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Cubs historical sleuthing: Roberto Clemente edition

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Two Hall of Famers battle each other in this classic photo.

Wednesday was Roberto Clemente Day across baseball, and MLB will now honor the memory and legacy of the great Pirates Hall of Famer every September 15, a worthy tribute.

Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins tweeted this photo of Clemente batting against him:

That’s a great vintage Wrigley Field photo of two future Hall of Famers playing against each other.

Well, you know I like sleuthing dates of photos, and this one actually was easier than you might think, even given how long those two played against each other (every year from 1966-72).

The year is easy. The only year the Cubs wore those beltless uniforms when Clemente was a visiting player was 1972 — Clemente’s final year before he died in that tragic plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico, trying to bring aid to Nicaragua.

There were only two games Fergie started in Wrigley Field against the Pirates in 1972. We can eliminate the game of September 13, because on that date Randy Hundley (shown catching in the photo) didn’t enter the game until the eighth inning, and Clemente didn’t bat after that.

So it has to be the game of Friday, June 23, 1972. But when? Clemente went 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBI.

The only at-bat in that game that matches what we see here happened in the top of the fourth inning. The Pirates had runners on second and third with nobody out, and Clemente tripled in two runs.

How am I certain? Look carefully at the photo near Clemente’s legs. You’ll see a runner leading off second base. That’s Vic Davalillo, who had doubled. It was the only plate appearance Clemente made that day with a runner on base.

The other things we see here match the game conditions: Cloudy, 57 degrees (yikes, pretty chilly for late June) and Doug Harvey (No. 10) as the plate umpire.

The Cubs lost the game 4-2. They had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth when Pirates manager Bill Virdon called on Cub-killer Dave Giusti to face Ron Santo. He got Santo to ground into a double play to end the game. Seriously, Giusti absolutely dominated the Cubs his whole career — a 2.97 ERA and 15 saves in 73 games and 251⅔ innings against them, the most he pitched against anybody. The Cubs picked up Giusti five years later, mid-1977, to try to capture that magic, but he was pretty much done at age 37 (6.04 ERA and one save in two opportunities in 20 Cubs appearances).

As far as Jenkins vs. Clemente all-time, the Pirates star hit .274/.304/.526 (26-for-95) against Fergie with six home runs.

Anyway, this photo is just another little slice of Cubs history that was fun to sleuth. Thanks to BCBer The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street for calling my attention to the photo: