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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1939 edition

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In which I present to you the sleuthings of a BCB reader.

Usually, I’m the one doing the sleuthing of old Cubs and Wrigley Field photos or videos I find. Recently, I asked you to send over old photos you had, and I received two from BCB reader ernaga.

Along with the photos, he sent his own sleuthing of them. I couldn’t have done better, so I present to you what he sent me by email, with a bit of minor editing.


The two images included here were made from low-res scans of two 4-1/4” x 3” prints that I bought many years ago as a set. Each is marked on the back with the same printed notation: “Cubs Park 1938.” Although I had made a few earlier attempts to sleuth these photos, I assumed that 1938 date was accurate until recently, when I decided to take another look in response to your request for old photos of Wrigley Field.

Once I realized the lightly-inscribed notations on these prints were written with a ballpoint pen — something not available in the USA until after World War II — I also realized the 1938 date might have been only a guess noted by someone long after that momentous year. That’s when I decided to start sleuthing these all over again. Here’s what I found:

Both shots were taken at WF on Sunday, May 28, 1939 by an unidentified photographer who likely was standing on a special platform attached to the cornice of the “Glenallen Hill” building on Waveland. That platform is visible in this frame from a 1939 Flagstaff Films movie that you embedded in a post last year:

The photo at the top of this post shows the 1937-41 scoreboard. That board shows the following matchups in a full schedule for 5/28/39, all data confirmed by listings for that date on baseball-reference:

NATIONAL LEAGUE: PITTSBURGH/CUBS; BOSTON/BROOKLYN; NEW YORK/PHILADELPHIA; CINCINNATI/ST. LOUIS

AMERICAN LEAGUE: SOX/CLEVELAND; ST. LOUIS/DETROIT; PHILADELPHIA/NEW YORK; WASHINGTON/BOSTON

UMPIRES: a three-man crew including HP-#6, Babe Pinelli; 1B-#7, George Barr; 2B-none; 3B-#5 Charley Moran (a legendary football coach who retired from umpiring after the 1939 season)

PHOTO #2 PLAY ACTION:

This photo probably was taken with two out and two on in the Pirates’ first. Here’s the play-by-play:

• Leading-off, Paul Waner doubles to left.
• Arky Vaughan sacrifice bunts Waner to third.
• Johnny Rizzo grounds out to shortstop Dick Bartell, who holds Waner at third.
• With two out, cleanup hitter Fern Bell gets an intentional walk from Dean.
• With men on first and third and two down, Bill Brubaker hits a pop fly toward left.

This very likely is the moment depicted in PHOTO #2, an action shot from Waveland Avenue that shows the following:

• On the mound, Dean turns to watch Bartell at short back up for Brubaker’s fly ball.
• On the base paths with two out, Bell is head down digging for second, while Waner is almost ready to cross home plate standing up. (NOTE: Although the poor resolution of this scan makes Waner tough to see in this image, his shoes gray uniform are visible to the right of the third base line, with some of Gabby Hartnett’s white uniform visible just behind Paul. Home plate ump is Babe Pinelli.)
• In the field, Bartell has just started to go back for the pop fly. Meanwhile, third baseman Stan Hack and first baseman Rip Russell are watching the action at home plate. Although not shown, left fielder Augie Galan also must be heading toward Bartell and the left field line, where the shortstop will make the catch in foul territory for the third out.

Also of note from this game and the photos:

• The “fourth umpire” crouched behind third likely is a photographer holding a field camera.
• Although the crowd appears to be less than the announced gate of 26,511, the right field upper deck grandstand and the bleachers are almost full. The empty box seats were likely unsold that day.
• The 4-door sedan passing by on Waveland appears to be a match for this.
• Dizzy Dean pitches a complete game win, giving up his first two earned runs of 1939. Diz would go on to post a Rich Harden kind of a season for the Cubs before calling it a career in very early 1941 after years of trying to recapture his greatness.
• I’m not 100 percent sure, but Honus Wagner may be one of the Pirates’ coaches in Photo #2.


Here is a larger version of the photo at the top of this post. It’s a really good image of the scoreboard before the clock was installed at the top of the board. That happened in 1941. You also get a good look at the buildings on Sheffield, some of which have shades over the windows — something you don’t see today. The only ad visible on the buildings is for Prager Beer. That beer’s full name was “Atlas Prager Beer,” and the brand was popular in Chicago in that time. The brewery was eventually sold to Drewry’s in 1962.