Tagged: Cubs

Brock for Broglio … love it or hate it

Ernie Broglio

Ernie Broglio

By Glen Sparks

Brock for Broglio.

Quit snickering.

Few trades in the game’s history—Delino for Pedro?—have inspired quite as many smiles from one side and groans from the other side as this one still does, more than 50 years later.

On June 15, 1964, the Chicago Cubs sent young outfielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Ernie Broglio. The transaction also involved four other players. No one cares about those guys. The trade is known now and forever as simply “Brock for Broglio.”

The Redbirds won the deal, of course. Brock went on to complete a Hall of Fame career. He retired with 3,023 hits and 938 stolen bases. The left-fielder made six All-Star games and batted .391 in three World Series as a Cardinal.

Broglio, a 21-game winner for St. Louis in 1960 and an 18-game winner in 1963, sputtered to a 7-19 won-loss record in two-plus seasons as a Cub. The right-hander retired following the 1966 campaign. He was just 31 years old.

St. Louis knew all about Brock. The team’s scout liked what they saw of him at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., according to the book October 1964 by David Halberstam. Cardinals Manager Johnny Keane asked General Manager Bing Devine to look into a deal for the left-handed hitter.

The Cardinals were struggling. They had just lost three games to the Los Angeles Dodgers and had fallen into seventh place with a 28-29 won-loss mark. Devine made a call to Chicago. The Cubs were also struggling. They needed some starting pitching.

Might Ernie Broglio be available, Chicago G.M. John Holland asked. Broglio lost one of the games to L.A. His won-loss record dropped to 3-5 on the season, although he did sport a decent ERA of 3.50 (110 ERA+).

Holland agreed to trade Brock. The speedster was still something of a puzzle   to the Cubs. He was only hitting .251 that year for Chicago. More to the point, he had just 10 stolen bases.

The Cardinals' Lou Brock stole a record 118 bases in 1974.

The Cardinals’ Lou Brock stole a record 118 bases in 1974.

Redbird players hated the trade, according to Halberstam’s book. Bob Gibson asked how you could let go of a former 20-game winner. First baseman Bill White and shortstop Dick Groat also criticized the deal. Who was this Lou Brock guy, anyway?

Well, the truth is, Brock wasn’t that much of any unknown commodity. He was in his third full season. In 1963, he knocked 11 triples (third in the National League) and stole 24 bases (sixth in the N.L.). Brock, stronger than his slender appearance might suggest, launched a titanic blast into the center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds in 1962. Few players had ever done that.

Even so, Chicago sportswriter Bob Smith wrote this after the trade was made: “Thank you, thank you, oh, you lovely St. Louis Cardinals.”

But, Keane gave Brock the green light. Run whenever you want, the skipper said. Over the final 103 games of the season, No. 20 swiped 33 bases and batted .348 for a St. Louis team that quickly began climbing in the standings. Behind Brock, White (21. 102. .303), Ken Boyer (24 HR, 119 RBI, .295 avg.) and the pitching of Gibson (19-12, 3.01 ERA), Ray Sadecki (20-11, 3.68) and Curt Simmons (18-9, 3.43), the Cardinals captured the pennant with a 93-69 mark. They beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Brock went on to play 19 seasons in the majors. He led the league in stolen bases eight times and notched a then-major league record 118 thefts in 1974. Brock retired with a .293 lifetime batting average and with 3,023 hits. His 938 steals rank him second on the all-time list. Brock went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1985.

After leaving baseball with a 77-74 career mark, Broglio moved to San Jose, Calif., near his boyhood home. Broglio turns 81 years old today. The man who may have had the best curveball in baseball at one time, according to none other than Lou Brock, revealed in an article for espn.com a few years ago why St. Louis let him go: He was damaged goods, he said.

He hurt his elbow late in the 1963 season. The Cardinals gave him treatments and some cortisone shots in ’64. His arm hurt so much that he hurled three wild pitches and walked five batters in a game on May 19 …. against the Cubs. Several balls bounced into the grass on their way to the plate.

In November of 1964, Broglio underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right arm and to repair the ulnar nerve. He was never the same.

Broglio pitched with pain for the Cubs, and he didn’t complain. Brock once said this about the man he was dealt for: “Ernie s top of the charts. He is a good man, a man with integrity.”


