Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs 101 - Gloamin' Gabby


Cubs 101 - Brought to you by Coast to Coast Tickets
Decades before Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk redefined the catcher's position as one of offense, the Cubs had a player who was perhaps the first real great hitting catcher. It's only fitting for the Cubs that he was also their last.

Gabby Hartnett - nicknamed as such out of pure irony - started with the Cubs wide-eyed and fresh-faced in 1922, and he proceeded to give the team a reliable bat for better than a decade. As a 29-year-old in 1930, Gabby hit 37 homeruns, drove in 122 RBI, and was shockingly the third most productive hitter on the Cubs behind Kiki Cuyler (134 RBI) and Hack Wilson (191 RBI). But the story I always heard about Gabby as a kid that stuck with me the most was the legendary Homer in the Gloamin'. The 1938 Cubs were an unlikely pennant winner as they had an amazing September run in which they won 19 games. But the exclamation point of that month - and that season - came against the Pittsburgh Pirates off the bat of player-manager Gabby Hartnett. With a tied score in the 9th inning, as darkness settled on Wrigley, Hartnett hit a game-winning homerun into the haze probably minutes before the game would've been called due to darkness and replayed on another day starting from the first inning. The Cubs would clinch the pennant a few days later before charging into the World Series only to be swept.

Hartnett's 1938 Cubs would really be the last of the Double Bill era, five years after Wrigley and Veeck had died. After that the inept management of P.K. Wrigley began to really take full effect and the Cubs became better known for their look rather than their performance.

One easy example - and believe me, we're going to be exploring a lot of examples while we cover the barren decades of the 50's, 60's, and 70's - is the replacement of Harnett. Think about it like this: Gabby Hartnett's first season with the Cubs was 1922. Nearly 90 years later, he remains the offensive leader among all Cubs catchers ever. Amazingly enough the catcher with the second-longest service time is Jody Davis, whose first year with the Cubs was 1981 - almost 60 full years after Hartnett's. And even Davis has barely half the service-time as Hartnett, though, and played just 22 more games than Randy Hundley, who came to the Cubs in 1966.

In other words, the Cubs had a Hall of Fame catcher in Hartnett from 1922 until 1939 - and really, his last year as a regular was 1937 when he played in 110 games. The Cubs went through 16 different starting catchers between Gabby and Randy, with only two providing more than two-years service as starters (the forgettable Clyde McCullough who was the starter for 5 seasons between 1941 and 1953, and Dick Bertell who started for four years and was essentially out of baseball before he turned 30). Since Hundley, the Cubs have gone through 15 more starting catchers, and that includes a 7 year block in which Jody Davis loomed behind the plate. And by the way - Hundley started his career with the Giants and Davis was drafted by the Mets.

If you think about it, the team's inability to have a single reliable catcher come up through their system is probably almost as unlikely as their inability to reach the World Series. Maybe that's changing now that Geovany Soto is the catcher, although his sophomore start hasn't exactly been comforting.

We used to talk all the time about the Curse of Santo and how the Cubs were never able to adequately replace the legendary third baseman -- at least until Aramis Ramirez joined the team in the middle of the '03 season. But the Cubs have other droughts too - they're still trying to replace Rick Monday (if not Andy Pafko!) in center, and the Hartnett drought is, as mentioned, almost unbelievable. But the worst drought of all began in 1945 - or was it 1908 - and continues to this day. We'll talk about that one next.

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