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Cubs historical sleuthing: Bump Wills edition

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Let’s remember a guy!

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Getty Images tells us (one typo fixed):

Bump Wills #1 of the Chicago Cubs bats against the Cincinnati Reds during a Major League baseball game circa 1982 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Wills played for the Cubs in 1982.

Right away that’s wrong, because it’s clear in the photo that it’s No. 17, not No. 1, being worn by Wills.

The info is correct that Wills “played for the Cubs in 1982.” That was his only year as a Cub, so this photo has to be from that year.

The Cubs played six games against the Reds at Wrigley Field in 1982. Wills played in five of them. Two of them were in April with very small crowds (3,743 and 5,335) and with game time temperatures in the 40s, so I think we can eliminate those right away.

Then there was a four-game series July 9-11, with a doubleheader July 10 (a scheduled doubleheader, at that, one of the last ever at Wrigley). Wills didn’t play in the July 9 game and did play in the three others.

The boxscores for Game 1 and Game 2 of the July 10 doubleheader indicate it was overcast that day. Clearly, it’s sunny in the photo, so this photo has to be from July 11.

Now things get a bit tricky. Game 2 of the Saturday doubleheader was suspended after nine innings and completed beginning at 12:05 p.m. July 11. It wound up going 13 innings with the Cubs losing 6-5. Wills’ only appearance in that game was as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, before it was suspended, so the photo couldn’t have been taken in the resumption of the suspended game July 11.

In the regular game of July 11, Wills led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to right field, which would match what we’re seeing here. Attendance that day was 20,307.

So that’s my thought: Bump Wills hitting a single against the Reds, Sunday, July 11, 1982. The pitcher was Tom Seaver, and the Cubs roughed him up pretty good. He allowed seven hits and four runs and didn’t finish the third inning. The Cubs won the game 9-2. Wills went 3-for-3 and scored three of the nine runs.

Wills, the son of Dodgers star Maury Wills, was the Texas Rangers’ first-round pick (sixth overall) in the January phase of the 1975 draft out of Arizona State (there was a January phase for players drafted and unsigned in the previous June draft at the time). He made his debut with the Rangers in 1977, finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and was their regular second baseman through 1981, averaging about 3 bWAR per season.

In March 1982 the Cubs acquired him for Paul Mirabella and a PTBNL, who turned out to be a minor leaguer named Paul Semall. If you’re wondering why you don’t remember Mirabella as a Cub, it’s because they had acquired him from the Blue Jays the previous December for Dave Geisel, another one of the Cubs prospects under the Wrigley regime who never did anything. Mirabella pitched nine more MLB seasons after that deal, mostly with the Mariners and Brewers.

As for Wills, he had a decent season for the Cubs in 1982, batting .272/.347/.377 with six home runs and 35 stolen bases in 128 games. His defense was pretty bad, though, and that reduced his bWAR to 0.9, not that anyone knew what WAR was in 1982. Wills became a free agent after that season and the Cubs had announced their intention to move Ryne Sandberg from third base to second in 1983. In January 1983 they signed Ron Cey to play third base, so Wills was odd-man-out. He played two years in Japan for the Hankyu Braves, batting .259/.348/.406 with 16 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 203 games, then retired from baseball. Here’s his career MLB record.

Per Wills’ SABR biography, he later managed and coached in the Rangers farm system. He currently lives in Garland, Texas, where he helps coach high school baseball. He’ll turn 70 in July.