Courtesy Mike Bojanowski
The Cubs made a fateful decision late in 1930. It turned out to be a colossal mistake.
The 1930 season was bizarre. Hits and runs scored in unprecedented numbers. The entire National League hit .303. The Cubs' Hack Wilson set a NL record with 56 home runs; that wasn't broken until the 1998 home-run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Wilson drove in 190 (later amended by new research to 191) runs, a major-league record that likely will never be broken.
And the Chicago Cubs nearly won a second straight pennant. Taking over first place in mid-August, they held it until a four-game losing streak in mid-September dropped them behind the Cardinals (the eventual winners). The team scored 998 runs -- the most any Cubs team has ever scored (post-1900). They scored in double figures 28 times.
Even with all that, and a second consecutive 90-win season, owner William Wrigley and team president Bill Veeck (father of the future White Sox owner) decided that finishing second wasn't good enough. With just a few days remaining in the season, they dismissed manager Joe McCarthy, replacing him with Rogers Hornsby, who would become player-manager. Irving Vaughn of the Tribune explains:
Failure to earn the right to fly a world championship pennant from the flag staff at Wrigley field brought on the decision to make the change in leaders. "Since the day I entered baseball as an owner I have had my heart set on winning a world series," replied Wrigley to a question as to what started him thinking Hornsby would succeed where McCarthy had failed. "I can't say too much in praise of McCarthy. He is a good fellow and a fine gentleman. I have no arguments with him. He himself told me not so long ago that a man could stay too long in one place."
Shades of Theo Epstein, who said much the same thing when he left the Red Sox for the Cubs after the 2011 season.
McCarthy had been expected to finish the final four games of 1930, but as Vaughn wrote:
Business went on as usual yesterday at Wrigley field. The place had changed hands sooner than expected, but except that Joe McCarthy was missing from his old post in the third base coaching corner, there were no outward indications that the old boss had taken down his shingle and the club officials, by request, had ordered Rogers Hornsby to take over immediately instead of waiting until the present season was out of the way. It was the way McCarthy wanted to conclude five years of service... As soon as he arrived from Buffalo yesterday morning he went into conference with Owner William Wrigley and President William Veeck. From the conference came the announcement that: "It is the wish of McCarthy to be relieved immediately and the club has placed Rogers Hornsby in charge." It all happened calmly and with no display of bitterness on either side.
Hornsby took over with the Cubs in a nearly impossible position re: the pennant race. They trailed by three games with four remaining, all at home against a woeful Reds team, while the first-place Cardinals were home against the Pirates. Hornsby's Cubs did everything they could to stay in the race, beginning with a 4-3 win over the Reds September 25. Gabby Hartnett smashed his 35th home run of the season and shortstop Woody English had three hits, including a home run, and the Cubs withstood a ninth-inning Cincinnati rally to win -- and swept the series to finish with 90 wins. Unfortunately, the Cardinals took three of four from the Pirates to clinch the pennant.
Also proving unfortunate was the choice to let McCarthy go; Hornsby became so disliked by players that he was fired halfway through their pennant-winning season of 1932 and the players refused to vote him even a partial share of their World Series money.
Meanwhile, McCarthy went on to manage the next 16 seasons for the Yankees, during which time his teams won eight pennants and seven World Series titles, including a pair over the Cubs in 1932 and 1938. In such ways has Cubs history gone, seemingly forever.