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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1970s edition

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This one was easier than it looked.

Universal Images Group via Getty

When I wrote this post to kick off the “non-homer, multi-run walkoff” series, I used the photo above to stand in for 1978 Wrigley Field.

While the photo wasn’t from that game, or even the year, I figured I could use it as a stand-in. Wrigley didn’t change much from the 1940s until Tribune Co. bought the team. The only real changes were the re-doing of the lower deck seats to face the field and permanent box seats installed, both of which happened in the 1960s.

This photo, even at first glance, gives you a time frame. The Cubs are wearing the polyester uniforms without belts. That dates it to 1972 at the earliest, the first year they wore that style of uniform.

The second big clue is the opponent. It’s obviously the Braves — that style of uniform was worn by them from 1972-75.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Look at the first-base coach. It’s Ernie Banks, I would recognize him anywhere. Ernie was a Cubs coach in 1972 and 1973.

So that narrows things down to two seasons. Now let’s take a look at the visible, identifiable players. No. 15 is batting for the Cubs, and No. 49 is on deck. Ken Rudolph wore No. 15 both of those years and Bill Hands was No. 49.

What about the Braves pitcher? Again, that’s a really recognizable pitching form, and the “5” visible tells us that’s Phil Niekro.

Bill Hands faced Phil Niekro at Wrigley Field just once in those two years — July 15, 1972, a Saturday. Attendance was 26,255, and at first glance the crowd appears too large for that number. But look more closely — there are actually a lot of empty seats in the upper deck and in the corner. 26,255 sounds about right. Ken Rudolph caught Hands that afternoon.

Rudolph batted twice in this game before being removed for a pinch-hitter. In the bottom of the second, he batted with one out and grounded to short. In the bottom of the fifth, he led off and again grounded to short.

Without further context I can’t tell you which of those at-bats is depicted here. There’s no scoreboard visible; there was nobody on base either time, so that’s no help. But at least we do know which game this was.

Also visible on the field is Hank Aaron, who was playing first base that day. So, between Banks, Niekro and Aaron, here’s a photo with three Hall of Famers depicted.

The Cubs lost the game 4-2. Joe Pepitone hit a two-run homer off Niekro in the first inning, but those were the only runs the Cubs could muster off the knuckleballer, who threw a complete game, allowing nine hits.

And there you have it, a slice of Cubs life from 48 years ago. Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post; click here for an even larger version.

Universal Images Group via Getty