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Cubs historical sleuthing: Pre-MLB franchise shift edition

This one could have been a stumper, but a couple of things made it easy.

One of the most striking things about older photos of Wrigley Field like the one above is how little has changed over the decades.

Sure, there are now video boards standing above bleachers that are 60 percent larger than these. But I’ll bet you could take a photo of Wrigley Field today, or at least in the peak of summer when the ivy is in full bloom, that would cut off some of the new seating and the video boards and it wouldn’t look too much different from this one.

When the scoreboard is in full view in a photo like this, identifying when it was taken is obviously much easier, even when the city names are a bit blurred as they are here. It’s relatively easy to read that the Cubs are playing Philadelphia, and the White Sox are at New York.

What makes it a lot easier to figure out is that none of the franchise moves that happened in the 1950s had occurred at the time of this photo, because you can clearly read “BOSTON” in the National League and “PHILADELPHIA” and “ST. LOUIS” in the American. So that dates it to 1953 or earlier, and since there’s full ivy on the bleacher walls, it has to date from the late 1940s or later, since prior to that the ivy was still growing in.

The empty bleacher sections in center field are the next clue. As noted in this 2013 article here, the center-field bleachers were closed off in April 1952, after complaints from several teams (in particular, the Cardinals) that hitters couldn’t see the ball against the backdrop of fans sitting there. That area has been closed off since (except for the 1962 All-Star Game), and currently hosts a “bleacher suite.”

So that means this game must have been later in 1952 or in 1953. By 1954 the St. Louis Browns had moved to Baltimore, so “ST. LOUIS” wouldn’t have been on the A.L. side then, or later.

And it has to be late spring or later, with full ivy on the walls.

It wasn’t too difficult to find the matching game at that point. This photo was taken in the top of the sixth inning Wednesday, June 24, 1953. The Cubs were in seventh place, entering the day 20-39; the Phillies were fourth at 33-24. The batter, No. 14 on the scoreboard but not shown in the photo, was Del Ennis, who eventually singled in that at-bat. The Phillies, who were leading 4-0 at the time, eventually won the game 8-2. The attendance was 7,220, of whom it appears maybe 2,000 were in the bleachers.

There’s a footnote to all of this. In trying to sleuth this one out, I also came across this photo:

That’s from the same series. It seems likely this photo was also taken June 24, 1953, probably by the same person who took the game action photo. Note that the marquee, which was painted that dull shade of blue until 1965, says “BUY NOW ALL GAMES.” By 1957 that had been changed to “TICKETS NOW ALL GAMES”:

That wording stayed there until the marquee’s bottom half was changed to an electronic board in the early 1980s.

Just another slice of history, showing that although Wrigley has changed in the last 65 years, it’s still quite recognizable.