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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Big crowd edition

You might not think there are ANY clues here. Dear reader, there most certainly are.

Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images

Getty Images says:

Wrigley Field crowd in Chicago, ca. 1962.

Not only is that not correct, it’s not particularly close. Here’s the full photo so you can follow along:

Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images

So, what do we see here? A couple of sections worth of fans, and a few players in the Cubs dugout. Right away we know this isn’t 1962 because the Cubs are wearing the uniform style they wore from 1943 to 1956. There’s one player with a partial number visible — a two-digit number that ends in “9.”

As I often do, I sent this over to Mike Bojanowski to have a look. I had looked very closely in the stands to see if I could see any visible scorecards, which would absolutely tell us the year. Sure enough, there were a couple, and that nailed it down to one specific year.

If you’d like an even larger version of those closeups, so you can follow along, click here.

The woman at the upper left — who wouldn’t look out of place in 2024, incidentally — is holding a copy of the 1950 scorecard:

1950 scorecard

The woman at the bottom right is holding the same card, only with this on the back:

Gallery Photo: The Wrigley Field Scorecard Vendor: A History

So now we know this photo was taken in 1950.

Now look at the enlarged number on the back of the one player who has a number visible. This numbering style doesn’t match the style I thought the Cubs had used every year since the mid-1940s, but a check of the Tribune archive confirmed this was the numbering style used in 1950.

The first number can only be a “2,” because of the tiny bit of the other number we can see. That’s the “tail” of the 2, which reached upward in that numbering style, as shown here:

Chicago Tribune

That’s from the Chicago Tribune of May 5, 1950 — as noted, the Cubs had lost to the Dodgers 10-2 the previous afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Now, who is this No. 29?

In 1950, No. 29 was worn by a first baseman named Preston Ward. Ward played in 80 games for the Cubs in 1950. However, he missed two months with an ankle injury and was out from late May to late July.

The fans in the photo are dressed for a warm weather day — note there’s a kid in the front row who’s shirtless. There were no games Ward played in at Wrigley prior to his injury that were that warm and/or had crowds that large.

So we’ve now narrowed it down to July 23 or later, when Ward returned from his injury.

Mike says that other identifiable players visible in the photo are Roy Smalley, Bill Serena, Paul Minner and Doyle Lade. He suggested this might have been a game in which Minner was the starting pitcher and perhaps Lade pitched in relief.

There are two such games.

The first one was Game 1 of a doubleheader Sunday, August 27, 1950. In fact, in that game Ward had been removed for a pinch-runner in the ninth inning. We are clearly at a pause in the game, many fans are standing. Minner threw a complete game that afternoon and Serena and Smalley both played. Lade did not appear. The Cubs lost this game 6-1. The Phillies would go on to win the NL pennant in 1950.

The weather forecast that afternoon was “mostly cloudy, cooler, scattered showers, high 77.” That more or less matches what we see.

The other possibility is Game 1 of a doubleheader just a few days earlier, Thursday, August 24, 1950. Minner started and was relieved by Lade. Ward, Serena and Smalley all appeared in the game. The attendance that day was 23,083 and the weather forecast was “partly cloudy, thundershowers at night, high 88.” That weather also more or less matches what we see.

This is about as far as I can take this. There’s a case to be made for both of those games, and in fact, the only thing I can say with absolute confidence is that this photo was taken July 23, 1950 or later, since that’s when Ward returned from his injury and it was warm enough for fans to be dressed that way.

I have some confidence, but obviously cannot be certain, that this photo was taken on one of the two dates mentioned above, and if pressed for one, I’d say the Thursday date is the one, since it would be unlikely for a relief pitcher to be in the dugout unless he’d been in the game.

One thing is for sure: This photo is definitely from 1950, not 1962.


When was this photo taken?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    August 24, 1950
    (38 votes)
  • 38%
    August 27, 1950
    (33 votes)
  • 16%
    Some other date in 1950, but we cannot be certain
    (14 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now