As most of you know, I am a student of Cubs and baseball history, and have often posted items here from the past of our favorite team and sport.
Today, I have a video to share with you that hasn’t been seen by many, or any, in more than six decades.
I received this video from Barb Johnson Nielsen, archives editor and Throwback producer for News 8, the CBS television station in San Diego. It’s apparently been tucked away in their archives all these years.
The Cubs played an in-season exhibition against the then-minor league San Diego Padres on August 11, 1958, a scheduled off day between a homestand and a road trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. There haven’t been any such in-season exhibitions (a MLB team vs. a minor league club) since 2002 and the Cubs haven’t played one since 1996. These used to be common, to help promote major league baseball in cities where it wasn’t played, and sometimes to raise money for charities. Now, though, MLB teams zealously guard their off days, and for good reason — today’s schedule and travel requirements don’t leave any room for such games, baseball is in many more cities today than it was in the 1950s, and teams raise money for charities in many other ways.
Here’s the video, which begins with a two-minute interview with Ernie Banks:
The interviewer is Luther “Lute” Mason, who worked in San Diego TV for many years in the 1950s and 1960s and did some play-by-play for the San Diego Chargers. You’ll note that he indicates the Cubs were his “favorite team” growing up and that he liked going to Wrigley Field in the 1930s. Mason, born in 1922, grew up in Wisconsin. He passed away in 2012.
The rest of the video shows some of the action from the game. The Cubs won 8-0 behind Moe Drabowsky and Bob Anderson. Drabowsky was another “guy who got away,” as the Cubs traded him to the Braves in 1961 for Andre Rodgers and Daryl Robertson. While Rodgers became a decent shortstop for the Cubs for a few years, Drabowsky eventually wound up in Baltimore, where he had several outstanding seasons and was a key contributor to the Orioles’ 1966 World Series champions.
Here are some of the Cubs you see in the latter half of the video.
At 2:12, No. 25 coaching third base is Cubs manager Bob Scheffing. At 2:23, No. 26, pitching, is Drabowsky. Then there’s a cap-less Cub who I can’t identify — can you?
At 2:39, there’s a Black umpire demonstrating a “safe” call (later in the video, you’ll see him showing an “out” call). This is a bit of history, too — that’s Emmett Ashford, who was a Pacific Coast League umpire from 1954-66. Ashford became the first Black umpire in the major leagues, working American League games from 1966-70. The Cub wearing No. 8 is Dale Long.
At 2:56, you see a Cub wearing No. 3 finishing a home-run trot. That’s outfielder Jim Bolger, who played for the Cubs in 1955 and also 1957-58.
At 3:05, the man wearing glasses in the dugout is Scheffing, who did a good job managing the Cubs from 1957-59, having them in contention for a while in ‘58 and ‘59. In fact, just a few weeks before this game in San Diego, the Cubs had defeated the Braves 5-3 on July 18 to move to within 2½ games of first place. Unfortunately, they then lost 17 of their next 24 and fell out of contention. Inexplicably, the Cubs fired Scheffing after 1959; he went on to manage the Tigers to 101 wins in 1961 and eventually became a successful GM with the Mets.
You can see the entire Cubs dugout beginning at 3:12. Banks is at the far end; other identifiable players are No. 30 (John Briggs), No. 23 (not Ryne Sandberg, of course, but catcher Moe Thacker) and No. 15 (catcher Sammy Taylor).
At 3:25, No. 2 hitting a fly out is outfielder Lee Walls.
Drabowsky is showing warming up beginning at 3:33. Next, he throws a pitch on which a Padres hitter walks. The catcher, No. 10, is El Tappe, who later became part of the Cubs’ infamous College of Coaches and remained in the organization for many years as a minor-league manager and scout.
Richard Dozer of the Tribune traveled with the Cubs and wrote briefly about this game, including this quote from Drabowsky:
“I wasn’t able to throw my fast ball as hard as I thought I could, but my curve was very pleasing to me,” said Drabowsky, who has been shelved with an elbow injury since July 19. The Cub right hander yielded three hits and said he thought he would be ready to start in league competition within a week.
The ballpark where this exhibition game was played was called Westgate Park, built brand-new for the PCL Padres in 1958. It had been constructed with a capacity of about 8,000 with the thought it could be expanded to 40,000 if San Diego ever got a MLB team. As was the case with most cities in that era, though, San Diego decided they’d build one stadium “suitable” for baseball and football (really, those weren’t good for either sport), and San Diego Stadium (later Jack Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium) was built for the Chargers in 1966, and the expansion MLB Padres called that home from 1969-2003.
Westgate Park was demolished in 1969 and a shopping mall, which still stands, was built on the site. Here’s some interesting history of that minor-league ballpark.
This video is a fascinating historical artifact, particularly the long interview with Ernie Banks. Many thanks to Barb Johnson Nielsen for sending it along. She told me she grew up in Waukegan as a Cubs fan and daughter of a die-hard Cubs fan, before moving to San Diego.