Historical Cub Sleuthing: 1940s Color Film Edition

Historical Cub Sleuthing: 1940s Color Film Edition

Here’s a video I found that was titled “The 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 is that image again:

Mike Bojanowski and I went back and forth on this for quite some time. Finally, he hit the bulk of it, and this is what he sent me.

Al threw this my way recently, we figured we could make a date. This movie actually shows two different games, we got the first one and are undecided on the second one.

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

As the math teachers in my class used to say, show your work.

The board is always the best test and the best starting point. The NL team’s games are out of the cut, but the AL games are fully visible and can be distinguished due to the letterforms and names. From top to bottom: Sox/Boston, St.Louis/New York, Detroit/Washington and Cleveland/Philadelphia. This places 1953 (St. Louis AL), as a bracket on one end, and 1944 (green board, previously painted a rich red, original color can still be seen on the outer gates), as a bracket on the other side . The presence of Grimm strongly suggests a 1944-49 time frame, but I looked at all 1944-53 to be on the safe side.

Although the team’s matchups on the NL side are not visible, that side of the table still provides important data. The highest pairing (Cubs’ score, the Cubs were in the lead then), indicates a doubleheader, the second game in a row. The second pairing shows “NITE GAME” (two lines), the third shows another double, second game in progress. The last pairing, just visible, shows a one line motto, this is “NO GAME”, the style at the time was to show Nite Game as two lines in a single pairing and “No Game” as one line.

The AL side tells us that the Sox/Boston game is the final, that St.Louis/New York is “CLOSED” (BTW, this is the only image I’ve ever seen that shows such a display), and finally the other two remaining matches are “NITE GAME”. That’s pretty much it should be extremely possible, once we have a possible matchup we usually go to Baseball-Reference for confirmation of the details.

I started by looking for all the 1944-53 Cubs doubleheaders that matched AL lineups, there were 17 of them, but none exactly matched the details shown on the chart, per BB-Ref. I then went another route, looking for all the St.Louis/New York postponements in the New York AL that coincided with a Cubs DH. There was only one such date: Wednesday, July 18, 1945. An entire series of Browns were dealt to New York and drafted as DHs later in the season.

This should be resolved, but BB-Ref could not absolutely confirm the details. For example, there were three NL doubleheaders that day. The table shows two, these should be the Cubs games and the Giants/Pirates games in the Eastern time zone. The third is a DH Phillies/Cardinals in St. Louis. This is “NITE GAME” on the board. The first game probably hadn’t even started. The Reds and Braves did not play that day and would be a “NO GAME”. This clears the NL side.

The point of attachment is the AL side. The White Sox played a single game in Boston, that game shows a final. The StL/NY game has been postponed. Detroit/Washington was a two night DH. The Cleveland/Philadelphia game is called a night game, BBRef says it’s a day game, that’s the main sticking point.

Everything else matched, so I sent Al on a search of his subscription newspaper archives and he found that the Washington game was, after all, a night game, BB-Ref made a mistake. So both sides of the board are clear, this should be July 18, 1945, a doubleheader against the Dodgers; The 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 ends on the diamond, the first cut doesn’t show anyone at first, so Williams still hasn’t walked. The next cut shows Heinz Becker’s double later that game that scored two runners. This provides final confirmation of the date.

The film then shows game action against the Cardinals. We are on much shakier ground here, we have no table to use to parse a date. Assuming the cuts are all from the same game, we have two matches at first base. First a Cubs batter pops 3U, the Cardinals pitcher steps in to cover the bag, but it’s not necessary. Cardinals first baseman is left-handed (probably Musial), Cardinals pitcher is right-handed. Then, a Cubs first baseman throws a throw down the left side of the infield. The first pitcher is left-handed and obviously wears the number 4. The Cubs pitcher, just visible at the top of the frame, is left-handed. This should actually be doable as well, but there are problems, without at least a year, there is a lot of potential game stock to cut. It’s almost certainly after 1945, as Musial didn’t play in 1945. I looked at all the 1946-47 Cubs/Cardinals games and couldn’t find one that matched the details we have.

And who the hell is no. 4? There is no record of that number being used by the Cubs during the 1943-48 period. 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 previously unattributed number.

Still, a pretty cool color film of Wrigley Field from nearly 80 years ago. I hope you enjoyed all the details. If you think you can figure out who number 4 is later in the video, let us know in the comments.

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