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Cubs historical sleuthing: Fergie Jenkins edition

When was this photo of the Cubs Hall of Famer taken?

With MLB’s lockout continuing, I am going to post a lot of Cubs, Wrigley Field and baseball history items here, so that we can remember good times from the past.

For this one, first, credit where due, and also there’s some additional information about this photo below, because I had to crop it to fit it above:

Now. Fergie says “taken by a Cubs fan in 1970.” Presumably that’s from the “70” on the border of the photo. If you’re not old enough to remember these, often photo processing places did this for photos back in the day, so you’d always have an indication of when it was taken. Thing is, though — that “70” was the date of processing, not necessarily the date it was taken.

Going under the assumption that this is in fact 1970, there were four possible dates it could have been taken, given that we see no ivy on the wall or leaves on the tree visible in the background: April 16, April 22, April 26 (yep, still three days’ rest back then) or May 10.

I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski for his thoughts on those dates. Here’s what he sent me.

It could be ‘69 or ‘70. The clue is in the scorecard held by the figure in tan. It’s folded open to the advertisement page, there’s a cigarette ad in the top margin, it looks like that only in those two years. Based on that, I’ll give you the testimony of the sendee. I wanted more than that word. The dark round “spot” on the card is a photographic artifact or a flaw due to wear and tear. There are several such in the print.

There is another scorecard, being signed by the player/coach standing against the wall, but not enough of the cover is visible for a proper ID.

There is a coach watching Fergie throw. Another figure stands directly behind Fergie, and is almost completely obscured. The other jacketed figure signing at the wall is probably a player, too young and sideburned to be a coach. Also, he is signing left-handed, likely another pitcher.

The coach is probably Verlon Walker, the bullpen coach. The formal pitching coach, Joe Becker, does not resemble the figure here. The media guide describes him (Walker) as a “goodwill ambassador to the world.”

The 1970 roster had five LHP, this is not Ken Holtzman or Juan Pizarro. That leaves Hank Aguirre, Larry Gura or Steve Barber. Having just now looked at the 1970 baseball cards, it’s Gura. Barber is not close. Aguirre is close, but did not have the sideburns, Gura did. Since he debuted in 1970, this eliminates 1969. Also, he appeared only once before June, a road game in Atlanta April 30.

The mid-season 1970 media guide gives the following for Gura: purchased from Tacoma 4/24, one appearance 4/30, optioned 5/14, recalled 6/24. Also, that’s a commentary on usage for the time, he was initially on the roster 20 days, and used once.

Here is a photo of Larry Gura in his first Cubs stint (he also returned to the team briefly at the end of his career in 1985). The player in the photo is definitely him (this photo is from 1972 or 1973, as that’s when the Cubs started using pullover jerseys):

That leaves April 26 or May 10 as the only possible dates. The weather was pretty much the same both days, per the boxscores: upper 60s or lower 70s, sunny. By May 10, though, you’d almost certainly see at least some ivy growing on the walls and leaves on the tree visible outside the ballpark.

So this photo was taken of Fergie warming up for his start Sunday, April 26, 1970. He threw a complete game that afternoon, allowing three runs on 10 hits. The Cubs won the game 6-3; Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Jim Hickman all homered. Williams and Hickman went on to have great seasons; for Billy that was his sixth homer of 1970 in just the season’s 14th game.

The Cubs had begun 1970 by losing three of their first four. They then went on to win 11 in a row. The April 26 game was the 10th victory in that 11-game winning streak. The Cubs eventually led the NL East by five games on June 12, and many of us thought they might wind up making up for the crushing disappointment of 1969. But just nine days later the team went on a 12-game LOSING streak and fell under .500 and out of first place. In late August they went on another winning run, winning 15 of 22 and moving to within 1½ games of first place with 11 remaining.

But that was the final year the Chicago Bears played in Wrigley Field. Why did that matter? Because that forced the Cubs to end the season with a 14-game road trip. The Cubs in 1970 were very good at home (46-34), but went just 38-44 away from the Friendly Confines. They lost seven of those final 11 games and finished five games out of first place. It was the closest that star-crossed core group finished to the top spot in the NL East (matched in 1973).

Here’s a Cubs team-signed ball from 1970, with a list of the signatures on each side below.

side A:

Leo Durocher

side B:

trademark. This stamp was used on NL balls, with a few minor variations, 1952-69. Chub Feeney became NL president in 1970, so his signature on balls would have begun to be used that year, but there must have been a supply of the older balls around for Cubs players to sign.

side C:

Cleo James
Joe Decker
Billy Williams
Johnny Callison
Jim Colborn
Bill Hands
Jack Hiatt

side D:

Ernie Banks
Paul Popovich
Juan Pizarro
Don Kessinger
Randy Hundley

side E:

Larry Gura
J.C. Martin
Fergie Jenkins
Jim Hickman
Al Spangler
Glenn Beckert

side F:

Phil Gagliano
Bob Rodriguez
Milt Pappas
Ken Holtzman
Willie Smith
Ron Santo