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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Tony Oliva edition

Wait, what?

Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Getty Images says:

Tony Oliva of the Minnesota Twins poses before a MLB game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Oliva played for the Minnesota Twins from 1962-76.

Well. You certainly know that the Minnesota Twins did not play a single game in Wrigley Field during Oliva’s MLB career; the first Twins game at Wrigley in interleague play didn’t happen until 1997.

However, that’s definitely Oliva, and it’s definitely Wrigley Field. Here’s the full photo:

Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

So, this has to be some sort of exhibition game, for Oliva to be in full Twins uniform. The first clue — which you will have to look closely for — is the “BUD LIGHT” ad on the Wrigley scoreboard. That ad (and a similar “BUDWEISER” ad on the left side) were there from 1983-86.

Now we’ve got a time frame. But... what sort of game was this?

I sent the photo to Mike Bojanowski, who looked through his collection of scorecards and program magazines. The Cubs published the latter for many years starting in 1982.

The magazine noted a series of Old Timers Games, sponsored by True Value Hardware, beginning in 1982. But it can’t be ‘82, since as noted, the BUD LIGHT ad wasn’t on the board until ‘83. Oliva did, in fact, play in a Wrigley Old Timers Game, Cubs old-timers against an All-Star team, in 1982.

Oliva also played in the 1983 game, and that’s when this photo had to be taken, since Oliva was a MLB coach for the Twins from 1985-91, and the 1984 True Value game was billed as “The World Series that should have been,” between Cubs and Orioles old-timers, the Series we all would have loved to see in 1969.

This game took place before the regularly scheduled Cubs/Pirates game on Saturday, June 4, 1983. Robert Markus reported on it in the Tribune:

Same old Cubs. First they win your heart, then they break it. A team of old-time Cubs’ heroes jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the Hall of Fame Classic against a team of former All-Stars.

But, with ex-Minnesota Twins great Tony Oliva blasting a home run into the right-field bleachers, the All-Stars came back to earn a 2-2 tie. It was all in fun of course, but there was some serious baseball played.

Don Kessinger ranged behind second base and made a backhand flip for a forceout to show why Cubs’ fans remember him as the fanciest fielding shortstop of his era.

So not only do we have a photo of Oliva from that afternoon, he was one of the hitting heroes of the old-timers’ game. Oliva, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer, was a few weeks short of his 45th birthday on this date, and Kessinger was about to turn 41.

But some really old old-timers also played in this contest. Johnny Vander Meer, who briefly pitched for the Cubs but is more famous for his back-to-back no-hitters in 1938, threw an inning — at age 69, and Guy Bush, a Cubs rotation stalwart in the 1930s, gave up a hit to Lou Brock. Bush was almost 82!

In the Cubs/Pirates game that afternoon, Fergie Jenkins — some of whose Cubs teammates played in the Hall of Fame Classic — threw six strong innings, allowing two runs, and the Cubs won the game 5-3, the fourth win of what would become a seven-game winning streak. From Markus’ Tribune recap:

“We played eight years together,” said Jenkins, referring to the players turned businessmen who had frolicked once again on the green grass. “It was a lucky throw of the dice that I’m still pitching.”

Here’s the card with the rosters of the Cubs and their “honored opponents” with brief bios of each that was handed out on that June day 39 years ago. The youngest of the group was Steve Stone, who had retired from baseball just two years earlier and was 35 years old.

Click here and here for larger versions of the images below.