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Today in 1969 Cubs history: ‘I wasn’t having any trouble seeing the ball’

The Cubs got a rule changed because of what happened on this day at Wrigley Field.

First baseman Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs swings and watches the flight of his ball during a Major League Baseball game. Williams played for the Cubs from 1959-74 Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Cubs had lost five out of six when they faced the Montreal Expos in a doubleheader Sunday, June 22, 1969 and had seen their lead in the N.L. East drop from nine games to six.

They won the first game 7-6. The game ran two hours, 49 minutes, which might not seem like a long time to you in 2019, but in 1969, that was one of the longer games of the year (the longest nine-inning game that year by time was 3:22).

In 1969, doubleheaders were scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. However, the boxscore says that it began at 1:10, and that’s correct — fog had rolled into Wrigley Field before the game, according to the Tribune, and caused a 39-minute delay before the first game was able to begin. Sounds kind of like Chicago weather this past week, right?

A 2:49 game time, then, meant it ended at approximately 4 p.m. In general, 20-25 minutes were allowed between games in those days, meaning the second game would have begun about 4:25. This shouldn’t have been an issue in completing the game, since June 22 was just one day after the summer solstice in 1969 and thus it should have had one of the latest sunsets that year. Indeed, sunset on June 22, 1969 was 8:29 p.m.

Game 2 dragged. Both teams scored three runs in the first inning. The Expos took a 5-3 lead in the top of the fourth and the Cubs came back with a run in the bottom of the inning. After the sixth inning, though, with the score still 5-4 Expos, the game was called for darkness, two hours and one minute after it began. At 6:25 p.m., more than two hours before sunset. Granted, it wasn’t sunny; the Tribune reported it was cloudy all day, and:

Tom Gorman, chief of the umpiring crew, explained that after all four arbiters conferred after the sixth inning and decided it was too dark and a player might get hurt.

“We would have liked to see the game completed, but somebody could have gotten hit in the head,” Gorman said.

“I can’t believe they called it,” [Ron] Santo said. “It wasn’t any darker than when we started the game. I thought they used to pull that stuff on us when we were in eighth place because we were last.”

“It’s a lousy rule in the first place,” offered Gene Oliver. “They ought to suspend these games. That’s a sin to call this game when we had nine outs left.”

“I wasn’t having any trouble seeing the ball,” said the usually mild-mannered [Billy] Williams. “I only had trouble hitting it.”

Oliver turned out to be right. After this game, the Cubs complained to the National League office and four days later N.L. owners voted unanimously to suspend games at Wrigley Field in similar circumstances and complete them before the next scheduled game between the two teams.

Would the Cubs have won the June 22 second game had they been able to complete nine innings? Would it have made a difference in their pennant run? Of course, we’ll never know. Here’s a full history of suspended games at Wrigley Field I posted here in 2014.

This series will continue throughout the season, noting key events on the 50th anniversary of the Cubs’ memorable 1969 season.