When last we checked in on the Cubs for week 23 of the 1969 season, five months of hard work were disappearing in little more than a historical blink of the eye. The Cubs dropped six of seven in the week. Meanwhile, the Mets managed to win eight of nine (!) in the week, sweeping two doubleheaders along the way. That swung a 2½-game lead to a 3½-game deficit. I assume I’m not delivering any 50+ year old spoilers when I say that the Cubs never recovered and the Mets never cooled off.
Alas, we stay through to the finish. When last we checked in, there were still 15 games left. Today we’ll cover week 24 and that will check off another eight of them. This is another one of those odd three opponent weeks. First the Cubs will finish their four city, nine game road trip with two against the expansion Expos. Then they’ll come home for two with the Phillies and four with the Cardinals, including a Sunday doubleheader. Let’s get to the action.
Game 148, September 15: Cubs 2, Expos 8 (85-63)
Adding insult to injury, the Cubs get blown out by the 100-loss Expos. The Cubs actually scored first with a run in the top of the first. But the Expos tied it off Cubs starter Dick Selma in the bottom of the inning. Then they added two in the third, one in the fourth and four more in the fifth. The Cubs managed just three hits off of Mike Wegener who left the game with a 4.09 ERA and a 5-12 record after the fine performance. Selma only lasted four innings and the Cubs bullpen was lit up in the fifth.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.076). 1-4, RBI, 2K
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.030). 1-3, BB, R, K
- Sidekick: Willie Smith (.005). 1-1, 2B, RBI
- Billy Goat: Dick Selma (-.262). 4IP, 6H, 1BB, 4R, 3K, L (12-8)
- Goat: Hang Aguirre (-.069). ⅔IP, 3H, 0BB, 3R, 0K
- Kid: Don Kessinger (-.067). 0-4
Game 149, September 16: Cubs 5, Expos 4 (86-63)
The Cubs picked up the win to avoid falling to .500 against the expansion Expos. That’s right, they entered this game just 8-7 on the year against the Expos. In week 25, the two teams will finish out their 18-game season set with another two game series. The good news in this game was Bill Hands picking up his 18th win. It wasn’t easy though. When he got into trouble in the eighth, Phil Regan was called upon to record the final five outs. He was up to the task, inheriting a runner but recording five outs while facing just four batters (caught stealing).
- Superhero: Phil Regan (.326). 1⅔IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 0K, SV (17)
- Hero: Billy Williams (.162). 2-5, HR, 2RBI, 2R, K
- Sidekick: Oscar Gamble (.101). 1-5, HR, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.069). 7⅓IP, 7H, 4BB, 4R, 5K, W (18-13)
- Goat: Randy Hundley (-.016). 0-4, K
- Kid: Willie Smith (-.015). 0-4, SH, R, K
Game 150, September 17: Cubs 9, Phillies 7 (87-63)
The Cubs win back to back games. This was a wild one. The Cubs were coasting early behind Fergie Jenkins, scoring a run in the first and then two more in the third. But the Phillies scored a run in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to tie the game. But then the Cubs busted out for five in the sixth, capped by a three-run triple by Jenkins, and another in the seventh. But it wasn’t over. Jenkins went back out for the eighth and things nearly got away. Two of the first three batters doubled, cutting the Cubs lead to nine four. Then Glenn Beckert made an error. A Jenkins walk ended his day. Ken Johnson retired the first batter he faced for the second out of the inning, but then he issued a walk. That brought in Phil Regan who was greeted with a two-run single to cut the game to 9-7. Rich Nye was summoned and retired all four batters he faced for his third save.
