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1969 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: Part 10

Eight games in seven days; Profiles of Ken Johnson and Paul Popovich

Paul Popovich
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In an unusual week nine, the Cubs didn’t lose a game and lost ground in the division. That’s because they only ended up officially playing three games (though a fourth ended in a 5-5 tie). The Mets, meanwhile, won all six games they played, pushing their winning streak to an amazing 10 games. Once you get to double digits, you are in pretty rarefied air. That streak pushed them into second place and as we last looked back to 1969, the Cubs’ lead was down to “only” 7½ games.

The rain that plagued week nine’s games pushed one into week 10 and that’s where we’ll start this week. After that makeup game with the Reds, the Cubs headed to Atlanta for three and Cincinnati for four games in three days. So it is a busy week. Let’s get right to it.

Game 53*, June 9: Cubs 1, Reds 4 (36-17)

* Note: going forward that due to the tie game, my game number is going to correspond with the Cubs record. A site like Baseball Reference will not match up because they have to count the tie game for record purposes.

Fergie Jenkins started this one and wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t get any run support. The Reds scored one in the first. They added single runs in the sixth and seventh, finally chasing Jenkins. They then added one more run off of Phil Regan to cap the scoring. The Cubs lone run came in the seventh inning. The Cubs did manage seven hits, and the Reds made three errors, but it wasn’t enough to get the Cubs offense going.

  • Superhero: Jim Qualls (.110). 1-2, R
  • Hero: Willie Smith (.064). BB
  • Sidekick: Nate Oliver (.049). 1-2
  • Billy Goat: Al Spangler (-.209). 0-4, K, DP
  • Goat: Don Young (-.129). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Ron Santo (-.115). 0-4

Game 54, June 10: Cubs 3, Braves 1 (37-17)

Ken Holtzman was superb, only allowing a single run in the second inning. He improved his record to 10-1 with seven innings of five hit, two walk ball. The Cubs didn’t score themselves until they broke out for three runs in the eighth. Willie Smith homered leading off the eighth to tie it, just his third homer. Then Santo connected with two outs with a man on. That was Santo’s 10th.

  • Superhero: Ron Santo (.374). 2-4, HR, R, 2RBI
  • Hero: Willie Smith (.260). 1-1, HR, R, RBI
  • Sidekick: Ken Holtzman (.188). 7IP, 5H, 2BB, R, 3K
  • Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.107). 0-4
  • Goat: Randy Hundley (-.104). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Billy Williams (-.084). 0-4, R

Game 55, June 11: Cubs 1, Braves 5 (37-18)

It took five games against the Cubs to do it, but the Braves finally won one. One of the reasons to really wonder what might have been was how well the Cubs did against the Braves in 1969. But not in this one. The Braves plated four in the first without the benefit of a homer off of Bill Hands. That was more than enough for future Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro who improved to 10-4. It was 5-0 after Aaron homered in the fifth off of reliever Rich Nye. That was Aaron’s 16th. The Cubs got one back on a Randy Hundley homer (10), but that was it.

  • Superhero: Rich Nye (.070). 7⅔ IP(!), 5H, 0BB, 1R, 4K
  • Hero/Sidekick (tie): Ernie Banks 1-3, K; Randy Hundley 1-3, HR, R, RBI, 2K
  • Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.344). ⅓ IP, 4H, 2BB, 4R, 0K
  • Goat: Don Kessinger (-.046). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Nate Oliver (-.039). 0-4, K

Game 56, June 12: Cubs 12, Braves 6 (38-18)

This was a tale of two different games. The Cubs were on their way to a rout with a 7-0 lead after seven innings. They scored two each in the second and third, added a run in the sixth and then two more in the seventh. But the Braves scored three in the eighth, on a three run Aaron homer (17). Then the Cubs scored five more in the top of the ninth and the Braves responded three more in the bottom of the inning. Al Spangler went deep twice (3,4) and Santo homered in the ninth (11).

