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Cubs historical sleuthing: Ron Santo and Roberto Clemente edition

When did this play involving two future Hall of Famers happen?

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Getty Images supplied the following information with this photo (again, I fixed a couple of typos):

Outfielder Roberto Clemente #21 of the Pittsburgh Pirates dives back into first base safe against the Chicago Cubs during a Major League Baseball game circa 1970 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Clemente played for the Pirates from 1955-72.

Right away, I’m sure you can tell me what’s wrong with that information. It’s clearly not first base, because that’s Ron Santo (No. 10) in the photo. So this play has to be at third base, not first base, as the number of career games played at first base by Santo as a Cub was zero. (Santo did play first base three times in 1974 with the White Sox.)

What else do we know right away from this photo? It has to be from 1972, because Santo is wearing the beltless pants that the Cubs began wearing that year, and as we all know, Clemente died tragically in a plane crash while on his way to bring aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua on December 31, 1972.

Clemente played in six games at Wrigley Field in 1972. (Ordinarily, there would have been nine Cubs/Pirates games at Wrigley that year, but three of them scheduled for early April were cancelled due to the player strike.)

Three of the six games that were played were in September. None of those three had a crowd of more than 5,000, and clearly we are looking at a crowd larger than that. Further, fans are clearly dressed for summer in the photo.

So we’ve now narrowed this down to June 23, June 24 and June 25.

There are several plays in those three games that could qualify here — Clemente hit a triple on June 23, but he also went to third base on various hits several times in the other games, which could have resulted in a play at third base.

There’s one other clue in this photo:

Who is that umpire next to Santo emphatically calling Clemente safe?

The third base umpires in that series were Stan Landes (6/23), Doug Harvey (6/24) and Bob Engel (6/25).

It’s definitely not Doug Harvey, who is a Hall of Fame umpire and well known, even in that era, for having white hair. So I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski to see if he could figure out whether it was Landes or Engel. We went back and forth by email a number of times and eventually he created this comparison:

As you can see, the umpire in the Santo/Clemente photo is definitely Landes. So the photo of Clemente diving into third base has to be the day he hit the triple in the top of the fourth inning, Friday, June 23, 1972. The Tribune recap of that game indicated that it was quite windy and Clemente’s ball eluded center fielder Rick Monday long enough for Clemente to try for third base. One out later Clemente scored on a single by Al Oliver and the Pirates won the game 3-0.

The Cubs were 3-12 against the Pirates that year, yet another in a string of awful years the Cubs had against the Bucs in the 1970s. From 1970-79, an era in which the Pirates won six NL East titles and two World Series, the Cubs were 66-111 (.373) against them, by far the Cubs’ worst record against any team in that decade. (Next worst: .433 against the Dodgers.)

Anyway, overall in 1972:

Pirates vs. all teams except the Cubs: 84-56
Cubs vs. all teams except the Pirates: 82-58

If not for the Pirates, the Cubs could have come close to a division title that year.

As for umpire Stan Landes, 1972 was his final season as an umpire. His Wikipedia page says:

Landes said that he still had not received a specific explanation for his firing. The day that his termination letter was written, Stan had been outspoken about the mistreatment of umpires at a professional organization meeting. He also speculated that his personal problems may have been contributing factors. Landes had weight problems, was married three times (divorced twice), and passed bad checks owing to a lack of communication from his second wife.

Landes died in 1994, age 70.