Ernie Broglio SABR bio

Lou Brock SABR bio

Ernie Broglio stats

Lou Brock stats

October 1964

Bleed Cubbie Blue

“Buyer Beware”

Cubs’ Jurges took his shots in ‘32

Billy Jurges spent 17 seasons in the majors, with the Cubs and Giants.

Billy Jurges spent 17 seasons in the majors, with the Cubs and Giants.

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.


SABR bio of Billy Jurges

MLB stats of Jurges

The Shootings of Billy Jurges and Eddie Waitkus



Only the Cubs (Sigh) …

Dave Kingman hit three home runs. It wasn't enough.

Dave Kingman hit three home runs on May 17, 1979. It wasn’t enough.

By Glen Sparks

The Chicago Cubs scored six runs in the first inning, three in the fourth and 13 more on May 17, 1979, and still lost.

It could only happen to the Cubs, a wiseacre might say.

That sort of abuse only gets directed toward a team that last celebrated a World Series title in 1908—during the Theodore Roosevelt administration (Mark Twain was still alive, Babe Ruth was 13).

Nearly 15,000 fans at Wrigley Field watched—in shock and awe, assuredly—as the Philadelphia Phillies knocked off the Cubs 23-22 in 10 innings. Before it all ended, the teams combined not just for 45 runs, but for 50 hits, 11 home runs and four errors. The wind, you can bet, was blowing out that day.

Ten players collected at least three hits. Philadelphia shortstop Larry Bowa led the way with five. Dave Kingman slugged three home runs for the Cubs, and Bill Buckner drove in seven, all in a losing cause. Bob Boone knocked in five runs for the Phillies; Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt and Garry Maddux each drove in four.

Only two of the game’s 11 pitchers (Rawly Eastwick for the Phillies, Ray Burris for the Cubs) left this wild affair with an ERA lower than when the day began. They pitched a combined 3.2 innings of shutout ball.

Dennis Lamp started for Chicago; Randy Lerch took the ball for Philadelphia. Both pitchers got an early shower. The Phils scored seven runs in the top of the first. The Cubs countered with six in the bottom half of the inning. Lamp and Lerch recorded one out each. They gave up a total of 11 runs.

By the end of three, the Phillies had taken a 15-6 lead. Even so, a nine-run advantage probably didn’t seem safe that day. And, it wasn’t. The Cubs scored a total of 13 runs in the fourth, fifth and six. Philadelphia added six. Going into the seventh inning, the Phillies led 21-19.

Philadelphia added a run in the top of the seventh—lucky for them–on a Boone single to score Greg Gross. Chicago tied the game with three runs off reliever Ron Reed (torched for a total of six runs and nine hits in 3.1 innings of work). Buckner, Jerry Martin and Barry Foote each ripped RBI singles.

A scoreless ninth inning—the only one of the game—took the game into the 10th. Cubs Manager Herman Franks brought in Bruce Sutter, a future Hall of Famer. Sutter enjoyed one his best years in 1979. He saved 37 games and posted an ERA of 2.22. But on May 17, he gave up Schmidt’s second home run of the game, a solo job with two outs, one of 45 round-trippers the third baseman hit that year. (Schmidt would lead the National League in home runs eight times and blast 548 during his Hall of Fame career. He ended up second to Kingman in ’79. Kong belted 48.)

Phillies skipper Danny Ozark asked Eastwick to go two innings. The former reliever for the Big Red Machine responded. Eastwick went just 3-6 with a 4.90 ERA in ’79. But during this slugfest for the ages, he was without doubt the pitching star. He hurled two perfect innings and struck out one batter. (Even Burris allowed a hit in his 1.2 innings of scoreless work.)

The victory upped Philadelphia’s record to 24-10. The team was looking for its third straight Eastern Division title. In the end, the Phils’ cross-state rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won both the division and a World Series title. Philadelphia ended up just 84-78 and finished in fourth place. The next season, though, Philadelphia celebrated its first championship, against the Kansas City Royals.

Chicago dropped to 16-16. They finished 80-82, in fifth place. The Cubs’ quest for their first world championship since beating the Detroit Tigers in ought-eight continued. It  does to this day.

Every year, the anniversary of the 23-22 match-up makes baseball news. The game provided both drama and little bit of farce. “Twenty-two runs, and they still lost.” … Fans shake their heads. Only the Cubs, they say. Only the Cubs.