- Superhero: Ron Santo (.300). 3-3, BB, HR, 3RBI, 2R,
- Hero: Ernie Banks (.152). 2-4, 2B, RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Rich Nye (.146). 1⅓IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 0K, S (3)
- Billy Goat/Goat: Phil Regan/Oscar Gamble (-.071). Regan: 0IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 0K; Gamble 1-5, 2K
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.055). 0-4
Game 151, September 18: Cubs 3, Phillies 5 (87-64)
Despite the result, the Cubs did win 12 of 18 in the season series from a woeful Phillies team that went on to lose 99 games. But on this day, it wasn’t to be. The Cubs did actually lead after scoring three runs in the seventh to erase a 2-0 deficit. But Rich Nye was greeted with a homer to tie the game in the eighth. After a single, Phil Regan was summoned and he did record a double play. But then he allowed a single, walk and another single for an insurance run. Jim Colborn came on and recorded the final out and finished out the loss for the Cubs.
- Superhero: John Hairston (.428). 1-1
- Hero: Don Young (.097). 1-3, RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Joe Decker (.046). 6IP, 4H, 4BB, 2R, 6K
- Billy Goat: Rich Nye (-.313). 0IP, 2H, 0BB, 1R, 0K
- Goat: Phil Regan (-.287). ⅔IP, 2H, 1BB, 2R, 0K, L (12-6)
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.138). 0-4, K
Game 152, September 19: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1; 10 innings (88-64)
Unbelievably, the same two teams played nearly identical games in consecutive weeks. In week 23, we covered Ken Holtzman against Bob Gibson. That game went 10 innings and ended with a walkoff winner by the home team. Both pitchers went the distance in that one and they did it again here. The win came by way of a one-out Billy Williams walk followed by a Ron Santo single. One out later Jim Hickman doubled and sent the Cubs to victory for the third time in four games.
- Superhero: Ken Holtzman (.598). 10IP, 9H, 2BB, 1R, 6K, W(17-11)
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.322). 1-4, BB, 2B, RBI
- Sidekick: Billy Williams (.113). 2-4, BB, 2R
- Billy Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.237). 0-5, K
- Goat: Don Kessinger (-.151). 0-4, BB
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.047). 0-3, BB, K
Game 153, September 20: Cubs 2, Cardinals 7 (88-65)
The Cubs got pounded in this one. It didn’t start out that way, with the game reaching the fifth inning at 1-0. But after each team scored a run in the fifth, the Cardinals scored single runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings and then three more in the eighth. The Cubs hit into three double plays, had a caught stealing and made two errors on a day where very little went right.
- Superhero: Jimmie Hall (.126). 1-1
- Hero: Oscar Gamble (.081). 2-3, BB, 2B, R
- Sidekick: Ron Santo (.033). 2-4
- Billy Goat: Jim Hickman (-.122). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, DP
- Goat: Willie Smith (-.110). 0-1, DP
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.095). 0-3, BB, DP
Game 154, September 21: Cubs 1, Cardinals 4 (88-66)
Bill Hands deserved better. The Cubs led this one 1-0 heading to the eighth inning. Hands allowed a lead off single. One out later he allowed another single. The next batter hit a ground ball to Ron Santo. A 5-4-3 double play is always a tall order, so perhaps the game ties here. Except that’s not what happened. Santo made an error and everyone was safe and the game was tied. Then the next batter grounded one to Glenn Beckert. But the nightmare continued. Once again, no double play. But worse than that, no outs at all. Hands was forced to record five outs, but wasn’t able to do so until he’d allowed four hits and four runs, all but one unearned.
- Superhero: Jim Hickman (.213). 3-3, BB, HR, 3B, RBI, R
- Hero: Billy Williams (-.002). 2-4
- Sidekick: Jimmie Hall (-.005). 0-1, K
- Billy Goat: Bill Hands (-.183). 9IP, 10H, 0BB, 4R (1ER), 4K, L (18-14)
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.106). 0-4
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.091). 1-4, DP
Game 155, September 21: Cubs 4, Cardinals 3 (89-66)
The Cubs pushed Fergie Jenkins to his 21st win. They scored one in the third. The Cardinals answered with two in the fourth, but the Cubs rebounded with two of their own in the fifth. They added what ended up being an important insurance run in the seventh. The Cardinals got one back in the eighth but came up short. The Cubs split the 18 games with the Cardinals on the season. That was a fourth place 87-win Cardinals team.
