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Cubs historical sleuthing: An aerial challenge

This one’s pretty tough.

Curtis Waltz/

You all know I can’t resist figuring out the date a Wrigley Field historical photo was taken, especially when there aren’t many clues.

Curtis Waltz, who runs and takes the great aerial shots of the Wrigley construction project you see both at the @WrigleyAerials Twitter account and also here, posted this tweet today:

You can see some guesses as the replies to that tweet, including mine.

Here’s my reasoning for my guess. First, there are light towers visible, and the old bleachers are still standing. That narrows it down to between August 1988 and September 2005 — a pretty large range.

However! The center-field hitters background is juniper bushes. Those were installed before the 1997 season. And, you can see on the Waveland side, the small house that used to be right next to the building on the northwest corner of Waveland and Kenmore still standing. That house was demolished after 1998.

So we’ve narrowed it down to two seasons, 1997 or 1998.

Trees are in full bloom, which eliminates April and early May for both years. The day is sunny, but the shadows are not sharp, hinting at a hazy afternoon. The length of the shadows behind the bleachers hint at a late-season game.

Also, the ballpark is fairly full, but not close to a sellout, as you can see good chunks of both the lower deck and upper deck empty.

So my guess, which I sent as a reply to the tweet and will also post here, is September 21, 1997. If you don’t recall why that game is significant, here’s why: It was Ryne Sandberg’s last game at Wrigley. 62 degrees and sunny according to the boxscore, and the attendance was 29,922, which is a pretty good match for the size of the crowd shown in the photo.

They had a nice pre-game ceremony for Ryno that day and if you’re wondering why the game wasn’t sold out, the 1997 Cubs were a horrid team that had already lost 90 games by that date and went 68-94.

As you see in the tweet, the reveal will be made later today. I don’t know if this is the correct answer, but I thought I’d post my guess and let you all have a bit of fun with it.