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A Day In Wrigley Field History: April 24, 1939

The Cubs had a lot of trouble opening their home season coming off their 1938 pennant.

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

Maybe the Cubs should have known right at the beginning of the season that 1939 wasn't going to be like the pennant-winning year of 1938.

They were scheduled to open the season at Wrigley Field April 18 against the Reds. The Tribune reported an advance sale of 20,000, an extremely good advance for the time.

But it rained. And rained, and rained and rained. And then it rained some more. After the first rainout Edward Burns wrote in the Tribune:

Swathed in blankets we spent all day yesterday trying to conceive some cute new approach to the weather predicament that baseball teams in every major league sector have been facing. We thought up several, but when we read our breezy contemporaries on the subject we concluded our cracks were pretty motheaten.

So there will be no wisecracks this morning anent the elements. No talk of ducks and drakes or penguins and polar bears. No rippling jests about baseball having once been a popular American sport now supplanted by ice boating. Not even a reference to J. Pluvius or fields becoming veritable quagmires.

In other words the weather has flattened us completely. It's destroyed our imagination and chilled our jovial optimism. Nothing seems worthwhile except Scotch and soda.

Some things, apparently, never change. The Cubs and Reds tried again April 19, but no dice. Burns, again:

The Cubs made a valiant try yesterday after being encouraged all morning by brilliant sunshine. When the crowd started to assemble in Wrigley field, however, rain busted loose and at 3 o'clock the thing was called off and the Cubs prepared to embark for St. Louis.

The two rained-out games were made up as parts of back-to-back doubleheaders August 8 and 9. The Cubs lost three of the four games.

After those rainouts, the Cubs had a three-game series scheduled for St. Louis, the first of which was the Cardinals' home opener, and those games were played without weather incident. The Cubs won two of three in St. Louis, and at last, they were able to open the home season April 24, six days later than the original home opener, against the Pirates. This is far different from modern practice; today, with much more money at stake, teams often play in horrendous weather. In the 1930s (and even into the 1970s), postponements were common in conditions like this. Part of the reason was the much poorer condition of most fields; that's hinted at by Burns' "quagmire" comment. That happened often in earlier times; modern field drainage systems make fields much more playable after rain, and of course, lights mean they can delay day games and play after dark if necessary.

The delay meant a much smaller crowd, just 15,844, and the game was sort of an anticlimax, won by the Cubs 6-2. Stuart Shea's book "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography" says that the Cubs opened on that day "a brand-new bar behind home plate" that "won the admiration of fans." I'll bet it did, especially since the rest of 1939 turned out to be a nothing-special, fourth-place finish. At 84-70, it would be the Cubs' last winning season until their next pennant year, 1945.