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Cubs Historical Sleuthing: Hall of Fame Edition

This one looks tough at first, but it’s actually fairly easy.

While you’re waiting for Cubs Convention news or happenings, or just want a break during the day, here’s another bit of sleuthing from me.

First, you might want to take a look at the full photo, which is quite a bit larger than seen above. Click here for that bigger version.

As you can see by the photo’s URL, that’s Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. Irvin, who played for a long time in the Negro Leagues, played one year for the Cubs (1956) in his eight-year major-league career. But that’s obviously him in a Giants uniform.

Irvin played for the Giants from 1949-55, so it could be just about any time during that span.

Or not. Look at the bleachers behind Irvin. The center-field section is obviously closed.

Those bleachers were open to seating through April 20, 1952, when Cardinals players and management complained about not being able to see pitches with so many white shirts in the background. I wrote about this back in 2013.

So that narrows it down to 1952 (all the Giants games at Wrigley were after April 20 that year) through 1955. A pretty broad range, right? Let’s narrow it down further.

More clues come from the outfield walls and the scoreboard. The ivy’s full and Irvin is wearing short sleeves, so it’s got to be a game from around mid-May to the end of the season.

And then there’s the scoreboard, which gives us our best clues. Every game other than the Cubs game is listed as a night game, so this almost certainly has to be a weekday (most teams did not play weekend night games in those days).

Beyond that, you can read the scoreboard matchups. They read as follows on the N.L. side:


And on the A.L. side:


Now we’re getting somewhere. The fact that it says “MILWAUKEE” eliminates 1952, since the Braves moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season. Since both Philadelphia and St. Louis are on the A.L. side, it has to be 1953, since the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore for the 1954 season.

There is only one date in 1953 that matches all the games on that board -- Tuesday, August 4. It was a summer afternoon, the ivy’s in full bloom and temperatures were in the upper 80s, explaining the short-sleeve shirts. All games in 1953 started at 1:30, which would explain the relatively sparse population of the bleachers at 12:35, almost an hour before game time, especially given the total attendance that day was 8,889.

The last proof of this date is this: The three other N.L. games that day were listed as night games. Yet looking at the results from that day, only three games were listed as being played. Checking the Tribune archive, the paper’s sports section confirmed that. The Brooklyn/Milwaukee game was rained out.

The Cubs won the game 5-3, although the Giants scored a pair of runs in the ninth and had the tying run on base when Bob Rush, who threw a complete game, got Bill Rigney to ground to short to end it. A large number of the Giants contingent that day eventually had some association with the Cubs. Leo Durocher was the Giants’ manager. Irvin, Al Dark, Bobby Thomson and Hoyt Wilhelm later played for the Cubs, and Whitey Lockman managed the Cubs in 1972 and 1973.

No. 9, visible in the photo, is Giants catcher Wes Westrum. Why he was taking throws at first base, I have no idea.

The 1953 Cubs were a pretty bad team. On September 7 they were 50-82, on pace for a 58-96 season, which would have set a club record for losses. Inexplicably, this awful team then went on a 10-game winning streak, which was the team’s longest between 1945 and 1970.

Soon after that a kid named Banks made his major-league debut. Irvin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, and Ernie joined him there four years later.