When last we looked back at the 1969 Cubs, week 22 of the season ended with a thud. The Cubs lost four straight, punctuated by a heart breaking loss to the Pirates. The lead in the division had dwindled to 2½games. Mathematically, a lead as large as the Cubs had with 40 games left in the season is pretty safe. But every so often, we see a season where baseball tramples all over the math.
Still, week 23 starts with the ‘69 Cubs knowing that if they take care of business, they’ll return to the postseason for the first time in 24 years. This week will start in New York with two games, move to Philadelphia for two more and then finish in St. Louis for three. Let’s see if the Cubs could stop the bleeding.
Game 141, September 8: Cubs 2, Mets 3 (84-57)
Jerry Koosman and Bill Hands matched up in this one. If you are my age, you remember Jerry from the end of his career in the early and mid 1980s that included time with the White Sox and Phillies. That memory is largely that of a guy who was holding on, pitching until he was 42. But, in 1968 and 1969, Koosman was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He won 36 games over the two seasons, was selected to two All-Star teams and received MVP votes both years. In 1975, he’d be a Cy Young runner up.
On this day in September, Koosman and Hands went the distance. Koosman was just a little better, allowing only two runs, despite allowing seven hits and two walks. He struck out 13. Hands allowed five hits and two walks but was tagged with the loss. The Mets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third, but the Cubs battled back with two in the sixth. But the Mets opened the sixth with a double and a single to take the lead on a disputed call at the plate and then held on to send the Cubs to a heart-breaking loss.
Here is the disputed call:
Years later, Agee admitted he had been tagged out on the play.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.254). 2-4, RBI, K
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.179). 2-4, R, K
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.026). 2-4, R
- Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.233). 0-2, HBP, SF, RBI, DP
- Goat: Ernie Banks (-.164). 0-3, BB, 2K
- Kid: Jim Hickman (-.108). 0-3, BB, 2K
Game 142, September 9: Cubs 1, Mets 7 (84-58)
What looked like a pitcher’s duel on paper never materialized. Fergie Jenkins got hammered for seven runs in seven innings and the Mets rolled to victory behind Tom Seaver who picked up win number 21. This one was 4-0 before the Cubs got on the board and the Cubs only mustered five hits and one walk off of Seaver. With that, the Cubs left New York with just a half game lead in the division.
- Superhero: Glenn Beckert (.022). 1-3, BB, 2B, R
- Hero: Ron Santo (.021). 2-4, RBI
- Sidekick: Willie Smith (.005). 1-4
- Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.305). 7IP, 10H, 3BB, 7R (5ER), 9K, L(19-13)
- Goat: Jim Hickman (-.056). 0-3
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.054). 0-4, DP
Game 143, September 10: Cubs 2, Phillies 6 (84-59)
If you were a fan of the 1969 Cubs, you might take different meaning from Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” That song opens like this:
Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Ken Holtzman couldn’t stop the bleeding. This one was close for most of the game, but in the end a three run eighth by the Phillies effectively ended this one. Those three runs came off of Phil Regan who faced four batters in the eighth and didn’t record an out. The Cubs made the most of three hits and one walk as the offense remained quiet while the Cubs fell to a seventh straight defeat.
- Superhero: Billy Williams (.104). 1-3, HBP
- Hero: Ron Santo (.024). 0-3, SF, RBI, K
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.018). 1-4, 2B, R, K
- Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.147). 7IP, 6H, 6BB, 3R, 7K, L(16-10)
- Goat: Phil Regan (-.113). 0IP, 3H, 1BB, 3R, 0K
- Kid: Oscar Gamble (-.100). 0-3, K
Game 144, September 11: Cubs 3, Phillies 4 (84-60)
The Cubs actually had the lead in this one. Dick Selma was fantastic for seven innings and when the Cubs scored in the top of the eighth, they took a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, Selma started the eighth. He was charged with three runs in the inning and despite a ninth inning run, the Cubs game up short once again and lost their eighth straight game. In the process, they lost two straight to the Phillies who had come into the series 29 games under .500.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.265). 1-3, SF, HR, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.053). 2-4, BB, R
- Sidekick: Willie Smith (.050). 1-1, HR, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Dick Selma (-.369). 7IP, 9H, 2BB, 4R (3ER), 6K, L(12-7)
- Goat: Don Kessinger (-.165). 0-5
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.101). 2-5, K
Game 145, September 12: Cubs 5, Phillies 1 (85-60)
The Cardinals scored a run off of Bill Hands in the first, but the game remained 1-0 through the sixth inning. In the seventh, the Cubs tied it with a single run. Then they scored four in the eighth and snapped their eight game losing streak. The four run inning came without the benefit of a home run and must have felt like a breath of fresh air.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.299). 2-4, 2B, 4RBI
- Hero: Bill Hands (.270). 9IP, 7H, 3BB, 1R, 4K, W(17-13)
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.190). 2-3, BB, 2B, R, SB
- Billy Goat: Billy Williams (-.184). 0-4, K
- Goat: Jim Hickman (-.121). 0-3, BB, CS, DP
- Kid: Jimmie Hall (-.104). 0-3
Game 146, September 13: Cubs 4, Cardinals 7 (85-61)
Fergie Jenkins was back on the mound for this one. This time he was tagged for five runs as his ERA swelled to 3.23 after having spent most of the year below 3.00. This one was a bit of a back and forth affair. The Cards 8scored first with two in the second. But the Cubs tied it with single runs in the third and fourth innings. The Cardinals took the lead again with a run in the fifth, but the Cubs got two in the sixth and took the lead to the eighth. But then Fergie Jenkins and Ken Johnson combined to allow four runs and that sent the Cubs to their ninth loss in 10 games.
