Only 1,420 fans came to Forbes Field to watch the Cubs and Pirates, the two worst teams in the NL, play on a Monday afternoon. And the good people of Pittsburgh probably had good reason for staying away as the Bucs gave up seven runs to the Cubs in the fifth en route to a 10-6 loss.
The Pirates had won 42 games in 1952 and 50 games in 1953 and 1954 wasn't going to be much better for Fred Haney's team. Haney started rookie Bob Purkey, who would become a good pitcher in Cincinnati. Cubs manager Stan Hack opted to go with Howie Pollet.
In 1953 the Cubs and Pirates had pulled off a big trade when Pittsburgh sent Pollet, Ralph Kiner, Joe Garagiola, and George Metkovich to Chicago in exchange for five guys who weren't very good and $150,000 in cash. Kiner had led the NL in home runs in his first seven seasons, but hit "just" 35 in 1953.
The Pirates led 2-0 going into the fifth inning when the Cubs offense exploded. Kiner led off with a single. Ernie Banks (in his first full season) singled and went to second when the Pirates tried to throw out Kiner at third. Garagiola grounded out to score Kiner and move Banks to third. Purkey walked Pollet. Frankie Baumholtz then grounded to second baseman Curt Roberts who tried to catch Banks at the plate, but the throw was late and the game was tied. First baseman Dee Fondy singled home Pollet and sent Baumholtz to third and the Cubs led 3-2. Purkey then walked second baseman Gene Baker to load the bases. Hank Sauer then unloaded them with a grand slam to put the Cubs ahead 7-2.
Pollet gave up a run to the Pirates in the fifth and two more in the sixth and Turk Lown came into relieve. In the seventh, the Pirates had closed to within 7-6 and had two on with one out. Jim Davis came into relieve Lown. Davis struck out pinch hitter Walker Cooper, but walked Roberts to load the bases. This brought up rookie shortstop Gair Allie, in his first and last major league season. Allie flied out to Sauer to end the threat.
In the ninth, the Cubs added some insurance against Max Surkont. Fondy singled to lead off and Baker sacrificed him over. Sauer received an intentional walk and then Fondy and Sauer pulled off a double steal. It would be one of only two steals for Sauer in 1954. Randy Jackson walked to load the bases. Kiner then hit a deep fly to score Fondy and Banks then hit a triple to the deepest reaches of Forbes Field to score Sauer and Jackson and make the final score 10-6.
Fans of the Cubs and Pirates don't have much to look back on with a lot of joy from the 1954 season. The Cubs finished in seventh place at 64-90, 33 games behind the Giants. The Pirates went 53-101 and were 44 games out of first.
The emergence of Banks at shortstop was the only hope for the Cubs. In his first full season, Banks batted .275 with 19 home runs. In 1955, Banks would slug 44 home runs and was starting on his way to the Hall of Fame. The Cubs would send Kiner off to Cleveland at the end of the season and he would retire after one year there at age 32.
Garagiola would be put on waivers by the Cubs in September and the Giants picked him up for the final month. Garagiola never played in the majors again, but he managed to make a few bucks out of the game after he retired.
Sauer had won the MVP in 1952 and he had a good year in 1954, hitting 41 home runs and driving in 103 runs. But age would catch up to him and he never played regularly again in the majors and retired after the 1959 season with the Giants.
The Pirates wouldn't win the pennant until 1960. Three key players from that team were on the squad in 1954 in Bob Skinner and pitchers Bob Friend and Vern Law. But it wouldn't be until 1958 that the Pirates would even have a winning record again.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com