A Game From Cubs History: April 20, 1923

SDN-063320, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

A future Hall of Famer had his first big Cubs day on a windy, warm Friday afternoon.

On the seventh anniversary of the Cubs' move to Clark & Addison Streets, the ballpark, now known as Cubs Park, was the site of quite a battle between the Cubs and Pirates (or, as the headline writers of the time often called them, the "Corsairs").

The Cubs were a year or two late to the lively-ball party of the 1920s, but 1923 saw their home-run output jump from 42 (in the entire 1922 season!) to 90; Hack Miller led the team with 20, which was good for third in the National League.

But the April 20 contest was what might have been called by Jack Brickhouse in later years a "donnybrook". The Pirates led the Cubs 9-4 going into the bottom of the eighth, only to see the Cubs take an 11-9 lead on a seven-run inning. Pittsburgh scored a pair in the ninth, only to see the Cubs win on a walkoff home run. Tribune scribe Frank Scribner wrote:

Home runs mean nothing in the young lives of the Cubs. Six runs to the bad in the sixth inning, the Bears roared up yesterday and uncorked a slashing attack which included six home runs to beat out the Pirates, 12 to 11, in the final game of the series. Fight and determination showed out all over the Bruins, and their exhibition of coming from behind gained them a host of fans and friends.

Eight home runs was the game's total. Those six Cubs four base drives were turned in by Friberg and Hartnett, who had two each, Hartnett's final circuit smash winding up the contest in the ninth inning, Statz and Heathcote. Traynor and Grimm collected the two homers for Pittsburgh.

Yes, that's right -- that's Charles "Gabby" Hartnett, who had his first career walkoff home run on the day he hit his first major-league home run as well. Hartnett went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and four RBI that afternoon. There's a clue to the weather conditions that day in that home-run list, too; it was Cliff Heathcote's only home run of 1923. A check of the weather conditions as published in the Tribune that day confirmed that particular late-April day was one of those warm, wind-blowing-out days we sometimes get at Wrigley to this day: windy, with temperatures that peaked at 79 degrees around the time the game would have been played in that era (3-4 p.m.)

Interestingly enough, Hartnett hit two walkoff homers in 1923 -- the other in the 10th inning of the first game of a doubleheader August 11 -- and then didn't hit another for 15 years. I think you've probably heard about that one.

Pie Traynor of the Pirates was another future Hall of Famer who homered that day, and Charlie Grimm, who would later play for and manage Cubs pennant winners, was a 23-year-old first baseman for Pittsburgh, two years away from being traded to the Cubs.

But it was Hartnett that got the attention that Friday afternoon; just 22, he was in his first full major-league season and Cubs fans hoped they'd be getting their first really good catcher since Johnny Kling. They'd be right, as Hartnett put up a Hall of Fame career, still holding the all-time team record for home runs by a catcher (230).

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