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A Game From Cubs History: June 14, 1952

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In 1952, the Cubs had their best year since 1946. "Best", though, is relative.

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

After five straight losing -- and really bad -- seasons, it looked as if the 1952 Cubs were actually going to contend for the pennant. A 10-4 start had them in first place May 1 and they continued to win through May, having a decent 14-12 month, and they got off to a hot start in June, going 11-3.

The last of that 11-3 streak was a 3-1, 15-inning win over the Braves in Boston. At the time, no one knew that would be the Braves' final year in Boston; their move to Milwaukee for 1953 wasn't announced till well after the season ended.

There were several remarkable things about that game; first, future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn threw all 15 innings for the Braves, striking out 18 Cubs. He was within three outs of a 1-0 shutout when Bill Serena tied the game with a leadoff homer in the top of the ninth. Six more innings went by before a Hal Jeffcoat two-run triple won it for the Cubs.

Johnny Klippstein threw the final eight innings in relief for the Cubs, allowing just two hits, and the game took just three hours, 14 minutes. Klippstein, then just 24, didn't pitch very well for the Cubs, and was traded to the Reds after the 1954 season for no one of consequence; he went on to an 18-year career in which he was a fine relief pitcher for two World Series teams (1959 Dodgers, 1965 Twins). Such were Cubs deals in the 1950s.

Here's where I'd post a bit of the Tribune's recap of the game, except I couldn't find one in the archive I've been consulting for this series. I'm not sure why that was the case; the doubleheader loss to the Braves the next day was duly written up by Irving Vaughn, as was Carl Erskine's no-hitter of the Cubs June 19 in Brooklyn, which would have been a perfect game had Erskine not walked Cubs relief pitcher Willie Ramsdell in the third inning.

As it turned out, that June 14 win was the beginning of the end for the Cubs. They were 34-19, in second place, four games behind the Dodgers, after that win in Boston. They likely would never have caught the Dodgers, who went 96-57. But perhaps they could break the string of losing seasons?

They did, but had to win four of their last five games to finish exactly at .500 -- 77-77, the only non-losing season between 1946 and 1963. Hank Sauer, who went 0-for-6 in that June 14 marathon in Boston, had many better days; he had his best major-league season, hitting .270/.361/.531 (OPS+ of 143), leading the league in home runs (37) and RBI (121) and was voted National League MVP.