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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Old scoreboard edition

This is a fantastic photo with great detail.

Credit where credit is due, here’s where I found this photo:

This is a great look at the original pre-expansion board, and I’ve got a few comments on that but first let me tell you what date this is from.

On the NL side you see Brooklyn. On the AL side you see Kansas City. That means this photo has to be from 1955-57, as 1955 was the first year the A’s played in Kansas City and the Dodgers left Brooklyn after 1957.

That made this one easy, all I had to do was look up all the games the Milwaukee Braves played in Wrigley in those three seasons.

That’s still a lot of games, 33 of them. Incidentally, the Cubs went 13-20 in those games, which shouldn’t surprise you — the Cubs were awful in those years and the Braves were among the best teams in the league, winning the World Series in 1957.

Then, as you can see, this can be narrowed down immediately by the Cubs’ score as shown. The game would have to have at least four Cubs runs. That eliminates 15 of the 33 games.

The next clue, though, is the clock. My article on Wrigley game times says that “all games” in 1955 and 1956 started at 1:30, and only in 1957 did they move doubleheaders back to 1:00.

But the clock here shows 1:30 and two innings have already been played — or possibly the game is in the bottom of the second in progress, because it appears a scoreboard operator is about to post a Braves relief pitcher. So I immediately thought that this must be the first game of a doubleheader. But neither of the two first games of Cubs/Braves doubleheaders at Wrigley matched what we see here.

Off to the Tribune archive, where an article confirmed that the starting time of the doubleheader September 9, 1956 was moved to 1 p.m. “to balk darkness if the competition is drawn out.” Sunset in Chicago that day was 7:10 p.m., so the extra half hour bought them some time — and very likely was the reason that all doubleheaders were moved up half an hour starting in 1957.

So we are looking at Game 1 of a Cubs/Braves doubleheader Sunday, September 9, 1956. The Cubs — who were in last place 26½ games behind the first-place Braves entering this day’s action — teed off on future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn (No. 21 on the board). Spahn was, in fact, taken out of the game in the second inning after he’d allowed three home runs among the first eight batters he faced. Hobie Landrith had just hit a two-run homer off Spahn to make it 4-0 Cubs, and this is the moment in time we see, the relief pitcher about to be posted with one out in the bottom of the second. It’s a black-and-white photo, but had it been taken in color, the “3” in the Cubs’ second would have shown up as yellow for “inning in progress.”

I wish I had happier news about this game. The Braves began to pound Cubs pitchers Don Kaiser and Vito Valentinetti and won the game 7-4. The Braves won the second game 4-0, sweeping the doubleheader, though they fell short in a tight pennant race, finishing second to the Dodgers by one game. Attendance that day was 35,309, the second-biggest crowd of 1956 at Wrigley, probably boosted by a lot of Braves fans driving down from Milwaukee.

About the board — this is one of the clearest views I’ve seen of it in that era where you can read the typeface used for the team names and run totals. The umpires for the game were Jocko Conlan, Stan Landes, Bill Jackowski and Vic Delmore. Three years later Delmore was involved in a bizarre play at Wrigley in a Cubs/Cardinals game where two baseballs were in play at the same time. Delmore was fired as a result of his actions there, and died of a heart attack in 1960, aged just 44.

One last thing on the board: You can clearly see the team standings flags at the time used city names, instead of the team names now in use. That wasn’t changed until the 1980s.

Here is the back of a Wrigley scorecard from June 1956, so you can check some of the pitchers listed on the board (obviously, some might have changed by September 9). Also of interest: The concession and souvenir prices, and the note that “all pitchers in all games played” are listed. Relief pitchers were first listed on the board the previous year; before that, where you now see “RP,” catchers were listed, as that was considered important back then. The addition of relief pitchers was a nod to the fact that even in the mid-1950s, more pitchers were not completing games. The note was also on 1955 scorecards. ‘55 was also the last year the Cubs issued scorecards with pre-printed lineups.

For a larger version of this image click here.