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Cubs historical sleuthing: 1940s color film edition

The title says “Cubs game,” but there are actually two different games in this video.

Here’s a video I found that was titled “Cubs game, Wrigley Field, Chicago, early 1940s.”

The scoreboard is clearly visible at the beginning of the video, as you can see at the top of this post. Here’s that image again:

Mike Bojanowski and I went back and forth on this one for quite a bit. Finally, he hit on most of it, and here’s what he sent me.

Al tossed this one my way recently, we figured we could sleuth a date. This film in fact shows two different games, we got the first, and are inconclusive over the second.

The film first displays a panning shot of Wrigley, with a partial view of the CF scoreboard, then two very quick cuts of game action, then a few seconds of Charlie Grimm playing catch, then a few quick cuts of game action from a different day.

As my grade school math teachers used to say, show your work.

The board is always the best evidence, and the best starting point. The NL team matchups are out of crop, but the AL matchups are fully visible, and can be discerned due to letter and name shapes. From top to bottom: Sox/Boston, St.Louis/New York, Detroit/Washington, and Cleveland/Philadelphia. This puts 1953 (St. Louis AL), as a bracket on one end, and 1944 (green board, it was previously painted a desaturated red, the original color can still be seen on the outfield gates), as a bracket on the other. Grimm’s presence strongly suggests a 1944-49 timeframe, but I looked at all years 1944-53 to be on the safe side.

Although the team matchups on the NL side are not visible, that side of the board still offers significant clues. The top pairing (the Cubs score, the Cubs were on top of the board then), shows a doubleheader, second game in progress. The second pairing shows “NITE GAME” (two lines), the third shows another doubleheader, second game in progress. The last pairing, just visible, shows a single line motto, this is “NO GAME”, the style at that time was to show Nite Game as two lines on a single pairing, and No Game as one line.

The AL side tells us that the Sox/Boston game is final, that St.Louis/New York is “POSTPONED” (BTW, this is the only image I’ve ever seen that shows such a display), and finally the remaining two matchups are “NITE GAME.” This is plenty, it should be eminently doable, once we have a potential match, we usually go to Baseball-Reference for confirmation of the details.

I started by looking up all the Cubs doubleheaders 1944-53 that matched the AL lineups, there were 17 of them, but none precisely matched the detail shown on the board, according to BB-Ref. I then went another route, looking up all St.Louis/New York postponements at New York AL which coincided with a Cubs DH. There was only one such date: Wednesday, July 18, 1945. An entire Browns series was washed out in New York, and was made up as DHs later in the season.

That should settle it, but BB-Ref couldn’t absolutely confirm the details. For instance, there were three NL doubleheaders that day. The board shows two, these must be the Cubs games, and the Giants/Pirates games in the eastern time zone. The third is a Phillies/Cardinals DH in St. Louis, which was what was called in those days a “twi-night” doubleheader, the first game a late afternoon start, the second an ordinary night game. This is the “NITE GAME” on the board. The first game had likely not even begun. The Reds and Braves did not play that day, and would be the “NO GAME.” This clears the NL side.

The sticking point is the AL side. The White Sox played a single game in Boston, that game shows a final. The StL/NY game is postponed. Detroit/Washington was a twi-night DH. The Cleveland/Philadelphia game is called a nite game, BBRef says it’s a day game, this is the major sticking point.

Everything else matched, so I sent Al on a search of his subscription newspaper archives, and he found that the game at Washington was, after all, a night game, BB-Ref made an error. So, both sides of the board are clear, this has to be July 18, 1945, a doubleheader against the Dodgers; Cubs split this one, winning the first game 5-0, losing the second 9-5.

We can go further, the board says this is the bottom of the seventh, one out, Dewey Williams (No. 12) at bat (he walked). The scene then cuts to the diamond, the first cut shows no one on first, so Williams has yet to walk. The next cut shows the Heinz Becker double, later that inning, that scored two runners. This provides the definitive confirmation of the date.

The film then shows game action versus the Cardinals. Here we’re on much shakier ground, we have no board to use to parse out a date. Assuming the cuts are all from the same game, we have two plays at first base. First a Cubs batter is out 3U, the Cardinals pitcher comes in to cover the bag, but is not needed. The Cardinals first baseman is left-handed (possibly Musial), the Cardinals pitcher is right-handed. Next, a Cubs first baseman takes a throw from the left side of the infield. The first baseman is left-handed, and is definitely wearing No. 4. The Cubs pitcher, just visible at the top of the frame, is left-handed. This actually should be doable as well, but there are problems, without at least a year, there’s far too much potential game action to slog through. It is almost certainly post-1945, as Musial did not play in 1945. I looked at all Cubs/Cardinals games 1946-47, and couldn’t find one that matches the detail we have.

And who in holy heck is No. 4? There is no record of that number used by the Cubs during the span 1943-48. Hal Jeffcoat wore it from 1949, but was right-handed, and never played first base. We may have a case similar to the Bob Ramazzotti sleuth we did a few weeks ago, a Cub wearing a number not previously attributed.

Still, a pretty cool color film of Wrigley Field from nearly 80 years ago. Hope you enjoyed all the detail. If you think you can figure out who No. 4 is in the later part of the video, let us know in the comments.