Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

May 14, 1927

Talk about hard-luck pitching. Seventy-two years ago today, Boston Braves starter Charlie Robertson locked heads with the Chicago Cubs‘ Guy Bush for over 17 innings — and lost. Even worse, Robertson’s workhorse outing didn’t even set a team record. Both the major-league and team marks were (and still are) held by Joe Oeschger, who had battled Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore in an incredible 26-inning marathon seven years earlier.

Robertson’s stage was Boston’s Braves Field, the home of the best fried clams in baseball. On paper, his team was hopelessly overmatched. The Braves’ home run leader, Jack Fournier, would finish the season with just 10 round-trippers, while Chicago’s Hack Wilson led the league with 30. Only a late-season collapse would keep the Cubs from their first first-place finish in nine years; the Braves, on the other hand, ended the year with a 60-94 record, 34 games behind the pennant-winning Pirates.

But the Braves kept pace with the Cubs, inning by inning, behind a most unlikely savior. Since hurling a perfect game in his third major-league start in 1922, the 31-year-old Robertson had repeatedly failed to distinguish himself after falling victim to a sore arm. For a man who never enjoyed a winning season, 1927 was perhaps his worst. Robertson won just seven games against 17 losses, and allowed opposing batters to hit at a healthy .308 clip. But through 17 innings of this remarkable game, the native Texan allowed just two runs on nine hits.

Robertson’s opponent had never hurled a perfect game, but Guy Bush’s resume would turn out to be considerably more impressive. Known as “The Mississippi Mudcat”, the 25-year-old right-hander would win no fewer than 15 games in each of the next seven years, playing a key role on Chicago’s pennant-winners in 1929 and 1932.

For 17 innings, the two pitchers matched each other out for out and run for run. The Cubs scored a run off Robertson in the top of the 11th, but the Braves answered back in the bottom of the inning on an Andy High triple that brought home outfielder Jack Smith.

With High on third and just one out, Boston had a golden opportunity to end the game. But Chicago manager Joe McCarthy used a daring move to foil the Braves’ comeback. Bush was ordered to walk both Dick Burrus and Eddie Brown to get to light-hitting second baseman Dave Gautreau, who promptly flied out. Braves catcher Zack Taylor then lined a ball into third baseman Clyde Beck‘s glove to end the rally.

Six more scoreless innings would pass before Robertson’s arm finally gave out. Three singles by Beck, Sparky Adams and Jimmy Cooney in the top of the 18th gave Chicago a one-run lead; an Earl Webb double scored another and knocked Robertson out of the box. Robertson’s replacement, Foster Edwards, allowed the Cubs to add three runs on an intentional walk, a wild pitch, and a single by Riggs Stephenson. The five-run lead would be too much for the exhausted Braves to overcome in the bottom of the inning; the 3-hour, 42-minute game ended as a 7-2 Cubs victory.

It was a battle of two teams — and two pitchers — heading in different directions. Even the Braves weren’t desperate enough to hold on to Robertson, whose pitching continued to deteriorate. His short career came to an end after a pitiful 2-5 campaign for Boston in 1928.

Bush, on the other hand, developed into one of the most reliable starters in the National League. Perhaps his biggest moment came in Game Three of the 1932 World Series, when Babe Ruth came up to bat with one out in the fifth inning. Bush wasn’t on the mound — he was in the dugout, taunting Ruth mercilessly. In the process, he provoked Ruth’s legendary “called shot”.

As Cubs manager Charlie Grimm remembered in Peter Golenbock‘s Wrigleyville, “One of the nicknames [Babe] didn’t like was ‘Big Monkey,’ and I’m sure Guy included it. Even before [Cubs pitcher Charlie] Root got over his first of two pitches for strikes, Babe pointed straight away and turned toward our dugout — no doubt for Bush’s benefit. Those who saw Ruth’s pointing finger chose to believe, when he drove the ball over the center field bleachers, that he was calling his shot.”

In response to Ruth’s homer, Bush extracted a measure of revenge by plunking the Babe the next day in the first inning of Game Four.