Tonight and tomorrow night, the Cubs and White Sox will play a pair of games... call them what you want, “practice” games or “exhibition” games, it will be the first competition either team will have with another ballclub since Summer Camp 2020 began and the first game the Cubs will play against a different team since they defeated the Padres 3-2 back on March 11 in Mesa.
These games won’t count in the 2020 60-game standings (though the two teams will meet six more times during the 60-game schedule). They’ll play at an empty Wrigley Field Sunday night and an empty Guaranteed Rate Field Monday night.
Back in 1981, these two teams did something very similar as baseball geared up to return from the strike that wiped two months off the schedule, although that time, it was with fans in attendance.
The 1981 season was to resume Monday, August 10 after the All-Star Game got squished into a Sunday night TV timeslot August 9. Before that, the Cubs and White Sox played two exhibition games, Friday, August 7 at Comiskey Park and Saturday, August 8 at Wrigley Field, the first time these teams had played each other since 1972. Both games were televised by WGN-TV; the Sox broadcast crew, apparently, skipped them.
The Cubs had been horrid (15-37) before the strike, while the White Sox were quite a bit better at 31-22. The games were to be limited to nine innings, and they used the designated hitter at Comiskey. It wasn’t official, of course, but I believe that’s the first time a Cub ever served as a DH. For the record, it was Jerry Morales, and he went 0-for-4.
Beyond Morales’ 0-fer, these two squads did not bathe themselves in glory in those two contests.
Neither team did much of anything in the Friday night game. The Cubs had seven hits off five Sox pitchers — three by Bill Buckner — and the Sox got six hits off six Cubs hurlers. No one scored through nine, so the game went into the books as a scoreless tie, played in front of 27,048. Richard Dozer of the Tribune wrote:
The rival managers chose different ways to showcase the pitchers they’ve penciled in to start in Monday’s second-half openers. The Cubs’ Joey Amalfitano let Mike Krukow face only four batters, and he struck out three of them in his one-inning appearance: Ron LeFlore, All-Star Carlton Fisk, and Greg Luzinski.
The next afternoon, 20,113 paid to see the teams meet again on the North Side. I did go to the Wrigley game — below is the cover of the scorecard from the series. All proceeds from the games went to charity. There were also Old-Timers Games played before both of these contests, featuring (among others) Ernie Banks, George Altman, Andy Pafko, Billy Williams and Sox manager Tony La Russa (yes, he’s a former Cub) playing for the Cubs and Billy Pierce, Eddie Fisher, Marv Rotblatt, Smoky Burgess and Bill Skowron for the Sox.
Leon Durham homered, the only long ball by either team. Amalfitano was quoted in Bob Logan’s Tribune recap:
“I thought it was a very entertaining game,” said Cubs Manager Joey Amalfitano after shortstop Greg Pryor’s throwing error in the seventh allowed Tim Blackwell to score, snapping a 3-3 tie and pinning the loss on Kevin Hickey of the White Sox. “Now we’re ready, so let’s get back to playing baseball for real.
Here are the Tribune boxscores from the games. Check out the game times, looks like both teams were in a hurry:
Neither team distinguished itself during the “second half” which followed. The Sox, who were just 2½ games out of first place when the “first half” ended (though, of course, no one knew it at the time), went 23-30 after play resumed, the second-worst record in the American League. The Cubs’ 23-28 mark was slightly better, and of course far better than their abysmal record before the strike.
This week’s play between the North and South Side rivals will take place in a pandemic with no fans in either ballpark, just as you see the aerial shot of Wrigley Field from 1981 at the top of this post. Tonight’s game at Wrigley Field begins at 7:05 p.m. CT and tomorrow on the South Side, game time is 7:10 p.m. CT. These games will not go beyond nine innings, so there is, I suppose, a chance of another tie as there was in 1981.
Whether we will be able to complete a full 60-game season remains to be seen. But I thought you’d enjoy this little slice of history from 39 summers ago.