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Cubs historical sleuthing: Early 2000s edition

This is a great snapshot in time.

Recently, I put a call out for readers to send in photos they’d like me to sleuth, and I’ve received some good ones.

This photo, sent by Joseph Boyle, was pretty easy to sleuth, given the clear shot of the scoreboard, with matchups easily readable.

It was taken pre-bleacher expansion, so that dates it to before 2006. Also, “SAN FRANCISCO” is clearly visible on the board. For a time in the 1980s and 1990s, the team inexplicably abbreviated that as “SAN FRAN” rather than make the letters thinner and fit the entire city name. That ended after 1996.

No. 33 is the starting pitcher for the Cubs. That number has been worn by a lot of forgettable Cubs, especially in that era, among them Ramon Morel, Don Wengert, Brian McNichol and Dan Serafini.

The No. 33 who wore that number longest in that time frame was Glendon Rusch, who pitched for the Cubs from 2004-06. Rusch had a pretty good year in 2004 (3.1 bWAR), less good in 2005, awful in 2006 — but the awful was likely because he had a life-threatening blood disease diagnosed that year. Fortunately, all turned out well and he briefly came back to pitch for the Padres and Rockies in 2008 and 2009.

Anyway, the matchups on the board match just one date — Tuesday, June 1, 2004. There’s no batter number, count or outs shown and three innings’ worth of score is posted, so this must be the inning break between the bottom of the third and top of the fourth. We even have the time of day, about 7:55 p.m.

The game went into the eighth inning tied 3-3, then Cubs second baseman Todd Walker made a throwing error on a ball that would have ended the inning. Instead, the Astros scored two unearned runs off Kyle Farnsworth and won 5-3.

This photo is a great snapshot of the bleachers pre-expansion. In just about the middle of the right-field bleachers you’ll see a short railing. In those days, my bleacher seat was just to the right of that railing as you look at the photo. I was definitely at this game, though I can’t quite pick myself out in the large crowd (38,667) that was there that night.

You might be wondering what the number on the message board beneath the scoreboard represents. In the early 2000s, the Cubs often ran promotional dates on which they handed out scratch-off cards to everyone who entered the park, and then had several hundred winners of (usually) an autographed item. On June 1, 2004, the team gave out 500 Rick Sutcliffe autographed baseballs; the winners were either instant (after scratching the card) or matched numbers on their cards to those posted on the board. I didn’t win one of those that night, but I did win (and still have) a Kerry Wood ball and one signed by Dusty Baker.

Congratulations to #03770, whoever you were!