The Cubs’ Second-Greatest Moment (9-28-1938)

The greatest moment in the Chicago Cubs’ long history is winning the 2016 World Series after a 108-year drought. Almost everyone will agree on that.  The team’s second-greatest moment happened eighty years ago today.

Back in the Depression era, the Cubs were always contenders. They won National League pennants every three years—1929, 1932, 1935.  So in 1938 they were due to win again.

Gabby Hartnett and admirers

That year, the Pittsburgh Pirates jumped out to an early lead in the pennant race. So in July, Cubs owner Phil Wrigley fired manager Charlie Grimm.  Replacing Grimm was star catcher Charles Leo “Gabby” Hartnett.  By now Hartnett was over the hill, and played only part-time.

The Cubs began to play better ball. Pittsburgh began to falter.  On September 27 the Pirates arrived at Wrigley for a three-game series with their lead down to one-and-a-half games.  That afternoon the Cubs eked out a 2-1 victory.  Now the Pirates led by only a half-game.

The next day the two teams faced off again. And again it was a tight game.  The Cubs trailed twice, 3-1 in the sixth, 5-3 in the eighth.  Each time they fought back.  Going into the ninth the game was tied 5-5.

Weekday baseball games usually started around 3 p.m. eighty years ago, to better attract customers who might want to cut out of work early. By the ninth inning it was getting dark.  With no lights at Wrigley, the umpires decided this would be the last inning.  If the game remained tied, it would be made up as part of a double-header the next day.

The Pirates went out one-two-three. The Cubs went out one-two.  That brought up Catcher-Manager Hartnett.

Strike one! Strike two!  Then another pitch, and Hartnett connected.  The ball arched slowly toward the left-field wall.  In the gathering darkness, it was hard to follow.  Would it make it all the way?  It just did.  Cubs 6, Pirates 5.

Today we’d call this a walk-off home run. Hartnett didn’t have a chance to walk.  Fans started pouring onto the field and Hartnett started running.  By the time he reached home plate, he had an escort of hundreds of smiling, shouting, back-slapping partisans.

Hartnett’s shot in the dark became known as “The Homer in the Gloamin’.” The Cubs were now in first place.  The next afternoon they completed their sweep of the Pirates 10-1, and went on to win the pennant.

Of course, in the World Series, the Yankees trounced the Cubs in four straight. But then, this is only the second-greatest moment in Cubs’ history.

—30—

 

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