Posts Tagged 'baseball'

The Babe Calls His Shot (10-1-1932)

On this date, Babe Ruth hit the most famous—and most controversial—home run in baseball history.  It happened in Chicago, at Wrigley Field.

Ruth’s Yankees were facing the Cubs in the World Series.  The Yankees had won the first two games in New York.  Now the series had moved to Chicago for Game Three.

There was bad blood between the two teams.  The Cubs’ pennant drive had been sparked by the late-season acquisition of shortstop Mark Koenig.  But the rest of the Cubs had voted Koenig only a partial share of World Series money.

Koenig was an ex-Yankee.  The Yankees thought the Cubs were cheating their old teammate.  When the series began, both teams started dissing each other across the field.  “Cheap bastards” was one of the milder terms used.

The score was tied 4-4 when Ruth came to bat in the 4th inning of Game Three.  The Cubs yelled at Ruth.  Ruth yelled back.  He watched the pitcher fog in two quick strikes.

Then Ruth majestically pointed toward the center field bleachers, announcing he’d hit the next pitch there.  The pitcher threw.  Ruth swung.  He hit the ball just where he had pointed.

At least, that’s the legend.

10-1--Ruth 01.jpg

A few newspaper accounts said that Ruth made some sort of gesture toward the pitcher, or toward the Cubs’ bench.  Most of the reports don’t mention any gesture.  Only one New York paper said that Ruth had pointed—like a man playing pool, the Babe had “called his shot.”

Over the next few years, more and more writers picked up the story of The Called Shot.  At first Ruth brushed aside questions about whether he’d pointed.  By the time he died in 1948, he was happily telling everyone that, of course, he really had pointed.

Later generations of baseball scholars dismissed The Called Shot legend.  Some questioned whether Ruth had even made a gesture.  The whole business seemed like another New York media invention.

Then, in 1992, a fan’s 8-mm movie of Game Three surfaced.  The film shows that Ruth did make a pointing gesture with his hand.  But it’s not clear who or what he was pointing at.  So the debate continues.

By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, the Yankees swept the Cubs in the 1932 World Series in four straight games.

—30—

Advertisements

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—

 

Night Baseball Comes to Wrigley Field (8-8-1988)

The first night game in major league baseball was played in 1935.  By 1950 all the teams played night games—except the Cubs.  Longtime owner Phil Wrigley said the national pastime was meant to be enjoyed in daylight.

When the Tribune Company bought the Cubs in 1981, management began talking about putting lights in Wrigley Field.  The neighborhood didn’t like that, and pressured politicians to pass laws banning night games at the ballpark.  But night games made more money, and now it was only a question of time until the Cubs installed lights.  A compromise was reached, where the number of night games would be strictly limited, and non-resident parking would be prohibited on nearby streets.

8-8-88

On August 8, 1988, the Cubs met the Phillies in the first night game at Wrigley Field.  Naturally, the park was a sellout on that historic 8-8-88.  Just as naturally for something involving the Cubs, things didn’t work out as planned.  A major storm drenched the area, and the game was called after three innings.

Unlike a few hundred thousand Cubs fans, I can’t claim to have been present at Wrigley’s aborted first night game.  I was in San Francisco on vacation with my family that day.  When I finally did get to a Wrigley night game later in the season, the whole experience seemed surreal.  Even now, I still prefer going to the park for day games.  It’s probably a generational thing.

By the way, in the first official night game at Wrigley Field on 8-9-88, the Cubs beat the Mets, 6-4.

—30—

Almost Perfect (6-27-1958)

Back in the 1950s, the era of the Go-Go White Sox, Billy Pierce was arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. Whitey Ford got the most publicity because he was a Yankee. But whenever the two aces went head-to-head, Pierce usually came out on top.

Besides, in the 1955 season, Pierce posted an ERA of 1.97. That was remarkable for such a high-scoring era.

Billy Pierce

Pierce was a power pitcher, always among the leaders in strikeouts. That was also remarkable, since he wasn’t a big man. His full overhand delivery was the likely explanation.

On the evening of June 27, 1958, Pierce took the mound at Comiskey Park. The Sox were playing the last-place Washington Senators. About 11,000 people were at the park. I was ten years old and listening on the radio, trusting I could stay awake despite Bob Elson’s droning play-by-play.

The Sox scored a run in the third, and added 2 more in the eighth. Meanwhile, Pierce was shutting down the opposition. Going into the ninth inning, he had retired the first 24 Senators in a row.

Pierce quickly disposed of Ken Aspromonte and Steve Korcheck. With the pitcher due up next, the Senators sent in a right-handed pinch-hitter.

