Position: Catcher
Teams: Chicago Cubs, 1922-1940; New York Giants, 1941


Until Johnny Bench came along, Gabby Hartnett was the greatest catcher in the history of the National League. A prototypical catcher, he couldn’t run, would talk your ear off -- they didn’t call him Gabby for nothing -- and lasted for years on a lot of bat and a lot more savvy. Burleigh Grimes said that Gabby “had as good an arm as ever hung on a man.”

The 1937 season was the last in which Harnett caught 100 games.
The 1937 season was the last in which
Harnett caught 100 games.

Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Charles Leo Hartnett (1900-1972), the oldest of 14 children, grew up in Massachusetts. Gabby’s father, Fred, was a semiprofessional catcher, and he taught seven of his children (four boys and three girls) how to catch well enough to play organized ball. Gabby’s first professional assignment was with Worcester of the Eastern League, where he caught 100 games and batted .264 in 1921.

The Giants rejected the backstop because of his small hands, so the Cubs bought his contract in 1922. Gabby needed a few years to develop his batting skills, but Bob O’Farrell was able to hold the spot for him, enjoying his best two seasons at the plate in 1922 and ’23. Hartnett took over in 1924 and held down the position until the late 1930s, save for an injury-plagued 1929.

Gabby became a reliable stickman for several years after taking the position. He batted in the .275 range with some power. After injuring his arm in 1929, he exploded in 1930, hitting .339 with 37 homers and 122 RBI.

In 1935, Hartnett was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, though his power stats would not stand with those of the heavy hitters of his day. His .344 average was third in the league, and he led league receivers in assists, double plays, and fielding average as he guided Cubs pitchers to 100 wins and a pennant. His last three years with the Cubs were as player-manager.

Hartnett left a host of career fielding records but is best known for the “Homer in the Gloamin'” in 1938. As player-manager of the Cubs he led his team from nine games out in August to wrest the pennant away from the Pirates.

As The New York Times reported it: “In the thickening gloom, with the score tied and two out in the ninth inning today, red-faced Gabby Hartnett blasted a home run before 34,465 cheering fans to give his Cubs a dramatic 6-to-5 victory over the Pirates.” The Cubs won four pennants during Gabby’s time with them: in 1929, ’32, ’35, and ’38.

Red Smith wrote, “[Hartnett] was so good that he lasted 20 years in spite of the fact that he couldn’t run. All other skills were refined in him.”

Here are Gabby Hartnett's major league totals:

BAG
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
.2971,990
6,432
867
1,912
396
64
236
1,179
28

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