How was this forgotten so quickly and so thoroughly? For a while it was considered the most dramatic moment in team history. Bill Veeck, whose memory spanned Cubs from Hack Wilson to Ryne Sandberg, said the game was the greatest he ever saw in person.
But within six years, it was supplanted by another home run possessing an indefinable attribute, charisma. Gabby Hartnett’s homer is immortal, Cuyler’s a history buff’s indulgence.
The Cubs’ 1932 season was contentious and controversial. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby had been his usual difficult self, and had added, to an already toxic mix, gambling activities that prompted an investigation by the Commissioner’s office. Facing a near revolt by the team, Cubs president William Veeck Sr. replaced Hornsby with Charlie Grimm. (Years later, when Veeck Jr. hired Hornsby to manage, disastrously as it turned out, the St. Louis Browns, he received a telegram from his mother, reading: “What makes you think you’re smarter than your Daddy was?”) Grimm’s first game as manager was August 4.
The Cubs had held first place throughout much of the spring, but had fallen five games behind when the change of managers took place. After that, the surge was near-miraculous, the Cubs won 23 of their first 27 games under Grimm, went into first place on August 11, and never looked back, eventually winning the pennant by four games over Pittsburgh.
Cuyler had suffered a broken foot April 24, the first of several major injuries that would plague his career. He returned to the lineup June 8, and it was a slow second start. But under Grimm, Cuyler seemed rejuvenated along with the rest of the team, in his final 27 games he hit .373 with 38 RBI.
The Cubs capped their pennant drive with a 13-game winning streak beginning August 20. From August 27, Cuyler put together a weeklong streak worthy of Sosa or Yastrzemski at their best:
8/27, doubleheader vs. Giants: Three-run homer, Cubs won, 6-1, eighth win in a row. Second game, single and run, nine straight wins.
8/28, vs. Giants: Three hits, eighth inning homer, game-winning sac fly, Cubs won 5-4, 10 straight.
8/30, vs. Giants: Two hits, two RBI, eighth inning homer, 5-4 win, 11 straight.
8/31, vs. Giants: Four hits. Singled in the tying run in the ninth that evened the game at 5-5. Giants scored four in the top of the tenth, taking a 9-5 lead. In the last of the 10th, after the first two men are out, the Cubs score two and have two on for Cuyler, who hits a walkoff HR for a 10-9 win, their 12th straight.
9/2, vs. Cardinals: homer, fifth in six games, 8-5, 13 straight. The Cubs’ winning streak reached 14, then halted on a day Cuyler was hitless; perhaps that wasn’t a coincidence.
Maybe there had been an omen on that final day of August, a partial solar eclipse peaked at 78 percent coverage an hour before the first pitch. Whatever the portents, the game of August 31 vs. New York was the high point of that season, and of Cuyler’s career. He singled home the tying run in the ninth inning. The Giants plated four in the tenth to take a 9-5 lead. In the bottom of the inning, the first two Cubs were retired before weak-hitting Mark Koenig (28 career roundtrippers) homered to keep the inning alive. Zack Taylor, Billy Herman, and Woody English singled to score a second run and bring Cuyler to bat as the winning run.
What followed is best described by Bill Veeck in Veeck as in Wreck. A few necessary notes, “Marsh” is Marsh Samuel, a lifelong friend who made a career in public relations, and served Veeck in that capacity with the Cleveland Indians. Veeck remembers Cuyler’s home run as a grand slam, it wasn’t. Veeck remembers a four-run ninth, the Cubs scored one (they made up what had been a four-run deficit). Also, Veeck remembers the game as a first-place tiebreaker, the Cubs were 7½ games in front.
Veeck may have been a great raconteur, but not always an accurate one.
I saw him [Veeck’s father] forget his dignity only once. He was entitled to this one fall, for it came at the end of the greatest ball game I have ever seen...
Late in the season, we were playing the Giants to break a tie for first place, a game of such importance that we found Judge Landis sitting with my father. The Giants seemed to have the game sewed up right into the ninth inning when the Cubs scored four runs to tie it up. The Giants bounced right back with four runs in their half of the tenth.
In our half, the first two batters went out. Mark Koenig kept us alive with a home run. The next three batters got on to load the bases. Up came Kiki Cuyler, representing the winning run. And Cuyler belted one. The ball was still climbing over the fence when William Veeck, Sr. let out a rebel yell and vaulted over the railing. Marsh and I had leaped out toward the railing, too, but we were somewhat delayed because we had to untangle ourselves from the harrumphing Commissioner. By the time we got onto the field, my father was in the very center of a mob scene, grabbing for Cuyler’s hand.
Not unlike the reactions described for Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’.” The Cubs clinched the pennant September 20, but went down to the Yankees in an ignominious World Series sweep. Like a sweet swing, heroics are perhaps longer remembered if the follow-through is complete.