They always say that doubleheaders are hard for one team to win. Indeed, the Cubs split eight of the 15 doubleheaders they played. They lost four and won three, leaving them with a 14-16 record in games that were part of a doubleheader.
- Superhero: Fergie Jenkins (.359). 9IP, 9H, 0BB, 3R, 4K, W (21-14)
- Hero: Randy Hundley (.199). 2-3, HR, 2RBI, R, DP
- Sidekick: Paul Popovich (.195). 3-3, 2R
- Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.179). 0-2, BB, DP, R
- Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.110). 0-4, DP
- Kid: Oscar Gamble (-.021). 1-4, 2K
Looking Back: The Cubs split four of eight. Not a horrible result, but with six home games, four games against teams well below .500 and four more against a team well off the pace, you’d have hoped for better. The Mets had an odd week. They played two more doubleheaders, sweeping one and getting swept in the other. The week started with three straight wins, including two more shutouts by the dynamic duo of Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver. Then they lost three straight before closing the week with a doubleheader sweep of the Pirates for a 5-3 week. That was good enough to add a game to their division lead which now sat at 4½ with time running short for the Cubs.
WPA Hero of the Week: Billy Williams (+5)
WPA Goat of the Week: Bill Hands (-6)
Week 24 Hitter Feature: John Hairston
John was drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round of the 1965 draft. He was a rookie when he reached the majors in 1969. He appeared in a game on September 6 and got two at bats, striking out once. Then in a game we covered above, he was used as a pinch hitter against the Phillies and had a single. That would be his only major league hit. In the final game of the season, he started the game at catcher and got one at bat and struck out.
Between 1965 and 1971, John played in the minors. In seven seasons, he appeared in 575 games with a .756 OPS. He spent most of that in the Cubs system, but towards the end of his career spent time with the Indians and finished out with the A’s. John was primarily a catcher, but also saw time at first and in the outfield.
For those wondering, John is one of “those” Hairstons. The five Hairstons that have played in the major leagues from a single family is the record. John was the son of Sammy who was a Negro League player and the first black player in White Sox history. He was the brother of Jerry Hairston Sr. and thus the uncle of Jerry Jr. and Scott, both of whom played for the Cubs.
Week 24 Pitcher Feature: Joe Decker
Joe was also a 1965 draftee of the Cubs (9th round). He reached the majors in September of 1969 at the age of 22. The game against the Phillies on September 18 was his major league debut. When he left, he was in line to be the winner, unfortunately, the bullpen caved. He would be used three times over the remainder of the season. Decker never really caught on with the Cubs, peaking at 108⅔ innings over 24 games (17 starts) in 1970.
He was traded along with Bill Hands to the Twins after the 1972 season. He spent four years in the majors with the Twins, winning 26 games over two seasons in 1973 and 1974. He eventually came back to the Cubs as a free agent before the 1977 season, but never made a major league appearance. He bounced around the minors a bit, but resurfaced for part of the 1979 season with the Mariners. In all, he pitched in 152 games over parts of nine MLB seasons with the three teams. He posted a 36-44 record and a 4.17 ERA.
Looking Ahead: The Cubs were into need a miracle territory heading into the last week plus of the season. They did have two games with the Mets to finish the season if they could some how cut into the deficit before then. But it was looking increasingly bleak. Week 25 would have the Cubs playing five games with a two game set Tuesday and Wednesday with the Expos and then their final three road games in Pittsburgh. Then week 26 had them playing just two games against the Mets on Wednesday and Thursday after consecutive off days. We’ll roll both weeks into one recap next time. Then we’ll close out with a final post mortem on the ‘69 Cubs including a look at the final Heroes and Goats standings.
That last thought brings me to one of the last interesting things to watch. Heading into the last seven games of the season, Fergie Jenkins was on top of the cumulative standings with 24 points. But Bill Hands was sitting in second at 19. Week 24 saw Jenkins at +3 and Hands at -6, seemingly sealing the win. But, Hands ended up getting three starts over the final seven games and Jenkins just one. Also, not out of the picture entirely was Billy Williams (17). Jenkins was the leader nearly wire to wire, would he hold on for the season win?