The 1977 Cubs, at first, didn’t seem as if they’d be much different from the 1976 version that had gone 75-87 and finished fourth in the old N.L. East.
The ‘77 club was 7-9 on April 30 and then began a run the likes of which none of us has ever seen — not even by the 2016 World Series champions.
They won two straight to start May, then lost one, then won six in a row. After another loss came another six-game winning streak that ended with this 23-6 win over the Padres, the game that set the team record for homers in a game (seven).
After sweeping the Pirates May 27-28-29 they moved into first place at 28-14.
And by the end of June, their lead had increased to 8½ games.
In the mid-1970s, not every Cubs game was televised. WGN-TV carried about 140 games every year, all the home games plus about 60 road games. The Cubs/Expos game in Montreal on June 28 was one of those not televised, so Cubs fans, myself included, could follow the game only on WGN radio with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau calling the action.
The Cubs blew a 2-0 lead but came back with two runs in the 10th inning to win 4-2. Their record was 47-22, 25 games over .500, the first time since 1969 the Cubs had reached that level. Many of us who remembered the 1969 collapse had hope the ‘77 team could, at last, break the playoff drought which had then stretched to 32 years.
Boudreau, clearly, was one of those who felt that way. On the postgame radio show, he famously said: “They can kiss the .500 mark goodbye!”
Careful what you wish for, Lou. The Cubs lost their last two games of June, but still posted a 40-15 record through May and June, 1977. That’s the best 55-game stretch in Cubs history since 1945. Even the 103-win Cubs team of 2016 never did that — their best 55-game stretch was 39-16.
The Cubs almost immediately started fading. They went 14-17 in July, although winning four of five near the end of the month, climaxed by this amazing 16-15 win over the Reds July 28, kept them in first place by 2½ games.
They fell out of first place August 7 when the Padres swept them in a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, but were still 12 games over .500 at 74-62 after defeating the Cardinals on Labor Day.
From then through September 26 they went 7-14, shuffling between third and fourth place. At 81-76 they still had a chance to finish with a winning record for the first time in five years.
Proving Boudreau wrong, they lost their final five games to finish exactly at .500, a 34-59 finish after the 47-22 start.
Truth be told, the 1977 Cubs probably weren’t good enough to be 47-22. Rick Reuschel had a fantastic first half, then slowed down, even though he won 20 games (the only Cubs pitcher to do so between Fergie Jenkins in 1972 and Greg Maddux in 1992). Bobby Murcer was hitting .280/.374/.492 with 24 home runs and 83 RBI on August 22, and then hit .216/.288/.323 with just three homers in the season’s final 39 games. Bruce Sutter’s workload landed him on the DL in early August and the Cubs had no one even close to being as good out of the pen.
1977 was fun, for four months, and then it was awful. And Lou Boudreau’s radio statement, 41 years ago today, said in excitement and fun, is only remembered today for how it turned out to be wrong.