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It's BCB's 10th Birthday! Celebrate With This Cubs Alternate History

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A decade has gone by since this site began. To honor this milestone, here's some imaginary Cubs history from a watershed year.

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Bleed Cubbie Blue's first post happened 10 years ago today, February 9, 2005. This was the sixth SB Nation (then known as "Sports Blogs") site -- after Athletics Nation, Lookout Landing, McCovey Chronicles, DRays Bay and Red Reporter. I like to use the old hockey term to call BCB part of the "Original Six" of SB Nation blogs, which now number more than 300.

Much has happened to the Chicago Cubs in that decade. There have been two playoff appearances that both ended in failure, the sale of the team, the construction of a new spring-training complex in Arizona, the beginnings of construction on Wrigley Field renovations and the complete teardown and rebuild of the Cubs' roster and farm system by new management, the fruits of which we are beginning to see.

I thought a long time about how to celebrate this anniversary. Rather than just sum up the last 10 years either from a team or a BCB standpoint, I thought I'd write something completely different than the things I usually do here.

I came up with the idea of an alternate-history article, to turn one of the biggest disappointments and failures in Cubs history into a rousing success, and to give you all an open-ended ending to it, so that you could postulate what might happen next. Before I begin, a hat-tip to George Castle, who wrote "Alou Makes The Catch," an e-book collection of Cubs alternate-history vignettes.

This one not only attempts to create an alternate history for the team on the field, but to then put in place people who could have significantly changed Cubs history going forward. Hope you like it. Happy 10th anniversary to us!

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Ernie Banks' recent passing reminded me that he's the all-time leader in most games played without playing in the postseason - 2,528 games. With more teams eligible for postseason play now than during Ernie's time, that mark will likely stand forever.

It got me thinking about 1969 and how that was Ernie's best, and really last, chance to play in the postseason and have any significant impact. The Cubs contended in 1970, but Ernie was a part-time player by then and might not have played much in the playoffs. It was said in 1972 after Ernie retired, that had the Cubs made the playoffs that year, they'd almost certainly have activated him to make him postseason-eligible so he could have participated just once.

It never happened, and of course most of Ernie's longtime teammates in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the team that's beloved in part because they never won anything, didn't make the postseason either. Of that group, only Billy Williams, who had a handful of at-bats for the Athletics in the 1975 ALCS, ever tasted postseason play.

We were talking about "do-overs" a bit last week, and that gave me this idea of a big-time Cubs "do-over." With your indulgence, I've created this alternate-history timeline, changing the facts on the ground just a bit, to allow Ernie his one taste of glory.

The first butterfly-effect thing I'm going to change is to have the National League office allow the Cubs' protest of the June 30, 1969 game in Montreal. That's the game in which Ernie hit a home run on a wet, foggy night with poor visibility and it was disallowed because Expos right fielder Rusty Staub kicked some dirt around the fence and told the umpires the ball went under the fence. (Staub later said he had to turn away from the umps after telling them that because he couldn't stop laughing after he realized they actually believed him.)

In our alternate timeline, N.L. President Warren Giles overrules the umpires and grants Ernie the home run, which was hit leading off the second inning. It gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead, and the game is ordered replayed from that point before the final game of that series, July 3. The Cubs recall Jim Colborn from Triple-A to make his major-league debut in the resumption of that game, and Colborn shuts out the Expos the rest of the way. The Cubs win the game 4-0.

This change also means that Ernie Banks' 500th home run will be hit May 9, 1970 off Don Gullett of the Cincinnati Reds on a bright, sunny day at Wrigley Field in front of 33,168.

So the alt-Cubs, going into early September, have now won one more game than in the real-life timeline. They go into the game of September 7 at Wrigley against the Pirates with an 85-54 record, 4 ½ games ahead of the Mets, but having lost three in a row.

They're about to break that losing streak. Trailing 4-2 going into the last of the seventh, they score a run on a single by Glenn Beckert and Jim Hickman's two-run homer in the eighth gives them a 5-4 lead. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs closer Phil Regan is facing Pirates slugger Willie Stargell. With two strikes on Stargell, Regan fires away...

... and Stargell swings and misses, striking out!

The happy Cubs board their plane for New York with confidence. They are now 86-54, still 4 ½ games in first place.

The first game at Shea is played in front of a raucous crowd of 43,274. The Cubs spot the Mets a 2-0 lead on Tommie Agee's home run, but tie it on RBI hits from Billy Williams and Ron Santo in the sixth. In the bottom of that inning, Agee leads off with a double and Wayne Garrett, the next hitter, singles to right. Jim Hickman, a former Met, throws home and...

... Agee is out! He jumps up and down, screaming at home-plate umpire Satch Davidson, but Davidson is unmoved. The game stays tied.

Starters Jerry Koosman and Bill Hands keep battling. The game remains deadlocked through nine innings. In the top of the 10th, Don Kessinger singles and steals second - just his 12th steal of the year, though that's enough to lead the team. Glenn Beckert sacrifices Kess to third, meaning a fly ball could give the Cubs the lead. Koosman, still in the game, strikes out Williams. Santo draws a walk, leaving Ernie as the potential hero...

... and Ernie promptly singles into the left-center field gap, scoring Kessinger. Regan sets the Mets down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 10th, silencing their crowd and giving the Cubs a 5 ½ game lead with 22 games remaining - their magic number stands at 18.

But these things never seem to go the way you want them to. Fergie Jenkins has one of his rare bad games the next day in New York, losing 7-1, and they also lose the first game of a two-game set in Philadelphia 6-2 while the Mets are sweeping a doubleheader from the Expos. This drops the lead to three games, now with 20 games to go.

Dick Selma starts the series wrap in Philadelphia and Ernie gives the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first with a sacrifice fly. With two out in the bottom of the third, Selma has Tony Taylor picked off second base. Selma looks toward third to try to throw Taylor out and...

... miraculously, Santo, who had been playing out of position, races there to take Selma's throw and tag Taylor out. Selma settles down and Ernie gives him a 2-0 lead in the eighth with a home run. Unfortunately, Selma coughs that right back by giving up a two-run homer to Richie Allen. Opening Day hero Willie Smith pinch-hits for reliever Hank Aguirre in the ninth and smacks what turned out to be the game-winning homer. The Mets also win, so the Cubs' lead stays at three games, at 88-56 to 84-58. The Cubs' magic number is 17.

The teams battle through the rest of the schedule, hurtling toward a two-game set at Wrigley that will conclude the regular season. The Cubs tenaciously hold on to the division lead they've had since Opening Day, but go just 8-8 over their next 16 games. The Mets, with two games more to play before that final set, go 11-7. That gives the Cubs a one-game lead at 96-64 to New York's 95-65; they need win just one of the two games to be division champions.

The first of the two games, played on a Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley in front of a full house of 38,812, many playing hooky from school or work, is an epic battle. The game goes into the ninth inning tied 3-3, when Agee doubles in two runs off Ken Holtzman. But the Cubs tie it in the bottom of the ninth on a Paul Popovich single and a groundout by Williams. The Mets take the three-hour, 20-minute battle in the 12th on an RBI single by Art Shamsky off Aguirre.

The race is tied with one game to go.

Again, Wrigley is packed to the rafters. 39,216 fans make the season attendance total 1,844,844, a team record breaking the old mark set 40 years earlier.

The Mets take the early lead with a two-run single in the first inning by Ken Boswell off Bill Hands. But Hands settles down and the Cubs are trailing just 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth. Popovich and Williams single, and after Santo strikes out, Ernie comes to bat.

All these years later, every Cubs fan can hear Jack Brickhouse's call, played so often over the intervening time: "Ernie swings and there's a fly ball to left! Back! Back! BACK! HEY-HEY! It's a three-run homer! And off his old teammate, Don Cardwell! The Cubs lead 5-3! WHEEEEEEEE!"

Rookie Joe Decker shut the Mets down for the final innings and when Boswell grounded sharply to Ernie, who flipped to Decker for the out, the Cubs were champions of the National League East with a 96-66 mark, one game better than the Mets' 95-67.

The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time in 24 years. It's almost anticlimactic. They sweep the Braves in the NLCS and match up against the powerful Baltimore Orioles, A.L. champions with 109 regular-season wins.

The O's pitching, so dominant during the regular season, gets chewed up by Cubs hitters, who shell Mike Cuellar and win 8-2 in Game 1 on the strength of homers by Ernie and Billy and good pitching by Jenkins. Baltimore comes back to win Game 2 at home against Holtzman, but Hands is ready for Game 3 at Wrigley and shuts out the tough Baltimore hitters in a 2-0 Cubs victory. Selma starts Game 4 and gets pounded with six Oriole runs in the first inning, but the Cubs hit Dave McNally just as hard and the wild game winds up in an 11-10 Cub victory when forgotten man Don Young, who had been relegated to the bench most of September, singles in Kessinger with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. That sets up Jenkins for the potential clincher at Wrigley.

And that is how the date October 16, 1969 became enshrined in Cubs history, as Fergie's three-run homer was the difference in the Cubs' 5-4 victory, giving them their first World Series win in 61 years. Only the foresight of having Chicago police on the field before the game prevented the 40,107 fans from knocking down the venerable ballpark when Ernie squeezes a ball in his glove, catching a popup hit by Baltimore's Brooks Robinson, for the final out.


November 1969: In the afterglow of the World Series title, Leo Durocher, the oldest manager in the major leagues that year by a significant margin, announces his retirement. His retirement statement consisted of just one sentence: "My work here is done." He realizes that his accomplishment, helping bring the Cubs from 103 losses to a World Series championship in three years, is likely his ticket to the Hall of Fame. John Holland, also content that his 14 seasons in Chicago had culminated in a championship, likewise announces he's stepping down as general manager.

December 1969: Charlie Grimm, long retired but still serving as an unofficial adviser to P.K. Wrigley, recommends to Wrigley as new general manager a young scout he had worked with while Milwaukee Braves manager in the 1950s: 40-year-old Roland Hemond, now serving as scouting director for the Angels. Hemond is hired by the Cubs as general manager and he brings along an up-and-coming young manager from the Angels' system to skipper the Cubs. He's a man who played briefly on the North Side in the late 1950s: 41-year-old Chuck Tanner, who managed in Triple-A in 1969.

Your turn. What happens after this?