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Cubs historical sleuthing: Sandy Koufax edition

It was surprisingly easy to figure out when this photo of the future Hall of Famer was taken.

While we have a free baseball afternoon before the Cubs and Cardinals play tonight, I thought I’d present another edition of this occasional series, thanks to this photo sent me by a Facebook friend. The photo is shown at the top of this post.

Here’s the full version:

Well, obviously that’s Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, warming up before a game at Wrigley Field. Now, you might think that’s in one of the old on-field bullpens, but that can’t be, because he’s clearly behind first base, not right field, where the old bullpens were located.

Also, that’s obviously flat ground Koufax is throwing on, not a mound. I’ve looked at other photos of Wrigley from that era and can’t seem to locate any that show this dirt area; it might not have lasted very long.

This photo was taken April 24, 1962, and I located the date within about two minutes of enlarging and enhancing the photo.

Here’s how.

First, enlarging the photo shows the sign on the house on Waveland says “RICKETTS.” That, as I’ve written here before, was an ad for a restaurant on Clark Street about a mile from Wrigley that has nothing to do with the family that now owns the Cubs. That sign was there for many years — but 1962 was the last year it was on that house. WGN took over that ad spot in 1963 and kept it until the mid-1980s, when Budweiser bought the space.

The next clue was the scoreboard, which is clearly set up for 10 teams in each league, the first year both leagues expanded, 1962. Thus, 1962 is the only year that photo could have been taken. One more proof of that year: 1962 was the last year the Dodgers had piping on their away jerseys and pants. They removed that beginning in 1963.

So all that made it easy: Check to see what games Koufax started in Wrigley in 1962.

Doing that made the answer definitive. April 24, 1962 was the only game Koufax started against the Cubs at Wrigley Field that year. Further confirmation can be found in two ways: First, the trees visible beyond the bleachers have no leaves, which would confirm an April date. Second, besides the Cubs game, there are two afternoon games shown on the board both on the American League side. One of them clearly reads SOX/NEW YORK. Sure enough, the White Sox played an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium that day. The other one’s harder to read, but the other afternoon game that day was Washington at Boston, and a closer look shows that, too, matches.

The April 24, 1962 game at Wrigley Field had historical significance, too. Koufax struck out 18 Cubs that day, tying the then-National League record that had been set in 1952 by Warren Spahn and tied by Koufax in 1959.

The Cubs were an awful team that year, and the Dodgers won the game 10-2, though another future Hall of Famer, Billy Williams, homered off Koufax in the ninth inning.

Lastly, you’ll note the scoreboard clock shows a time of about 1:20, which today is the starting time for afternoon games. In 1962, afternoon games began at 1:30, so a visiting pitcher would be likely to be warming up at 1:20.