Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nate Oliver's Number

Monday's post on the 1970 Cubs cards at Shea turned out to be more interesting than I thought.

A comment left by ecloy said that he thought the picture of Nate Oliver was not taken at Shea because Oliver was wearing #42 instead of the #15 that he wore during the 1969 season. His guess was that the picture was from spring training. I checked my 1969 scorecard,, and Kasey's excellent Cubsbythenumbers site and all three listed Oliver as wearing #15. So was the picture taken in spring training? Why is Oliver wearing #42?

Well, in 1969, Oliver wasn't with the Cubs during spring training; he was a Yankee. If the picture was taken in the spring of 1970, Oliver should have been wearing #15. Plus, this card is from the second series, way too early for Topps to have pictures from that spring. The picture was definitely taken in 1969. So why the different number?

Here is my theory: The Cubs picked up Oliver from the Yankees (they sent Lee Elia to the Yankees) on April 19. At the time the Cubs were on a pretty long road swing that saw them in St. Louis, Montreal, and then Pittsburgh between April 16-22. After that, there was just a two day home stand before they went back on the road for seven more games.

At the same time, a roster spot needed to be cleared for Oliver. Jim Qualls was away from the team on army reserve duty, so he was optioned to the minors and Oliver would take his spot.

With the team in Montreal at the time of the trade, they probably didn't carry too many extra uniforms. But they had to give Oliver something to use. Do you want to guess what number the recently demoted Jim Qualls wore? Yup, he was #42.

My guess is that Oliver was given Quall's jersey and would make due with it until the team was home for a long enough stretch to get a new jersey with a different number made up. Since the Cubs were home for only two games before heading back onto the road, Oliver would still have to wait a while for a new number.

After the brief home stand, would you like to guess where the Cubs made their first stop? If you guessed New York, then give yourself a pat on the back. They were in NY from April 25 - 27. And that is when, according to my theory, this picture was taken.

There is other evidence that the picture is in Shea. The blue tarp behind Oliver also shows up in this card...

...and Jim Hickman is definitely at Shea. Also, over Oliver's shoulder are the twin light towers that are a strong Shea identifier. The black batters background behind him also screams Shea.

I'm going to guess that when the Cubs finally got back to Wrigley on May 2, Oliver was given #15 and would wear it the rest of the season. Qualls returned to the team in June and got his #42 back, too.

Qualls' picture was probably taken when the Cubs were at Shea in July, since he doesn't have a sweatshirt under his jersey like Oliver and Hickman did in April. The Oliver card and Qualls card show two players from the same team wearing the same number. I wonder how often that has ever happened?

So if all of that makes sense, then we know why Nate Oliver is wearing #42 instead of #15. But I've got one more question.

Look at the flag behind Oliver. It's at half mast. Why? Any other detectives out there want to take a crack at that one?


  1. President Eisenhower died on March 28, 1969. Flags fly at half-staff for 30 days after the death of a president. So assuming the rest of your logic is correct (and I believe it is), that would be why the flag is lower. Great article!

  2. Thank you Robert! I went back about two weeks prior to the picture dates and didn't find anyone famous. I forgot all about the 30 day mourning period for the big guys.

  3. Well done! Great work!