A Bad Century: Crossing into Sinai

Phil Cavarretta

The Cubs failure in the 1929 World Series was repeated at three-year intervals through the 1930s. The lost championships in 1932, 1935, and 1938. With the dawn of the 1940s, the team failed to maintain their pattern and slid back into the National League pack. That all changed in 1945, when the roared to a pennant and took on old rival Detroit. The Cubs and Tigers had a history going back to 1907. Chicago won the World Series twice, both times against Detroit (1907 and 1908). In fact, Chicago has never won a World Series against any other team. In 1935 they met again, this time with Detroit prevailing. The 1945 Series would give them a chance to even their record against the Cubs.

The 1945 Cubs were a fine team. Former first baseman from the 1929 pennant winner, Charlie Grimm was the manager. He got an MVP performance from first baseman Phil Cavarretta and good work from the rest of the infield: 2nd baseman Don Johnson, shortstop Roy Hughes, and third baseman Stan Hack. Both Hack and Johnson managed .300 plus batting averages. The outfield consisted of left fielder Peanuts Lowery, 100 RBI man Andy Pafko in center, and Bill “Swish” Nicholson in right. Mickey Livingston backstopped a staff that included Hank Borowy, Claude Passeau, lefty Ray Prim, former Reds ace Paul Derringer, and current ace Hank Wyse. The “ace” is a little misleading. Borowy came over from the Yankees earlier in the season, put up an 11-2 record and by the Series was the main pitcher. None of them were great power pitchers, Passeau leading the team with 98 strikeouts, but most (all except Derringer) had more innings pitched than hits given up.

The first three games were in Detroit. Chicago jumped all over Tigers ace, Hall of Famer, and reigning MVP, Hal Newhouser, getting four runs in the first and three more in the third. They cruised to a 9-0 win with Borowy pitching a six hit shutout. It was to be the first of three Newhouser-Borowy confrontations. In game two Wyse had one bad inning, the fifth. With two outs, two on, and a run in, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg lifted a three run shot that put Detroit ahead 4-1, the final score. Game three was a Claude Passeau masterpiece. He walked one, catcher Bob Swift in the sixth. Swift was out on a double play. Passeau  gave up one hit (a second inning single to Rudy York) and the Cubs won 3-0 to head to Chicago up two games to one.

The remaining games were all in Wrigley Field (wartime travel restrictions were just ending). Throughout their history, the Cubs had done well in postseason play on the road, but terribly in Wrigley (1906, 07, 08, and 10 were not in Wrigley). That was to hold true for games four and five. In game four Detroit bunched together two walks, (one intentional), a double, and three singles to plate four runs. Tigers pitcher Dizzy Trout gave up one unearned run, a walk, and five hits to even the Series at two games each. Game five saw the Newhouser-Borowy rematch. Newhouser gave up four runs, two walks, and seven hits, but struck out nine Cubs. Borowy gave up five runs in five innings, then the bullpen let Detroit tack on three more. Now the Tigers led the Series three games to two.

Game six turned out to be a classic. Having to win the game or lose the Series, Chicago dropped behind on a bases loaded walk, but answered with four in the fifth and a single run in the sixth. Detroit got a run back in the top of the seventh, but the Cubs got two more in the bottom of the inning to stay ahead. But 1945 was a World Series full of big innings and the Tigers had another in them, putting up four in the top of the eighth to tie up the game. It stayed there into the twelfth. Desperate to win, manager Grimm sent Borowy back to the mound with no days off. He was masterful, pitching four full innings and giving up neither a run nor a walk. In the bottom of the twelfth, Stan Hack doubled to bring home the Series tying run.

The next day there was no game, so Grimm decided to send Borowy back to the mound to face Newhouser one final time. He needed 27 outs to bring Chicago its first World Series triumph since 1908. He got none. The Tigers teed off on him scoring three earned runs and when the dust settled had scored five total runs in the first. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the first, but Detroit responded with one of their own in the second, then kept piling on runs. The Cubs’ Roy Hughes singled to lead off the ninth, then with two outs, Stan Hack drove a grounder to short. A flip to second for the force and the Series was over. The final score was Detroit 9, Chicago 3 and Detroit was champion. They’d played Chicago four times in the World Series and each team had won twice.

It’s tough not to feel a little sorry for the Cubs. They hit .263 for the Series (Detroit managed only .223) and had more hits. But Detroit had scored in bunches and that made all the difference. Cavarretta hit .423 with the team’s only home run. Borowy was good in defeat. He ended up 2-2 with an ERA of 4.00, but he’d done well (especially in game six) until the final game when he was called on one time too many.

For the Cubs it was like crossing into Sinai. For the next 40 (actually 39) years they would wander in the wilderness. They fell back into the pack in 1946 and began their long sojourn as the “loveable losers”.  The 1945 World Series was their last, so let’s take a moment to commemorate Roy Hughes who got the last ever Cubs hit in a World Series (and made the last ever out), Stan Hack who was the last ever Cubs batter in a World Series, and Hank Wyse who threw the last ever pitch by a Cub in the Series (it resulted in a third to first ground out).

A lot of good players came through Chicago in the last half of the 1940s and in the 1950s. The same is true of the 1960s and 1970s, but the Cubs failed to make even a single postseason game for almost four decades. Finally, in 1984, they made it back to the playoffs.

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2 Responses to “A Bad Century: Crossing into Sinai”

  1. William Miller Says:

    It seems like there have been more great Game Six’s in World Series history than Game Seven’s, but I have no objective data to support that conclusion.
    Also, poor managerial decisions, like letting Borowy start Game 7 when he must have been completely exhausted, are so much more magnified in the post-season. Desperation often seems to overrule common sense.
    Interesting series ya got here.
    Bill

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