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Cubs historical sleuthing: The Bob Ramazzotti mystery

Thanks to an eBay find, we have a uniform number mystery.

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Recently, Mike Bojanowski came across this eBay listing for a 1949 Cubs scorecard. In it, the person who scored the game made a change which doesn’t match what we know about the number worn by Bob Ramazzotti, who was an infielder for the Cubs from 1949-53. (Mike wound up buying this card.)

Just to make it clear, that’s not a photo of Ramazzotti on the cover — that’s the cover from the actual date of the game we’re going to look at.

Here’s the inside that shows the penciled-in change:

This game was played Saturday, May 21, 1949. The Cubs lost to the Phillies 5-1. It was supposed to be the third of a three-game series, but the other two games were postponed due to weather.

I call your attention to these two specific areas of the scorecard:

Bob Ramazzotti was acquired by the Cubs from the Dodgers for Hank Schenz five days before this game, May 16, 1949. This game was the second he played in as a Cub; he also played in the game May 17, 1949, entering defensively at second base in the ninth inning. That game, incidentally, epitomized the Cubs of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Cubs managed to tie the game 2-2 in the eighth on a two-run homer by Smoky Burgess. The Dodgers, clearly a superior team (they’d go on to win the NL pennant with a 97-57 record) scored six runs off inferior Cubs relievers in the 11th. Then the Cubs scored three in the bottom of the inning, to lose 8-5.

Anyway, that’s a digression. In those days, as we have previously chronicled here, the Cubs had pre-printed lineups in the Wrigley Field scorecard from 1948-55. Often — VERY often, which is probably why they stopped — the managers would make changes in the announced lineup. This is why longtime PA announcer Pat Pieper would say, “I’ll give you the CORRECT lineup for today’s ballgame.” (You can hear Pieper’s voice before every Wrigley lineup announcement in games now at Wrigley.)

So, Ramazzotti was to play third base instead of Frankie Gustine. The person who scored this gam wrote down No. 5 for him — just as was printed — but then changed it to No. 9, both in the lineup and the number list.

No records anywhere indicate Ramazzotti wore No. 9. At all. But no one keeping score that day would have written down that number unless he/she actually saw Ramazzotti wearing it.

Here’s the history of No. 9 for the Cubs in 1949 as we know it. That year, that number was worn by Mickey Owen and Rube Novotney. Yes, THAT Mickey Owen, the guy who dropped a third strike for the Dodgers in the 1941 World Series, helping the Yankees win one of the games.

But Owen was not a Cub until July, when he was claimed off waivers from the Dodgers. (Another typical Cubs move of the time, get an older player — Owen was 33 — trying to recapture past glory.) So he’s not involved in our story of the May 21 game.

Rube Novotney — they don’t make baseball names like that anymore, that’s for sure — played in 22 games for the Cubs in 1949. The only uniform number listed on his baseball-reference page is 9. The first two were as a substitute, April 29 and May 1. Then he didn’t return to the team until May 22, the day AFTER the one where Ramazzotti apparently wore No. 9.

Here’s what I think happened. Ramazzotti, per his baseball-reference page, wore No. 9 for the Dodgers for five games before he was traded to the Cubs.

Entering the clubhouse for the game of May 21, No. 9 was available, as Novotney had been sent to the minors after May 1. That was confirmed by a couple of newspaper articles that said Novotney was going to be recalled and they were attempting to arrange transportation for him to Chicago.

So Ramazzotti took his Dodgers number and wore it for that May 21 game. When Novotney returned the next day, he either asked for it back, or the clubhouse manager (and I am not certain if longtime clubhouse manager Yosh Kawano was in charge at the time) gave it to Novotney, and at that point Ramazzotti took No. 5 — which had been assigned to the guy he had been traded for, Hank Schenz.

That’s got to be how it happened. No one who was actually at the game — and the scorecard is proof of that — would have actually written down a number for a player unless he/she actually witnessed that happening.

Bob Ramazzotti played in 275 games for the Cubs, mostly as a second baseman, but also at times at shortstop and third base. He batted .236/.275/.299 with three home runs and 15 stolen bases in 764 plate appearances. Per his SABR biography, he suffered quite a number of serious injuries including a near-fatal beaning in that pre-helmet era. With Gene Baker and Ernie Banks making their debuts in late 1953, Ramazzotti was odd-man-out and was let go in early 1954. The SABR bio has more details of his post-baseball life. He died in 2000, aged 83.

One last note about that May 21, 1949 game: In their lineup, the Phillies had three former Cubs (Bill Nicholson, Eddie Waitkus, Hank Borowy) and one future Cub (Richie Ashburn). If Waitkus’ name sounds familiar to you, he would be shot on the Phillies’ next visit to Chicago in June (supposedly, this incident was the inspiration for the novel The Natural). The Cubs had two future managers in their lineup that afternoon (Harry Walker and Gene Mauch).

So we’ve got one more number to add to the collection at Cubs By The Numbers. I’ll also let the folks at baseball-reference know.