In week 20 of the 1969 season, the Cubs won three of seven games, facing the in contention Braves and out of contention, but over .500 Astros. At the same time that was happening, the Mets were winning five of six and the division lead dropped under six games for the first time since late July. Still, with 128 games in the books, the season was awfully close to the end. A 5½-game lead was still pretty large.
Week 21 will start with a four game set against the Reds. The Reds were one of the four teams jockeying for position at the top of the NL West. An indication of just how close things were? The Reds came to town in fourth placem, but only 1½ games out. After that series, the Cubs headed to Atlanta for three more games. Those three games were the first of a five game road trip. Let’s see if the Cubs were able to hold onto their division lead as we reach the end of August.
Game 129, August 25: Cubs 8, Reds 9 (79-50)
A furious late comeback came up just short as the Cubs drop the opener. This was a wild affair with scoring throughout. The Reds took a 2-0 lead in the first. But the Cubs bounced back with a run in each of the second and third innings to tie it at two. The Reds scored a run in the fourth but the Cubs tied it again in the fifth. But then the Reds scored one in the sixth, two in the seventh and three in the ninth. The Cubs scored one of their own in the eighth and then added four more in the ninth. Paul Popovich, who had walked earlier in the inning as a pinch hitter, lined out with the bases loaded to end the game just short. The teams combined for 17 runs, 27 hits, seven walks, five doubles, a triple and four homers. Amazingly, Bill Hands pitched into the ninth inning despite being charged with 11 hits and seven runs (six earned).
- Superhero: Glenn Beckert (.147). 2-5
- Hero: Don Kessinger (.081). 2-4, BB, 2R
- Sidekick: Randy Hundley (.071). 1-4, BB, RBI, 2K
- Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.356). 8⅓ IP, 11H, 2BB, 7R(6ER), 3K, L(15-11)
- Goat: Paul Popovich (-.265). 0-1, BB
- Kid: Ron Santo (-.088). 1-4, 2B, SF, 3RBI, R, 2K
Game 130, August 26: Cubs 7, Reds 8 (79-51)
This one didn’t look like it would end up close. The Reds scored three in the first and after the Cubs answered with one in the bottom of the inning, they added four more in the second to lead 7-1 after two. The Cubs chipped away with a run in the fourth, two more in the fifth, two more in the seventh and entered the ninth trailing 7-6. The Reds added a run in the top of the ninth and for the second day in a row, the Cubs came up a run short, despite scoring in the ninth.
- Superhero: Glenn Beckert (.191). 2-5, HR, 2B, RBI, R
- Hero: Ken Rudolph (.125). 1-1, 2RBI
- Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.101). 2-3, BB, HR, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Dick Selma (-.389). 1IP, 4H, 3BB, 6R(5ER), 0K, L(12-6)
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.263). 0-5
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.234). 0-4, SF, RBI, 2K
Game 131, August 27: Cubs 3, Reds 6 (79-52)
Things went from bad to worse as the Cubs lost a fourth straight game, dropping to 3-7 on the homestand with one to play. Once again, Cubs pitching dug a large hole and the Cubs bats just weren’t able to escape. The Reds scored two in the first and added three more in the fourth to effectively end the game, up 5-0. The Cubs scored single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh, but fell to yet another defeat.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.086). 1-3, BB, HBP, R
- Hero: Paul Popovich (.080). 1-1
- Sidekick: Oscar Gamble (.062). 1-3, BB, R
- Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.255). 7IP, 8H, 0BB, 6R, 2K, L(15-8)
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.173). 1-5, HR, RBI, R
- Kid: Glenn Beckert (-.098). 1-5, RBI
Game 132, August 28: Cubs 3, Reds 1 (80-52)
On their fifth try, the Cubs finally won game number 80. Fergie Jenkins finally cooled the red hot Reds bats. Even at that, the Reds scored first with their run in the third. But the Cubs got it back in the bottom of the inning and then added two more in the fourth. Jenkins completed his 20th game of the season.
- Superhero: Fergie Jenkins (.447). 9IP, 5H, 0BB, 1R, 8K, W(18-11)
- Hero: Billy Williams (.132). 2-3, BB, HR, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Jim Hickman (.087). 1-3, BB, HR, RBI, R, DP
- Billy Goat: Randy Hundley (-.096). 1-4, 2B
- Goat: Don Kessinger (-.065). 1-4, BB, CS
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.064). 0-3, SH
Game 133, August 29: Cubs 2, Braves 1 (81-52)
The Cubs got another strong pitching performance and won for the second straight day. This time it was Bill Hands who lead the way. This game was scoreless through five. Each team scored a run in the sixth. The Cubs tacked another one on in the seventh and held on for the win. Leo Durocher continued to lean heavily on his starters, with Hands going the distance. For Hands, it was his 13th complete game of the season.
- Superhero: Bill Hands (.572). 9IP, 6H, 1BB, 1R, 4K, W(16-11)
- Hero: Don Kessinger (.240). 3-4, 3B, R
- Sidekick: Jim Hickman (.160). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Billy Williams (-.298). 0-4, K
- Goat: Randy Hundley (-.102). 0-4
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.066). 0-3, K
Game 134, August 30: Cubs 5, Braves 4 (82-52)
The Cubs moved back to 30 games over .500. In so doing, they won their eighth game in 11 tries against the team that would eventually win the NL West. That made three straight wins after four straight losses and appeared to have righted the ship some. This one wasn’t easy. The Cubs scored three in the top of the first, but gave two back in the bottom of the inning. They tacked on a run in the second to lead 4-2. Neither team scored again until the seventh when each team scored a run. The Braves scored their final run in the eighth and Phil Regan closed the door. Dick Selma started this game and left after just six batters.
