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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1950s edition

This photo’s from the ‘50s, but not from the year many online sources say it is.

I have seen this photo at a number of places, mostly on Facebook, and every time it says, “Cubs game 1959” or something similar mentioning that year.

Before I get to the full sleuthing of this photo, it is obvious from the very start that this isn’t 1959. How do I know that? Because the Cubs aren’t wearing home pinstripe uniforms. They began doing that in 1957. Before that, from 1945-56, they wore plain white (actually a bit off-white) uniforms exactly like the ones depicted here.

Here’s the full photo again, and you can click here for a larger version:

One thing that’s good about this photo for sleuthing purposes is that we have clearly visible numbers on several people: The first baseman, the first-base coach, and the on-deck hitter.

Let’s begin with the Cubs first baseman. He’s wearing No. 29. There is only one Cubs player in the 1950s who wore No. 29 and played first base. That’s Preston Ward, who was with the Cubs in 1950 and 1953 (he missed 1951-52 in military service). We’re going to eliminate 1953, because Ward played only three games at first base for the Cubs that year, and all of them were in late May. Look at the ivy and the trees beyond the ballpark — there are no leaves, this cannot be late May.

So this has to be 1950. Ward played 76 games at first base for the 1950 Cubs. But it’s easy to narrow this down. It’s clearly the Cardinals who are the visiting team, the on-deck batter and first-base coach have red numbers in the style the Cardinals used in that era.

No. 17 on the Cardinals in 1950 was Joe Garagiola, who would later play for the Cubs and then go on to a long and distinguished career in broadcasting. Since we are looking for an early-season game, that makes this one of two dates: April 21 or 22. April 21 was the Cubs’ home opener, but both games had similar attendance: 22,137 on the 21st, 24,122 on the 22nd.

The first-base coach is wearing No. 26. That’s a charmingly-named man named Buzzy Wares, who was 64 years old in 1950, one of the oldest coaches in baseball. He was a Cardinals coach for 23 years.

The Cubs catcher appears to be wearing No. 12 — that would be Mickey Owen.

Only one of these two games has that possibility, because only one of them has Garagiola batting behind someone with another Cardinal with a single-digit number on base, and that appears to be Stan Musial. That’s the one from Friday, April 21, 1950. It would make sense for a photographer to be there that day — it was the team’s home opener.

The thing is, I can’t find anything in the play-by-play from that afternoon that precisely matches what we see here — unless what we’re seeing here is the batter and runner going on what was ultimately a foul ball.

In the first inning that day, Musial had reached first on an error with two out. He then stole second, but we have to be seeing something here before that steal, because the batter is also running.

I’m going to suggest that this was a foul ball hit by the batter, Enos Slaughter, after which Musial stole second. (Musial didn’t steal much, either; that was one of only five SB he had in 1950.)

Nothing else in that game matches this, and the shadows at Wrigley infer that this is early in the game. Further, there’s no other possible game that matches these facts.

Incidentally, a year ago I sleuthed a different photo from this exact game, and to me that’s further proof this is the game in question.

Have at it, if you think I’m wrong, but I think this photo was taken during a foul ball hit by Slaughter in the first inning of the game Friday, April 21, 1950. The Cubs won the game 2-0. Bob Rush threw a four-hit shutout. The Cubs got off to a decent start that year and as late as June 29 were over .500 at 31-29 and only 4½ games out of first place. As usual, they faded, going 33-60 the rest of the way, the worst record in the NL over that span.