A Day In Wrigley Field History: October 5, 1938

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

For the fourth time in 10 years, the Cubs host a World Series. That's the good news.

Unlike many other seasons in the 1930s when the Cubs had late-season leads only to blow them, the 1938 Cubs had to come from behind to win. Seven games behind on September 4, the Cubs went 20-5 to finish the year, capped with the famous "Homer in the Gloamin'" by Gabby Hartnett on September 28. They won the pennant by two games and got ready to face the mighty Yankees, who won 10 more games than the Cubs and the A.L. title by 9½ games.

Thus the scene was set for Game 1 of the 1938 World Series; 43,642 jammed Wrigley Field on a Wednesday afternoon, in hope that the Cubs would end their... 30-year World Series drought. (Sigh.)

New year, same old result against the Yankees. The visitors from New York continued their dominance from six years prior, winning Game 1 by a 3-1 margin. Irving Vaughn's recap from the Tribune (non-capitalization as in the original):

Defense of the kind that carries pitchers over rough spots in the road was the big note in yesterday's world series inaugural at Wrigley field. The victorious Yankees erred once -- a harmless as well as unavoidable miscue -- and the Cubs erred once with disastrous results. But the errors were submerged under a series of brilliant, even sensational plays. The spectacular work bore out the pre-series contentions that the principals rate as the best in either major league on defense. 

The play of plays, though it wasn't perpetrated when the Cubs had men on base awaiting a base hit, came from Joe Gordon, the freshman member of the Yankees' world series cast. In the fifth inning, after Gabby Hartnett had succumbed before Red Ruffing on strikes, Rip Collins tore off what looked to be a hit. The flashy Gordon charged over toward second, made a back handed grab of a short hop, and, even though off balance, made a perfect throw to first.

Hartnett, who was also club manager (replacing Charlie Grimm halfway through the season), was confident the Cubs would come back and win Game 2:

A tense silence ruled the Cubs' clubhouse as Manager Gabby Hartnett trooped in with his players after their 3 to 1 defeat in the opening game of the world series with the Yankees yesterday. Then the grumbling and snarling started.

"What the hell," Hartnett screamed. "Those guys had better look better tomorrow than they did today or they had better look out. They were just lucky, that's all. They got three cheap runs. A base on balls and an infield boot gave them a couple of them. Lee should never have had a run scored on him, the way he was pitching. 

"Get this, you guys. We'll battle them silly tomorrow. They're more scared than we are."

Pulling on a big, black cigar, Hartnett went to his office and dropped into a chair. Then he mumbled to himself, "O, I have an announcement to make. I got to make this one myself."

He jumped up, dashed to the players' dressing room, and shouted:

"Dean goes tomorrow."

Dizzy Dean, hero of past World Series for the Cardinals, had been trying to make a comeback with the Cubs after some serious arm injuries. He had pitched well during the regular season -- a 1.81 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 13 games -- but he was just about done. He held the Yankees at bay for seven innings in a tense one-run game before faltering in the eighth and ninth as the visiting New Yorkers won Game 2 over the Cubs by a 6-1 count, on their way to a four-game sweep.

One more note about Game 1 -- even in that long-ago time, scalpers were everywhere, according to the Tribune:

The ball club's price for the world's series is $6.60 per box seat, $5.50 for grandstand, $3.30 for standing room, and $1.50 for a bleacher seat. During the regular season, the prices were $1.65 for box seats, $1.10 for unreserved grandstand seats, and 55 cents for a bleacher ticket.

During the previous evening and prior to 10 a.m. the highest price reported was $80 for a set of tickets -- that is for one person to attend three games.

The article went on to say that "speculators" had bought up a lot of the tickets earlier when they had gone on sale by mail, in the hopes of making profits -- and at $80 they surely would have (this inflation calculator says that $80 in 1938 is the equivalent of $1,325 today), but that downward pressure had been put on these prices close to game time:

At 1 o'clock Assistant State's Attorney Richard Devine paid $7.70 for a choice box seat at the Sherman hotel office. The elevated railroad then transported him to the baseball park just in time for the beginning of the game. Devine was about the last customer there and it was reported that there were no tickets left unsold.

I should point out a few things here. First, the mention of Devine being an assistant state's attorney isn't really relevant; the article says "no arrests were made" of scalpers. Apparently, Devine was just a fan wanting to go to the game. Second, the regular-season ticket prices reported above remained virtually unchanged into the 1960s. Part of the reason for that was the lack of inflationary times, and the rest was the Cubs not being much of a team worth watching after World War II. Finally, the article notes that the Cubs set their own World Series ticket prices. Major League Baseball didn't take over pricing of World Series pricing until the 1970s.

Here are all the 1938 World Series scorecard images. You'll recognize the style as being that of Otis Shepard, who did artwork for the Wrigley Company and the Cubs from the late 1930s through the early 1960s (click to embiggen).

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