It’s late September at Wrigley Field, Game 158 of another lost season for the Chicago Cubs, playing out the string on a Wednesday afternoon in front of a “throng” of 2,113 souls.
Team aces Tom Seaver and Rick Reuschel are on the mound for the Cubs and the Mets.
Seaver starts mowing Cubs down, though not quite as well as he did in July 1969 when Jimmy Qualls broke up a perfect game bid in the ninth inning. This time, five Cubs drew walks off Seaver.
But Reuschel was nearly as good. Through nine innings, the Cubs righthander had allowed just four hits, and the game went scoreless to the bottom of the ninth.
Here, I am going to reproduce the rest of the photo you see at the top of this post (the original is black and white, Mike Bojanowski colorized what you see above):
Thankfully, someone took photos that afternoon that are preserved today, 46 years later. A quick sleuth: It’s clearly the bottom of the ninth, there’s nobody out and a 2-1 count on the hitter, who has to be the leadoff hitter in the inning. You can only see part of him, but that’s Don Kessinger. He struck out. Incidentally, that’s very likely the last photo of Kessinger in a Cubs uniform. Just three games remained in the ‘75 season and he was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason.
Rick Monday followed Kessinger and Seaver also struck him out, Tom’s eighth strikeout of the afternoon.
Joe Wallis was the next hitter. He had made his MLB debut earlier that month and started out great, hitting .324/.395/.588 (11-for-34) over his first eight games and made some diving catches in center field that got him the nickname “Tarzan Joe.”
Wallis swung and missed at Seaver’s first two offerings and then lined a single to right-center, breaking up the no-hitter with two out in the ninth, one more out than Seaver had recorded in 1969 before Qualls’ hit broke up his perfect game.
The Tribune quoted Seaver in the game recap:
“Strange game,” noticed Seaver. “I had never heard of Joe Wallis before, but then I had never heard of Qualls, either. And they both did the same thing to me. But it’s my own fault, I wanted to make it a waste pitch, and it was so bad that if Wallis hadn’t cut at it, it would have been strike three.”
Wallis then stole second while Jose Cardenal was batting (just think about that for a moment, Cardenal hitting cleanup). The Mets then put Cardenal on base intentionally to face Andre Thornton. Seaver struck out Thornton to end the inning.
But the game was scoreless, so the teams headed to extras. Both starters threw a scoreless 10th. That would be unheard of in 2021 baseball. In the 1970s and 1980s it was still fairly common for a starter who was cruising to throw in the 10th inning, but it’s happened only five times since 1999, last by Cliff Lee in 2012.
The Mets didn’t score in the 10th, and with one out in the bottom of the inning Manny Trillo singled with one out. George Mitterwald then doubled. Trillo tried to score but was thrown out at the plate. Manager Jim Marshall then lifted Reuschel for pinch-hitter Champ Summers, who walked. Kessinger hit into a force play to end the inning.
Ken Crosby, who pitched in only nine games as a Cub that year and seven the next, threw a scoreless 11th. He got three groundouts, including one from John Milner, batting for Seaver.
So it was Skip Lockwood coming in for the Mets in the bottom of the 11th. Rick Monday singled and Wallis walked. Cardenal bunted the runners up and Thornton was intentionally passed to load the bases.
Bill Madlock, who hadn’t started a game in two weeks due to a thumb injury until this one, was the next hitter. Lockwood walked him on four pitches to give the Cubs a 1-0, 11-inning walkoff win, their sixth walkoff in a wacky season where they had run out to a 20-10 start and a four-game lead by mid-May, then a collapse to 75-87 because they had the worst pitching staff in the National League (they led the league in runs allowed by 88).
This game happened one day short of nine years after the Dodgers broke up Ken Holtzman’s no-hit bid in 1966.
Seaver finally did throw a no-hitter June 16, 1978 for the Reds against the Cardinals.
Mike Bojanowski was one of the 2,113 in attendance that 1975 afternoon, and he’s got a story to tell about that day that has nothing (and yet, everything) to do with the no-hitter:
The Seaver near no-hitter has a special place in my memory, and for all the wrong reasons, so to speak.
When I first knew the bleachers, they were sparsely populated by kids, old men, and semiprofessional gamblers, a far cry from the crowds soon to come. The old-timers carved out little fiefdoms and held court, educating us youngsters on baseball and aspects of life not available in school or at home. I fell in with such a group, became a regular, and eventually, along with others of my age, took over as the oldsters passed. The gang Al and I sit with to this day has now had a continuous history for a century.
But at the end of the ‘75 season, the old guard was still very much in place. The presiding presence was Caleb “Chet” Chestnut, a native of the Delta region of Mississippi, who had served overseas in World War I and came North during the Great Migration. He worked as a laborer in the Chicago building trades for nearly 50 years, but retained all the earthiness and personality of his upbringing.
On this occasion he was joined by a another elder regular who we all knew only as “Albert.” A rich character himself, he had grown up in a small Portuguese village, and told harrowing tales of the civil unrest that had brought the Fascists to power in his native country, and forced him and his family to flee to America.
Cubs and Mets going nowhere, typical end-of-season weekday for a next-to-last-place team, barely two thousand in the park. If the pic that fronts this article had shifted ten degrees to the right, we’d all be in perfect view.
Don’t remember how it got to the subject matter, but it turned toward what Chet and his contemporaries could do for “fun” in a wide-open Chicago when they were young. I can hear it now, in Chet’s Delta cadence: ”I’m gonna tell you-all something you don’t know,” and off he went. Albert joined in, and it became a Can You Top This contest of two expert raconteurs. For two hours we were regaled with every manner of speakeasy stories, brothel stories, live stage show stories, “animal act” stories, Al Capone as bouncer at the Four Deuces stories, and what Chet saw through the windows of the Wrigley Building while working on the construction of Tribune Tower.
All the while Seaver is working on this no-hitter thing, the game is a scoreless tie, the baseball drama is building, and the bunch of us are almost literally rolling in the aisles with raucous laughter. The rest of the bleachers must’ve thought we were nuts. And so we were.
At last, all that stood between Seaver and the no-no (and remember, this was years before Jerome Holtzman got his clutches on the rule, it would’ve been a VERY official no-hitter), was Joe Wallis, most famous for diving off minor-league-hotel balconies into minor-league-hotel swimming pools. He flails at two fastballs, the very picture of overmatched. So what does Tom Terrific do? He gets cute as only someone too great to be cute can. He hangs a curveball so badly that Wallis has time to shift his stance in the box and smack it through the right side for the first Cubs hit of the game.
No other ending could do that moment justice. To swipe a line from Edward Albee: “That was one of the grandest times of my youth.”
Here is Mike’s scorecard from the game (click here for a larger version):