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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: 1930s mystery edition

This is a good view of the bleachers and scoreboard from their early years.

Yes, yes I know, watermarks all over this photo. This is considered “fair use,” I’m not trying to sell this photo, just sleuth it.

That said, let’s have a look at what we see.

First, the Chinese elms are on the steps up toward center field and there’s no clock on the board. That makes this one within the first few years of the iconic bleachers and scoreboard.

The clock was added in mid-1941, so this photo has to be from between late 1937 and early 1941.

The clue that’s the most useful here is what appears at the bottom of the board. Until the board was expanded in 1969, upcoming games and series were listed at the bottom. The bottom reads, on the left side:


And on the right side:


So, that made it a simple search through those three-plus seasons for a game against Boston (then known as the “Bees”) at home, followed by a series against the Phillies on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday, then a doubleheader against Brooklyn on Sunday.

I found two possible games — either September 12, 1939 or September 13, 1939. All the other games on both dates were day games, as shown, so based just on the matchups it was impossible to tell.

There’s one other clue — the umpire numbers. I did a search online for a 1939 Cubs scorecard and here is one:

The umpire numbers are near the bottom, right above the WGN radio ad. Here’s a larger version, a little pixellated but good enough for this purpose:

The umpire numbers on the board are: Home plate, 8; First base, 10; Third base, 13. (Three-man crews were the most common in those days.)

This is where this sleuthing exercise goes into the realm of speculation, because the umpires listed on the board don’t match either of the games. The game of Tuesday, September 12, 1939 lists Campbell at the plate, Stewart at first and Magerkurth at third. The game of Wednesday, September 13, 1939 lists Magerkurth at the plate, Stewart still at first and Campbell at third.

The board shows Stewart at the plate, Magerkurth at first and Campbell at third.

There are only two conclusions possible: Either the board is wrong, or one of the boxscores is wrong.

I’m going to jump to a conclusion here with no evidence. Given what we know now about umpire rotation, Stewart should have been the home plate umpire for the September 13 game and Magerkurth should have been at third base. There’s no way to know that for sure, but the board is set up for what would be a proper rotation from the September 12 game.

It seems likely that the crew altered their rotation at the last minute on this one day for reasons that are lost to history. It’s possible that Stewart, who was supposed to be the plate umpire — by far the most rigorous position, then and now — didn’t feel up to it, or had a tweak injury, so he swapped positions with Magerkurth and the scoreboard operator didn’t change it.

Thus I’m going to say this photo is from just before the September 13 game. You can see players warming up and a couple of fans in the top row of the bleachers. Attendance was 3,999 that day, so just seeing a couple of fans there is logical.

Presuming this is correct, the Cubs won the game 15-4. Hank Leiber went 4-for-4, hit a pair of homers and drove in six runs.