If you thought I could choose any other game from this year, that simply wouldn’t have been possible. Not only is the Gabby Hartnett “Homer In The Gloamin’” game still, to this day, among the most famous games in Cubs history, it is one of the most legendary regular-season games in all of baseball history.
Consider the prologue to this incredible game. 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.
Finally, the amount of "gloamin'" that was present at the time Hartnett hit the walkoff home run -- if you've been following this series, you know it was just the third (and last) of his career, and first since he hit two in 1923 -- may have been overestimated. Mike Bojanowski wrote about the amount of daylight there actually was for this event in his BCB Top-100 profile of Hartnett:
Just how dark it was has probably been overstated. By announcing a cessation of play beyond nine innings, the umpire was merely following convention. A fan eyewitness to the game once told the author there was no difficulty viewing the climactic events of that afternoon.
The Tribune summed the event up this way:
“The greatest thrill of my life.”
The remark came from Gabby Hartnett, the Cubs manager, last night as he closed the clubhouse door in Wrigley field to face a crowd of athletes who might have been madmen momentarily, but who were actually just boys having fun.
Those were the only words Gabby could put together. He got them past his lips during a limited lull in the back slapping and gleeful howling of his gang.
Hartnett wanted to say that never before in his career had he taken such a pushing around as that which started when he crossed the plate on his decisive homer in the ninth. But nobody wanted to hear him talk. His men wanted to do the talking and they did. Gabby had to just keep quiet and take it.
Just before the boys quieted down and began to get out of their uniforms, a letter carrier came to the door. He had caught the ball Hartnett hit for a homer and wanted to present that to Gabby. The manager closed the deal by presenting him with a new ball, properly autographed.
74 years later, I wonder where either of those baseballs is now located, or if they are even still around. Either one would be a gem of Cubs history.
The Cubs won the next game 10-1 to extend their winning streak to 10, and clinched the pennant, as noted, in St. Louis. They didn’t win another game that year, as they lost the final regular-season game to the Cardinals and got crushed by the Yankees in a four-game World Series sweep.