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Cubs historical sleuthing: Rick Monday edition

This was a tough one.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

This time, Getty Images’ information was pretty generic:

Tommy Helms #19 of the Houston Astros in action against the Chicago Cubs during an Major League Baseball game circa 1972 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Helms played for the Astros from 1972-75.

All true. As a student of Cubs history I know — and you probably do too if you’ve studied Cubs past — that’s Rick Monday trying to break up the play at second base. Helms, who was acquired by Houston in the November 1971 deal that sent Joe Morgan to the Reds — a particularly bad deal for the Astros — was Houston’s fulltime second baseman in 1972, 1973 and 1974, not playing any other positions. Those are the only years the Astros wore those uniforms when Helms was on the team. In 1975 they changed to the then-controversial color rainbow jerseys.

So, 1972, 1973 or 1974.

The next clue is that there’s no ivy on the walls, so it’s got to be early in the season. The only early season games the Astros played at Wrigley Field in those years were in 1972 — but in early May. Nowadays, you’d see ivy on the walls by early May, but back then? Maybe not. In 1973 the Astros didn’t play at Wrigley until the end of May and in 1974 not till mid-June, so this photo has to be from 1972.

There were two Cubs/Astros games at Wrigley in May 1972, May 5 and May 6 (a scheduled game May 7 was rained out and made up as part of a doubleheader in July).

In the May 5 game, Rick Monday reached base three times on a single and two walks. Each time he was erased on a double play. So this play could be Monday trying to break up a double play.

But I don’t think so. Here is another photo of the same play:

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Now, in this photo you can see some of the fans in the bleachers. They’re dressed for a summer day. The game-time temp for the May 5 game was 50, but on May 6 it was 74. Also, what we can see of the bleachers looks fairly full. The May 5 total attendance was 8,400 — a Friday afternoon. The next day, Saturday, 20,072 paid to see the Cubs and Astros play.

In the first inning of the May 6 game, Jim Hickman had hit a two-run homer with two out. Monday was the next hitter. He walked — and then stole second.

I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re looking at here, the end of that stolen base play. Monday eventually took third on a passed ball, but was stranded. The Cubs won the game 6-4 behind 5⅓ innings of scoreless relief by Juan Pizarro after Bill Hands got knocked out in the fourth inning. Carmen Fanzone hit two home runs.

First inning, Saturday, May 6, 1972. Cannot believe that’s almost 50 years ago.