If you enjoy this article be sure to check out the previous articles in the Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Fred Merkle and Fred Snodgrass
Just the thought of something like this would wake an outfielder up in a cold sweat. It would be a worst nightmare. Like the dream where you show up to class naked. Or you're trying to run away from something but your legs don't work. The difference for Hack Wilson was that this was no dream. It was actually happening.
Just a few minutes ago there was no doubt about the outcome of this game. The Cubs had an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning and they were going to tie up the 1929 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics. The inning started poorly for the Cubs. A solo Home Run for Jimmie Foxx. So what. 8-1. That was followed by four straight singles and two more runs. Still no problem. 8-3. They only needed three outs without giving up 5 runs. The next hitter popped up to short. One out. That was followed quickly by another single. 8-4 and now the lead was cut in half. The Cubs changed pitchers, hoping this would make the difference. It looked like it might. Mule Haas lifted a fly ball to Center field. The A's were satisfied with that. The runner on third would likely tag up and come home. The Cubs were satisfied assuming they would trade one more out for a run but the moment Haas made contact Hack Wilson's nightmare began.
It was terrifying. The ball left the bat and he had no idea where it was. He could tell it was in the air and he could tell it was in his general area but he had no idea where. He needed help. He looked to the shortstop who pointed, then to the left and right fielders, sprinting, yelling, pointing. He still didn't see it. When you see a fly ball and react immediately you can estimate where it will come down. If you don't know where it is how can you expect to track it down? He finally saw it but it was well over his head and deep. He raced after it but there was nothing he could do. A three run, inside the park Home Run and the game was tied with still only one out.
The bases were now empty so all the Cubs needed was two more outs to keep the game tied. The A's weren't quite done. A walk, a pitching change, a single, another RBI single, another pitching change, a hit batter and two run double led to a 10- 8 deficit. Finally, two strikeouts and they were out of the inning. Instead of the 8-0 lead that they had started with they were down 10-8. It was the biggest inning in the history of the World Series and the blame was hung on the shoulders of Hack Wilson.
The Cubs came to bat looking to swing the momentum back to their side. They had some strong bats coming up. Charlie Grimm grounded out. Zach Taylor struck out and the Cubs used a pinch hitter, future Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett, who struck out. The 8th inning was over for the Cubs and they were down to three offensive outs. The top of the order was up in the 9th. Norm McMillian struck out. Woody English struck out looking and Rogers Hornsby, the great "Rajah", one of the greatest hitters of all time, flew out to end the game.
It was the greatest collapse in a single game in World Series history. An eight run lead turned into a two run loss in a single inning. The Cubs lost Game 4 and Game5 and the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics fulfilled their destiny as one of the top teams in history. The entire Cubs team had collapsed but the blame immediately focused on Hack Wilson and his misadventure in Center field.
There are plenty of reasons why Hack Wilson does not deserve the blame for this loss or the loss of the series. Here are just a few:
1. Wilson's error allowed three runs to tie up the game in what had been an 8-0 lead. The other seven runs scored in the inning had nothing to do with Wilson's performance. Putting the blame on Wilson ignores a complete collapse by the pitching staff. Prior to the misplayed fly ball the Cubs pitchers had allowed five singles, a Home Run and four runs while recording only one out. Following the Wilson misplay the pitching staff allowed a walk, a hit by pitch, two singles, a double and three more runs before recording another out. the collapse was a complete team wide collapse and cannot be pinned on one person.
2. Wilson contributed significantly to the Cubs 8-0 lead. He went 2-3, including a single with a man on base, and scored a run in the Cubs own five run sixth inning.
3. The Cubs would not have made the World Series without the season contributions of Hack Wilson. Wilson drove in 153 and hit .345 while hitting 39 Home Runs. His following season (1930) may be the greatest offensive season in the history of the game.
4. Wilson was the Cubs' greatest offensive weapon in the 1929 World Series. Hack hit .471 in the five game series (well above the next closest Cubs regular) with 8 hits. His eight hits included a 3-3 day with 2 walks and a run in the Cubs only win in the Series.
5. Hack Wilson was the pin cushion of the league for several years. John McGraw let Wilson slip away because he felt Wilson's night life habits meant that Wilson couldn't perform. During his time in Chicago his night life continued unchanged and the papers made continued reference to his partying. The missed fly ball seemed to be one more way for the papers to pin the tail on Wilson.
Check back next week for the continuation of the Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats series when we explore Johnny Pesky and his role in the 1946 World Series.