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Cubs historical sleuthing: Incorrect base edition

The players and umpire are correct, but... the caption is wrong.

Bettmann Archive

Here’s a play you see quite often in baseball, even in modern times — a player stealing second base, with the ball not quite there yet.

Except that’s not what the caption of this photo says, per Getty Images:

Willie Mays of the Giants lost both hat and the base here, as he tried to steal third in the fifth inning of today’s game with the Chicago Cubs. First Willie’s cap flew off his head and Ump Belmore leapt from path of throw from Silvera to Kindall. Willie began his slide toward the bag. Kindall reached out to glove the incoming Ball, as Willie slid under it. Willie is called out. His arrival at the base was too late. Nevertheless, the Giants won 5-3, paced by a two-run homer by Willie in the third inning.

The players named are all correct, as you’ll see.

But this caption is wrong. It says Willie Mays is called out — but you can clearly see “Ump Belmore” (actually, his name was Vic Delmore) appearing to signal “safe” even though Mays has not quite gotten to the bag.

More importantly, that’s also clearly NOT third base — there’s no foul line in sight, as you’d see next to the base if a player were trying to steal third. This is obviously an attempted steal of second.

So I looked up all the players besides Mays. Jerry Kindall was a Cubs infielder from 1956-61. Charlie Silvera, a longtime Yankees backup catcher, was a Cubs backup in 1957 only, and that’s confirmed by the white stripes on the Cubs cap. 1957 was the only year the Cubs wore a cap like that.

The score and the Mays home run, along with the play in question, match the Cubs vs. Giants game at the Polo Grounds Monday, July 15. 1957. Kindall played third base for the Cubs that day, so this isn’t him. It has to be second baseman Bobby Morgan who’s waiting for the late throw as Mays steals second.

Now, Mays then did try to steal third right after that, in the bottom of the fifth inning, and was thrown out, ending the inning. That inning matches what the caption states.

So, as noted, this is Mays stealing second base against the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth inning in that game, which was won 5-3 by the Giants. The Cubs had taken a 3-1 lead in the top of the third thanks in part to a two-run triple by Ernie Banks. But Mays’ homer in the bottom of the inning gave the Giants a lead they would not relinquish.

The Giants, in their final year in New York, were 40-44 after this win. The Cubs were in last place in the National League at 27-51. They would play a bit better after this game, going 35-41, but still finished with yet another 90+ loss season, 62-92. The Giants departed for San Francisco after the season. One of the reasons was declining attendance — they drew just 2,675 for this game and finished last in the N.L. in attendance in 1957, 653,923, just 8,493 per game.