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Cubs historical sleuthing: Another 1950s photo

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I needed a little help with this one.

This photo was sent to me by BCB reader James Dreyer. He told me, “Here is a photo I found while looking through my Dad’s stuff. He passed away 10 years ago, so I cannot ask him about it.”

First, let me tell you that the player in the photo at the top of this post is not the only clue to its date. (Plus, who is he?)

Here’s the whole photo:

So now we have a scoreboard showing. It’s the pre-expansion version of the board and the center field bleachers are clearly closed (see the fence at the left), so this means between April 1952 and 1960.

But those blurry city names are very difficult to figure out. I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski to see if he could enhance the city names and one of the first questions he asked me was, “What were the game times in that era?”

Last November, I ran an updated version of my 2013 article on Wrigley Field game times.

1945-56: All games 1:30 (except 1945 Sun games, 3:00)

Well now. It’s about 1:35 on the clock and the game hasn’t started — thus we’re looking at a player likely waiting out a rain delay.

There could have been a lot of those in that era, of course, and Mike asked me that mainly to confirm a hypothesis he had. Here’s what he sent me.

This is Hal Jeffcoat looking soulfully across the diamond before the start of the doubleheader versus the Milwaukee Braves on Sunday, May 24, 1953.

As my grade-school math teachers used to say, “Show your work.”

First step is to winnow down the date range. Jeffcoat was a Cub from 1948-55. The center field sections are newly fenced off, that was done in ‘52. The board is configured to show both starters and relievers, this began in ‘53. That narrows it to ‘53-’55, the uniform style gives no clues to shortening the date range on the more recent end.

The board itself is always the best evidence, but it seems hopelessly out of focus. Well, not hopelessly. The shape of the team names can often give good clues, even if the letters themselves are illegible. NEW YORK, and ST. LOUIS, give obvious gaps, and the very short names, like BOSTON, can usually be confirmed. On the AL side, BOSTON and DETROIT give good clues, one is slightly longer than the other, and both are much shorter than the rest.

BOSTON is definitely absent from the NL side, but NEW YORK is obviously present, (‘53-’57). On the AL side, ST. LOUIS is evident, (last year ‘53). This means 1953 only, the only year those two circumstances overlap. The board can be rendered as:

NATIONAL

(fairly long name)/CUBS
(long name)ST. LOUIS
(long name)/(long name, longer than name above)
NEW YORK/(long name)

AMERICAN

SOX/DETROIT
ST. LOUIS/(fairly long name)
(very long name)/(very long name)
BOSTON/NEW YORK

This gives us eight of the 16 possible teams, and the year, this should be doable. Likely there is only one Cubs home series in ‘53 that matches what we have.

And there is only one, against the Braves on May 23-24. The board then becomes Milwaukee/Cubs, Cincinnati/St. Louis, Brooklyn/Philadelphia, New York/Pittsburgh; Sox/Detroit, St. Louis/Cleveland, Philadelphia/Washington, Boston/New York. This fits all the general shapes.

So which day? Some of the games on the 23rd were night games, all the games on the 24th were day. The board shows no night game patterns. In fact, the board is very curious here.

It is past the start time of 1:30 (all games in ‘53 were that start, even doubleheaders), and the game has apparently been delayed. The board seems to be in the process of being set, the Yankees starting pitcher is at that moment being placed, the NL side is complete only down to Brooklyn, (that game is in progress, as the only game in the first three pairs in the eastern zone, it would be the only one with a partial score).

I’m betting there was a rain delay, and only after the usual starting time was the board set for the day. In any case, it’s Sunday, May 24th, a full day-game schedule in both leagues. Jeffcoat was the starting center fielder in the opener, the Cubs lost the first game 5-4, took the nightcap 5-2. A moment preserved.

The Tribune recap of the game, by Edward Burns, confirms the rain delay:

The games were played on a dry infield without precipitation after the entertainment had started with only a 14 minute delay.

An hour before game time, the downpour was continuing to pepper down. While the pre-game rain cut down the crowd, there was no discomfort for those who showed up.

The scoreboard clock shows a little before 1:35. Per the article, the game started about 1:44. So the rain had stopped and players were waiting to take the field. A moment preserved, indeed.