So itís October 1968, and the Cubsí season is over. The Cubs finish 3rd in the National League (for the second consecutive season, both times behind the Cardinals and the Giants), and have played over .500 ball for two years in a row, the first time theyíve done that since 1945-46. 1969 looks like it might be The Year of the Cub.
HOW IT WAS:
In 1968, players were eligible for selection in the Major League Draft (later known as the Rule 5 Draft) after their SECOND year in professional baseball, so a club's best prospects needed to be added to the 40-man roster a year or two earlier than is the case now. This also mreant that players were rushed through the minor leagues much faster than they are now. For instance, Ken Holtzman spent a total of two months in the minors before claiming a spot in the Cubs starting rotation, and Joe Niekro, Rich Nye, and Bill Stoneman spent three months in the minors before they were added to the Cubs 25-man roster.
Also, in 1968 it was not necessary to secure waivers to send a player on the 40-man roster "outright" to the minors. However, if a club wished to "recall" a player sent outright to the minors earlier in the season, the player had to be placed on irrevocable waivers first, although a player in this situation could be traded without being placed on waivers.
Additionally, players could not refuse a trade (well, of course they COULD just retire...), and players with less than ten seasons in the big leagues could be optioned or sent outright to the minors without their permission. Clubs owned all of their players (major leaguers and minor leaguers) essentially forever, or at least until the club decided to trade or release said player. There was no such thing as a player declaring himself a free-agent or salary arbitration if the player and club could not a agree on a salary. (The player would just have to hold out, like Koufax and Drysdale did prior to the 1965 season). Many times a player holding out would get traded IF they held out too long, but even then they might not get what they wanted from their new team, either.
And there were no multi-year contracts. And no minor league "rehab" assignments for players coming off the Disabled List... Pitchers coming back from an injury had to ease their way back into action by throwing BP, and position players got themselves ready to play again by taking swings and infield or outfield practice during pre-game Batting Practice. It was a lot different then.
But although a lot of things stayed the same, 1969 would be VERY different from 1968.
DIVISIONS & PLAYOFFS:
There will be four new teams (two in each league), the Montreal Expos and the San Diego Padres in the National League, and the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots in the American League. Rather than go with two twelve teams leagues playing a cut-throat schedule, with the winner of the regular season going directly to the World Series, a new two-division format will create a playoff (to be called the ìLeague Championship Seriesî) that will pit the winners of the two divisions in each league against each other in a best three-out-of-five series after the conclusion of the Regular Season, with the winner of the LCS being the league champion (ìpennant winnerî) and playing in the World Series.
Each team will play the other five clubs in its own division 18 times (nine home & nine road) and the six teams in the opposite division 12 times (six home & six road).
MLB owners are hoping to create the excitement of the great playoffs of past years, like the í51 Dodgers-Giants, the í59 Dodgers-Braves, or the í62 Dodgers-Giants. Of course, those playoffs were not planned, and occurred only because the two clubs involved finished in a dead-heat tie for 1st place. With the new playoffs (or LCS), the two clubs usually will not have the same record, and for the first time, it is possible that a club with the best regular season record in a league might not advance to the World Series. Although there is some muttering of discontent among old-timers, baseball is merely copying what had proved to be a successful playoff formula for the NFL, NBA, and NHL.
The expansion teams need players, so the first order of business after the conclusion of the 1968 World Series is the Expansion Draft. (There is no ìfree-agencyî in 1968, so the only way a club can instantly field a Major League team is by acquiring Major League players in a draft). Unlike the expansion drafts of 1961-62, the 1968 version allows clubs to initially protect only 15 players from its 40-man roster, and only so-called ìfirst-yearî players (that is, amateur players signed in 1968), are emempt from the draft. The expansion clubs will be permitted to select players only from teams within their own league.
There will be six rounds, and the expansion teams will alternate every-other pick, with each of the ten established clubs in each league losing one player in each round, and then pulling back three players before proceeding on to the next round (only two players pulled back between the 5th and 6th rounds), until each established club has lost six players, and each of the four new expansion teams has 30 players.
As it turns out, most established clubs protect their core lineup, plus their starting rotation, and as many of their best prospects as possible. And thatís what the Cubs do, too. Everybody knows the expansion teams are mainly looking for young players and Major League-ready prospects.
A number of fairly good and still-young (relatively speaking) position players are made available in the Expansion Draft, including Ollie Brown, Jesus Alou, Mack Jones, Ron Fairly, and Donn Clendenon in the National League, and Don Mincher, Lou Piniella, Joe Foy, and Tommy Harper in the American League, but quality pitchers are at a premium. A few good arms slip through (like Dick Selma, Clay Kirby, and Carl Morton, who get caught in a "numbers game" with their respective former clubs and get snatched by either San Diego or Montreal), but not many.
