1938: Hartnett’s Homer in the Gloamin’

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

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It was perhaps the most dramatic moment in Cubs history and was once considered one of the clutch hits in baseball history. Old-timers like my grandfather have always enjoyed sharing with me their recollections of Gabby Hartnett’s 1938 “Homer in the Gloamin’,” but unfortunately there aren’t many people around anymore who can share their firsthand recollections of the event.

 

Its glow has faded thanks to the unrelenting forward progress of time and the fact that it was not captured on film. In the 79 years since in happened, Hartnett’s blow has been surpassed by other home runs in the collective consciousness of baseball fans – Bobby Thomson’s in 1951, Bill Mazeroski’s in 1960, Carlton Fisk’s in 1975, Kirk Gibson’s in 1988, and Joe Carter’s in 1993.

My late grandfather was 18 years old in 1938 and has seen thousands of Cubs games and he insists that listening to the play-by-play account of Hartnett’s home run on the radio has always remained his biggest thrill in regards to his favorite team.

Hartnett, who had been the Cubs’ star catcher since 1922, was appointed the team’s player-manager on July 21, 1938. Hartnett, who at the time was widely considered as the greatest catcher in baseball history, replaced Charlie Grimm as skipper, 81 games into the season with the Cubs in third place, 5 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh. The North Siders were still seven games behind the Pirates on Sept. 3, but then mounted a dramatic Colorado Rockies-like charge by winning 18 of their next 21.When Dizzy Dean pitched the Cubs to a 2-1 victory over the Pirates on Sept. 27 in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Pittsburgh lead had been trimmed to one-half game.

A crowd of 34,465 showed up at the Friendly Confines the next afternoon on a gloomy, overcast Wednesday to see if the Cubs could vault into first place.

The Cubs scored twice in the eighth inning to tie the game at 5. Fifty years before lights would be installed at Wrigley the impending late afternoon darkness was beginning to threaten play. The umpires announced that the ninth inning would be the last and under the rules of the time, it would be declared a tie game and would have to be made up in its entirety. Advantage, Pirates. An overtaxed Cubs pitching staff had already endured six doubleheaders in September.

Pirates reliever Mace Brown, using the darkening conditions to his advantage, easily retired the first two Cubs hitters – Phil Cavaretta and Carl Reynolds – in the bottom of the ninth. Just after 5:30 p.m., up stepped Hartnett and he quickly fell behind Brown 0-and-2.

Brown’s next pitch, a high fastball, caught too much of the plate and Gabby was ready, crushing a line drive into the darkening sky and depositing it into the first row of the left-field bleachers, just to the right of the “well” area. Bedlam ensued.

“I could hardly believe my eyes,” Pittsburgh left fielder Paul Waner told Lawrence S. Ritter in The Glory of Their Times (William Morrow, 1966). “The game was over, and I should have run into the clubhouse. But I didn’t. I just stood out there and watched Hartnett circle the bases, and take the lousy pennant with him. I just watched and wondered, sort of objectively, you know, how the devil he could get all the way around to touch home plate.

“You see, the crowd was in an uproar, absolutely gone wild. They ran onto the field like a bunch of maniacs, and his teammates and the crowd were mobbing Hartnett, and piling on top of him, and throwing him up in the air, and everything you could think of. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. So I just stood there in the outfield and stared, like I was sort of somebody else, and wondered what the chances were that he could actually make it all the way around the bases.”

By the time Hartnett reached second, he “couldn’t see third for all the players and fans there.” Once Hartnett reached third, he remembered that his feet never touched the ground until he reached home.

The Cubs completed a three-game series sweep on Sept. 29 and moved a game-and-a-half ahead of Pittsburgh.

“We could have beaten nine Babe Ruths that day,” Cubs second baseman Billy Herman remembered.

The Cubs clinched the pennant two days later.

Hail to the Chief: Presidents and baseball

“I’ll never forget the first time President Taft appeared at our ballpark, in the season of 1909. Our players got so excited that we booted the game away to the Red Sox.”
-Walter Johnson
Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Just five weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Commisioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sent a handwritten letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for Spring training camps,” Landis wrote. “However inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”

Roosevelt, in what became known as “The Green Light Letter,” responded to Landis the next day.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Woodrow Wilson did baseball no favors during World War I. Wilson’s “work or fight” order forced the 1918 season to end on Labor Day. That year’s World Series, between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, was played in early September.

The first president to host organized baseball teams at the White House was Andrew Johnson who met members of the Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics at the executive mansion on Aug. 30, 1865.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first all-professional team who completed an undefeated 1869 campaign, were honored that year at the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The 1924 world champion Washington Senators
during their White House visit in 1925
(Library of Congress).

The first world championship team to be feted at the White House were the 1924 Washington Senators who paid a visit to President Calvin Coolidge the following year.

