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Today in Cubs history: The Cubs win their first game under Tribune Co. management

And, it was Harry Caray’s Cubs television debut.

Keith Moreland
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The sale of the Cubs to Tribune Company had been completed in August 1981, but the turnover of management of the team to people hired by Tribco wasn’t finished until after the 1981 season ended, when GM Bob Kennedy was replaced by Dallas Green.

Thus it wasn’t until Opening Day 1982 that the Cubs really played their first game under a new ownership for the first time in several decades. It happened against the Reds in Cincinnati, which back then was granted the first MLB game of the year due to the Cincinnati Red Stockings’ status as the first professional baseball team in 1869.

Thus it was that the Cubs would be involved in that very first game of the 1982 season. One thing that stood out were brand-new road uniforms, a blue pullover top with white pants, modeled by Keith Moreland in the photo above. Doug Bird, who had been acquired from the Yankees for Rick Reuschel in June 1981, got the Opening Day nod on the mound.

Bird pitched well. He didn’t allow a run for six innings. Meanwhile, the Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead on solo homers by Bump Wills (on the second pitch of the season!) and Moreland (in the second inning), both off Reds ace Mario Soto.

I went to this game. As the boxscore indicates, the weather was miserable (40 degrees, windy and rainy). The Reds made it 2-1 against Bird in the seventh, and in the eighth rain began to fall, but not until after the Cubs scored a run after a freak play, per Jerome Holtzman’s recap in the Tribune:

With two outs and runners at first and second, Leon Durham tried to duck away from an inside pitch. In so doing, the ball struck the knob on the bottom of Durham’s bat and rolled to second baseman Ron Oester, who threw to first for what seemed to be the third out.

But [plate umpire John] Kibler ruled the pitch had simultaneously struck the heel of Durham’s left, or bottom, hand. Durham, who thought he had made the third out, was awarded first base.

It was a big break for the Cubs. Instead of stranding runners in a bloodless threat, they had the bases filled with two outs. A 46-minute rain delay followed.

When play resumed, an RBI single by Moreland gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the inning, the Reds had scored a run on a double by former Cub Mike Vail, but a good relay throw by Tye Waller held Paul Householder at third, otherwise the game would have been tied up 3-3.

The teams managed to finish the eighth inning, but then it started raining harder again and after another delay, it was called as a 3-2 Cubs win.

The Cubs did not continue on a winning note that year. Their record fell to 5-11, 8-18 and eventually 21-39 (following a 13-game losing streak). From the beginning of the 1980 season through 60 games of the 1982 season, the team’s overall W/L record was 123-202, a .378 winning percentage that would equate to a 61-101 record in a full 162-game season.

But the team did play better after that 21-39 start, going 52-50 the rest of the way in 1982, perhaps a precursor to the 1984 NL East title.

Opening Day 1982 was significant in Cubs history for another reason: It was Harry Caray’s debut as the Cubs’ TV play-by-play announcer, a post he would hold for 17 seasons. We are fortunate that the entire video of that game has been saved. It’s posted below, in two parts.

This all happened 40 years ago today, Monday, April 5, 1982.