It Was 75 Years Ago Today...

... that Cubs Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett won a critical pennant-race game with a home run at Wrigley Field.

I wrote about the game of September 28, 1938 last winter in the "Game From Cubs History" series, but on this day, September 28, 2013, wanted to focus specifically on Gabby Hartnett's home run that won the game. It is, arguably, three-quarters of a century later, still the most famous home run in Cubs franchise history.

Here's the summary, from that link, of what the game meant to the pennant-contending Cubs of 75 years ago:

The Cubs had floundered around for most of 1938, in first place briefly in early June before dropping as low as fourth, nine games out, on August 20. After a loss (and a doubleheader nightcap tie) to the Dodgers on September 18, they were 3½ games out of first place with 14 games remaining.

Then they won eight games in a row, four at Philadelphia, three at home from the Cardinals, and the first game of a three-game set at Wrigley against the Pirates, which moved them to within half a game of the first-place Bucs going into the game of September 28.

There are a couple of myths about this game. First, the win, the Cubs' ninth in a row, did not clinch the pennant; it simply put the Cubs in first place, half a game ahead, with four games still to be played. They didn't clinch the pennant until they won the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis October 1.

The other myth about the game is exactly how dark it was at the time. The famous photo you see at the top of this post makes it look as if it was quite dark at Wrigley Field at the time of the home run, which was 5:37 p.m. Central Standard Time. Note that I specifically say "Standard"; though Chicago did observe Daylight Saving Time in 1938 -- not every jurisdiction did back then -- it had ended four days earlier, so that sunset on September 28, 1938, as seen here, was just about the time Hartnett's ball left Wrigley Field.

That doesn't mean it was completely dark. To see this for yourself, go outside tonight at 6:38 p.m. and look at how light it still is outside. (6:38 because we're still on Daylight Saving Time now; that would be the equivalent of 5:38 p.m. on this date 75 years ago.) What astronomers call "civil twilight" runs until 7:05 p.m.; that's when most people would look at the sky and find it completely dark. That's nearly half an hour after clock sunset; right at the time the sun dips below the horizon, the sky still shows blue, though a deeper shade, and if you're outside, you can certainly imagine it light enough to play baseball even without artificial light. I personally recall this doubleheader, played on September 4, 1978, a day on which sunset was 7:19 p.m. The combined game times plus the time between had the second game ending just before 7 p.m. There were long shadows on the field, but even without lights at Wrigley, enough daylight to play baseball (though they might have suspended the second game if it had gone much longer).

Most probably, the photo looks so dark because of the flash photography of the time, lighting brightly the subject right in front of the camera while leaving the background quite dark.

One last thing about that famous photo. Running alongside Hartnett -- who to me looks far older than the age, 37, he was at the time -- is a happy fan. You'd see things like this even into the 1970s; fans raced around the bases with Bill Mazeroski after his famous walkoff homer in the 1960 World Series and with Hank Aaron when he broke Babe Ruth's career homer record in 1974. With security at ballparks being what it is now, this won't ever happen again; I think the last time I remember seeing it was Chris Chambliss' walkoff home run to win the 1976 ALCS for the Yankees. Look at the chaos in that scene; Chambliss gets tripped and never did touch the plate. After that, I think MLB got more serious about not letting fans run on fields after events like this -- probably for the best.

Anyway, if you're in Chicago and you can, look around outside at 6:38 p.m. tonight, and you'll see exactly how much "gloaming" there was for Gabby Hartnett, 75 years ago today.

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