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Farewell, Wonderful Willie

Willie Smith, 1968 (from -- the patch on the sleeve is for the 150th anniversary of Illinois statehood)

Willie Smith, nicknamed "Wonderful", whose pinch-hit, walkoff (even though such things weren't called that then), two-run, 11th-inning home run for the Cubs at Wrigley Field on opening day, April 8, 1969 sent 40,796 fans into bedlam, passed away of an apparent heart attack on Monday in his hometown of Anniston, Alabama.

Smith began his career with the Tigers as a pitcher, but even then it was clear that he could hit, so by the time he got to the Angels he had moved to the outfield on days he wasn't pitching. He came to the Cubs in 1968 in exchange for Lou Johnson, and became a reliable backup outfielder and first baseman -- though he did pitch in one game for the Cubs that season, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings.

He didn't have a great career -- a .248 lifetime BA and .295 OBA, with 46 HR in 1654 at-bats.

But one of those home runs is etched forever in Cub lore -- that game had seemed lost, after Fergie Jenkins blew a 5-0 lead and allowed a game-tying 3-run HR in the 9th, and then the Phillies took the lead in the top of the 11th, before Randy Hundley singled and Smith hit his blast into the RF bleachers.

I wasn't there that day, being in the seventh grade and all, but watching it on TV was nearly as exciting, and we all thought -- as that wasn't just the home opener, but the season opener -- that it portended an end to the Cubs' pennant drought.

They got off to an 11-1 start, and for 155 days -- till they fell out of first place on September 10 -- we thought it was really happening.

Oh, well. Godspeed, Willie, and thanks for one spectacular memory.