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Wrigley Field history: Here’s why the word ‘SUBURBAN’ appears in this photo

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It’s a good story that I had not heard before.

Bettmann Archive

Sunday, I posted this article about some construction being done on the Wrigley Field scoreboard in 1961, the year the major leagues first expanded.

In it, I noted that on the “AMERICAN” side of the board, which was still being worked on, the word “SUBURBAN” was on one of the team plates, upside down, clearly just there for storage.

I had never seen this before and several commenters asked about it, so I went and did a little research.

This SABR article explains:

From 1946 through 1965, the Hearst newspaper chain sponsored events in as many as 13 cities culminating in the annual Hearst Sandlot Classic between the New York Journal-American All-Stars and the United States All-Stars. Chicago sent two players to the games from 1946 through 1957, and the players were selected based on their performance in the annual Herald-American All-Star Game, played at either Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park.

Ah, ha. So there was a youth All-Star game played in Chicago for 10 years from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s.

The problem with finding out more information about these games is that they were sponsored by a now-defunct newspaper, the Chicago Herald-American. If you’re not familiar with that paper, by 1953 it had dropped the “Herald” and became the Chicago American. Two years later it was bought by the Tribune, renamed “Chicago’s American,” and, like many afternoon papers in that era, began to lose circulation to TV news. In 1969 the Tribune switched its format to tabloid and renamed the paper again, this time to “Chicago Today.” It folded in 1974.

Anyway, because this baseball event was being sponsored by one newspaper, back in the 1940s when there was real newspaper competition, the other papers barely covered these events. The Tribune archive I normally consult for historical Cubs/Wrigley items had a four-paragraph summary. There’s no Herald-American archive available online, so what I’ve found is from the SABR article linked above and another SABR article, both written by Alan Cohen.

The biggest of these events appears to have taken place in 1949, a “tripleheader” that was to feature an Old-Timers Game, a “Movie Star” softball game (quite similar in format to the celebrity softball game they now play at the All-Star Game site), and then a kids’ game that would eventually send players to the national game in New York.

How were the kids divided? Here’s the answer, and it also solves our mystery:

The manager of the Suburban stars in the kids’ game was Max Carey.

Ah, ha. So the game was Suburban vs. City, and that scoreboard plate must have been painted for these games. By 1961 it was just a leftover, as Chicago had stopped sending players to these games after 1957. Other cities, though, continued, and there’s a Cubs connection from the youth game played in Boston in 1958. From Cohen’s second article:

But the real bonanza for the Windy City was 1958. In that year, Boston was represented by Len Merullo Jr. (His father, former Cub Lennie Merullo, had committed a record four errors in one inning the day Len Jr. was born.) The young Merullo was the youngest player on the U.S. All-Stars that year, as the game was played a month prior to his sixteenth birthday. The senior Merullo accompanied his son to New York, and the younger Merullo’s teammates—particularly a kid from Seattle named Ron Santo—were thrilled to be around the former big leaguer.

Prior to the trip East, Santo was not considering signing with the Cubs, but the influence of the senior Merullo was such that the Cubs’ West Coast scouts had little trouble convincing him. Not only did the Cubs ink Santo, they also signed Paul Popovich and John Boccabella.

Now that’s a very cool story. Len Merullo Jr. (known as “Boots” for his dad’s errors the day he was born) never played in the major leagues, but did play three minor league seasons in the Pirates organization from 1962-64. I met both Boots and Lennie Merullo when the elder Merullo, then the oldest living Cub, returned to Chicago for a first pitch during the Wrigley Field 100th anniversary celebration in 2014, really wonderful people.

Two other big names from that 1958 game were Pittsburgh-area native Glenn Beckert, and:

Yet another player from the 1958 Pittsburgh All-Star game which produced Popovich and Beckert wound up in Chicago. An outfielder chosen as an alternate for the 1958 Hearst Sandlot Classic, he went on to play football at the University of Pittsburgh. As noted in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, he was “easily the biggest man on the field…the 6’3″ 215-pounder, who’ll probably play an end at Pitt this fall, showed speed and a healthy swing. He couldn’t get hold of one in the game but demonstrated his power in batting drills. He sent two over the wall to the right of the scoreboard in left.”

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears. Mike Ditka went on to a very successful career that did not include baseball.

I’ve digressed a bit from the topic here, but once you get me started on Cubs and Wrigley Field history...

Anyway, now you know why that scoreboard panel “SUBURBAN” existed.

Here’s a photo of a press pass from that 1949 “tripleheader,” which wound up being played on two different days. After the Old Timers game and the Movie Stars game July 9, rain prevented the kids game, which wound up being played two days later on Monday, July 11, 1949.