1930: One Hack of a season

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Sept. 7, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The story of Hack Wilson’s incredible 1930 season began the previous autumn, on Oct. 12, 1929 at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

Wilson and his Cubs teammates led the Philadelphia Athletics 8-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series. The North Siders appeared well on their way to evening the series at two games apiece – and with the final two games scheduled at Wrigley Field – they had to like their chances of rewarding their long-suffering fans with their first world championship in 21 years.

Wilson was an odd-looking man. He stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 190 pounds. The hard-drinking Wilson was described as looking like a beer barrell and not being unfamiliar with its contents. He had a size 18 neck; bulging biceps; stumpy, muscular legs; and wore size 6 shoes.

He may not have looked swift, but Wilson was athletic enough to patrol center field – and he did so adequately – committing 12 errors in 406 chances for the ’29 Cubs.

But Wilson’s defensive reputation was forever tarnished on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Athletics finally scored against Cubs starter Charlie Root, who up to that point had only surrendered three hits, when Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run.

Jimmie Foxx followed with an opposite-field single to right and Bing Miller hit a fly ball to center that Wilson lost in the sun. It dropped in for a single. Jimmy Dykes singled in Foxx and Joe Boley singled in Miller to make it 8-3.

Pinch hitter George Burns popped out to short, but an RBI single by Max Bishop cut the Cubs’ once seemingly insurmountable lead in half.

With two runners on base, manager Joe McCarthy called upon veteran left-hander Art Nehf to relieve Root. Up stepped Mule Haas.

Haas hit a looper to shallow center. Wilson started in on it, but suddenly froze. Seemingly blinded by the sun, Wilson ducked away as the ball shot past him and rolled into the deep recesses of center field. By the time right fielder Kiki Cuyler chased the ball down and relayed it to the infield, Haas had circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer and trimmed the lead to 8-7. A once quiet Shibe Park was up for grabs.

After walking Mickey Cochrane, Nehf was replaced by Sheriff Blake. A Simmons single advanced Cochrane to third and a Foxx safety drove him in with the tying run.

Pat Malone became the fourth Cubs pitcher of the inning, but he hit Haas in the ribs with a pitch to load the bases and surrendered a two-run, go-ahead double to Dykes. The 10-run inning remains a World Series record.

The Cubs lost that game 10-8 and then allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose Game 5, 3-2, to close out the series.

Wilson, despite hitting .471 in the World Series, was tagged by Cubs fans as the goat and apparently he entered the 1930 season determined to win the Wrigley faithful over.

In 1930, major league owners introduced a livlier baseball in hopes of promoting offense and increasing sagging attendance, Many hitters obliged, but none more impressively than Wilson.

Wilson’s 1930 stat line on http://www.baseball-reference.com is astounding.He hit .356; smashed 56 homers (an NL record that stood for 68 years); had an incredible, major league record 191 RBI; scored 146 runs, collected 423 total bases, and amassed a .723 slugging percentage. He also was credited with 18 sacrifice hits and walked 105 times.

Of Wilson’s 208 hits, 111 were singles, 35 were doubles, and six were triples.

He was a fearsome sight to opposing pitchers and his batting style was described by The Bleacher Report’s Cliff Eastham:

“At the plate he was a sight to see, squat, stumpy, and menacing, with an earnest, clenched-jaw look on the square face. He loved the high fastball and brought the bat around from the right side to meet it with little grace and mighty effort.”

Warren Brown of the Chicago Herald-Examiner called Wilson, “A highball hitter, on and off the field.”

Wilson’s season highlights included:

* On June 23, he hit for the cycle and drove in six runs as the Cubs routed the Phillies 21-8 at Wrigley Field.

* On July 26, he homered three times in the Cubs’ 16-2 victory over host Philadelphia at Baker Bowl.

* On Aug. 10, he had three homers and seven RBI in a doubleheader sweep of the Boston Braves at the Friendly Confines.

* On Aug. 30, Wilson capped a monster 53-RBI month with two homers and six knocked in against St. Louis at Wrigley.

* On Sept. 20, he drove in his 176th run in a 3-2 loss at Boston to break Lou Gehrig’s three-year-old major league record.

Can Wilson’s record be broken?

Bill James thinks it’s possible, but concedes in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (The Free Press, 2001):

“In 1930, most teams had one or two power hitters, surrounded by players who slapped at the ball and tried to get on base. That meant lots of RBI opportunities for the one or two power hitters.

