It always amuses me when I hear modern players moan about how rough they have it. The complaints include constant travel, having to play day games on dates after night games, and having to play an occasional two-game series.
What the whiners fail to mention and usually do not appreciate is that they travel exclusively on chartered flights, never have to carry their own bags, stay in the finest hotels, rake in a healthy income with meal money alone, and have just about all their wants satisfied in any major league clubhouse.
The players of today might have been shocked by the travel conditions that major league players had to endure during the Great Depression. Road trips were long (sometimes up to three weeks) and by rail. There was no air conditioning in the rail cars or hotels. Doubleheaders were a regular occurance and players could lose 10 and sometimes up to 20 pounds on hot summer days while playing in heavy, wool uniforms.
The Cubs endured that kind of unpleasant road trip when they made a swing through the National League's five eastern stops in the heat of August 1935. The Cubs departed Chicago on Aug. 11 in second place, 2.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals. But during stops in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh, they fell to third place while winning 11 and losing eight.
An exhausted and cranky Cubs team returned to the Friendly Confines to host the Cincinnati Reds in a Labor Day doubleheader. It was the opening of a 20-game homestand (those were longer too). Manager Charlie Grimm called a team meeting before the first game.
"We're home for the next 20 games," Grimm said. "And we either do or we don't. But we are going to be loose."
The Cubs split the doubleheader and trailed the first-place Cardinals by 2.5 games - the identical position they were in before their arduous trip. Whether that realization or Grimm's encouraging words were the cause for what happened next is open for debate, but their is no denying that it was the greatest stretch run by a team in major league history.
The Cubs won the final 18 games on that homestand to vault into first place and followed that up with three straight wins in St. Louis to clinch the pennant.
The Cubs clicked on all cylinders, scoring 18 in one game, 15 in two others, and 13 in another while averaging 6.5 runs per game during the winning streak. Eleven of the victories came in games that the North Siders trailed after six innings. Five of the victories were by one run and two came in extra innings.
The pitchers also carried their weight. Bill Lee and Larry French each contributed five-complete game victories. Charlie Root and Lon Warneke each had four wins. Cubs pitchers authored three shutouts and held opponents to two runs or less 12 times.
The Cubs drew 209,558 to Wrigley Field for the final six games of the 19-1 homestand - an impressive feat during the heart of the Depression.
"During the winning streak, one day I would get a hit to win a ballgame, maybe the next day Chuck Klein would hit a home run, maybe the next day Lon Warneke would pitch a great game," remembered Phil Cavaretta, then an 18-year-old first baseman, in Wrigleyville (Peter Golenbock, St. Martin's Press, 1996).
The Cubs opened a season-ending five-game series in St. Louis on Sept. 25, holding a three-game lead over their archrivals. Warneke pitched a complete-game, two-hitter to defeat Paul Dean for his 20th victory in a 1-0 pitcher's duel. A home run by Cavaretta in the second inning accounted for the game's only run.
After an off day, they clinched the pennant with their 20th straight win as Lee bested Dizzy Dean, 6-2, in the opener of a doubleheader for his 20th win. Freddie Lindstrom went 4-for-5 and knocked in three runs and Stan Hack (3-for-4) smacked his fourth homer of the season.
The Cubs also won the nightcap for good measure - their 21st straight victory and 100th on the season.
Five Cubs hit over .300 on the season: NL MVP Gabby Hartnett (.344), Herman (.341), Demaree (.325), Galan (.314), and Hack (.311). Herman led the NL in hits (257) and doubles (57). Galan, who set a major league record by not hitting into a double play in 748 plate appearances, led the league in runs (133) and stolen bases (22).