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A Game From Cubs History: August 17, 1982

The Cubs were under new ownership in 1982, with many new players. That didn't stop them from losing games in almost incomprehensible ways.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Many changes awaited Cubs fans as the 1982 season dawned. There was new ownership of the team in Tribune Company. Several new players dotted the starting lineup, including a player Cubs fans used to hate in ex-Phillie Larry Bowa; second baseman Bump Wills; and rookie third baseman Ryne Sandberg. The management team at Tribco had also hired Harry Caray as lead TV broadcaster after the White Sox' new ownership group had fired him. It was also a time when fans outside of Chicago were beginning to discover the Cubs, as WGN-TV started to be carried on more cable systems nationwide.

None of this changed the play of the team; by the end of June — a month that saw the Cubs go 8-20 — they were 29-48, 14 games out of first place, and at the end of July, 40-65, 20½ games behind. But then the team started winning, just a bit; a six-game winning streak gave fans hope that somehow, some way, maybe the "Building A New Tradition" of general manager Dallas Green just might work.

And then came August 17, the first game of a nine-game homestand against West Coast visitors, the Dodgers, Padres and Giants.

At first, it seemed like an ordinary game. The Cubs sneaked across a run in the bottom of the first inning when Sandberg singled, stole second, was sacrificed to third (shades of Don Baylor, two decades early!) and scored on an infield out. The Dodgers tied the game just a few minutes later, in the top of the second, on a two-out single by Mike Scioscia after Bill Russell had doubled.

And then... a whole lot of nothing happened. The Cubs had the winning run on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but could not score. The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, but the Cubs got out of it with a double play. The game moved on as if in a daze; no one had a runner in scoring position until the bottom of the 15th, when the Cubs loaded the bases with two out. Nothing doing; a line drive to left ended the frame.

It was still six years before lights at Wrigley would have allowed this game to continue indefinitely. At 6:45 p.m., after the 17th inning, the game was suspended for darkness. Since it was the first game of the series, the teams continued it before the next day's scheduled game, starting at noon.

When the game resumed, Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey — who would be a Cub the following year — was ejected after being picked off in the 20th inning, along with their manager, Tommy Lasorda. The Tribune's Robert Markus explains:

The call was made by Dave Pallone, who had called Ken Landreaux out on a similar play in the 12th inning Tuesday. Lasorda had been livid at that call, which appeared to be correct, so imagine his ire Wednesday when TV replays showed Pallone probably blew this one.That’s what Cey was trying to tell the umpire when he got the thumb. That brought Lasorda storming from the dugout, trying more to save his third baseman than argue the call. He repeatedly pushed Cey away from Pallone -- and none too gently, either.

And why was Lasorda so adamant? Because the Dodgers had no position players left on the bench. When Cey was tossed, Pedro Guerrero had to move from the outfield to third base, and pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was put in left field... where he swapped places with another future Cubs personage, right fielder Dusty Baker, depending on which side of the plate Cubs hitters were batting from.

It wasn't to be the last time an umpire was involved in a controversial call. Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax doubled with one out in the 21st inning and was wild-pitched to third base. After a walk, Baker stepped to the plate and hit a fly ball to right fielder Keith Moreland, who threw to Jody Davis, who tagged Sax out trying to score.

Except that's not the way plate umpire Eric Gregg — and now you know why he's pictured here — saw the play, according to Markus:

The throw reached Davis on the fly, a few feet up the line. Davis slapped the tag on Sax and Gregg, to his eternal chagrin, had his right arm three quarters up in the air to call Sax out when he flattened his palms and called him safe.

I was at this game. It was clear to me watching it live in person that Sax was out. I watched the replays later, and it was still clear to me that Sax was out. Who knows how much longer this game would have gone?

In the bottom of the 21st, Valenzuela was replaced in the outfield by another pitcher, Bob Welch, who also rotated from left field to right field with Baker. The Cubs had also run out of bench players, so pitcher Allen Ripley — who had thrown the wild pitch allowing Sax to get to third — had to bat. He flied out, but to Landreaux in center field, leaving Welch and Baker to watch the first out. Davis and Steve Henderson grounded out and the Dodgers had a 2-1, 21-inning win; it is, to this day, tied for the longest game by innings at Wrigley Field (the only other 21-inning Wrigley game was this 2-1 Cubs win over the Phillies July 17, 1918), and its length of six hours and 10 minutes is still the longest-ever Wrigley game by time. The Dodgers wound up using all 25 men on their roster; the Cubs used 20.

I shouldn't speak ill of the deceased — Gregg died in 2006 — but nearly 31 years after this game, I still believe Steve Sax was out.