When last we checked in on the 1969 Cubs, they’d had rain shorten an already light week (five games scheduled, four played). They split four games, but that was actually good enough to stretch their division lead to three games, their largest to date.
This week, the Cubs finish a homestand with a three-game set against the Padres. Then the Cubs set out on a 12-game road trip starting with three games in Houston. The Padres were an expansion team in 1969 and as you might expect, weren’t very good. Of course, the Expos were the other expansion team and the Cubs were only able to take four of six the first time around against them in a home and home series. Baseball is hard, even when one team is a lot better than the other.
Game 32, May 12: Cubs 2, Padres 0 (21-11)
Fergie Jenkins got back in the win column with a complete game shutout. After losing in 12 to the Dodgers on May 7, he bounces back with his third shutout and sixth complete game to move his record to 5-2. The Cubs only had six hits, but they did draw six walks and a hit by pitch as well, and pushed across two runs.
- Superhero: Fergie Jenkins (.579). 9IP, 5H, 4BB, 0R, 10K
- Hero: Randy Hundley (.076). 2-3, BB, R
- Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (.053) HBP
- Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.065). 1-4, K
- Goat: Nate Oliver (-.063). 1-3, 2B, R
- Kid: Al Spangler (-.036). 1-4
Game 33, May 13: Cubs 19, Padres 0 (22-11)
The Cubs scored four runs in each of the first two innings to put this one away early. They added a three, a two and a five run inning later. They did all of this on the back of 15 hits, 12 walks and a hit batter. Nate Oliver started at second after Glenn Beckert left the game following a hit by pitch the day before. Oliver had one of the toughest Billy Goats you’ll ever see. Dick Selma went the distance for the shutout to even his season record at 3-3.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.259). 3-5, 2HR, 2B, 7RBI, 2R
- Hero: Dick Selma (.102). 9IP, 3H, 4BB, 0R, 10K
- Sidekick: Jim Hickman (.061). 0-5, BB, 2K
- Billy Goat: Nate Oliver (-.024). 3-5, HR, 2B, HBP, 4RBI, 3R
- Goat: Adolfo Phillips (-.017). 2-4, BB, 2R, K, DP
- Kid: Willie Smith (.000). 0-1
WPA Explanation: The game got out of hand quickly. When that happens, your relative placing has everything to do what happened in your first appearance. Nate Oliver popped out with a runner on first in the first inning. Later in that inning, Jim Hickman reached on a throwing error with a runner on first. By the time Oliver batted again, it was already 4-0 Cubs. By the time Hickman batted again, it was 8-0 Cubs. Thus it is that the two appear to be in the wrong spots in the H&G standings. Also note that three players had .000 scores, but Smith was chosen because Don Young’s one at bat .000 was a three-run homer and Ken Rudolph walked and scored in his only appearance. Rudolph caught the end of this game as Hundley got a few innings off.
Game 34, May 14: Cubs 3, Padres 2 (23-11)
The Cubs completed the three-game sweep, ran their winning streak to four and moved to 12 over .500 for the first time. However, it wasn’t easy. The Padres scored their first run of the series in the third inning. The Cubs answered with a run of their own in the fourth, but the Padres scored again in the seventh. The Cubs trailed 2-1 into the ninth inning. Ernie Banks hit his third homer in two days to tie the game leading off the ninth. One out later, Nate Oliver, getting another start at second, doubled. After an intentional walk, Willie Smith delivered a game-winning pinch hit single. This was the fourth walkoff win of the season for the Cubs.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.347). 1-4, HR, RBI, R
- Hero: Willie Smith (.290). 1-1, RBI
- Sidekick: Ron Santo (.138). 2-4, HR, 2B, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.113). 1-4
- Goat: Billy Williams (-.104). 0-4
- Kid: Adolfo Phillips (-.082). 0-2, 2BB, K
Game 35, May 16: Cubs 11, Astros 0 (24-11)
The Cubs remained red hot and moved to 13 over .500 for the first time as they ran their winning streak to five. Despite the final score, this game was much closer than it looks. Ken Holtzman (6-1) and Larry Dierker matched up in a game that was scoreless through five. The Cubs scored one in the sixth then erupted for 10 in the seventh. This was Holtzman’s second consecutive shutout and third overall. It was his fifth complete game. Dierker stayed around long enough to be charged with eight of the runs (all earned).
- Superhero: Ken Holtzman (.351). 9IP, 3H, 2BB, 0R, 7K
- Hero: Ron Santo (.169). 2-5, 3B, 2B, 2RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (.074). 2-6, 2RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Billy Williams (-.059). 0-4, BB, R
- Goat: Don Kessinger (-.038). 2-5, BB, RBI, R, K
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.023). 3-5, 2B, BB, RBI, R, K
Game 36, May 17: Cubs 4, Astros 5 (24-12)
The Cubs did score first in the top of the first. The Astros knotted the game at one with a run in the fourth. The Cubs added two in the fifth, but the Astros bounced back with three in the fifth, chasing Ferguson Jenkins in the process. The Cubs tied it with a run in the sixth to take Jenkins off the hook for the loss. But the Astros scored in the bottom of the sixth and then held on for the win.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.208). 1-3, HR, BB, 2RBI, R, K
- Hero: Willie Smith (.162). 1-1, RBI
- Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (.118). 3-5, 3B, 2B, R
- Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.361). 4 1⁄3 IP, 6H, 1BB, 4R, 4K
- Goat: Don Nottebart (-.128). 0IP, 2H, 1R (L)
- Kid: Ernie Banks 0-4, K
Game 37, May 18: Cubs 5, Astros 6 (24-13)
The Cubs lost a second straight by one run. In this one, the Cubs scored two in the first and one in the fifth to jump out to a 3-0 lead behind Dick Selma. The Astros chased Selma with a three run sixth. The Cubs once again jumped out to a lead with a two run seventh. But the Astros answered with two of their own. They then added the decisive run in the eighth to hand reliever Phil Regan his first loss of the season (5-1).
