John Boccabella was a Cubs backup catcher from 1963-68, after which he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft. I’ve argued previously here that the 1969 Cubs might have been a better team if they had held on to Boccabella, who had some decent years with the Expos, instead of Randy Bobb, who they protected and who never had much of a big-league career.
Here we see Boccabella at Wrigley Field with the old-fashioned Cubbie patch on... his right sleeve?
That’s right. The patch was used beginning in 1962, but for the first two years it was placed on the player’s throwing arm. Thus righthanded throwers had it on the right sleeve, lefties on the left. It was permanently placed on the left sleeve in 1964.
Boccabella first played in the major leagues as a September callup in 1963. You remember him primarily as a catcher, but he played exclusively first base in that callup, playing in 24 games, starting 21 of them. That’s largely because Ernie Banks, by then the regular first baseman, had the worst year to date of his career in 1963, largely because he had sub-clinical mumps. He started the first Cubs game of September 1963, then played sparingly for 10 more days before being shut down.
Per the Tribune archive, Boccabella was called up after that September 1, 1963 game, joining the team in San Francisco, where they were beginning a 12-game road trip. They returned to Wrigley Field Friday, September 13. So that was the first date Boccabella, who had been signed out of Santa Clara University earlier that year, could have appeared at Wrigley.
The shadows on the photo hint mid-September. The sun is shining, but it’s impossible to say whether it’s completely sunny or partly cloudy. The Tribune’s weather page said it was supposed to be partly cloudy that day with temperatures around 60. That matches Boccabella wearing a long-sleeve shirt under his jersey.
It would also make sense for a team photographer to want to snap pics of the new guy on his first day at Wrigley Field.
So that’s what I’m going to call this: Pre-game on Friday, September 13, 1963.
Boccabella hit just .189/.247/.311 (14-for-74) in those 24 games with one home run. That’s not very good, but remember that he was just 22 and only a few months out of college ball. That was typical of the Cubs of that era, calling up kid after kid who they hoped would do well. Boccabella did hit well in the minor leagues, with a .487 slugging percentage and 97 home runs in 505 games. He never really got much of a chance with the Cubs, unfortunately. He’d have been a very good backup to Randy Hundley if Leo Durocher had just given him a shot.
The photo was found on this eBay listing.