The time: 3:12 p.m., January 23, 1944. Place: The Friendly Inclines. Event: the 40th annual Norge Ski Jump Club championships, won on that day by Army Tech Sergeant Torger Tokle.
Fans filled the bleachers to watch Sgt. Tokle and more than 50 other skiers compete that day. This photo shows the man once known as the Babe Ruth of long-distance jumping as he faced the Baby Ruth of Sheffield Avenue in the middle of an 89-foot leap from a special ramp in the upper deck to a runway of packed snow near the pitcher’s mound.
Perhaps even more remarkable than this view of Sgt. Tokle in flight is the winter-white appearance of the Wrigley Field scoreboard, horripilating at the rare sight of a skier high above home plate.
The dark signage on the board shows football matchups from the last week of the 1943 NFL regular season, so this bright paint job was no special decoration for the Norge Club event. Most likely, it was only Rust-Oleum primer to protect the sheet metal under the now-familiar olive drab paint that at the time was scheduled to replace the original reddish-brown exterior of the giant board.
In fact, the famous 70-year tradition of an OD board may have started either with wartime shortages of the original paint color, or as a patriotic gesture by Phil Wrigley. Whatever the history of WF scoreboard colors might be, the winter camouflage seen in this photo seems just right for a unique January event at Wrigley Field.
Cubs and Wrigley history have been a long-time hobby of mine, so when I first viewed this photo during the buildup to the 2009 Winter Classic, I thought for a moment about trying to find a surviving contestant from that ancient Norge Club ski event, before I dismissed the idea as a waste of time.
But recently, with the Hawks and Red Wings once again the focus of attention, I remembered this image. This time, it reminded me of the familiar Prudential "blue dots" TV commercial that tells us so many people are living well into their 90’s. Once again, I started thinking there might be a slim chance of locating a 1944 Norge Ski Club member for the inside story of what may be the most unusual sporting event in Wrigley Field history.
Until last week, I had never heard of Torger Tokle, but to an absolute ski novice like me, finding him seemed the best way to start this project. Soon, I realized this was a lot like a total baseball newbie trying to meet Babe Ruth in 2013.
I quickly discovered Sgt. Tokle wasn’t one of those lucky 90-year old blue dots in the commercial. Instead, he died 68 years ago, killed in action during World War II while serving in a mountain infantry regiment in Italy, only a little more than a year after this Wrigley Field photo was taken.
This link gives a short account of his heroism: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=C7UWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ICMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3663,508723&dq=torger&hl=en
Tokle is recalled as a man whose ski-related injuries at first made him ineligible for Army duty. Undeterred, he worked as a carpenter to pay for the dental work he needed to reverse his 4F status and join the military. Once accepted, he quickly volunteered for combat duty.
On this Memorial Day, as we remember friends and relatives who gave their lives in support of this great nation, I’ll also remember Sergeant Tokle’s sacrifice. A man who could have spent the war giving ski lessons in Aspen or Tahoe, he instead made a monumental contribution to his adopted country and our personal liberty. Next time I’m at Wrigley for the seventh inning stretch, I’m sure I’ll think of him again.