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Excerpt from “Prologue”

Charles Ireland passed through a turnstile and entered the ballpark with his father and the two convicts. Fans bumped against each and maneuvered for position in lines at the concession stands.  Vendors hawked brightly-colored scorecards for twenty-five cents.  Concession stands and kiosks sold bottles of soda, ice cream, hot dogs, rolls, bags of peanuts, and sacks of popcorn.  Men stood in line to purchase the nonalcoholic beer—produced by the Atlas Brewing Company of Chicago and permitted by the Volstead Act—that spewed out of taps.  Ushers helped fans find their seats.

Inside the park, the fourteen year-old boy trembled with excitement.  The broad green expanse of the playing field stretched beyond the infield to the brick walls of the outfield.  He settled into his seat, sitting next to Harry Hortman, the convicted murderer.  Fifty-eight years later—by then a retired newspaper man living in California—Charles would recall that afternoon with exquisite pleasure:  “Sometimes I feel,” he wrote, “that I am the only person who sat beside a prison lifer at a World Series game.”

The players appeared and went through their workouts, the Yankees attired in their gray pinstriped road uniforms, the Cubs in white jerseys and pants with red and blue accent stripes.  They tossed the ball back and forth, like teenagers warming up for a sandlot game; a few players ran sprints or stretched in the outfield. 

Charles had followed the season closely, both on the radio and in the newspapers.  The Cubs and Yankees had gone to spring training seven-and-a-half months ago—the Yankees to Tampa, Florida; the Cubs to Catalina Island, off the coast of California.  Now, after more than 1200 regular season games in the two leagues, and the two games between the Cubs and Yankees in New York, the World Series had come to Chicago.   

He picked out the Cub players:  Woody English, the reliable third baseman; Charlie Grimm, the first baseman who had assumed the role of manager in August when Rogers Hornsby was fired; Kiki Cuyler, the centerfielder; Billy Herman and Stan Hack, the rookie infielders; Gabby Hartnett, the catcher; Charlie Root and Pat Malone, the formidable aces of the pitching staff; Billy Jurges, the young shortstop whose season had been interrupted when he was shot and wounded in a Chicago hotel room by a female fan; Mark Koenig, the ex-Yankee who had been plucked from the minor leagues in August and played a key role in the pennant race.

When the Yankees came out for batting practice, the crowd began yelling insults at the team’s stars, especially Babe Ruth.  There was no mistaking Ruth:  he was the largest of the Yankee players, pot-bellied with thin legs and a powerful torso.  He wore the distinctive number 3 on his broad back.  When Ruth took batting practice, everyone’s attention focused on his swings.  Cub fans near home plate hurled lemons at the Yankee slugger.

Ruth had missed several weeks at the end of the season with a mysterious abdominal ailment and even Yankee fans wondered if he would be healthy enough to play in the World Series.  He had been inconsequential in the two Yankee victories in New York, held to a pair of meaningless singles.  This was Ruth’s nineteenth season as a major leaguer, and he had played before Chicago crowds at Comiskey Park, but this was his first appearance at Wrigley Field.  As if to answer the crowd’s taunts, Ruth lifted one fly ball after another into the right field stands; nine balls in all sailed over the wall.  Ruth shouted at his hecklers:  “I’d play for half my salary if I could hit in this dump all the time.”

 

Excerpt from Chapter Two “Opening Day”

President Herbert Hoover genuinely liked baseball.  He had played shortstop briefly as a member of the Stanford University team, his career cut short by an injured finger and only modest skill at the game.  The previous fall, Hoover had attended game three of the World Series in Philadelphia.  His popularity had already begun to fade, especially since he represented the party that continued to support Prohibition.  When unruly fans in Philadelphia spotted Hoover in the stands, they regaled him with a chant:  “We want beer! We want beer! We want beer!” 

But the first day of the major league baseball season was an occasion that Hoover took seriously, and he had attended season openers in Washington for more than a decade.  In each of his first three years as President, he had participated directly in the opening day ritual, even though his presence seemed to foreshadow a loss by the home team.  Washington Post columnist, Shirley Povich, noted that the Senators had lost all of these games and Povich termed it the “Hoover Jinx.”

Just prior to the start of the game, players from both teams lined up along the first and third base lines.  Hoover’s single ceremonial duty was to throw out of the first pitch of the season.   He was handed a ball and tossed it in the direction of the home plate umpire.  The ball sailed over the umpire’s head and had to be retrieved by a member of the visiting Red Sox, the first wild pitch of the season.

The opening day pitching assignment for the Senators belonged to Al Crowder, nicknamed General Crowder in honor of General Enoch Crowder, the man responsible for originating America’s draft lottery in World War I, though the pitcher and the military man were not related.  A compact 5’ 10” right hander, Crowder had a reputation as a tough competitor with an outstanding move to first base.  He took his place on the mound, glanced at the gray skies, and began his warm-up pitches.

Storm clouds threatened throughout the afternoon, but the skies held, and Hoover stayed until the seventh inning.  When Hoover left the stadium, the game was scoreless.  General Crowder continued to pitch magnificently, scattering four hits and stranding the few batters who reached base against him.  It was an auspicious season opener for the Senators’ ace.   Crowder would go on to win 26 games and lead the American League in victories.

In the bottom of the tenth, Heinie Manush broke up the scoreless duel and doubled in the winning run.  The extra inning game had been played in a crisp two hours and eight minutes.  The next day, Povich would write that the Hoover Jinx was still in place since the President had left in the midst of a scoreless game. 

