Posts Tagged ‘Sheriff Blake’

A Bad Century: The Nadir (“Friggin’ Sun”)

May 9, 2012

Woody English (from the Engish website)

Down one game in the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs had game two at home. They managed to lose it 9-3 to go down 0-2, but a change of scenery to Philadelphia seemed to make a difference. They won game three 3-1 behind Guy Bush. So now down two games to one, Chicago was ready to tie up the World Series and make it at best of three championship. The next game was to become one of the most famous games in World Series history, primarily for one astonishing inning. It also represents, to me, the absolute nadir of the Cubs Bad Century.

Game four was scheduled for 12 October in Shibe Park Philadelphia. The Cubs jumped on A’s starter Jack Quinn. Getting six runs off Quinn in five innings and two more off a pair of relievers, the Cubs looked ready to tie up the Series when the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the seventh down 8-0. Charlie Root (of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy) needed nine outs to lock up the Series. He got one.

Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run (count ’em up with me, 8-1), then consecutive singles by Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, Jimmy Dykes, and Joe Boley brought in two more (8-3). Pinch hitting for the pitcher, George Burns (not the comedian) popped out for Root’s only out. Max Bishop singled to bring in another run (8-4). That sent Root to the showers and brought in lefty Art Nehf who sported an impressive ERA of 5.58. Mule Haas greeted him with a three run inside the park home run (8-7). Center Field Wilson managed to lose the ball in the sun, letting it get by him all the way to the fence, clearing the bases. That was bad enough but Wilson wasn’t through proving he was in the lineup for his bat not his glove. Mickey Cochrane then walked, bringing out the hook for Nehf and bringing in Sheriff Blake. Simmons and Foxx both singled bringing in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Malone, the ace, who managed to plunk Miller. That brought up Dykes who doubled over Wilson’s head (another ball that Wilson lost in the sun) to score both Simmons and Foxx (8-10). Then Boley and Burns, designated rally killers supreme, both struck out to end the inning. The A’s scored 10 runs on 10 hits, a walk, an error, and two misplayed balls. Burns managed to make two outs in a single inning. So far as I can determine, only Stan Musial in 1942 managed to equal that feat. When the inning was over, Wilson, back in the dugout, is supposed to have muttered, “friggin’ sun.” (OK, he didn’t say “friggin'”, but this is a family friendly site.)

Lefty Grove entered the game, no hit the Cubs for two innings and picked up the save. The Series now stood 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Teams had come back from that kind of deficit before (not often, it’s true, but it had been done), so Chicago still had a chance. There was no game on Sunday, so Monday 14 October, the subject of my next post, would see game five.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.

The Biggest Inning

May 11, 2010

There’s an old baseball dilemma that shows up every so often. It’s the “Do I play for one run or go for the big inning” dilemma. As we all know the answer depends on a lot of variables. One of those is “how far behind am I?” If the answer is eight runs in the seventh inning, the best bet is to go for the big inning. Which brings me to game four of the 1929 World Series.

The 1929 World Series featured the Chicago Cubs (You already know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?) and the Philadelphia Athletics. The Cubs were back in the Series for the first time since 1918 and the A’s had passed the Murder’s Row Yankees for their first pennant since the 1910-1914 glory days of Home Run Baker and Eddie Collins. The series figured to be close. Both teams hit really well. The difference was supposed to be the A’s pitching staff. So far that held up. The A’s won the first two games, then dropped game three in Philadelphia. If the Cubs could win the fourth game, the World Series would be a simple best of three sprint.

The Cubs sent Charley Root to the mound. Unfortunately for Root he’s always been associated with Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series, but he was a solid, if unspectacular, pitcher who was the Cubs second best starter in 1929. For six innings he pitched like it.

The A’s sent Jack Quinn to hill. I don’t want to say Quinn was old or anything, but his rookie year was 1909 when the Yankees were still the Highlanders. He was 45 (15 years older than Root) and had started only 18 games in 1929. In game four, he pitched like it. He got through five innings, giving up seven runs on seven hits. Rube Walberg came in to replace him and saw a couple of men Quinn left on base score. In the seventh inning Eddie Rommel replaced Walberg and promptly gave up one final run. So going into the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs were up 8-0 with nine outs to go to tie up the World Series.

Al Simmons led off the seventh with a home run (8-1), then Jimmie Foxx, Bing Miller, and Jimmie Dykes all singled, scoring Foxx (8-2). Joe Boley singled to drive in Miller (8-3). George Burns, pinch-hitting for Rommel popped out. Max Bishop singled to bring in Dykes (8-3). Out went Root, in came Art Nehf, Chicago’s primary left-handed reliever. He proceeded to throw gas on the fire by tossing a fast ball to Mule Haas. Haas drove it to center field where Cubs star Hack Wilson promptly lost the ball in the sun. It rolled to the fence for an inside-the-park home run (8-7). Nehf walked A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane and was pulled for Sheriff Blake, the Cubs fourth starter. Simmons and Foxx both singled, driving in Cochrane (8-8). Out went Blake, in came Cubs ace Pat Malone who proceeded to plunk Miller to load the bases. Dykes then drove a double into left field scoring both Simmons and Foxx as the A’s took the lead 10-8. With the damage now done, Boley struck out and Burns fanned for the final out and the distinction of being one of the few players to make two outs in one World Series inning (and the patron saint of every one of us who made more than one out in an inning in Little League).

Now that they were ahead, the A’s sent ace Lefty Grove to the mound to shut down the Cubs. That worked. The game ended 10-8 and the A’s had just put together the biggest inning in World Series history (even the 1993 Phillies-Blue Jays 15-14 slugfest didn’t see more than six runs scored in one inning). Blake took the loss and Rommel had the win.

To finish it up, the A’s won the World Series the next day with a single, home run, and consecutive doubles in the bottom of the ninth. It was a thorough meltdown by the Cubs. Wilson got a lot of blame for losing the ball in the sun, but that was one play in an inning that produced 10 runs. The Cubs pitching was woeful for that inning and the A’s hitters, especially Jimmie Dykes, took advantage to prove that in this case the big inning is better.