The 1969 season got off to quite a start. The Cubs won 11 of their 13 games over the first two weeks of the season. That gave them an extremely early 2½-game lead in the division. The third week of the Cubs season would see them once again facing the Pirates, who were their primary rival in the division during the month of April. The stop in Pittsburgh was just one day, but it was a doubleheader following a Monday off day. They’d then be off on Wednesday and travel home to play St. Louis. The off day Wednesday was due to weather and so they’d only play one game there as well. Then they’d travel to New York for four games in three days against the Mets.
Let’s dive right in and see if the Cubs were able to hold or maintain their lead in the division.
Game 14, April 22: Cubs 5, Pirates 7 (11-3)
This one got off to a good start with the Cubs scoring three runs behind Bill Hands in the top of the first inning. Unfortunately, the Pirates struck for five in the bottom of the second. The Pirates also tacked on two in the fourth. Two in the sixth for the Cubs made it close, but the Pirates shut the door after that and went on to win and cut a game off of the Cubs division lead.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.228). 3-4, 3B, 2R, 2RBI
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.077). 1-3, HBP, 2R, K
- Sidekick: Rich Nye (.035). 2IP, 1BB, 1K
- Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.375). 1⅓ IP, 6H, 0BB, 5R (4ER), 0K
- Goat: Alec Distaso (-.167). 2⅔ IP, 6H, 0BB, 2R, 0K
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.109). 0-4, GIDP
Game 15, April 22: Cubs 5, Pirates 6 (11-4)
Two close games, two losses. The Cubs see their division lead shrink by two in one day. They also see their first three game losing streak. Randy Hundley had a two-run homer in the loss. He played all 18 innings for the second time in three days. Gary Ross made the start but he allowed three runs without retiring a single batter. Joe Niekro followed him and allowed two more runs as the Cubs fell behind 5-0 in the first. They did score three in the fifth and two in the seventh to tie it. But a run in the bottom half of the seventh of of Nye, who worked in both games, was the difference.
- Superhero: Randy Hundley (.343). 2-3, HR, BB, 2R, 2RBI
- Hero: Al Spangler (.331). 1-3, 2B, BB, 1R
- Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.103). 1-1, 2RBI
- Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.325). 0-5
- Goat: Charley Smith (-.246). 0-1
- Kid: Joe Niekro (-.187). 2IP, 4H, 0BB, 2R, 1K
Game 16, April 24: Cubs 2, Cardinals 3 (11-5)
The losing streak stretched to four. The Cardinals scored a run in the top of the first. The Cubs answered with two of their own, but were then held scoreless the rest of the way. The Cards added two in the third and held on for the win. The Pirates were unable to capitalize and the Cubs remained in first heading into the third weekend of the season.
- Superhero: Randy Hundley (.087). 1-4, RBI, K
- Hero: Ted Abernathy (.084). 1⅓ IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 2K
- Sidekick: Ken Holtzman (.042). 7IP, 7H, 4BB, 3R, 4K
- Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.200). 0-3, BB, 2K
- Goat: Al Spangler (-.190). 0-4
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.173). SF, RBI, K
Game 17, April 25: Cubs 3, Mets 1 (12-5)
The first meeting of the year against the Mets was a Cubs winner. With the win, the Cubs were already five games ahead of the Mets in just the third week of the season. In this one, two future Hall of Famers squared off in Fergie Jenkins and Tom Seaver. The Cubs plated single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings on three solo homers. The Mets finally plated one in the sixth, but it wasn’t enough and the Cubs snapped their four-game skid. For Jenkins, it was his third consecutive complete game and third straight win as he righted the ship after a couple of rough starts to begin the season. He also hit the third and final homer in the fifth inning off of Seaver.
- Superhero: Fergie Jenkins (.477). 9IP, 6H, 3BB, 1R, 9K
- Hero: Ron Santo (.093). 1-3, HR, BB, R, RBI, 2K
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.090). 1-4, HR, R, RBI
- Billy Goat: Don Young (-.053). 0-3, BB, K
- Goat: Billy Williams (-.049). 0-4, 3K
- Kid: Al Spangler (-.042). 1-4, 2B, K
Game 18, April 26: Cubs 9, Mets 3
A second straight win and the Cubs moved to six games ahead of the Mets. The Cubs pounded out 13 hits behind Bill Hands who improved to 3-1. They scored single runs in each of the first three innings and then added three more in the fourth. Two in the sixth made it 8-0 before the Mets bats finally pushed three across in the sixth. After a day in which the Cubs used three long balls to win 3-1, they used 13 hits and five walks with only two extra-base hits (both doubles) to win 9-3.