Go Back to the Day Pappas Was Nearly Perfect

PappasPicBy Glen Sparks

Homeplate umpire Bruce Froemming called the pitch a ball. Starting pitcher Milt Pappas leaped into the air in anger. Pinch-hitter Larry Stahl took his base.

Pappas, a right-hander for the Chicago Cubs, nearly pitched the eighth perfect game of the 20th century on Sept. 2, 1972. He hurled one for 8 2/3 innings that Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The son of Greek immigrants yelled at Froemming in two languages following the call of “ball four, take your base.” As late at 2009, he told a reporter, “To this day, I just don’t understand it (Froemming’s call).”

Pappas settled for a no-hitter, an outcome disappointing only if you’re one pitch away from perfection. The Detroit native struck out six and raised his record to 12-7 while lowering his ERA to an even 3.00. Fewer than 12,000 fans watched the game, played on a day when it was 62 degrees at Wrigley with a 17 mph wind. One more raw day in the city.

That near perfecto may be the most famous game of Pappas’ career. He enjoyed many other good ones. Pappas, born on May 11, 1939, compiled a 209-164 won-loss record in his 17 seasons (1957-73) with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and the Cubs.

He never won 20 games, but he did win at least 15 games in seven different seasons. Not a flamethrower, Pappas relied on fine control. In 1967 and 1972, he finished first among National League pitchers in walks per nine innings.

The graduate of Detroit’s Cooley High made his debut with the Orioles at the age of 18. He pitched in four games in 1957, giving up just one run in nine innings. Pappas went 110-74 in his nine seasons with the Orioles.

Baltimore shipped Pappas to the Reds in a famous trade following the 1965 campaign. The Reds brass famously sent Frank Robinson to the Orioles. Robinson, Cincinnati executives declared, was “an ol 30.”

All Robinson did in his first year as a Red was win the Triple Crown and N.L. MVP. Pappas went 12-11 with a 4.29 ERA. He improved to 16-13 with a 3.35 ERA in 1967. The Reds, though, sent him to Atlanta midway through the 1968 season.

Pappas enjoyed some of his best seasons while a Cub. He posted a 2.68 ERA in 1970, the second lowest of his career (2.60 in ’65). He won a season-high 17 games in ’71 and ’72. Pappas retired after going 7-12 with a 4.28 ERA in 1973.

A two-time All-Star, Pappas died April 16 at the age of 76. Newspaper reports following Pappas’ death invariably mentioned the near-perfect game near the top of the story.

Reporter Mike Bauman wrote about the game for a recent article on mlb.com. Pappas, according to Bauman, said afterward that “I thought the umpire could have given me one of those sliders to Stahl.”

Froemming didn’t buy into that. An umpire isn’t a fan, Froemming said. He disagreed that the pitches to Stahl were “close.”

Froemming said, “To me, this is my perception about umpiring. It’s a ball or a strike; it’s not “close.”

It wasn’t personal, Froemming insisted. The umpire expressed his condolences to Pappas’ family following the pitcher’s death.

Cubs Executive Chairman Tom Rickets also expressed his sorrow on the passing of Milt Pappas. He said, “We will always consider (Milt) a part of the Cubs family.”

Pappas trivia: The pitcher faced Roger Maris in game No. 154 in 1961. This, of course, was the year Maris made his epic run at baseball’s single-season home run record. Commissioner Ford Frick  announced earlier in the campaign that Maris would have to hit home run No. 60th home run in 154 games (the length of the schedule when Ruth hit his season-record 60 homers), not 162. Pappas gave up home run No. 59 that day.

More Pappas trivia: Pappas hurled a perfect inning on Sept. 24, 1971. He struck out three Philadelphia Phillies batters on nine pitches.

Cubs’ Ernie Banks Goes Back to Back

Ernie_Banks_1955_Bowman_cardBy Glen Sparks

Ernie Banks arrived on the north side of Chicago in 1953. He carried a quick bat and hit the stuffing out of National League pitching over his 19-year-career with the Cubs.

The lanky shortstop from Dallas, Texas, clubbed 44 homers in 1955 and 43 in 1957. Then, he really got it going. Banks earned back-to-back MVP awards in 1958-59.

