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Cubs historical sleuthing: Incorrect date edition

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There’s a date attached to this photo, but it’s wrong.

Marion Out Wrigley Field 1951 Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Before I begin this one, I’m going to make a call again for anyone who has Wrigley or Cubs photos they’d like sleuthed to send them over. As you know, I enjoy doing these and they’re a good way to pass the offseason.

The headline is correct. This photo contains the following caption:

Marty Marion, shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, is tagged out in a high speed play at third base by Cubs third baseman Bill Serena, in a game at Wrigley Field in May of 1951.

With 100 percent certainty I can tell you that date is wrong. How do I know that? Marty Marion, a longtime Cardinals shortstop who was a seven-time All-Star and National League MVP in 1944, did not play a single game in 1951. He was Cardinals manager that year, but not player-manager — look at his record linked above. Not one game in ‘51. Then he became player-manager for the St. Louis Browns in 1952 and 1953, so he couldn’t have played at Wrigley Field in those seasons; after that, Marion retired.

So, that set me to trying to find out when this play actually happened. Bill Serena was a Cubs infielder from 1949-54, playing mostly third base, some second base. Because we know this photo couldn’t have been taken after 1950, only those two years need to be looked at.

While Serena was a late-season callup in 1949, he did play three games against the Cardinals that year, September 30, October 1 and 2, at Wrigley Field. I focused on those games because I did not find a single play at Wrigley Field in 1950 that matched what’s in the photo. Marion wasn’t thrown out at third base at Wrigley that year, not once.

Here’s where I’m going to have to get into a bit of conjecture, because while there is a play in the October 2, 1949 game that might be the one in question, the play-by-play of that game only shows “unknown out on play.”

It’s in the eighth inning. There was an “unknown out” leading off the inning, then Howie Pollet singled, followed by a two-run homer by Chuck Diering. Marion then walked. Stan Musial put a ball in play, but that was also an “unknown out.” Steve Bilko followed that with another walk, moving Marion to second. The next batter was Enos Slaughter, who also is recorded in the PBP with an “unknown out” on a batted ball.

Well. If a ball had been hit to Serena, he wouldn’t have had to tag Marion, as he appears ready to do. On the other hand, the photographer might have caught Serena in mid-stride as he goes to step on third base.

Attendance at Wrigley that day was 30,834, which would match what you see in the background. None of the 1950 games where Marion and Serena both played had that large a crowd, save one, and that game didn’t have any matching plays.

So that’s what I’m going with: Sunday, October 2, 1949, top of the eighth inning, Marty Marion retired at third base to end the inning, Bill Serena the Cubs fielder. For Serena, incidentally, it would have been his 12th major-league game.

One last reason I think I’ve got it here: The 10/2/49 game was important to the NL pennant race, so it would have made sense to have a photographer there. The Cardinals had to win — they did, 13-5 — and the Dodgers would have had to lose to force a tie. The Dodgers won, though, and were the pennant winners by one game.

The Cubs had defeated the Cardinals the previous two days, and so that lousy 61-93 Cubs team, which finished last for the second straight year and went 8-14 against St. Louis overall, actually wound up knocking the Cardinals out of the pennant. That’s always satisfying for a Cubs fan.