From the late 1920s through most of the 1930s, the Cubs were a very good team. They won four National League pennants and finished a close second three other times.
In the same era, the Phillies were a very bad team. From 1927-42 they finished last nine times and lost 100 or more games in every one of those last-place seasons.
1938 would be one of those years for the Phillies. They lost 105 games that year, the first of five straight 100-loss seasons. Meanwhile, the Cubs were on their way to the last of the four N.L. titles they won between 1929 and 1938.
That’s the overall backdrop to this game. Specifically, the Cubs entered play on May 5, 1938 with a 10-6 record, while the Phillies — who had defeated the Cubs 6-4 the previous day — were 3-11.
The Cubs plated four in the first inning and were leading 5-1 going into the sixth, a solid lead but nothing of great significance. They added two in the sixth and two in the seventh, but even at 9-1 you wouldn’t be reading about this game if the eighth inning hadn’t happened.
The Phillies called on a reliever named Hal Kelleher (no relation to Mick) to throw the eighth inning of this game. Kelleher had pitched for the Phils for the previous three seasons and had appeared in 44 games (nine starts) with a 5.23 ERA. That sounds bad, but honestly, it wasn’t too much worse than most Phillie pitchers in that time frame. Entering the May 5, 1938 game, Kelleher had pitched in five games that season with a 4.26 ERA in 6⅓ innings, not terrible, although he had walked six in those five outings.
The Cubs... well, they did not treat Kelleher very well. From the Retrosheet boxscore:
CUBS 8TH: REBEL STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING RF); KELLEHER REPLACED KLEIN (PITCHING); Herman singled to right; Collins walked [Herman to second]; Demaree singled to center [Herman scored, Collins to third]; Marty forced Demaree (shortstop to second) [Collins scored]; Galan singled to right [Marty to third]; Lazzeri walked [Galan to second]; Hartnett doubled to right [Marty scored, Galan scored, Lazzeri to third]; Epperly singled to left [Lazzeri scored, Hartnett scored, Epperly to third (error by Arnovich)]; Hack singled to right [Epperly scored]; Herman walked [Hack to second]; Collins singled to center [Hack scored, Herman to third]; Demaree struck out; Marty singled to left [Herman scored, Collins to third]; Galan tripled to right [Collins scored, Marty scored]; MATTICK BATTED FOR LAZZERI; Mattick singled to second [Galan scored]; O’DEA BATTED FOR HARTNETT; O’Dea popped to catcher in foul territory; 12 R, 10 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Phillies 1, Cubs 21.
Despite the error, all 12 runs were earned. Later that month, Kelleher was sold to the Cardinals. He never pitched in the major leagues again — RHOOTL’d* for good. He did pitch in the minors in 1938 and 1939, and again in 1944 and 1945.
The Cubs walked 13 times in this game. They have walked 13 or more times in a nine-inning game just eight times in franchise history; the team record is 15. Here are all eight such games; they haven’t done it since 1973.
Pictured at the top of this post is Cubs outfielder Augie Galan, who homered and went 3-for-4 with four RBI in the 21-2 win. Joe Marty went 4-for-4 with four RBI, and overall the Cubs had 18 hits to go with the 13 walks. Cubs starter Al Epperly was making his first big-league start in this game and threw a complete game, allowing just the two runs. Of Epperly, Tribune writer Irving Vaughn said:
Albert Paul Epperly, the Iowa farm boy, was introduced yesterday in his maiden start as a big leaguer and his Cub mates turned the event into a carnival in which the humble Phillies were the unwitting stooges. The hapless Phils not only were more or less, principally more, helpless before the farm graduate’s pitching but also had to stand out in the cold for more than two hours while the Cubs were compiling a 21 to 2 triumph.
Per the Tribune, it wasn’t that cold that afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-50s. Epperly pitched in just nine games for the 1938 Cubs and then spent more than a decade in the minor leagues before briefly resurfacing in the majors again with five games for the 1950 Dodgers.
Lastly, the thing that occurred for the Cubs in this game that hasn’t happened since is the 12-run inning. The most runs scored by any Cubs team in a single inning in the last 82 years is 11, done exactly eight years after this game, also against the Phillies, in a 13-1 win May 5, 1946. Since then, the most is 10, done nine times, last on August 14, 2009, in a 17-2 win over the Pirates. (Thanks to BCBer JohnW53 for his great research on this topic.)
* RHOOTL = Ran Him Out Of The League, if you are not familiar with the BCB terminology.