clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cubs historical sleuthing: Joe Torre edition, take 2

The first pass was incorrect. Here’s the real story.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

A number of you pointed out that in my original attempt to sleuth this photo, I was likely incorrect for a number of reasons, but primarily because in the game I had thought it was from, Wednesday, September 16, 1970, Joe Torre ... wasn’t the catcher.

In fact, if I had looked more carefully at Torre’s 1970 game log, he had more or less stopped catching by mid-August. He started just three games behind the plate after August 12 and caught partial games two other times. As I note in the original post, Torre didn’t catch at all — not once — after 1970.

So one original thought was correct. This has to be from 1970, because Torre caught games for the Cardinals only in 1969 and 1970 and this cannot be 1969 because the MLB centennial patch that was worn by all players on their right sleeve that year is not visible here.

There’s one more photo from this at-bat. The batter was Ron Santo, as you can see in the photo at the top of the post.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Torre caught in only five games at Wrigley Field in 1970: April 21 and 22, both games of a doubleheader June 21, and September 15.

I’m eliminating the April games. Game time temps were 47 and 49 those two days, and the crowds were under 10,000 — that’s definitely a larger crowd, and they’re not dressed for weather in the 40s. Neither is Santo, and neither is the plate umpire.

That leaves the June doubleheader and the September 15 game. The weather is listed as “sunny” for the first game of the June doubleheader and the Tribune weather reports confirm it was sunny all day.

By process of elimination, then, this has to be the game of Tuesday, September 15, 1970.

Here’s the full photo from the top of the page:

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Here is a photo of Ed Vargo from 1982, 12 years later. Now I’m certain this is the guy, not John Kibler as I had previously thought from the original post.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

There is one play from the September 15 game that, well, mostly matches what we see in the original photo from the top of this post.

In the bottom of the third inning, Santo singled with one out. Ernie Banks followed with a double, and Santo was thrown out at the plate.

That would make sense with what we’re seeing — Vargo making an “out” call and Torre with the ball, mask off, looking toward second or third base to make sure Banks didn’t advance. I’m reasonably certain now that this is correct. The weather was reported in the boxscore as 84 degrees and cloudy and the attendance was 13,727, which more or less matches what we see here.

This was actually quite an important game for the Cubs. After being as far as six games out of first place August 15, they went on a 16-10 run and entered that September 15 game tied in third place, but just one game behind the Mets and Pirates, who were tied for first. This is probably why a photographer was assigned; photos from that era generally weren’t taken on an everyday basis.

The Cubs won the game 5-3. Billy Williams singled in a run in the sixth to break a 2-2 tie, then had another RBI single in the seventh to make it 4-2. Santo homered in the eighth to make the score 5-2. The Cardinals scored in the ninth and had the tying run at the plate with two out. Phil Regan struck out Leron Lee to end the game.

There’s significance to this game for Torre: It was the last time he caught in the major leagues — for anyone.

The Cubs won three of their next five after that and with 11 games remaining were in second place, just 1½ games behind the Pirates. Unfortunately, with that year being the final year the Bears played at Wrigley Field, the Cubs finished the season on a 14 (!) game road trip, and weren’t very good away from home that year (46-34 at home, 38-44 on the road). They went 4-7 over those last 11 games while Pittsburgh went 8-4 and the Cubs finished second, five games behind the division-winning Pirates. It’s as close as that core group of the late 1960s and early 1970s ever finished to first place.