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Today in 1969 Cubs history: ‘And it’s caught — and dropped! — by Young’

The Cubs blew a lead to the Mets in the opener of a series in New York.

MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Cubs had just dropped three of four to the Cardinals in St. Louis, trimming their N.L. East lead from eight games to 5½, when they traveled to Shea Stadium to open a series against the Mets July 8, 1969.

The Mets had been the surprise team of the league up to then. They had yet to have a winning season in their seven-year history, but were 45-34 entering this series and 7½ games ahead of the third-place Cardinals, the defending league champions.

55,096 crowded into every bit of Shea to see this Tuesday afternoon matchup between the contenders.

Fergie Jenkins was twirling a gem. Through eight innings he’d allowed the Mets just four hits and a run. The Cubs took a 3-1 lead into the last of the ninth on solo homers by Ernie Banks and Jim Hickman and an RBI single by Glenn Beckert.

Jenkins allowed a leadoff double to Ken Boswell in the bottom of the ninth. One out later, Donn Clendenon came to the plate:

Had Don Young made that catch, there would have been two out and a runner on second base, maybe third if Boswell had been able to tag up.

Instead, there’s still one out and runners on second and third, as Boswell had to hold up to see if the ball would be caught. Despite the catch-and-drop, Clendenon was given a double.

Cleon Jones, up next, doubled in both runners to tie the game. An intentional walk was issued to Art Shamsky and a groundout moved the runners up to second and third and brought Ed Kranepool to the plate:

The Cubs lost the game 4-3, a very tough loss to be sure. But that’s not the reason I’m noting this game as important in 1969 Cubs history.

What happened after the game is what made this significant. In the clubhouse, Ron Santo and Leo Durocher called out Young for dropping the fly ball, as recounted in this 1992 Tribune article:

After the game, manager Leo Durocher blamed Young for the loss. Among other things, Durocher said, ‘’My 3-year-old could have caught those balls.’’ It’s permissible for a manager to criticize one of his players, but not for a teammate. Santo was equally critical:

’’He was just thinking about himself. He had a bad day at the plate, so he’s got his head down. He’s worrying about his batting average, not the team.’’

Angry because Young had hastily dressed and left the clubhouse, Santo added, ‘’He can keep going out of sight for all I care.’’

Within hours, Santo realized his mistake. He apologized to Young personally, and at noon the next day called a press conference and made a public apology.

As you can imagine, that wasn’t a good thing for the team. True, Young had gone 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in the game, but what Santo did was certainly not good for team unity. It hurt the bespectacled young Cubs outfielder, who was only 23:

‘’I was so ashamed, I ran into the clubhouse,’’ Young said. ‘’I took a shower in eight seconds. I got lost outside of Shea Stadium. I wandered into drugstore and called a cab. You have a hard time looking your teammates in the face after screwing up like that.

’’I don’t know what effect that had on my life. Who knows? But I probably wouldn’t have played in the major leagues again. I couldn’t throw any more. My arm wasn’t good enough.’’

Young, who had started 61 of the Cubs’ first 80 games in center field and played reasonably well, was a missing person most of the rest of 1969, starting only 27 more games and never playing in the big leagues again, as he noted. He was traded to the Athletics for reliever Roberto Rodriguez in June 1970, played in Triple-A in 1970 and 1971 — ironically, for Iowa, the A’s affiliate at the time — and then retired from baseball.

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 clips.