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Cubs history: The Wrigley Field scoreboard under construction

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This photo caught it in the middle of being changed.

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This will be a different kind of historical photo article. In this case I don’t need to sleuth the date, because it came with the caption supplied with the photo:

When the umpire yells “play ball” to open Chicago Cubs’ 1961 season here 4/14. the famed green vines clinging to Wrigley Field’s outfield fence will add their color to the occasion. Here, veteran ground keeper Albert Gargulo carefully prunes the greenery in left field 4/3, as other workmen paint huge scoreboard (background).

At the top of this photo I’ve shown you only the scoreboard, because that’s what I’m focusing on for this article. At the end of this article I’ll post the full photo showing the ivy-pruning.

What I want to call to your attention here is the right side of the board, where “AMERICAN” is partly obscured behind a row of inning plates. Why is that?

When the board was originally constructed, and through 1960, it looked more or less like this (with some color changes along the way):

That photo was taken July 23, 1960, as sleuthed in this article here last year. You can see the board set up for 16 teams, as the major leagues had been established for six decades, since the beginning of the 20th Century.

For the 1961 season, the American League added two teams, the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators, the latter replacing the “old” Senators, who moved to Minnesota and became the Twins for 1961. So there was an additional row needed for scores for five AL games. The NL would not match that expansion for another year, when the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s were added in 1962.

So when this photo was taken April 3, 1961, the word “NATIONAL” had already been placed at the top of the board, where it resides to this day. But “AMERICAN” had not yet been moved. (Where that upside-down word “SUBURBAN” came from is lost to the mists of time.)

As you can see from the photo, the board was set up for five games on each side, even though the N.L. would not expand for another year. The unused line on the NL side was taken up by the words “NEW YORK HOUSTON 1962,” as shown on this photo from April 29, 1961:

For a larger version of that photo, which shows the board in greater detail, click here.

So the photo at the top of this post captured a moment in time in between the old and the new, as the now-iconic Wrigley scoreboard was being modified. It was changed once again before the 1969 season, when the leagues expanded to 12 teams each. Since then, though, the board has remained in its arrangement of six games on each side. There’s probably not room to add any further games, and now that the board is landmarked it’s probably not possible to change its format anyway. Thus when there’s a full slate of 30 teams and 15 games, three games are not shown.

Back to the April 3, 1961 photo for a moment: It shows “SOX CUBS” on the top left line. The Cubs did, in fact, play a pre-season exhibition game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field Saturday, April 8, 1961, before “12,956 chilled fans,” reported the Tribune. It was 36 degrees at game time (1:30) and the first time the teams had faced each other since 1957.

The Cubs won 4-1 behind a complete-game performance by Dick Ellsworth, who scattered 11 hits and struck out four. Don Zimmer went 2-for-4 with two runs scored for the Cubs and Billy Williams, who would eventually be NL Rookie of the Year that season, drove in a pair. None of that helped the Cubs in what would be another miserable losing season. They finished 64-90, the fifth time in eight seasons they had 90+ defeats.

Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post from 60 years ago this past April, a view that, apart from a basket at the front of the bleachers and juniper bushes in the hitters’ background area, isn’t all that different today:

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