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Cubs historical sleuthing: Bill Buckner edition

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Billy Buck played a lot of games in Wrigley Field. Here’s one of them.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bill Buckner played for the Cubs from 1977-84 and became one of the most beloved Cubs of that era.

Here’s one snapshot in time, of Buckner breaking his bat. The caption from Getty Images reads:

Bill Buckner #22 of the Chicago Cubs swings and breaks his bat against the Cincinnati Reds during a Major League Baseball game circa 1979 at Wrigley field in Chicago, Illinois. Buckner played for the Cubs from 1977-84.

We’re going to examine this play in a moment, but I knew for a fact even before diving deep into this, that it wasn’t taken in 1979.

Alex Trevino, the Cincinnati Reds catcher shown, played for the Reds only in 1982 and 1983, so this photo has to be from one of those two years.

Trevino played in seven games in Wrigley Field in those two seasons, so that makes this search fairly easy. It’s made easier by the fact that the ivy walls are mostly brown, not green. That means this has to be an early-season game. That eliminates all but two games: April 27 and 28, 1982.

The boxscore for April 28 says the weather that day was cloudy, so we can eliminate that game. Incidentally, I remember that game well — Dickie Noles threw a one-hitter against the Reds that day, the only hit a fourth-inning leadoff single by Eddie Milner. It was by far the best game of Noles’ career.

Back to the photo: Which play on Tuesday, April 27, 1982 was this? Only 3,743 die-hards were at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs lose to the Reds 6-3.

Buckner went 0-for-5 in this game. The shadows are a clue — they appear to just be angled enough toward the east that the sun was on its track toward sundown that day, though the sun would not set until 7:44.

The other thing you’ll notice is that there’s a pitcher warming up in the Reds bullpen. We can’t see who that is, but Bruce Berenyi, the Reds starter, threw five full innings and then was removed after a leadoff walk in the sixth. We don’t have a pitch count for this game, but that implies he must have been in some trouble earlier, and the Reds had a lead of just 3-2 going to the bottom of the sixth. Reds manager John McNamara did let Berenyi bat for himself in the top of the inning. It was a different time.

Since the photo is probably not the result of a play — you can see the ball in the photo, it was likely fouled off — this is an educated guess. This is likely Buckner’s at-bat leading off the fifth inning. He wound up flying to right. Jim Kern relieved Berenyi after the leadoff walk in the sixth and finished the game, throwing four innings and allowing one run, posting a save as the Reds won 6-3. As I said, it was a different time.