“In modern baseball, everybody tries to hit home runs, spreading the offense top to bottom, but creating no ‘clusters’ of RBI opportunities.”

Wilson’s “clusters” were mostly created by Woody English and Cuyler.

Wilson batted cleanup in all 155 of his games in 1930. English, who batted second 118 times and first on 38 occasions, had a .430 on-base percentage and scored 152 runs. Cuyler, who hit third 133 times, had a .428 OBP and scored 155 runs.

And despite Wilson’s heroics, the Cubs failed to defend their NL title, finishing in second, two games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals.

One more Wilson story.

McCarthy was concerned about his slugger’s drinking habits and summoned him over to a table in the Cubs clubhouse. He placed a glass of water next to a glass of whiskey and dropped a worm into each beverage. The worm in the water bounced around the glass while the worm submerged in whiskey went limp and floated to the top.

“What does this demonstrate, Wilson?” the manager asked.

“That if I drink whiskey, I won’t get worms,” Hack responded.

1908: Merkle’s Boner

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Fred Merkle

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Oct. 4, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The Chicago Cubs’ chances of winning a second straight world championship and third straight National League pennant were not looking promising on Aug. 16, 1908 when Philadelphia right-hander George McQuillan outdueled the Cubs’ Jack Pfiester in a 1-0 Phillies victory at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.

The loss was their ninth in 12 games and dropped them to a season-high six games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates and three behind the second-place New York Giants.

But the Cubs regrouped and closed August with nine straight wins – including a three-game series sweep of the Giants in Chicago – and as the calendars flipped to September the National League’s usual suspects were gearing up for an intense three-team pennant race.

The Cubs and New York headed into September in a first-place tie. The Pirates, who had dropped to third after closing August with eight losses in 14 games, were just a half-game back.

During the first decade of the last century, the National League consisted of the haves (Cubs, Giants, Pirates) and the have-nots (Phillies, Reds, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals). From 1901-13, the NL pennant was won by the Cubs (4 times), New York (5), and Pittsburgh (4). From 1903-12, those three teams occupied the top three spots of the NL standings eight times.

On paper, you could have argued that the Giants and Pirates were superior to the banged-up Cubs as the season entered the home stretch. The Giants had the best pitcher, Christy Mathewson, having his best season (37-11, 1.43 ERA). The Pirates possessed the best player, Honus Wagner, who was en route to his sixth of eight batting titles.

The Cubs had been ravaged by a series of injuries and many of their regulars missed significant time. Most notably, left fielder Jimmy Sheckard missed two months and was nearly blinded after an ammonia bottle was smashed on his face during a clubhouse fight with teammate Heinie Zimmerman in June.

But the Cubs had an intangible that many future Yankees teams, the Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s, the Cincinnati Reds of the mid-70s, and the Atlanta Braves of recent times were to have – and unwavering self-confidence.

“Whoever heard of the Cubs losing a game they had to have?” player-manager Frank Chance once asked.

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Frank Chance, “The Peerless Leader” (Library of Congress)

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, 2001), the author noted that the Cubs won a single-season record 116 games in 1906 but that their 986 wins from 1904-13 is a major league record for any 10-year period.

In regards to the controversial selection to the Hall of Fame in 1946 of first baseman Chance, second baseman Johnny Evers, and shortstop Joe Tinker, James wrote:

“If you’re going to say that these guys don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it seems to me, you have to deal somehow with the phenomenal success of their team. This team won more games, over any period of years, than the Yankees with Ruth and Gehrig, more games than the Dodgers with Robinson, Reese, Snider, and Campy, more games than the Reds with Bench, Morgan, Rose, and Concepcion – more games than anybody. When you start explaining their wins, as Ricky Ricardo would say, you’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do.”

The Cubs opened September by taking three of four from the last-place Cardinals and then opened a crucial four-game series in Pittsburgh on Sept. 4. The Cubs and Pirates were tied for second, one game behind New York.

Cubs ace Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown and fellow future Hall of Famer Vic Willis hooked up in a tense pitcher’s duel at Pittsburgh’s Exposition Park. The game was scoreless in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates had Fred Clarke on third and rookie Warren Gill on first with two outs. Chief Wilson lined a solid single to center. As Clarke crossed the plate, Gill took off for the center-field clubhouse ahead of his team’s jubliant fans who stormed the field. An observant Evers called for the ball from center fielder Jimmy Slagle and stepped on second, seeking a forceout. Umpire Hank O’Day, who was working the game solo (then a common practice), refused to call Gill out, claiming he had not been watching whether Gill had touched the base or not. Evers argued fervently, but to no avail.

