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A Bit Of Cubs Historical Sleuthing

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When was this photo taken?

Recently, I came across on Twitter the photo you see above, taken at Wrigley Field:

Presumably, given the Twitter account in question, it was taken during the 1970s. But when?

You know I love challenges like this. And you might think, given what’s shown in the photo, that there isn’t enough information to determine the date.

Actually, there is, and it was much easier than I first thought.

The identifiable players in the photo are Terry Puhl of the Astros and George Mitterwald of the Cubs (he was the only catcher to wear No. 15 for the team in the era in which the Astros wore that style uniform, which started in 1975).

Puhl debuted in the major leagues in 1977, which was Mitterwald’s last year with the Cubs (and in the big leagues).

So now we know the year. But when?

That’s also fairly easy to narrow down. Puhl played in only three games at Wrigley in 1977 — both games of a doubleheader July 24, and in a single game the next day, July 25, batting leadoff in all three. He had made his major-league debut less than two weeks earlier.

Mitterwald played in all three of those games. He started Game 1 of the DH, entered Game 2 in the eighth inning, and started the July 25 game.

It was easy to figure this out, even without knowing the information about the doubleheader. Why? Because in the 1970s, the Cubs closed the upper deck for most weekday games unless there was high demand for tickets (usually, there wasn’t). The upper deck was open on weekends. This policy stayed in effect until Tribune Co. bought the team.

The July 24 doubleheader was played on a Sunday -- thus the upper deck must have been open that day.

Therefore, this photo had to have been taken during the July 25 game. But when?

The tiny auxiliary scoreboard on the upper-deck facade tells us. Puhl had five plate appearances in this game. Three of them led off innings. The scoreboard says there were none out, so it had to be one of those three.

In 1977, weekday afternoon games at Wrigley Field started at 1:30. Look at where the shadow is along the third-base line seats. If you’ve been at Wrigley for a day game, you know that the only time those seats are in the sun is right around game time (now 1:20 for single afternoon games).

The final confirmation of this is the boxscore from Game 1 of the doubleheader, which says it was overcast with drizzle at game time on July 24. The boxscore from the July 25 game says it was sunny with a temperature of 70 at game time with the wind blowing at 18 miles per hour (look at the flags on the top of the park, that would seem to confirm that as well).

So, this photo must have been taken Monday, July 25, 1977, in Puhl’s first at-bat, leading off the game. Cubs starter Bill Bonham had just thrown ball one to Puhl, who eventually singled in that at-bat.

The Cubs won the game 9-7, despite blowing a 7-0 lead and allowing Houston to have a seven-run eighth. Larry Biittner hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to provide the margin of victory.