It was a random Tuesday in May, 1969, the 13th day of the month. The Cubs had continued their early-season dominance over the N.L. East and entered this day with a 22-11 record and a three-game lead in the division.
They had met the expansion Padres for the first time the day before, and Fergie Jenkins threw a five-hit shutout for a 2-0 win, the Cubs’ second straight shutout. The losing Padres pitcher that day was Gary Ross, a former Cubs farmhand who, along with Joe Niekro, had been traded to San Diego about three weeks earlier for Dick Selma.
Selma would be the Cubs’ starter on May 13 against the Padres. He threw another shutout, the Cubs’ third straight, a three-hitter. But the real story of the game was the 19 runs the Cubs piled up against the expansion pitching staff of the Padres. Tribune beat writer George Langford, using words that would never get past an editor in 2019, wrote this about the game:
Ernie Banks, that cheerful humanitarian, instigated a massacre yesterday that would have elicited the admiration of all the Indians at the Little Big Horn.
It was Ol’ Ern who fired the first shot and it was Dick Selma who neatly attended to the burials as the frisky Cubs turned against the San Diego Padres, rampaging to a 19 to 0 victory which equaled one club and one league record.
Banks triggered two three run homers and drove in a seventh run with a double. Selma allowed only three hits [two were infield singles by Rookie Jerry Da Vanon], won his first game as a Cub, and enabled the north siders’ pitching staff to claim its third consecutive shutout, the first time the Cubs have accomplished such a feat since 1909.
And if Preston Gomez, the manager of the Padres, did not have a certain empathy for General Custer after Ernie’s charge, Nate Oliver [who drove in four runs], Don Young [who hit a three-run homer], Billy Williams [producer of two triples] and Don Kessinger provided it.
It equaled the most lopsided shutout in National league history, a mark which was set by the Cubs when they defeated the New York Giants July 7, 1906.
Oliver, a spare-part infielder, hit just .159 that year; the home run and four RBI were his entire count for the season. It was Oliver’s final major-league home run. Despite spending the entire 1969 season on the roster and the Cubs desperately needing to give their regulars a break, Oliver started only seven more games the rest of the year, one of those after the Cubs had been mathematically eliminated. Meanwhile, Banks’ seven RBI (one of just three games in his career when he had that many) gave him 1,500 for his career. At the time that count ranked 17th in MLB history (his final career total of 1,636 currently ranks 33rd).
It wasn’t just the biggest Cubs shutout in 63 years; no N.L. team had thrown one with that large a run differential in that time. Since that afternoon 50 years ago today, there have been just six other shutout games with the winning team scoring 19 or more runs (including a second 19-0 drubbing the Padres took in 1969, and the Pirates’ 22-0 blanking of the Cubs in 1975). Here’s what the Wrigley Field scoreboard looked like at the end of the game May 13, 1969, from the Tribune:
It was this 19-0 shutout, I think, that finally convinced Cubs fans that their team was “for real” and was a true contender for postseason glory. Unfortunately, as you know, that didn’t happen. And no Cubs team has done anything like this in the 50 years since — the closest was a 17-0 shutout of the Indians in 2015.
This series will continue throughout the season, noting key events on the 50th anniversary of the Cubs’ memorable 1969 season.