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Cubs historical sleuthing: The Chicago City Series

A unique look at the Cubs and White Sox from the 1940s.

Flagstaff Films

The Cubs and White Sox now play each other either four or six times a year in interleague play, depending on which division each is facing.

But from 1903 to 1942, the teams often played a Chicago “City Series” after the regular season was over, in seasons where neither won their league pennant. Twenty-six City Series were played in that era and here’s a good history of all of them.

Our friends at Flagstaff Films found these two gems from a City Series recently:

George Roy of Flagstaff Films sent these to me to confirm the year they were filmed, he had been told either 1940 or 1941. The Cubs uniform style shown in the films was not worn after 1940, so that confirms 1940.

Another scene in the videos that confirms 1940 is at :10 of Part 2. That’s Phil Cavarretta taking batting practice. Cavarretta wore No. 3 in 1940 before switching to No. 44 in 1941. The catcher shown with him is Bob Collins, who played just one year with the Cubs, 1940.

I sent these videos to Mike Bojanowski for further identification of both the Cubs and White Sox players. Here’s what he sent back:

I did better on Part 1, Part 2 has too many shadowed faces and long-distance shots. Have added question marks where I am not quite positive, I feel pretty good about the others.

Part 1

:00: Hank Leiber? (left), George Uhle, coach (middle), Bill Nicholson (right)
:06: Johnny Rigney (Sox), Jim Gleeson (Cub)
:11: Charlie Root?
:16: Gabby Hartnett, Mule Haas
:22: Bill Nicholson
:26: Julius Solters
:31: Thornton Lee
:34: Bill Dietrich
:40: Thornton Lee

Part 2:

00: Joe Kuhel (Sox), Jim Gleeson (Cub)
15: Clint Brown (l), right might be Ted Lyons
19: Thornton Lee
24: Mike Tresh

Now, as for the date this was filmed... the 1940 City Series had three dates at Wrigley Field, October 1 (Game 1), October 2 (Game 2) and October 6 (Game 6). The Tribune’s weather pages says it was cloudy and rainy on October 6, so that’s out. There’s no game action and nothing on the scoreboard that helps, so I’m going to say this is pre-Game 1 on October 1, 1940. It would have made sense for a film crew to be at Wrigley Field for the first game of a series like this.

Lastly, at :33 into Part 2, you get a good look at the bleachers and a bit of the bottom of the scoreboard in its original brown. The colors on these videos are strong and vivid.

The White Sox won the 1940 City Series four games to three. After 1942 the City Series was discontinued, likely due to World War II, but beginning in 1949 some crosstown games were played, generally once a summer, with the proceeds going to benefit youth baseball programs in Chicago. The last of these “Boys Benefit Games,” as they were called, was played August 14, 1972. In that game Ernie Banks, who had officially retired at the end of the 1971 season and became a Cubs coach, played first base for the last three innings and came to bat once. The Tribune reported:

It was one of the few remaining times Chicago fans will get to see their favorite in a game and they responded accordingly, lavishing a one-minute ovation on Banks when he appeared at first base in the bottom of the seventh inning, then giving him two more similar tributes before and after he struck out in the ninth inning.

The Cubs and Sox also played a pair of exhibition games, one at Wrigley Field and one at Comiskey Park, just before the season resumed after the 1981 strike and also an annual exhibition from 1985-94, rotating between the North and South sides.

The most notable of those took place at Wrigley Field on April 7, 1994. It was most notable for the tall guy playing right field for the White Sox — some guy named Michael Jordan, who had retired from basketball and signed to play in the Sox organization. Jordan played well in that game, going 2-for-5 with a double. The game ended in a 4-4 tie.

The last Cubs/Sox exhibition games before interleague play began were two practice games in April 1995 before the strike-shortened 1995 season began.