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Cub who hit home run, has 0 RBI

On Oct. 1, Trayce Thompson became the 2,150th player to hit a home run for the Cubs in a regular-season game during their 146 years in the National League.

Only 295 players have hit as many as 10.

202 have hit exactly 1, including 4 in 2021: Alfonso Rivas, Andrew and Austin Romine, and Eric Sogard.

But one player among those 202 did the impossible, according to the data at baseball-reference.com: he hit a homer, but has zero runs batted in!

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RBI became an official statistic in 1920 and the website's Team Batting Game Finder includes the disclaimer, "There are hundreds of games prior to 1920 missing RBIs from one or both teams."

But the Cub with 1 home run and 0 RBI hit his homer in 1920, not before it.

And while his Overview page shows no RBI, his Game Log accurately credits him with 1.

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SMALL AND PRECOCIOUS

Harold Langford "Hal" Leathers was born Dec. 2, 1898, in Selma, Calif., a town fewer than 20 miles southeast of Fresno, in the state's central San Joaquin Valley.

Just 5-foot-8 and 152 pounds, he played shortstop and second base, batting left and throwing right.

He was only 18 years old when he made his professional debut with Seattle of the Class B Pacific Coast International League in 1918. After 63 games, he moved up to Class AA Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League.

The following year, at 19, Leathers played about as far as possible across the country, for Norfolk of the Class C Virginia League. He returned to the team in 1920, when the league was upgraded to Class B.

In 110 games, he batted .237 and slugged .266. His on-base percentage is unknown. Despite those numbers, in September, he joined the Cubs.

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CUBS' SEASON

After winning the pennant in 1918, a season shortened due to World War II, the Cubs had slipped to third place in 1919.

On May 31, 1920, they won Game 1 of a Memorial Day doubleheader against the visiting Reds, 3-2, on a 2-out, 10th-inning walk-off home run by pitching star Grover Cleveland Alexander.

The victory improved the Cubs' record to 24-15, putting them in first place by half a game.

They lost the second game, then 9 more in a row and fell to fourth place. They won their next 6, only to lose the following 5.

They held second on July 1, although their record was just 35-31. Five losses, 4 wins and 4 losses later, they were fifth, at 39-40.

They no sooner ended the 4-game losing streak than they embarked on 5-game skid, in which all but 1 loss was by a lone run. The final 3 were in 10 and 11 innings, then by 1-0.

That tailspin left the Cubs in sixth. They reached fourth while winning 3 in a row, July 24-27. A loss the next day dropped them to fifth, at 47-48, and there they remained after each and every one of their remaining 60 games.

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APPENDECTOMY

Charlie Hollocher had been the Cubs' everyday shortstop since 1918, when, as a 22-year-old rookie, he had batted .316/.379/.397. His 161 hits had been the most in the league and he had led the team's position players in WAR, at 5.0, and in OPS+, at 134.

His slash line dipped in 1919 to .270/.347/.694. His WAR was 4.3; his OPS+, 109.

But in 1920 he was hitting better than ever -- .319/.406/.389 -- when he underwent an emergency operation to remove his appendix. The surgery ended his season in late July, after 80 games.

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During the off-season, the Cubs had purchased shortstop Zeb Terry, 28, from the Pirates. Terry missed the first 17 games of the season, then was installed him as their second baseman. When Hollocher was lost for the year, Terry shifted to short and several players were used at second.

From May 5 through Sept. 14, he played in 122 consecutive games. He expected to make it 123 games when the Cubs concluded a series at Brooklyn on Sept. 15, but he was injured during infield drills and could not play. Manager Fred Mitchell put Leathers at short in his place.

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'SHUFFLED OFF'

Leathers had made his big debut 2 days earlier, playing the eighth inning at second base in a 7-2 loss to the Robins. He had not come to bat.

His first start did not go as he might have hoped. The Cubs lost, 1-0, and the Chicago Tribune was quick to point the finger at the rookie in its account of the contest:

"Young Mr. Leathers, lately of the Virginia league, and old Hank O'Day, long in the National league, shuffled off a perfectly good game of baseball for the Cubs today. . . .

"Leathers horned into the pastime when Zeb Terry slipped and a thrown ball dented his elbow while practicing on a diamond that had been sprinkled too heavily.

"In the sixth frame when the count was nothing for everybody Leathers heaved low to first on [Jimmy] Johnston, who would have been the second out.

"[Tommy] Griffith fouled to [catcher Bob] O'Farrell and [Zack] What followed with a double to left. [Dave] Robertson was all set for the ball when it took a high hop and went over his shoulder. This let Johnston scored the game's only run."

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ERRANT OUT CALL

The Cubs might have tied the game in the seventh, when O'Farrell tried to reach second on a dropped popup. O'Farrell was tagged just before reaching the base, but the ball popped loose. O'Day called O'Farrell out all the same.

"Most of the Cubs set up a loud howl," the Tribune said, "but O'Day turned his deaf ear their way. Appeal was made to Earnest Quigley, the umpire in chief, but O'Day did not ask for any help in the matter, and if Quigley detected the error he said nothing."

