May 13, 2024

The Challenge

Unlike digital photography, where the date a photo was taken is stored in the image's metadata, there is often little to go on from film images. Slides get a date-of-development stamp on the cardboard mount (month and year), but that's it.

But sometimes one gets lucky and can use snippets of information to learn more...


I am in the midst of a project to scan (or at least review) all of my father's (Michael's) 35mm slides (current estimate: some 4500 of them).

In the latest batch of slides, there is a roll of film developed in June 1973. On that roll are photos he shot from the top of the Gateway Arch.

The Ballpark

The first photo on the roll is of Busch Stadium (II), and there is clearly a game going on, albeit with a sparse crowd (one can only see the 1st base-side stands, not the field). Then there is another photo taken with a telephoto lens of the stadium. In that second photo, one can see the stadium "strip board" (i.e., between the lower and upper decks, not the entire regular scoreboard). So I zoomed in on it in Photoshop and one can read the runs-hits-errors total for each team (although it is hard to read the team names). One can also see that #39 is at bat.

OK, I said to myself, it ought to be possible to figure out exactly what day this photo was taken!

All images on this page are © 1973 by Michael W Friedlander

(Click to view larger.)

The Mississippi River Flood of 1973

There are other photos on this roll (also taken from the top of the Arch) showing massive flooding on the Mississippi River at the base of the Arch (Wharf Street and the Levee are completely underwater).

People took photos on film far more sparingly than they do today with digital. So I have run across numerous cases with my dad's slides where the date stamped on each cardboard mount for a given roll (i.e., when it was developed) shows images that clearly were shot many months before that. (e.g., June-time-stamped rolls showing snow, etc.) But it does still give a useful no-later-than date.

I started with the flooding, and corroborated that it was indeed 1973:
The first two sentence of the article state:

The Mississippi flood of 1973 occurred between March and May 1973 on the lower Mississippi River.[1] The flooding was the third most severe along the U.S.'s Mississippi River during the 20th century.

Here are some of his images taken from the Arch to document the flooding.

(Click to view larger.)



The Sleuthing!

First of all, overall credit goes to Noah and Rafael for having previously introduced me to the Baseball Almanac and Baseball Reference web sites! Thank you!

I figured that a day game was probably a Sunday, because I thought it (a) less likely that my dad would have taken off from the university on a weekday to take a visitor (?) to the Arch and (b) even in 1973 most Saturday games would have been night games.

There are many ways to get old calendars on line, but I simply used the UNIX "cal" command in the Terminal application: One can either do "cal <year>" or "cal <month> <year>", e.g.

% cal 5 1973 May 1973 Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

I started with the uniform number of the player "at bat", #39. I found a web page listing who wore #39 in every Cardinal season. For 1973, it was Al Hrabosky ("The Mad Hungarian"), a great relief pitcher. But it would have been odd for a closer (although that term was not really used then) to have been batting.

I then found a page of every game he played that year, although it appears he did not join the team until June:

This was not promising: the only two Sundays in June (6/10 and 6/17) Hrabosky played were road games. So this was rather a dead end.

I already knew the line score [runs-hits-errors for each team] (see zoomed-in attachment) was 2-7-1 and 3-5-2 but I did not know what inning that was, and thought it would take a lot of slogging through games to find a mid-game line-score. Having one team make 2 errors is sufficiently unusual that I thought that might help me find it. However, I also could not tell with certainty which team was which in that line score (trying to read the very zoomed-in image, shown above).

Next I decided to look at their entire season:
although I was really only looking for home games on Sundays in April, May, and June. (An aside: The "Opponent" column on that page uses the standard "at" to mean a road game and "vs" to mean a home game. (e.g., "at Houston Astros" compared to "vs Pittsburgh Pirates")

Then I found it!
Sunday, May 13, 1973, Montreal Expos vs Cardinals.

The final line score was indeed 2-7-1, 3-5-2! But Hrabosky was not even in this game? Ah, a sudden thought: it was #39 of the Expos, not the Cardinals who was at-bat. I found the analogous uniform number web page for the Expos:
which showed that in 1973 #39 was worn by one "Coco Laboy". And Laboy does indeed show up in the box score for that game (with just one official at-bat).

I then found a play-by-play summary at Baseball Reference:
which shows Laboy (who came into the game as a defensive replacement in the 7th inning) got his first at-bat leading off the 9th.

(Going back to the greatly zoomed-in screenshot, I now think the fuzzy item at the far right of the strip board is "INN" (inning) "9".)

But what time was the photo taken?

Lastly, I pulled out my personal childhood baseball scrapbooks. There I found (shown below) the 2.5x4" pocket "Busch Official Schedule", which shows that game (all Sunday games, really) started at 1:15pm. The box score (above) shows the game lasted 2 hours 17 minutes (Bob Gibson pitched 8 innings, and he always worked quickly!).

1973 Cardinals pocket schedule:
monthly schedule
Some other observations
Note how few games were televised!
(little TV-in-a-circle icons)

Since the Expos batters went 1-2-3 in the 9th, and assuming the game started on time, then it ended around 3:32 pm, and Laboy would have been batting 5-8(??) minutes before the end of the game, thus my final guesstimate was that these photos were taken at circa:
3:25pm, Sunday May 13, 1973

Finally, a notable coincidence: I am assembling this web page exactly 51 years to the day since these photos were taken (May 13, 1973 to May 13, 2024). (I actually did the research on May 12, 2024.) Obviously, I had no idea of this when I began, as I was trying to determine the date!

Isn't the Internet amazing!?

Technical information about the photos:

  • • My father's camera system consisted of a 1961 Pentax S2 single lens reflex (SLR) camera with three screw-mount, fixed focal-length Pentax lenses: 35mm f/3.5, 55mm f/2.0, and 135mm f/3.5. This was a manual focus camera which required an external light meter.
    My images and descriptions about the equipment can be found here.
    Although I wrote up these details about the camera in January, 2017 as I had written other eBay ads, I never actually attempted to sell these items.
  • • The film was Kodak Kodachrome (assumed ISO 64, but maybe 25?)
  • • The original slides were scanned in May 2024 on a Minolta Scan Dual IV film scanner (which gives about 12 megapixels resolution (3200dpi) and very good dynamic range).