SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — It’s nearly 50 years now, half a century since the fabled 1969 Cubs thrilled us for most of a summer before falling short of winning anything.
And as happens with the passage of time, men who were strong and baseball heroes in their youth are beginning to pass away. Last year, we lost Jim Hickman, and Thursday, Bill Hands, who won 20 games for the ‘69 Cubs, passed away in Florida:
This past season, Mr. Hands got to see the Cubs finally win the World Series for the first since 1908.
“He was ecstatic about that, that’s for sure,” Mr. Fish said. “He stuck around long enough to see it. We were all happy about that.”
After his playing career, Hands returned to what had been his summer home in Orient, N.Y., a small town on the north shore of Long Island, and ran a gas station, where friends and neighbors would talk baseball with him:
Orient resident and former Suffolk Times publisher Troy Gustavson said he was a neighbor of Mr. Hands and mostly met him at his service station.
“We would chat and invariably, I would bring up the Cubs, because I couldn’t resist,” Mr. Gustavson said. “He was very low key about that, considering he played Major League Baseball and had one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher there. He was always very modest and low key.
He obviously was a loyal Cubs fan, but he didn’t really wear it on his sleeve, even when they won.”
Hands and Randy Hundley were acquired in trade from the Giants on December 2, 1965, for Don Landrum and Lindy McDaniel, one of the better trades GM John Holland made in that era. Hands didn’t become a fulltime starter until 1968, when he went 16-10 with a 2.89 ERA. The next year, he won 20 games with a 2.49 ERA and posted 8.4 bWAR, which ranked third among all N.L. pitchers that year (behind Bob Gibson and Larry Dierker).
Hands had three more decent years for the Cubs before being traded to the Twins before the 1973 season for Dave LaRoche (father of Adam LaRoche and Andy LaRoche). He pitched a year and a half there before being traded to the Rangers. Overall for the Cubs Hands went 92-86 with a 3.18 ERA and 27.2 bWAR. The WAR figure ranks 18th in Cubs franchise history, and his 900 strikeouts rank 17th.
Hands had a reputation as a terrible hitter, and the run you see him scoring in the photo at the top of this post was one of just 19 runs he scored in his career. The story was once told that Hands and Ron Santo had a bet that Bill would never hit a homer. One day Hands hit a ball that looked like it was going out, and Santo jumped up and yelled, “No!” (You can hear that, right?) It didn’t — that ball was a double Hands hit against the Mets September 4, 1970, upon which Hands was removed for a pinch-runner.
For those of us who grew up loving the 1969 Cubs, their passing represents the loss of part of our childhoods. Of the 41 men who played for the Cubs in 1969, 16 are now deceased. I’m glad Hands was able to enjoy the Cubs’ World Series win last November.
Rest in peace, Bill Hands, and thanks for the good memories. My condolences to his family and friends.