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Cubs historical sleuthing: A very small 1960s crowd

There are enough clues here to figure out this game.

Diamond Images/Getty Images

You wouldn’t think this photo has enough information on it to identify when it was taken, even though there’s a very famous player — Hall of Famer Stan Musial — standing on first base at Wrigley Field.

There actually is enough info, you just have to know where to look for it and how to put things together.

See the first-base coach? That’s Joe Schultz, who was a Cardinals coach from 1963-68, after which he became the manager of the expansion Seattle Pilots, to become famously mocked by Jim Bouton in “Ball Four” (which, if you have never read it, you ought to, it’s one of the most important baseball books of the last 50 years).

Well, that narrows it down right away, since Musial retired after 1963. So that moves it down to nine possible dates.

Number 17 at first base is Steve Boros, who played in four games against the Cardinals at Wrigley in 1963: May 21, July 27 and both games of a doubleheader July 28. Boros was the only Cub to wear that number in 1963.

The attendance on July 27 was 23,589 and it was 40,222 for the doubleheader July 28. That rules those dates out, since the crowd in this photo is obviously much smaller.

So that means this photo was taken May 21, 1963. But when?

That’s easy. Per the boxscore, Musial was 0-for-4 that day with a walk. He also reached on an error, so it could have been either of those, right?

Nope. Dick Groat had walked before Musial in the first inning, so you’d have seen Groat on second in this photo. But there is no runner on second, so this has to be after Musial reached on the error — by Boros, incidentally — in the top of the third. The Cubs had led 2-0 going into that inning. They eventually lost the game 5-4.

There are a number of fascinating things about this photo. The attendance that day was 3,281. Remember, in those days the turnstile count was reported, so that’s how many were actually in the house. Believe it or not, there were actually seven smaller crowds at Wrigley that year, including the next afternoon. It was chilly that day, only 50 degrees at game time (per the boxscore), and as it was a weekday afternoon with schools still in session and the Cubs having lost 103 games the year before, interest in the team was at a low ebb.

The upper deck appears closed; it was often closed on weekdays in the last two decades of the Wrigley ownership era. You can see some padding on the brick wall next to the bullpen — but not very much! The foul pole was painted white in those days, not yellow as it is now, and the Cubs team flag flew from atop the left-field pole. The brown apartment building visible behind that still stands, still pretty much as it was 55 years ago, the only building on Waveland without a rooftop club.

All the seats behind the box seats (where the railings are) were unreserved in those days, that’s why people are scattered about the grandstand sections.

Others visible in this photo: Cubs starting pitcher Larry Jackson, Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, Cubs shortstop Andre Rodgers, first-base umpire Mel Steiner and third-base umpire Shag Crawford.

The Cubs eventually had a pretty good year in 1963, finishing over .500 at 82-80, their only winning year between 1947 and 1966. Overall attendance that year was 979,551, which was fifth-most in the N.L. and their second-biggest total between 1953 and 1968.

Click here for a larger version of the photo at the top.