If Ernie Banks had been on any other club in 1968, he probably would not have been protected among anybodyís Top 15 (because of his age and bad knees), but P. K. Wrigley would not allow Banks to be traded, so he certainly wouldnít allow Ern to leave via the Expansion Draft, either! The Cubs decide to initially protect seven of their eight position starters (RF is still a platoon, and so neither Hickman nor Spangler are protected), their five-man starting rotation, their bullpen ìfiremanî (Phil Regan), and their top two pitching prospects (Gary Ross and Darcy Fast):
OCTOBER 1968 EXPANSION DRAFT:
15 PLAYERS INITIALLY ìPROTECTEDî BY CUBS (alphabetical):
1. Ernie Banks, 1B
2. Glenn Beckert, 2B
3. Darcy Fast, LHP
4. Bill Hands, RHP
5. Ken Holtzman, LHP
6. Randy Hundley, C
7. Ferguson Jenkins, RHP
8. Don Kessinger, SS
9. Joe Niekro, RHP
10. Rich Nye, LHP
11. Adolfo Phillips, CF
12. Phil Regan, RHP
13. Gary Ross, RHP
14. Ron Santo, 3B
15. Billy Williams, LF
INF Jose Arcia selected by SD
COMMENT: Arcia was a slick-fielding SS selected from the Cardinals in the 1967 Rule 5 Draft. He had spent the entire 1968 season on the Cubs Major League 25-man roster, but played very sparingly.
Randy Bobb, C
Terry Hughes, INF
Jimmy McMath, OF
COMMENT: Along with Gary Ross and Darcy Fast, Bobb, Hughes, and McMath were among the Cubs Top 5 Prospects at this time. You can bet John Holland felt tremendous relief when the Padres selected Arcia in the 1st Round! Except all three of these players were total, abject busts, especially Hughes and McMath.
RHP Bill Stoneman selected by MON
COMMENT: Just like Niekro and Nye, Stoneman was a college pitcher (Idaho) selected in the 1966 Amateur Draft who rocketed to the Major Leagues, arriving in 1967. He was a member of the Cubs bullpen in 1967-68, and after being selected by Montreal in the Expansion Draft, he would become the ace of the Expos starting rotation.
Jophrey Brown, RHP
Joe Decker, RHP
Alec Distaso, RHP
COMMENT: All three were among the Cubs Top 10 Prospects circa October 1968, but only Decker develped into a Major League pitcher (and a very good one at that, except he did most of his pitching with the Twins).
RHP Frank Reberger selected by SD
COMMENT: A borderline Top 10 prospect, Reberger was closer to the majors than Bongiovanni or Burk (see below).
Terry Bongiovanni, RHP
Dean Burk, RHP
Archie Reynolds, RHP
COMMENT: Burk was a former #1 draft pick (1966), and Bongiovanni was selected in the 3rd Round of the Amateur Draft behind Hughes and McMath in 1967, so the Cubs still had high hopes for both. Unfortunately, both were busts.
Reynolds was a low-round draft pick who threw a lot of ground balls. He was used in a deal to acquire veteran LHP Juan Pizarro from the Angels in 1970.
RHP Rick James selected by SD
COMMENT: The Cubs first-ever #1 draft pick, and selected ahead of Ken Rudolph (2nd round), Greg Werdick (3rd round), and Ken Holtzman (4th round) in the inaugural Amateur Draft in 1965, James never amounted to anything, at least not in professional organized baseball.
Jim Dunegan, OF
Jim Hickman, OF
Pat Jacquez, RHP
COMMENT: Dunegan was a Brooks Kieschnick-type P-OF. He had awesome power but struck out a LOT, and he had a ìgunî for an arm, so he was later converted into pitcher. Except he couldnít throw strikes, either.
Jacquez was another middling pitching prospect who didn't develop as hoped.
Hickman had been the Mets everyday CF in the years 1962-66, but by 1967 he was playing in AAA. He came to the Cubs in the deal for Phil Regan in 1968, but had yet to show that he was back to his 1963-65 form.
INF Garry Jestadt selected by MON
COMMENT: One of several infielders in the Cubs farm system at this point in time (Terry Hughes, Jimmy Qualls, and Greg Werdick were the other notable ones) who had promise that was never fulfilled.
Willie Smith, 1B-OF-PH-LHP
Al Spangler, OF
COMMENT: Willie Smith was a former pitcher with the Angels who by 1968-69 had evolved into one of the game's best pinch-hitters. He was also a fine gospel & blues singer.
Spangler had been the left-handed platoon-mate of Jim Hickman in RF in 1968.
1B John Boccabella selected by MON
COMMENT: When you say "John... Bawka-BELLLLLLLLLLLLL-uh!!!!"... you've said it all...
