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Cubs historical sleuthing: The original WGN-TV mobile unit

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Just when was this photo outside the ballpark taken?

Courtesy WGN-TV

Next Monday is the 70th anniversary of WGN-TV’s first baseball broadcast.

I’ll have a full article on that event then, but wanted to share with you now the date that this photo, showing WGN-TV’s mobile unit, was taken.

I sent it to Mike Bojanowski and asked him to enhance the scoreboard shown in the photo so that we could figure out the date.

First, he sent me the scoreboard matchups as shown:

NL: CUBS/ST. LOUIS, PHILADELPHIA/BROOKLYN, NEW YORK/BOSTON, PITTSBURGH/CINCINNATI

AL: SOX/ST. LOUIS, WASHINGTON/PHILADELPHIA, CLEVELAND/DETROIT, BOSTON/NEW YORK

This is immediately helpful. Since we know WGN-TV broadcasts began in 1948, and the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, this narrows down the possible dates to 1948-52.

The people on the sidewalk don’t have coats or jackets on and the tree visible is in full bloom, so it has to be a date from about mid-May on.

And Mike confirmed that in a subsequent email to me:

7/1/48 is the only match. It’s the only date 1948-52 that matches all the teams, and with night games in St. Louis and Philadelphia only.

We can dig deeper into this game. Looking at the top line (where the Cubs game was listed in those days, as opposed to the bottom where it is now), there’s no score listed, and the clock reads approximately 1:35. My research from 2013 showed that all games in 1948 began at 1:30, so this is obviously the top of the first inning.

The batter number on the board appears to be “6,” which is one of the most famous numbers in Cardinals history — Stan Musial’s number.

Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play for the game, which was played on a Thursday afternoon in front of 17,256. Ralph LaPointe led off the game with a walk and stole second. After Cubs starter Bob Chipman retired Marty Marion on a comebacker, Musial singled in the game’s first run.

It’s a bit more difficult to read the count on the board, could be 1-1, 2-1, 2-2 or 1-2, and since no score is on the board, the time of the photo is likely just before Musial’s hit.

The Cubs eventually won that game 4-3, thanks to a three-run homer by Andy Pafko in the seventh inning. The 1948 Cubs weren’t very good; on July 1, despite the win, they were in last place, 10 games out of first. They eventually went on to lose 90 games, the first 90-loss season in a franchise history that at the time comprised 72 years.

So now you know: July 1, 1948, 1:35 in the afternoon, just before the Cardinals took the lead 1-0 on the Cubs, is the time of that photo, obviously taken to promote WGN-TV’s then brand-new baseball telecasts.

Beyond that, I was interested in the rest of the streetscape shown in the photo. There are six people clearly visible (and a number of others in the background), one of whom appears to be a Chicago police officer. Two are kids, looking to be maybe nine or 10 years old — those kids might still be living. There are a number of bicycles lying on the ground, likely unlocked — because no one locked up bicycles in those days. You can see the hole cut in the outer bleacher wall for WGN-TV to get its cables inside the ballpark for running cameras, audio, etc. By the 1960s WGN’s truck was parked inside Wrigley Field near what is now called the “Left Field Gate.”

Just another fascinating slice of Cubs, Wrigley Field and Chicago television history.