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50-Year-Old WGN-TV Mystery, Solved!

When this vintage interview was posted on WGN-TV's website last spring, no one could remember when it had been recorded. I'm here to tell you that I've figured out the exact date and time.

Back in April, about the time the film "42" about Jackie Robinson's life was released, WGN-TV found in its archives video of an interview Jack Brickhouse did with Branch Rickey sometime in the early 1960s about Robinson and his impact on baseball, and how Rickey himself doesn't take any credit for Robinson's success.

On this page on WGN-TV's website, it says, regarding the interview's history:

Dean Richards, who helped locate the footage, is unsure of the year of the interview, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

You can watch the interview at that link, or at this one which has a bit larger video player. I was going to try to embed the video here, but I could not get it to stop autoplaying -- and autoplaying videos are the scourge of the internet, so better that you click over to one of those pages to watch it.

The reason I did this post: Saturday, BCBer ernaga wrote this FanPost in which he noted that you can hear the PA announcer in the background, announcing a lineup, presumably for the second game of a doubleheader, during which Brickhouse conducted the interview. You'll note that the video begins with a flash of a Cubs game, showing the third-base coach and the Cubs dugout; the assumption is that this was done at Wrigley Field during a Cubs doubleheader. I couldn't get the video to freeze long enough to see any numbers of any of the Cubs other than the third-base coach, No. 55. The Cubs had three different third-base coaches who wore that number in the early 1960s: Ripper Collins from 1961-63, Alex Grammas in 1964, and Al Dark in 1965 -- thus, that wasn't really a clue.

So when was this video made? You know how much I love sleuthing out baseball historical mysteries, and I couldn't resist this one. Here's how I figured it out.

ernaga mentioned, and you can clearly hear, the PA announcer calling out, "No. 27, Leon Wagner." Wagner did play for the Cardinals for a while, but as you can see from his baseball-reference page, Wagner wore No. 27 only for the Angels from 1962-63 and the Indians from 1964-68. The only time he'd have played at Wrigley Field during that time was the 1962 All-Star Game (in fact, Wagner was MVP of that game, going 3-for-4 with a home run), but Brickhouse wouldn't have been doing a televised WGN interview with Rickey on that day. WGN didn't televise the All-Star Game; NBC had exclusive TV rights to that game beginning in 1951.

So I listened more closely to the PA announcer. It's not easy, but if you focus solely on the background voice, you can block out Rickey and Brickhouse talking and only hear the other voice.

The next hitter announced is "No. 19, Felix Torres."

Torres and Wagner were teammates on the Angels in 1962 and 1963. So... despite the brief clip of a Cubs game on the video, this interview must have been conducted at Comiskey Park during a White Sox game!

This makes sense. Remember, in that era, the early days of color videotape, WGN often taped things and then recorded over them. This videotape must have had a Cubs game on it, then was re-used to record the Rickey interview. (Too bad that Cubs game wasn't saved. If only TV people back then knew how much we'd want to see those, 50 years later.)

I kept listening. I heard the name "Moran" at second base (that's Billy Moran), and then "Frank Kostro"; that narrowed it down further, since Kostro played for the Angels only in 1963.

There were only two games during which the Angels played at Comiskey Park in 1963 and the Angels' batting order had Wagner, Torres, Moran and Kostro in that order: a doubleheader on Labor Day, Monday, September 2. That made it nearly certain it was done on that day; I checked through the Tribune archives to see if Rickey, who was a superscout/special assistant for the Cardinals in 1963, had been in Chicago around that time. One article I found indicated that he had, indeed, been in Chicago in early September 1963, meeting with Athletics owner Charlie Finley, who had offices in downtown Chicago.

That left only one question: was the interview done before Game 1 as part of a pre-game show, or was it done before Game 2 as a between-games segment?

Back to the video I went to see if I could make out the pitcher's name; that would clinch it. Sure enough, I heard "McBride" -- Ken McBride was the starter in the second game of the doubleheader.

So there you have it: the Brickhouse/Rickey interview was done between games of the White Sox/Angels doubleheader on Monday, September 2, 1963, and I can even give you an approximate time of day. The doubleheader began at 1:30 p.m. and the first game ran 2:43, thus ending around 4:15. That, or slightly later, would have been the starting time of this interview.

ernaga thought he was hearing Pat Pieper's voice, but instead, he was hearing the voice of Tates "Whitey" Johnson, who was the P.A. announcer at Comiskey Park through the early 1970s. He died in 1991; his obituary in the Tribune says:

He was an usher for Andy Frain Services from the early 1930s until 1972. During those years, he was chief usher and field announcer at Comiskey Park. He was an assistant field announcer at Wrigley Field and an attendant at Wrigley and Soldier Fields.

"Assistant field announcer" at Wrigley? I did not know there was anyone other than Pat Pieper who did PA duties at Cubs games at Wrigley. Does anyone remember Whitey Johnson from that era?

Another long-ago mystery solved. I just love this stuff. (The interview is well worth watching for its own content, too.)