Courtesy Mike Bojanowski
The Cubs missed the pennant by just a few games in 1937, but that year saw a significant change to Wrigley Field.
The 1937 Cubs probably should have won the National League pennant. They led the league in runs scored, by a significant margin; Frank Demaree had an All-Star season in which he got some MVP votes, and Gabby Hartnett, at age 36, hit .354/.424/.548. Even for that higher-offense era, those were good numbers for an older hitter.
Obviously, they didn't; after going 36-16 combined in June and July and leading the league by as many as seven games, the '37 Cubs slid out of first place with a .500 August, and when the first-place Giants came to Wrigley Field for a three-game series in late September, the Cubs were in a position where a series sweep would have put them back in first place.
They won the first of the series 7-5; Irving Vaughn of the Tribune has the rest of the story:
The Cubs are back on the heels of the pace setting Giants and the National league race is still in doubt. Tough with their bats and supermen in the field, the second place Chicagoans turned on the leaders yesterday, knocked them off, 7 to 5, and charged to a point one and one-half games from the top in front of a roaring mob of 34,8O7. Gabby Hartnett, whose mighty bat has figured prominently in the Cubs' recent revival, was the hero again yesterday with a triple, double and single. He drove in four runs and scored two himself. His three-bagger came in the first inning with the bases full.
The game was fairly ordinary, except for this incident, showing again how rough baseball was in that era:
McCarthy caromed a hit off Collins' glove. As McCarthy rounded first he collided with French, who was over to cover the base if necessary. McCarthy was dumped on the seat of his pants and apparently accepted the mishap as just one of those things, but Mr. Adolfo Luque, the Cuban, who was coaching there, resented the soiling of his mate's flannels. Mr. Luque said something in English and Mr. French, who was already on his way back to the mound, turned and charged toward the swarthy little fellow. Before French could catch up with his prey umpires and others blocked the play. As Mr. French was in high dudgeon, his mates stalled around long enough for him to cool off. When he thought he had subsided to the proper temperature he resumed pitching, but Danning clouted a triple to right, McCarthy scoring. The rest of the inning was easy for the southpaw. He personally tossed out Whitehead and Herman threw out Gumbert on a slow roller which could have easily been a hit.
About three weeks before this game, the Cubs had officially opened a significant change in the structure of Wrigley Field -- permanent bleachers. Before 1937, Wrigley outfield seats were temporary bleachers, or, on occasion, fans standing behind ropes on the field (this was done at many ballparks in that era). Edward Burns of the Tribune describes the new structure and its purpose:
Mr. Wrigley conceived the general idea of the beautification plan. Then he told Bill Veeck Jr. of the Cub office staff to start negotiations with architects and designers. Young Bill shopped among several, and finally got things moving between the firm of Holabird and Root and Mr. Wrigley. And as the improvement developed the Cub owner became more and more engrossed. He has been getting a real kick out of the progress of the construction, even going so far as to order new bleacher box offices of glass brick and stainless steel, cupolas so elegant that the boys in the $1.65 end of the park, the main entrance guys, are getting jealous. Bittersweet now is climbing the new buff brick circular wall, and when planting time is right Boston ivy will thicken the foliage. Chinese elms, among the most decorative of trees, are to tower from each of the eight terraced stepups of the wall leading to the great new scoreboard. The scoreboard itself, incidentally, will embody new magnetic principles never before employed in a scoreboard.
That scoreboard, 75 years later, still uses those "magnetic principles" -- you see them in the "eyelets" that denote batter, ball, strike and out. The Chinese elms lasted only a few years before they died and were removed, but those "terraced stepups" still exist. The "glass brick and stainless steel" box office sold tickets until 1984, when the sale of bleacher tickets was changed to advance sale; that office was then used for employees until the bleacher reconstruction of 2005-06. And the "Bill Veeck Jr." noted in Burns' article is the man who became the owner of the White Sox -- yes, he's responsible for the Wrigley bleachers looking the way they do. After Veeck sold the White Sox in 1981, he spent many summer afternoons sitting in the center field bleachers at Wrigley, shirtless on warm days, until his death in 1986.