AVAILABLE THROUGHOUT DRAFT BUT NOT NOT SELECTED:
Rick Bladt, OF
Joe Campbell, OF
Jim Colborn, RHP
Johnny Hairston, C
Chuch Hartenstein, RHP
Clarence Jones, !B
Tom Krawczyk, INF
Jack Lamabe, RHP
Vic LaRose, INF
John Lung, INF
Gene Oliver, C-1B
Bill Plummer, C
Jim Qualls, INF
Ken Rudolph, C
Earl Stephenson, LHP
Bobby Tiefenauer, RHP
Greg Werdick, INF
Don Young, OF
Once the Expansion Draft is over, itís pretty obvious that with the exception of Bill Stoneman, the Cubs have survived with minimal damage (especially when compared to some other clubs--like Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Atlanta, who actually lost talented players they could have used in 1969 and beyond).
In 1967-68, as they vaulted up to the top of the National League standings to finish 3rd in both seasons, the Cubs were characterized by a potent offense (they finished first in Runs Scored in 1967 and second in Runs Scored in 1968) and a solid defense (they finished first in fielding--fewest errors and highest fielding %) in both '67 and '68. Where they fell a bit short was pitching (they were in the "second division" in ERA and Runs Allowed in both '67 and '68) , and that was mainly because the Cubs had one of the worst bullpens in baseball. So one thing pretty clear throughout 1968 was that the Cubs needed bullpen help. Phil Regan was basically a one-man gang. Thus, in January 1969, John Holland makes a deal to upgrade the bullpen.
TRADE: The Cubs acquire RHP Ted Abernathy from CIN for C Bill Plummer, 1B Clarence Jones, and P Ken Myette.
COMMEMT: Admitting they made a mistake when they dumped Abernathy in 1966, Holland-Durocher reacquired the submariner for three young players with no future in Chicago.
Abernathy was one of the better relievers in MLB 1965-71, and Durocher said after the 1969 debacle that probably the biggest mistake he made during that season was that he ìput all of his eggs in Reganís basketî instead of using Abernathy more. (And Leo was right about that!).
SPRING TRAINING 1969
Cubs sign FA LHP Hank Aguirre.
COMMENT: A ìshort relieverî with the Cubs in 1969, Aguirre had been a fixture in the Detroit Tigers starting rotation for many seasons. He was released by the Dodgers after the 1968 season, and made the Cubs roster with a good Spring Training showing. Now at the very end of his career, Aguirre did a nice job in occasional ìspotî relief duty in í69.
CUBS SPRING TRAINING ROSTER - 1969
* dentoes throws or bats left
# bats both
37 Ted Abernathy
34 Hank Aguirre *
35 Terry Bongiovanni
47 Jophrey Brown
46 Dean Burk
36 Joe Decker
45 Alec Distaso
38 Darcy Fast *
49 Bill Hands
30 Ken Holtzman *
43 Pat Jacquez
31 Ferguson Jenkins
48 Joe Niekro
32 Rich Nye *
27 Phil Regan
39 Archie Reynolds
33 Gary Ross
6 Randy Bobb
9 Randy Hundley
12 Gene Oliver
8 Ken Rudolph
14 Ernie Banks
18 Glenn Beckert
19 Lee Elia
17 Terry Hughes
11 Don Kessinger#
40 Tom Krawczyk
22 Vic LaRose
15 John Lung
42 Jimmy Qualls #
10 Ron Santo
41 Greg Werdick
23 Jim Dunegan
28 Jim Hickman
24 Jim McMath *
20 Adolfo Phillips
25 Willie Smith *
21 Al Spangler *
26 Billy Williams *
29 Don Young
2 Leo Durocher
5 Joe Amalfitano (1st base)
3 Joe Becker (Pitching coach)
7 "Pistol Pete" Reiser (3rd base)
4 Verlon "Rube" Walker (Bullpen)
Although it had been disbanded at the Major League level after the 1965 season, the College of Coaches is still alive and well in the Cubs minor league system in 1969. The minor league managers are called "Head Coach," and there are several roving minor league instructors (a concept later accepted by ALL Major League organizations).
COLLEGE OF COACHES
NOTE: Fred Martin was the Cubs roving minor league pitching instructor for many years, and he's the guy who taught Bruce Sutter to throw the split-finger fastball. Let's see if Sutter mentions Fred Martin in his Hall of Fame Induction speech.
In 1969, the Cubs had the following minor league clubs:
Tacoma (AAA) - PCL
San Antonio (AA) - TEXAS
Huron (C) - NORTHERN
Quincy (D) - MIDWEST
Treasure Valley (R) - PIONEER
The Cubs had relocated their Class "C" team from Lodi (CALIFORNIA) to Huron (NORTHERN) after the 1968 season. The Cubs had no Class "B" club. All leagues below AA were called Class "A" by MLB starting in 1963, but the old designations ("B," "C," and "D") were still in use throughout the 1960's.
