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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: The original scoreboard

This is a view you probably haven’t seen before.

When I first saw this image of Wrigley Field, instead of immediately trying to sleuth it, I just stared at it for a while.

Why? Because I don’t think I had ever seen a photo of the pre-1937 scoreboard and outfield seating taken from that particular angle, looking east.

All right, then it was time to start sleuthing out the date from the scoreboard and other things visible in the photo. It’s obviously summer, with trees in full leaf, short shadows on the field and fans clearly dressed for warm weather. (Wish that guy had gotten his head out of the shot, but we take what we can get.)

The scoreboard matchups are as follows:


There are a few reasonable assumptions to be made here so as to not have to look through dozens of seasons. There are pitcher numbers on the board, and the Cubs numbers look as though they have double digits. This would only have been true after mid-1932, when teams started wearing uniform numbers.

Also note that unlike today’s board, which shows starting pitchers and relief pitchers, the board back then showed pitcher and catcher numbers, which is why there are numbers showing where we’d expect to see reliever numbers in modern times. Relievers just didn’t pitch as often back then so it wasn’t seen by board operators the way it is today to put their numbers up. It meant more back then to see who was catching, went the thinking. If you go back to the 1960s at Wrigley, you’ll remember Pat Pieper announcing who the “battery” was, even that recently. The word “battery,” referring to the pitcher/catcher combination, has mostly fallen out of use in modern times.

Anyway, as you likely know, the current bleachers were built in 1937, and so that narrows down the time frame to search.

It didn’t take long to find a match. May 30, 1934 is the date of this photo. That was Memorial Day, and all 16 teams were playing doubleheaders that day. In 1934, Wrigley doubleheaders began at 1:30. Based on the shadows and the score on the board, this photo was taken in the bottom of the third inning of the first game, with the Cubs trailing entering that inning 2-1.

This leads to a peculiarity in the photo. Now, if a team scores a run and the inning continues, a yellow runs number is placed in that inning. It doesn’t appear that this was the case in 1934, because there is one out shown on the left side of the board and the Tribune recap of that game indicates that Gabby Hartnett led off the bottom of the third with a home run. The recap goes on to say that the next two hitters were out, so the man at bat when this photo was taken must have been Woody English. The count appears to be 2-1, and English later singled and scored.

Unlike the “eyelits” that show batter/ball/strike/out on the current board, those numbers appear to be manually operated. It’s no wonder the electronic “eyelits,” still in operation 82 years later, were seen as such a marvel in 1937.

There are a number of other things of interest in this photo. You can see fans sitting on the field. It was commonplace in the 1930s for this to happen, not only at Wrigley Field but at all MLB parks, to accommodate overflow crowds. They would sit behind ropes. Perhaps apocryphal stories have fans moving the rope back or forward depending on whether their team was batting or in the field. What we do know, though, is that balls hit into that area were ruled as ground-rule doubles. This is likely the reason that all seven seasons in MLB history of 60 or more doubles occurred between 1926 and 1936, and why the Cubs had three individual seasons of 50 or more doubles between 1930 and 1935 — and just two such season since. The Cubs’ team record for doubles in a season is 342, and it has stood since 1931, though two recent teams came close — 2007 (340) and 2008 (329), of course in several more games than were played in 1931.

Lastly, almost every building you can see outside Wrigley in this photo is still standing. Beyond the four buildings on Sheffield and one on Waveland, the long building just behind it is a school on Wilton, also still in use as a school, and the high-rise buildings in the background all still stand, as does the building with the angled roof near the top right of the photo. That’s Temple Sholom, then as now on Lake Shore Drive. Only it wasn’t “Lake Shore Drive” back then. I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski, who elaborated:

That was Sheridan Road until 1946, when it became Lake Shore Drive from Melrose to Irving Park. They later extended that a further block to the south so that everything from Belmont to Irving was Lake Shore Drive.

What was really funny about it was the Melrose/Belmont aspect of it. As you know if you have been in the area, the street line from Diversey to Melrose follows the grid, then north of there follows the shoreline against the grid. When they renamed in 1946, Sheridan was kept for the grid line, all the way to Melrose, then Lake Shore Drive north of that. Sometime in the mid-1970s the Melrose to Belmont block also became Lake Shore Drive. Ah, human vanity!

And at the northern end of things, a similar event occurred. Sheridan, under that name, used to be continuous from Diversey, it took (and still does) a 90-degree west turn at 3900 north, and then another north at 1000 west, absorbing Sheffield in the process and giving natives of the neighborhood no end of trouble trying to explain it to tourists lost trying to find their cars, etc. North of the Sheridan turnoff it was Marine Drive from 3900 north, again until 1946 when that last block from Sheridan to Irving got called Lake Shore Drive, too.

And so there’s your Cubs, baseball, Wrigley Field and Chicago history lesson for today, a fun way to pass the time on a team off day. The Cubs swept the holiday doubleheader, winning the first game 7-2 and the second game 5-4 in 11 innings. The Tribune article recapping the sweep indicated attendance was 48,000.

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