Cubs' notable season finales, Part 1

Mention "Opening Day" and Cubs fans will regale you with memories of dramatic starts to seasons past.

Willie Smith's pinch-hit, 2-run walk-off homer in 11th inning in 1969!

Bill Bonham's 4-hit, 9-strikeout shutout in 1974!

Tuffy Rhodes' 3 home runs in 1994!

Mark Grace's walk-off hit against the Padres in 1996!

Kyle Hendricks' 3-hit, no-walk, 9-strikeout shutout in 2020!


Few fans wax nostalgic about "Closing Day," when the Cubs played the final game of any regular season. Yet there have been some notable farewell games during the Cubs' previous 147 seasons in the National League.


The Cubs have won a championship in their final game only once: their 4-2 triumph at New York on Oct. 8, 1908.

That was the replay of the "Merkle's Boner" game on Sept. 23, in which Merkle failed to touch second base on an apparent game-winning hit in the ninth inning.

The game had to return to the Polo Grounds and make up the game when the Cubs and Giants had identical records of 98-55 after playing all their other games.


But there have been plenty of other last-day games of interest. Following is a look at some of them, in chronological order.



Oct. 13, 1888 at Philadelphia

The White Stockings, as the Cubs then were known, refused to play their final game of the season.

"There was a disgusted crowd, numbering about 1,000 persons, at the Philadelphia ball grounds this afternoon when it was announced that the Chicago club had not put in an appearance, and that consequently there could be no game," said a special dispatch in the next day's Chicago Tribune.

"The light shower that passed over the city early in the afternoon seemed to have no effect on the grounds, which were in good condition at 3:30 o'clock, the usual hour for starting the game. There was also bright sunshine at that hour, which made it hard to understand why Capt. Anson and his men had not put in an appearance.

"Manager [Harry] Wright telegraphed downtown and found that the Chicago team had not left their hotel, whereupon he sent the 'Phillies' to the field and [Charlie] Buffinton sent nine balls over the plate to [catcher Jack] Clements, with [Jim] Fogarty standing at the bat.

"When this formality had been observed Umpires Daniels and Powers declared the game forfeited to Philadelphia by a score of 9 to 0.

"This is the first game that the Philadelphia club has ever won in this way, and Manager Wright says he hopes it will be the last.

"The gates were not opened until a few minutes before 3:30 o'clock, and it was then known that the Chicago club was not likely to put in an appearance no money was taken.

"The spectators asked that an exhibition game be played, and one man suggested that the Scorers' Association team take the field against the Phillies. But Manager Wright laughingly said that he did not care to play the Scorers, since it would look bad to end the season with a defeat."


Philadelphia baseball fans "have been disappointed several times the last week, owing to the bad weather, and that made today's disappointment all the more stinging," the paper continued. "Anson's only excuse is that he went to the grounds on Friday [the previous day] and Manager Wright would not play, and he did not propose to be fooled a second time.

"Friday it was a dark, rainy day while today at 3:30 it was bright as a May morning. However, the game counts just the same, and it clinched the 'Phillies'' hold on third place."

The forfeit made Philadelphia 69-61, enough for a 1-game lead over fourth-place Boston (70-64). The White Stockings (77-58) came in second, 9 games behind champion New York (84-47).



Oct. 15, 1892 at Kansas City

The Cubs' 1-0 victory came not against a local team, but against the Browns, now the Cardinals.

"This game was scheduled for St. Louis, but President Spears of this city and a local banker offered $1,000 for a transfer of the game to this city," the Tribune explained.

"The weather was damp and raw, and about 1,500 saw the contest.

"It was a stupid affair, and the spectators sat through it as grim as professional mourners at a funeral. The best work from a critical standpoint was done by the Browns.

"[Pink] Hawley did some splendid pitching and puzzled Anson's men right along. He kept the Chicagoans down to two hits, but the team work was not good enough to help him win out. In the Chicago box the work was also quite effective.

"Here is the way the single run was made: It was in the first inning and [left fielder Gene] Moriarty dropped a fly from [Bill] Dahlen, and the shortstop got around to second on the blunder. [First baseman Bob] Caruthers took the matter up then and allowed a thrown ball to sail over his head. At no part of any inning were the St. Louis men in sight of a run."

The Colts finished the season 70-76, seventh among the league's 12 teams. The Browns (56-94) wound up 11th.



Sept. 20, 1896 at St. Louis

"Each side had but one run up to the ninth inning," the Tribune said, "when the Colts got one more in the first half by good ball playing, and had the game apparently won by a score of 2 to 1.