Cubs CF Adolfo Phillips suffers a broken hand early in Spring Training (hit by a pitch) and is out of action for most of March, but he is healthy by Opening Day. But Durocher surprises EVERYBODY by leaving Phillips on the bench and naming long-time minor league OF Don Young the Cubs starting CF. The Cubs also purchase veteran 3B-PH Charley Smith from the Giants to back-up Santo and trade #1 utility infielder Lee Elia to the Yankees for veteran 2B Nate Oliver at the end of Spring Training. Oliver had been with the Dodgers when Durocher was the 3rd base coach there in 1961-64, and will be used mainly as a pinch-runner by Leo in 1969, although he can also play 2B.
So on Opening Day 1969, the Cubs looked like this:
Don Kessinger, SS
Glenn Beckert, 2B
Billy Williams, LF
Ron Santo, 3B
Ernie Banks, 1B
Randy Hundley, C
Jim Hickman, RF
Don Young, CF
Gene Oliver, C-1B
Nate Oliver, 2B-PR
Adolfo Phillips, OF
Jimmy Qualls, IF-OF
Ken Rudolph, C
Charley Smith, 3B-2B
Willie Smith, 1B-OF-LHP
Al Spangler, OF
1. Ferguson Jenkins
2. Ken Holtzman
3. Bill Hands
4. Joe Niekro
5. Rich Nye
LHP Darcy Fast (along with Gary Ross, one of the Cubs top two pitching prospects at the time) had been expected to contend for a bullpen spot in 1969, but the Cubs give him permission to remain in college through Spring Training before entering the military.
Durocher prefered a nine-man pitching staff, and in 1969, he used his starting pitchers "Old Schoolî like this:
He had a ìBig Threeî (Jenkins, Holtzman, and Hands) who almost always pitch on three days rest. The ì4th starterî is skipped when the Cubs have a day off. The 5th starter is used only when the combination of a doubleheader and no off days make it impossible to go with just four starters. All starters are expected to pitch a complete game if possible.
Leo uses his bullpen like this:
He has a ìChief Firemanî (Regan) who comes into a game when the Cubs are ahead and the starting pitcher has to leave the game (either because of a pinch-hitter or because he had ìrun out of gasî). Regan pitches as many innings as necessary, but usually not more than two (MAYBE three). If he is well-rested, the fireman can be used in a tie game or even when the Cubs are trailing.
The others (Abernathy and Aguirre, and later Don Nottebart and Ken Johnson) are called ìshort relievers,î and are used for an inning or two late in a game (usually 7th inning or beyond) when a fireman is not needed (like when the Cubs are trailing), but any of them can be used as a fireman if Regan is unable to pitch that day. There is no such thing as a LOOGY, or 8th inning ìset-upî man, or ìone-inning closerî pre-emptively brought into a game in the 9th inning with his team ahead by three-runs or less, in 1969.
So with Regan the "Chief Fireman," Abernathy is the #1 ìshort reliever,î Aguirre is #2, and then Nottebart or Johnson #3 (next on the ìpecking orderî).
The #4 starter (initially Niekro, then Dick Selma) is available to pitch in relief when his spot is skipped to keep the Big Three on three days rest, and the #5 starter (usually Rich Nye) is available to pitch in ìlong reliefî or in an emergency starî (if the scheduled starter unexpectedly unable to pitch at the last minute) whenever he isnít needed for one of his rare pre-scheduled ìspot starts.î
Wth a nine-man pitching staff, Leo has an eight-man bench, including two back-up catchers, and a number of veterans who can be used as pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, or late-inning defensive replacements. Only RF is a platoon (Jim Hickman and Al Spangler), but it isn't really an absolute platoon, because Hickman gets most of the starts.
Although they hadnít yet developed into a contender, the 1968 Mets had a load of young power pitchers, including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and Dick Selma, with Jim McAndrew and Gary Gentry on the way. The Mets inexplicably left Selma (their #4 starter behind Seaver, Koosman, and Ryan) exposed in the Expansion Draft, and the Padres grabbed him.
Meanwhile, for some unknown reason (bad vibrations, maybe?), Durocher had started to sour on both Rich Nye and Joe Niekro, and so when the opportunity presents itself to acquire Dick Selma from the Padres, the Cubs jump on it. The price is the Cubs #4 starter (Joe Niekro), their top pitching prospect (Gary Ross), and a young shortstop they had signed out of Puerto Rico in 1968 named Francisco Libran (who as a non-roster player, had "wowed" Durocher with his defense in Spring Trainingóand this was an annual Spring Training Rite for Leo, getting all excited about some young phenom every year).
