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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1960s edition, and a mystery

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There’s one thing in this photo I could not figure out.

I trust I don’t have to tell you who this player is. That’s not the mystery.

This photo was sent to me by Chris Johnson, who told me:

I actually took this picture — sorry for the Instamatic quality. It’s what many of us used back then. My dad had done some work for a season ticket holder who graciously gave him four tickets to this game. That’s right — the picture is taken from our front row seats between the dugout and the on-deck circle. Any other game and it was grandstand only for us. I still have the stubs and the autographed program from this, ahem, player. In retrospect I think he was used to seeing certain folks sitting there and when he was walking by I think he wanted to make this a special day for us guests. When my mom called out ‘Ron!’ he smiled and hopped over to the wall, signed and posed.

He’s looking at me but it feels like he’s tipping his cap to everyone. He’s gone but this indelible memory is not.

The first thing to do, then, is to sleuth out the date. It has to be from 1969-71, because:

  • The scoreboard is clearly set up for six games in each league, that had to be 1969 or later, and
  • The Cubs changed to pullover polyester jerseys in 1972.

However, I couldn’t quite read the teams on the board, so I sent the photo to Mike Bojanowski, who has better Photoshop equipment and skills than I do. Here’s what he sent back:

The board reads:

Detroit/Baltimore
New York/Cleveland
Minnesota/Kansas City
Sox/Oakland
Seattle/California
Boston/Washington

This can only be Saturday, June 28, 1969. One partial score visible, at Washington, 010/000, this matches the day. Seattle/Baltimore is the only night game that day on the AL schedule.

Only two day games on the NL side, that can be seen, the other day game was in Montreal vs. Philadelphia, the terminal L and A can be seen.

I sent that date back to Chris Johnson, who confirmed it:

Your guess is quite correct.

At the time I figured Ernie Banks was headed for the Hall of Fame someday but had no way to know there would be nine others between the two teams that would also be inducted. Actually 10, if you count Sandy Koufax where was there for this GOTW. He did on-field interviews right in front of us before and after the game.

The 10 Hall of Famers present that day at Wrigley Field: Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Leo Durocher, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Steve Carlton and Koufax.

More from Chris Johnson:

Here is a scan of the program with the ticket stubs and autograph. It’s a little messy but intact after 51 years. Sorry for the scribblings of an 11-year-old boy who did not yet know how to keep score (that would come later).

Now, on to the mystery I mentioned in the headline, and for that, let me repost the photo at the top:

You can clearly see that it’s almost game time. The clock shows 1:15; in 1969 Saturday games started right around then, so Chris got Santo’s autograph just before the game started. It wasn’t quite a full house, though the bleachers are full. 29,285 paid that day to see the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3-1. Bill Hands threw a three-hit complete game and Don Young and Willie Smith homered.

You can also clearly see that the US flag on the flagpole on top of the scoreboard is at half-staff.

I searched everywhere I could think of for why that might have been, and came up empty.

If you have any knowledge of why the Cubs would have flown the US flag at half-staff at Wrigley Field on June 28, 1969, please let us all know.

Otherwise, just enjoy this little slice of Cubs history.