- Superhero: Randy Hundley (.284). 2-4, HR, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.248). 2-2, 2BB,HR, RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Billy Williams (.087). 2-5, 2B, RBI
- Billy Goat: Phil Regan (-.340). 1⁄3IP, 2H, 0BB, 0R, 1K
- Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.207). 71⁄3IP, 11H, 2BB, 5R, 5K, L(19-14)
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.135). 0-4, K
Game 147, September 14: Cubs 1, Cardinals 2; 10 innings (85-62)
One more heart-breaking loss for the road trip. The Cardinals, behind Bob Gibson, jumped on top right out of the gate with a run in the first. But the Cubs got one back behind Ken Holtzman in the fourth. The game remained knotted and both pitchers went the distance. It was Lou Brock who walked this one off for the Cardinals on a solo homer.
- Superhero: Ken Holtzman (.151). 9⅓ IP, 7H, 4BB, 2R, 2K, L (16-11)
- Hero: Jimmie Hall (.116). 2-4, 2B, RBI
- Honorable Mention: Ken Holtzman (.026). 2-4, K
- Sidekick: Jim Hickman (.007). 1-3, BB
- Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.203). 0-4, SH
- Goat: Randy Hundley (-.162). 1-4, K
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.160). 0-4, K
Looking Back: A full out nightmare for the Cubs. They started a nine day, four city, road trip with four straight losses that ran their overall losing streak to eight. In all, they were 1-6 on the week. They left Chicago with a 2½-game lead. They left St. Louis with a 3½-game deficit in the division, having lost six games in the division in seven days. That’s because the Mets won an incredible eight games that week. They did finally lose on Sunday, snapping a 10-game winning streak that included two doubleheader sweeps in three days.
The Mets pitching was nothing short of phenomenal, allowing a total of 11 runs in the 10 games (one of which went 12 innings). Much is made of the choke of the 1969 Cubs. I’m not here to tell you that they didn’t choke down the stretch. But, I have to tip my cap to the Mets who were all but unbeatable down the stretch. The Mets were 9-11 in April and were 18-23 after the game on May 27. From May 28 until the end of the season, the Mets were 82-39, a .678 winning percentage. That’s a 110 win pace over a full 162 games.
The Cubs choke most likely only kept the season from going down to the wire. As it is, the Cubs lost the division by eight games. If the Cubs had gone 13-12 instead of 8-17 in September, they would have lost the division by three games. Certainly, as we’ve seen and will see, there were certainly five games that could have gone the other way in that stretch run. But the Cubs simply ran out of gas before the end of the race.
Week 23 Hero of the Week: Glenn Beckert (+7)
Week 23 Goat of the Week: Fergie Jenkins/Phil Regan (-5)
Week 23 Featured Player: Jimmie Hall
Jimmie came to the Cubs late in the 1969 season to try to help out in center field. He had played earlier in the years with the Indians and Yankees. He was initially signed in 1956 by the Washington Senators. He reached the majors in 1963 with the Twins. That season he slugged 33 homers and drove in 80 runs on his way to finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting. He would be an All-Star the next two seasons during which he hit another 45 homers total. He received MVP votes in 1967. His numbers began to fall off in 1966 and he was never a regular after 1967.
Hall played in 11 games for the Cubs in 1969 and then 28 more the following season before being traded once again. He had just a .392 OPS in 61 plate appearances as a Cub. By far, his most success was with the Twins where he had an .815 OPS and 98 homers in 2,102 plate appearances. In all, he played eight seasons in the major leagues and played for six different teams. He was traded three times and had his contract purchased twice. He had a total of 121 homers and a .755 OPS in 3,167 plate appearances.
Looking Ahead: The end is coming soon. With just 15 games left on the schedule, we’ll have three weeks left to cover. Week 24 will be another busy one, with seven games in seven days. The week will start with two in Montreal to finish off the road trip. Then the Cubs would come home for two with the Phillies and three with the Cardinals. Sadly, by this point the Cubs were pretty clearly playing out the string. A red hot Mets team looked like an unstoppable juggernaut.