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A Game From Cubs History: May 17, 1939

The Cubs played one of the longest marathons in Wrigley Field history on this date... to a draw.

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

1938 was the last hurrah for the great Cubs teams of that decade. Charlie Root turned 40 in 1939; other players on the team were also getting old, and the 1939 Cubs never really were in contention.

In mid-May, though, they played one of the longest games in Wrigley Field history. Before 1969, games at Wrigley that went on until it got dark were simply called, rather than suspended; in this way, a fair number of games each year ended in ties. That's how, on May 17, the Cubs and Dodgers played to a 9-9, 19-inning tie.

Games in that era began at 3 p.m.; in this way, people who worked a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift (and there were many in that time who did exactly this) could take in a ballgame after work. Most games in that era took two hours or less, with no long mid-inning breaks for TV commercials as we have now, so people could take in an entire game and still be home at a reasonable hour.

Not so on May 17. The 19 innings took four hours and 41 minutes; that meant it was called at 7:41 p.m., about 25 minutes before clock sunset in Chicago (you'll remember from the 1938 post in this series that Chicago did observe Daylight Saving time in that era; sunset on May 17, 1939 in Chicago was 8:05 p.m.).

Before that, though, much happened -- and didn't, wrote Edward Burns in the Tribune:

The 4,56O hardy souls who braved a temperature of 49 degrees to attend the Cubs-Dodgers game in Wrigley field yesterday afternoon -- a 9 to 9 tie which spread out over 19 innings and four hours and 41 minutes before darkness intervened -- saw a match in which some of the sloppiest baseball on record was followed by some of the classiest airtight maneuvering that the game can produce.

Though a draw in any sports event leaves something to be desired, Chicago fans must have got a great measure of satisfaction out of the performance of Walter Kirby Higbe, the impish commuter from down South Carolina way.

Higbe, as you can see from the boxscore link above, threw seven innings of one-hit ball in relief after Earl Whitehill pitched the first 12 innings.

Imagine such a scenario in 2013. You can't. Pitchers just don't do that in modern baseball. Meanwhile, Dodger reliever Vito Tamulis did him better, throwing 11 (!) innings in relief and giving up four hits and no runs. Here's how the Cubs almost won the game just before it was stopped:

With two out in the nineteenth, Bartell doubled to left and reached third on a wild pitch. Then, obviously under the impression that the game was to go another inning, Higbe was sent up to bat for himself. He fanned. As the Cubs dashed to their places on the field the umpires held a conference, then called the game. It was then 19 minutes to 8 o'clock.

The Cubs had nearly put the game away in regulation:

And here's the way the Dodgers tied the score after two were out in the ninth: Todd batted for Hayworth and was thrown out by Bartell. Mungo batted for Hutchinson and grounded to Herman. Koy singled to left and scored the tying run on Coscarart's double to center.

Thus always are the Cubs. Two out, nobody on, then the other team rallies. Nearly 75 years later, it still happens.