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1969 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: part 14

The Cubs take four of seven; profiles of Don Kessinger and Jim Colborn

Don Kessinger
Photo by: 1970 SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Last time, we looked at week 13 of the 1969 season. That saw the Cubs play eight road games in seven days, their third straight week of eight games. The Cubs lost five of eight and their lead in National League East was down to 5½ games. This time we’ll look at week 14. The week begins with the Cubs concluding their three-city, 11-game trip with three games in New York, following a Monday off day. The week concludes with four games in three days against the woeful Phillies.

Game 85, July 8: Cubs 3, Mets 4 (53-32).

Of course, a fourth straight loss is going to be disappointing. But this one is even more so because the Cubs had a 3-1 lead going into the ninth inning. In a match-up of two of the best starters in the National League, this one was scoreless for four. But the Mets scored a single run in the fifth off of Cubs starter Ferguson Jenkins. The Cubs scored single runs in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth off of Jerry Koosman. Both pitchers went the distance and Koosman ended up the winner and left the game with a 1.78 ERA despite the three runs allowed. Jenkins allowed three doubles, an intentional walk and a single while only recording two outs in the bottom of the ninth. One of the key plays was a dropped fly ball by Don Young that was ruled a double:

And this is the hit that won the game for the Mets:

That leads one to wonder where the Cubs bullpen was coming out of a day off (though Jenkins had allowed only a single hit and no walks prior to the inning). On the other hand, in those days pitchers were often allowed to try to finish what they started. And to be fair, but for Don Young’s adventures in the outfield that day, perhaps Jenkins would have been able to close out a key victory.

  • Superhero: Jim Hickman (.129). 2-4, HR, RBI, R
  • Hero: Glenn Beckert (.127). 2-4, RBI, SH
  • Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.098). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, K
  • Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.559). 8⅔IP, 5H, 1BB, 4R, 8K, L(11-6)
  • Goat: Ron Santo (-.141). 0-3, BB, DP
  • Kid: Don Young (-.112). 0-4, 2K

Game 86, July 9: Cubs 0, Mets 4 (53-33)

This one looked like a great matchup on paper, but it never materialized. Ken Holtzman started for the Cubs. He allowed a run in the first and two more in the second and this one was very, very over on a day when Tom Seaver was displaying all of his greatness. Holtzman was pulled in the second and the game was turned over to Ted Abernathy. To his credit, Abernathy largely held the line. But Seaver retired the first 25 Cubs hitters of the game, striking out 11 of them. Jim Qualls, who we profiled last week, came up with a single to break up the perfect game:

Two batters later it was over. Seaver was 14-3 with a 2.46 ERA after this game on his way to winning 25 games and a Cy Young (and finishing second in MVP voting).

  • Superhero: Ted Abernathy (.125). 6⅔IP, 4H, 2BB, 1R, 2K
  • Hero: Willie Smith (-.010). 0-1
  • Sidekick: Jim Qualls (-.019). 1-3
  • Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.280). 1⅓ IP, 4H, 0BB, 3R (1ER), 2K, L(10-5)
  • Goat: Don Kessinger (-.068). 0-4, 2K
  • Kid: Ron Santo (-.057). 0-3, K

Game 87, July 10: Cubs 6, Mets 2 (54-33)

In a battle of third starters, the Cubs finally put an end to their losing streak at five games. The Mets scored first with a run in the first. Each team added a run in the fourth. But the Cubs offense finally broke out with five in the fifth. Bill Hands was the winner, going the distance for the Cubs. He was an unsung hero for those ‘69 Cubs. He finished the season 20-14 with a 2.49 ERA and threw 300 innings. In June when Holtzman started to spin out a bit, Hands was 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in seven starts, throwing 48⅓ innings in those seven games. In July, the record didn’t show the results, but he was 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts, throwing 46⅓ innings in those games. Hands was just fantastic trying to keep the Cubs in the race. He topped that off with matching 2.27 ERA’s in August and September, each time allowing 16 earned runs in 63⅓ innings. He also allowed five unearned runs in each month. Very odd.

  • Superhero: Don Kessinger (.155). 1-4, BB, RBI, 2R
  • Hero: Glenn Beckert (.151). 2-5, R
  • Sidekick: Ron Santo (.097). 2-5, HR, 2RBI, R
  • Billy Goat: Randy Hundley (-.110). 1-4
  • Goat: Billy Williams (-.017). 1-4, 2B, RBI, SF
  • Kid: Jim Hickman (-.003). 0-1, K

Game 88, July 11: Cubs 5, Phillies 7 (54-34)

The Cubs returned home but the results weren’t any better. The Cubs dropped their third game in four tries on the week. It looked good for a little while, despite the Phillies scoring the game’s first run in the fifth inning. The Cubs immediately answered with two in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead. The results were reversed in the seventh when the Phillies scored twice and the Cubs once. With the game tied at three, the Cubs scored two in the eighth. But the bullpen imploded, allowing four runs in the ninth inning to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • Superhero: Billy Williams (.252). 3-5, 3B, 2B, RBI
  • Hero: Paul Popovich (.216). 1-1, RBI
  • Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.165). 2-4, BB, 2 2B, 2R, K
  • Billy Goat: Ted Abernathy (-.722). ⅓IP, 4H, 0BB, 3R, 0K, L(4-2)
  • Goat: Ernie Banks (-.251). 0-4, SF, RBI, K, DP
  • Kid: Jim Qualls (-.138). 0-4, 2K

Game 89, July 12: Cubs 7, Phillies 4 (55-34)

With Fergie Jenkins on the mound, the Cubs offense scored two in the second and four in the third after the Phillies scored two in the first. The Phillies did put single runs on the board in the fifth and the seventh with a sixth inning Cubs insurance run sandwiched in the middle. The Cubs had 12 hits on their way to the victory.

