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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: A very small crowd

This is what things were like in the bad postwar years.

The first thing you’ll notice in this photo is how small the crowd is. It’s hard to tell because some people are partially or completely blocked by others, but I don’t think there are more than 100 fans shown here, and of course you can’t see all of left field, but there are probably fewer than 200 people in the bleachers on that day.

So exactly when was this photo taken? There are a few clues. The first is that all the teams are listed on the scoreboard in their pre-1953 cities, so it has to be 1952 or earlier. Another thing confirming that is that by 1952, the four-man umpiring crew had been put into place. This board shows only three umpires.

Then you notice the “shade” over seats in center field. There had been growing complaints from hitters after World War II that the “white shirts” in the bleachers made it impossible to see the ball. Eventually, in April 1952, they would block off all those seats to create a hitters’ background. No one sat there afterwards (except for the 1962 All-Star Game) and eventually the seats were completely removed. Now a bleacher suite occupies that space.

So it has to be before 1952. The shade was installed sometime in the late 1940s, but that’s not really a clue.

The most important clues are the pitcher numbers. You’ll also note that back in that time, they also posted the uniform numbers of the catchers in the game. So onward I went to a search of who wore No. 37 for the Cubs and faced No. 20 pitching for the Phillies.

This one didn’t take too long. The only late-1940s pitcher wearing No. 37 for the Cubs who could have started a game in the “bleacher shade” era was Dewey Adkins, who started only five games in a Cubs uniform. One of them was September 22, 1949 — against former Cub Hank Borowy, who was playing out the string wearing No. 20 for the Phillies.

No. 21 leading off the top of the second inning for the Phillies was their catcher, Andy Seminick. Per the deduced play-by-play from this Retrosheet boxscore, he struck out in that at-bat. The Cubs won that game 3-2, though they were an awful team in 1949, losing 93 games. At the time that was the franchise record for losses. It had been set the previous year with 90, the first time a Cubs team had ever lost 90 games. 21 more Cubs teams would lose 90 or more after 1949, and the team record would be broken in 1956 (94) and again in 1962 (103). No wonder the attendance that day was just 1,813, the smallest Wrigley Field crowd of 1949. The Phillies, meanwhile, went 81-73 in 1949, their first winning season since 1932 (!) and a precursor to their 1950 N.L. pennant-winning season.

One oddity: You’ll note that the scoreboard appears to have a full slate of games for the date. But this record of the games of September 22, 1949 shows only the N.L. games were completed. According to the Tribune, only the New York/Washington game was actually scheduled that day in the American League, and it was rained out. It appears that in that era, they didn’t put “NO GAME” on the board as they do now when teams aren’t scheduled, they simply left the city names up and the line blank.

It was a different time. Click here for a larger version of the photo at the top of this post.