The right-handed hitter took home those postseason prizes despite playing on teams that finished a combined 16 games under .500. The Cubs, one of baseball’s early powerhouses, had fallen on hard times. From 1947-59, the team ended up with a losing record in every year but one. (The Cubs finished exactly .500, 77-77, in 1952.)

Not even Banks’ 43 homers could save Chicago in ’57. That year, the Cubs melted down to 62-92, dead last. Banks still finished sixth in the MVP race and made his third All-Star team.

Most shortstops back then focused on defense, hitting singles and running the bases. Banks focused on crushing fastballs and breaking pitches into the seats. He began his pro career in the Negro leagues, just a few years after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the game’s first modern-day African-American player.

Fans quickly took to Banks’ ready smile and plentiful line drives. He offered the perfect tonic for the end of another long Midwest winter.

The baseball season usually begins windy, cold and gray in Chicago. Fans shiver in heavy coats, and batters pray for summer air. Banks could hit in a snowstorm. In 1958, he led the league in home runs (47), RBI (129), total bases (379) and slugging percentage (.614). He also batted .313 and scored 119 runs. Like he would do seven times during his career, Banks topped the N.L. in games played (154).

The Cubs muddled through the 1958 campaign. They finished 72-82, 20 games out of first place. Even so, Banks beat out the Giants’ Willie Mays for MVP. (The Giants finished 80-74, good for third place.) Mays slugged 29 homers and drove in 96 runs while batting .347 and stealing 31 bases. (Banks stole four bases.) Banks earned 16 first-place votes to Mays’s three. Hank Aaron (30, 95, .326), playing for the first-place Milwaukee Braves, wound up third on the final ballot.

The Cubs struggled once again in 1959. They ended up in sixth place with a 74-80 won-loss mark, 13 games behind the pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. Banks finished second in the home-run race and led the league with 143 RBI. He hit .304 (10th in the league) and had a slugging percentage of .596 (sixth).

Banks didn’t win any more MVP awards. He finished fourth in 1960 and in the top 20 four other times in his career. The Cubs struggled most seasons, but Banks rarely lost his enthusiasm for baseball. Even during those cold days and through the Cubs’ losing ways, he didn’t lose sight of his famous declaration: “Let’s play two!”

Over All, Overall Was the Cubs’ Star in ’08 World Series


By Glen Sparks

The first thing to know about Orval Overall is that his name really was Orval Overall.

Mom and pop Overall did not bless their son with a middle name, either. Nor did Orval ever go by a nickname. He was simply, and forever, “Orval Overall,” born Feb. 2, 1881, in Farmerville, Calif., less than an hour from Fresno.

The right-handed pitcher grew up on the sandlots of central California, attended the University of California-Berkeley and enjoyed a seven-year career in the major leagues. He spent most of that time with the Chicago Cubs.

Overall broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1905 and compiled a hefty 18-23 won-loss mark. The following year, he started off 4-5, and Cincinnati shipped him to Chicago. Overall cruised to a 12-3 record the rest of the way. He enjoyed a 23-7 season in 1907.

The mighty Cubs ruled the National League (107-45) in ’07, finishing 17 games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Chicago met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Overall pitched two games, went 1-0 and had a 1.00 ERA. The Cubs beat the Tigers in four straight.

The following year, Chicago won 99 games, just one game more than the New York Giants. The Cubs claimed the pennant in part due to Merkle’s Boner, maybe the greatest base-running gaffe in baseball history. (Read more about that here.)

Once again, Chicago met Detroit in the World Series. The Cubs won a 10-6 slugfest in Game 1. Overall pitched one/third of an inning in relief and was charged with one earned run. He started Game 2 and gave up a lone run over nine innings. Chicago won 6-1.

Detroit beat Chicago 8-3 in Game 3 and lost 4-0 in Game 4. Overall started Game 5, the potential World Series clincher. On this date in 1908, Orval shut out the Detroit Tigers 2-0 at Bennett Park in Detroit. He gave up three hits, walked four and struck out 10 in front of the smallest crowd in World Series history (6,210).

