The Cubs announced the passing of outfielder Larry Biittner on their official Twitter account this afternoon. He was 75 years old.
The Cubs acquired Biittner from the Montreal Expos May 17, 1976, along with pitcher Steve Renko, for Andre Thornton. This wasn’t a good deal for the Cubs, as Thornton went on to a fine career, mostly with Cleveland.
But Biittner did have his moments in a Cubs uniform. In 1977, as the more-or-less regular left fielder (and backup to Bill Buckner at first base), he hit .298/.345/.432 (147-for-493) with 12 home runs in 138 games.
Here are some of those memorable moments.
In the first game of an unbearably hot doubleheader July 4, 1977, with the Cubs trailing 11-2 in the bottom of the eighth, manager Herman Franks sent Biittner in to pitch. Now, this sort of thing is commonplace now, but back then it was pretty rare. As you might expect, Biittner lobbed a bunch of pitches toward the plate. At one point he got warned by the plate umpire because one of the lobs came close to Del Unser’s head — not that the ball was going more than maybe 50 miles per hour.
Biittner allowed six runs, including three home runs, one by Larry Parrish, one by Ellis Valentine and one by future Cub Andre Dawson. At one point WGN-TV superimposed on the screen the legend “LARRY BIITTNER: PIITCHING,” which was pretty inspired. Sadly, no video survives. The Cubs eventually lost 19-3.
At the Wrigley home opener April 14, 1978, in front of 45,777 on a very cold April afternoon, Biittner hit his one and only career walkoff homer, and for that, we do have video:
RIP Larry Biittner. Solid pinch hitter and played some OF/1B too. Was on those Senators/Rangers teams managed by Ted Williams. Here he is hitting a walkoff HR for the #Cubs off Jim Bibby in 1978. Of his 29 career HR over 14 seasons, this was his only walkoff. #MLB pic.twitter.com/PHvx0sirUa— Rocco Constantino (@OfficialMLBRFC) January 2, 2022
The last Biittner story I have for you happened September 26, 1979, at the end of another lost season. I was one of 5,287 at Wrigley on a pleasant Wednesday to see the Cubs’ final home game of that year against the awful Mets.
In the top of the fourth inning with the Mets leading 2-0 and a runner on second with nobody out, Mets right fielder Bruce Boisclair hit a ball Biittner’s way in right field. At the time I sat in the RF bleachers, and Biittner ran out from under his hat, a fairly common occurrence (see the video above, he ran out from under his helmet rounding the bases on that 1978 walkoff homer).
The ball landed squarely in Biittner’s cap, on the ground, as Boisclair rounded the bases. He was looking around like crazy for it, but the way the cap landed, it was not visible to him — but those of us in the bleachers could see it clearly. A number of us started yelling, “Hat! Hat!”, which could be heard easily with the small crowd.
Biittner picked the ball out of his hat and threw Boisclair out at third.
One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at Wrigley Field, 42 years later, I can still see that play clearly in my mind. Again, sadly, no video survives. The Cubs eventually lost the game 8-3.
Biittner played 14 MLB seasons from 1970-83 for the Cubs, Expos, Rangers, Reds and Washington Senators. In his five Cubs seasons he hit .273/.318/.373 with 20 home runs in 573 games.
Rest in peace, Larry, condolences to his family and friends, and thanks for the memories.