Comedy of Runs
There are two schools of thought about a game played 100 years ago. It set a record that will never be broken. Or, it’s been so long, why hasn’t the record been broken? And by the way, that record was nearly broken in the same ballpark 57 years later.
On August 25, 1922, the Chicago Cubs faced the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. When it was over, the Cubs won 26-23 (and for much of the game it wasn’t that close). It was the most runs scored by two teams in a major league game. A record that has stood for one hundred years.
The teams combined for 51 hits – 26 for the Cubs, 25 for the Phillies – and 125 batters came to the plate. There were nine errors: five by Chicago and four by Philadelphia.
In the first inning, the Phils went three up and three down, and in the bottom of the frame the Cubs took a 1-0 lead. Only 48 more runs to go.
In the third inning, the Phils score a run, and get the first two outs in the bottom of the inning. But third baseman Russ Wrightstone drops a pop up, and the Cubs go on to score 10 runs, all with two outs and all the runs unearned. (Wrightstone tries to make up for his mishap by going four for seven and driving in four runs.) Only 34 runs to go.
The Phils score five runs in the third and fourth frames, but the Cubs explode for 14 runs in the fourth inning. helped by two Phillies errors. Ring gets one out before he’s relieved by Philip “Lefty” Weinert. Incredibly, Weinert pitched the final four and two-thirds innings to finish for the Phillies.
Cubs rightfielder Marty Callaghan comes to bat three times in the inning. He singles his first two times up but strikes out to end the frame with the score 25-6. Only 18 runs to go.
The Phils add three runs in the fifth and Cubs score their last run in the sixth, making it 26-9. Only 14 left to go.
The seventh inning is a shocker: neither team scores.
In the eighth the Phillies score eight runs. It’s now 26-17.
The Cubs have a nine-run cushion in the ninth, and the Phils make a game of it, scoring six runs. Final: 26-23. There’s the 49.
Cubs starter Tony Kauffman went four innings and was credited with the win (this was before a starter had to go five innings to qualify for a victory). Chicago used four more pitchers; George Stueland pitched innings 5-7, giving up three runs. Rookie Uel Eubanks began the eighth inning and suffered some poor fielding. He was charged with eight runs in only two-thirds of an inning (but only two were earned). It was the last game he pitched in the majors. Ed Morris got the final out in the eighth inning and started the ninth, but gave up four runs without recording an out. Manager Bill Killefer brought in 6’4” rookie Earnest “Tiny” Osbourn, who gave up two more runs, but held on to earn his third save of the season.
Phillies starter Jimmy Ring was charged with 16 runs in only three and a third innings, but only six were earned. “Lefty” Weinert gave up 13 hits and was charged with 10 runs (eight earned). Hard to believe, but the Phillies used fewer pitchers – only Ring and Weinert – than Chicago’s quintet.
The crowd was recorded as 7,000. Probably the most improbable stat for 21st century fans is that with all that hitting, the game took only three hours and one minute to play.
The next day’s Chicago Tribune headlined the game story: “Comedy of Runs, Hits and Errors to Cubs 26-23.”
“Nobody will ever know without many hours with the box score and a record book just how many records of ancient and modern major league baseball were smashed at the north side park yesterday,” began Frank Scheiber’s game story.
He added, “Only one record for a nine-inning game, the putout record, was safe.”
Mike Schmidt, 1979.
Nearly 60 years later, the two teams met again in Wrigley. The wind was blowing out at 30 mph. It took the Phillies 10 innings to win 23-22 on May 17, 1979. The 45 runs the two teams tallied that day are the most in a game since the 1922 contest.
The teams combined for 11 homeruns and 50 hits. Only two pitchers, Rawly Eastwick for the Phillies and Ray Burris for the Cubs, did not give up any runs.
Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark was in his first year covering the Phillies for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“It was the first day I’d ever seen the wind flow out like that. And I remember in BP, guys shaking their head because every fly ball went out in batting practice. And so you knew something had a chance to happen. That would be memorable. Not this memorable,” said Stark. “And I was right.”
The Phillies hit three homeruns in the top of the first inning, including one by starting pitcher Randy Lerch. Cubs starter Dennis Lamp got only one out in the frame. Staked to a 7-0 lead, Lerch also lasted only a third of an inning before leaving the game after giving up five runs.