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Johnny Evers, “The Crab” (Library of Congress)

The Cubs split the four games with the Pirates, lost to Cincinnati on Sept. 7, and then rattled off seven wins in a row. But the Giants were even hotter. They opened September by winning 18 of 19 contests. After sweeping a doubleheader from Pittsburgh on Sept. 18, a confident New York club led the Cubs by 4.5 games and the Pirates by five.

In her fine recap of that terrific season, Crazy ’08 (HaperCollins, 2007), Cait Murphy noted that on Sept. 20, the New York World estimated the chances of the Cubs or Pirates overtaking the Giants akin to that of a “snowfall on the Fourth of July.” The World and New York Times both ran stories examining who the Giants might meet in the World Series.

“Sportswriters can be excused for saying stupid things; it is part of their job,” Murphy continued. “What is unpardonable is that the Giants begin to preen.”

“I can’t see how we can lose unless we all drop dead,” pitcher Red Ames said in mid-September.

“I don’t see how we can lose unless everything goes wrong,” catcher Roger Bresnahan added.

“I think we’ll win now,” Mathewson crowed.

“We will walk in,” outfielder Cy Seymour proclaimed.

“I can’t helping thinking we are sure to win,” rookie reserve first baseman Fred Merkle told the scribes.

The Cubs trailed the Giants by two games when they arrived in New York for a four-game series on Sept. 22 and the Cubs served notice that they would be in the race until the end by opening the set with a doubleheader sweep to move into a first-place tie. Brown entered in the ninth of the opener and saved a 4-3 win for starter Orval Overall. Brown started the nightcap and went the distance in a 3-1 Cubs triumph.

First place was on the line on Sept. 23 as Pfiester squared off against Mathewson and it would turn out to be perhaps the most controversial game in baseball history.

A two-man umpiring crew was assigned to the game. Bob Emslie worked the bases and O’Day – the same umpire who had worked the Gill game on Sept. 4 – was calling balls and strikes.

Another major player in the ensuing drama was the 19-year-old Merkle who was making his first major league start. Regular first baseman Fred Tenney missed his only game of the season because of lumbago and was replaced by the inexperienced Merkle who had appeared in just 35 games and made just 40 at-bats up to that point.

Pfiester and Mathewson were both superb. The Cubs managed a run in the fifth when Tinker circled the bases standing for an inside-the-park homer after hitting a gapper to left-center.

The Giants tied the game in the sixth on an RBI single by Mike Donlin.

Mathewson set the Cubs down in order in the top of the ninth and Pfiester appeared on the verge of escaping the bottom half without incident. With Moose McCormick on first and two outs, Merkle lined an opposite-field single to right. McCormick advanced to third as a standing-room-only crowd of over 20,000 roared with approval.

The next batter, Al Bridwell, lined a first-pitch fastball from Pfiester into center field. McCormick raced home with the winning run as the jubliant crowd poured onto the field. Merkle, hoping to avoid the rushing fans, took off for the clubhouse without touching second.

Perhaps the Gill game from earlier in the month was on the mind of O’Day because this time he was watching. Surrounded by the mob that had overtaken the field, Evers held a ball in his glove with his arm raised in a Statue of Liberty pose. Evers appealed to Emslie that since Merkle never touched second, he should be ruled forced out at second, nullifying the run. Emslie claims that he wasn’t watching Merkle. But O’Day said he was watching Merkle and agrees with Evers. He called Merkle out.

How did Evers get the ball amidst the chaos? Legend says that Giants coach Joe McGinnity intercepted a throw to the infield by Cubs center fielder Solly Hofman and fired it into the throng. The ball was caught by a man wearing a bowler hat, but it was wrestled away from him by Cubs pitcher Rube Kroh. Kroh ran back onto the field with the ball and handed it to Tinker. The Cubs shortstop ran to the bag and handed it to Evers.

Evers gave a much simpler account to Liberty magazine in 1936. He said he ran to the outfield, was handed the ball by Hofman, and fought his way through the crowd back to second base.

With dusk fast approaching and the impossibility of clearing the field in a timely matter, O’Day declared the game a tie. The Giants filed a protest of the umpire’s decision with the league office, but that night NL president Harry Pulliam upheld O’Day.

