1976 was a transitional year in Cubs history. Longtime general manager John Holland had retired at the end of the previous year... and was replaced by E.R. "Salty" Saltwell, who had been the team's treasurer and business manager. Saltwell had little knowledge of baseball and was derided as a "peanut vendor." One of the first deals he made was to ship out Andre Thornton -- who was the team's best hitter in 1975 -- for Steve Renko and Larry Biittner. Biittner provided some comic relief over the years, and Renko was traded to the White Sox a year later. It was a mostly-useless deal for the Cubs; it would have been nice to see Thornton at first base for the Cubs over the next decade or so.
In any case, the season was mostly a lost cause; the Cubs had just one winning month (August) and spent most of the year in fourth or fifth place, saved from a last-place finish by the horrific Expos, who went 55-107.
Before all that, though, the Cubs and Phillies played a game for the ages at Wrigley Field on a warm, windy, early-season Saturday. The Phillies won 18-16 in 10 innings after the Cubs had piled up an 11-run lead. That is a National League record for the biggest blown lead (are you surprised that the Cubs hold this mark?). Here's the rest of the story from the Tribune's Richard Dozer:
The combined delights of hitting behind a 2O mile-an-hour wind in Wrigley Field against a Cub pitching staff that only a foe could love thrust Mike Schmidt, the National League home run champion, full force into the big league record book Saturday. Schmidt smashed four consecutive home runs to set a modern National League record. With them, he drove across eight runs and dragged the Philadelphia Phillies off the floor to an incredible 18-16 victory in 1O innings before 28,287 shellshocked spectators. Unbelievably defeated in this one, the staggered Cubs actually were ahead at one stage by a 13-2 score. But while Philadelphia pitchers were knocking down Cub hitters to gain a measure of respect Cub hurlers rarely attain, the whipped Chicagoans were overtaken in a three-run Philadelphia ninth.
That's right, the Cubs actually had to come back with a three-run ninth of their own just to tie the game and send it to extras. This sort of thing happened frequently during in the 1970s at Wrigley Field, when windy, warm Aprils and Mays were common. From 1970 to 1980 there were 16 games in which both teams scored in double figures at Wrigley. The Cubs, naturally, went 4-12 in those games.
The "knocking down" of Cubs hitters that Dozer writes about refers mainly to Rick Monday, who got plunked by Wayne Twitchell after having homered twice earlier in the game (the Cubs had knocked former nemesis Steve Carlton out of the game in the second inning). Umpires managed to cool things off before a bench-clearing brawl could begin.
"They tried to tell me he was just wild," Monday bristled. "Let him be wild in the minor leagues. Let me just say this -- the timing was suspect. If he was throwing at me, they have a couple coming."
Fun, but ultimately meaningless in another losing Cubs year.
Here's the full 1976 scorecard image. This is a watershed drawing -- the first to break from the format of "OFFICIAL PROGRAM" with the price next to those words at the top and "CHICAGO CUBS WRIGLEY FIELD" at the bottom. It has the Cubs' centennial logo on the bottom right, and it's also the first to feature an African-American player on the cover, honoring Bill Madlock, who won the N.L. batting title in 1975 and would repeat his feat in 1976. For that, he got himself shipped to San Francisco before 1977 began. Click on the image to open a larger version in a new browser window or tab.