- Superhero: Bill Hands (.184). 9IP, 8H, 1BB, 3R (2ER), 7K
- Hero: Ron Santo (.140). 2-3, 2BB, R, 3RBI
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.100). 3-5, BB, R, RBI
- Billy Goat/Goat: Billy Williams/Nate Oliver (-.046). Williams: 1-5, BB, 2R, K; Oliver 0-5, 2K
- Kid: Adolfo Phillips (.000). 0-1
Game 19, April 27: Cubs 8, Mets 6 (14-5)
In a wild one, Phil Regan comes out a winner for the fourth time (4-0) in the young season. The Mets jumped out to an early lead with three in the first. The Cubs tied it back up with two in the third and one in the fifth. But then the Mets plated three more in the their half of the fifth to go up 6-3. But the Cubs battled back with one in the eighth and four more in the ninth as they moved seven games ahead of the Mets. Randy Hundley’s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning with the game tied at six was the big blow of the game. Dick Selma made his first start for the Cubs in this one and it did not go well. Selma came to the Cubs in the Niekro trade. This game also saw Tom Seaver enter the game as a reliever in the ninth inning after starting the Friday game.
- Superhero: Randy Hundley (.443). 1-3, HR, 2BB, 2R, 2RBI
- Hero: Ernie Banks (.267). 2-4, R, RBI
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.205). 2-3, 2BB, 3R
- Billy Goat: Dick Selma (-.435). 4IP, 8H, 2BB, 6R, 2K
- Goat: Gene Oliver (-.067). 0-1
- Kid: Don Young (-.038). 0-2, K
Game 20, April 27: Cubs 0, Mets 3 (14-6)
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Cubs bats finally ran out of juice. Tug McGraw (father of country star Tim McGraw) threw four innings for the win. That happened because this one was scoreless until the ninth inning. The Mets plated three in the ninth on a three-run homer by Cleon Jones. Rich Nye (who is not related to Bill Nye, the science guy) pitched the entire game. The runners on base were there because of a two-base error on Billy Williams, when he dropped a fly ball, and an intentional walk. Nye had a short baseball career, but a very interesting life.
- Superhero: Rich Nye (.160). 8⅓ IP, 4H, 3BB, 3R (2ER), 3K
- Hero: Don Kessinger (.075). 1-4, K
- Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.061). 2-4, 2B
- Billy Goat: Jim Hickman (-.170). 0-2, K
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.166). 0-3, BB, 2K
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.133). 2-4, CS
With the 14-6 record, the Cubs were still only one game in front in the National League East. That’s because the Pirates had started out 12-6 through the first three weeks of the season themselves.
Week 3 Hitter Feature: Randy Hundley. Nicknamed Rebel, Hundley was signed by the Giants in 1960. He and Bill Hands were traded by the Giants to the Cubs in December 1965. That trade doesn’t get a lot of talk, but it was an extremely good trade for the Cubs. They gave up Don Landrum and Lindy McDaniel. McDaniel had some pretty good years as a reliever after that, but Hands and Hundley were two very good Cubs players.
Hundley was a workhorse for the Cubs from 1966 through 1969. Over that span, he started 146 games per season. He was the Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in 1966, won a Gold Glove and received MVP votes in 1967, made an All-Star team and received MVP votes in 1969. Injuries curtailed a lot of the remainder of Hundley’s career. He missed half of 1970 and nearly all of 1971. He started over 200 games for the Cubs in 1972-1973, but then he played less than 125 games over the final four years of his career.
In all, Hundley played in 1,061 games over parts of 14 big league seasons. 947 of those were for the Cubs. He had 3,801 PA with a line of .240/.296/.359. He only had two decent years at the plate (1967 and 1969). In both years, he had an OPS of .725. One has to wonder if the heavy workload from 1966-1969 really wore down his body or if that was incidental to his injuries.
Week 3 Pitcher Feature: Rich Nye is not the science guy (that’s Bill Nye, for those like me who didn’t remember). Nye goes up in my estimation because when I googled “rich nye science guy” the first thing that comes up is Rich Nye (the Sports Guy) with links to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. I love that he just owns that. The ironic thing is that Nye could actually qualify as the science guy. We’ll get to that in a minute. I’m going to give a quick overview of some of the things that Nye experienced, but his Wikipedia page is one of the more interesting pages I’ve ever seen for a former player. Nye had a really full and varied life.
First, we look at the baseball. Nye was drafted originally by the Astros in 1965 but didn’t sign. In 1966, the Cubs took him in the 14th round out of University of California, Berkeley. Nye reached the Cubs for three games in 1966. Oddly, he threw 17 innings over three games, two starts, compiled a 2.12 ERA and was 0-2. In 1967-68, the lefty made a combined 50 starts (62 appearances) for the Cubs. Like Hundley, Nye had his career cut short by injuries and he was done by the age of 25 having appeared in only 113 games, including 99 for the Cubs. He had a career ERA of 3.71.
Nye graduated with a civil engineering degree and put his degree to work on the Sears Tower project. He also spent time as a commodities trader at the Mercantile Exchange. Nye then went back to school at the University of Illinois and finished their veterinary program. He practiced medicine in suburban Niles, Illinois (where I grew up). While there he developed specialties in exotic birds and was considered an avian specialist. He was one of three partners involved in founding Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital in Westchester.
Up Next: The fourth week of the season will see the Cubs place seven games in seven days. There will be one off day and then the usual Sunday doubleheader. The first three games will be in Philadelphia. Then the Cubs come home for four more games against the Mets. That will conclude 27 straight divisional games to start the season.