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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Original scoreboard edition

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There are a number of fascinating notes from this photo.

This is one of the clearest images I’ve ever seen of the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard with the clock painted in its original white, with dark indicators.

The clock colors are a useful clue to the date of this photo, but first, a bit of history. When the board was first constructed, it had no clock at all, as I wrote in this 2020 article here, which also notes the clock was added sometime after May 25, 1941 and it, along with the rest of the board, was painted in its current olive-drab color in 1944.

So that narrows it down. The Cubs are playing the Reds and it’s a weekday or Sunday afternoon, not Saturday — 3 p.m. was the start time Monday through Friday and Sunday, as noted here in 2019, and the game’s in the bottom of the first inning at 3:15.

Next, let’s look at the starting pitcher numbers. Johnny Vander Meer wore No. 33 for the Reds throughout that period, so it’s got to be him starting for Cincinnati.

Charlie Root wore No. 17 for the Cubs from 1935-41, and Hi Bithorn wore it in 1942.

The other clue is the catcher’s number, shown next to the pitcher. In those days when most pitchers completed what they started, it was seen as more important to know who the catcher was than who the relief pitchers were.

The catchers here are Ernie Lombardi (Reds) and Clyde McCullough (Cubs). Lombardi was sold to the Braves after 1941, so that has to be the year.

There is only one game that year that matches all the players noted. It happened Sunday, August 10, 1941. 18,739 attended this Wrigley Field contest that the Reds won 3-1, completed in one hour, 51 minutes. (Sigh.) No. 31 is batting for the Cubs when the photo was taken in the bottom of the first. That’s Dom Dallessandro, batting with two out. He flied to center to end the inning. The Cubs weren’t very good in 1941, finishing in sixth place at 70-84. The crowd was the sixth-largest of the year. Also note, the center field bleachers were closed on that afternoon, a rare event in the early 1940s.

The likely reason this photo exists, and why the attendance was that good, is because on that Sunday, the Cubs had a “day” honoring Root, who had pitched for four pennant-winning Cubs teams and was then 42 years old and in his final season as a player. According to the Tribune:

A live pig, and a very frisky one at that, was added yesterday to the belongings of Charley Root, the 42 year old Cub veteran who was given his day at Wrigley Field. The porker, a token of esteem from Doc Andy Lotshaw, the club trainer, featured the list of goods showered on the old timer. The most expensive item was a station wagon purchased with contributions from fans, but Root also indicated keen interest in a check presented by the club. It called for $2,200.

The Cub players’ offerings were a blanket with 16 stars, one for each of the veteran’s years with the team, and a desk clock. Radio broadcasters put a casting rod and equipment in the station cart. The White Sox players sent $50 in gasoline coupons, enough to get the vehicle to the Root ranch in California.

A lot to unpack there! Sadly, I do not have a photo of the pig to show you. $2,200 in 1941, per this inflation calculator, is the equivalent of over $40,000 today, and $50 in gasoline coupons would be over $900 in 2021. And, interesting to see the latter came from White Sox players — the rivalry perhaps not as keen as it is today.

Root pitched in only five more games after that day, starting four of them and posting three wins, which gave him 201 for his career. That stands today (and likely will forever) as the Cubs franchise record.

He returned to the Cubs as pitching coach from 1951-53 and later served in the same role fo the Milwaukee Braves in 1956 and 1957, returning to the Cubs for one last year as a coach in 1960. Later, per his SABR biography:

After living in Los Angeles during the offseason for many years, he and Dorothy later lived on their 1,000-acre Diamond-R Ranch in Paicines, 120 miles southeast of San Francisco, where Root became a successful cattle rancher and enjoyed hunting and fishing.

No mention of pigs, though. Root died in 1970, aged 71.