- Superhero: Don Kessinger (.404). 4-5, 2RBI, R, CS
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.144). 3-5, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.112). 1-4, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Ted Abernathy (-.405). 1⁄3 IP, 2H, 1BB, 2R (0ER). (Ted did have a double)
- Goat: Al Spangler (-.206). 0-4
- Kid: Ron Santo (-.189). 0-3, 2BB, K
The five-game winning streak that ended in Houston pushed the Cubs’ division lead to six games. It stayed there despite the back to back losses to end the week. The Pirates remained in second despite a brutal week that saw them drop five straight to end the week. With that streak, the Pirates had dropped a total of nine of their last 11 games and were a game under .500.
Week 6 Hitter Feature: Ernie Banks
As a lifelong Cubs fan, I’m familiar with the career of Banks. Mr. Cub blazed so many trails as a Cub. He debuted with the Cubs in 1953 after signing with in September. Banks had played with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro league. He also served in the U.S. military. In 1954, he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year (Wally Moon, Cardinals). He was selected to 11 All-Star teams. He won two MVPs, finished in the top five two other times and received MVP votes in 11 different seasons.
I knew that he came up as a shortstop and then moved to first base mid-career. But I don’t think I ever realized that so much of his career and the highlights of it were in the 1950s while the Cubs were basically non-competitive. Ernie had a good season in 1969 (.253/.309/.416), but those numbers are all well off of his career numbers (.274/.330/.500). I’d just mentally assumed Ernie was the heart and soul of that ‘69 team. He did drive in 106 runs (at a time when RBI were still held in high esteem). The result? He was an All-Star for the last time that season. He also finished 12th in MVP voting with numbers that wouldn’t even get recognition outside of Chicago in modern times. Baseball evolves over time.
All together, Banks played in 19 seasons with the Cubs. He appeared in 2,528 games, had 10,395 plate appearances, 2,583 hits, 512 homers, 1,636 RBI and 1,305 runs. In 1959, he led the NL with 10.2 bWAR. In 1958 and 1959 he won back to back MVPs. He won a Gold Glove at short in 1960, the first ever won by a Cub. He led the NL in extra base hits four times (and is 38th all time in that category). He drew 202 career intentional walks, twice leading the NL in that category, and is 18th all time. He had a .994 career fielding percentage at first base (63rd all time).
Ernie was a player-coach from 1967 through 1971. In 1968 he won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, recognizing playing ability and personal character. In 1972, he served as a coach for the Cubs. In 1982, he was the first Cub to have his uniform retired. In 2013 he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1977, Ernie Banks received 321 out of 383 Hall of Fame ballots and was elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility. Ernie was always remembered for his famous phrase: “Let’s play two!” Sadly, he is also notable for playing 2,528 games without a single postseason appearance, the most games ever for someone who never tasted postseason baseball.
Week 6 Pitcher Feather: Don Nottebart
Don was originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. He reached the majors for the first time in 1960 and appeared in five games. He appeared in 77 more over the next two seasons. He was traded to the Houston Colt .45’s in 1962. In 1963, he made 31 appearances including 27 starts, nine complete games and two shutouts. Included was the first no-hitter in Colt .45s/Astros history. Nottebart also had the distinction of allowing Willie Mays’ 500th career homer.
In another one of those ways where baseball has changed through the years, the Reds acquired 30-year-old Nottebart in the Rule 5 draft following the 1965 season. In two seasons with the Reds, Don worked almost entirely as a reliever, picking up 15 saves. After missing the entire 1968 season, Nottebart was conditionally purchased by the Yankees and made four April appearances for them in 1969. He was returned to the Reds who then traded him to the Cubs in a minor league deal.
Nottebart pitched just that single season with the Cubs, posting a 1-1 record and a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings of work. He was 33 years old and retired after the season. In nine big league seasons Nottebart appeared for five teams, pitched in 296 games and had a 3.65 ERA in 928⅓ innings. He finished with a career record of 36-51 with 21 saves.
Up Next: The Cubs road trip continues with a busy seven-game week. There was a Monday off day to start things, but then the team played a doubleheader on Sunday. The first three games are against the Dodgers and the final four against the expansion Padres. The Dodgers were still a formidable team in 1969, winning 85 games (Pythagorean had them at 91) that season. As the season crosses the quarter mark, could the Cubs tighten their grip on the National League East?