Gabby Hartnett

From BR Bullpen

140 pix

Charles Leo Hartnett

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1955

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

1922 E120

"I rated Gabby the perfect catcher. He was super smart and nobody could throw with him. And he also was an outstanding clutch hitter." - Joe McCarthy

Charles Leo "Gabby" Hartnett (December 20, 1900 - December 20, 1972) was a catcher and manager who played nearly his entire career with the Chicago Cubs. He is widely considered to have been the greatest National League catcher in the first half of the 20th century.

Hartnett was born in Woonsocket, RI as the oldest of 14 children. Joining the Cubs in 1922, he proved himself an excellent backstop through the 1920s; but a succession of injuries often kept him out of the lineup. He kept pace with the increasing offense of the "live ball" era, hitting 24 home runs in 1925 to finish second in the league. 1929 was especially frustrating, as an inexplicable sore arm limited him to one game behind the plate and 24 games as a pinch-hitter as the Cubs won the pennant; Hartnett would strike out in all three of his World Series at bats. But he rebounded with a remarkable season in 1930, hitting .339 with career highs of 37 home runs - then a record for catchers - and 122 runs batted in. In the meantime, his quiet and unpretentious manner had inspired teammates to give him his famous nickname out of irony.

Moving into his 30s, when most catchers find themselves wearing out, Hartnett was just getting started. Although he had caught over 100 games only four times in the 1920s, he would do so for the next eight consecutive seasons (1930-1937), and in 1939 he broke Ray Schalk's major league record of 1,727 career games as a catcher. Hartnett also finished among the NL's top ten in slugging percentage seven times in his career.

Named an NL All-Star for the first six games that were played (1933-1938), Hartnett was catching when pitcher Carl Hubbell set a record in the 1934 All-Star Game game by striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession.

Hartnett was named the NL's MVP in 1935, after batting .344 (third in the league) and topping league catchers in assists, double plays, and fielding average to lead the Cubs to the pennant. In 1937 he was the league's MVP runner-up after batting .354, again third in the NL. He was named the Cubs' manager in the middle of the 1938 season, replacing Charlie Grimm.

On September 28, 1938, with the Cubs trailing Pittsburgh by only half a game, he experienced the highlight of his career. The lightless Wrigley Field was gradually being overcome by darkness in a hard-fought game with the Pirates, the score tied 5-5; if it had become too dark, the game would have needed to be replayed from the beginning. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, two strikes on him, and the umpires ready to end the game, Hartnett launched a shot into the gloom and haze which would be remembered as his "Homer in the Gloamin'". The Cubs were now in first place, culminating a tremendous 19-3-1 September run, and the pennant would be clinched three days later. Unfortunately, the Cubs were swept in the World Series by the New York Yankees, their fourth Series loss in ten years.

He continued to manage the Cubs through the 1940 season. In 1941 he left to play for, and coach, the New York Giants, hitting .300 in his final year as a player. He ended his 20-year career with a .297 batting average and a .489 slugging percentage; his 236 home runs, 1179 runs batted in, 1912 hits, and 396 doubles were all records for catchers. His bat and catcher's mask were the first artifacts sent to the newly constructed Hall of Fame in 1938.

Afterward, he managed in the minor leagues for five seasons, retiring to Lincolnwood, IL in 1946. Gabby Hartnett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955. Later he worked as a coach and scout for the Kansas City Athletics for two years in the mid-1960s. He died of cirrhosis in Park Ridge, IL on his 72nd birthday. He is one of three Hall of Famers to die on his birthday. He is interred in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, IL.

Hartnett gained his nickname by not talking to the media as a rookie. The newspaper men dubbed him "Gabby".

He is highlighted in Heroes Behind the Mask as one of the top catchers of all time. In Chuck Rosciam's recent comparative study of catchers, he ranks number 1 all-time because he dominated his contemporaries by a wide margin, both defensively and offensively.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 6-time NL All-Star (1933-1938)
  • NL MVP (1935)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1925, 1930 & 1934)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1930)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (1930)
  • NL Pennants: 1 (1938)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1955

1934 1935 1936
Dizzy Dean Gabby Hartnett Carl Hubbell

Preceded by
Charlie Grimm
Chicago Cubs Manager
Succeeded by
Jimmie Wilson

Year-by-Year Minor League Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1938 Chicago Cubs National League 44-27 1st Chicago Cubs Lost World Series replaced Charlie Grimm (45-36) on July 21
1939 Chicago Cubs National League 84-70 4th Chicago Cubs
1940 Chicago Cubs National League 75-79 5th Chicago Cubs
1942 Indianapolis Indians American Association 76-78 6th none
1943 Jersey City Giants International League 60-93 8th New York Giants
1944 Jersey City Giants International League 74-79 5th New York Giants
1945 Jersey City Giants International League 71-82 5th New York Giants
1946 Buffalo Bisons International League 78-75 5th Detroit Tigers

Further Reading[edit]

  • William H. Johnson: "Gabbie Hartnett", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: Winning on the North Side: the 1929 Chicago Cubs, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 82-86. ISBN 978-1-933599-89-2
  • William F. McNeil: Gabby Hartnett: The Life and Times of the Cubs' Greatest Catcher, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2004.
  • Chuck Rosciam: "Greatest Catchers: A Composite Ranking Methodology", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 38, Number 1 (Summer 2009), pp. 62-69.

Related Sites[edit]

Some or all content from this article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Gabby Hartnett".