The Chicago Cubs, managed by Joe McCarthy, were on a roll. They had won 11 of their last 12 games, and had vaulted from fourth place to second place in the National League, when they arrived in Boston for a three-game series with the Braves, July 25-27, 1928. The seventh-place Braves had just returned from a disastrous road trip in which they lost 13 of 15 games. The Cubs hoped to gain ground on the first-place St. Louis Cardinals by beating up on the downtrodden Bostonians.
The Braves featured two marquee players. Second baseman and manager Rogers Hornsby, who won six NL batting titles from 1920 to 1925, led the league with a .392 batting average through games of July 22. The great first baseman, George Sisler, was acquired in late May and was hitting .353 as a Brave.1
The Cubs’ biggest star was slugging center fielder Hack Wilson, who led the league with 22 home runs through games of July 22. In Gabby Hartnett, the Cubs had one of the best catchers in baseball. On July 23 Hartnett got to meet Amelia Earhart, who in June became the first woman to make a transatlantic flight. Hartnett quipped, “I fly often myself – out to the right fielder.”2
The Braves won the first game of the series, 3-1, on July 25, with fine pitching by Ed Brandt. Wilson’s 23rd home run of the season – “one of the longest drives ever seen” at Braves Field – accounted for the Cubs’ lone tally.3
Although Braves Field could hold 46,000 fans,4 a crowd of 3,000 – about average for a Braves home game – attended the second game of the series, on July 26, on a lovely, 73-degree afternoon.5 McCarthy chose Guy Bush, a 26-year-old right-hander, as his starting pitcher. Hornsby started Virgil Barnes, a struggling 31-year-old right-hander. Since joining the Braves in June, Barnes had compiled a 1-5 record and a 7.39 ERA.6 Sears, Roebuck and Co. advertised a “fielder’s glove” in July, available for $1.98 and “autographed by Virgil Barnes, star pitcher.”7
Cubs shortstop Woody English singled off Barnes in the top of the first inning and scored the first run. The Braves’ Lance Richbourg led off the bottom of the inning with a double to right field. Earl Clark grounded the ball to English, who threw late to Clyde Beck at third base, as Richbourg arrived safely. Sisler drew a walk, and the dangerous Hornsby stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. Bush managed to get Hornsby to pop out to the second baseman, Freddie Maguire; however, Bush threw a wild pitch to the next batter, Les Bell, and Richbourg scampered home. Bell followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Clark, and Eddie Brown singled to bring home Sisler.
Clark and Sisler singled with two outs in the second inning. This time Hornsby came through with “a screeching double to left field”8 over the head of Riggs Stephenson, scoring two more runs for the Braves. The Cubs replaced Bush with rookie right-hander Ed Holley.
With Boston leading 5-1, the Cubs went to work in the top of the fourth inning against Barnes. Hartnett and Beck singled. Cliff Heathcote pinch-hit for Holley and reached when Sisler fumbled his easy grounder. With the bases loaded, English singled to left field, driving in two runs. It was the seventh hit of the game off Barnes, and “it was only a question of time before he would have been completely annihilated.”9 Hornsby replaced Barnes with Bob Smith, a 33-year-old right-hander, who halted the Cubs rally. In the bottom of the inning, the Braves got two hits off Cubs southpaw Percy Jones but were unable to score.
Before the 1928 season, the left-field fence at Braves Field had been moved in 83 feet, from 403 to 320 feet from home plate, to increase the number of home runs. However, that made it too easy for opponents to homer to left field, so before the Cubs series, the fence was moved back 33½ feet.10 This latest adjustment cost the Cubs’ Charlie Grimm a home run, as he doubled off that fence, 353½ feet away, in the top of the fifth inning. He scored when Hartnett tripled off the fence in right-center field, 402 feet away.11 The Boston fans were aghast when Clark, the Braves’ 20-year-old center fielder, crashed into the fence as he chased Hartnett’s drive.
“The boy rebounded fully 10 feet from the barrier, and lay on the turf apparently severely injured. The sound of the impact when head and body struck the fence could be plainly heard in the grandstand. He was able to resume play after a short rest.”12
Earl Webb pinch-hit for Jones and lifted a sacrifice fly to Clark, which brought in the tying run.
Charlie Root, a 29-year-old right-hander, took the mound for the Cubs and pitched a scoreless fifth inning. His 26 wins led the major leagues in 1927. His pitching in 1928, though, had been erratic, and he lost seven consecutive decisions from May 30 to July 4.
The Cubs took a 6-5 lead in the top of the sixth inning when Stephenson tripled and Grimm singled him home, but the lead was short-lived. In the bottom of the inning, Root walked Richbourg and Clark. Sisler bunted to Root, who turned to throw to third base but discovered that Clyde Beck was not at the bag. By then it was too late to throw to first to get Sisler. Hornsby once again came to bat with the bases loaded and no outs, and again he popped up to Maguire at second base. Bell then grounded the ball to English, who tossed to Maguire for a force out at second, but Bell beat Maguire’s throw to first, and Richbourg scored on the play.
After six innings, the score was tied 6-6, and a lengthy pitching duel ensued between Smith and Root. Neither team scored until the bottom of the 14th inning. The Braves’ Doc Farrell and Al Spohrer singled off Root. With two outs, Farrell on second base and Spohrer on first:
“Richbourg walloped a speedy liner to left and Stephenson grabbed the ball on the first bounce and whipped it to the plate. Hartnett caught it a bit to one side and spun around just an instant too late to keep Farrell’s spikes from denting the rubber with the deciding tally.”13
The final score was Boston 7, Chicago 6. Richbourg’s walk-off single was his fourth hit of the game. Smith, who pitched 11 innings in relief of Barnes, was the winning pitcher. Root was the loser, despite giving up only two runs in 9⅔ innings. The loss dropped the Cubs into third place, a half-game behind the Cincinnati Reds.
The Braves ended the 1928 season in seventh place, while the Cubs finished in third, four games behind the first-place Cardinals. Richbourg hit .337 for the season, the best of his eight-year career. Smith led the Braves with 13 wins. Hornsby won his seventh batting title with a .387 average. The Braves traded him to the Cubs in November 1928 for five players and $200,000 in cash. The deal worked out well for the Cubs, as Hornsby won the NL MVP award and helped them win the 1929 pennant by 10½ games. Without Hornsby, the Braves dropped to eighth place in 1929.
2 Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune, July 24, 1928.
3 Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, July 26, 1928.
4 Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1992).
5 Boston Globe, July 27, 1928.
7 Scranton (Pennsylvania) Republican, July 20, 1928.
8 Boston Globe, July 27, 1928.
10 Lowry, Green Cathedrals.
12 Boston Globe, July 27, 1928.
13 Chicago Daily Tribune, July 27, 1928.