No surprise here, I'm sure -- this HR is not only the most famous in Cub history, the "Homer in the Gloamin'" is one of the most famous in all of baseball history and one of the most memorable monents in team history.
The Cubs came into the game one-half game behind the Pirates for first place, with six games remaining. Mike picks up the story in the top 100 profile of Hartnett, posted one year ago tomorrow:
But why the general interest? It was a walkoff home run that gave the Cubs a half-game lead during the last week of a tight pennant race. It clinched nothing. There are dozens of similar moments scattered throughout the lore of the game. This one had charisma, and trying to explain why it has shone so brightly in history is an impossible task. It acquired its reputation the instant it happened. No hindsight need apply.
Septmber 28 was a gray, gloomy afternoon, 34,465 fans assembled for the crucial game. Game time, in those days, was 3 p.m., thus it was well past 5 p.m when the ninth inning began, the score tied, 5-5.
By all accounts, plate umpire George Barr announced, after the conclusion of the eighth inning, that play would halt after the ninth, if the score remained even. This was not uncommon. The game would have ended a tie, and necessitated a doubleheader the following day. Both teams were duly informed, and Cubs pitcher Charlie Root set the Pirates down in order in the top of the ninth. Pittsburgh reliever Mace Brown retired the first two Cubs, Cavarretta and Reynolds, bringing Hartnett to the plate.
Brown threw a curve for a swinging strike, Hartnett fouled another curve for strike two. Brown, an aggressive pitcher by nature, tried for the strikeout, a third curve intended for the outer half. But he hung it, center cut. It was 5:37 p.m. when Hartnett hit it, a drive into the (brand new) left-field bleachers, just to the right of the indentation in the wall. There was no doubt about it, from the moment of contact. The Cubs won the game and had the league lead.
Just how dark it was has probably been overstated. Chicago used Daylight Saving Time in 1938, one of the few jurisdictions that did. 5:37 p.m., on September 28, was thus exactly one hour before sunset. By announcing a cessation of play beyond nine innings, the umpire was merely following convention. A fan eyewitness to the game once told the author there was no difficulty viewing the climactic events of that afternoon.
And so the moment entered history. It was a national story, and soon an immortal one. The Cubs won the following day, 10-1, and clinched the pennant September 30. Mace Brown lived to be ninety-two, a baseball lifer, the last survivng principal. All his obituaries led with his inevitable claim to fame.
Gabby donated the bat, home run ball, and catching gear from that game to the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). Today, the recently remodeled museum displays the bat and ball as part of its exhibit on Chicago sports.
It was their ninth win in a row, but it took two more days before the Cubs clinched the 1938 NL pennant. Courtesy of Mike (who also sent me the facsimile of Gabby's autograph you see at the top of this post), here's a reproduction of the 1938 scorecard you'd have seen if you had been at this game: