Published October 30, 2016
They say that in baseball, the loneliest man on the field is the pitcher.
Often, that’s true.
The entire world is on his shoulders. He’s a solitary man, standing on a hill. There’s nowhere to hide, nothing to distract from his significance. He’s not in the spotlight, he’s under the harsh lights of interrogation.
But in the sixth game of the 1935 World Series in Detroit, Cubs third baseman Stan Hack was the loneliest man on the field.
Certainly, he was the most desperate.
The Tigers were leading the series, 3-2, and in the ninth inning of Game 6 at Navin Field, the score was tied, 3-3—which is what the Cubs wanted the series to be, of course.
Hack led off the Cubs’ ninth with a triple to deep center. The Navin Field crowd moaned. A Cubs victory would mean a winner-take-all Game 7, which would have meant 50,000 nervous Nellies in the stands the next day.
The Tigers had lost a bitter, seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934. That was still fresh on the fans’ minds when Hack slid safely into third base.
The Cubs, of course, were 27 years removed from their last world championship.
With Hack at third and nobody out, the Tigers pulled their infield in. Pitcher Tommy Bridges, a 28 year-old Tennessean righty who won 21 games in 1935, bore down.
The next Cubs batter was light-hitting shortstop Billy Jurges. Some observers thought that Cubs manager Charlie Grimm might put a squeeze on. But Grimm let Jurges swing, and Bridges struck him out on three pitches. One out.
The Navin Field crowd stirred; could the Tigers dodge a bullet?
The Tigers’ infield remained drawn in.
Grimm’s next move was even more baffling.
The Cubs skipper let starting pitcher Larry French bat for himself, and it wasn’t like French was a good-hitting pitcher; he had a career .188 average. French tapped out meekly to Bridges, who tossed to first for the second out. Tigers fans were really excited now.
Next up: leadoff hitter Augie Galan, who rapped out 203 hits in the regular season.
Bridges coaxed a lazy fly ball to left out of Galan, ending the threat.
Cubs fans—even back then—could have told you that their team was toast after that wasted opportunity.
Sure enough, the Tigers clawed out a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth when Goose Goslin singled home player-manager Mickey Cochrane for the series-winning run.
After the game, Grimm was grilled about not using a pinch-hitter for either Jurges or French.
In a testament to how the game was managed in 1935—when bullpens weren’t the be all, end all—Grimm’s defenders said that to bring in an “untested” pitcher after removing French would have been perilous.
In those days, the bullpen was where pitchers were sent who couldn’t cut it as starters. Yes, there were some good relief pitchers, but the bullpen was mostly seen as a demotion. Managers were much more prone to ride a starter than bring in an “untested” reliever—especially in such a high leverage situation.
But the Tigers had touched French for 10 hits through eight innings, so it wasn’t like he was lights out.
Regardless, Grimm had more detractors than defenders, by far, for the strategy, which was odd even for those times, because the Cubs only needed a fly ball to push Hack across with the go-ahead run.
Hack’s stay at third base as he watched teammate after teammate fail to drive him home surely must have made him the most anxious, distressed man in the world.
So close, yet so far.
But isn’t that just like the Cubs?
Three years later, Hack was a member of the 1938 Cubs squad that was swept by the Yankees. In 1945, the 35 year-old Hack was on the Cubs team that lost to the Tigers in a seven-game World Series. In those series combined, Hack went 19-for-47 (.404).
Of course, it wasn’t enough.