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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Nat King Cole and Jackie Robinson

This photo shows two Black icons at the North Side ballyard. But when?

Philip Harrington

The photo above shows Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson meeting with famed singer Nat King Cole at Wrigley Field.

The information I found said this photo was taken in 1954. Further research showed that it was part of an article in Look Magazine by George B. Leonard titled “The Melancholy Monarch.” It appeared in the magazine dated April 19, 1955.

In order to tell you when this photo was taken, first I’ll show you the entire photo — the one at the top is cropped.

Philip Harrington

All right, now we’re getting somewhere, we can see the Wrigley Field scoreboard. Three clues stand out.

  • This photo had to be taken between games of a doubleheader — you can see a final score posted at the right of the Cubs score line, which was at the top left in those days, and also pitchers posted for a second game.
  • The only doubleheader at Wrigley between the Cubs and Dodgers took place Saturday, June 5, 1954, including a makeup for a rainout a month earlier.
  • The clock reads about 4:43.

The clock is what stymied me for a moment. A second game of a doubleheader starting after 4:43 p.m.?

In 1954, yes. My game time history article here, updated in 2019, shows that all games — including doubleheaders — would have started at 1:30 p.m. in 1954.

The first game of that doubleheader ran 2:48. That was actually a fairly long time for a nine-inning game in 1954, but there were 17 hits and eight walks (seven of the eight issued by Cubs pitchers) and 13 runs scored, so there was at least quite a bit of activity. The Cubs lost the game 8-5.

So Game 1 of the doubleheader would have ended about 4:18. Back then, 30-40 minutes was a common break between doubleheader games, so sure, I’d buy 4:43 as a between-games time. It was likely this chat between Robinson and Cole — and wouldn’t you love to know what they talked about? — was just about to end and the second game about to begin. The Cubs lost that one, too, 8-3. The Cubs weren’t a very good team in 1954, going 64-90, the fourth time in seven years they’d lost 90+ games.

Lastly, on the board you can see two night games, including the White Sox, who did in fact play a night game at Washington that day. The other night game that day was Philadelphia at St. Louis, which also matches what’s shown on the board. Attendance that day was 27,275, accounting for the full bleachers.

As for Robinson, he went 0-for-3 in the first game, but 4-for-4 including a double and triple in the nightcap. Perhaps his chat with Cole inspired him. (Or not, who knows?) I also confirmed that Cole played some gigs in Chicago in June 1954; in fact, the Tribune reported on an appearance he made at Chez Paree, a nightclub then located at 610 N. Fairbanks Court in Chicago, that very night.

So this photo of these two icons of sports and music was taken Saturday, June 5, 1954 at 4:43 p.m. Here’s another image from the same photoset, with a better view of Cole:

Philip Harrington