No long time Chicago Cub fan will ever forget that November night in 2016. The World Series win was something Cub fans had never experienced and it was gifted to them by a talented group of young athletes whose names are forever etched in the mind of every Cub fan. The following day, I, like almost all Cub fans scoured the internet looking for an unheard quote or untold stat to add to our memory of the event. For me, there was a simple four word headline in the Chicago Tribune that resonated deeply then, and still does when I think of it today; Won for the Ages. Those four words encompass the memory of that year so thoroughly nothing more is needed. Won for the ages for guys like Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo and Billy Williams who never played in a post season game. For Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux whose fall runs always ran short. For Bill Veeck who planted the Ivy, for William Sianis the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, for Harry Carey and Steve Bartman. For friends and family who for their entire life, longed to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series but passed away before that dream was realized. And for possibly the greatest catcher to ever have played the game yet ignored or forgotten by many fans, Charles Theo “Gabby” Hartnett.
The oldest of 14 children, Hartnett was born in Rhode Island in 1900. Hartnett developed his ricochet arm by throwing rocks at freight trains trying to hit the “O” in the middle of the words Providence and Worcester. He was signed to a big league baseball contract in 1922 with the Chicago Cubs and played with them nearly his entire major league career. He was given the nickname Gabby his rookie year due to his shy nature off the field. On the field, however, he always had something to say to hitters, pitchers and even the umpires. Hartnett played with some of the most iconic Cubs ever to play the game; guys like Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Kiki Cuyler and a host of others.
The snapshot seen around the world involved Hartnett and Al Capone. Capone often came to watch the Cubs play and in 1931 Hartnett was photographed signing an autograph for Capone’s son. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, after seeing the photo in the news, was furious. Landis sent Hartnett a telegraph telling him he was not allowed to be photographed with Al Capone. Hartnett replied in a telegraph of his own, “Okay, but if you don’t want me to have a picture taken with Al Capone, you tell him.”
Perhaps the most famous home run in all of baseball lore was hit by Gabby Hartnett September 28, 1938. The Homer in the Gloamin’ was a play on a popular song of the time, Roamin’ in the Gloamin. For most of the 1938 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates dominated the league until the final month of the season when they began to falter. When Pittsburgh came to Chicago for a three game series in September, the Cubs were 1.5 games behind in the standings. Behind Dizzy Dean, the Cubs won the first game of the series cutting that lead to .5. On September 28th, the game was tied 5 to 5 in the bottom of the ninth. The umpires ruled, due to darkness, the game would end after nine. If the game was called, it would be replayed in its entirety the following day before game three. Hartnett came to bat, with two out and quickly had an 0-2 count. He then connected on a pitch, launching the ball into the darkness. Eventually it landed in the left center bleachers, a game winning home run. Fans stormed the field and escorted Gabby around the bases. As a result, the Cubs were in first place and won the following day completing a three game sweep, winning the pennant in St Louis the following weekend. However, they were swept by the Yankees in the World Series that year, but Homer in the Gloamin’ (gloamin’ a slang for twilight) still stands as one of the best home run stories in baseball.
Hartnett played with the Cubs from 1922-1940, his final year with the Cubs he was a player manager and his final season in baseball, 1941, was spent with New York. He retired as a player in September 1941, but he continued coaching in the minor leagues for five seasons.
Touted as the greatest 20th Century Cub until the Ernie Banks era, many today think he is the greatest catcher to play the game. Hartnett died on his 72nd birthday in 1972. His final resting place is All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois, just a short walk from Harry Carey.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955
6 time all-star
One time MVP
played on 4 pennant winning teams
1990 games played
297 career hitting average
370 career on base average
489 slugging percentage
236 home runs
1179 RBI s
56.11 career caught stealing
Caught 100 games or more for a league record 12 times, including 8 seasons in a row
Lead the National League in double plays 7 times and set a National League record with a career 163 double plays.
Set a since broken record for major league catchers, 452 consecutive chances without committing an error.
Hartnett’s bat and catchers mask were the first artifacts sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame