The Setup and a Bloody End
July 21, 1934
Anna Sage was a madam at a brothel in Gary, Indiana. She was in danger of being deported because of the nature of her profession. Sage needed a way to stay in the U.S. and she had just the ticket: John Dillinger. The infamous bank robber and his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, who was friends with Sage, had recently visited her establishment. Sage recognized the FBI’s #1 most wanted criminal. She contacted the FBI and offered up information on Dillinger in exchange for cash and help in preventing her deportation.
The Biograph Theater
Sage informed agents that on Sunday, July 22, she would be attending a movie with Dillinger and Hamilton at the Biograph Theater. The trio chose the 8:30 pm showing of “Manhattan Melodrama” staring Clark Gable. While Dillinger, Hamilton, and Sage watched the movie, agents gathered outside and waited for Dillinger to emerge. Two hours later the triad exited the theater with Dillinger flanked by the two women. They turned to the left and the trap was sprung. Dillinger quickly realized what was happening and pulled a pistol from his pocket. Five shots rang out and three hit Dillinger. He fell face down on the ground. Twenty minutes later he was pronounced dead.
Sandlots and Wrong Turns
John Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis, IN. Like most American boys at the time he was bitten by the baseball bug. Dillinger grew up playing ball on various sandlots around the Indianapolis area and because of his great speed was given the nickname “the jackrabbit”. He was also an avid Chicago Cubs fan.
Dillinger joined the Navy in 1922, but deserted after only a few months of service. When he returned home, he married and tried his hand at making a decent living, but was unsuccessful at various jobs. Finally, John found a profession that suited his skill set: baseball.
Dillinger’s baseball skills were so good that local teams in the greater Indianapolis area paid for the pleasure of his play. Throughout the summer of 1924, Dillinger played for various teams with great success. His steadiest gig was with the Martinsville Athletics. While with Martinsville, John showed his range at shortstop and led the team in batting average. Behind Dillinger’s brilliant play, the Athletics went on to win the championship. Unfortunately for Dillinger the season ended–along with the money–and he turned his gaze to a less honest berth.
While playing ball, John met Edgar Singleton. Singleton, a local pool shark, had umpired games in the same league that Dillinger had been playing in. Edgar must have seen miscreant possibilities in Dillinger and set up John’s first armed robbery. The great Mooresville grocer heist of 1924 went terribly wrong. Singleton and Dillinger were quickly arrested. John was given a sentence of 10 to 20 years.
At the Indiana State Reformatory, Dillinger’s baseball skills were put to use and he quickly became the star player of the Reformatory’s ball club. He also followed his beloved Cubs while doing his time. Eventually, Dillinger was transferred, for reasons he thought had to do with his baseball skills, to the Indiana State Prison. Instead of playing ball, he studied with some of the more hardened criminals in the Indiana penal system. When Dillinger was paroled eight-and-a-half years later his baseball aspirations had taken a backseat to his criminal pursuits.
Infamy and the Cubbies
The rest is, as they say, history. Dillinger went on to become a nationwide Robin Hood-like figure, robbing banks and tearing across the Midwest like a wildfire. While busy distracting the country from the crippling Depression, Dillinger still found time to keep up with the Cubs. He even attended games at Wrigley Field right under the FBI’s nose. Dillinger was spotted in the stands by Cubs outfielder, Babe Herman. Also, Cubs’ catcher, Gabby Hartnett is on record stating that Chicago Police patrolling Wrigley were aware of Dillinger’s attendance, but decided to forgo telling the FBI.
July 8, 1934
Dillinger’s final Cubs game was on July 8, 1934, two weeks prior to his death. The Pittsburgh Pirates were in town for a four game series. The first two games went to the Cubs and the third to the Pirates. The third game of the series was the first of a doubleheader. The second game of the doubleheader was the Cubs last home game before embarking on a long road trip. By the time the Cubs returned to the confines of Wrigley, Dillinger would be dead.
The second game of the doubleheader, and John’s last game, was played before a massive crowd of 47, 138. The Cubs won 12 – 3 and Gabby Hartnett put one in the seats. The victory gave the Cubs three out of four in the series and brought them to within two games of the first place New York Giants. Not a bad last game to attend. It may be assumed that the final time Dillinger watched his Cubbies, he was happy with the outcome.
July 22, 1934
On the day that Dillinger died, the Cubs played the Philadelphia Phillies at the Baker Bowl. The game lasted twelve innings and the Cubs lost 6 – 5 on a walk-off double by Phillies first baseman, Dolph Camilli in the 12th. While the last game that Dillinger attended was a Cubs victory, the final Cubs game of his life must have put him in a sour mood before his date with destiny in front of the Biograph Theater.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images