Naturally, the next batter singled; had he done so with O'Farrell on second, he likely would have scored.

That was among 8 hits by the Cubs off Sherry Smith, all of them singles. One was by Leathers.

Cubs pitcher Speed Martin allowed only 5 hits and walked 1. He worked around 5 errors -- 3 of them by Leathers.

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Surprisingly, the Tribune did not make note of his misplays. Its notes column, on the other hand, proclaimed, "Young Leathers made a neat play on [Ray] Schmandt in the fifth, when he scooped up a slow roller off the grass and threw accurately to [first baseman Fred] Merkle."

The same column said, "The injury to Zeb is not serious, and he will be back in the lineup in a few days."

In fact, Terry returned to action the next day, at Philadelphia.

With 1 out in the ninth, the Cubs tied the score at 1 on a single that left the bases loaded. Leathers was sent up to pinch hit but made an out. Moments later, Max Flack doubled home the runs that stood up for a 3-1 victory.

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'REASONABLY WELL'

Leathers' next appearance came 3 days later, on Sept. 20, in Game 2 of a Monday doubleheader at Boston. The Cubs had won the first game, with Alexander earning his 25th victory the season, then fell behind, 4-0, in the first inning of the rematch.

The score was the same when Terry opened the fourth with a single. He raced to third on a single, then headed home on a fly to left. The throw beat him to the plate, but the catcher fumbled the ball as Terry slid in safely.

In doing so, he turned his ankle, ending his day.

"Leathers finished the game at short," the Tribune said, "and performed reasonably well."

He made an error in the seventh, but moments later tagged out the runner as he tried to steal second.

At bat, he flied out and hit a ball back to pitcher that turned into a forceout. He reached second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout, but was stranded there when the next batter made the third out. The final score was 9-1.

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Terry was still hobbled when the teams met again the next day, Tuesday, Sept. 21. Leathers started at short, batting second.

It would be an eventful afternoon.

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WHOOPS THEN WOW

In the top of the first, he fouled out to the shortstop.

In the bottom, Cubs pitcher Virgil Cheeves walked the leadoff batter, Ray Powell. The next man popped up an attempted bunt. Cheeves fielded it and threw the batter out at first, while Powell was trapped between bases. He headed for second, where the throw from the first baseman beat him cleanly, but Leathers dropped the throw. The reprieved Powell then stole second and came home on a single.

Leathers redeemed himself, in part, by spearing a line drive and rifling the ball to first for an inning-ending double play.

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With 1 out in the second, the Cubs coaxed a pair of walks from Braves pitcher Joe Oeschger, a Chicago native who had earned lasting fame on May 1 by dueling Leon Cadore of Brooklyn through 26 innings of a 1-1 tie at the same park.

After a groundout advanced the runners to second and third, Oeschger walked a batter intentionally, loading the bases for Cheeves. He tapped into a forceout at third.

In the third, Leathers grounded to short. Robertson reached second when Oeschger threw away his bouncer to the mound, but another groundout kept the Cubs scoreless.

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FAILURE TO EXECUTE

The Braves doubled their lead in the fourth. A 1-out walk to Tony Boeckel and a single put runners on first and second. Leathers fielded a ground ball and got the force at second but the Cubs could not complete the double play. Boeckel then stole home.

In the fifth, the Cubs sent 3 batters to the plate. Each grounded out, 4-3. Leathers was the last of the 3.

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The Cubs finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth. Robertson led off with a triple. He stayed at third on an infield hit, then came home on a sacrifice fly.

The first 2 Braves were retired in their sixth. Rabbit Maranville followed with a hit to right, only to be gunned down trying to make it a double, with Leathers applying the tag.

The Cubs went down in order in the top of the seventh, with a pinch hitter for Cheeves making the second out.

Martin came in from the bullpen and began the bottom half by walking a batter. A bunt, a lineout and a fly kept the score 2-1.

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LONG-DISTANCE ROLLER

That set the stage for Leathers' big moment, an inside-the-park home run leading off the eighth. The Tribune described the ball he hit as hit as "a sharp liner between right and center fields that escaped and rolled a long distance in the extensive Braves Field."

His home run tied the score. Robertson then singled, and after 2 outs, O'Farrell singled, too. Robertson beat the outfielder's throw to third, with O'Farrell taking second. But another fly ended the inning.

Martin got the first out in the Braves' eighth before yielding a single. Then the Cubs simply unraveled.

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Martin fielded a bunt and threw to second, where William Marriott dropped the ball, then kicked it, allowing the runner to take third.

Boeckel lofted a fly to right that was dropped by Max Flack, as the runner from third scored, putting the Braves on top, 3-2.

Maranville smacked a grounder to Marriott, who booted it, loading the bases.

Another fly to right followed. Flack caught this one, but his throw home was too late to prevent another run.

The comedy of errors ended when Martin grabbed a grounder and threw successfully to first.

