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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: You make the call

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There are some clues in this photo, but not quite enough to nail down the exact date.

Here is a nice aerial photo of Wrigley Field.

But when was it taken? It’s nearly impossible to tell which teams are playing, even with the scoreboard in full view, because it’s just too far away. Here’s where I found this one:

So, we’re told it’s 1986. The scoreboard has a mid-1980s look, so does the marquee, and so do the cars on the streets around the ballpark.

Your first clue is the time of day. The board reads approximately 3:35, but the Cubs linescore (on the bottom) is early in the game. That would indicate a 3:05 start. The Cubs, under Tribune Company ownership, began to schedule 3:05 p.m. starts in 1983. They had quite a few of them before night baseball began in 1988.

We also have the ivy in full bloom, trees in full bloom, and the shadows aren’t long. That would seem to indicate a midsummer day when the sun would still have been fairly high in the sky at 3:35.

Thus I eliminated games in April and early May and from about mid-August on.

But I wasn’t 100 percent convinced of the 1986 date, either. It could have been any time from 1983, when 3:05 p.m. games began, through 1987. The light towers began to be installed in April 1988, so that year is out.

You can see the scoreboard, but the resolution of this photo in pixels is just small enough that blowing it up to a larger size just makes the scoreboard city names blurry. It appears that it’s the top of the second inning and the visiting team has scored (there’s a faint bit of yellow in that line) and are still batting, since the team in the field has white uniforms on.

Now, look at the foul poles. Remember the Cubs team flag I wrote about last year? That appears to be on the right field pole. The left field pole looks like it has one flag on it, and that flag is white. That would be the Ernie Banks flag, made after his number was retired in August 1982. The next number flag to fly was the Billy Williams flag after his number was retired in August 1987, so this photo has to be in between those dates. Further, this photo likely has to be 1984 or later, because the beer ads next to the message board in center field weren’t placed until that year.

I was stuck, so I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski. Here’s what he sent me:

There is one NL game (at the top), in progress as well, early innings, probably the same starting time. Both those teams are long names. The Cubs’ opponent is a long name. New York is a road team.

On the AL side: Three games in progress, middle innings, probably east coast starts, one game already has a reliever on the board, likely 5th inning. I read TEXAS (shortest name), as a home team, and one of the night games. New York may be at Boston (split name vs second shortest name), also a night game. The White Sox are given as SOX, playing a long-named opponent on the road at night, so this is before they began listing the Sox as CHICAGO.

The team flags on the left side of the yardarm read top to bottom: blue, orange, red, white, white, blue. Can’t give anything for the right side. Brown’s Chicken is where Taco Bell was later.

It’s high summer, no shadows even at 3:35, a bright sunny day.

The left side of the yardarm showed the N.L. East teams in those days. Orange is obviously the Mets, red is the Cardinals. Both the Cubs and Expos had blue flags, the Pirates and Phillies white.

I looked at all the 1986 dates corresponding to the time of year where you’d see no shadows on the field at 3:35, but couldn’t find a match. Either the teams didn’t match, or there were too many night games, or both.

It was the same with other years that could have matched this photo: 1984, 1985, 1987. It’s almost certainly a Saturday, since what’s shown is a full house, or nearly so. If you look at the back of the upper deck where seats are visible, they’re all filled, that’s the last row of the upper deck that you see. In those days there would have been a significant difference between a weekday crowd and a Saturday crowd. The scoreboard would also most likely match a Saturday, where there were some afternoon games, but much of the schedule at night.

Thus I am going to turn this one over to you, dear reader. This is a great photo of Wrigley Field as it existed in early Tribune Co. ownership days, before lights were installed. In addition to the field in pre-lights days, you see a good view of the groundskeeper’s cottage and the ramps on the left-field side where the new west entrance to Wrigley is now located.

But exactly when was it taken? Have at it. (No prizes for this, just the satisfaction of good sleuthing.)