As you’re probably aware, no Cubs team has celebrated a Series title since Overall and that 1908 team popped champagne. To put it all into perspective (This is always entertaining.), in 1908:

  • Tolstoy was still alive. So was Mark Twain.
  • Machine Gun Kelly turned 8. Bugsy Siegel turned 2.
  • The start of World War I was still six years away. The Spanish-American War had been over for just a decade.
  • Winston Churchill married Clementine.
  • The movie, In the Sultan’s Power, was released. It was the first film completely made in Los Angeles. The city of L.A. had about 300,000 residents when the cameras started rolling.
  • Henry Ford introduced the Model T.

Overall, the star of the 1908 World Series, threw 18.1 innings with a 0.93 ERA. He continued his fine pitching in 1909, going 20-11 with a 1.42 ERA (179 ERA+). The Cubs won 104 games and still finished 6.5 games behind the Pirates.

In 1910, Overall ended up 12-6. He missed several starts due to a sore arm, probably caused by tossing too many curveballs. Overall threw a nasty bender. The Cubs won 104 games once again; this time it was enough. The Philadelphia A’s, though, beat the Cubs in five games in the World Series.

Overall figured that he was done. His arm ached. He left for California to work in—get this—a gold mine that he co-owned with teammate Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He also played some semi-pro ball.

Overall returned to big-league ball, and to the Cubs, in 1913. He went a pedestrian 4-5 in 11 games, with a 3.31 ERA. Overall retired with a 108-71 mark and a 2.23 ERA (123 ERA+) in the run-suppressed dead-ball era.

Following baseball, Overall ran and lost a bid for Congress, made a lot of money in real estate and ran the family’s citrus farm. He also worked as an executive at a local bank. Overall died July 14, 1947, in Fresno, Calif. He was 66 years old.

Gabby Hartnett Belted His Homer in the Gloamin’

GabbyHartnettFreeGlen Sparks

Roamin’ in the gloamin’ on the bonnie banks o’ Clyde

Roamin’ in the gloaming’ wae my lassie by my side

When the sun has gone to rest

That’s the time we love the best

O, it’s lovely roamin’ in the gloamin’

Harry Lauder wrote the ditty in 1911. Gabby Hartnett hit the famous home run 27 years later.

Charles Leo “Gabby” Hartnett, a top National League catcher, came up to bat for the Chicago Cubs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sept. 28, 1938, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wrigley Field, lightless (until 1988) so as not to disturb the neighborhood residents, had grown dark.

The ninth inning would be the last one played that day, the umpires said. The score was tied 5-5. Under the rules, if the game remain knotted, the whole thing would be replayed the following day.

Hartnett stepped into the batter’s box with two out and nobody on base. Surely, the crowd let out a cheer. The fans loved Hartnett, although he was near the end of a long career at this point.

A native of Woodsocket, R.I., Harnett came up to the big club in 1922 and earned a starting job in 1924. The Cubs loved his strong throwing arm.

Hartnett also ripped line drives, at Wrigley Field and everywhere else. The right-handed batter belted 16 home runs in ’24 and hit .299. The following year, he cracked 24 homers. Harnett enjoyed his best season in 1930. That year, he crushed 37 homers, drove in 122 runs and batted .339 with a .630 slugging percentage.

A few years later, in 1935, the writers voted Hartnett the National League’s MVP. He hit a career-high .344 with 13 homers and 91 RBI. The Cubbies finished first that season with a 100-54 won-loss record. They lost the World Series in six games to the Detroit Tigers.

Chicago never won a Series in the Hartnett era. The Cubs, as you probably know, last popped the champagne bottles on a world title in 1908. (Insert joke here.) Tolstoy and Twain were still alive.

But, the Cubbies almost always contended during Hartnett’s time. Gabby played in four World Series. Most famously, he squatted behind home plate on Oct. 1, 1932, in Game 3 of the Series against the New York Yankees. Just inches away, the great Babe Ruth “called his shot” in the fifth inning. Or, did he?

Harry Lauder wrote the hit Roamin' in the Gloamin' in 1911.

Harry Lauder wrote the hit Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ in 1911.

By late 1938, as summer had just given way to fall, and Pittsburgh pitcher Mace Brown stood on the mound as afternoon had given way to evening, and as Hartnett stood ready to hit, the catcher had been doing double-duty as player-manager for a few months. Cubs owner Phillip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum baron, promoted Hartnett to his new role on June 20, 1938. Skipper Charlie Grimm was given the pink slip.

