Darkness had almost enveloped Wrigley Field when Chicago Cubs manager / catcher Gabby Hartnett stroke to the plate on September 28, 1938. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Cubs were locked in a 5-5 tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates. To add to the tension, the Cubs had won 8 games in a row and now trailed the first-place Pirates by merely a half-game in the pennant race.
Pirates pitcher Mace Brown had two strikes on Hartnett–both curve balls–and at 5:37 p.m. he threw another curve, which Hartnett drove into the left-field bleachers. “The crowd was in an uproar, absolutely gone wild,” recalled Pirate outfielder Paul Waner some twenty-five years later for Lawrence Ritter’s now classic oral history, The Glory of Their Times. “They ran onto the field like a bunch of maniacs, and his teammates and the crowd were mobbing Hartnett, and piling on top of him, and throwing him up in the air, and everything you could think of. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.”
Neither had anyone else. “We surrender to inadequacy,” is how sportswriter John Carmichael began his September 29 article for the Chicago Daily News. “This Cubs-Pirate pennant fight has gone far beyond our poor power to picture in words.”
Hall of Famer Leo “Gabby” Hartnett remains one of baseball’s most renowned catchers, and he was often featured in general interest periodicals as well as baseball publications. Here joyful supporters crowd him as he crosses home plate at Wrigley Field after hitting his famous “homer in the gloamin’” on September 28, 1938.
This Cubs game has often been cited as one of the most famous in baseball history. Certainly no home run in Cubs history has matched Hartnett’s “homer in the gloamin’.” In a 2003 ESPN.com ranking of the 100 greatest home runs of all time, it ranks 47th, the highest ranked Cub long ball. Hartnett himself called that day his greatest day in baseball, and he donated the home run ball, his bat, and his catching gear to the Chicago Historical Society (now Chicago History Museum), where it is a major part of the museum’s exhibit on Chicago sports.
As for pitcher Mace Brown and his teammates, that home run “broke the Pirates’ backs,” as sports columnist Carmichael put it. The Cubs went on to win the next two games and the National League pennant. They squared off in the World Series against their old foes from 1932, the New York Yankees.
The Yankees, though, seemed to have stronger backs than the Pirates. With ex-Cub manager Joe McCarthy at the helm, they thoroughly dominated the Chicago North Siders, sweeping the Series 4 games to 0.