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Cubs historical sleuthing: Dizzy Dean edition

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This one doesn’t appear to have many clues... but it was actually pretty easy.

Bettmann / Contributor

Here’s the information from Getty Images supplied with this photo (again, fixed a typo):

Jerome “Dizzy” Dean, Chicago Cubs pitcher, is eligible to play in the World Series in the event the Cubs win the National League Pennant.

Dean’s first year with the Cubs was 1938. They acquired him just before the season began in a trade that sent Curt Davis, Clyde Shoun, Tuck Stainback and a then unheard-of sum, $185,000, to St. Louis. Remember that this is the Depression, and this inflation calculator says that’s equivalent to about $3.6 million today.

Dean missed quite a bit of time that year with injuries, but did post a 7-1 W/L record in 13 appearances (10 starts) with a 1.81 ERA and 0.951 WHIP. It was a far cry from his heyday with the Cardinals, but it was still good for 2.5 bWAR (not that anyone knew what bWAR was in 1938 and Dean was a key part of the Cubs’ pennant push.

Dean pitched in three more years for the Cubs, 1939-41, but they were not pennant contenders in any of them, and the caption notes “in the event the Cubs win the National League Pennant.” So this photo has got to be from 1938.

What do we see here? Dean is leaving the game and there are two Cubs on the mound. One of them is third baseman Stan Hack (No. 6) and the other is... At first, the number looks like a single-digit number, and manager Gabby Hartnett wore No. 2. But Hartnett was a player-manager that year, replacing Charlie Grimm on July 20. After that date, there are only two possible games in which Dean was removed from the game in the middle of an inning: August 20 against the Pirates, in which Hartnett did not play, and September 27, also against Pittsburgh, in which Hartnett did catch the entire game.

Attendance August 20 was 20,787, and what we see here is obviously a much larger crowd. The September 27 game, in the middle of a tight late-season pennant race, drew 42,238 (on a Tuesday afternoon, no less!), so I’m pretty sure this is that game.

But it can’t be Hartnett next to Hack, because he would have been wearing his catching gear that day.

A closer look at the number tells us that it’s not a single-digit number. It’s No. 11 — worn that year by Bill Lee, who came in to relieve Dean on that September afternoon. So that’s what we’re looking at here, Dizzy Dean leaving the game Tuesday, September 27, 1938 with two out in the ninth and two runners on base.

Dean had thrown one of his best games as a Cub that afternoon. Through eight innings he had allowed five hits, but no runs, with no walks or strikeouts. The Cubs led 2-0. Dean got in trouble in the ninth. He hit the first batter of the inning, then got a pair of outs on an infield popup and a 1-6 force play at second. But the next hitter doubled, putting runners on second and third, and so Hartnett called on Lee, whose second pitch to Al Todd was a wild pitch, scoring a run and putting the tying run on third.

Lee then struck out Todd to end the game in a 2-1 Cubs win. The K was the only one of the game by either team. (Check out the time of the game, too.)

This was a very important game in the Cubs’ 1938 pennant chase. After being swept in a doubleheader in Cincinnati September 3, the Cubs were in third place, seven games out, with 28 games remaining. They then won six in a row, lost one, won one, lost one, won three straight, lost another, played a tie in Brooklyn (it was not made up), and then won seven more in a row coming into this game. This win on September 27 put the Cubs half a game behind the Pirates, and the next day, September 28, was the famous Gabby Hartnett “Homer in the Gloamin’” walkoff win that put the Cubs in first place to stay, their ninth win in a row and 19th win in their last 22 decisions. They hadn’t been in first place since June, and still had to win a game in St. Louis on the season’s final weekend to clinch the pennant.

The Cubs wouldn’t seriously contend for a pennant again until 1945.