Tonight’s historical recreation wasn’t a scrimmage game from March 1871 with teams of two different generations. Instead, the play-by-play came from a game from one of the Cubs’ more notorious seasons, 1969.
The box score notes that the pitcher for Rockford was none other than Hall-Of-Famer Phil Niekro. Hank Aaron smashed the opening-inning homer, not Gat Stires. The game-winning hit was among the high-points in a rather depressing season from center fielder Don Young.
The walk-off victory on May 31, 1969 pushed the Cubs to 32-16, and a 7½-game lead over second-place Pittsburgh. Fergie Jenkins went the distance, as well, pushing his mark to 7-2 on the season, with an ERA of 2.44. Curiously, all the players in the recreation played the same spot, defensively, as the original players. For some of you, the “Kessinger-Beckert-Williams-Santo” is a part of your long-term memory.
The 1871 season was the only one as a professional squad for Rockford. The better talent was poached by teams in larger markets, as money has always mattered. The MLB Draft was almost a century away. A few of the Forest Citys players would continue their pro careers the next season. However, for most, this was it. Al Barker, who played left field in the re-creation, played in only one league game, having a hit in four trips. He would stay in Rockford, and is buried locally.
A major reason for selecting this game was that the opposing Braves didn’t use their bench. Pinch-hitting, platooning, pitch counts, and the like, are developments in baseball. Back when, your nine played their nine, and a spare player sat the bench if absolutely needed. As games veered from that, purists fought changes. Much like the designated hitter and defensive shifts are argued now. The opposition to “advancements” don’t change. Only the terms of the objections.
The internet can be your historical friend. Many vintage games, Cubs and otherwise, are available on-line. The further back you go, the lessons you learn are different. I consider the game better now than it was back then. Others will argue, choosing some specified date in the past, for whatever reason.
Players now are bigger, stronger, better coached, and more in tune with technology. Shortstops now are likely to have more pop than Kessinger and Jackson, who combined for a career 21 homers. Kessinger, who attended Forest City High School in Arkansas, still tracks his college alma mater Mississippi, who has his grandson Grae as their starting shortstop this upcoming season. Yes, he will be drafted, and the Cubs figure to take the temperature on that option.
I hope you had fun going back in time. Congratulations to any of you that guessed anything accurately about the game by the flow of tonight’s recreation. As much as the game remains the same, it does change. In about a month, the Cubs will be in Mesa creating new memories. Here’s to that.