 

Excerpt from Chapter Eight “Road Trips”

By the end of May, the Cubs had managed to build a two-and-a-half game lead over the Boston Braves.  The other teams that manager Rogers Hornsby thought would be serious contenders—the Dodgers and Pirates, and maybe the Cardinals—were not far behind.  With the injuries to English, Stevenson, Grimes, and Cuyler, the Cubs hadn’t been healthy since spring training.   Cuyler had been out of action since he broke his left foot on April 24, and Hornsby needed to get him back in the lineup.

In the off-season, the Cubs had agreed to trade Hack Wilson for Burleigh Grimes, which strengthened his pitching staff, but with Stevenson limping and Cuyler on the bench, Hornsby wasn’t getting the production he needed from his outfielders.  In a moment of frustration, Hornsby told a New York reporter, “How the hell can I win a pennant with this lousy outfield?”  The remark appeared in the newspapers and didn’t do much for team confidence or morale.

Hornsby had tried Vince Barton, Lance Richbourg, and Johnnie Moore in the outfield.  Richbourg was getting the most playing time, but at this point in his career, Richbourg’s main claim to fame was that he had once been traded for Casey Stengel in a six-player transaction.  None of the manager’s options could hit with the power that Hack Wilson once possessed.     

                  In desperation, Hornsby sometimes inserted himself in the lineup as the right fielder.  But this was not a solution.  His play in the field was both frustrating and embarrassing.  The bone spurs in Hornsby’s right heel limited his mobility, and he was batting a meager .235.  At this point in his career, he couldn’t run, field, or even hit with much authority.  After a game, his feet were swollen and painful.  At the age of 36, and after a decade as the most feared hitter in the National League, Hornsby’s playing career was all but over.  And Hornsby knew it.

 

                  Away from the ballpark, Hornsby had another set of problems.  During the off-season, Hornsby had been trying to settle two lawsuits that stemmed from automobile accidents in 1930, one involving his wife, and another involving his chauffer, a man named David Young.  Hornsby wasn’t behind the wheel in either of the accidents, but he was named in the suits.  He was also being sued by the IRS for unreported income.  The IRS claimed that Hornsby owed both back taxes and penalties for not filing on time. Even Hornsby’s one form of relaxation—betting on horse races—had gotten him in trouble.  He was losing badly at the race track, and in order to cover his gambling debts, he had borrowed money from several of his players—Bush, Malone, and English—as well as one of his coaches, Charley O’Leary. 

                  But Cuyler was due back in the lineup in ten days, and Hornsby needed him because the Cubs were about to embark on their longest road trip of the season, visiting every National League city except Cincinnati, and playing twenty-one straight games away from home.  June figured to be the toughest month of the season for Hornsby’s team. 

 

Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-Seven “Last Days of the Babe”

            In late May 1935, the Boston Braves arrived in Pittsburgh for a three-game series with the Pirates.  Babe Ruth knew it was his last road trip as a major league player.  He regretted signing with the Braves—he had done so only because he thought it would lead to a job as manager of the team—and now he knew that he was through as a player, washed up, and over the hill. 

                  On the final day of the series, Babe walked to Forbes Field from the Schenley Hotel.  It was May 25, a chilly Saturday, and he was in an uncharacteristically gloomy mood.  He wore a cap and his trademark light camel hair coat, pulled up tight under his chin, and he walked with his head down.  As always, a group of kids waited outside the players’ entrance.  Usually, the Babe chatted with the youngsters and signed scorecards, but today he just passed out printed business cards with his name stamped on them. 

                  During batting practice, Ruth had broken his bat, so he was using a new bat when he faced Red Lucas in the first inning and hit a high fly ball that barely cleared the right field fence.  That felt better.  In each of the first two games of the series, Ruth had hit fly balls to deep right that Paul Waner had caught at the fence.  When Ruth came to bat again in the third, Lucas had been removed and replaced by Ruth’s old nemesis, Guy Bush, who had goaded him throughout the 1932 World Series.  Ruth got a little revenge, hitting his second home run of the day, a long blast that landed in the upper deck.

                  In the fifth inning, Ruth faced Bush again and singled, driving in a run.  He was starting to feel a little more limber and confident at the plate.  By his fourth at-bat, in the top of the seventh, he was joking with a cluster of fans sitting alongside the first base line.  A twelve year-old fan named Paul Warhola—his younger brother, Andy, would grow up to be almost as famous as an artist as the Babe was as a ballplayer—recalled that someone shouted, “Hey, Babe, hit one over the roof.”  Ruth turned and pointed his bat at the 86 foot high roof in right field.  Why not?

                  Whether or not Ruth had called his shot in Chicago almost three years earlier, he had been known to predict home runs, and he liked pleasing a crowd.  Undoubtedly, he also knew that no one in the ten-year history of Forbes Field had ever hit a ball over the roof.  On the second pitch from Bush, a thigh-high fast ball that creased the center of the plate, Ruth connected and the ball ascended, as opposing players and fans alike stared in awe.  The ball kept rising and soared over the roof, landing on top of a house at 334 Joncaine Street, then bouncing down Bouquet Street until it was retrieved by a boy named Wiggy DeOrio.

                  Ruth trotted around the bases, celebrating the last regular season home run of his career, number 714, and after he touched third base and looked at Guy Bush, the pitcher tipped his cap in a gesture of respect and admiration.