  • Superhero: Dick Selma (.209). 7⅔ IP, 3H, 5BB, 3R, 8K
  • Hero: Al Spangler (.187). 3-5, 2HR, 3R, 4RBI
  • Sidekick: Paul Popovich (.074). 2-5, BB, R, RBI, K
  • Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.057). 1-6, RBI, K
  • Goat: Ron Santo (-.002). 3-5, HR, R, 2RBI
  • Kid: Hank Aguirre (.001). ⅓ IP, H

Game 57, June 13: Cubs 14, Reds 8 (39-18)

The Cubs bats stayed hot. But this one was a wild affair. The Cubs scored one in the first, two in the second and one in the third and appeared to be cruising. But then the Reds scored four in the third off of Cubs starter Fergie Jenkins. They added two more in the fifth to chase Jenkins from the game. The Cubs answered with two in the sixth. Then each team scored two in the ninth. That sent the game to extras tied at eight. But the Cubs scored six runs in the 10th (without the benefit of a homer) for the win. For some reason, Baseball Reference credits Rich Nye with a save, despite entering the game with a six run lead to start the 10th.

  • Superhero: Paul Popovich (.550). 3-4, 2BB, 2R, RBI
  • Hero: Don Kessinger (.323). 3-5, 3B, BB, 2R, 3RBI
  • Sidekick: Hank Aguirre (.168). ⅔ IP
  • Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.422). 5IP, 7H, 2BB, 6R (5ER), 6K
  • Goat: Phil Regan (-.414). 1IP, 3H, 2BB, 3R, K
  • Kid: Jim Hickman (-.091). 0-1, K

Game 58, June 14: Cubs 9, Reds 8 (40-18)

Fortunately, the Cubs bats just kept hitting, because their pitching was showing a little bit of wear and tear. Ken Holtzman started this one, but was chased in the third inning, having already allowed four runs. The Reds scored three in the second to open the scoring and one more in the third. The Cubs scored two in the fourth, but so did the Reds. The Cubs scored three in the fifth to cut the deficit to 6-5, but the Reds scored again. The Cubs added single runs in the sixth and seventh to tie the game. The game stayed tied at seven until the 10th. Then the Cubs scored two. After Rich Nye allowed a homer and a walk with two outs in the 10th, Leo Durocher summoned Fergie Jenkins, who started the day before), for a one out save.

  • Superhero: Ken Rudolph (.299). 1-1, 2B, R, RBI
  • Hero: Randy Hundley (.250). 2-4, 2B, BB, 2R, RBI
  • Sidekick: Phil Regan (.236). 2IP, 3H, 2BB, 0R, K
  • Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.270). 2⅔ IP, 7H, 3BB, 4R, 2K
  • Goat: Don Nottebart (-.165). 2⅓ IP, 5H, 1BB, 3R, 2K
  • Kid: Jim Hickman (-.149). 0-2

Game 59, June 15: Cubs 6, Reds 7 (40-19)

Another crazy one between these two teams and a team winning in its last at bat. This time, it was the Reds. They had a 3-0 lead after scoring one in the second and two more in the fourth. But the Cubs pushed four runs across in the sixth to take the lead briefly. The Reds responded with two in the bottom of the inning to lead 5-4. Then the Cubs scored two more in the seventh to retake the lead. The Reds answered with one in the seventh and then walked it off with one out in the ninth.

  • Superhero: Ron Santo (.354). 3-4, BB, HR, 2R, RBI, K
  • Hero: Jim Hickman (.297). 2-3, 2B, BB, R, 2RBI, K
  • Sidekick: Billy Williams (.159). BB, RBI
  • Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.467). 5IP, 6H, 2BB, 3R, 3K
  • Goat: Phil Regan (-.264). 1⅓ IP, 3H, BB, 1R, 0K, L
  • Kid: Ken Rudolph (-.233). 0-3, 2BB, DP

Game 60, June 15: Cubs 5, Reds 4 (41-19)

The Cubs bounced back from a loss in game one of the doubleheader for the win. Only, that’s not how it played out in real time. In real time, the Cubs bounced back from losing game one to lead 5-4 in the eighth inning when play was suspended due to darkness. The game wasn’t completed until September 2, so the Cubs didn’t pick this win up for a very long time. It shows as three out of four and pushing the Cubs to 22 games over .500 here, but it was a different experience then. This game was started by Archie Reynolds who didn’t pitch all that badly, but he was pulled after the two batters reached in the fifth inning with the Cubs leading 3-0. One of those runs came around to score.

