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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1950s edition

This is one of the earliest color photos of the marquee.

This is a great color photo of the exterior of Wrigley Field and the famous marquee, which was (generally) painted that aqua-blue color until 1965, when it became its now-iconic red.

Given the dress of the people in the photo and the team shown as the Cubs’ opponent, it wasn’t too hard to pin down the date — or at least the date range, because since there are three dates listed, it’s impossible to know which day this was taken. That’s not going to stop me from taking an educated guess, though.

The Cubs and then-New York Giants played these three games on June 22-23-24, 1951. The Cubs lost two of three. This was only about a week after the Cubs, mired in a stretch where they’d lost 13 of 18, made one of the worst trades in franchise history, sending the popular and productive Andy Pafko (and others) to the Dodgers. Pafko wound up playing in three World Series after the deal (1952 Dodgers, 1957 and 1958 Braves), while none of the four players the Cubs got back had any positive impact at all.

This photo is also a good slice of life in Chicago more than 70 years ago. You can see a streetcar in the background; these public transportation vehicles were a staple of city life until they were all retired in 1958. There’s also a train line visible crossing Addison Street and a small building at the left of the photo where railroad workers were stationed. That rail line stopped running near Wrigley in the 1960s, but a mile or so south it continued to run into the early 2000s. If you walk down the south side of Addison even now, you can see a green post in the sidewalk next to the Cubby Bear bar — that once held a railroad signal.

This photo from Google Maps shows where that rail line was — you can see a diagonal line running southwest from Wrigley. That’s where new residential buildings were built along the decommissioned rail line over the last 30 or so years.

Google Maps

There are kids selling newspapers in the photo. If those kids are still living they’d be in their 80s.

I’m going to say this photo was taken Friday, June 22, 1951. Why? Because the Tribune’s weather forecasts and records for those three days say it was sunny that day and cloudy on Saturday and Sunday, and the sun is clearly shining in that photo.

The Cubs lost that game 9-6 in 10 innings, after Hal Jeffcoat hit a two-run homer to tie the game 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth. Willie Mays smacked a three-run homer in the 10th off Dutch Leonard to provide the game-winning margin. It was just the fifth homer of Mays’ great career and the first he hit at Wrigley Field in the first game he ever played there. Mays eventually hit 54 home runs at Wrigley, to this day the most for any visiting player.

The Giants would go on to win the 1951 NL pennant, famously, on Bobby Thomson’s walkoff home run in the first-ever NL playoff tiebreaker series to decide the league pennant. The Cubs wound up losing 92 games, the third time in four years they’d lost more than 90.

Just a little slice of Chicago baseball life from more than 70 years ago.