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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Ski jump edition

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Yes, you read that right.

The photo you see above is not Photoshopped, nor fake.

There really was a ski-jumping competition at Wrigley Field on two different winter weekends.

What’s more interesting, I think, is the odd color scheme of the scoreboard. It almost looks like an old photo negative, doesn’t it?

What you are looking at is an image of the scoreboard while it was painted a very light blue. It’s a shame that no one had a camera that could take a color image of this board while it existed.

So we have two sleuthing mysteries here:

  • When was the board painted this very odd color, and why?
  • When were the ski-jump competitions?

Off to the Tribune archive!

The answer to the first question was found in a Tribune article headlined “BABY BLUE PUTS BURLY BEARS IN NURSERY MOOD.” They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, and that’s probably a good thing. The article was written after the Bears’ first 1943 workout at Wrigley Field in preparation for their first home game of that season, which took place October 10. In the years the Bears played at Wrigley, they generally started the season on the road in case the ballpark was needed for World Series play (and remember, in that era, it was, fairly often). Also, the NFL season was only 10 games at that time, so the Bears played just two away games before that home opener.

The article was dated October 9, so it was likely after an October 8 workout. The last Cubs game that year was October 3, so there’s a narrow four- or five-day window in which they painted the board. Note that instead of saying “NATIONAL” and “AMERICAN” for baseball teams, it was painted to read “NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.”

The article reads, in part:

The red, virile paint on the scoreboard had been displaced by the cutest baby blue you ever saw. All week long the Bears have been insisting they’re not sissies, even tho [sic] they’ve been scoring more by passing than by crunching through the line in old time style. They had this rap just about cleared up when that baby blue scoreboard came across their vision.

This remarkable scoreboard color scheme is another milestone in the Cubs’ search for a background which will make .300 hitters out of .250 ones. The idea, if any, apparently is to have the scoreboard blend in with the sky.

They really don’t write things that way now, which is certainly a good thing.

A sky-blue scoreboard? Okay, I guess, except when it’s cloudy. Then how does it blend in?

Anyway, the Bears were NFL champions in 1943, defeating Washington in the title game, which was played at Wrigley Field December 28. If you look closely you can see the final score of that game, Bears 41, Washington 21.

Now, about the ski jump. There were two events scheduled, preliminaries and championships, held on consecutive Sundays, January 23 and 30, 1944. It was sponsored by the Norge Ski Club of Cary, Illinois — an organization that still exists today, 75 years later. Here’s the club’s website. Per the Tribune, 6,387 attended on January 23 and 5,000 were at Wrigley for the finals January 30. Until the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2009, those were the only sports events ever held in Wrigley in January.

Exactly when the scoreboard changed from that “baby blue” color is unclear, though it likely was before the 1944 baseball season. The earliest photo I could find showing it in its current dark-green color was in the Tribune July 16, 1944.

Just another slice of the long history of our favorite ballpark.