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Cubs historical sleuthing: Hank Aaron edition

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This was a rare look at Aaron, the first baseman.

Bettmann/Contributor

This photo is a great slice of Cubs and Wrigley Field history for a number of reasons.

First, Getty’s caption:

Chicago Cubs’ Rick Monday (7) beats Atlanta Braves pitcher’s throw to his first baseman, Hank Aaron on pickoff attempt in first inning of game.

That’s exactly what we are looking at. Let’s figure out when this was taken.

Monday and Aaron overlapped as a Cub and Brave in three seasons: 1972, 1973 and 1974. However, of those three seasons, Aaron played first base in just one of them: 1972.

And, Aaron played first base in just three games at Wrigley Field that year, July 14, July 15 and July 16.

Looking at the boxscores for the three games, the answer was easy. The caption says this is the first inning, and Monday was on first base in the first inning in just one of those games: Friday, July 14, 1972. He singled leading off the bottom of the first. Two batters later, Billy Williams drove him in with a two-run homer, and Joe Pepitone followed with another homer, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

The Cubs proceeded to blow that lead and entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 8-6. Williams led off with a single and was doubled in by Jose Cardenal (who had batted for Pepitone in the sixth and stayed in the game), making it 8-7. One out later, Glenn Beckert singled in Cardenal to tie the game and after a flyout and single put Beckert on second base, pinch-hitter Paul Popovich singled Beckert in for a 9-8 Cubs win, in front of 18,930.

Which brings me to the next part of the story about this photo. In 1972, 18,938 was about half the capacity of Wrigley Field. You can see lots of empty seats in the photo, behind first base. In those days there were likely fewer than 1,000 season-ticket holders and many box seats like that were sold on a day-of-game basis. They’d simply sell the ones closer to the plate first, and the rest would be empty — as you can see, guarded by a lone Andy Frain usher, standing in the middle of the section.

You can also see, a bit, how the field was “crowned” in those days. Before the field at Wrigley was completely ripped up and re-done with a new drainage system in 2007, the field was, for lack of a better term, “rounded,” not flat. It meant that people sitting in the dugouts had to sit up at the front to see everything, because the dugouts were actually lower than most of the field.

Just another slice of Cubs history. As I noted the other day, it’s hard to believe that this photo is from nearly half a century ago.