LEO (on Libran): ìThat kid is some kind of shortstop. All he needs to do is learn how to hit.î
No question Selma was a legitimate ì#4 starter,î and had the potential to be a member of a ìBig Three.î so the upgrade is considered worth the very steep price. (Of course, if the Cubs had just kept Ray Culp after the 1967 season, the Selma trade wouldnít have been necessary!). But Joe Niekro was no slouch, either. A week before the trade, Niekro had pitched nine shutout innings in a game the Cubs eventually won in 12 (maybe Durocher thought Niekro should have pitched all 12 innings?), and he went on to win 221 games in a 22 year big league career.
Subtracting two pitchers to add one in the Selma deal, the Cubs are now one pitcher short, so they acquire RHP Don Nottebart (another veteran reliever) from the Reds.
The Cubs start the season going 11-1 through their first twelve games, including a thrilling Opening Day victory over the Phillies where the Cubs blow a 5-2 lead in the 9th (Jenkins gives up a three-run homer to Don Money) and then fall behind 6-5 in the 11th, only to have Willie Smith crank a two run homer into the right-field bleachers to win the game in the bottom of the 11th. I got home from high school and turned on Channel 9 just in time to see Willie smoke it. Brickhouse went absolutely CRAZY. He was in ìhey heyî heaven.
The Cubs win 11 of their first 12, and are 16-7 by the end of April. At one point during their April winning streak (4-16 & 4-17), Hands and Jenkins pitch back-to-back shutouts in St. Louis as the Cubs sweep an early two-game series from the N. L. defending champion Cardinals. This is DEFINITELY a new season! Pretty soon, there are ìCUB POWER!î buttons and bumper stickers adorned with pictures of the Cubsí stars.
And a hit record, too!
The Cubs go 16-9. And get this...Cub pitchers throw nine (count 'em, NINE) shutouts in May, including three consecutive whitewash jobs May 11-13 (the May 13th game is a 19-0 shellacking of the Padres, where Dick Selma strikes out 10 and Ernie Banks hits two three-run homers with a total of 7 RBI), and then four out of five (they blank Houston 11-0 in the Astrodome on May 16th). At the 1/3 mark in the season (54 games), the Cubs are 37-17, on a pace to win 111 games!
So Iím watching the ì10th Inningî show sometime in May after the shutout streak, and Dick Selma is Jackís guest. All of a sudden, Brickhouse gets some kind of signal, and tells Selma to put on headphones. And right there on Channel 9, for the first time ever, hot off the presses, we hear the World Premiere of ìHey Hey, Holy Mackerel.î Brick and Selma are boppiní and bounciní to the music, and when itís over, Jack says ìWell, that is just GREAT!î and he asks Selma what he thought of it, and Dick says: ìYa, thatís one of the better ones Iíve heard.î Youíd think Selma was talking to Dick Clark on American Bandstand
And it just kept on going, getting more and more crazy every day. It was like Beatlemania. Except it was Cub-mania.
On days he wasnít starting, Dick Selma would sit in the Cubs bullpen and waive his arm in the circular ìhome runî motion and lead the Bleacher Bums in various chants and cheers. Ron Santo would leap and click his heels while running to the Cubs clubhouse in the left-field corner after every home win. Leo Durocher would gloat daily on his five-minute pre-game radio show about how his hunches were paying off (Durocher had been criticized throughout his career for managing by whim, discarding logic and playing a hunch the way a gambler would throw money at a trifecta). But so far, it was working.
By the end of May, the Cubs are 48-23, 7-1/2 games ahead of the 2nd place Pirates. Both the Cardinals and Mets are playing sub-.500 baseball at this point in time.
Just before the June 15th Trading Deadline, the Cubs pull off another deal, and this one makes Cubs fans nervous:
TRADE: Cubs send OF Adolfo Phillips and Jack Lamabe to MON, Expos send INF Maury Wills to LAD, Dodgers trade INF Paul Popovich to Cubs.
COMMENT: The Cubs finally gave up on Adolfo Phillips, and all they got back for him was a utility infielder (albeit ex-Cub Popovich was a good one). Though everybody was worried that this trade would be another ìLou Brock fiasco,î it wasnít. Sadly, Phillips never found himself (he was a ì4th OFî for Montreal and then later for Cleveland), and he was out of baseball by the time he was 30.
But the Cubs continue rolling merrily along, going 18-11 for the month of June.
After Fergie Jenkins beats the Braves 3-1 on the Fourth of July, it's exactly the halfway point in the schedule, and the Cubs are 53-28, on a pace to win 106 games. So everything is still peachy, as the Cubs go into New York in early July for a three-game series with the improved (and suddenly very ìhipî) Mets. The Cubs are 5-1/2 games in front of the 2nd-place Mets at this point in time, and 13 games in front of the Cardinals. Itís another routine dominating performance by Jenkins, as he carries a two-hitter into the bottom of the 9th (yawn!), and it looks like the Cubs are about to put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the division. I remember half-watching the game on Channel 9 (it was an aftenoon game) while I was playing chess with a friend of mine, and as the bottom of the 9th progresses, I get this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never felt that way before in my life, and certainly never like that about the Cubs! Like I was about to witness a plane crash.
