team, but they mostly punished themselves by receiving nothing of consequence for a highly competent major league catcher.

Dietz was basically blackballed by baseball for union activity. He barely played for the Dodgers in 1972, then was sold to the Braves the following spring. He played part-time for them that year and hit pretty well (.295/.474/.432 in 89 games), then was done at age 31 — he never played pro baseball again. Markusen’s article is worth reading, it sums up some of the worst from the owners toward the players in that era, including teams dumping nine of the 24 player reps in 1972 by the end of that season.

Anyway, back to Banks: He barely played in spring training 1971, his final big-league season. Tribune articles note that he started only two of the Cubs’ first 18 spring games. He was nursing hip injuries that would limit him to just 39 games and 92 PA that year; he played just 20 games at first base.

Looking at the shadows in this photo, it would appear that we’re looking at the early innings of a game. Phoenix Muni faces northeast, like Wrigley Field. The shadows are pointing straight to center field, as they would in the early innings of a 1 p.m. local time game.

The only game that matches all this happened on Monday, March 29, 1971. Banks started at first base and batted seventh. He went 1-for-2, a single. The game recap doesn’t indicate when the single happened, and there are no other clues to which at-bat this was, though I’d think it was probably the first one. The Cubs won the game 5-1.

Banks hit just three home runs in 1971, his final big-league season. Here’s the last of his 512 career homers, hit August 24, 1971 off Jim McGlothlin of the Reds at Wrigley Field: