Posts Tagged 'Cubs'

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.



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?



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.


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.


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.



An Ernie Banks Memory

I grew up on the Northwest Side in the 1950s.  I was a Sox fan, and so were most of my friends.

The Sox had Nellie Fox and Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso and Sherm Lollar, Little Louie and Jungle Jim.  Each year they battled the Yankees for the pennant.  In 1959 they even won it.

The Cubs were the other team in town.   Their players were amateur and forgettable.  Each year the Cubs battled the Pirates to stay out of last place.  We went to Cubs games only because Wrigley Field was closer to home, and the park was so empty you could easily sneak down into the box seats.

The Cubs had one thing, though—Ernie Banks.  He hit home runs.  Lots of home runs.  No matter how big the Cubs were losing a particular game, the fans would stick around until Erne’s last turn at bat.  Once that was over, all 5,000 people would get up and head for the exits.

The years passed.  The Cubs became Chicago’s Team.  Now they were battling for the pennant each year, while the Sox were likely to be moving to Seattle.

Through it all, Ernie Banks was growing older.  He moved from shortstop to first base.  He hit fewer home runs.  By 1971 he was 40 years old, and playing only occasionally.  Everyone knew this would be his last year.

On July 21st the Cubs were playing the Mets.  The game was a sellout, but I managed to get two box seats behind the third base dugout, and took my girlfriend Terri to the game.


It was a good game.  The wind was blowing out and there was lots of hitting.  By the top of the sixth the Cubs led 8-5, and Terri was getting restless.  The Cubs have it locked up, she said.  Let’s leave and beat the traffic.

So we left.  When we got to the car and turned on the radio, the Mets had scored a run, and the Cubs were coming up in the bottom of the sixth.

Most people of my generation remember where we were when President Kennedy was shot.  Most of us with some Polish heritage remember where we were when a Polish pope was elected.

I remember that I was at Irving Park and Elston when the Cubs sent Ernie Banks up to pinch hit.  I remember the crowd cheering.  I remember Tug McGraw throwing the pitch.

And . . . then . . . Ernie . . . hit . . . a . . . home . . . run.  And the crowd was still cheering when I got on the Kennedy.

That was Ernie’s #511.  It wasn’t his last home run—he’d add one more before the season was over.  But what could be more dramatic than hitting a dinger as a pinch-hitter before a packed house?  And what could be worse than listening to it over a car radio speeding away from the ballpark?

The next year Terri and I were married.  We’re still married.  But we don’t go to ball games together any more.