The 1972 season, while successful, was also a sign of changes for the Cubs. “Mr. Cub” himself, Ernie Banks, was released by the team in December 1971, and officially retired from baseball. He did stay on with the Cubs in a variety of roles for many, many years to come. It was the end of an era though. Likewise it was the last year for manager Leo Durocher who had ushered in a long streak of winning seasons for the Cubs.
Standing: 2nd in the National League
Managers: Leo Durocher and Whitey Lockman
In spite of the loss of Ernie Banks, the usual suspects performed spectacularly for the Cubs. Ron Santo hit .302/.391/.487 and Billy Williams hit .333/.398/.606(!) with 37 home runs, again finishing second in MVP voting. In his debut season with the Cubs, right fielder Jose Cardenal had an outstanding year hitting .291/.356/.454 and collecting 17 home runs of his own.
Fergie Jenkins still managed a 20-win season with a 3.20 ERA, an average that was actually the HIGHEST of all the Cubs starting pitchers that year. Milt Pappas had the best ERA overall with 2.77 and 17 wins. Pappas threw a no-hitter September 2, the last no-no thrown by a Cub at Wrigley Field.
Leo Durocher was fired mid-season and caught on with the Astros, where he remained for the final year of his managerial career. More than a quarter of his 2,008 career managerial victories came during his time with the Cubs: 535.
Amidst all this the Cubs had another first-time player. A catcher from Baltimore who slumped through the worst season of his career with the Cubs.
A late-summer acquisition from the Orioles, Elrod Hendricks is probably much better remembered now by Baltimore fans than by Cubs fans. He played a mere 17 games for the Cubs in 1972 and had dismal luck at the plate, hitting only .116/.321/.279 (that elevated OBP was thanks to 13 walks in those 17 games). He did hit a pair of home runs in those 17 games, but in general he was yet another Cub in the late-Wrigley ownership era who succeeded elsewhere, but flopped with the North Siders.
Hendricks, often called “Ellie,” was one of only 14 major league players to hail from the U.S. Virgin Islands. During a freak accident in his youth he suffered an injury that might have ended his baseball career before it began, when his father accidentally rolled over Ellie’s feet with his car. Hank Aaron himself, on a recruiting visit to the Islands saw Hendricks play, and was a pivotal part of making sure that Ellie got a chance to show his stuff, and ultimately get signed.
His career path in the majors was an intriguing one that found him repeatedly returning to the Orioles, the team where he’d made it to the bigs. He played with them from 1968 to 1972, won the World Series with them in 1970, then headed to the Cubs in ‘72 for a brief stint. From 1973-76 he was back with the Orioles once more, until he went to the Yankees to finish the 1976 season and played for the Yankees in the World Series that year.
He enjoyed spending his time away from the majors continuing to play, so for 16 years he spent his winters playing in Puerto Rico.
By 1978 he was back with the Orioles serving as a player-coach for the final two seasons of his career. He served as a bullpen coach for the Orioles after his retirement from play for a whopping 28 years, until 2005. It should not be surprising to learn that he is included in the Orioles Hall of Fame. After he passed away late in 2005, the team commemorated him with a number 44 on their sleeves for the season, and in spite of the Orioles never officially retiring the number, no one has worn it since.
A testament to Hendricks’ incredible character: a mere two days prior to his death by heart attack, he had dressed up to play Santa for a large group of underprivileged children.