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Cubs historical sleuthing: A day at the Polo Grounds

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A 1950s time capsule.

Flagstaff Films

Let’s take a brief interlude on this off day to go back in time more than 65 years, to a Cubs game against the Giants at the Polo Grounds:

I looked at this with the sleuth’s eye, as always, and noted a few things. The uniform style worn by the Cubs was used from 1943-56, so that didn’t narrow it down too much. The uniform numbers did, though.

No. 25 is shown batting and also catching. The only Cubs catcher who wore No. 25 during that time was Walker Cooper, who played for the Cubs in 1954 and 1955.

Now we’re getting closer. Cooper hit two home runs in the Polo Grounds as a Cub — June 26, 1954 off Johnny Antonelli, and in the first game of a doubleheader September 9, 1954 off George Spencer.

Antonelli’s a lefthander, so it has to be the September game. But I was a bit at a loss as to whether the rest of the scenes in the game were also from that game, so I sent this one over to Mike Bojanowski. Here’s his analysis:

This is entirely from the first game of the doubleheader, September 9, 1954. Except for the first clip, they are all in game order. The doubleheader was forced due to a rainout the previous day.

0:00 Marv Grissom (No. 42) pitching. He was the last Giants pitcher of four used in this game. He was the winner, as the Giants walked it off in the ninth.

0:06 Walker Cooper (No. 25) batting.

0:16 Monte Irvin (No. 20) making a catch in left field. Cooper flied to left in the fourth inning, the previous clip is probably from the same at-bat as the out.

0:22 (one cut) Walker Cooper hits two-run homer in the sixth inning, off George Spencer. Hal Rice (No. 28) scores ahead. Also visible at home plate are Paul Minner, the on-deck batter, and Bob Talbot (No. 10), the batter in the hole.

0:50 Seventh inning, Spencer (No. 30) being replaced by Hoyt Wilhelm (No. 49, number not visible here). Also in the shot is shortstop Al Dark (No. 19), catcher Wes Westrum (#9). Pitching coach Fred Fitzsimmons (No. 6) made the switch instead of manager Leo Durocher.

1:05 Seventh inning, Randy Jackson (No. 2) reaches on an error by third baseman Hank Thompson (No. 16). Hoyt Wilhelm (No. 49, visible) pitching.

1:17 Seventh inning, Paul Minner pitching to Don Mueller (No. 22), pops to Ernie Banks at shortstop.

It’s a rare glimpse of Banks in his rookie year.

The Giants won the pennant in 1954 with a 97-57 record and defeated the heavily-favored 111-win Indians in the World Series, their last WS win until 2010 in San Francisco.

The 1954 Cubs were one of the worst teams in franchise history up to that time, losing 90 games, their fourth 90+ loss season in the previous seven.

There’s one note here that I’m going to pass along to the folks at baseball-reference. They show George Spencer wearing No. 21 throughout his Giants career, which spanned 1950-55. Clearly, he’s wearing #30 here and the play-by-play all matches that September 9, 1954 game, so Spencer obviously wore that number at least some of the time for at least part of 1954. You might recall that before 1960, players sometimes changed numbers during seasons — that was done in part to help sell scorecards (“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard!” was the vendor yell). This might have been the case here.

Just another quick glimpse into Cubs history.