And the Cubs indeed somehow do manage to crash & burn, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In a scene eerily similar to the future 1984 NLCS Game 5 in San Diego or the 2003 NLCS Games 6 at Wrigley, Jenkins gives up a lead-off double to pinch-hitter Ken Boswell, before retiring Tommie Agee. Donn Clendenon then lofts a high fly ball to the warning track in left-center, and Don Young, who had been given the starting CF job because the one thing Leo KNEW Young could do was CATCH the ball, drifted under it, and...
Brickhouse: ìThereís a long fly to centerÖ and itís CAUGHT!... And DROPPED!... By Young...î
No error was charged, but it sure should have been.
Cleon Jones follows the dropped flyball with a game-tying two-run double, and then with two outs, Ed Kranepool fists an opposite-field broken-bat bloop that drops in front of Billy Williams in left, and--poof!ógame over. Mets win 4-3.
The next night, Tom Seaver brings his ìAî game to Shea, and has a perfecto going with two outs in the top of the 9th, before rookie Jimmy Qualls singles to break it up. But Seaver gets his one-hit shutout and the Mets win again, dropping the Cubs lead to 3-1/2 games.
The worst thing about the July losses to the Mets, though, is that Ron Santo blasts Don Young in the newspapers. Young is so upset he runs out of the clubhouse into the streets of Flushing Meadow. A lot of baseball fans (even some Cubs fans) feel sorry for Young (ìHey, he didnít drop the ball on PURPOSE!î), and start booing Ron Santo. Players on other teams start calling the Cubs ìbushî for allowing Selma and Santo to do their ìthingî (Selmaís cheerleadingî and Santoís heel-clicking after victories) at Wrigley. And too much ìHey Hey, Holy Mackerelî is starting to get on peopleís nerves, too. Mine, anyway, for sure.
But even after the two ugly losses in New York, the Cubs recover. Just like a "stopper" is supposed to do it, Bill Hands pitches a three-hitter to keep the Mets from sweeping the series, and the Cubs go 8-4 into the All-Star break, as they seemingly patch up their wounds and get hot again. And the All-Star Game is fun, because the NBC announcers (Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek) gush over the Cubs (I never had heard THAT before!).
On July 20th--the day Neil Armstrong walks on the moon--the Cubs walk all over the Phillies, sweeping a doubleheaeder at Philadelphia, 6-1 and 1-0.
By August, the Cubs have extended their lead over the now-2nd place Cardinals to 9 games (as the Mets have fallen back to 3rd place). Harry Caray was still singing the same old song (ìThe Cardinals are coming, tra la tra laî) on KMOX.
I used to listen to out-of-town baseball broadcasts at night before I went to sleep, and Harry Caray was a great announcer, but he was also irritating. And that's why I could never really accept Harry as a Cubs announcer and especially as a Cub fan the way I did with Jack Brickhouse (who I KNEW was a Cubs fan). Harry put just a little too much enthusiasm into the "Cardinals are coming tra la tra la" thing. But the fact is, the Cards were NOT coming ìtra la, tra la,î and everybody (Cubs fans and Cardinals fans and probably Harry Caray, too) knew it. And the Mets are... well, you know, the METS! So 1969 was definitely, positively the year of the Cub.
I went to about ten Cubs games in June and July (I still have the scorecards, too), but in August, I went with my family on a Route 66 road trip to Southern California that just happened to coincide with a Cubs West Coast Road Trip (and with the Manson Familyís Tate-Lobianca murders, too). The Cubs had always had problems winning in California, but I felt confident this time. Fortunately, Tex Watson and Susan Atkins got nowhere near Ferguson Jenkins and Billy Williams!
I had ìCUB POWER!î bumper stickers plastered all over my suitcase. I can recall my dad driving down a street in L. A. and some bum dressed in a clown costume and wearing a Dodgers cap was holding a sign advertising a sale or something and I stuck my head out of the car window and yelled ìHey clown, CUB POWER!!!!î at him at the top of my lungs, and the clown gave me the finger. We were like the ìObnoxious Traveling Cubs Fansî everybody hates today. We did see the Cubs play at Dodger Stadium, though, although the Cubs lost two out of three there. Disneyland and Universal Studios were cool, though
Then we head down to San Diego for a trip to Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and a two-game series at the Murph (though it wasnít called that then). We stayed in the same hotel as the Cubs (as did a number of other Cub fans--sort of an early version of the "Cubs Conventon"), and I got several autographs from Cubs players passing through the lobby. And My "CUB POWER!" suitcase identified me as a certifiable (and I mean CERTIFIABLE) "Cub Fan." The security guard at San Diego County Stadium let us into the ballpark early so we could find the "perfect" seats (ìFind some you like, folks, and then tell the clerk at the window where you want to sitî). Nice people in San Diego. (To this day, I still love San Diego, and go there a lot). And best of all, the Cubs sweep the Padres!
