By Glen Sparks
A Chicago showgirl fired her gun at ballplayer Billy Jurges on July 6, 1932.
Violet Popovich Valli committed the crime. Jurges, a young Cubs infielder, missed three weeks of action.
He began playing again in late July; Chicago went on to capture the National League pennant. The Cubs met the New York Yankees in the World Series, a Fall Classic highlighted by Babe Ruth’s supposed “called shot.” (Jurges took part in turning that round-tripper into a piece of baseball folklore. More on that later.)
Jurges, born May 9, 1908, in the Bronx, N.Y., enjoyed a 17-year career in the majors, 10 with the Cubs and seven with the New York Giants. The shortstop-third baseman made three All-Star teams. He later managed the Boston Red Sox for parts of two seasons.
The Cubs called him up in 1931. Over 88 games, he batted a not-so-robust .201 with zero home runs. Even so, he earned the starting shortstop job out of spring training the following season. Midway into the campaign, he began dating Valli. Jurges was “one in a hundred thousand,” according to the smitten young woman.
On the evening in question, Valli called Jurges at his hotel room. He wanted to end their romance; she longed to keep it going.
Valli walked into Jurges’ room (No. 509) at the Hotel Carlos. She kept a .25-caliber pistol inside her purse. This is where some of the speculation begins. Did Valli go into the room with the intention of killing Jurges, or to commit suicide in front of him?
Either way, Jurges lunged toward Valli in hopes of grabbing the gun. Soon enough, three shots rang out. One bullet hit Jurges in the little finger of his left hand; the second one ripped into a rib and exited through his right shoulder. A third bullet, possibly fired by Jurges in self-defense, hit Valli in the arm and broke her wrist.
Chicago police arrested Valli. The D.A.’s office charged her with assault with intent to kill. She made her first court appearance on July 15. Jurges, though, refused to press charges. He simply said that he expected no more problems from his assailant.
Valli, for her part, said she would “consider the entire matter a thing of the past.” Of course, she did cash in on her crime. Within a few weeks, she was appearing in a show called Bare Cub Follies and billing herself as “The girl who shot for love.”
History doesn’t tell us whether Jurges ever bought a ticket to the show. We do know that when the ballplayer got back onto the field, the Cubs had made some changes. They fired Manager Rogers Hornsby, for instance, and replaced him with Charlie Grimm. Chicago also purchased the contract of veteran infielder Mark Koenig from the San Francisco Missions of the Pacific Coast League. Koenig batted .353 over his 33 games with the Cubs.
The north siders finished 90-64, four games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Outfielder Johnny Moore led the team with 13 homers; catcher Gabby Hartnett ripped a dozen. Another outfielder, Riggs Stephenson, topped the team with a .324 batting average and 85 RBI. Jurges hit .253 in 115 games and drove in 52. Guy Bush, the leader of the pitching staff, went 19-11 with a 3.21 ERA.
New York won the first game of the World Series, 12-6, and beat the Cubs in Game 2 by a score of 5-2. Ruth launched his famous solo home run in the fifth inning of Game 3 after ripping a three-run homer in the first.
The incident remains surrounded in conjecture. Did the Babe really point toward center-field and hit Charlie Root’s pitch exactly to that spot? Well, newsreel footage does show him pointing.
According to at least one account, Ruth was upset because Jurges and teammate Billy Herman voted against giving Koenig a full World Series share (Players needed a unanimous vote to get a share.) Koenig, a former Yankee, was a friend of the Babe’s. Ruth called the Cubs “cheapskates.” He pointed to the dugout a few times, then pointed to centerfield, or to Root. Anyway, he hit Root’s 2-2 pitch into the stands.
The Yankees won the game 7-5 and completed a sweep the following day, 13-6. The Cubs and Jurges returned to the World Series in 1935 and 1938, losing both times. Jurges moved on to the New York Giants in 1939 and back to the Cubs in 1946 and ’47 before calling it quits.
His coaching and minor-league managing career began almost right away, first with the Cubs, and later with the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Braves and Washington Senator. Boston hired Jurges as a big-league skipper on July 3, 1959. Under the new manager, the Red Sox went 44-36 (.550) after starting the year 31-42 (.425).
Boston slumped out of the gate in 1960, though, going 15-27 in the opening 42 games. Coach Del Baker took over as interim skipper on June 8. Doctors said Jurges was exhausted. A few days later, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey gave Baker the permanent job.
Jurges did some scouting and coaching later on for various teams. He also opened a bowling alley and lounge on Long Island. Jurges died March 3, 1997 in Florida, at the age of 88.