Profile by BCB reader Chris
Phil Regan is included on the list of the Top 100 Cubs for two outstanding seasons as a relief pitcher. In 1968, after coming to the Cubs from the Dodgers along with Jim Hickman, he led the National League in saves with 25. Famous for his spitball, Regan probably is best remembered as the closer for the '69 Cubs, where he won 12 games (he was known as the "Vulture" for such late-inning wins) and saved 17. This profile will not, however, be devoted to recounting Regan's Cubs career. It will instead aspire to the far loftier task of righting a wrongful perception of history.
I was fortunate to have been young enough in 1969 to be spared the pain of the Cubs' late season meltdown. So I look back on that season with solemn respect as a disaster viewed through the lens of the history books -- sort of like the sinking of the Titanic. In that sense, Regan has been seen by some as the watchman in the crow's nest. Jerome Holtzman and George Vass provided this harsh judgment: "He continued to be successful for most of 1969 but began to show the effects of wear and tear late in the season as the Cubs faded before the onrush of the New York Mets."
Randy Hundley, in Rick Talley's "The Cubs of '69", said "We just flat wore Phil Regan out. Leo [Durocher] started going to him all the time. What did he pitch, 112 innings in 71 games? That's a bunch for a short relief man. Now, if he pitches 80 or 90 innings in 71 games, he might survive. But Leo didn't feel he could count on the other guys out there, so he kept calling on Regan."
History, thus, seems to view Regan as the beleaguered reliever singlehandedly trying to hold a relentlessly dwindling division lead with his arm falling off. History is wrong.
It is likely that the stigma attached to Regan from a single game. On September 7, the Pirates completed a three game sweep against the Cubs. In that game, the Cubs led 5-4 with two outs in the ninth. Regan worked Willie Stargell to a 2-2 count. One strike away from victory, Stargell homered onto Sheffield Avenue into (according to Ron Santo) a 35 mile per hour wind blowing in. The Cubs went on to lose 7-5 in 11 innings, cutting their division lead to 2 1/2 games. (Regan rightly pointed out later that "the home run didn't beat us. We lost the game two innings later.")
[Note from Al: that game is the earliest surviving scorecard in my collection. I was there, and I think most of us knew it was just about over after that loss. It was crushing.]
The Cubs lost 17 games in September of 1969. The Stargell game was Regan's only blown save in those 17 games. Further, a review of each of the September losses via Retrosheet (Al, I want hazardous duty pay) finds only three other losses for which Regan arguably bears any formal or informal responsibility:
- September 10 - Regan enters with the Cubs already down a run and allows three additional runs. However, Regan cannot ultimately be blamed as the Cubs did nothing in the ninth and presumably would have lost anyway.
- September 13 - Regan enters after a run had scored to tie the game and allows three inherited runners to score.
- September 18 - Regan takes the loss, entering after a run had scored to tie the game and giving up two runs.
Thus (absolving September 10), of 17 Cubs losses in September, Regan can only be directly blamed for three. It obviously wasn't his fault.
As a further thought, Hundley and others also suggest that if Regan had not been so overworked, he might have been able to pitch in additional games that were lost by other pitchers. But this doesn't hold water, either. In September games lost by the Cubs where Regan did not pitch, the lead was surrendered after the seventh inning in only three - 9/11, 9/14, and 9/20. In addition, the Cardinals blew open a one-run lead late in the second game of a doubleheader on 9/19. Even bearing every possible inference against Regan, he could conceivably be responsible for no more than seven of the seventeen losses.
Many years later, I watched Phil Regan manage the Baltimore Orioles in several games while guiding them to a near-.500 record and a third place finish at Camden Yards. Little did I know at the time that one of the top 100 Cubs had been falsely haunted by history.
(Dempster, don't expect me to get you off the hook.)