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NO HEROICS

Marriott grounded out to open the Cubs' ninth. Lefty Tyler, a pinch hitter, batted for Martin and doubled, bringing the tying run to the plate, with 2 outs to go.

But Flack flied to right and Leathers popped to short, sealing the defeat. The Cubs left 9 on base and were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

Leathers finished the day 1 for 5 -- and with 1 RBI, according to the official box score. He made 3 putouts, 3 assists and the 1 harmless error.

The Tribune's notes column said, "Zeb Terry is ready to play again, but Manager Mitchell wishes to try out Leathers."

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So when the Cubs opened a series the next day at New York, Leathers remained at short and in the second spot in the batting order.

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'FUNNIEST STUNT'

Flack began the game with a double, Leathers bunted him to third and Robertson singled him home.

In the third, with the Cubs trailing, 4-2, Leathers hit a 2-out single.

In the sixth, the Tribune reported, Giants catcher Frank Snyder "pulled the funniest stunt of the season. Leathers' grounder hugged the foul line and Snyder knelt and snapped his fingers after the fashion of a crap shooter until the ball rolled out [i.e., foul]. It gave the crowd a big laugh."

Leathers wound up striking out. He popped up to the first baseman in the eighth and the Cubs eventually lost, 7-2.

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The Cubs headed for Cincinnati, where they had a schedule day off, then were rained out. On Sept. 25, they played a doubleheader against the Reds.

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GAME TO REMEMBER

Terry was back in action in the opener, a 2-0 victory in which Leathers did not play. Then he started Game 2 and helped the Cubs to a 7-1 win, as he enjoyed the best game of his short career:

A single in the first

A double leading off the second, after when he took third on a grounder, then scored the game's first run on a single

A popup to the pitcher in the sixth

Safe on an error leading off the eighth, advancing on a bunt and scoring on a triple that began a 4-run outburst

A single and a stolen base in the ninth

His 3 hits, in 5 at bats, were matched only by Turner Barber. In the field, he had 1 putout, 4 assists and an error.

Leathers was now batting .300/.300/.500, with 6 hits in 20 at bats.

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HOME AT LAST

But he was not in the lineup the next day, Sunday, Sept. 26, when he finally got to see Cubs Park for the first time, 2 weeks after playing his first game for the team.

The Cubs lost to the Cardinals, 6-3. On Monday, St. Louis scored in every inning from the second through ninth as it amassed 25 hits in a 16-1 debacle.

"The Cubs didn't win yesterday, which is one story," Irving Vaughan wrote in the Tribune. "None of them was killed, which is another yarn. . . .

"The only thing to be said in the Cubs' favor is that after two hours of toil they managed to register twenty-seven putouts and end the orgy. Their fielding efforts were nothing less than ridiculous. Their pitch was in about the same class, and at bat they were as helpless as babes . . . "

With the score 6-0 midway through the fifth, Terry was given the rest of the day off, with Leathers taking over at short.

He grounded out twice, then slapped a 1-out single in the ninth.

That meaningless single, his seventh in 23 at bats, proved to be Leathers' last.

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LONG TIME TO SIT

The Cubs closed out the season the next weekend with 2 more games against the Cardinals and 1 against the Pirates.

Leathers did not take part in Friday's game, a marathon that the Cubs won, 3-2, on a bases-loaded single with 1 out in the 17th inning. Alexander pitched the entire game, allowing 16 hits, walking 3 and hitting 1.

On Saturday, he pinch hit in the eighth inning, with the Cubs behind, 4-1, a runner on third and nobody out. He drew a walk, only to be forced out moments later as part of a double play.

He stayed in the game, playing second base, where he threw out 2 runners to end the eighth and another with 1 out in the ninth.

The next batter struck out, the Cubs were retired in order in the bottom of the inning.

Leathers remained in the dugout through the team's season-ending 4-3 loss to the Pirates. And with that loss, his big league career came to an end.

He was still 2 months away from his 22nd birthday.

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LIFE AFTER CUBS

At some point after the season, the Cubs parted ways with Leathers. There is no transaction shown for him at baseball-reference.com. The Tribune has dozens of stories from October on that include "leathers," but all are about clothing.

His final numbers as a Cub: 9 games, 25 plate appearances and 23 at bats, including 7 hits: 5 singles, a double and a home run.

His slash line was .304/.333/.478, for an OPS of .812 and an OPS+ of 130. His WAR? 0.0.

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Leathers returned to the minors, where he played for 5 teams in 5 leagues over the next 5 seasons: Kansas City, Mobile (Ala.), Pittsfield (Mass.), Charleston/Macon (Ga.) and, finally, in 1924, for Wilson, back in the Virginia League, where he had played before joining the Cubs.

He sat out a year, then played 130 games, the most in any of his 8 seasons, for Bloomington (Ill.), in 1926.

He batted .254 that year. He slugged .339, thanks to 4 home runs. His RBI total for the season is not recorded.

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Hal Leathers lived until April 12, 1977, dying at age 78 in Modesto, Calif., about 90 miles east of San Francisco and 110 northwest of his birthplace in Selma.

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