Wrigley Field, perhaps because of its century-long history, perhaps because of its quirks (ivy-covered brick walls, day games only until 1988, capricious winds), seems to be the host to more oddball baseball games than many other ballparks. (Maybe it’s also because we’re just more familiar with it, too.)
Here are five games that were memorable at the time they happened, but have been mostly lost to the mists of history.
The 1970 Cubs were supposed to be better and deeper than the 1969 version, and they did hold first place for a couple of months early on. A 12-game losing streak in late June blasted them out of the top spot and under .500, but by early September they were trying a late run.
The Cubs entered this Sunday game at Wrigley two games behind the first-place Pirates. With two out in the ninth, no one on base and the Cubs trailing 2-1, Willie Smith lofted a routine fly ball to center field. Matty Alou, one of the better defensive center fielders of his time, “camped under it,” as Jack Brickhouse used to say.
And he dropped it. Three singles later the Cubs had an improbable 3-2 win and moved to within one game of the division lead. They beat the Cardinals in their next game and with 16 to play, still were just one game out.
Unfortunately, they went 7-9 the rest of the way while the Pirates were 11-5 and won the division.
The Cubs of 1977, 1978 and 1979 had all briefly contended before finishing around .500. Hopes were high for 1980 after Dave Kingman’s big year in 1979.
I’ll never forget being at Wrigley for this game, which featured Ivan De Jesus hitting for the cycle and Barry Foote winning the game with a walkoff grand slam, after the Cubs had trailed 12-6 going into the bottom of the fifth.
The Cubs were 6-3 after that win and fans whooped it up after the game like the Cubs had just won the World Series.
It was all downhill from there that year, as Kingman missed much of the year with injuries and the team finished 64-98.
The high temperature reached 92 degrees in Chicago that April afternoon. To this day that’s still the warmest temperature ever recorded in Chicago in April.
The 1981 Cubs were one of the worst incarnations of the team; if not for the strike that year they almost certainly would have set a franchise record for losses.
On this sunny Saturday in June, the Cubs entered play with a record of 11-36 (!), already 17 games out of first place, and were scheduled to face Fernando Valenzuela, who had taken baseball by storm late the previous year and had gotten off to a fantastic start in 1981. Fernando entered the game with a 1.91 ERA in 99⅔ innings and the Dodgers were 34-18.
And the Cubs absolutely crushed baseballs against him. They scored seven runs off Valenzuela in 3⅓ innings, the earliest exit he’d had in his 13 starts that year. Mike (“Not The Boxer”) Tyson’s pinch-hit, three-run homer in the fourth inning knocked Fernando out of the game. That was one of just three homers Tyson hit all year in 1981 in 363 at-bats.
There wasn’t much to cheer about for the 1981 Cubs, but that game was worth being at Wrigley for.
The 1995 Cubs floundered around most of the year, well out of first place, but in late September they began a run at the wild card, then in its first year.
In this game the Cubs came from behind in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings to win. It was the Cubs’ seventh consecutive win. They’d go on to win again the following day and, with two games to go, were two games behind the Rockies for the wild card. They needed to win both their games and have the Rockies lose in order to force a tie.
It didn’t happen, but the Cubs gave fans some excitement over the season’s final week. Had the divisions still been set up as they had been just two years earlier, in 1993, the Cubs would have won the old N.L. East; their 73-71 record was better than the Pirates, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals and Expos, all the other old East Division teams.
But the thing most people will remember about this game was the incident depicted on the photo at the top of this post. Randy Myers, pitching in what wound up being his second-to-last game in a Cubs uniform, served up a home run to Houston’s James Mouton in the top of the eighth. That put the Astros ahead 8-7 and prompted a fan to run onto the field and attack Myers (whose head can be seen near the ground at the left of the photo).
Here’s an article that describes what happened in that incident. The man who did that, John Murray, eventually became the guy behind the “It’s Gonna Happen” signs that began to appear around Wrigley mover than a decade later.
And a personal reminiscence for this one, because the game itself wasn’t particularly memorable. This was the first of a four-game early-season series at Wrigley between the Cubs and Dodgers, a Thursday afternoon on which snow flurries fell off and on. The box score says the game-time temperature was 40, but I don’t think it actually got out of the 30s the whole day.
The box score also says 12,626 was the paid attendance that day, but in my recollection there couldn’t have been more than 2,000 or 3,000 actually in the seats. Someone sitting near me (back in the days when I used to sit in right field) was heckling Dodgers center fielder Brett Butler all game — loud enough that you could have probably heard him anywhere in the ballpark.
When Butler came onto the field for the seventh inning, he looked up at that guy and said, loud enough to be heard, “What are you people doing here? At least I’m getting paid!”
General laughter ensued.
I’m sure you have memories of games like this at Wrigley. Share some of them, not necessarily the best games, but the quirky ones you remember. These are the kinds of things you usually only remember if you’re at the ballpark, and Wrigley seems to have more of these than others.
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