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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1950s spring training edition

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This is a REAL blast from the past.

I came across the photo above on Twitter:

Neither the tweet nor the version of the photo I posted at the top of this post give you the full view of that long-ago Arizona afternoon, so here’s the full version of the photo:

Now THAT is a true time capsule. Here’s a photo taken from almost the exact vantage point in 2017:

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Scottsdale Stadium, now the spring home of the Giants, has been rebuilt twice since it opened in 1956 — once in 1992, again in 2006. It’s been the spring home of the Orioles (1956-58), Red Sox (1959-65), Cubs (1967-78), Athletics (1979-83) and Giants (since 1984).

Now, back to the original 1956 photo. From the tweet, we know this is a Cubs/Orioles game and that the stadium was new that year. We also know that Cubs pitchers Bob Anderson and Dick Drott were warming up in the bullpen.

So I checked the Tribune archive. The only time both those pitchers threw in the same game against the Orioles in Scottsdale in 1956 was the very first game that spring, which took place Saturday, March 10. It would make sense for there to have been photographers around to document the opening of a brand-new spring park. In fact, you can see several of them lined up right behind first base. It’s hard to believe now, but up to about that time photographers were often allowed to be on the field in foul territory. With the development of longer lenses, that became unnecessary in more recent times.

It’s impossible to know exactly what play we are looking at here. All we know is that a Cubs batter/runner is about to be thrown out at first base. Since Anderson and Drott are in the bullpen, it’s reasonable to assume this is the top of the first inning.

So that got me to thinking: What time did these games start? That would be a clue as to the inning. The shadows are pretty long, and facing to the right, which is east at this park. Thus this has to be fairly late in the afternoon.

The Tribune archive confirmed this. Some Cubs spring games were carried on radio even in those days, and on that date the Trib’s radio listing said the broadcast began at 4:05 p.m. Chicago time — 3:05 p.m. Arizona time. That makes sense, given the shadows. The game ran 2:15, so it would have ended around 5:20, more than an hour before sunset on that date, which was 6:32 p.m.

So what we’re looking at is an out recorded in the top of the first inning, Saturday, March 10, 1956, exactly 65 years ago today, probably sometime around 3:10 p.m. local time.

The Cubs won the game 3-2. Ernie Banks hit a two-run homer in the third inning to give them a 3-0 lead, after which they failed to record a hit. Tito Francona (father of the current Indians manager) hit a two-run homer in the eighth for Baltimore’s only runs. Anderson and Drott both threw three shutout innings.

Drott was not quite 20 years old that spring; he didn’t make his MLB debut until the following year, when he had an outstanding 15-11, 3.58 ERA season worth 3.3 bWAR, which got him a third-place Rookie of the Year finish and 21st place in MVP voting. Sadly, Drott got hurt and was never quite the same. He passed away in 1985, far too young at just 49 years old.

Coincidentally, the Cubs will again be playing at Scottsdale Stadium today, though it will be against the Giants, the ballpark’s current inhabitant.