This photo was found on the Cubs Archives Instagram page and sent to me recently by a reader.
The caption on the photo was:
Looking out at Wrigley Field from down the left field line, 1973.
That isn’t correct and I’m going to explain why and tell you the exact date this photo was taken. Here’s the full photo:
The first clue that tells us this isn’t 1973 are the railings you see in the box seats at the bottom of the photo. The lower deck at Wrigley Field was completely renovated between the end of the 1968 season and the beginning of the 1970 season, with those railings removed and the seats turned to face home plate. You can tell those box seats don’t face the plate in the photo.
Thus it has to be 1969 or earlier.
This is obviously a Cubs/White Sox exhibition game. Though the photo is not high quality, it’s quite clear that SOX (the way the White Sox appeared on the board in that era) and CUBS are the only team names on the board. It’s a pre-season game — as you can see, the ivy is brown and there are no leaves on trees outside the ballpark.
The center-field bleachers are covered up with a green Astroturf tarp. That tarp was installed in mid-May 1967 and remained in place until Tribune Company took over the team in the early 1980s.
Thus there are only two possible years for this pre-season exhibition game: 1968 or 1969. I checked the Tribune archives and no such game was played at Wrigley Field in 1968, thus leaving 1969 as the only possibility.
There are two other clues that confirm 1969 as the correct year. First, the US flag on the scoreboard is flying at half-staff. This was for former President Dwight Eisenhower, who died March 28, 1969. Flag rules state that for a former president, flags are to fly at half staff for 30 days, thus early April would have been well within that time frame.
The second clue is the grass in right field, which looks, to be charitable, not great. The Cubs had a lot of re-sodding to do in that era, because when the Bears played in Wrigley Field, they put some temporary bleachers in right field which pretty much killed the grass. The Chicago Tribune photo below (from this page of vintage Chicago baseball photos), taken on Opening Day 1969, shows a matching strip of darker grass in right field:
You can also see that in this video of Willie Smith’s walkoff home run on Opening Day, April 8, 1969:
Anyway, back to the photo. It was taken (obviously, because you can see the scoreboard clock) at just before 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, April 6, 1969, the date of a Cubs/White Sox exhibition game at Wrigley Field. The players in the field have gray uniforms, so that has to be the Sox in the field just as the bottom of the first inning is about to begin — note, there’s no batter, ball, strike or out noted on the board.
The Sox won this game 5-3. Bill Hands started for the Cubs and allowed three runs in three innings. Ron Santo homered — his seventh of that year’s spring games! — in the fifth to make the score 3-1. Ken Holtzman and Ted Abernathy then threw two scoreless innings each and Hank Aguirre a single scoreless frame, but the Sox scored two off Phil Regan in the top of the ninth. Billy Williams and Santo opened the bottom of the ninth with singles off Wilbur Wood, Williams taking third on Santo’s hit and scoring on a wild pitch. Jim Hickman singled in Santo to make it 5-3, but Don Young struck out to end the game.
Attendance was announced at 10,723, which seems small for what you see, the bleachers filled. However, bleacher capacity was lower in those days, just 3,300, and it was a chilly, 42-degree day, meaning most people wouldn’t have wanted to sit in the shade in the grandstand seats. Total capacity of Wrigley Field in 1969 was 36,644.
Just another slice of Cubs history, and a photo from an angle we rarely see.