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Today in 1969 Cubs history: A disputed call likely costs the Cubs a game in New York

If only replay review had been available back then.

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NY Daily News via Getty Images. Colorized by Mike Bojanowski

The Cubs had been on a losing skid, dropping eight of their previous 13 (including a soul-crushing defeat in extra innings to the Pirates the previous afternoon at Wrigley Field) while the Mets had gone 9-5 over that stretch.

Even so, they had lost just three games of their division lead and entered a two-game series at Shea Stadium 2½ games ahead of the Mets. Even if they got swept by the New Yorkers, they’d still hold the division lead. Obviously they wanted to do better than that, and they’d gone 4-3 in the previous seven games at Shea that year.

43,274 raucous Mets fans filled their stadium on Monday night, September 8 to see Bill Hands of the Cubs duel Mets lefthander Jerry Koosman.

The Mets scored a pair off Hands in the third on a two-run homer by Tommie Agee. The Cubs tied the game on a Billy Williams RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Ron Santo in the top of the sixth.

In the bottom of that inning, Agee led off with a double. Mets rookie second baseman Wayne Garrett, not a great hitter, was next:

Garrett punched a single to right and in toward the plate came Agee, along with a throw by Jim Hickman. It’s really difficult to tell definitively from the video, but it sure looks like Randy Hundley tagged him out.

When Hundley realized the call was “safe,” he jumped several feet straight up in the air in front of plate umpire Satch Davidson, angrier than I think I had ever seen a Cubs player about a call, and maybe not since. He knew he had tagged Agee and Agee should have been out. As Randy was quoted in his SABR BioProject biography:

“I was there, and I know how hard I tagged Tommie Agee on the play,” Randy said years later. “The ball went from the pocket of my glove up into the webbing. I knew I couldn’t bump an umpire or I’d get suspended, so that’s why I tried to go straight up and down.”

That’s what it appeared to those of us watching on TV. Davidson, who was a 33-year-old rookie umpire in 1969, passed away in 2010. Agee died in 2001. And to this day, Hundley will confirm to you that he tagged Agee out on that play. Modern replay review rules would likely have overturned Davidson’s call.

I can share with you a series of still photos of the play, at various stages. Let’s go through them one-by-one in “Sara’s Snapshots” style!

Here’s Hundley setting up to take the throw. Agee is still pretty far from the plate. The next hitter, Donn Clendenon, is signaling for Agee to slide:

NY Daily News via Getty Images

The next photo in the sequence shows Hundley with the ball, about to tag Agee, with his leg blocking the plate (a catcher probably couldn’t do that now, with the current slide rule):

NY Daily News via Getty Images

In that image, Agee’s foot isn’t anywhere near the plate and Hundley is about to tag him. Then:

NY Daily News via Getty Images

What we don’t have in that sequence is whether Hundley’s glove actually touched Agee’s back. It appears that he has done so before Agee’s foot touches the plate (it still hasn’t in the third photo), but we cannot be 100 percent certain.

The New York Post via Getty Images
NY Daily News via Getty Images

In the previous two photos, Agee has touched the plate, Hundley is still holding the ball, and Clendenon awaits plate umpire Satch Davidson’s call. Which is...

NY Daily News via Getty Images

Safe! Hundley doesn’t see this, as he has turned to see if Garrett had tried to advance toward second (he didn’t).

One photo I wish I had was what I remember seeing on the TV broadcast that night. You can see here how angry he was:

NY Daily News via Getty Images

In Fergie Jenkins’ book “The 1969 Cubs,” the Cubs righthander wrote that from his viewing spot on the Cubs’ bench, Agee was out, and further:

Agee knew he got away with the play, in my opinion. But when a team goes on a wild run like the Mets did, it will benefit from almost every call going its way. He made the admission to The Rebel’s son, Todd Hundley, when the latter became the Mets’ slugging centerpiece in 1996.

“He’s out,” the younger Hundley said in ‘96. “I’ve talked to Tommie Agee, and he told me he was out, too. (But) the umpire made the call.”

Now, would the Cubs have won the game if the “out” call had been made? Obviously, we’ll never know. But they’d have at least kept the game tied, and either way that was a major turning point in that game, and as it turned out, in the season. It was the Cubs’ fifth loss in a row.

It can be argued that if the Cubs had won the September 7 game at Wrigley — where they had a lead with one strike to go — and this one, they might have stemmed the fall and won the division. Before the September 7 game, they had reduced their magic number to 22 and still led by 3½ games. If they had won that one, they’d have ended a three-game losing streak and kept that 3½-game lead. Then, if they had also won this one, that lead would have been increased to 4½ games, with the magic number dropping to 19.

If all that had happened, perhaps Leo Durocher doesn’t feel the need to send Fergie Jenkins out there the next day on two days’ rest. Predictably, Fergie got pounded. That story, and more on the Cubs’ loss September 9, 1969, coming up tomorrow.

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.