Hank Sauer’s major-league career didn’t flourish until he was 31 years old in 1948, but then he proceeded to become one of the most prodigious home-run hitters (225) in the National League through 1954, second only to Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (277). On August 28, 1950, the Chicago Cubs outfielder highlighted his propensity as a power hitter by slamming three home runs against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sauer had suffered a hitting drought from July 19 through August 18, a period in which he failed to hit a home run and managed to get only six RBIs while batting just.189.1 Then he went on a home-run binge, hitting two on both August 24 and 25, and then three days later putting on his home-run fireworks show.
A doubleheader on August 28 was required because the second game of the Cubs-Phillies doubleheader at Wrigley Field on the previous day ended in a 4-4 tie, called 11 innings because of darkness.2
According to the Chicago Tribune, the attendance was 19,756. It was a relatively meaningless game for the Cubs, who were in sixth place, 22½ games behind the league-leading Phillies. The Phillies, dubbed Whiz Kids for their young roster, had not won a pennant since 1915, and were trying to maintain their five-game lead over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Cubs drew left-hander Curt Simmons of the Phillies as the opposing pitcher. Simmons was 16-7, having won 8 of his last 10 decisions, and was a key component in the Phillies’ run at the league championship. Forty-one-year-old knuckleballer Dutch Leonard got the Cubs’ starting nod, his only start in 35 appearances for the season.
Sauer, who had played in his first All-Star Game on July 11, led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run off Simmons to even the score, 1-1.
Sauer was the Cubs’ leadoff batter again in the fourth, and he belted his second home run, but the Cubs still trailed, 3-2. This was the third game in Sauer’s last seven in which he had homered twice.
In the sixth, Sauer hit his third homer of the game after Phil Cavarretta singled, and the Cubs led, 4-3, for the first time.
The Cubs added three more runs off Simmons in the bottom of the seventh on Wayne Terwilliger’s solo home run, his eighth of the season, and Roy Smalley’s double, which drove in Cavarretta and Bob Borkowski with what turned out to be the winning runs. Milo Candini relieved Simmons and denied Sauer a chance at a fourth home run by intentionally walking him.
In the top of the ninth, with Hamner at second on a double, Seminick homered off Leonard for the Phillies’ final two runs. Johnny Vander Meer, the back-to-back no-hit pitcher who was winding down his career, relieved Leonard and walked two batters to load the bases but retired the Phillies. Powered by Sauer’s three home runs and Terwilliger’s solo shot, the Phillies were 7-5 victors.
Leonard logged his fourth win of the season, yielding five runs on nine hits and two walks. Simmons suffered his eighth loss of the season, giving up seven runs on nine hits and two walks.
The Phillies won the second game of the doubleheader, 9-5.
Sauer attributed his home-run spurt to advice provided by Cavarretta. “Phil caught a hitch in my swing after our last homestand,” Sauer said. “He told me I was carrying my bat too high, so I practiced with it in a lower position on the backswing and that seemed to bring me out of the slump.”3
Sauer’s journey to a full-time job in the majors had taken several twists and turns over 12 years. He first signed with the New York Yankees as a 20-year-old first baseman in 1937. Cincinnati Reds GM Warren Giles, convinced by one of his minor-league managers that Sauer would be a good addition for the Reds, instructed the Reds-owned Birmingham club of the Southern Association to draft him in the fall of 1939.4
Sauer turned in two solid seasons for Birmingham and earned a trial with the Reds in 1941. However, they already had a solid first baseman in Frank McCormick. Desperate for hard-hitting outfielders, the Reds decided to convert the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Sauer into an outfielder. After a brief stint at first base with the Reds at the beginning of the 1942 season, he was sent to Syracuse to learn how to play the outfield. Despite the help provided by manager Jewel Ens, Sauer’s progress, both in the field and at bat, was slow.5
When Syracuse’s regular first baseman injured himself in 1943, Sauer returned to first base for most of the season, and his hitting picked up. Like many ballplayers during World War II, his career was put on hold; he spent the 1944 season and most of 1945 in the US Coast Guard. Returning to the Reds for the last month of the 1945 season, he appeared in 31 games and hit five home runs. However, the Reds decided he still needed more work in the outfield to hold down a regular big-league spot.6
So Sauer was back in Syracuse for the 1946 and 1947 seasons. Manager Ens got him to use a heavier bat, a 40-ounce Chick Hafey model, to slow down his swing and better level on pitches.7 In 1947 Sauer responded with 50 home runs and 141 RBIs, while hitting .336, and was named the Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News.
Sauer stayed with the Reds in 1948 and hit 35 home runs as their regular left fielder. The Reds were satisfied that his outfield play was no longer a liability.8
However, after a slow start (4 home runs, 16 RBIs, and .237 average in 42 games) in 1949, Sauer was traded on June 15 with Frank Baumholtz to the Chicago Cubs for Peanuts Lowrey and Harry Walker. Sauer rebounded with the Cubs, finishing the season with 31 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .275 batting average.
Sauer’s selection to the National League All-Star team in 1950 was the subject of controversy. National League manager Burt Shotton announced his intention to insert his own Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder, Duke Snider, into the starting lineup instead of Sauer, even though Sauer had received more fan votes. Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler initially agreed with Shotton.
But after protests from Cubs manager Frankie Frisch, and from sportswriter Arch Ward, who felt that the fan poll would lose its significance if not followed, Chandler reversed himself and overruled Shotton. At the game, Shotton was booed by the Sauer-friendly crowd at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, while Sauer contributed an RBI to the National League’s 4-3 victory.9
Remarkably, two seasons later, in 1952, Sauer repeated his three-homer performance against the Phillies and Simmons.
This article appears in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison” (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book online, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:
Burns, Ed. “The Sweet Sauer Man,” Baseball Magazine, September 1952: 8-9, 39.
Holtzman, Jerome. “Do You Remember … When Hank Sauer Was the Mayor of Wrigley Field,” Baseball Digest, December 2001: 64-66.
Holtzman, Jerome, and George Vass, The Chicago Cubs Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), 195.
Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman, eds., Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Total/Sports Illustrated, 2000), 1001.
Sargent, Jim. SABR BioProject biography of Hank Sauer.
Vass, George. “Baseball’s ‘Late Bloomers,’” Baseball Digest, June 2001: 40-47.
1 Ed Burns, “Sauer Ends Homer Famine With Big Helpings at Plate,” The Sporting News, September 6, 1950: 4.
2 Edward Burns, “Night Halts 11 Inning Duel; Play 2 Today,” Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1950: 3:1. Wrigley Field didn’t get lights until 1988.
3 “Cavarretta’s Hint Started Sauer on Homer Spree,” Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1950: 3: 1.
4 Tom Swope, “Cincy’s Sweet on Sauer,” Baseball Digest, October 1948:17-23.
7 Edgar Munzel, “Bruin Blockbuster,” Sport Life, October 1952: 80.
9 “Stengel, Shotton Kept Busy Ducking All-Star Squawks,” The Sporting News, July 19, 1950: 8.