Brown got ahead of Hartnett 0 balls, 2 strikes. Then, Gabby connected. He ripped a pitch that hurled over the ivy and into the left-center field bleachers. Players and fans sprinted to greet Hartnett as he rounded the bases in the darkness.

That home run vaulted Chicago into first place. The Cubs clinched the pennant a few days later, thanks in part to Hartnett’s homer and, even more importantly, to the team’s 19-3 record in September. Once again, though, the Cubs lost the Series. The Yankees beat them in fourth straight.

Earl Hilligan, a sportswriter for the Associated Press, coined the term “homer in the gloamin’.” Maybe he was a fan of old, romantic tunes. Harry Lauder wrote and sang plenty of songs in his day. He did “I Love a Lassie” and “A Wee Deoch-an-Doris.” Winston Churchill called the Edinburgh native “Scotland greatest-ever ambassador.”

As for Hartnett, he managed the Cubs through 1940 and retired after the 1941 season, ending his career with the New York Giants. He hit 236 home runs over his 20 seasons and knocked home 1,179 runs. Additionally, he batted .297 with a .370 on-base percentage.

Later, he did some coaching and some scouting. He even opened Gabby Hartnett’s Recreation Center in suburban Chicago and ran that for a time. The writers voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

Hartnett died in 1972 at the age of 72. He remains somewhat overlooked on the litany of catchers, although he at least got nominated for baseball’s All-Century team. Gabby will be remembered most for a game-winning home run he ripped into a dark Chicago sky. His homer in the gloamin’.

Ol’ Pete Beat the Batters, Not the Bottle


By Glen Sparks

Demons did a number on Ol’ Pete. The right-hander put together a Hall of Fame career, anyway.

Grover Cleveland Alexander (nicknamed “Ol’ Pete,” “Old Pete,” or just plain “Pete”) compiled a 373-208 won-loss record with a 2.56 ERA (135 ERA+) over 20 seasons of work. He won at least 30 games three times, led the National League in strikeouts six times and topped it in ERA five times. He ranks third all-time in wins and second in shutouts (90).

Bill James rated Alexander as the No. 3 pitcher in baseball history, behind Walter Johnson and Moses “Lefty” Grove. He is also, as James pointed out in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract, the only big leaguer to be named after a president of the United States and also portrayed in a movie by a future president. (Ronald Reagan played Pete in the 1952 Warner Bros. production of The Winning Team, co-starring Doris Day and featuring Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey as himself.)

Pete battled booze for most of his adult life. His epilepsy made things worse. World War I left him with shell shock. Supposedly, in his later years, he went around half-broke, relying on the kindness of friends and his ex-wife.

The future great, born Feb. 26, 1887, grew up on the Nebraska plains. Shucking corn all day developed his wrists, supposedly, making his curveball all the better. He began playing baseball early, first sandlot stuff and then with the pros. The Philadelphia Phillies bought Pete from the Syracuse Stars of the Class D New York State League for $750.

Stardom came fast for Ol’ Pete. He enjoyed an auspicious 1911 rookie season in Philadelphia, going 28-13 with a 2.57 ERA (133 ERA+). Pete led the N.L. in innings pitched (367), complete games (31) and shutouts (seven).

Following a 19-17 campaign in 1912 and a 22-8 effort in 1913, Pete really got on a roll. He won 121 games over the next four years and led the N.L. in numerous categories. During his eight-year career in Philly, Alexander went 190-91 (.676 winning percentage) with a 2.18 ERA (140 ERA+). He did all this while pitching his home games at the cozy Baker Bowl.

Then, the shooting started. World War I broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914. U.S. Congress declared war  April 6, 1917., shortly after a German U-boat sank the British liner RMS Lusitania, with 128 Americans among the dead. Philadelphia, fearing that Pete might be drafted, traded their ace to the Chicago Cubs. (Phillies owner William Baker later clarified that story: “I needed the money.”)  Ol’ Pete went 2-1 in Chicago before the Selective Service came calling. Sgt. Alexander shipped out with the Army on June 28 from New York.

Soldiers told terrible tales about their service in the Great War. Pete had his own stories. He pulled the lanyard on howitzers directed at the enemy. The constant noise, along with some shrapnel that bit into an ear, ruined his hearing. Pulling that lanyard all day for months also damaged his right arm.

German mustard gas poured onto many troops, including Pete. That exposure may have triggered his epilepsy. He came home, suffering from shell shock for some time and seizures for the rest of his life. The drinking, always more than social, got much worse.

Pete came back to baseball in 1919. He topped the league in ERA that year (1.72) and the next (1.91). He even won 27 games in 1920 and led the N.L. in strikeouts (173). The live-ball era soon took a toll on Ol’ Pete’s stats, though, like it did with most other pitchers. From 1921 through his final season of 1930, Alexander typically posted an ERA above 3.00.

The Cubs, finally tired of Pete’s booze binges, traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 1926. Alexander went 9-7 with a 2.91 ERA (134 ERA+) the rest of the way. He did his best work in the World Series, against the New York Yankees. There, he hurled complete-game victories in games 2 and 6. He struck out Tony Lazzeri as a reliever in the seventh inning of Game 7, with the bases loaded.

Pete enjoyed one more big year in baseball, with the 1927 Cardinals (21-10, 2.52 ERA). Back as a Phillie in 1930, he sputtered to an  0-3 mark before being released. Post-retirement, Pete barely held things together. He tried to quit drinking; nothing worked. Serious epileptic seizures plagued him.

The Hall of Fame invited him into its ranks in 1938. A baseball pension and $50 a month from the Cardinals kept him going. The former superstar died Nov. 4, 1950, at the age of 63. The death certificate said it was heart failure. Pete’s ex-wife, Amy, was sure it was a fall from one of those seizures.

“King” Kelly Ruled the Baseball World

KingkellyphotoBy Glen Sparks

Michael “King” Kelly drank whiskey and hit line drives.

He befriended bartenders and strangers. The son of Irish immigrants closed saloons and invented the hookslide. He swore off drinking a thousand times and led the National League in batting average twice.

Kelly, born Dec. 31, 1857, grew up in Troy, N.Y., the son of Michael Sr. and Catherine, who fled Ireland and that country’s terrible potato famine in the 1840s.

The elder Kelly marched off in 1862 with a volunteer Union regiment out of Troy. Unscathed in war, he fell ill not long after the final battle had ended. Michael Sr. died in Patterson, N.J.; Catherine passed away a few years later.

Young Michael took a job in a coal factory and began playing baseball on some of the top teams in Patterson, an early baseball hotbed. At age 15, he joined a team led by “Blondie” Purcell. That squad, featuring pitchers Jim McCormick and Edward Nolan (the “Only” Nolan, he was so good), dominated local clubs.

KingKelly11FreeBig-league scouts started looking at Kelly. The Cincinnati Red Stockings signed him to a deal. He enjoyed his first big year in 1879. Besides finishing third in the National League with a .348 batting average, he also ended up third in hits (120) and triples (12) and fourth in runs scored (78).

Cincinnati didn’t enjoy quite the same success that Kelly did. The team lost thousands of dollars, and owner J. Wayne Neff let go of all his players. Kelly signed with the Chicago White Stockings, the forerunner of the Cubs.

The man with the big, thick mustache and the shock of red hair spent the next seven seasons in Chicago. He led the league in runs scored three times and in doubles twice. In 1884, Kelly topped the N.L. with a .354 batting average. He topped the league again in 1886, this time with a .388 average. Now a superstar, the versatile Kelly played mostly catcher and in the outfield. He also helped out in the infield if needed.

After losing to the St. Louis Browns (actually, the forerunner of the Cardinals, not the future A.L. club) of the American Association in the 1886 World Series, the White Stockings owners sold off some of their top players. The Boston Beaneaters (forerunner of the Red Sox) hired Kelly to be player/manager. He was still a good player, he was Irish, and this was Boston.

The affable Kelly stayed a Beaneater for three seasons, but he managed the team only during that initial campaign. He went from there to the Boston Reds (The Players League, 1890), then to the Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers (the American Association, 1891), back to the Boston Reds (1891), then back to the Beaneaters and (1891-92) and, finally, to the New York Giants (1893) before hanging it up.

Kelly retired with a .308 batting average (.368 on-base percentage), 69 home runs and 950 RBI. He also scored 1,357 runs and finished with 368 stolen bases (Steals did not become an official stat until 1886, several years into Kelly’s career. He swiped a career-high 84 bases in 1887.)