At the first Cubs-Padres game, a new Padres team song is introduced, and it's really something. I believe some guy from The Lawrence Welk
Show wrote it and performed it, and it had a bit of a polka beat to it, and it went something like this (it was called "Let's Go Padres"):
"Let's go Padres!
Hit one down the line.
Let's Go Padres!
Hustle all the time.
Let's Go Padres!
We will wait for you,
We will wait and we will wait,
Until you come through."
Something like that.
Anyway, by the second verse, all us Cub fans who were there (and I'm pretty sure there were a lot more Cubs fans present than Padres fans) had learned the song, so we shouted "Cubbies! over "Padres!" when it got to that part of the song, drowning out the Padre faithful. They did not perform the song again the second night.
I'm not absolutely sure, it's just a theory on my part, but I believe part of the Padres motivation in coming back as they did against the Cubs in the last three NLCS games at San Diego in 1984 had something to do with the way us Ugly Traveling Cub Fans' blastered "Let's Go Padres!" in August 1969.
Combined with a four-game split in San Francisco (Woodstock was that weekend, but of course I didn't go there, and since we were out in California, we COULD have gone up to San Francisco for the four game series there, but instead we spent a few days with my grandmother in Van Nuys). My parents wanted to stop in Vegas on our way home--I told my dad to put a thousand on the Cubs, but he didn't (thank God!), and the Cubs end up going 5-4 on the West Coast swing. They then come home to start a series with the Braves, and on our way home, motoring down I-80 in Nebraska, we heard on the radio that Kenny Holtzman had pitched a no-hitter, and that Billy Williams had made a game saving catch of a sure-fire Hank Aaron home run to save the no-no. So I was feeling pretty good about the Cubs when I got back home, although naturally I was disappointed that I missed seeing the no-hitter, since if I hadnít been in Califirnia, I probably would have been at that game! But I guess you can't have everything.
The day Holtzman pitches his no-hitter, the Cubs are nine games in front of the Mets and Cardinals, with 41 left to play. But there is still one Big Problem. The whole time the Cubs are playing well on their West Coast trip, the Mets (of all teams) just keep winning. After the Holtzman no-hitter, the Cubs lose seven out of nine, while the Mets are going 14-2. The Mets would not go away. And their lineup sucked, too. Of course, they also had the best collection of young pitching in baseball, too, but still... they're the friggin' METS, damn it!
And suddenly there is this National Media thing about the Mets. First there's Woodstock, then the next week it's the Mets.
Could the Mets maybe actually win the pennant!!?? The same team that lost 120 games in 1962?!!! The cute, lovable AMAZIN'Mets?!!! Blah, blah, blah.
Gene McCarthy or George McGovern says ìIf the Mets can win the pennant, then we can get out of Vietnam,î and Tom Seaver responds ìIf the Mets donít win the pennant, we can STILL get out of Vietnam.î
That sort of thing. Kind of ìanti-establishment.î The same thing Joe Namath did a few months later when he led the Jets to the upset over the Colts in the Super Bowl. Rock & roll. Stick it to the Man (who was, I guess, P. K. Wrigley, Leo Durocher, and everything they stood for). That would be gum, in Wrigley's case. Wrigley's Chewing Gum. That's what was wrong with America. And of course Leo Durocher represented the swingin' Frank Sinatra Ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack, and that wasn't youthful rebellion, either. Heck, that's our PARENTS thing.
So now itís September 2nd. The Cubs have just defeated the Reds 8-2 at Crosley Field behind Ferguson Jenkins, have won six in a row, are 32 games over .500 (the most games theyíve been over .500 all year), and are on a pace to win 100 games. The Mets are 5-1/2 games back with only 26 games left to play. The Cubs got it in the bag, right?
Unfortunately, beginning on September 3rd, the Cubs lose eight in a row and 11 out of 12, while the Mets go 11-3. After getting shut-out in the last game of the two-game series at Crosley on September 3rd (another tough loss for Bill Hands), the Cubs go home and get swept in Wrigley by the Pirates, the first two blow-outs where first Ken Holtzman and then Fergie Jenkins get knocked out early (I was at the Saturday game), and the last of the three a dagger where after the Cubs heroically come back from a 4-2 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the 8th, Phil Regan blows the save by giving up a two-out two strike game-tying home run to Willie Stargell onto Sheffield Avenue in the top of the 9th (BRICKHOUSE: ìOh, no!î), with the Pirates going on to win in 11 (and completing the three-game sweep) as they score two runs off newly-acquired knuckleballin' reliever Ken Johnson (purchased from the Yankees in August). If there is any game that killed the season for the Cubs, it was this one.