Pulliam declared that the game should be made up on Oct. 8. The Cubs weren’t completely satisfied with the ruling. They argued that the game should have been called a forfeit against the Giants because of their failure to clear the field.

The Giants beat the Cubs 5-4 the next day to retake first place, but the three-team heat continued into October. On Oct. 1, the Giants and Pirates were tied for first, a half-game ahead of the Cubs. First place changed hands five times with all three teams occupying the top in the season’s final week.

The Cubs opened October by winning three straight at Cincinnati.

The Giants, meanwhile, split four with the Phillies as Philadelphia rookie left-hander Harry Coveleski started and won both New York losses. The 22-year-old Coveleski, pitching every other day, claimed three of his four victories on the season in a five-day span against the Giants.

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Harry Coveleski (Library of Congress)

The Pirates swept a three-game series at St. Louis and then headed to Chicago for a Oct. 4 makeup game. New York, which had played two less games than its rivals, was off but had a three-game makeup series at home scheduled with Boston, Oct. 5-7.

Pittsburgh (98-55) led the Cubs (97-55) by a half-game and New York (95-55) by 1.5.

A Sunday crowd of 30,247 – a then Cubs single-game record – packed West Side Grounds to see a matchup of aces Brown and Willis. The Cubs scored in the first inning on an RBI single by Frank Schulte and were ahead to stay en route to a 5-2 victory. The great Wagner had two hits for the Pirates, but the shortstop also committed two costly errors. The Cubs vaulted a half-game ahead of the Pirates.

Pittsburgh now had to sit and wait. They could tie for first with at least two Giants losses to lowly Boston and a Cubs loss on Oct 8. Two New York wins over Boston and one over the Cubs would force a three-way tie. A Giants sweep of the Braves would eliminate the Pirates.

The Giants topped the Braves 8-1 on Oct. 5, 4-1 on Oct. 6, and 7-2 on Oct. 7 to move into a first-place tie. The Pirates were eliminated and the stage was set for a winner-take-all contest between the Cubs and Giants at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 8.

A well-rested Mathewson got the starting assignment for the Giants while the Cubs countered with Pfiester.

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Christy Mathewson (Library of Congress)

But Pfiester was on a very short leash. He was pulled by manager Chance with two outs in the first after a hit batsman, an RBI double by Donlin, and two bases on balls. In came Brown, pitching for the 12th time in 15 games. Brown was his usual fantastic self, allowing just one run over 8 1/3 innings.

Mathewson, meanwhile, was met with disaster in the third. Tinker led off the inning with a triple and scored the tying run on a Johnny Kling double. A two-out single by Schulte knocked in Kling with the go-ahead run and Chance soon followed with a two-run single to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead.

Brown completed the 4-2 Cubs victory by setting down New York on four pitches in the ninth.

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Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown

After the final out, the Cubs ran for their lives to the clubhouse. Some members of the team were scathed.

“Some of our boys got caught up by the mob and beaten up some,” Brown remembered. “Tinker, (Del) Howard, and Sheckard were struck. Chance was hurt most of all. A Giant fan hit him in the throat and Husk’s voice was gone for a day or two in the World Series that followed. Pfiester got slashed on the shoulder by a knife.”

Police, with their revolvers pulled, guarded the Cubs clubhouse and a police escort drove them first to their Manhattan hotel and then to the train station. The Cubs waited to celebrate their third straight pennant until after they boarded their train for Detroit.

The Cubs rolled over the Tigers in the World Series for the second straight year, winning in five games. The Cubs stole a record 15 bases and Tinker hit the first Series homer in five years. Brown and Overall each won twice.

Overall struck out 10 and allowed just three hits in a 2-0 Series-clinching win on Oct. 14. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Detroit’s Boss Schmidt hit a tapper in front of the plate. It was fielded by the catcher Kling who fired to the first baseman Chance to record the final out.

The Cubs did not win another World Series until 2016, but their 1908 championship was considered to be an anticlimactic, ho-hum event. A crowd of just 6,210 witnessed the historic event at West Side Grounds.

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Yovani GallardoThe Seattle Mariners acquired veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo (pictured right) from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith and picked up outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns.

STAT OF THE DAY

Gallardo, according to MLB.com, is one of nine pitchers with 180 or more innings pitched in at least seven of the last eight seasons, with 139 quality starts since 2009.

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