Ed FitzGerald

Ed FitzGerald was an eleven-year veteran. The Senators’ roster listed him as a catcher, but at this stage of his career, he was mostly a pinch-hitter. He was good at it, too, batting better than .350 as a sub in 1958.

The book said FitzGerald was a first pitch, fastball hitter. Pierce wound up and threw a low curve. FitzGerald swung, slicing the ball down the right field line. It landed fair by a foot.

As FitzGerald chugged into second, the park erupted in boos. At home I vented my disappointment by shouting a bad word at the radio. I don’t recall what Bob Elson said.

The perfect game was gone. So was the no-hitter.  Then Pierce struck out Albie Pearson on three pitches to end the game. Afterward the police escorted FitzGerald from the park.

In 2014 Billy Pierce was honored at Sox Park for his charitable work. He died in 2015.

Ed FitzGerald celebrated a birthday last month. He is now 93. He has not been seen in Chicago for some time.

—30—

 

Bleacher Bums (5-24-1920)

Forty-seven people were arrested today in the year’s biggest gambling raid.  The location was the bleachers at Cubs’ Park.

Club officials had been aware of the problem for some time.  The gamblers had staked out their own section of the stands.  Anybody in the park who wanted to place a bet knew exactly where to go.

So today undercover cops infiltrated the open-air casino.  They wore various disguises—“teamsters, sailors, soldiers, ice wagon drivers, sewing machine agents, bootblacks, farmers.”  They ate peanuts and drank pop like ordinary fans.  They watched the gamblers operate.

The Cubs were playing the Phillies.  Betting started as soon as the umpires announced the batteries.  Once the gamblers knew who was pitching, they could calculate the odds and accept wagers on the outcome of the game.

When play got underway, the action in the bleachers was even more intense.  Now there was betting on each pitch.

“Ten cents says he swings!”

“A dollar the pitcher changes his windup on the next one!”

“Two bits they send in a pinch-hitter the next time around!”

“Who wants ten dollars on the runner?  Ten dollars says he streaks down to second!”

At the end of the first inning, the undercover cops all stood up.  In one voice, they announced: “You’re all under arrest!”

Fans.jpg

The gamblers went meekly.  One of them tried the sympathy angle.  “Do you want to break up a home?” he pleaded to the nearest officer.  “My wife will get a divorce if she finds out about this.”

The cop was unmoved.  “Six bits says she finds out,” was his answer.

At the Town Hall Station, the 47 gamblers were charged.  They were each released on $25 bond.  Four of them didn’t have enough money.  They’d have to spend the night in jail, and probably lose their night-shift jobs.

Then one of the other accused stepped forward and posted their bond.  He didn’t know any of the four, but that made no difference.  “I have faith in human nature,” the Good Samaritan said.  “I’m betting they show up in court.”

What happened next?  The papers lost interest in the story, and nothing more was reported.  The final decisions are buried somewhere in a set of musty court files.

Cubs’ Park is now called Wrigley Field.  Is there still gambling in the bleachers?

Wanna make a bet on it?

—30—

New Uniforms for the Cubs

Now that we’ve had a while to digest the Cubs’ World Series triumph, we’ll consider what the team should do next season. I suggest they change uniforms.  To understand why, let’s take a look at some baseball history.

We sometimes hear talk that sports has become too ego-driven and rude—sort of like the general culture.  Back in the good old days, winners were polite.  They did not do victory dances or fist pumps, or otherwise rub their superiority in the face of the losers.  If you happened to come out on top, you acknowledged it with quiet grace.

Well, not always.

The first World Series was played in 1903. The next year, the New York Giants won the National League pennant, then refused to play the American League champions—Giants’ manager John McGraw was feuding with the A.L. president.  There was no formal agreement mandating a World Series, so that was that.

1906 Giants--Turkey Mike Donlin

1906 Giants–Turkey Mike Donlin

Then baseball’s club owners belatedly realized that an annual championship playoff would be a great source of revenue. Beginning in 1905, the World Series became part of the game’s law.

As luck would have it, the New York Giants again won the N.L. pennant in 1905. Now they were required to face the A.L. champs.  The Giants made quick work of the Philadelphia A’s, winning the best-of-seven series, 4 games to 1.

The victory over the A.L. didn’t mellow Giants manager McGraw. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to gloat.  So for the 1906 season, the Giants wore uniforms with the words “WORLD’S CHAMPIONS” emblazoned across the chest.

The Giants tumbled to second place in the N.L. in 1906, so for the next several seasons, the World Series winners settled for rings and gold watches, and didn’t use their uniforms to boast of their achievement. Then, in 1920, the Cleveland Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Series.

