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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1970s aerial edition

This is a great shot of the ballpark from that era.

You have probably seen this photo before; it’s floated around the internet for quite some time.

Recently, while searching for more photos to sleuth, I came across it here:

Just to give you a larger version to look at while I explain the sleuthing process, here it is:

The key here is not to look at the scoreboard, but instead the marquee. Here’s a zoomed-in, slightly pixellated view:

At first glance, it looks like the Cubs are playing the Padres in a doubleheader sometime in July, followed by some games against the Dodgers.

Take a look at the tallest building in view at the top right of the photo, slightly to the right of center. That’s Park Place Tower, 655 W. Irving Park Road. That building was completed in 1971, so this photo has to be from after that.

The problem with what appears to be on the marquee is that in the time frame from 1971 through the early 1980s (when the marquee was changed to an electronic sign), the Cubs didn’t play any doubleheaders against the Padres in July. None.

I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski and we went back and forth on a number of possibilities. There are several things visible on the scoreboard that are clear and give us clues, even with the board being so tiny near the top of the photo, shown here:

  • It’s about 1:20 p.m., but the Cubs game (which was always in the middle in the 1970s, and you can make out the short word saying CUBS on that line) is already in the middle innings. Thus, this has to be a doubleheader. Those started at 12:05 beginning in 1973.
  • Kansas City is at New York (second from the bottom line on the AL side, pitchers posted but no score yet)
  • The team playing the Cubs is making a pitching change — there’s a black square next to that team, indicating the relief pitcher number plate has been removed, but the new number is in the process of being placed
  • It’s between innings, since nothing is visible in the BATTER/BALL/STRIKE/OUT area in the middle of the board
  • It’s almost certainly Sunday, since there are no NITE GAME words listed and in that era, no one (except the Texas Rangers, occasionally) played night games on Sundays

Instead of looking through Cubs games, I decided to take a look at all the games when the Royals were playing at Yankee Stadium in the time frame indicated. What you also have to remember is that the schedule in those days was divided into “blocks” — either all teams were playing divisional teams, or all teams were playing teams from the opposite division. If the Royals are playing the Yankees, the Cubs must be playing a NL West team.

In searching through Royals/Yankees games in New York in that era, there’s only one date that matches with the Cubs playing a doubleheader at Wrigley.

That day is Sunday, July 16, 1978.

And, in fact, the details of the first game of that day’s doubleheader match perfectly with what we see here. The Cubs were playing the Dodgers, and in the top of the fifth inning in that first game, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda pinch-hit for his starting pitcher, Rick Rhoden, with Reggie Smith. (Rather odd decision, taking your starter out after only four innings back then, trailing 3-0.) The Dodgers had two runners on and two out, and Mike Krukow struck out Smith.

The Dodgers, then, were changing pitchers to start the bottom of the fifth, and that’s what we are seeing here, the scoreboard operator getting ready to put a new plate in the relief pitcher spot for the Dodgers. Charlie Hough came into the game and threw two scoreless innings. He was followed by Bob Welch, pitching in just his eighth MLB game. Welch also threw two scoreless innings.

The Cubs, behind Krukow (seven innings) and Bruce Sutter (retired all six batters he faced, three strikeouts, 15th save), won the game 3-2. L.A. won the nightcap 5-3 and the Cubs ended the day in second place with a 45-42 record, 4½ games out of first place.

Why, then, did the marquee clearly read “SAN DIEGO” at the beginning of its “TICKETS AVAILABLE ALL GAMES” message? The Cubs had played the Padres the previous day, the last of a three-game series, and the Dodgers were in town for three, the doubleheader Sunday (a scheduled DH!) and a game Monday. Most likely guess: On a weekend no one had bothered to change the marquee signage. Paid attendance on July 16, 1978 was 41,677, the second-largest crowd of the season.

And yes, they really did park cars near Wrigley that way back then. Can you imagine trying to get out if you were completely blocked in?

In any case, this is an iconic aerial photo of Wrigley Field, and now you know exactly when it was taken.