The world champion White House visit became an annual tradition during the Ronald Reagan administration. The Chicago Cubs – then known as the White Stockings – first visited the White House to see President Grover Cleveland following their offseason world tour in 1889 and paid their second visit to the White House last week during the final days of Barack Obama’s stay in office.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States, was the first commander in chief to attend a major league game while in office when he witnessed the National League’s Washington Senators loss at home to the Cincinnati Reds on June 6, 1892. Harrison also attended the Senators’ game 19 days later when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.

President William Howard Taft started a baseball tradition on April 14, 1910 when he attended Washington’s season opener against the Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium. Taft threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game from his front-row seat and then stayed to watch Walter Johnson shut out the Athletics, 3-0. Legend has it that the portly Taft, who tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, was feeling cramped in his seat. He stood up to stretch his legs midway through the seventh. Out of respect, other spectators also rose to their feet. The tradition of the “seventh inning stretch” was born.

Since Taft, every U.S. president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has thrown a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day.

FDR owns the record with eight ceremonial first pitches between 1933 and 1941. Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy did not miss an opener during their three years in office.

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President John F. Kennedy (left) was joined by managers
Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators and Al Lopez
of the Chicago White Sox during pregame ceremonies on
Opening Day of 1961 at Griffith Stadium (JFK Presidential
Library).

On April 10, 1961, Kennedy attended Washington’s opener against the Chicago White Sox and was the guest of broadcaster Vince Lloyd on WGN-TV’s pregame “Lead-Off Man” show.

By that time, the ceremonial first pitch tradition had evolved to include two balls.

The second ball was sent to the White House as a presidential souvenir.

The first ball was a free-for-all. Players from both teams lined up in front of the presidential box. The president threw the ball into the crowd of players, like a groom hurling the bride’s garter into a crowd of bachelors at a wedding reception. The player lucky enough to catch the ball got to keep it.

Kennedy’s toss in 1961 was hauled in by Jim Rivera. The White Sox outfielder approached the presidential box and asked JFK to sign the baseball. The president sloppily scribbled his autograph on the ball and handed it back to Rivera.

White Sox trainer Ed Froelich, recalling the occasion years later to the Chicago Tribune’s David Condon, remembered that Rivera, upon inspecting the ball, barked at the president.

“What kind of garbage college is Harvard, where they don’t even teach you how to write?” Rivera shouted. “What kind of garbage writing is this? What is this garbage autograph? Do you think I can go into any tavern on the South Side and really say that the president of the United States signed this ball?”

Rivera shoved the ball back into Kennedy’s hands.

“Take this thing back and give me something other than this garbage autograph!” Rivera exclaimed.

Froehlich remembered that Kennedy laughed hysterically and wrote “JOHN F. KENNEDY” on the ball in big block letters.

Rivera looked at the baseball and told the president, “You know? You’re all right!”

President George Herbert Walker Bush – who was the captain of the baseball team while he attended Yale – attended all four Baltimore Orioles home openers during his one term in office and Herbert Hoover was a perfect 4-for-4 in attending Senators’ opening days during his time in office.

Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower each attended seven Washington opening days during their presidencies.

Gerald Ford had the ceremonial first pitch honors at the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia during the nation’s bicentennial celebration.

President Reagan, who once broadcast Chicago Cubs games for Des Moines, Iowa radio station WHO, showed up at Wrigley Field for a late-season game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 30, 1988. Reagan donned a Cubs jacket, strolled out on the field and from several feet in front of the pitcher’s mound, fired a pitch to Cubs catcher Damon Berryhill.

ESPN Does 30 for 30 on George W. Bush's First Pitch and the Healing Power of Baseball

President George W. Bush throws a perfect strike to Derek Jeter before Game 3 of the 2001 World
Series (still from Fox broadcast).

One of the highlights of George W. Bush’s presidency came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he let loose the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 30, 2001 before Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bush, who wore a bulletproof vest beneath a New York Fire Department jacket, walked out to the mound and gave the crowd a thumb’s up before firing a perfect strike to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

As Bush, who once was a managing partner of the Texas Rangers, warmed up in the tunnel beneath the stands, Jeter warned the president to not bounce the ball.

“They will boo you,” Jeter told him.

” I was nervous, really nervous,” Bush recalled. “The ball felt like a shot put.”

It was an emotional and powerful moment.

“What President Bush told us without uttering a single word was that we could once again attempt to carry on our lives,” sportscaster Jim Gray told the Dallas Morning News. “What an amazing symbol it was. It’s a moment that when I think about it, I get goosebumps.”

Image result for obama first pitch

President Obama delivers to Cardinals star Albert Pujols before the 2009 All-Star
Game in St. Louis.

President Obama handled ceremonial first pitch honors at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, at the Washington Nationals’ home opener in 2010 and before last year’s historic exhibition game in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

“We do a lot of tough stuff as president,” Obama told ESPN. “And by definition you don’t end up being president if you don’t handle stress well. [But] nothing is more stressful than throwing a first pitch.

“They just hand you the ball. And I don’t care if you’ve been practicing ahead of time. When they just hand you the ball…”

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.

chance.jpg

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.

evers.jpg

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.

coveleski.jpg

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.

matty.jpg

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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