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The highest scoring games in Cubs history: May 17, 1979

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This is one of the most famous games in MLB history, never mind Cubs franchise history.

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Photo by: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Once again, here’s a game I’ve written about previously, most recently on its 40th anniversary in May 2019. I’ll commend you to that link for the game details, including the names of the local officials who filled in for NL umpires, who were out on strike that afternon.

In fact, this game is famous enough to have had a book written about it. Haven’t read that one, but it is on my list.

So what else can I say about this game? Not much. Instead, let’s talk about the 1979 Cubs in general.

They had spent parts of the two previous seasons contending for the NL East title, only to fade late and finish far out of first place. For that, I give tremendous credit to Herman Franks, who got more out of a modestly-talented team than almost any other manager could have. In fact, had P.K. Wrigley followed his first instinct and fired Leo Durocher in mid-1969 after his summer camp visit and replaced him with Franks back then, the ‘69 Cubs might not have had their late-season collapse.

Anyway, the 1979 Cubs started out poorly; a 2-6 beginning put them in last place. They kept alternating winning and losing streaks of four or five, putting them around .500 when the Phillies came to town May 15. The Cubs won the first game of that series 7-1, then lost 13-0 and 23-22. Imagine scoring 29 runs in a three-game series and winning only one of those games. That was the ‘79 Cubs, who hung around contention into early September, when a seven-game losing streak dumped them into fifth place. Only the horrid Mets (63-99) prevented them from a last-place finish.

Mostly, the ‘79 Cubs were interesting because of Dave Kingman. He hit 48 home runs, most for any Cub since Hack Wilson in 1930. Despite his great offensive season — a .946 OPS and 146 OPS+ — it was only a 4.1 bWAR season because Kingman was such a butcher in the field, not to mention a surly presence around reporters. He hit three homers in the 23-22 game and drove in six, and Bill Buckner had a seven-RBI game, but 22 runs wasn’t enough that afternoon.

After sweeping a doubleheader from the Mets in New York September 18, the Cubs were 76-73 and seemingly on their way to, at least, a winning season, which would have been their first in seven years. But they went 4-9 the rest of the way and a last-day loss in Pittsburgh prevented them from finishing at .500. By then Franks had quit with four games left in the season, reportedly calling some of his players “crazy” (though he later denied that), putting the Cubs at the end of three mostly-fun seasons that ended in failure.

This game, perhaps, was the epitome of all that — tons of home runs, hits and scoring, only to wind up in a loss. Maybe that was the epitome of the “Lovable Losers” of that era.

Here’s the entire 23-22 game, if you can stand it, and you should, because there’s a lot of fun baseball in it.