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The Time An International Baseball Tournament Was Played At Wrigley Field

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Not many people watched it, but it did happen.

Art Shay/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The Pan American Games are an Olympic-style tournament involving, as you might guess, countries from the Americas. They’ve been held every four years since 1951, and have been hosted by the United States twice — 1987 in Indianapolis, and 1959 in Chicago, which is how Wrigley Field got to stage games in an international tournament.

Countries participating in the baseball competition at the 1959 Pan Am Games were Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the USA, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

Games were played at Comiskey Park August 28, 29 and 30, then moved to Wrigley Field from August 31 through September 6 while the Cubs were out of town on the West Coast. Off to the Tribune archives I went to get some details on this tournament.

The baseball competition was barely covered in the Tribune — not a single photo of Pan Am Games baseball appeared, and apart from a couple of notes, their coverage was limited to boxscores. Most of their coverage was of track-and-field and swimming events. Not many people showed up to watch the baseball games at Wrigley or Comiskey, either. The total attendance noted in Tribune box scores from the games was just over 12,000 — for the entire tournament, 10 days’ worth of baseball. Kids under 14 were admitted free. The best-attended single day was Saturday, September 5, when 2,479 people watched at Wrigley.

All the games were played in the daytime (scheduled at 10 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., though I suspect the 3:30 starts wound up being later than that), including the Comiskey games, probably accounting for the lack of attendance. One early-round game had the US defeating Costa Rica 28-0. Perhaps the most interesting game was a USA/Mexico match on September 4, which had to be suspended due to darkness at Wrigley, tied 5-5 in the eighth. The USA had led 5-1 going into the inning, but allowed four hits, two walks and four runs to tie the game. It was completed the next morning with the USA winning 7-5.

That put the USA into the championship round along with Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Venezuela, who had gone 4-1 in early-round games, met Puerto Rico (4-1) for the gold medal, while the USA (3-2) faced Cuba (2-3) for the bronze.

Venezuela took gold by winning 6-2, while the USA defeated Cuba for bronze in a 10-inning game, 3-2. I can’t tell you how they did that, because the Tribune ran a box score only for the gold-medal game and wrote no summary. Attendance for that medal session was 547.

Future Cub Lou Brock — he wouldn’t sign with the team until 1960 — played for the US team (he went 1-for-10), as did Ty Cline, who went on to have a 12-year major-league career. Other participants in this tournament who played in the major leagues included another future Cub, Roberto Peña, as well as Rico Carty and Damaso Blanco. Based on the names given in this list of rosters at baseball-reference, most of the men who played for Brazil were either Japanese or of Japanese ancestry.

Now, you might wonder if I could sleuth out when the photo at the top of this post was taken. This one’s impossible, although you can clearly see the ivy-covered bleacher wall at Wrigley. Neither of the teams can be identified by the uniforms. Given the shadows on the field, it seems likely it was from one of the late-afternoon starts. But there were seven of those. It’s possible it was from the Cuba/USA bronze-medal game, which was a 3:30 p.m. scheduled start, went into extra innings, and would have been a game where a photographer might have been assigned.

It’s an interesting slice of baseball history and the only time an international baseball tournament has been played at Wrigley Field.