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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: A photo that’s not what it seems at first glance

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You might make an assumption about this photo... and you’d likely be wrong.

At first glance, what do we know about this photo?

The only things you can glean from it just from one look:

  • It was taken at Wrigley Field
  • There was a very, very small crowd

The Cubs did draw very small crowds for a few games during their down years from the late 1940s through mid 1960s. But there’s a reason I headlined this post “Wrigley Field” historical sleuthing rather than “Cubs” historical sleuthing.

Now that I (hopefully) have your interest piqued, let me explain how I figured out when this photo was taken, and it actually didn’t take very long.

First, the scoreboard shows only 16 teams, so it had to be taken before league expansion in 1961 (and the Wrigley board was in fact expanded in ‘61, showing NEW YORK/HOUSTON 1962 on the extra N.L. line they constructed).

Your second clue: There are no team standing flags flying on the scoreboard. Hmmm... the plot thickens.

Your third clue: Look at the uniform of the team in white, presumably the home team. That numbering style is not the Cubs’ numbering style, not now, and not going back as far as the 1940s, when they began using the style they use to this day.

Your fourth clue: Look at the score line on the bottom left of the board. It’s clear that “CUBS” shows at the top left, which is where they showed the Cubs score in those days. But no other N.L. team had a name that short (or does now), as shown on the bottom line of the bottom-left score.

This all added up to one thing: This was not a Cubs game.

And that led to only one conclusion: This photo has to be from a baseball game played as part of the 1959 Pan-American Games, which were held in Chicago. The baseball tournament in those Games was played between August 27 and September 7 at both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, depending on whether the Cubs and White Sox were on the road.

That means that the linescore at the bottom left has to be the score of the game going on at Wrigley, and the short team name shown has to be “CUBA.”

That sent me off to baseball-reference.com to find out when the Cubs were on the road in that time frame, and when the other matchups shown on the board would have taken place.

The matchups shown on the board are those of August 30, 1959. The Cubs headed out to San Francisco and Los Angeles after a three-game series against the Braves ended on August 30.

Next stop: the Tribune archive. Sure enough, there was a game between Puerto Rico and Cuba scheduled for Wrigley Field at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, August 31, 1959. Based on the clock on the scoreboard, they started a bit before 1:30, and given that there are no outs shown on the board, no runners on base and no scores posted, this has to be a photo of the first batter of the game.

The batter is Carlos Pizarro. The count is 1-1. It’s unknown what he did in that at-bat, but he went 3-for-5 in the game with two runs scored and Puerto Rico defeated Cuba 8-1. Here’s the Tribune boxscore for the game, which was attended by 1,647:

The only player on either of those teams who played in the major leagues was Santiago Rosario, who played 81 games for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. Venezuela won the gold medal in that tournament and Puerto Rico was the silver medalist. The USA won bronze; future Hall of Famer Lou Brock played for the United States in those Games.

Just another tiny slice of Wrigley Field history. Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post: