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?
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’.