This article was written by Norm King
In the long, often inglorious history of the Chicago Cubs, they have frustrated their fans by not only going 108 years between World Series championships, but by participating in bizarre, high-scoring games that often ended with the North Siders on the losing end.
Take Game Four of the 1929 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park. Chicago led 8-0 going into the bottom of the seventh, and with their ace Charlie Root on the mound, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, apparently, as Philadelphia scored 10 runs in the inning, making fans watching the game’s progress on a giant board think the machine had gone berserk.1 A Cubs win would have tied the Series at 2-2. Instead they fell behind three games to one and lost it all two days later.
The Cubs played another doozie on May 17, 1979, when they lost 23-22 to the Philadelphia Phillies at a windswept Wrigley Field. After the Phillies scored seven runs in the top of the first, Chicago tallied six in the bottom of the inning to let fans know not to go anywhere. Big inning followed big inning, with Chicago scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 22. Of course this being the Cubs, they allowed a run in the 10th and that was it.
If the players who lost these games needed any solace, they could harken back to the Cubs’ contest against the Cincinnati Reds at Redlands Field on April 26, 1915, a game in which Chicago overcame a nine-run deficit only to see the Reds tie it up in the seventh and score the winner in the eighth for a 13-12 victory.
It was still early in the season, but both teams were headed toward lackluster campaigns. After 12 seasons in which they played .500 or better from 1903-14 — including World Series wins in 1907 and ’08 — Chicago would have its second consecutive losing season in 1915, going 73-80.
The Reds were still four years away from their first World Series appearance, in the 1919 World Series against the infamous Chicago Black Sox. Their 1915 starting lineup included only two players who started with the team in 1919, Ivey Wingo — who didn’t play on April 26 — and Heinie Groh, and they finished the season in seventh place with a 71-83 mark.
The only thing the two starting pitchers had in common was that they were both in the final seasons of very short major-league careers. The Cubs’ Karl Adams was making his first career start and it was against his former team. He appeared in four games with Cincinnati in 1914, all in relief, and went 0-0 with a 9.00 ERA. Reds starter Curly Brown was back in the majors after going 21-7 with the Birmingham Barons of the Class A Southern Association in 1914. He had cups of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1911-13, going 3-6 with a 4.07 ERA.
With a sparse crowd of 8,000 on hand, Brown retired the Cubs in order in the top of the first, after which the Reds went to work on Adams. Leadoff hitter Tommy Leach walked and went to second on a single by player-manager Buck Herzog. Adams then made a move that may have cost him more than any of his pitches. When Red Killefer bunted in an effort to move the runners, Adams tried unsuccessfully to nail Leach at third rather than go for the sure out at first. This left the bases loaded with nobody out, allowing the floodgates to open. The first run scored on a sacrifice fly by Tommy Griffith; the next six came on four base hits and another walk. Cincinnati sent 11 men to the plate, and after one inning Adams was done for the day.
“By diverse and sundry methods the Cubs handed the Reds seven runs in the opening round,” wrote L.E. Sanborn.2
Cy Williams hit the game’s only home run in the top of the second, but the Reds responded with three more runs in the bottom of the inning off reliever Ed Schorr. Ivy Olson delivered the big hit in the inning, a two-run triple. After two innings, the Reds had a 10-1 lead. That’s when Herzog made a big mistake.
“(The Reds) did not deem it possible for the Cubs or any other team to overcome that large and startling advantage of nine large and ornate tallies,” wrote Jack Ryder. “They forgot about the uncertainty of the national pastime and wandered around congratulating each other on their wonderful hitting ability and ridiculing the alleged puny efforts of Roger [Cubs manager Bresnahan] and his men.”3
Herzog provoked the Cubs, which is never a good idea, by making substitutions as if the game were already in hand. He removed Leach from the lineup in the third and took himself out after his wild throw allowed a run in the fourth. Chicago scored two more in the fifth, and Cincinnati got one back in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 11-4. Chicago then scored eight runs in a wild sixth inning that included five hits, one walk, two hit batsmen, and an error for a 12-11 lead. The big blow was a two-run triple by Vic Saier, his second extra-base hit — the first was a double — of the inning.
“[Heinie] Zimmerman opened the simoon in the sixth with a single, and before the Bresnahans could be subdued two Red hurlers had been blown into the Ohio River and eight runs counted, putting the visitors in the lead,” wrote Sanborn.4 (Use of the verb “blown” was apt. A simoon is a strong, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts.)
With the Cubs ahead, Bresnahan called on his best pitcher, Hippo Vaughan, to hold the lead. The season was less than two weeks old — the Cubs played their first game on April 14 — yet Vaughan was already making his sixth appearance, and that included three starts. Two of those starts were complete games, one of which went 10 innings. Still, he went through the sixth unscathed.
“The huge left-hander got by nicely for a round, but he has worked very hard lately and is not quite right,” wrote Ryder.5
The fatigue showed in the seventh when Vaughan walked Tommy Clarke and Gene Dale. Clarke moved to third when George Twombley hit into a fielder’s choice that forced Dale at second, then scored on a single by Fritz Von Kolnitz. Cincinnati got the winning run in the eighth when Groh singled and Olson hit his second triple of the game. Olson tried to add some insurance by trying to steal home but was out at the plate. Rube Benton came on in the ninth and retired the Cubs in order to secure the game for Dale.
This wild matchup, which lasted 2 hours 32 minutes and saw each team use 15 players, ultimately did little to improve either team’s prospects for the season. Two of the Cubs’ pitchers in the game, however, later pitched in games that gave them great stories they could tell their grandchildren.
Adams had what could charitably be described as a poor major-league career. He had a 1-9 career mark, but that one victory was memorable. On August 1, 1915, he gave up one run, none earned, in a complete-game 10-inning 2-1 triumph over future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander and the pennant-winning Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was a noteworthy victory for the young Cub pitcher and there were about 9,000 fans watching him, so today Adams is some kind of hero,” wrote James Crusinberry.6
Vaughan’s claim to fame game came just over two years later, on May 2, 1917, also against the Reds. It was a historic matchup, as he and the Reds’ Fred Toney each pitched nine no-hit innings. Vaughan couldn’t keep it going, losing both the no-hitter and the game, in the 10th. (The final score was 1-0.)
After all, he pitched for the Cubs.
This article was published in “Cincinnati’s Crosley Field: A Gem in the Queen City” (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the Notes listed below, the author also used the following:
Tripp, Steven Elliot. Ty Cobb, Baseball and American Manhood (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
1 In the days before television, fans would gather in front of newspaper buildings to “watch” games on giant electric boards that used lights to indicate where hits landed and the runners’ positions on the bases.
2 L.E. Sanborn, “Rally by Cubs Yields Eight Runs, but Reds Win,” Chicago Tribune, April 27, 1915: 13.
3 Jack Ryder, “Cubs Overcome Big Lead,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 27, 1915: 6.
6 James Crusinberry, “Cubs’ Recruit Defeats Star of Phil Staff,” Chicago Daily News, August 2, 1915: 15.