On April 16, just two months after Chicago made headlines around the world with its infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the Cubs opened their season at Wrigley Field. The fans as well as the team had high hopes; slugger Rogers “The Rajah” Hornsby was acquired from the Boston Braves for the then unheard-of price of $200,000. As one sportswriter said two days earlier: “It is no secret here or elsewhere that the Cubs are regarded as pennant probabilities and that the [White] Sox are regarded as just another baseball team. Acquisition of Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s great players, promises an added punch to the Cub attack. . . .”
Alas, that “added punch” was missing on Opening Day. Despite a “grandstand filled to overflowing,” Edward Burns reported in the Chicago Tribune that the Cubs had a “sorry start,” losing to Pittsburgh 4-3 with the Pirates racking up 3 runs in the first inning off of star pitcher Charlie Root. Wrote Burns: “The famed ‘Murderers’ Row’ of the Cub batting order got its signals a bit mixed and in the main failed to slaughter the spit ball offerings of Mr. [Burleigh] Grimes. Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby did not produce a base hit although the Rajah drew free passage to first base on three occasions.” (Photographed at Wrigley Field that year is Hornsby with Pirates right fielder Paul Waner.)
This was the Cubs’ fourth season under manager Joe McCarthy, and team owner William Wrigley wanted not just a National League pennant, but also a World Series. McCarthy succeeded in meeting him halfway, bringing the North Siders their first pennant since 1918. In the American League, the Philadelphia Athletics, led by legendary manager Cornelius McGillicuddy (better known as Connie Mack), had soundly captured the pennant by 18 games over the New York Yankees.
In one of baseball’s most brilliant strategic moves, Mack passed over his ace pitchers and selected Howard Ehmke to start Game 1 against Chicago. The 35-year-old Ehmke had won just 7 games all season, and he seemed to have no future in the major leagues. Mack, however, had had Ehmke scout the Cubs all season long. “He has one good year,” Mack remarked to a friend about his pitcher, “and he knows when it’s coming.”
That day was Game 1. Ehmke struck out 13 Cubs for a World Series record, beating the Chicagoans 3-1. The Athletics carried their momentum into Game 2, winning 9-3.
The Cubs came back on Game 3, winning 3-1, and in Game 4 they appeared to be well on their way to tie the Series, as pitcher Charlie Root was holding the Cubs to an 8-0 lead in the eighth inning. Mother Nature, however, seemed to have it in for the Cubs that infamous afternoon. Just when the team and its fans started to breathe a little more easily, Chicago’s center fielder, Hack Wilson, lost Mule Haas’s line drive in the afternoon sun. That hit turned into an inside-the-park home run with two men on, and the Athletics went on to win 10-8.
The Athletics, according to the Washington Post, had “just staged the most sensational rally in World Series history.” Cubs manager Joe McCarthy refused to blame Hack Wilson (soon to be nicknamed “Sunny Boy”), and replied to a reporter’s questions that “the poor kid simply lost the ball in the sun, and he didn’t put the sun there.”
Chicago’s newspapers, however, were not so charitable. “Root Falters After Having 8 Run Advantage” was the headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune, and sports writer Ed Burns wasted no time in reprimanding the hometown team: “It remained for our beloved Cubs to furnish the greatest debacle, the most terrific flop, in the history of the world series and one of the worst in the history of major league baseball games of all kinds.” The Cubs followed what reporters called the “Mack Attack” with a loss in Game 5, and a loss of the World Series.
Cubs owner William Wrigley never forgave McCarthy for the team’s loss of the World Series in 1929. When Chicago finished second in 1930, Wrigley fired him, despite the vehement objections of Cubs President William Veeck. Wrigley should have listened to Veeck. New York hired the ex-Cub, and from 1932 through 1943, McCarthy’s Yankees captured eight pennants and seven world championships. (Photo: Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (center) listens as Joe McCarthy discusses the 1929 World Series with the always impeccably dressed Connie Mack.)