- Superhero: Phil Regan (.257). 3IP, 2H, 1BB, 1R, 2K, SV(15)
- Hero: Ken Johnson (.252). 5⅓ IP, 5H, 2BB, 1R, 3K, W(2-4)
- Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.111). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R, DP
- Billy Goat: Dick Selma (-.185). ⅔ IP, 3H, 1BB, 2R, 0K
- Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.026). 1-4, SF, RBI
- Kid: Oscar Gamble (-.010). 1-3, BB, R, K
Game 135, August 31: Cubs 8, Braves 4 (83-52)
The Cubs finished the month of August on a four game winning streak and 31 games over .500. They did that by completing a three game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. Ken Holtzman was the winner over future Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. The Cubs bats made this one possible though. After the Braves scored first in the fourth inning, taking a 1-0 lead, the Cubs answered with four in the fifth. The Braves also scored a run in the fifth, but then the Cubs tacked on two in the sixth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth, That was enough to insulate the Cubs from two more Braves runs in the eighth. With that, the Cubs took nine of 12 in the season series from the eventual NL West champions. Like the eventual NL East champions, the Braves didn’t close the deal until September.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.226). 1-5, HR, 3RBI, R, K
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.216). 4-5, RBI, 2R, SB
- Honorable Mention: Ken Holtzman (.098). 2-3, HR, SH, 3RBI, R
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.078). 1-5, R, K, DP
- Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.104). 0-4, SF, RBI, K
- Goat: Ernie Banks (-.081). 0-4, K
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.054). 0-4, R
Looking Back: The Cubs started the week by losing three straight to the Reds, running their losing streak to four in the process. But then they won the final game in Cincinnati and swept three games from the Braves in Atlanta. With four wins in seven games, this was a successful week, despite the tough start to the week. That tough start saw the division lead drop from 5½ games to 2½ games. Surely, more than a little panic reached the Windy City. But then the wins at the end of the week pushed the lead back out to 4½.
With just 27 games to play a 4½-game lead is quite large. The Mets only had four games left against the Cubs and so the Cubs had the luxury of basically being able to match what the Mets did and make the playoffs.
WPA Hero of the Week: Glenn Beckert (+5)
WPA Goat of the Week: Ron Santo (-8)
Week 21 Player Feature: Oscar Gamble
Oscar Gamble for the 1969 Cubs is one of those nuggets that I just love to uncover. Joe Niekro would be another. A player who I knew but didn’t realize had come up with the Cubs. Of course, that often leads to some Joe Carter or Rafael Palmeiro type thoughts. What might have happened if the Cubs had held onto them instead of letting them go? Would they have still reached their level of excellence? Or was getting away from Chicago part of the upward growth?
Oscar was drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round of the 1968 amateur draft. He reached the majors with the Cubs for the stretch run of the 1969 season after playing 167 minor league games and amassing 690 plate appearances. He did have a .288/.353/.411 line across two levels for the Cubs that season, but this was an ultra aggressive promotion. Oscar would appear in just 24 games for the Cubs and have 81 plate appearances with a line of .225/.321/.310. Not exactly overwhelming numbers. The Cubs traded him after the ‘69 season, along with Dick Selma, to the Phillies for Johnny Callison.
Gamble was a bit of a journeyman player, being traded six times in his career, four of them before the start of the 1977 season. He also signed three different free agent contracts in his career. The net result was playing for seven teams across 17 big league seasons. That number isn’t lofty by modern standards, but in those days that was a large number of teams.
Oscar is probably best known for his years with the Yankees from 1979-1984. That was his second stint with the Yankees, having played a season with them in 1976. His best season was one he split between the Rangers and Yankees, 1979. That year, he had a .358/.456/.609 line in 100 games and 327 plate appearances. In 1977 with the White Sox, he actually received MVP votes. This for a season in which he had a .297/.386/.588 line, slugged 31 homers and drove in 83 runs. In that ‘77 season, he lead the AL with 13.2 AB/HR.
His comparable players on Baseball Reference is a fun group to look at with guys like Lee Mazzilli, Chili Davis, Dwight Evans, Don Baylor, Mike Marshall, Leon Durham, Sixto Lezcano, Kirk Gibson and Ben Oglivie appearing on the list. Having been traded six times, Oscar was involved with trades for some fun names. Those names include: Bucky Dent, LaMarr Hoyt, Dave Roberts, Kurt Bevacqua, Mike Hargrove, Mickey Rivers, Ray Fontenot, and Gene Nelson.
Looking Ahead: If you do not want to be present for the crash, this is the time to get off the ride. The first five months of the 1969 Cubs season were largely a triumphant, tour-de-force performance. The final month of that season was a train wreck of epic proportions. As I said above, the Cubs basically just needed to match what the Mets did when the two teams weren’t playing each other and maybe win one of the four remaining games with the Mets just for cushioning. Instead, the Mets won seemingly every day and the Cubs lost seemingly every day. Alas, there is more story to tell and I’m going to tell it. I hope you’ll stay with me until the end of the ride.
In week 22, the Cubs went to Cincinnati for two with an off day before and an off day after. Then they came home for a brief three game set with the Pirates. The Pirates had been in contention through April and into early May. They did finish in a distant third place and win 88 games that season. The three with the Pirates would start a stretch of 17 straight games. Of course, rosters expanded so there would be a few extra players around to help out.