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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1933 road uniform edition

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You might think this one’s impossible. You underestimate me.

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You know how I love to sleuth out old Cubs mysteries, photos and films of old Wrigley Field, etc.

I received one Monday evening that at first I thought was impossible. It’s from Neil Calderon, a longtime BCB reader. This one’s a little different than most of the Cubs sleuthing I look into. In this case, from Neil’s email, I already knew the game date. It’s a detail from the game that he was interested in:

I have a bit of a random question that I hope you might be able to help with (or be able to point me to someone that can). I know the Cubs wore a variety of uniforms both home and road during the 1930s but I’m on a hunt to find out which of their two road jerseys from the 1933 season they wore on May 2, 1933 (an 11-0 win over the Giants at the Polo Grounds). Do you know if there is a database or resource that would have this information?

The reason I’m investigating this is that that game was the first Cubs game played when my Grandma (a die-hard Cubs fan and the person responsible for me being a Cubs fan) was born. I’m working on getting a jersey made for her to commemorate that game and I’d like to make sure I get the right one.

Yeah, right. Like I was going to be able to find out who wore one of two possible road jerseys from a baseball game from more than 85 years ago, with no TV and likely no film available. This was in the midst of the Great Depression. Would anyone have bothered to take photos at a random game in early May 1933, even between two good teams like the Giants and Cubs? And would any Cubs player appear in any such photo?

The first step was off to the Hall of Fame’s Uniform Database, which is pretty cool. In the early 1990s, researcher Marc Okkonen wrote a book titled “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century,” which had images of exactly what the title said. Extensively researched, the book had beautiful drawings of all the uniforms up to that time. The Hall of Fame brought those images into their database and has kept it updated to the present day.

Indeed, the Cubs did have two different road uniforms (as well as two different home uniforms!) in 1933:

But which one would have been worn on May 2, 1933? If that were today, I could answer the question quickly, as Chris Creamer, who runs the great site sportslogos.net, keeps a day-by-day uniform database for all teams. Here, for example, is their Cubs uniform tracker for 2019.

Obviously, no such thing existed in 1933. Thus it was off to the Tribune archive; even though this was a Cubs road game, perhaps a wire service photo? No dice, though the game recap had the usual florid prose of the era:

The Chicago Cubs this afternoon put on their first real big and glorious frolic of the year as guests of the New York Giants. It was a stupendous Warneke-Hartnett 11 to 0 spectacle in which Lon allowed three singles, one a scratch, and Gabby knocked two homers to lift his average to .385 and his homer total for the last two games to three.

The New York Times archive didn’t turn up any photos of this game, either. I even contacted Paul Lukas, proprietor of the terrific uniform-centric site Uni-Watch, but his reply simply confirmed what I was already doing:

No idea, sorry. You’d have do old newspaper research and hope to find some game pics.

Then it dawned on me. The New York Daily News was once called “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” Maybe...

The NY Daily News has archives hosted by newspapers.com. While I don’t have an account there, I was able to call up the back page of the paper from May 3, 1933, the day after the game in question. I sent the link to Neil Calderon and got this reply:

Amazing! (or more appropriately HOLY COW!) You nailed it!

I do happen to have a newspapers.com account so I was able to zoom in on the page you sent me and based on the picture of Riggs Stephenson sliding into second base (middle left) they had to be wearing their road jersey with Chicago in arched individual characters and not their alternate jersey with Chicago in script. I’ve attached the higher quality newspaper page you sent me as well as side by side of the Stephenson pic with the two road jerseys from 1933. I also included the Chicago Tribune recap of the game as well, I thought it was a fun read.

The pic in the top right of the page is Charlie Grimm with Rogers Hornsby from the series the Cubs had just played against the Cardinals at Wrigley. It was there because a notable storyline in baseball at the time was Hornsby’s return to Wrigley as a Cardinal after a contentious break up with the Cubs in previous season. The Cubs had played the Cardinals to start the season at Wrigley but Hornsby missed those games with an injury.

I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to look into this and helping me figure this out this “way out of left field” question. I can’t wait to surprise my Grandma with this newspaper page and with the jersey once it’s made.

Here’s a closeup of the photo showing Stephenson sliding into second base that confirms the jersey that was worn that day:

This was fun to do and despite my initial “how would this even be possible?” thought, it all came together in less than 24 hours.

Thanks to Neil for sending me this query and I’m sure his Grandma will enjoy her gift!