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Wrigley Field history: Curt Flood makes a catch

There are a lot of interesting things that flowed from this game.

I don’t actually need to sleuth the date of this game, because it’s right in this tweet, which is where I found the photo:

In fact, it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly when this happened, because in that game, won by the Cubs 4-3, Flood made three putouts. He caught fly balls by Nelson Mathews and Moe Thacker in the second inning and another one by Mathews in the fourth.

I even checked the Tribune archive to see if there had been a description of this catch. No dice. The Cubs were so bad that year — they had lost 96 games entering this one — that the Tribune didn’t even assign a writer to cover that game, attended by a small gathering of 2,004. Instead, they ran a five-paragraph wire service story.

The reason I decided to write about this game is because there are a few interesting historical notes about it. The other fielder you see in the photo, Gary Kolb, played in only six games for the Cardinals that year, as a September callup. That was the first of the six; he went 2-for-3.

Beyond that, the pitching matchup in this game featured pitchers who had been traded for each other less than three weeks earlier. The Cubs had acquired Paul Toth from the Cardinals September 1 for a minor leaguer named Harvey Branch.

Toth threw well in this game, and went into the ninth with a 4-1 lead, as was typical in those days, pitchers with leads like that were allowed to try to finish. He ran into trouble, though, and with two out and a runner on base Stan Musial homered off him, making it 4-3. Even then he wasn’t removed. Only after the next hitter, Bill White, singled, was Toth taken out for Barney Schultz. Schultz got Ken Boyer to pop to short (on two pitches, said the Tribune article) to end the game.

Harvey Branch, who was just 23 at the time of the trade, allowed five hits, five walks and three runs to the Cubs in five innings that day — and then never pitched in the major leagues again. He pitched in the Cardinals farm system in 1963 and 1964 and then in the Mexican League in 1965, after which he left pro baseball. Per his baseball-reference page, he’s still living, age 83, but I have not been able to find out any more information about him.

Flood, of course, became famous years later when he refused a trade and challenged baseball’s reserve clause, unsuccessfully. But Flood’s actions helped lead baseball toward free agency a few years later.

One last note: Toth — who had previously pitched for the Cardinals — was traded back to St. Louis June 15, 1964 as part of the Lou Brock deal. You all know how that one worked out, or didn’t.

Just a little slice of Wrigley Field and Cubs history as we meander through the offseason.