  • Superhero: Billy Williams (.157). 3-4, 3B, RBI, R
  • Hero: Willie Smith (.135). 1-3, BB, HR, 3RBI, R, K
  • Sidekick: Phil Regan (.127). 1⅔IP, 1H, 1BB, 0R, 0K, SV(8)
  • Billy Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.064). 0-5
  • Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.032). 7⅓ IP, 10H, 2BB, 4R (2ER), 6K, W(12-6)
  • Kid: Randy Hundley (-.019). 1-4, R, K, DP

Game 90, July 13: Cubs 6, Phillies 0 (56-34)

Emerging from a slump, Ken Holtzman gave the Cubs just what the doctor ordered. He went the distance, allowing only four hits and three walks in the first game of a doubleheader. The Cubs offense remained productive with two in the second and four in the fourth.

  • Superhero: Ken Holtzman (.256). 9IP, 4H, 3BB, 0R, 7K, W(11-5)
  • Hero: Don Kessinger (.170). 2-5, 2RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (.074). 3-4, 2 2B, RBI, R
  • Billy Goat: Ernie Banks (-.055). 0-4
  • Goat: Billy Williams (-.015). 1-4, RBI, R, K
  • Kid: Don Young (.017). 1-3, SH

Game 91, July 13: Cubs 6, Phillies 4 (57-34)

The Cubs offense produced five or more runs for the fifth straight game and the Cubs won for the fourth time in five games to close out the week, including three straight. That made a winner out of Jim Colborn in his major league debut. Rich Nye recorded the final 11 outs for his second save. Each team scored a single run in the first. The Cubs scored another run in the third and then two more in the fifth. The Phillies cut it to 4-3 with two runs in the sixth, but the Cubs added one of their own in the bottom of the inning. Each team scored a run in the eighth.

  • Superhero: Ernie Banks (.295). 2-3, 3B, SF, 4RBI
  • Hero: Rich Nye (.261). 3⅔IP, 4H, 0BB, 1R, 2K, SV(2)
  • Sidekick: Jim Qualls (.102). 1-2, 2BB, 3B, R, K, CS
  • Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.104). 1-4, R, 2K
  • Goat: Randy Hundley (-.091). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Jim Colborn 5⅓IP, 7H, 4BB, 3R, K, BK, W(1-0)

Looking Back: What looked like it was headed for a rough week after dropping the first two games, recovered nicely with the Cubs winning four of the final five. The division lead started the week at 5½ games, but with the two losses to the Mets, it got down as low as 3½ games. Then with the strong finish to the week, the lead increased back to five games.

Week 14 Hitter Feature: Don Kessinger

Don was the Cubs shortstop and lead off hitter in 1969. He certainly wasn’t what we’ve come to expect as a prototypical lead-off hitter. He only had an on base percentage of .332 and he only stole 11 bases (eight caught stealing). But, batting in front of a potent Cubs lineup saw him score 109 runs despite only hitting four homers.

Don was originally signed by the Cubs in 1964 as an amateur free agent. He reached the majors that same season and played in four games. He got into over 100 games in 1965 for the Cubs and by 1966, he was a full-time starter. Early in his career, Kessinger was convinced by Leo Durocher to become a switch-hitter.

He was elected to six All-Star teams as a member of the Cubs, he received MVP votes in both 1969 and 1970 and also won Gold Gloves both years. In all, he appeared in 1,648 games at short for the Cubs, had 7,065 plate appearances and a line of .255/.315/.314.

The Cubs traded him following the 1975 season to the Cardinals for Mike Garman and Bobby Hrapmann (the latter never played in the majors). At the time of the trade, he had been the last remaining member of the 1969 Cubs. He played in parts of two seasons for the Cardinals who then traded him to the White Sox where Kessinger played the final two-plus years of his career.

In 1979, Kessinger was the last player-manager in American League history. He held that position less than a year before resigning and being replaced by Tony La Russa. Later he was head baseball coach at his alma mater the University of Mississippi for many years.

Week 14 Pitcher Feature: Jim Colborn

Colborn was signed by the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1967. He reached the majors in 1969 at the age of 23, winning his major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader on July 13. He appeared in six games that year, starting two and had a 3.07 ERA in 14⅔ innings. He appeared in 48 more games as a Cub over the next two years, starting five. After a rough 1971 campaign, he was part of the trade (along with Brock Davis and Earl Stephenson) that brought Jose Cardenal to the Cubs.

After going to the Brewers, Colborn’s career blossomed. He appeared in 39 games with 3.11 ERA, 12 of them starts, in 1972. But the following year, he appeared in 43 games, starting 36 of them. He was 20-12 with a 3.18 ERA, made the All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. From 1973 to 1977, all but one year with the Brewers, Colborn started at least 29 games every year. In 1978, he struggled to a 5.24 ERA in 22 starts between the Royals and Mariners and that was the end of his major league career. In all, he was 83-88 in his career with a 3.80 ERA in 301 games (204 starts).

Colborn had a degree in sociology and received a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. It was there that he struck out 21 batters in a College All-Star game in the Netherlands. His 20 wins in 1973 made him the first 20-game winner in Brewers history. In 1977, as a member of the Royals, he threw a no-hitter. That was the first no hitter at Royals Stadium by a Royal (Nolan Ryan had done it as a visitor). Some of you may remember him as Jim Tracy’s pitching coach between 2000 and 2007 with the Dodgers and Pirates.

Looking Ahead: Week 15 will see the Cubs host the Mets for three, then head out on the road for a one-city, four-game road trip to Philadelphia. That will make week 15 an almost identical copy of week 14. Will the results be the same? Week 15 also marks the last week before the All-Star break.