By Scott A. Rowan
Perseverance and patience are attributes that both Cubs players and fans have had to learn over the years. Rarely have these traits been as necessary as they were during the two highest-scoring games in MLB history.
Many fans probably think the highest-scoring game in baseball history took place on May 17, 1979, when the Cubs rallied against the Phillies with three runs in the eighth inning (off five singles) to tie the game 22–22 before Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt hit a solo home run in the top of the 10th inning to give the Phillies a 23–22 victory before 14,952 fans at Wrigley Field. New York Times’ baseball blogger Tyler Kepner referred to it as “the Holy Grail of high-scoring games.”
But with all due respect, Kepner was wrong. It was only the second-highest scoring game in baseball history. The real Holy Grail of baseball scoring occurred more than a half-century earlier, oddly enough also between the Cubs and the Phillies.
On August 25, 1922, the Phillies were at the Friendly Confines (then called Cubs Park) when one of the most unusual offensive displays in baseball history began. Chicago jumped to a 25–6 lead after the fourth inning, leading the 7,000 fans in the stands to believe that the hometown team was in the midst of a walk- away win. But as Cubs fans have learned in the decades since, nothing is ever as clear as it seems when it comes to a Cubs victory. After scoring eight runs in the eighth and six runs in the ninth, the Phillies closed the score to 26–23. The bases were loaded when replacement center fielder Bevo LeBourveau, who had already gone 3-for-4 in the game, came to the plate. A home run would give the Phillies the lead, while a base hit could tie the game. Thankfully for the Cubs and their fans, relief pitcher Tiny Osborne managed to strike out LeBourveau to preserve the victory.
According to baseball historian John Snyder, several records were set or tied that day beyond total scoring. The 51 total hits in the game (the Phillies had 26) is still a record for a nine-inning game. Chicago center fielder Cliff Heathcote (who was also part of a historic trade) tied a league record by reaching base all seven times he came to plate, going 5-for-5 with two walks, and teammate Marty Callaghan tied another league record with three at-bats in one inning.
Those two games were just two more lessons to a group of fans who already know that nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to Cubs baseball. Chicago nearly blew its massive lead in 1922, allowing Philadelphia to come within a base hit of embarrassing the club. But in 1979, the Cubs reminded the Phillies—and fans everywhere—that anything can happen if you try hard enough, coming back from deficits of 17–6 and 21–9 to force extra innings with a small-ball rally in the eighth inning that nearly won the game.
The traits the Cubs displayed in those two historic games—a never-give-up attitude combined with a stick-to-it approach—were just pixilated details in the grand portrait of the Chicago Cubs and their fans.
Tyler Kepner, “The Wildest Game in Modern History,” The New York Times, May 16, 2009, http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/the-wildest-game-in-modern-history/.
Snyder, Journal, 22
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