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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1939 edition

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The colors on these films are amazing.

Flagstaff Films

The folks at Flagstaff Films recently tweeted a three-part series, showing the Cubs (and a brief view of a couple of Cincinnati Reds) doing pre-game warmups at Wrigley Field in 1939.

Here they are:

The first thing to point out about these films is the amazingly brilliant colors visible. If you didn’t know, you might have thought these films were shot last year, not nearly 80 years ago. They’re among the best home movie films I have seen from that era.

The tweets say “1939,” and that’s made obvious from the 1939 baseball centennial patch worn on the left sleeve of all uniforms that year. This was a nod to the supposed “invention” of baseball in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York, something we now know never happened that way.

In the first film, there are a couple of Reds shown running toward first base — with Cubs fielders in the action as well. This is something I never knew happened, that teams did actual practice together before games. Reds runner No. 23 is Harry Craft, who became a major-league manager in the 1950s and 1960s with the Kansas City A’s and Astros, and who was part of the Cubs “College of Coaches” in 1961 and 1962.

The Cub shown at first base, also No. 23, isn’t someone I can identify. The Cubs’ 1939 uniform number page at baseball-reference says Vern Olsen wore No. 23 that year. But Olsen was a pitcher, and also wasn’t on the team until September, and I’ll show you later why these films were not taken in September. Thus... I’m not sure who that is.

At about :30 into the first film you can see No. 22, Dizzy Dean, warming up, along with someone wearing No. 20 in the background. That was coach Roy Johnson. Taking batting practice later in this film is No. 5, Dick Bartell. Bartell played most of his career for the Giants and Tigers; 1939 was his only year as a Cub.

No. 3 in the dugout is Phil Cavarretta, later more famous wearing No. 44. No. 39 with the bat in his hand after that is a spare-part catcher named Bob Garbark.

No. 41 in film two is a pitcher named Vance Page. Page’s appearance in this film was one clue as to when it was shot. More on this later. No. 13 appearing later in this one is Claude Passeau, in the first of his nine Cubs seasons. No. 11 is Bill Lee, one of the team’s best pitchers in their 1935 and 1938 pennant years. Ending film two is coach Roy Johnson on the mound, presumably throwing batting practice.

In film three, Billy Herman and Gabby Hartnett (player/manager by that time) are shown; you can also see No. 28 walk by. That’s a relief pitcher named Jack Russell.

I mentioned earlier that Vance Page was a clue to when these films were shot. It’s obviously summer, with trees and ivy in full leaf. The Reds visited Wrigley Field three times in 1939: June 30-July 2, August 8-10 and September 9-10. There were three doubleheaders played in the July and August series, as an entire April Cubs/Reds series (April 18-19-20) had been rained out.

The shadows seem to indicate the sun is too high in the sky for it to be September. So... July or August?

There’s one clue that gives away the month. At the end of the second film you can see just enough of the scoreboard at about :50 to see NEW YORK/WASHINGTON on the American League side. That matches the August series only.

Which game? I’m going to say it’s the last game of that series, August 10, 1939, the game started by Vance Page. The Cubs won 6-4. Weather forecasts I located in the Tribune archive say it was cloudy on August 8 and 9 and sunny on August 10, which should clinch it.

The 1939 Cubs contended for a while after their 1938 N.L. pennant, but finished third at 84-70, 13 games behind the pennant-winning Reds. It was their last winning season before they won the 1945 N.L. championship.