Jim Hickman, known to all as “Gentleman Jim” because of his kindly manner on and off the field, had been acquired from the Dodgers in 1968, and by early 1969 he was a mainstay in the Cubs outfield despite a horrendous hitting start to his year. Through the end of May Hickman was hitting just .132/.221/.147 (9-for-68) with no home runs. In modern baseball you might be sent to Triple-A (if optionable) or DFA’d with those sorts of numbers.
But Leo Durocher believed in Hickman, and as the calendar turned to June he started to hit. He homered against the Braves on the first day of that month and going into a doubleheader against the Expos June 22, he had hit .360/.467/.520 (9-for-25) that month. It was a small sample size, but a distinct improvement from his pre-June batting.
The Cubs went into the bottom of the ninth of that June 22 first game trailing 6-3. With runners on second and third and two out, Ernie Banks singled in a pair to make it 6-5. Up stepped Hickman, and he hit a walkoff homer off Montreal reliever Don Shaw. It’s said that afternoon was the first time Ron Santo clicked his heels when the team was walking across the field to the old left-field clubhouse.
Fast-forward to four days later. The Cubs are hosting the Pirates, and the teams had matched single runs in the first, two runs in the sixth and two in the eighth to send the game to extras tied 5-5. With two out in the 11th, Ken Rudolph — in one of only six games he started at catcher all year! — drew a walk — one of only six he had all year! — off Pirates reliever Bruce Dal Canton.
And then it was Hickman’s turn:
And now you know why Jack Brickhouse yelled, “Hickman did it again!” in the video clip. It was his second walkoff home run in five days; shades of David Bote! Rudolph is No. 8, wearing the helmet, congratulating Hickman as the Cubs won the game 7-5. They were in first place by seven games.
I think you can forgive Brickhouse his excitement. He’d broadcast mostly horrid Cubs teams for over two decades. Now, at last, here seemed to be the team that would deliver a pennant to Chicago. It was before the “no cheering in the press box” era and Jack was an unabashed homer, a Cubs fan like those of us watching.
It was the Cubs’ fourth win in a row and they led the N.L. East by seven games at 47-25.
As for Hickman, from June 1 through the end of the 1969 season he hit .263/.353/.548 (71-for-270) with 21 home runs, presaging the 32-homer, .315/.419/.582 season he’d have in 1970, when he made the All-Star team and finished eighth in MVP voting.
Jim Hickman passed away in his hometown in Tennessee June 25, 2016, just a few months short of seeing his beloved Cubs win the World Series.
This series will continue throughout the season, noting key events on the 50th anniversary of the Cubs’ memorable 1969 season. Thanks to BCBer MN exile for his assistance with the video clip.