‘Field of Dreams’ game rekindles memories of 1942 Cubs-White Sox exhibition in FD
The national media will tell you that Thursday’s “Field of Dreams” contest between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees is the first of its kind in the state of Iowa.
Technically, that’s true. A regular-season Major League Baseball game has never been played in our state.
But some old-school Fort Dodgers are pridefully reminding anyone willing to listen this week that big-league ballclubs have, in fact, squared off here before. On April 9, 1942 — exactly one week before Opening Day that season — Windy City rivals christened the new baseball diamond at Dodger Stadium, as the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox entertained thousands of fans at the community’s freshly-minted athletic complex.
Dodger Stadium’s first official football game was in the fall of 1940, but plans were already in place to add a baseball venue and flank it directly to the north. With ivy-clad walls cloaking the brick around the outfield, the complex was to resemble Wrigley Field. City officials and school administrators, led by Fort Dodge Board of Education president and Stadium project pioneer O.C. Pfaff, pushed to have the MLB franchises — owned at the time by Grace Comiskey, daughter-in-law of Charles Comiskey, and Philip K. Wrigley, the son of William Wrigley Jr. — stop in Fort Dodge on the way back to Chicago from their respective Arizona spring-training facilities and dedicate the field. An agreement was reached.
In his book “Echoes From Middle Iowa’s Historic Past,” legendary Messenger Sports Editor Bob Brown reported that most Fort Dodge businesses closed the afternoon of the big game. Fans from across Iowa — and even the midwest — flocked to see the main attraction, with a line forming during the morning hours for the scheduled 3 p.m. affair.
Gates opened at 1:30. The train carrying the ballclubs from a previous exhibition stop in Tulsa, Okla. didn’t arrive in Fort Dodge until 3, and after a brief warm-up with Karl King’s Fort Dodge Municipal Band offering patriotic numbers as the backdrop, the teams — which would later spend the night at the Wahkonsa Hotel — finally took the field at approximately 4 p.m. Then-Fort Dodge Mayor W.E. Caldwell threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Our Chamber of Commerce reported 8,500 ticket stubs had been sold, which — to this day — is still a local record for a single athletic event. There were no dugouts at the time, and fans lined foul territory in droves, adding to the intimacy of the festivities. Brown reported in his book that even premium tickets were an affordable $1.68 each — $28 in today’s world. Bleacher seats ranged from 75 cents to $1.12. There were originally 6,500 seats to be either sold or given to men in uniform, which Pfaff announced would be admitted free of charge as a nod to both their service and the general atmosphere surrounding World War II at the time. Another 2,000 tickets were added to help accommodate the high demand.
The Cubs earned a walk-off win in a slugfest, 16-14. Given the dimensions of what is now McNeil Field — 285 feet down both lines is a generous measurement — it was expected to be a hitter’s delight, and the Major Leaguers delivered. Future Hall of Famers Luke Appling (White Sox shortstop), Bill Dickey (White Sox catcher), Ted Lyons (White Sox pitcher) and Ki Ki Cuyler (Cubs first-base coach) were among the big names in attendance. All total, batters slugged five home runs and 38 hits.
Brown recalled in his book that the next day, Fort Dodge faced Humboldt in the first high-school contest at the Dodgers’ new home. Fort Dodge prevailed, 11-4, with city legend Floyd Magnusson pitching and earning the win.
Seventy-three years later, Fort Dodge and Humboldt would again meet for Dodger Stadium’s first-ever night game under newly-installed lights.
The famed Fort Dodge exhibition of nearly 80 years ago probably won’t get a mention during Thursday’s broadcast. This is a huge coup for the “Field of Dreams” property — one of my favorite places on Earth — and our state in general. The extraordinary nature of the event and the beautiful new complex — which complements the rural field where the iconic 1989 movie was filmed — will receive most of the attention, as it should.
Dodger Stadium isn’t just a footnote in Major League Baseball’s relationship with Iowa, though. This experience is rare for our state — not unprecedented. Use this piece of Fort Dodge history to stump your friends with a trivia question the night of the big game.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt