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The Time The Cubs Played 4 Doubleheaders In 8 Days

And catcher Randy Hundley had a punishing workload.

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Doubleheaders have become less and less common in recent years. Virtually no one schedules them anymore (the last scheduled one was in 2013, by the Diamondbacks in Phoenix), and when they do crop up due to rainouts, they’re generally scheduled as split day/night affairs.

Some “last times” for Cubs single-admission doubleheaders:

Last single-admission doubleheader: September 11, 2015 at Philadelphia (previous day’s game was rained out)

Last single-admission doubleheader at Wrigley Field: August 3, 2006 vs. Diamondbacks (previous night’s game rained out)

Last scheduled single-admission doubleheader: July 4, 1983 at Wrigley Field vs. Expos

But there was a time when scheduling doubleheaders was popular. In the 1950s and 1960s, baseball faced competition from other forms of entertainment, particularly television, and teams figured giving two games for the price of one would bring more people to the ballpark. At times, that worked.

In 1968, the Cubs scheduled seven doubleheaders at home: five on Sundays, and two on holidays (4th of July and Labor Day). They had four other doubleheaders scheduled on the road (New York, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Philadelphia).

That’s a lot. But those would not be the only doubleheaders the Cubs would play that year. Due to postponements, the Cubs would play no fewer than eight other doubleheaders in 1968, a total of 19. (Compare that to 2016, when the Cubs had just two twin bills, both made necessary by making up rainouts, both scheduled as day/night.) Scheduling considerations forced them to play four doubleheaders in an eight-day span in July 1968. Two of those had been on the schedule before the season began: the 4th of July DH vs. the Phillies, and one three days later, Sunday, July 7 vs. the Pirates.

But a scheduled game against the Pirates May 23 had been rained out, so another doubleheader was scheduled Saturday, July 6. And a game in New York against the Mets had been postponed May 3, so the New Yorkers put a doubleheader on the schedule at Shea Stadium Thursday, July 11.

Part of the reason so many postponements happened at Wrigley in those days was the lack of lights. They simply couldn’t wait around for hours as they can today. But other teams felt the same way five decades ago; if the weather forecast was the least bit iffy, the game would simply be postponed. Modern weather radar didn’t yet exist, so, with small crowds expected and much less money at stake, teams felt they might as well play two at a time of year more people might show up. These are games that likely would be played today, under similar weather conditions.

The 1968 Cubs had high expectations after their fine 87-74 season in 1967. And they got off to a decent start in a league where no one took charge. After defeating the Astros in Houston June 2, they were 25-24 and two games out of first place.

But they didn’t do well the rest of June and by July 3 were 34-43, 14 games out of first place. This included a stretch of 48 innings in which they didn’t score at all, still the major-league record for such things. They were shut out four straight times in that span, three by 1-0 scores.

The July 4 doubleheader, on the original schedule, wound up as a split. The Cubs won the first game 6-2 thanks in part to homers by Billy Williams and Dick Nen, but lost the nightcap 7-4. Darcy Fast, who I wrote about here last week, had his longest big-league outing (3⅔ innings) in that game.

The Cubs lost a single game July 5 to the Pirates. They were 35-45 after this loss. That’s significant, because the 1968 Cubs eventually became the only team in franchise history to come from 10 games under .500 to have a winning record. (The 2007 squad missed that by one game; they were 22-31 at their lowest point.)

Then it was another doubleheader, against the Pirates July 6. The Cubs swept this one, winning 6-1 behind Fergie Jenkins in Game 1 and blowing the Bucs out 10-2 in the second game.

They got no rest at all, as a scheduled doubleheader was on tap July 7. The Cubs swept that one, too, both in walkoff fashion. Game 1 was won by a walkoff homer by Jose Arcia (his only career home run!) after Phil Regan, in relief of Ken Holtzman, had given up two RBI singles in the top of the ninth to tie the game. In Game 2, Regan, allowed to bat for himself, doubled with two out in the ninth and was singled in by Billy Williams.

The 32,447 in attendance likely felt they got their money’s worth!

The All-Star break was next, but three Cubs (Ron Santo, Don Kessinger and Billy Williams) got no rest, as they played in the All-Star Game in Houston.

Then it was on to New York for that fourth twin bill in eight days. The Cubs lost the opener, as future Cub Dick Selma outdueled Fergie Jenkins and the Mets won 1-0, one of five games Fergie lost that year by 1-0 scores. The Cubs came back to win the second game 2-0. Bill Hands threw a five-hit shutout, but the Cubs waited till the ninth inning to score the pair of runs, both driven in on an Ernie Banks double.

So the Cubs actually survived that doubleheader stretch pretty well. They won six of the eight games, and that helped jumpstart a second half in which they went 48-33, a precursor of the great start to 1969.

What wasn’t good was what Leo Durocher did to Randy Hundley, another precursor to 1969, the overuse of regulars. Hundley started seven of those eight doubleheader games and caught every inning of all seven -- a brutal workload. Hundley started both games of 15 doubleheaders in 1968 and caught all but two innings of those 30 games.

Overall, Hundley started 156 games at catcher in 1968 and played in 160 -- both major-league records that are almost certain to stand forever. The Cubs played 1,453⅓ innings in 1968 in 163 games (one tie, the second game of a doubleheader called due to darkness at Wrigley, and yes, Hundley caught every inning of both of those games, too). Hundley caught 1,385 of those innings, 95.3 percent (comparison point: the 2016 Cubs played 1459⅔ innings and the most caught by any one catcher was 589⅓ by Willson Contreras, 40.4 percent). Hundley had a similar workload for four straight years, catching at least 136 games every year from 1966-69. It almost certainly was a contributing factor to the devastating knee injuries that cut his career short.

Those were different times in baseball. Ownership and management didn’t hesitate to get whatever they could out of players, regardless of the consequences. Things are better now.