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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: White scoreboard clock edition

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The board didn’t look like this for long.

It’s been a while since I had located a good photo for sleuthing, but this is definitely a good one.

When the now-iconic center-field scoreboard was built atop the new outfield bleachers at Wrigley Field in 1937, it had no clock on the top, as shown in this rare color photo from 1941:

You can also see that the original color was brown. The board wasn’t painted in its current olive-drab green color until 1944.

The color photo above was taken May 25, 1941, as sleuthed in the article link above. Sometime later in 1941, the clock was added at the top — but the colors were reversed from the board’s dark color, instead of being white dots on a dark background, it was colored dots on a white background.

Since we know that the board was painted to look as it does now in 1944, the photo at the top of this post has to date from sometime after mid-1941, and before 1944.

The clues for this game are:

  • It’s a fairly large crowd, with people sitting in the top rows of the bleachers
  • It has to be a weekend, because Monday through Friday games in that era began at 3:00 and the clock shows 2:20. Saturday games began at 2:00, though, and even with the faster-paced games back then, it’s pretty doubtful two-plus innings could have been played in 20 minutes. So this is likely a Sunday doubleheader. Those began at 1:30.

Armed with this information, I was off to baseball-reference to look for the game in question.

The thing is, there wasn’t any game that matched the score on the board. Not one. I found one date where the board had those matchups, but there wasn’t any game where the score was Giants 2, Cubs 1 going into the bottom of the third.

Then I realized that the “2” in the top of the third inning could have been a partial score. With the photo being monochrome, it’s impossible to tell whether that “2” was in yellow for an inning-in-progress, or in white for a completed inning.

And with that realization, the game was located. It was the first game of a doubleheader Sunday, July 12, 1942. The first four Giants had gotten hits off Cubs starter Lon Warneke (No. 17) and two runs had scored. Mel Ott (No. 4) had just come to bat, there was still nobody out in the inning, matching the board. Ott singled in a run to make it 3-1 Giants and they scored two more runs in the inning, five in all. The Giants eventually won the game 6-2. The attendance was 38,725, a full house (capacity at Wrigley was a bit lower in those days than it is now). The other games shown on the board match the matchups and scores from that date.

The other note of interest in that game, and perhaps why this photo was taken, was that this was Warneke’s first start for the Cubs after he had been reacquired from the Cardinals four days earlier. Warneke had been one of the Cubs’ best starters during most of the 1930s and a star for the 1932 and 1935 N.L. pennant winners. He’d likely have won the Cy Young Award in ‘32 if there had been one, when he went 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA (leading the majors) and had a MLB-leading 160 ERA+. That was worth 6.9 bWAR, not that anyone knew what WAR was then. He finished second in N.L. MVP voting.

After the 1936 season Warneke was traded to the Cardinals for Ripper Collins and Roy Parmelee. Parmelee pitched poorly for the Cubs in ‘37 (5.16 ERA in 33 games) and was sold to the Red Sox before the 1938 season began. Collins had a couple of middling seasons playing first base for the Cubs and was sold to the Pirates before the 1941 season, though he later returned to the Cubs as a coach in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, Warneke, just 27 at the time he was shipped to St. Louis, put up some good seasons there. He’d have looked pretty good in the Cubs rotation in 1938, when they won the pennant again. He was pretty much done when he was reacquired, one of the Cubs’ first deals of that era trying to recapture an older player’s younger performance level.

Warneke eventually became a N.L. umpire, working in that capacity for seven years from 1949-55.