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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: A Harry Caray mystery, solved

Exactly when was this photo taken? Your resident sleuth has the answer.

Courtesy Mike Scaletta

Here’s a photo where I’m going to give you the date I was told it was taken... and then tell you it probably can’t be from that date. After looking through Cubs and White Sox schedules for the year in question, though, I’m pretty sure I’ve sleuthed out what is the most likely actual date for the photo.

The photo above is clearly of Harry Caray, taken at Wrigley Field. He’s enjoying the game in the lower box seats down the left-field line, shirtless. Here is a larger version of the photo, plus another one taken the same day:

Courtesy Mike Scaletta
Courtesy Mike Scaletta

Mike Scaletta, who sent me these photos, tells me he’s absolutely certain they were taken August 20, 1978. I remember that game well — the Cubs trailed the Reds 1-0 going to the bottom of the ninth. The first two Cubs were easy outs, then two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and Dave Rader slammed a double off the right-field wall for a 2-1 win. 39,242 attended the game that day, myself included. I recall that as a gorgeous late-summer afternoon, which would match the photos.

But in 1978, Harry Caray was broadcasting full-time for the White Sox. On that afternoon, the Sox were in Cleveland, losing 10-1 to the Indians. Why would Harry have been in Chicago that day instead of on the air from Cleveland?

To see if I could find out more, I went to someone who would know, a former co-worker of mine at ABC7, Mike Torchia. In 1978, Torchia was a director at WSNS-Ch. 44 and worked Sox games with Harry, both at home and on the road.

Here’s what he told me:

Harry worked every game back then, unless it was a Monday night nationally televised game. ABC aired Monday Night games until 1988 as I recall and wouldn’t allow any local broadcasts via exclusivity. If that were the case, Harry might have been in the stands watching. You couldn’t keep him away from a baseball game. But Harry would never have taken a “game day” off if there was a game scheduled.


The White Sox game at Cleveland was the last of a seven-game road trip, and they had Monday, August 21 off before beginning a homestand. You could, I suppose, imagine Harry taking a Sunday off before an off day in Chicago and taking in a game at Wrigley. But according to Mike Torchia, his TV director in 1978, Harry worked every single game.

Which leaves me with two possible solutions to this mystery:

  • Harry actually did take a day off during 1978, or
  • These photos weren’t taken on August 20, 1978.

The latter seemed more likely, so I began a deep dive into the 1978 schedules for both the Cubs and White Sox.

First, the ivy is fully grown in the photos and people in the stands are dressed for summer (including Harry with his shirt off!), so this has to be June, July or August — the Cubs didn’t have a single crowd over 30,000 in September 1978.

These days, due to the interleague schedule and other factors, the Cubs and White Sox are often in town on the same day nine or 10 times a year. Back then? Not so much, they might overlap by a game or two, nothing more.

I found one such overlap in 1978. The Cubs played a doubleheader against the Giants Wednesday, July 19, 1978 and a single game against the Giants the next day. The White Sox were in town both those days against the Orioles, both scheduled night games. In fact, the Sox game against Baltimore July 20 was rained out (after the teams played two-plus scoreless innings), and the Cubs/Giants game was delayed by rain three times for over two hours before it was suspended. The game was the final Cubs/Giants game at Wrigley that year, so it was completed in San Francisco eight days later. The Cubs lost that one 9-8.

So it seems clear: Harry, knowing there were day games at Wrigley before his night-game work on the South Side, went to the North Side ballyard to take in a Cubs game, four years before he’d become the Cubs lead play-by-play man on WGN-TV. Attendance that day was 28,328, not a full house, but certainly enough to match what’s in the photos. Summer games on beautiful days like that tended to fill up the bleachers — still a bargain at $1.50 that year — even if other areas of the park weren’t.

Which one? The weather in Chicago leads me to a conclusion. It was beautiful in Chicago on July 19, sunny, with pleasant conditions. On July 20, storms blew through the area most of the day — as noted by the rain delays in the Cubs game and the rainout of the Sox game. The Tribune reported the Chicago area got absolutely drenched July 20, with some parts of the region getting as much as four inches of rain. Incidentally, that Sox rainout wasn’t made up. It was the last Sox/Orioles game in Chicago that year and though they had another trip to Baltimore in September, they already had two straight doubleheaders there due to previous rainouts in Baltimore. The league apparently took pity on the teams and didn’t force them to play three doubleheaders in a row.

Back to the Harry photos — the angle of the sun in the photos would seem to indicate noonish, or even before, and looks more like mid-July than mid-August. Beginning in 1974, doubleheaders at Wrigley Field began at noon. It would make sense for Harry to think that he could take in a full game at Wrigley, the first game of the doubleheader, then make it to Comiskey Park in plenty of time to broadcast the Sox game that night. Game 1 of that July 19 doubleheader at Wrigley ran 2:37, so Harry likely could have attended that game and even had time to stop at his downtown apartment before heading to Comiskey.

Thus my conclusion: These photos had to be taken Wednesday, July 19, 1978, before and during the first game of a Cubs doubleheader against the Giants. The Cubs lost the game 7-4.

And the photos are a fascinating slice of Harry Caray history at Wrigley Field, several years before he became a Cubs franchise icon.