A Day In Wrigley Field History: April 17, 1951

Don Morley/Getty Images

It was Opening Day and the Cubs won, but that wasn't the most interesting thing that happened at Wrigley on this day.

You're probably wondering why there's a photo of a golfer attached to this post.

Or maybe you're not if you already know this story; if you don't (or even if you do), gather round while I tell you about one of the greatest pro golfers of all time and his day at Wrigley Field.

According to the Tribune, Sam Snead, then probably the best golf pro in the world, was in Chicago to have a doctor look over a wrist he had broken over the winter. He stopped by Wrigley on Opening Day, where a modest crowd of 18,211 saw something that had never been done before, and hasn't been done since. Edward Burns of the Tribune picks up the story:

The longest ball ever hit in Wrigley field sailed over the 89 foot high center field scoreboard yesterday while the Cubs and Reds gaped. It was propelled before the game by Sam Snead, the golfing man. 

Snead first tried a four iron and the ball hit the target. Then Sam, again without benefit of a tee, used a two iron and the ball cleared the board. He made the drive in his street clothes.

"Look, he didn't even wiggle," marveled the Cubs' Frankie Frisch.

"Yeah, but can he hit a curve ball?" asked Luke Sewell, the Reds' skipper.

So now you know, in addition to this feat, how high the Wrigley board towers over the corner of Waveland and Sheffield. No baseball has ever hit the board, though it's been reported that Roberto Clemente came close in the second game of a doubleheader May 17, 1959. Clemente's homer is generally considered to be the longest home run in Wrigley Field history. William Szczepanek attended that game; here's his excellent description of that blast:

What I remember best was Clemente making contact and the awful sound of the ball hitting the bat. It was one of the loudest cracks that I had ever heard in a ball park, but the silence that followed indicated something special had happened. It was as if the crowd just got the wind knocked out of them. There was the crack of the bat and then an "oomph", then silence, as the ball sailed out of the park over the diagonal fence in back of the bleachers to the left of the scoreboard. The ball would not have struck the scoreboard if it had been hit to center field, only because it wasn't hit high enough.

I remember another Pirates outfielder, a guy you likely have never heard of, Doug Frobel, come close to hitting the board. It was also in the second game of a doubleheader, June 26, 1984, when Frobel hit a home run that landed in the last row of the center-field bleachers, just below the board. It was his second homer of the game, that one off Lee Smith. Frobel hit just 20 home runs in a decidedly non-memorable career, but I'll bet he'll always remember that blast.

As for the Opening Day game in 1951, the Cubs beat the Reds 6-2, then won four of their first five and were playing near .500 ball into late May. After a long losing streak, they panicked and traded Andy Pafko, which was the beginning of a long decline. The Cubs wound up losing 92 games in 1951.

So Snead's golf drives were pretty much the highlight of the year. The photo at the top of this post shows him in 1962.

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