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Cubs Historical Sleuthing: Wrigley Field Photo Edition

There are plenty of clues in this photo. You just have to know where to look.

Recently, BCB reader AlSpangler sent me this link which contains the photo at the top of this post.

Before I get to sleuthing out the date this was taken, the reason he sent it to me was the discussion we had a while back about the rail line that used to go by Wrigley Field. In this photo, you can clearly see where that line used to be. By the time this photo was taken, the line had long been decommissioned (at least as far north as Wrigley) and the land was being used for parking during Cubs games.

Now, to the date this photo was taken. You might think this could have been taken on any number of dates before lights were installed. But looking around the photo, there are many clues to its origin.

First, turn your attention to things outside the ballpark. At the corner of Clark & Addison, Franksville is standing on the corner McDonald’s most recently occupied. The McDonald’s was constructed in 1980. Further confirmation of the pre-1980 date is obtained by looking at the other side of the image, to the corner of Addison & Sheffield, most recently occupied by a 7-Eleven. That’s not there! That, too, was built in 1980.

Thus we have narrowed this down to before 1980.

Now, let’s go inside the ballpark.

Look at the dugouts. Those are the newer, expanded dugouts, not the older versions which you have surely seen on many pre-lights Wrigley photos. Those dugouts were constructed before the 1979 season began.

So with just a handful of clues, we now know this photo was taken in 1979.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day, and the trees on the surrounding streets are in full bloom, and green. This eliminates April, most of May, and some of September (when they would have been starting to change color).

Now, look at where the shadows are. As I’ve mentioned in connection with other photos, the angle of the shadow tells you it’s early afternoon — probably noon, because for a 1:15 or 1:30 game (the time of afternoon games in 1979) there wouldn’t have been that much sun on the third-base side.

You can also see players doing pre-game warmups on the field.

So, we’ve got a photo taken just before the first game of a doubleheader, and likely in the peak of summer, with the sun highest in the sky.

There were three doubleheaders at Wrigley Field in July 1979 — July 1 (Mets), July 7 (Astros), July 22 (Reds), the only doubleheader dates that year which could match those weather and shadow conditions.

The boxscore for Game 1 on July 22 says it was overcast at game time, so scratch that one.

Now it gets a bit tougher, and you have to look at some things that are pretty small here. First are the flags on top of the scoreboard. They show an orange flag in third place in the N.L. West and a yellow one in fourth — that’s the Giants and Padres. A white flag tops the N.L. East — in 1979 that was the Expos flag. But those standings match both July 1 and July 7.

Look now at the handful of players standing on the visiting team’s side. They are wearing gray uniforms. In 1979, the Astros wore their rainbow jerseys on the road. Those would have clearly shown up. This seems to indicate Mets, to me.

Finally, look again at the flags, which are standing out straight as if being blown by a fairly strong wind. The July 1 Game 1 boxscore indicates a 16 mile per hour wind, while the July 7 Game 1 boxscore has a wind speed of only five miles per hour.

Obviously I had to enlarge the photo to see some of these details and it got kind of pixellated after a while.

There isn’t a place where I can confirm this, unfortunately. The original link where this photo is found says simply “1980s.” But I don’t think that’s correct. My conclusion is that this photo was taken during pre-game warmups for Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Mets on Sunday, July 1, 1979.

The Cubs won that game 5-4 with a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth, capped by a bases-loaded walkoff walk issued to Steve Dillard. They won the second game too, 8-2, behind homers by Bill Buckner and Barry Foote.