clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Mid-century franchise move edition

New, 18 comments

This is a really good snapshot in time in MLB history.

From 1903, when the American and National Leagues first began to make peace with playing the first modern World Series, through 1952, the leagues had been remarkably stable. No franchise had moved and none had failed, though some had come close to bankruptcy during the Depression.

That all began to change in the 1950s. Some teams had trouble competing in two-team markets. The West Coast began to become an attractive proposition with air travel, and so teams began to explore the possibility of moving.

This photo shows a moment in time that was right at the beginning of those moves. You still see “BROOKLYN” on the National League side and “PHILADELPHIA” and “ST. LOUIS” on the American league side.

But at the bottom of the scoreboard, “MILWAUKEE” makes an appearance. There was just one year — 1953 — where the board could have had that specific selection of team/city names. 1953 was the Braves’ first year in Milwaukee, and after that season, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles for 1954.

That made finding this game quite easy. Of the 11 games the Brooklyn Dodgers played in Wrigley Field in 1953, they scored four runs in just one of them, a 9-4 Cubs win on June 22. Despite playing poorly overall against the Dodgers that year (9-13), they won seven of the 11 games against them in Wrigley Field. Ralph Kiner and Hank Sauer, two of the Cubs’ slow-footed sluggers in those days, led the win as both homered. In fact, the 1953 Cubs had a very good home record at 43-34, but were horrific on the road, just 22-55. It was the fifth time in six seasons that the Cubs had lost at least 89 games.

It was a Monday afternoon attended by 16,708, not bad for a Cubs team that had buried itself in the standings, 20 games out of first place entering that day’s action. The win “improved” their record to 20-38.

We know that Cubs games in 1953 began at 1:30 p.m. The game time as shown in the boxscore was 2:14, so this game must have begun right on time. The game has clearly just ended, as the scoreboard operator is just about to put the “9” in the final score slot on the Cubs line. People in the bleachers are standing up, getting ready to leave for the day.

Here’s a larger version of the photo which shows the arrangement of the team flags on the board. Back then, with eight teams in the league, the top four were shown on the left, the bottom four on the right. Thus the Cubs flag is not visible, hidden behind the clock. You’ll also see the bottom line of the board was used to note upcoming home games.

Even though the board has been modified in recent years to accommodate more teams (and to put vertical lines every three innings, something I don’t particularly care for), it still largely looks like this, 66 years later.