1921 Indians--Smoky Joe Wood

1921 Indians–Smoky Joe Wood

Baseball was in the middle of scandal. The news had just come out that a group of Chicago White Sox players had been paid off by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.  The public was questioning the integrity of its national pastime.

In any event, the newly-crowned Cleveland Indians opted to follow the Giant’s dormant example. For 1921 the Indians wore uniforms proclaiming “WORLDS CHAMPIONS.”  Perhaps they thought leaving out the apostrophe would guarantee they’d repeat.  But like the 1906 Giants, the 1921 Indians came in second.

Now we move forward to 1926. The St. Louis Cardinals had been the N.L.’s lovable losers, never winning a pennant.  This year they did it, and capped it off by knocking off the Yankees in a thrilling seven-game series.

1927 Cardinals--Grover Cleveland Alexander

1927 Cardinals–G.C. Alexander

Over the winter, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby got into a contract dispute with the front office.  Hornsby was also their star player, and wanted more money.  The upshot was that the Hero of ’26 was traded to the Giants.

“The team is bigger than one man!” argued management. So to underscore the point that they didn’t need Hornsby—and to underline the fact that St. Louis finally had a winner—they outfitted the 1927 Cardinals with “WORLD CHAMPION” uniforms.  Perhaps learning a lesson in discretion, the words were relegated to smaller print on the left breast, encircling a Cardinal logo.

It didn’t matter. In 1927, the Cardinals finished second.

After the fall of the Cardinals, World Series winners were reluctant to boast about it on their uniforms. However, in 1980 the Philadelphia Phillies went all the way.  They were the last of the original 16 franchises to win the grand championship.

1981 Phillies--Pete Rose

1981 Phillies–Pete Rose

Phillies fans had endured 77 years of frustration (which may seem like a short time to Cubs fans, but never mind).  Now team management wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion, but they didn’t want to go overboard.  So for 1981, the Phillies wore the same style uniforms as they had worn in 1980.  However, the team’s warm-up jackets now sported the words “WORLD CHAMPIONS.”

The 1981 baseball seasons was thrown into disarray by a players’ strike. Suffice to say that the Phillies didn’t make it back to the World Series.

Now for the big question—what do the 2017 Cubs do? I say that they show their pride in their accomplishment.  The team should be outfitted in new uniforms with the words “WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS” across the front.  So what if it didn’t work for other teams in the past!

After all, do we really believe in jinxes?

—30—

 

Come Back, Steve Bartman—All Is Forgiven!

The Cubs are going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.  I think it would be a nice gesture to call Steve Bartman out of hiding to throw out the first ball at the first home game.  Just because the Cubs haven’t actually won the World Series in 108 years doesn’t mean we believe in jinxes.

I’ve already told my Ernie Banks story here.  I also have a Cubs World Series story.

In 1984 the Cubs won the National League Eastern Division title, finally avenging the Great Collapse of 1969.  Of course, they’d have to get by the San Diego Padres in the playoffs, but everyone knew that was a mere formality.

wrigley-field-opening-day-b-1977

Anyway, as soon as the Cubs had clinched the division, they put World Series tickets on sale.  For us everyday fans who didn’t have connections, there was a lottery.  You mailed in your name and address on a postcard, and then there would be a drawing.  If your card was drawn, you could buy two tickets.  Only one postcard per household was allowed.

I figured that getting my card drawn was a longshot.  I also figured that if they did happen to draw one of my cards, they’d probably draw a second one, and I’d be disqualified.  So I played by the rules and only sent in one card.  But I did have my mother send in a card.

My card wasn’t drawn.  My mother’s was.

Now it was a question of claiming the two World Series tickets.  The rules said that the lucky winner had to pick up the tickets in person, showing an I.D.  My mother wasn’t a baseball fan, and didn’t care about going to the Series.  The problem was, she’d just broken her foot and had it in a cast.

wrigley-field-upper-deck-a-1979

So I drove her out to Wrigley one day.  A nice cop let me wait on Clark Street while she hobbled into the ticket line on her crutches.  While she was waiting, a Tribune photographer spotted her, and thought that a 63-year-old temporarily-disabled woman who’d stand in an hour-long line on her crutches was a great story, and wanted to take her picture.  Mom refused; she hadn’t put on her makeup.

Of course, I never did get to use those World Series tickets.  My daughter Tracy Samantha was just four months old when these events transpired.  Last night she was really excited about the Cubs making it to the Series, and maybe she’ll be able to score a ticket.

As for me, I just realized that I’m already older than my Mom was when she braved that ticket line.  So I think I’ll stick to listening to the Series on the radio, and not even try to get into Wrigley for one of the games.

After all, I don’t want to somehow jinx the team.

—30—