  • Superhero: Ken Johnson (.329). 2IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 3K, SV (2)
  • Hero: Paul Popovich (.242). 2-4, HR, HBP, R, 3RBI
  • Sidekick: Archie Reynolds (.043). 4IP, 6H, 3BB, R, 2K
  • Billy Goat: Willie Smith (-.070). 0-1
  • Goat: Ron Santo (-.059). 1-5
  • Kid: Randy Hundley (-.041). 1-4, R

The Cubs dropped the Monday makeup game to start the week, but then recovered to take two of three in Atlanta from the division leading Braves. Then they ultimately took three of four from the Reds. Suspended games create an odd phenomenon in baseball. The Cubs wouldn’t gain that win until September. As the official record stands, the Cubs finished the week with a nine-game lead on the National League East. The lead grew from 7½ to 9 because the Mets played only five games and lost three of them.

Week 10 Pitcher Feature: Ken Johnson

Ken was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Athletics — when they were still in Philadelphia in 1952! He reached the majors in 1958 with the A’s after they had moved to Kansas City. He appeared in two games that season and two more the following season before getting extended time for the first time in 1960. He split the next year between KC and Cincinnati. Then he became a bit of a vagabond. He spent three years with the Houston Colt .45s/Astros and part of a fourth. During his time in Houston, he threw a no-hitter on April 23, 1964 — and lost 1-0. He’s the only pitcher in MLB history to do that.

Johnson was traded to the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1965. The team moved to Atlanta a year later (how many players played with not one, but two teams that changed cities?). That’s where he started the 1969 season after four full seasons with the Braves. He was purchased by the Yankees on June 10 and then by the Cubs on August 11.

Ken was just about at the end of the line in ‘69, at 36 years old. Ken appeared in 13 major league seasons, amassing a 91-106 record in 334 games, 231 of them starts. He had a 3.46 ERA. Ken’s best years were with the Braves where he was 45-34 in 130 games with a 3.22 ERA. But his brief time with the Cubs was outstanding. He appeared in only nine games (one start) but had a 2.84 ERA (though a little less remarkable if you add in two unearned runs in his 18 innings of work).

Ken saved only eight games in his career, but it is a fun oddity that one of them was in June 1969 for the Cubs. It’s fun because he was a Yankee at that time. One of the unique things that happens occasionally in baseball is a player affecting the outcome of a suspended game that occurred before that player was part of the team. That’s exactly what happened in the June 15, second game of the doubleheader. Johnson entered the game to start the eighth inning with the Cubs leading 5-4. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out three and got the save.

Week 10 Hitter Feature: Paul Popovich

Paul was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cubs in 1960. He made his major league debut at the age of 23 in 1964, appearing in one game and having one plate appearance (a single). He didn’t make it back to the majors until 1966 when he played in two games, had six plate appearances and failed to reach base. in 1967, he had a .504 OPS in 173 plate appearances in a bench roll for the Cubs.

The Cubs traded him in 1967 with Jim Williams for Lou Johnson. He had a .551 OPS in 462 PA for the Dodgers in ‘68. He then dropped all of the way down to .412 in 54 plate appearances for them in ‘69. He was involved in two trades on the same day in 1969. He was traded by the Dodgers with Ron Fairly to the Expos for Manny Mota and Maury Wills. He was then traded by the Expos to the Cubs for Jack Lamabe and Adolfo Phillips.

After the trade, Popovich had a .757 OPS in 177 PA for the Cubs. In all, Paul spent eight of his 11 big league seasons with the Cubs. He had a .601 OPS in 1,259 plate appearances as a Cub and a .577 in 1,909 overall. Paul last played in the big leagues in 1975 for the Pirates. The summer of ‘69 would be the most productive of Paul’s otherwise unremarkable career.

Looking ahead: After eight games in seven days in three cities, there was no rest for the Cubs. They flew straight to Pittsburgh for four more games in three days. An off day followed and then four more games in three days. So eight more games. That ran the total to 16 games in 14 days, including three doubleheaders. They played in Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and then back in Chicago over that time.