General view of Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. The 1979 MLB All-Star Game was played here. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Once upon a time, the Cubs didn't have many good players on their team.
No, I'm not talking about now, although I could be. During the late 1970s, Cubs teams were marginal contenders, even though they many times had trouble scoring runs. In 1978, the entire team hit only 72 home runs; Dave Kingman hit 28, but no one else had more than nine. Radio DJs said the team had the "Rush Street Offense": lots of singles, no action.
But the Cubs did have a star closer, and the first to be used only when his team was tied or ahead in the late innings, thanks to manager Herman Franks: Bruce Sutter. Sutter was dominant in 1977, although when he went on the DL the team began to tank. He was not quite as good in 1978, when he made his second All-Star appearance in the game played July 11, 1978 at San Diego.
Sutter was the only Cub on the NL squad that consisted largely of stars from the dominant teams of the era, the Reds, Phillies and Pirates. Sutter came into the game in the top of the eighth with the NL trailing 3-2. He retired George Brett on a groundout and then struck out Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, stars of the powerful Red Sox team of that time.
The NL exploded for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, putting Sutter in line for the win. He retired the first two hitters in the ninth inning on easy fly balls, and then NL manager Tommy Lasorda decided he wanted Phil Niekro's knuckleball to get Darrell Porter out. Niekro got Porter to pop up and the National League had a win, credited to Sutter.
The next year, the game was played in Seattle's Kingdome. Dave Kingman, who became the first Cub in almost 50 years to hit 48 or more home runs (since Hack Wilson in 1930) that year, joined Sutter as Cubs representatives on the NL All-Star team. Kingman, though, sat on the NL bench, not playing in the game.
Sutter came into the game in the bottom of the eighth after the NL had tied the game in the top of the inning on a Lee Mazzilli home run. He gave up a single and after a bunt and intentional walk, struck out Bobby Grich. Graig Nettles singled, but Brian Downing was thrown out at the plate trying to score, and the game remained tied.
The NL scored to make it 7-6 in the top of the ninth on a bases-loaded walk -- to Mazzilli -- and this time, Lasorda left Sutter in to finish off the win. After a groundout and a strikeout, he walked Chet Lemon to put the tying run on, but then struck out Rick Burleson to end the game.
Perhaps a "win" in an All-Star game doesn't mean that much any more to an individual pitcher, but in 1978 and 1979, when Cubs fans didn't have that much to cheer for, knowing that Bruce Sutter was getting national recognition for these two All-Star appearances was, at least, something that brought pleasure, at least before Sutter departed the North Side after 1980 via a trade to the Cardinals. At least that deal brought Leon Durham, who was productive for a few years.