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Cubs historical sleuthing: Ryne Sandberg edition

I decided to take on a real challenge here.

Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Getty Images supplied this very generic information about this photo:

Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs fields during an MLB game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Ryne Sandberg played for the Chicago Cubs from 1982-1997.

Well, you already know all that.

We also know that Steve Sax of the Dodgers is in this photo. Sax and Sandberg both played in the National League from 1982-88, and we can eliminate 1982 because Sandberg did not play any games at second base (where this photo clearly is) against the Dodgers in 1982.

Sax played in 37 games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field from 1983-88. Sandberg played in 35 of those games, so we can eliminate two of Sax’s 37.

There’s one more curious thing about this photo. There’s ivy on the outfield wall, but if you look closely it doesn’t appear to have fully grown in yet. So that would imply sometime in May.

That reduces the number of games to 10. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Unlike a lot of similar photos, it seems absolutely clear here that the hitter after Sax has hit a ground ball and Sax is trying to break up a double play. The ground ball could either have been to short, and Sandberg is relaying, or the ground ball could have been to Sandberg, who is trying to complete a double play. What we don’t know is if the DP was completed.

There’s one other good clue: Neither Sandberg nor Sax has a dirty uniform. This would imply early in the game. The shadows shown on Ryno’s face also imply a sun angle that would have been early afternoon.

There is only one play I found among those 10 games that could match what we see here. It happened in the top of the first inning Tuesday, May 5, 1987. Sax singled with one out and the next hitter hit into an inning-ending double play, 6-4-3.

I checked the weather for that date in the Tribune archive: Sunny, high temperature 68, cooler near the lake, which would explain Sandberg wearing a long-sleeve shirt.

So I’m convinced that’s the play we’re looking at here. Oh, and the player who hit into that double play? Former Cub Bill Madlock. That was Madlock’s final big-league season. He was released by the Dodgers three weeks later and finished his career with the Tigers, for whom he actually hit pretty well, .279/.351/.460 with 14 home runs in 87 games.

The Cubs lost that game 3-1. Madlock homered off Jamie Moyer in the eighth inning.