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Cubs Historical Sleuthing: Mystery Edition

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Help figure out when this photo was taken and who’s in it.

Usually when I post a photo from Cubs/Wrigley Field history like the one above, I’ve got an answer as to when it was taken, perhaps even down to the inning and pitch.

Not this time.

I found this photo on Facebook. The person who posted it said it was “Cubs vs. Pirates, 1956.”

All right, if that’s true the catcher would have to be Clyde McCullough, who wore No. 8 for the Cubs that year.

However! McCullough caught only 14 games for the Cubs in 1956, his last big-league season. He didn’t catch any games against the Pirates that year.

How about 1955? McCullough caught two Wrigley games against the Pirates that year, May 12 and the second game of a doubleheader June 26.

A Pirates utility player named Felipe Montemayor, wearing No. 14, pinch-hit in the third inning of that game. Here’s why it’s not likely to be that game: first, the ivy is full-grown; it wouldn’t have been on May 12. Also, the attendance that day was 2,918. The photo shows a much bigger crowd. (Incidentally, that’s a famous game in Cubs history. Sam Jones threw a no-hitter May 12, 1955, the first no-hitter thrown by a Cub at Wrigley Field.)

I’ll get back to the June 26 date later. Let’s look at 1954.

That year, McCullough caught three games against the Pirates at Wrigley: the first game of a DH July 15, a single game July 16, and the second game of a DH July 17.

Jerry Lynch wore No. 14 for the Pirates in 1954. It can’t be him, because Lynch hit lefthanded.

There’s one other team that wore a numbering style like that in the 1950s — the Giants. The only player who wore No. 14 for the Giants in that era was a spare-part infielder named Bobby Hofman. I was unable to find any game that Hofman played at Wrigley Field where McCullough was the catcher.

So... I’m stumped. So I asked Mike Bojanowski to take a look at the photo. He concurs that it’s the Pirates as the visitors, but thought it might be a different number ending in “4” for the hitter.

There was a potential great story in what he found. A Pirates rookie named Pete Naton made his major-league debut at Wrigley Field June 16, 1953 wearing No. 14. Could it be that someone was there taking a photo of this event, a family member perhaps wanting to preserve a big-league debut on film?

Nope. The game he played was also the second game of a doubleheader (meaning the shadows wouldn’t be right) and besides, the Cubs’ pitcher in that game, Howie Pollet, was a lefthander.

He suggested Luis Marquez, who played 14 games for the Pirates in 1954 (after having been acquired from the Cubs in trade!) and wore No. 44 — but Marquez never played at Wrigley at all as a Pirate.

Then he thought it might be either game of a doubleheader June 26, 1955, with Dick Groat (No. 24) the hitter. That doesn’t work either — the Cubs pitcher in the first game was Jim Davis, a lefthander, and again the shadows on the photo aren’t right for the second game, which would have started around 4:15.

Bob Purkey, a Pirates pitcher in 1954, wore No. 34 and pitched the second game of a doubleheader July 17 that year. Again, the second game of a DH would be no good for the shadows.

So... we’re both stumped.

I welcome any thoughts about this photo and who might be in it. The only real clues (beyond the tough-to-identify players) are that the ivy is full, so it was likely taken in June, July or August, and the shadow of the stands isn’t beyond the third-base line wall, which means it was likely taken in the early innings of a game (as noted above, games started at 1:30 in that era). It’s clearly a warm day, as shown by what fans in the box seats are wearing, and as most people are dressed casually it’s probably a weekend — in that era most people dressed in suits and ties for weekday games (yes, really). Finally, the crowd in the bleachers is of decent size and it looks like most or all of the lower boxes are full. This would imply an attendance of at least 15,000 or so.

Maybe the year’s wrong — it could have been before the years we looked at.

As I have noted previously, the “Ricketts” on the sign shown in this photo has nothing to do with the family that now owns the Cubs; that was a popular restaurant located about a mile from the ballpark that existed until the late 1960s.

Have at it!