“Donnie Moore came in to pitch in relief in the top of the first inning and ends up hitting a triple in the bottom of the first. So I had two pitchers get a homer and a triple in the first inning. One was a starting pitcher who didn’t even make it through the first inning. The other one’s a relief pitcher who didn’t even start the first inning. And the score was what, 7 to 6? It must have taken an hour. Alright, we were ‘Fasten your seatbelts,’” said Stark.
Phillies manager Danny Ozark went to two of his best relievers, Tug McGraw and Ron Reed, early in the game to try to staunch the Chicago offense. It didn’t work, as the Cubs scored 13 runs (10 earned) off the pair in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Back then, the Inquirer printed several editions during the day, and Stark was filing for each one, highlighting what was happening. He must have written “thousands of words” that day.
By the fifth inning, the Phillies were up 20 to 9. Pete Rose was on second base, recalled Stark, and there was a fly ball. “Rose tags up and goes from second to third, up by 11 runs, and now he gets to score on another fly ball. It makes it 21-9. That run didn’t seem to mean anything at the time. It just put the Phillies up 12. It turned out to be a run that they really needed, and it was just, you know, it’s Pete. Rose has been with the Phillies for a month, and that was just kind of a window into what he was all about.”
There were plenty of unusual moments in the game, Stark said, but the one that stayed with him involved two players with the same number and the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
“The Wrigley field scoreboard then…. was hand operated, and it was even less high tech than it is now. Most scoreboards that we’re used to in our world actually tell you the score. The old Wrigley Field scoreboard posted the (score) inning by inning, and you had to add up the score…. (it was) so nuts just looking at the scoreboard trying to figure what the score is,” said Stark.
In the eighth inning, Cubs infielder Mick Kelleher reached third base, where Mike Schmidt was playing. “Now you see them standing at third base and they’re both pointing at the scoreboard, and you can see they’re trying to add up what the heck is the score in this game already, and finally Kelleher points at Schmidt’s uniform number, which was 20, and pointed at his own uniform number, which was also 20. So the score was 20-20 right? It had to be something like that, (but it) never did get to 20-20,” said Stark.
Neither team scored in the second inning, but the Phils scored 14 runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to reach 21 runs. The Cubs scored 13 runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings for 19 runs.
Phillies catcher Bob Boone asked each Cubs batter, “What do you want us to throw?”
“Everything we pitched they hit,” he said.
The Phils added a run in the seventh to go up 22-19, but the Cubs came back with three in the eighth to tie it at 22.
The Cubs were down to a few pitchers and brought in closer Bruce Sutter. Schmidt, who had homered off Lamp in the first inning, hit his second home with two outs on a 3-2 count from Sutter in the tenth to put the Phils ahead. Eastwick had retired the Cubs in order in the ninth, and began the tenth. He faced Bill Buckner, who lined out, then Dave Kingman, who had hit three homeruns to that point. Eastwick struck him out and Steve Ontiveros grounded out to Schmidt, and the game was over. It took 64 minutes longer to play than the 1922 game, four hours and five minutes.
“Perfect day at Wrigley, wind blowing out,” said Schmidt. “Everybody was hitting, many had two home runs, I believe Kingman had three. Score just mounted up. Box score was out of hand.”
The headline in the next day’s Inquirer was, “Phils win on Extra Point, 23-22”.
Stark’s game story began: “The way the wind was blowing at Wrigley Field yesterday you didn’t need a Ph.D. in meteorology to know it was not going to be one of those 1-0, hour and 33-minute pitcher’s duels.”
“It’s funny,” recalled Stark, “when you cover baseball, you see a lot of baseball games. I see a lot of regular games that are not memorable in any way that nobody ever talks about again. And then something like this happens, and it’s 40 years later, and here you are, calling me about it. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had about this game over the years with people who were there, with people were just curious about it. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been on, where we have talked. It’s just one of those games that is going to live on. Every once in a while, it shows up on TV. Remember during the pandemic in 2020 when the only thing on the air was old, gray (broadcasts). I don’t know how often they ran this game. There’s no record of the Phillies broadcast anywhere that I know of, but the Cubs WGN telecast – it’s on YouTube. You can watch the whole game again on YouTube. I’m convinced? I’ll never see another game like it. And then you think, Well….”
What also struck Stark was Eastwick’s performance. Once a dominant reliever with the Cincinnati Reds, he had been pitching poorly that season.
“And then a guy who couldn’t get anybody out comes in and goes 1-2-3, 1-2-3.” said Stark. “Baseball is the best if that could happen.”