clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cubs historical sleuthing: 1950s edition

This photo isn’t from when its source claimed it was.

I found this photo in a long-closed Reddit thread, and the original URL of the photo says it’s from 1959. So does the information that came with the photo:

The view inside Wrigley Field during a 1959 Cubs game.

This is absolutely not from 1959. I’m going to tell you when it’s from — down to the precise at-bat — but first, here’s the full photo again:

This is a fantastic color photo from the era, with good color balance (including the fact that the infield dirt was gray back then) and outstanding detail. If you’d like to enlarge it in your browser, here’s the original link so you can do that and follow along.

Reason No. 1 this is not 1959: There are no concrete panels behind the grandstand in this photo. Those panels were installed in 1958, so it has to be earlier than that. (The building visible behind the RF grandstand still stands on Sheffield, used by AT&T.)

Reason No. 2 this is not 1959: The Cubs are wearing plain white uniforms, no pinstripes. The Cubs began wearing pinstripes in 1957, so it has to be earlier than that.

Armed with that information, I began to look at this more closely. The Cubs are playing the Cardinals. The Cardinals third base coach is wearing No. 25. I checked all the Cardinals historical pages I could find from the 1950s. They had a coach named Tony Kaufmann who wore that number from 1947-50. Now we’re getting somewhere. (Incidentally, Kaufmann was a Cubs pitcher from 1921-27.)

Two other numbers are visible. You can see a “6” on the third baseman, and it looks centered, so that’s probably the number. (Also, no Cubs third baseman in that era wore any other number ending in “6”.)

There’s a “9” on the shortstop, probably the second number.

There are only two Cubs third basemen who wore No. 6 from 1947-50. Stan Hack, one of the best third basemen in Cubs history, wore it in 1947, and Bill Serena wore it in 1950. But there wasn’t a Cubs shortstop who had a number ending in “9” in 1947, so this has to be 1950.

All right, when in 1950?

Look at a closeup of the photo. That’s absolutely Stan Musial batting, he was already one of the great players of his time, perhaps a reason this photo was taken. Go find some video of Musial — there’s plenty out there — and you will see that very recognizable batting stance.

The fans — dressed in suits! — look like they’re dressed for a mild, but not warm, afternoon. There’s no one on base, the batters’ boxes are still visible and though there are some marks on the infield dirt, there aren’t many such marks. Also, the sun is still visible on the first few rows on the first-base side, hinting this is early in a game, and given the angle of the sun and the way fans are dressed, probably early in the season.

So I started searching the Cubs’ 1950 game logs. I didn’t have to look very far. This is from the Cubs’ home opener that year, Friday, April 21, 1950.

Musial batted with two out and no one on base in the first inning. The first out of the inning was a ground ball, so the infielders would have moved enough to show that much wear on the dirt. The second out of the inning was a fly ball.

The Cubs pitcher here, about to deliver a pitch, is Bob Rush. Musial reached base on an error by first baseman Preston Ward in that at-bat.

The Cubs won the game 2-0. Ward later drove in one of the runs with a fly ball in the sixth inning. Note that I didn’t say “sacrifice fly” because in 1950, the sac fly was not an official rule. It had been used at times before then, but didn’t become an official rule until 1954.

Rush threw a four-hit shutout. He produced a 4.3 bWAR season in 1950 despite losing 20 games. Rush was the Cubs’ best pitcher for most years between 1949 and 1956, even though those were terrible teams. After the 1957 season the Cubs traded Rush, Eddie Haas and Don Kaiser to the Braves for Taylor Phillips and Sammy Taylor, and Rush pitched in the 1958 World Series for Milwaukee.

You’ll note the attendance is shown as 22,137 for that game and at first glance, it looks like a full house at Wrigley Field. Look closer and you’ll see large swaths of the corners in both the lower and upper deck are empty, and likely it was the same on the other side. Wrigley capacity back then was about 38,000. I’d buy 22,000 for that crowd.

The Cubs got off to a decent start in 1950 and were still three games over .500 at 29-26 after winning the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies June 25. From then, though, they went 35-63 and finished 65-89 and in seventh place in the eight-team National League.

Bill Serena had a pretty good rookie year in 1950, batting .239/.339/.421 with 17 home runs in 127 games, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The next year, injuries limited him to 13 games, and though he returned to have a good 1952 (.274/.345/.469, 15 home runs in 122 games), more injuries intervened and ended his career after 1954. After that he became a scout, working in that capacity for more than 40 years for the Braves and Marlins before he retired in 1994.

A couple of other notes. First, look down the right-field line — you can see the wall doesn’t go upward toward the outfield wall as it does now. This was the case until the late 1960s. There was space between the end of the box seats and the outfield wall that was used for storage back then. The entire area was reconfigured in the 1968-69 offseason.

Lastly, you can see on the upper deck roof some lights. Yes, lights in Wrigley before 1988! Obviously this handful of lights couldn’t possibly be enough for night games and they were mainly used for other events. They were still in place as late as the late 1960s.

That’s a lot from just one photo!