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Cubs historical sleuthing: A man called ‘Bubbles’

He was a pretty good player... after he left the Cubs.

Bain News Service

The young catcher in the photo above is Eugene “Bubbles” Hargrave. We know this from the inscription on the full photo, which I’ve cropped above. Here it is:

Bain News Service

Hargrave played in 41 games for the Cubs as a backup catcher in 1913, 1914 and 1915. We know this photo is from 1914 because that’s the only year of those three where the Cubs wore that particular style of cap.

After 1915, the Cubs sold his contract back to the minor leagues — remember, this was an era far before farm systems, minor league teams were independent and they made independent transactions with big league clubs. That was a mistake, because Cubs catchers Roger Bresnahan and Jimmy Archer were aging and Hargrave was eventually purchased by the Reds, though not until 1921. He played eight pretty good years in Cincinnati and won the NL batting average title in 1926, hitting .353. Notably, he wouldn’t have qualified for that title by modern-day standards, with only 366 PA. Back then, playing in 100 games was enough to qualify.

Anyway, back to this long-ago Cubs photo: Exactly when in 1914 was this taken? It’s not game action, so we don’t have any play we can refer to. Hargrave is wearing a Cubs road uniform, so it can’t have been taken in Chicago.

The background is the giveaway. That’s the Polo Grounds. Here is a photo of the Polo Grounds during the 1913 World Series:

Getty Images

You can see the extra boxes set up on the field, but behind that are entryways to the seating area which you can also see in the photo of Hargrave. You can also see those here. This is Jack Coombs of the Philadelphia Athletics, who played the New York Giants in the World Series in the Polo Grounds in 1911 and 1913.

Getty Images

The Cubs’ first visit to the Polo Grounds in 1914 began on June 10. For many years, stock photos of baseball players were taken there, because New York was the headquarters of not only baseball but of photography studios. Hargrave played in one of those three games, June 13.

So I’m going to say the photo of Hargrave was taken on that Cubs visit to the Polo Grounds, June 10-13, 1914. Exactly when is impossible to narrow down, other than it was almost certainly during pregame warmups.

Oh, yes, “Bubbles.” Where did a baseball player get a nickname like that? From Hargrave’s SABR bio:

How he actually acquired that nickname has been lost over time. One version shared by Hargrave was that a teammate bestowed it on him because he was effervescently offering suggestions and guidance. Still another version concerned his tendency to stutter, especially when pronouncing the letter “b” which somehow caused him to be referred to as Bubbles.

It was a different time.