But, Kelly’s career was more interesting than those numbers. As mentioned, he supposedly came up with the feet-first hook slide to avoid being tagged out. He often “cut” bases, rounding them without actually touching them. Sometimes, he got away with the trickery, sometimes an attentive umpire called him out.

According to some, while in the outfield, he’d stick an extra ball into his pocket. If a batter whacked a pitch over the fence, Kelly would take the sphere from his pocket and swear that it was indeed the batted ball. While catching, Kelly liked to throw down his mask in front of the runner and prevent him from touching home plate. At bat, Kelly learned how to foul off pitch after pitch, wearing out the hurler and, he hoped, drawing a walk.

Not only Kelly did excel on the field. He also performed on stage, touring with a vaudeville troupe in the offseason, often reciting the popular poem “Casey at the Bat.” The 1889 hit song “Slide, Kelly, Slide” proclaimed the ballplayer’s prowess on the bases and, much later, inspired a film short. Some experts call his book Play Ball, published in 1888, the first baseball autobiography.

Kelly made a lot of money, and he spent it all. He liked people, people liked him, and, as they liked to say, “hey, bartender, the next round’s on me.” He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop drinking, no matter how many people pleaded with him. Kelly also liked to hang out at the track, and, hey, why not put down a bet or two? By time he retired, he was broke. “Mike was a friend to everyone except himself,” someone once said.

“King” Kelly died Nov. 8, 1894, just one year after quitting baseball. He contracted pneumonia in Boston, supposedly catching cold after giving another man his overcoat during a snowstorm.  He had traveled to Massachusetts to appear at a local theater with the London Gaiety Girls. They played “Nothing Is Too Good for the Irish” and “Poor Mick” at the wake. Years later, his widow, Aggie, said, “Mike was just an overgrown kid.”

Kelly was voted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1945.

“Tuck” Stuck Around for 13 Seasons


By Glen Sparks

George “Tuck” Stainback wasn’t blessed with the most musical surname. Nor did he enjoy the most accomplished career as a Major League baseball player.

Over 13 seasons, from 1934 through 1946, Stainback put on the uniform of seven different teams. He didn’t star for any of them. In fact, he retired with just a .259 career batting average and hit only 17 home runs.

Stainback went to bat 359 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie for the Chicago Cubs. That was his career-high mark in the big leagues.

Even so, the right-handed batter made his mark, both on the field and off it, even if he did not possess the most powerful bat, the fastest feet or the strongest throwing arm.

Stainback, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1911, attended Fairfax High School, near Hollywood. He broke into pro ball in 1931 with the Bisbee, Ariz., Bees. From there, he played two years with the hometown Angels of the Pacific Coast League and signed with the Cubs.

The rookie outfielder batted .306 in 1934 with Chicago, the second-highest mark of his career. (He hit .327 in just 104 at-bats for the Brooklyn Dodgers.) Stainback lasted four seasons in Chicago and then went to the St. Louis Cardinals. He got into just six games in St. Louis being released. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up on waivers. Midway through the year, Philadelphia sent Stainback to Brooklyn.

He later played with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees and finished up with the Philadelphia A’s

  • As a Cub, Tuck led a bench-jockeying episode against umpire George Moriarty. The name calling so infuriated Moriarty that he cleared the Chicago bench.
  • That Stainback trade to the Cardinals also involved a pretty good pitcher, Dizzy Dean. On April 16, 1938, St. Louis sent future Hall of Famer Dean to Chicago for $185,000, plus hurlers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun as well as Stainback.
  • The Phillies selected Stainback off waivers on May 28, 1938. Soon after, he single-handedly kept the great Carl Hubbell from tossing a perfect game. He drew a walk and hit a single, the only Phillies player to get on base.
  • Stainback played in two World Series, in 1942 and ’43 with the Yankees. He earned a ring in that second Series.
  • While the Great Depression was on, Stainback, along with Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti, helped put together the Majors’ first pension fund. The two solicited donations of $250 from each player as a way to start the fund and assist ballplayers down on their luck.

Stainback settled in the L.A. area after retiring. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for southern California, he asked Dodgers executive Red Patterson for a job. Over the next few decades, Stainback worked in group sales for the Dodges and also ran the team’s Knothole program, providing free tickets for boys and girls.

Stainback died in 1992 at the age of 81.