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Cubs historical sleuthing: A 1970s moment in time

It’s rare to find an action photo like this from so long ago.

Raymond Ade

Here we have a Cubs action photo, clearly from the 1970s or 1980s. A Cubs catcher is picking up a ball near the first base dugout.

When? What play was this?

My (and your) first clue is that this was sent to me by reader Raymond Ade, who also sent me the photos of the San Diego Chicken that I posted here last month. Those photos were from July 8, 1979, so I began with the assumption that they might be from the same season.

Interestingly, no one from the team the Cubs were playing that afternoon is visible in this photo. So I sent it to Mike Bojanowski to see if he could figure out what date this was from the teams on the scoreboard. The clock reads (approximately) 3:25 p.m. There’s no score listed on the Cubs line on the board (at that time the Cubs game was listed in the middle of the board), so we’re obviously looking at the second game of a doubleheader.

Here’s what he sent me:

In the NL there were two other DHs that day, only first games are on the board. So, first line on the board: NYM at Los Angeles, the divide in New York is visible, that game had not started by 3:25 Chicago time. Line 2: Philadelphia at San Diego, just under way (1:08 local), only top of first complete. Line 3: Montreal at San Francisco, first game of DH, five innings complete, no pitching changes, SF starter is scorecard No. 1, that’s Vida Blue.

Line 4: Cubs game. Line 5: Atlanta at Pittsburgh, first game of DH, 5 innings complete, eastern zone, but rainy day, likely delays. Line 6: Houston at St. Louis, divides in St. Louis visible, (1:19 local), 6.5 innings complete.

And one beaut, it’s just visible on the AL side that all games are in progress except one, the Sox / Detroit game, eastern time zone. That game was 1-0 final, done in two hours flat, off the board, the only one.

All of these games match Sunday, July 22, 1979. The Cubs were facing the Reds and had lost the first game 12-1.

What happened in the first inning of that second game when the Reds were batting?

Dave Collins led off with a walk and was wild-pitched to second. Was this the wild pitch? Probably not — that would have had to be a really wild pitch to wind up near the first base dugout. Also, the wild pitch happened when Joe Morgan was batting. Morgan wore No. 8. The board shows a two-digit number in the “BATTER” space.

Two outs later, Dan Driessen singled. Collins scored and advanced to second on a throwing error by Cubs second baseman Steve Dillard.

This is what we’re looking at — the aftermath of the throwing error. The ball wound up near the first base dugout. Catcher Tim Blackwell is picking up the ball. You can see first baseman Larry Biittner apparently nonchalantly walking toward... somewhere. Though he appears rather casual, remember this photo catches a single moment in time. In the background is pitcher Lynn McGlothen.

The Cubs eventually won the game 8-4. Dick Tidrow threw four innings of shutout relief to gain the victory. A full house of 41,052 (this writer included) were in attendance.

Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post.

Raymond Ade