"But it was not to be. The first man in the last half was an easy out on a foul to Donohue. Cross got a speedy drive, which went through McCormick's legs at third. Then Catcher McFarland came to the bat.

"There were two strikes on him when he landed one of Griffith's curves and drove it high into right field. Ryan backed up against the low fire fence, but could not quite reach the ball, which dropped behind him and bounded into the lake. It was a home run and won the game.

"The crowd went wild and a few hundred fans jumped from the bleachers into the field and carried McFarland in triumph to his dressing room. . . .

"McFarland's hit which won the game would have been an easy fly catch on any other ball ground in the league. The right field fence has been moved in several rods since last season and home runs in that direction are comparatively easy."



Oct. 15, 1899 at Chicago

In Game 1, the Colts made up a game against the Perfectos, now the Cardinals, that was rained out on the Fourth of July.

In Game 2, they made up a game rained out at Louisville way back on April 18.

The games also were the last for fan favorite Bill Lange, who had announced his retirement after 7 seasons with the team, during which he had batted .330 with an OPS of .858 and an OPS+ of 123.


"Seven thousand people went to the ball park to bid farewell to Bill Lange yesterday," the Tribune reported, "and whooped through two lively games, cheering the big fellow incessantly.

"It was Lange's last game of ball in the National league, and as a final feat he made a wonderful catch. The catch came in the first game," a 7-0 victory.

"Burkett drove a terrific line fly out between Ryan and Lange. The giant fielder heaved himself across the turf, stretched, and, with a last effort, stuck his hands in front of the ball.

"The sphere, checked its course towards the fence, bounded into the air, and Lange, staggering forward, grabbed it before it fell, and completed another of his copyrighted catches."


"After winning the first game in gallant style it seemed that Burns' men would take a brace and would land in seventh place again and in the lead of second division teams. The hope of even that forlorn position was dispelled almost even before the Colonels started to play."

Louisville scored 3 runs in the first inning; led, 8-2, after the third; and were ahead, 9-5, when darkness halted play after the eighth.



Sept. 28, 1919 at Cincinnati

Grover Cleveland Alexander finished the season with a flourish, allowing only 6 hits in a 2-0 victory over the champion Reds to wrap up his fourth ERA title in as many full seasons, with a mark of 1.72.

Alexander had appeared in only 3 games a year earlier while serving in the Army during World War I. He would win at fifth straight ERA crown in 1920.


The Tribune's reporter had this to say about the turnout for the Sunday afternoon, regular-season finale:

"Without anything depending on the result of the game, there were 15,000 Red fans out to see the combat. Just why 15,000 should care to look at a game where nothing is at stake is one of the things that is hard to understand by a fellow from Chicago. But a fellow from Chicago cannot understand a lot of things that are going on here.

"For instance, several thousand bugs from the country arrived in Cincinnati this morning, although the first game of the series isn't to be played until Wednesday.

"One could spot the early birds by visiting any breakfast room and seeing the early arrivals there. Their suitcases or telescopes were on the floor beside them, indicating they had no rooms. It looks like the parks will be full in a couple of days."


He also wrote this:

"The game started five minutes late to accommodate the fans who spent the extra time in church praying for the Reds."



Oct. 1, 1922 at Chicago

"With something more than a mere victory at stake, the Cardinals bowled over the Cubs yesterday in the final show of the season, thereby climbing into a tie with Pittsburgh for third place, which carries a slice of world series coin," the Tribune said.

"The figures were 7 to 1, and, incidentally, the famed Rogers Hornsby unloaded three hits to finish above the .400 mark for the first time it has been accomplished in the National league sine 1899, when Ed Delahanty performed the feat.

"The game itself wasn't much to look at. About 12,000 folks came out to watch the season slip into history, all they saw a lot of loose baseball in which both teams were involved. Hitting also was plentiful, the Cubs equaling the enemy in number but not in distance and timeliness."



Oct. 4, 1925 at Chicago

A last-day defeat left the Cubs at the bottom of the standings for the first time in their 50-season history.

"[Manager George] Gibson's Cubs are in last place, and they'll stay there because the season is over. They clinched the bobby prize in the National league race yesterday when, in a chilly finale, witnessed by less than 5,000 customers, the St. Louis Cardinals whipped them by 7 to 5.

"A win for the Bruins would have given them a permanent lease on the sixth place apartment, and they were just about ready to move in when Tony Kaufmann fizzled as a rescuer and Gabby Hartnett muffed a perfect throw at the plate.

"The muff presented the St. Louis crew with the two tallies by which the affair was decided. In return the crowd presented Gabby with a whole raspberry patch."

The loss made the Cubs 68-86, half a game behind the Dodgers and Phillies.



