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Cubs historical sleuthing: Mid-1950s edition

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There’s a lot of interesting detail in this photo.

This photo could have come from just about any time pre-expansion, as the Wrigley Field scoreboard has room for only 16 teams as shown.

One by one, though, I’ll show you the clues that made finding this moment relatively easy.

First, the center field bleachers are closed off for a hitters’ background. That happened April 20, 1952, and since that date the CF bleachers were opened just once, for the 1962 All-Star Game.

So now we’re in the mid-to-late 1952 through 1960 range.

One thing that defined the major leagues in that era was franchise movement. From 1953-58 the Braves, Browns, Athletics, Dodgers and Giants all changed cities.

That would mean looking carefully to see which cities were listed on the board. Pre-franchise moves, you’d see BOSTON, BROOKLYN and NEW YORK on the NL side and ST. LOUIS and PHILADELPHIA on the AL side. After moves, you’d see MILWAUKEE, LOS ANGELES and SAN FRANCISCO on the NL side and BALTIMORE and KANSAS CITY on the NL side.

It’s pretty clear there is no BOSTON on the NL side, so this has to be 1953 or later. But there is also no KANSAS CITY on the AL side, so it has to be before 1955, when the A’s relocated from Philly to K.C.

All right, that sets this photo in 1954. But when?

It took a while, but I finally got the matchups shown as follows:

NL side:

PITTSBURGH/CUBS
BROOKLYN/MILWAUKEE
NEW YORK/ST. LOUIS
PHILADELPHIA/CINCINNATI

AL side:

SOX/WASHINGTON
CLEVELAND/PHILADELPHIA
BALTIMORE/NEW YORK
DETROIT/BOSTON

There aren’t many people in the box seat area, and the bleachers are modestly full, but not completely. (Remember back then, capacity of the Wrigley bleachers was 3,300, after about 1,200 seats were closed off for that hitter’s background in 1952.)

It’s obviously summer, ivy’s full, people in the stands aren’t wearing coats or jackets.

In 1954, the Cubs hosted the Pirates May 2 (doubleheader). That’s too early in the year for the ivy to be that full.

The next Cubs/Pirates series at Wrigley that year was July 15-17, including a pair of doubleheaders.

Well, that seemed promising, so I checked the boxscores. As you can clearly see in the photo, we’re in the bottom of the first inning, it’s 1:48 p.m. (checks out, all games in 1954 started at 1:30), and there’s a Cubs runner leading off third base.

This all happened Friday, July 16, 1954. Gene Baker had doubled with one out and advanced to third on a groundout. The batter shown on the scoreboard had a single-digit number. That’s Randy Jackson, who wore No. 2. Jackson grounded out to end the inning. The on-deck hitter is Hal Rice, who wore No. 28 — squint and you can see that “28” on his back. The third-base coach is Ray Blades, No. 41.

The Cubs won this game 3-2 in walkoff fashion. The play-by-play says that Bob Talbot singled to center and scored the winning run on a triple by Baker.

Now, that sounds unusual. Irving Vaughan of the Tribune explained in his game recap:

Talbot singled to center. Baker sighted the pitch he wanted with the count 1 and 2. He lined it into right center and a couple of guys were still trying to pick it up when Talbot was approaching the plate. Baker could have stopped at first and observed proceedings, but just kept on running for the allowable maximum of extra bases.

I don’t think you can do that now; an official scorer would probably only give credit for a double on a play like that in modern baseball.

While the Cubs won that game, the 1954 version of the club was not very good. They lost 90 games, the fourth time in seven years they’d reached that “milestone.” They did manage to go 15-7 against the Pirates, a worse team in that era.

You can see some of the PA speakers in the upper left of the photo. About the attendance: The boxscore says 4,586, which seems too small for what you see in the photo. Remember, though, that this was on a Friday — Ladies Day back then — and the “total in the house,” as Jack Brickhouse would call it, was likely larger.