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Cubs historical sleuthing: Back to the 1930s again

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There are lots of interesting details in this photo.

You never know what you’re going to find when you’re cleaning out a closet.

In this case, I found this photo, which was on an 11x16 card which was part of a “Vintage photo series” promo giveaway at Wrigley Field in 1997. Yesterday’s post on the pre-1937 scoreboard was about another similar giveaway.

On the back, it says the photo is from the George Brace collection and dates from the “early 1930s.”

Well, you know that’s not good enough for me. I wanted to know the exact date of this photo, and it wasn’t all that hard to find.

There’s a large crowd shown in the old bleachers, and on the field as well. It was common in the 1930s for teams to allow overflow crowds to actually sit on the field, behind ropes. Sometimes fans would even move the ropes back and forward depending on whether the home team was batting, hoping they could “help” their team hit a home-run ball. Instead, this is where the “ground-rule double” came from, because balls hit into those overflow crowds wound up being ruled doubles. If you look at the list of top single seasons for doubles, a large number of them are from the 1930s. By the end of that decade these sorts of overflow crowds were no longer allowed (not just at Wrigley, but anywhere). No one has hit 60 or more doubles in a season since 1936.

Anyway, the scoreboard has most of the information needed to sleuth out this game, but not all of it. The Cubs obviously played “Pittsburg” many times in the 1930s. (Here’s a story about how that city lost, then regained, its “H”.)

The first clue is the pitcher, number 41. It’s obviously the Pirates pitcher, since the board shows the Cubs at bat in the bottom of the third inning. The Pirates, like the Cubs and other N.L. teams, began wearing uniform numbers late in 1932. And since the bleachers were re-done in mid-1937, that narrows the time frame down a bit.

Two pitchers wore No. 41 for the Pirates in that time frame. One is the charmingly-named Heinie Meine, who pitched for them from 1929-34. The other is former Cub Guy Bush, who pitched for the Pirates in 1935 and 1936. But Bush never started a game against his old team in Wrigley for Pittsburgh, so it can’t be him.

Thus this has to be a start by Heinie Meine. He made four starts against the Cubs at Wrigley between 1932 and 1934, but only one matches the game on the board.

That’s the first game of a doubleheader May 30, 1934. That would have been Memorial Day (then known as “Decoration Day”), since back then that holiday was fixed to May 30, not the last-Monday-in-May date we know now. The other scores on the board match what was going on elsewhere that day, except, oddly, the Philadelphia at Boston N.L. game, which doesn’t. I don’t know why that is, maybe the score of that game wasn’t transmitted properly, and the “0-0” listed where the final score normally goes doesn’t make sense either. But all the other scores and matchups match, so this has to be the date.

You’ll note “P” and “C” listed on the scoreboard. In those days, when few relief pitchers were used, catchers were also listed on the board. “4” would have corresponded to a number printed in the scorecard, since you can clearly see the Pirates catcher wearing No. 30. That would have been Earl Grace (no relation to Mark, as far as I know).

Since there’s no ball, strike or out listed on the board, this must be the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the third inning just about to step in. It’s a bit hard to read, but to me it looks like the number of that player is “9.” That would have been Gabby Hartnett, who batted eighth that day, and with the Cubs having scored one run in the first two innings, the No. 8 hitter might have led off the third.

The Cubs won the game 7-2, with Hartnett and Chuck Klein homering for the Cubs. The boxscore doesn’t have PBP, but I looked it up on the Tribune archive via the Chicago Public Library. That indicates Hartnett’s home run came in this at-bat leading off the third inning, in fact, on Meine’s first pitch. Too bad the photographer didn’t wait just a little bit longer.

Attendance that day is listed in the boxscore on baseball-reference as 40,000, though the headline in the Tribune article says it was 48,000.

Lastly, the views beyond the ballpark are also interesting; you can see a sign for the “CHATEAU HOTEL” in the background, a water tank on top of a building (those were common sights in Chicago well into the 1960s), and many buildings on Waveland and Sheffield that still stand today.

Click here for a larger version of the photo at the top of this post.