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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1939 edition

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These are great photos of well-known Cubs, with a story behind them.

Margaret Converse Butler

You might recall this sleuthing post from last December, in which I sleuthed out the April 10, 2000 (Opening Day) date and at-bat that was being taken by Mark Grace.

The photo was sent to me by Michael McNerney, who at the same time sent me a number of photos taken at Wrigley Field by his great-grandmother, Margaret Converse Butler.

You see one of those photos above. Here are two others, taken at the same game:

Margaret Converse Butler
Margaret Converse Butler

Time went by, and I got busy with other things, and last week Michael McNerney emailed me and told me that he had sleuthed out the date these photos were taken. He sent me a detailed description of how he figured it out, so I’m going to pass that along to you. Nice sleuthing, Michael!


There are three photos, two of a pitcher warming up and one of a batter. I was not sure that they were the same day until doing the research. On the back of the photo of the batter was writtten in pencil “Cubs Augie Galan.” One of the pitcher photos is digital, but I recall seeing the original years ago — and it saying “Dizzy Dean” in pencil. Data from the photos:

  • The uniforms they are wearing look to be from either 1938 or 1939. The Cubs wore the same home uniforms those two years, which matches the photos.
  • The pitcher, the batter and the catcher all appear to have the 1939 Centennial patch on their left shoulders. Now we know it’s 1939.
  • Comparing the photos of the pitcher to photos of Dizzy Dean and the video of his windup indicate it certainly could be Dean.
  • In both photos of the pitcher the ground is visibly wet with puddles (there is even a tarp in the background of one) and the fans are wearing hats and coats.
  • The catcher’s uniform has a clear pattern and if you compare it to all national league away uniforms in 1939, it could only be the Boston Bees (the name the Boston Braves were known by from 1936-41).
  • Boston played at Wrigley 11 times in 1939.
  • On May 21, 1939, Dizzy Dean made his first start of the season against the Bees and both the Tribune and the New York Times reported that the game was delayed 30 minutes due to a downpour. The Trib has a photo of Dizzy warming up, and it looks very much like the same scene my great-grandmother captured (her from the stands, the photographer from the field). The Times said: “Most of the spectators had stood in the ticket line in the rain, which held up the start of the game, for more than a half an hour. Dean received a thunderous ovation.”
  • The article also has a photo of Dean at bat, and identifies that catcher (Al Lopez) and the umpire (Bill Stewart) which match with the photo my great-grandmother took of Augie Galan.
  • Galan played left field and batted third that game and went 1-for-3 with a walk in his last at-bat. His one hit was an RBI double in the sixth driving in Stan Hack, and he later scored from second on a double by Hank Lieber.

So, there’s one remaining question and one observation:

  • Question: Which at-bat does this capture? There’s dirt on the knees of Galan’s uniform, and from the boxscore it does not look like Boston hit any balls his way. In the sixth Galan doubled and then scored on Lieber’s double. So it seems likely somewhere in the sixth inning he made a slide, resulting in the dirt. That leaves his final at bat: an intentional walk in the seventh, and it appears that is what we are looking at here..
  • Observation: The resemblance of the photo of Galan and the Mark Grace photo I took on Opening Day 2000, linked above, is pretty cool, even down to hats in the same place in the two photos. But the game situation is also pretty similar: both against the Braves, both players broke their games open, both photos of a base on balls in a player’s last at bat of the game, both lefthanded hitters with long Cubs careers and great batting eyes (Galan lead the National League in walks twice).

Honestly, I couldn’t have sleuthed this one better than that. The Cubs won the game 4-0, Dean throwing a three-hit shutout. The Cubs, coming off a pennant year in 1938, were never in first place after April. They finished 84-70, but in fourth place, 13 games behind the pennant-winning Reds.

One last note I received by email from Michael McNerney:

Also, my great-grandmother has/had over a hundred kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids who live all over the country. All of them are diehard Cub fans. To see her name on your blog would be an absolute thrill to all of them.

I thank Michael for sending me the photos and sleuthing these for me, and I hope all the descendants of Margaret Converse Butler are indeed thrilled to see her name here, more than 80 years after those photos were taken at Wrigley Field.