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Today in Cubs history: Two Cubs games in Philadelphia were postponed due to a transit strike

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This comes under the category of “things learned while reading about something completely unrelated.”

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Shibe Park, home of the Phillies in 1944
Photo by MLB via Getty Images

I’m a history buff, not just baseball history, but all history. Thus when I saw this Washington Post article a few weeks ago, headlined “Eight black transit workers got promoted. Thousands of white workers walked off the job.”, it piqued my interest.

So let’s take a brief break from thinking about whether baseball will shut down or not, and dive into a bit of baseball history.

The transit strike happened in the summer of 1944 in Philadelphia. For the purposes of this article, the WaPo headline tells the key parts of the story, you can click and read the rest of the article if you like. But what really got me to sit up and think, “Hey, look! Something else I’m interested in!” was this:

Fearing an outbreak of violence, local officials summoned state police, forbade the sale of liquor and canceled a doubleheader between the Phillies and the Cubs. Even so, fights broke out across the city — resulting in 200 arrests and numerous injuries.

Well now, that part is definitely interesting to me as a Cubs fan. The Cubs were scheduled to play two games in Philadelphia and couldn’t play due to this transit strike, according to this article.

That sent me to the Tribune archive. The Cubs had been originally scheduled to play a single game in Philly July 29, a doubleheader July 30 and single games July 31 and August 1. Then they would have two (!) off days before heading to Brooklyn for a series beginning August 3.

A rainout May 25 had been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader August 1.

Irving Vaughn of the Tribune reported:

The Cubs’ already crudely twisted schedule was given an extra twist this afternoon when their program of a combination twilight-night doubleheader with the Phillies was called off because of the local transportation tieup.

However, the twist could have been more severe for the Cubs. At first the Phillies’ management decided to go thru [sic] with today’s program tomorrow evening, but later settled for one game tomorrow afternoon, leaving the other half of the postponement for September.

The August 2 plan didn’t happen, as Vaughn reported from Brooklyn:

Between the weather and the street car tieup, the Cubs escaped from Philadelphia this afternoon with no more expenditure of energy than was necessary to get them to the depot under their own power.

Being excused from the final in Philadelphia leaves the Cubs a problem for the season’s final appearance there in September, but, nevertheless, the boys welcomed the delay.

Thus a three-game series scheduled for single games September 25, 26 and 27 in Philadelphia became a five-game set, with doubleheaders September 25 and 26.

Which leads me to this curious thought. You might remember stories I’ve posted here about Charlie Gassaway, the lefthander who pitched in exactly two games for the Cubs in September 1944, one in Philadelphia, one in Boston. He was, for a time, the only Cub for whom Kasey Ignarski, Matt Silverman and I didn’t have a uniform number for our book “Cubs By The Numbers.” That mystery was definitively solved here last October.

You know, it’s a funny thing. Because of these two and other previous postponements, the Cubs’ 1944 schedule was piled up with doubleheaders over the season’s final eight days — four of them, September 24, 25, 26 and October 1. Charlie Gassaway started two games over that eight-day, 11-game span.

If not for the transit strike it’s entirely possible Gassaway never pitches for the Cubs at all. If those two games had been played as scheduled in Philadelphia in August the Cubs would have played “only” nine games in eight days in late September/early October and might not have needed him.

An unusual reason for a baseball game postponement might have produced a great Cubs mystery, now solved. And it was all set in motion by historic events that happened 76 years ago today.