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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1940s edition

This home movie has some great detail.

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A bit more than a year ago, I posted some 1939 Wrigley photos that had been sent to me by Michael McNerney. They had been taken by his great-grandmother, Margaret Converse Butler.

Recently, I heard from McNerney again, and this time he sent me the following video, a film totaling about one minute’s worth of action from a Cubs game from the 1940s.

I’ve kind of given away at least some of the sleuthing done with the title of that video, but let me take you through the process. Michael McNerney did some of my work for me, sending me these clues:

1) They are playing the Cardinals

2) Looking at the uniforms, it can only be 1946-1948. The Cubs did not go all white until 1943 and the Cardinals had a patch on their sleeves until 1946 and updated their jerseys in 1949 (the birds were altered to stand more upright on the bat)

2) It is April or early May (no ivy on the bleacher wall)

3) It’s a sold-out game (or at least very close as the bleachers are packed and it seems the grandstand is too)

4) The Cardinals pitcher is lefthanded

5) There is one play in the video — a Cubs batter grounding into a 3-6 fielders choice. (It’s important to note that if you look closely there is no lead runner visible ahead of the player sliding into second.)

6) It’s sunny with some scattered clouds

7) No. 28, Ted Wilks, is warming up in the Cardinal bullpen. (This is where you can really see the Cards unis).

8) It’s 2:55 p.m when the camera cuts to the scoreboard (all games for all of those years started at 1:30)

McNerney then noted that Ted Wilks, shown warming up, did not appear in any of the possible games during this time frame. He sent me a list of those games and noted that in the video (you can see this in the screenshot I used as the lead photo here), the game is in the bottom of the seventh inning, with No. 20 at bat.

Presuming this film was entirely shot at one game — and I’ll present evidence in a bit that I believe it was — the only possible date here is Saturday, April 26, 1947. It’s the only one of the possible games that No. 20 for the Cubs, Don Johnson, was leading off the bottom of the seventh (no outs shown on the board, and no ball-and-strike count).

Johnson singled to left, starting a two-run rally which gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead. Something else happened in that inning, though, which you can see in the last 10 seconds of the video, a large group of Cubs players and coaches milling around home plate, then walking away.

Andy Pafko had come to bat with the bases loaded and one out. Bob Chipman scored, and Stan Hack was thrown out at the plate. Edward Burns’ recap in the Tribune explained what happened on the play on Hack, and why we see all the players and coaches in the video:

The Cubs had hitting heroes in abundance as they piled up a total of nine hits. Elation over the pounding of [Harry] Brecheen would have been much greater, perhaps, had not Stan Hack, one of the sluggers, been hurt as he was retired at the plate after doubling in a two run clinching rally in the seventh inning. Stan fell on his face and later was carried from the field. It was said, after an examination in the clubhouse, that he had suffered a twisted left ankle. He was taken to Illinois Masonic hospital for X-rays.

So that’s what we are seeing at the end of that video, Hack being carried off the field by teammates and coaches. The note about “the pounding of Brecheen” in the recap was because that Cardinals star pitcher had routinely been a Cubs nemesis. Overall in his career he posted a 2.03 ERA and 1.035 WHIP in 61 games (47 starts) against the Cubs, his best marks against any team he faced more than once.

Here’s what the rest of the video shows:

:01: Bottom of the second: Bob Scheffing grounds out, 3B-1B
:02-:04: Bottom of the fourth: Bob Scheffing single
:05-:08: Ted Wilks warming up
:09-:14: Bob Scheffing on first during a pitcher/catch conference
:14-:18: Bill Nicholson grounds into a fielder’s choice
:19-:33: Crowd, also Cardinals warming up between innings
:34-:37: Scoreboard, bottom of the seventh, first batter, Don Johnson coming to the plate
:37-:49: Ted Wilks warming up as Brecheen gets into trouble in the seventh
:49-:57: Cubs gathering near the plate in the bottom of the seventh after Hack twisted his ankle on a play at the plate and carrying him off the field (here is a press photo of that play for sale on eBay)

Despite all the changes to Wrigley in the recent renovations, apart from the video boards and lights the park is clearly recognizable nearly eight decades later. The Cubs won the game 4-1.

As for why there were 34,922 in Wrigley Field to see the Cubs that day — remember that they had won the NL pennant only two years earlier and had, at least, posted a winning record and finished in third place in 1946. Cubs fans back then would have expected the team to continue to play good baseball. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen — despite getting off to a 14-7 start in 1947 and being in first place as late as June 14 at 29-21, the Cubs went 40-64 after that, the worst record in the league, and finished 69-85 and in sixth place. They wouldn’t have another winning season until 1963. They drew 1,364,039 fans in 1947, third-best in the NL, but wouldn’t sell that many tickets again until 1969.

Nevertheless, this film is a great little slice of Cubs life from 75 years ago. Many thanks to Michael McNerney for sending it along, and for his sleuthing help!