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The highest scoring games in Cubs history: April 17, 1954

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This calendar date occurs twice in this series.

Randy “Handsome Ransom” Jackson
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

In the previous entry in this series, I told you about the Phillies’ 18-16 comeback win over the Cubs April 17, 1976.

Twenty-two years earlier to the day, the Cubs and Cardinals played a game where even more runs were scored.

Here’s a bit of background. The 1953 Cubs had been a terrible team, losing 89 games after a 77-77 season in 1952 had given some hope to the franchise. They didn’t seem to be any better for ‘54, but team owner P.K. Wrigley wanted to know if there would be any improvement, so he asked manager Phil Cavarretta how the team would do. Cavvy answered, honestly, that he thought the Cubs were a “second-division club” (old-fashioned terminology for a club finishing in the lower half of the standings).

That got Cavarretta fired April 2, a couple of weeks before the season began.

The early-season schedule was rather odd in 1954. The Cubs had played the White Sox in three exhibition games, one in Memphis (back in the days when teams took trains back from spring training), two at Wrigley Field, on April 9, 10 and 11. They traveled to St. Louis April 12, played one game against the Cardinals April 13 (a 13-4 win), then took a train back to Chicago on April 14, played the home opener against the Reds April 15 (an 11-5 loss), then had another off day before hosting the Cardinals for a pair, April 17 and 18.

I have no idea why they scheduled games that way in 1954, but that’s the lead-in to the April 17 game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. The weather forecast? Sunny, mid-60s, forecast winds out of the west-southwest at 15 to 20 miles per hour.

Well, you’re saying, back in that day that was a forecast for home runs. But “only” five were hit that afternoon, two by the Cubs (Randy Jackson, pictured, and Hal Jeffcoat) and three by the Cardinals (Sal Yvars, Rip Repulski, Tom Alston). Jeffcoat, a converted outfielder who pitched in this game, also went 2-for-3 with three RBI.

The Cubs actually trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the second inning, but scored a pair there and five in the third to make it 9-6. Three more in the Cubs fourth made it 12-6, but St. Louis closed to within 12-10 with a four-run fifth.

Then the Cubs really had fun. A 10-run fifth inning had the following sequence of at-bats:

Walk
Groundout
Walk
Single plus E4, RBI
Double, RBI
Intentional walk (seriously?)
Single, two RBI
Single, RBI
Single, RBI, runner out at third
Walk
Walk (loading bases)
Single, two RBI
E6 (loading bases)
Single, RBI (bases still loaded)
Walk, RBI
Groundout

10 runs, seven hits, five walks, two errors

The game was essentially over at that point; the Cubs scored one more run in the seventh and the Cardinals added one in the eighth and two in the ninth for the 23-13 final score. It was the most runs any Cubs team had scored in 32 years, since a 1922 game you’ll read about later in this series.

The Cubs had scored 41 runs in the first three games of the season. They scored a lot of runs that year — 700 of them, fifth in the NL — but also gave up a lot, 766, third-most in the league. The Cubs were 18-23 in one-run games and 20-26 in blowouts (as defined by baseball-reference.com as losing by five or more runs). Even so, their Pythagorean record was 71-83, far better than their actual 64-90 mark. They were actually pretty good at home (40-37), but lousy on the road (24-53).

Maybe they should have just let Cavarretta manage the team. After all, his preseason prediction was correct, as the Cubs finished seventh, the same standing position Cavvy had led them to in 1953.