So on the heels of probably the worst loss of the season, and carrying a four-game losing streak on their backs, the Cubs leave on a ten day, nine-game, four-city road trip, leading the Mets by only 2-1/2 games.
Itís a Road Trip that will live in Cub Infamy.
The Road Trip from Hell.
Imagine Game 6 and Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS spread over ten days. It was like that.
In the first game of the two-game showdown series at Shea Stadium on Monday night September 8th, the Mets score a run in the bottom of the 5th to break a 2-2 tie and hang on to beat Bill Hands and the Cubs 3-2. (Thatís the game where the umpire blows the call and rules Tommie Agee ìsafeî at home in the bottom of the 5th, sending Randy Hundley into apoplexy). The next night, Jenkins gets creamed (second start in a row) and the Mets win 7-1, getting within a half game of first place. And a black cat runs across the Shea Stadium field into the Cubs dugout. The Cubs leave New York Ω game in front of the Mets, but one down in the loss column and 25 heads down on the team bus. The Cubs bats are ice cold.
Moving on to Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Phillies score four runs in the last two innings--including a three-spot off super-struggling Phil Regan in the 8th, when long-time Cub nemesis Johnny Callison rips a pinch-hit single to Beckertís left into RF, scoring two runs. The Mets take over 1st place. The next night, another dagger. (Will these frigginí daggers never cease?). Dick Selma takes a one-run lead into the bottom of the 8th, but Richie Allenís two-run homer gives the Phils a 4-3 victory. Things are getting REALLY desperate now, so Leo sticks 19-year old Oscar Gamble (the Cubs #1 prospect at the time) into the starting lineup in CF.
The Cubs next take their now eight-game losing streak to St. Louis. But Bill Hands stops the bleeding with a masterful complete game, as the Cubs win 5-1 in Game 1 of the series. Ernie Banks drives in four, three on a bases loaded double. There is still time to turn it around! Isn't there?
On Saturday, Randy Hundley slugs a two-run home run to give the Cubs the lead, and Fergie Jenkins takes a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th, but guess what happens. Reliever Ken Johnson walks the bases loaded and then walks in the tying run, before Phil Regan (that man again!) surrenders two consecutive two-out RBI hits. On Sunday, Ken Holtzman and Bob Gibson both pitch ten inning complete games, but the Cardinals win 2-1 on a game-winning home run by--guess who... yep--Lou Brock in the bottom of the 10th.
Next up: Montreal. Can it get any worse? Yes, it probably can.
Ron Fairly (two doubles and a two-run homer) and the Expos (on their way to losing 110 games) pound the demoralized Cubs 8-2 on Tuesday night, dispatching Dick Selma after only four innings. That makes (what?) 11 out of 12. (I've lost count). Bill Hands (the Cubs "stopper" throughout the last few weeks of the season) pitches the Cubs to a 5-4 win on Wednesday to salvage a split with the Expos, but I am afraid itís too late.
By the time they get back home to the Friendly Confines on September 19th, the Cubs are four games behind the Mets. Although the Cubs have stopped their losing ways, and go 7-7 over the last 14 games, the Mets win nine of their last ten, finishing with 100 victories, and eight games in front of the Cubs.
About the 1969 season, Leo Durocher would say: ìWe didnít LOSE it. The Mets WON it. They deserved it.î And you know, maybe Leo was right. The Mets won 37 of their last 48 games, and 22 of their last 27, including winning streaks of ten games and nine games in September, not to mention winning 14 out of 16 in August. The Mets had a lot of rain outs early in the season, and so they had to play a unusually high number of doubleheaders in August in September. Starting on August 16th, the Mets played nine doubleheaders, sweeping six and splitting two. The Mets were a juggernaut the last six weeks of the season.
But even if Leo was right, even if the Mets WON it and the Cubs did not LOSE it, it FELT like the Cubs blew it. Maybe it was the WAY it happened, but I felt embarrassed to be a Cub fan during the post-69 off-season. Just like I did after the 1984 NLCS, and just like I did after the 2003 NLCS. Teams just donít LOSE like that. Maybe the 1919 Black Sox did, but things like that arenít supposed to happen outside of a Cub Fan's worst nightmare.
Ironically, if the Cubs and Cardinals had been placed in the N. L. West instead of the N. L. East (as had been the original plan, and if the Braves and Reds had been assigned to the N. L. East, the Cubs would have certainly won the N. L. West in 1969, and would have at least had a CHANCE to beat the Mets in the NLCS and get into the World Series. Maybe.