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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Jack Brickhouse edition

You’d think there aren’t enough clues. You’d be wrong.

I’ve seen this photo of Jack Brickhouse in the Wrigley Field press box a number of times, mostly on WGN-TV retrospectives, and have always wondered when it was taken.

Well, you know me — I love sleuthing these things, so I decided to take this one on. By the time you’re done with this article you’ll have not only learned the exact date it was taken, but in addition, a bit about the history of TV sets and also the history of scorecards at Wrigley Field.

First, here’s the photo again:

What do we know about this photo right away? First, it’s a young-looking Brickhouse, complete with bow tie, something he almost never wore in later years. He’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt, so it’s probably a warm day. There’s also an old-fashioned TV set. That was likely in the booth to provide the on-air feed. The TV is an RCA 630-TS, shown here in this color photo:

These TVs were manufactured by RCA beginning in 1946. WGN-TV didn’t go on the air with Cubs baseball until 1948, and you can see some wear on the sides of the box, so it’s likely not from one of the very first games broadcast by WGN, which, as you know, started airing Cubs games in April 1948.

We can’t see the Wrigley scoreboard (except for the left edge), so there are no game matchups to try to suss out. We do see a “shade” that was placed in the center field bleachers at Wrigley starting in 1948. This was an early attempt to counteract the white shirts in the bleachers that were interfering with the batter’s view of a pitch. The CF bleachers were finally closed in April 1952, so that narrows it down a bit more. The ivy is in full bloom, so it’s got to be June or later. It’s a sunny day.

The key to sleuthing this is the scorecard that is sitting next to Brickhouse on the desk in front of him. This format of scorecard, that reads TODAY’S BATTING ORDER at the top with the lineups pre-printed, was used from 1948-55, so we have confirmed the 1948-51 time frame (the Pirates did not play at Wrigley in 1952 before the CF bleachers were closed).

I sent this photo to Mike Bojanowski to see what he could find on the card. The pre-printed lineups only showed the first eight hitters — the pitcher’s spot was left blank. Here’s what he sent me:

Pittsburgh printed lineup shows three very short names 1-4, three long names 5-7, one very short name 8th.

That’s helpful, but I went through all the possible Pirates at Cubs boxscores from 1948-51 and couldn’t narrow it down.

Then I looked at the roster lists. It seemed to me that in the fourth column of the Cubs roster list (on the bottom) it read: “Grimm, Mgr.” which would further narrow it down as Charlie Grimm managed the Cubs for all of 1948 and the first 50 games of 1949.

This turned out not to be correct, but I was on the right track. I sent that along to Mike and got this reply:

It’s Roy Johnson, who wore No. 42 as a coach. And here’s the kicker, in all other possible years (1948, 1950-51) he’s in the card as “Johnson, Coach”, which is nowhere near long enough. But in ’49, for a reason that must go down as lost to history, he’s rendered as “Johnson, R., Coach”. And he’s usually in the fourth column in the rosters. This is what we see in the pic. There were no other Johnsons on the Cubs roster that year, so why they thought they suddenly needed to give him an initial that year only, is anyone’s guess. They also gave Sauer an initial “Sauer, H.” that year only. Curious.

Johnson is not always the last name in the fourth column. Depending on how the rosters shaped up, he could be elsewhere within the column, and occasionally he’s in the fifth (last) column, and always notably the longest name. On the pictured card, and this is significant, the columns are even, six names each, except the first, which contains the “UNIFORM NUMBERS” heading, and only five names.

1949 was one of the two years the card covers featured head shots of the various players, and it’s been one of my lifetime collector’s ambitions to get them all. I can confirm twenty different covers. What this also means, a bit of researcher’s luck, is that I have quite a few cards to search. Only the daily lineups were printed on the day of game, the cards for the series were made in advance, so the roster lists would not have changed within a series. One of my cards is a Pirates game August 10, that card does not have Johnson last in the column. So the series August 8-11 can be eliminated. Likewise a game on July 2, Johnson not last in the column. So July 1-3 can be eliminated. Also the opening series in April can be safely eliminated. The only series left is September 3-4.

Mike and I went back and forth on this a couple more times and then he discovered that he actually did have a scorecard from that September 3-4, 1949 series. Here it is:

Here is the original image (left) and Mike’s card superimposed on it (right):

It’s a perfect match.

So, before which of the games was this photo taken? September 3 or 4?

To determine that, we need to turn to the weather those two days. The Tribune archive says the weather September 3 was “fair and warm” with a high near 85. Rain was forecast for September 4 and indeed, it did rain that day, with that afternoon’s game shortened to seven innings.

And so, this photo was taken Saturday, September 3, 1949, I’d guess half an hour or so before the 1:30 p.m. game time, as you can see a couple of Cubs warming up on the field. Attendance wasn’t bad for a meaningless game between the sixth-place Pirates and eighth-place Cubs, 13,289, which matches up pretty well with the mostly-full bleachers we can see in the photo. The names on the card match up pretty well with the starting lineups for that game, with the exception of the Pirates catcher. MASI is the name printed on the card, but Clyde McCullough started at catcher and batted eighth that day. This happened fairly often; lineups were printed the morning of the game, but managers frequently changed them for various reasons.

Brickhouse would have been 33 years old at the time of this photo, in his second year calling Cubs games on WGN-TV.

The Cubs won this game 11-7. Hank Sauer homered twice, so Brickhouse was able to yell “Hey! Hey!”, something he was already doing by then, into that old-fashioned microphone twice. The Cubs trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth before they exploded for a nine-run inning. Sauer’s second homer of the game tied it 5-5 and four more runs scored before Roy Smalley struck out to end the inning. Sauer wound up with 198 home runs as a Cub, which still ranks 10th in franchise history.

Even at that, those woeful Cubs tried to give up that six-run lead. Ralph Kiner, who would later play for the Cubs in 1953, hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, but the Cubs held on for the win. The 1949 Cubs wound up losing 93 games, their second 90+ loss season in a row and second straight year finishing last in the National League.

They say every picture tells a story, and this surely is one, well over 1,300 words about the photo of Jack Brickhouse. If you’ve ever seen it and wondered when it was taken and what happened that day at Wrigley Field, now you know.