Sept. 27, 1926 at Brooklyn

"Being secure in fourth place with no chance to move up or down the Cubs naturally were interested only in making the ceremonies brief and they hurried things along best as they could by meekly taking it on the chin in both ends of a double header by scores of 3 to 1 and 6 to 2, the latter being cut short by darkness.

"The chief attraction of the chilly affair that was witnessed by about 10,000 yokels was Dazzy Vance, the speed baller. Against a foe who apparently cared not, he rolled up a staggering list of fifteen strikeouts in the first game."

Vance came within 1 strikeout of tying the record for a 9-inning game. Four pitchers had struck out 16, the last of them in 1909. Dizzy Dean would be the first to fan 17, against the Cubs in 1933.



Oct. 6, 1929 at Chicago

"Hank Grampp warmed up in Cub batting practice for three years awaiting his big chance. It came yesterday when he was permitted to face the Pirates in the game that pulled down the shade on the Chicago portion of the National league race.

"Almost before Hank had time to appreciate his maiden start in the majors he was out of there, a six run attack in the second being the cause.

"After that session the show was just a matter of innings and the eventual score was 8 to 3, much to the discomfiture of 27,000 spectators who hoped to see the Cubs show some world series class."


Grampp, a 25-year-old right hander, had pitched twice in 1927, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits in 2 innings, then no runs and no hits in 1 inning.

After blanking the Pirates in the first, Grampp gave up single to start the second, then an RBI double. He got an out, then walked 3 in a row, forcing in a run.

A sacrifice fly made the score 3-0, Lloyd Waner's single made it 4-0 and brother Paul Waner's triple made it 6-0, ending Grampp's day.

He never pitched in the big leagues again. He was 8-3 with a 6.10 ERA for the Cubs' Class AA farm team in Reading, Pa., in 1930, then appeared briefly with 3 minor league clubs the following year.



Sept. 28, 1930 at Chicago

"A better swan song could not have been devised than the 13 to 11 acrobatic affair which the Cubs won from the Reds yesterday for the edification of some 22,000 fans who showed up at Wrigley field," said the Tribune.

"The contest gave the wolves a chance to howl, for the Reds made nine runs on nine hits in the second inning. And it gave the loyalist set a chance to cheer lustily, for after spotting the Reds to the nine run handicap, the Cubs held the Reds until the score was 9 to 8.

"Then the Reds pulled away, 11 to 8, with two runs in the eighth, only to have the somewhat faded north side heroes come back with five runs and victory in the latter half of the eighth.

"If you are not a psychoanalyst you probably cannot figure why 22,000 fans attended a game on which nothing whatever depended. Maybe, though, it was to see if Hack Wilson could make four homers to tie Babe Ruth's all-time record.

"Hack made nary a homer, but he did lift his major league record for runs batted in to an even 190, 15 ahead of the former record."

In 1999, Wilson's total was revised to 191.



Sept. 30, 1934 at Chicago

"An old campaigner and brilliant young rookie wrung a measure of enthusiasm from 10,000 chilled baseball fans who watched the Cubs finish their season's work with two victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley field yesterday. The scores were 8 to 2 and 7 to 5.

"Lon Warneke first warmed the feelings of the faithful by a workmanlike pitching performance in the first game, during which he held the Pirates to nine hits. . . .

"The young rookie who helped to complete the success of the day was Phil Cavarretta, the 18 year old lad from Lane Tech High school, who broke into big time baseball within the last couple of weeks.

"It was Phil who sent the ball to the left field wall for a triple in the seventh inning of the second game, driving in Klein with the run which tied the score at 5 to 5.

"A minute later he feinted as if to steal home as Struss was winding up. This move apparently confused the Pirate pitcher to such an extent that he made a wild pitch, Cavarretta coming home with the winning run."



Sept. 30, 1945 at Pittsburgh

The Cubs had clinched the pennant the day before with a victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader.

As a result, "Most of the players were content to spend the chilly day as a sort of pre-world series workout, excepting Capt. Phil Cavarretta, who had a chance to be nosed out of the individual batting championship.

"Cavarretta made a double and a single in four times at bat to complete his 1945 percentage at .354. Tommy Holmes of the Braves, his long time rival for the batting crown, made four hits in six at bats tho his team was shut out in the first game of a double header.

"When Cavarretta left Forbes field he didn't know whether or not he was champ, but he was aware that Holmes would have to make three hits in four times at bat to pass our Philip.

"But Holmes was unequal to the occasion and went hitless in two times at bat during the abbreviated second game.

"Cavarretta is the first Cub to win the National league batting championship since 1912."


TOMORROW: Notable Closing Days in 1946-72

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