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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1938 edition

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Some interesting features of the early bleachers are visible.

This photo solved a bit of its mystery in the filename, which had the year “1938” embedded within.

I probably would have guessed that anyway, what with no clock on the scoreboard, the Chinese elms still in the bleachers and the ivy barely starting to grow up the brick wall.

There are some interesting things about this photo beyond the vista of the bleachers, but first let’s nail down the date. The scoreboard is pretty readable; the N.L. matchups read CINCINNATI/CUBS, ST. LOUIS/PITTSBURGH, NEW YORK/BOSTON and PHILADELPHIA/BROOKLYN. On the A.L. side the board reads: SOX/CLEVELAND, ST. LOUIS/DETROIT, BOSTON/NEW YORK and PHILADELPHIA/WASHINGTON.

The Reds were at Wrigley four times in 1938. The first was in April — no on that one, as there are trees in full leaf visible beyond the bleachers. Matchups in August and September don’t match the rest of the games on the board.

The only date that matches is May 30, 1938. All of the matchups shown were played that day, and the Cubs and Reds played a Memorial Day doubleheader. The Cubs lost the first game and won the second.

Attendance that day was 41,216, and you can see the bleachers completely filled. No score is on the board, so this must have been pre-game warmups you’re looking at on the field. In 1938, doubleheaders began at 1:30, so this likely was within the half hour or so before game time. Some of the box seats aren’t yet filled. The man at the left in the white hat looks like a vendor, possibly selling scorecards.

Which brings me to another interesting aspect of this photo: The “boxes.” Or more accurately, the railings that surrounded groups of seats, thus making “boxes” around the seats, thus the name “box seats.” Most ballparks had these sorts of things in those days. Wrigley had them until the lower deck concrete was replaced in the late 1960s, though the upper deck retained the railings until Tribune Co. bought the team. They survived in other ballparks even later — I was at a game at Shea Stadium in 2005 and that park still had railings in the lower box area, to the point where even though I had a “box” and “tier” number, I wound up sitting in the wrong seat for four innings.

You can see folding chairs in those “boxes.” The Cubs usually put four seats in between each railing; when the Bears occupied Wrigley Field, George Halas squeezed five in, to increase his seating capacity. This ended when P.K. Wrigley had permanent seats installed in that area in 1965. Halas was none too happy. I remember seeing those railings — with the numbers and letters on them exactly as you see them — when I sat in the area very close to where this 1938 photo was taken, in 1968. Things moved slowly in Wrigley in that era.

Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post.