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A Game From Cubs History: May 28, 1980

The Cubs won a suspended game started on this date in a most unusual way.

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

Before I tell you the story of this unusual game, here's another one, about me and the 1980 Cubs. I was working for a suburban radio station at the time that Preston Gomez was hired as manager, and wound up at his introductory press conference. I asked him, "What makes you different than all the other managers who have come here and failed?"

He mumbled some reply about "increasing the running game."

The 1980 Cubs finished second-to-last in the National League in stolen bases, Gomez was fired in late July, and the team had the worst record in the league and its worst mark since 1966, losing 98 games.

So much for the running game.

The game I'm writing about here started on May 28, and wound up suspended. There was good reason to do that, as Cooper Rollow wrote in the Tribune:

Lightning knocked out the public address system, and darkness wiped out the Cubs and Montreal Expos Wednesday afternoon in Wrigley Field after a 10-inning, 3-3 tie.

At 4:47 p.m., after Jerry Martin had lined a vicious shot that Montreal relief pitcher Stan Bahnsen luckily took in his glove rather than on the nose for the last out in the 10th, umpire Harry Wendelstedt peered up at the darkened press box and gave a hand signal that meant the game was suspended.

”The P.A. system was out, and there was no other way to announce it, “ Wendelstedt said. “The hitters were complaining they couldn’t see. I could see it wasn’t going to get any lighter. Somebody might have gotten hurt.”

Only minutes before Wendelstedt called Wednesday’s game, with Martin pinch-hitting for Bruce Sutter, lightning hit a transformer and knocked out the power in many of the Cubs’ offices, the press box and other areas of the park. WGN’s telecast and radio broadcast were not affected.

By the suspended-game rules in effect in pre-lights Wrigley Field, the game was set to resume before the next scheduled Expos/Cubs game at Wrigley, August 8. Here's what happened then, according to the Tribune's Mike Kiley:

Montreal had broken a 3-3 tie with a run in the 12th. With two outs and runners on first and second, it looked like the Expos would get more when Warren Cromartie hit a shot to the wall.

[Scot] Thompson leaped against the vines for it, and the ball appeared to hit his glove, but he fell down without it.

Television replays clearly showed the ball floating toward a seated Thompson and rolling down his arm. The ball landed near his reach, almost in his lap, and he deftly placed it in his glove.

[Umpire Bruce] Froemming ruled that Thompson caught the falling ball. “He was in a bad position to call the play,” Cromartie complained. “He wasn’t close enough at all. The ball hit the wall and the ground.”

Bruce Froemming. We know him as an umpire who used to rule against the Cubs whenever he could, but on this occasion, he gave the Cubs one. The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the 12th, and won it in unusual fashion.

By baseball rules, anyone who is on the roster on the date of the completion of a suspended game is eligible to play, even if he wasn't on the team when the game started. Up stepped Cliff Johnson, who had been acquired from the Indians June 23, about four weeks after the original game began.

The bases were loaded in the bottom of the 14th with two out, and Johnson hit a walkoff grand slam to give the Cubs an 8-4 win. Walkoff slams are fairly rare -- it's happened 170 times between 1950 and 2012, a little less than three times a year.

Officially, statistics for suspended games are counted on the date of the original game -- so technically, Johnson hit his slam for the Cubs while he was a member of the Indians. On May 28, Johnson went 2-for-4 with a run scored and one driven in for Cleveland in a 10-6 win over the Orioles in Baltimore.

If you look at Johnson's 1980 game logs, he's shown as playing in two games for two different teams on that date.

Cliff Johnson was a great hitter, but really couldn't play defense. The Astros tried him at catcher; he was pretty bad there, and he actually attempted to play a handful of games in left field for the Cubs, which were laughably awful (two putouts, one error, fielding percentage of .667). He had a decent run as a DH for the Athletics and Blue Jays at the end of his career, but if he'd been installed as a DH for someone from the start of his career, he might have hit twice the 196 career home runs he actually wound up with. The man could hit. (A previous era's Dan Vogelbach, if you will.)

And on one day in 1980, he was a Cubs hero.

Here's the full 1980 scorecard image; click on it to open a larger version in a new browser window or tab.