Cubs' dropped fly balls in outfield

A fly ball that fell out of the glove of left fielder Ian Happ was the pivotal play in the Cubs' 7-3 loss at Colorado on Wednesday.

Had Happ caught the ball, the inning would have been over, with the score tied at 3.

Instead, the next batter hit the next pitch for a go-ahead home run.

According to, Happ's error only increased the Cubs' likelihood of losing by 3 percent, to 55 from 52.

The home run raised it by 18 points, to 77.

That percentage is called Win Probability Added -- WPA for short.



You probably can guess the dropped fly that had the highest WPA since 1914, first season for which has searchable play-level data.

Here's a hint: "Oh! Noooooooo!"

That was Ron Santo's unforgettable reaction on the radio when left fielder Brant Brown muffed a catch with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning at Milwaukee. All 3 runners scored, handing the Brewers an 8-7 victory.

Brown had entered the game as a defensive replacement an inning earlier.

One week from today, Sept. 23, will be the 25th anniversary of that game, the only one that the Cubs have lost in that ignominious fashion.

Brown's error made a change of 82.4 percentage points in WPA.

After the previous batter had fouled out, the Cubs had had an 82 percent likelihood of winning.



The Cubs' next 2 highest tumbles in WPA together barely exceed the 82.4 of Brown's error.

On Aug. 4, 1951, the Cubs led the Braves at home, 5-4, with 2 out in the ninth. Gene Hermanski dropped a fly, allowing the tying run to score.

The change in WPA was 44.4 percent.

The batter reached third on the play and after a walk, came home on a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs tied the game in their half of the ninth on a 2-out RBI triple by Randy Jackson.

They gained a 7-6 victory when Jackson singled with 1 out in the 11th and reached the plate on a double by Hank Sauer.


On April 15, 1972, the Cubs and Phillies were tied at 2 going to the top of the ninth at Wrigley Field.

The first 2 batters made outs. The next 2 singled, putting runners on the corners.

Tim McCarver lifted a fly to right that Jose Cardenal could not hold onto. Both runners scored and the Cubs went down in order to complete a disheartening 4-2 loss.

The change in WPA was 42.6 percentage points.


3 more games featured errors on catches in the outfield that changed WPA by at least 300 percentage points, or 30 percent:

354: Aug. 11, 1954, at home vs. Reds. With 2 out in the 11th, score 5-5 and runners on first and second, right fielder Jim King's drop scored a runner from second.

340: June 2, 1982, at home vs. Padres. With 2 out in the 6th, no score and bases loaded, center fielder Leon Durham's error resulted in 3 runs. In the bottom of the inning, the first Cub batter reached third when the left fielder dropped a fly. He scored moments later, on a sacrifice fly, and neither team scored again.

303: June 10, 1968, at home vs. Reds. With 1 out, Cubs ahead by 2-1 and runners on first and second, Al Spangler's drop let the tying run score. A walk and a forceout then put the Reds in front, 3-2. Billy Williams delivered a 2-out, 2-run double in the bottom of the inning and the Cubs held on to win, 4-3.



"Wait a minute!" you may be thinking. "What about the 2 fly balls that rookie Don Young dropped against the Mets in 1969?

That game took place on July 8, at Shea Stadium in New York.

The Cubs took a 3-1 lead into the ninth. The leadoff batter, Ken Boswell, hit a drive that Young couldn't handle and wound up on second.

After a foul popup, Donn Clendenon smacked a pitch by Ferguson Jenkins to deep left-center. Young raced over, got the ball in his glove, hurtled into the wall and dropped it.

Boswell wound up on third and Clendenon on second.

Both scored when Cleon Jones doubled. An intentional walk and groundout advanced Jones to third. Then he trotted home on a single.


"My 3-year-old could have caught those balls," said Manager Leo Durocher.

Santo criticized Young as well: "He was just thinking about himself. He had a bad day at the plate, so he's got his head down. He's worrying about his batting average, not the team."

Santo apologized the next day, first to Young and then in a press conference.

In 1992, Young told a reporter: "I was so ashamed, I ran into the clubhouse. I took a shower in eight seconds. I got lost outside of Shea Stadium. I wandered into drugstore and called a cab. You have a hard time looking your teammates in the face after screwing up like that."


The first play made a change of 103 points in WPA; the second, 166.

And neither was scored as an error. Boswell and Clendenon both were credited with doubles.

Jones' game-tying double made a change in WPA of 416 percentage points.

Here is a link to an account of the game published by Al Yellon in 2019:



Cubs have been charged with errors on 11 more botched catches in the outfield that changed WPA by 200-296 points, for a total of 17.

The most recent of those 11 was by exactly 200, on April 21, 1992.

Sammy Sosa, playing center field, dropped a fly by the leadoff man for the Phillies in the top of the ninth, with the Cubs clinging to a 3-2 lead.

A walk, a strikeout and 2 more walks tied the score, then a sacrifice fly put the Phillies in front.

The Cubs tied the game in their half on a double by Ryne Sandberg and 1-out single by Hector Villanueva.

But the Phillies scored 3 runs in the 10th, the Cubs managed only 1 and they lost, 7-5.



Of the 17 errors that changed WPA by at least 200 points, just 2 took place in September.

The only one before Brown's blunder at Milwaukee in 1998 was on Sept. 7, 1940, at home against the Reds.

Left fielder Jim Gleeson dropped a 2-out fly in the third inning that let runners score from first and second, handing the Reds a 3-1 lead.

The Cubs erupted for 5 runs in the fourth, capped by Bill Nicholson's grand slam.

But the Reds got a 2-out RBI single in the sixth, pulled even on 3 singles and 2 sacrifice flies in the seventh, and turned a leadoff homer in the ninth into a 7-6 victory.


The most errors on catches in the outfield by the Cubs that changed WPA by at least 200 points is 5, in April.

They have made 4 in August, 3 in June, 2 in May and September and just 1 in July.

The latter was on July 28, 1984, when veteran centerfielder Bob Dernier dropped a ball with 1 out in the seventh at New York against the Mets. A runner scored from first, tying the game at 3.

After Rick Sutcliffe walked the next batter, he gave way to Lee Smith, who got Rusty Staub to line out to first baseman Leon Durham. He fired the ball to shortstop Larry Bowa, doubling the runner off second, for the third out.

The Cubs then turned a double, 4 singles, 3 walks (2 intentional), an error and a wild pitch into 8 runs and coasted to an 11-4 triumph.


Cubs have dropped 80 balls in the outfield that changed WPA by 100 to 199 points, and 442 by less than 100, including 20 of 0, when the Cubs held large leads.

The average change has been 63 points; the median change, 48.


Happ's error on Wednesday was the Cubs' 539th on a catch in the outfield in the 110 seasons, 1914-2023.

That is an average of 4.9 per season. But it is half the size, 2.4, since the start of 1990.

The Cubs made none in the 60-game 2020 season, then 2 in 2021 and 3 last season.

Happ's was the second this year. Seiya Suzuki dropped a 2-out fly in the fourth inning at Philadelphia on May 19.

That one did no harm, as the next batter lined out to center, ending the inning and keeping the Cubs in front, 4-1. They wound up winning, 10-1.



207 of the fly balls dropped in the outfield have come with the Cubs ahead in games.

Happ's was the 160th with the score tied.

172 have come with the Cubs trailing.


Of the 207 with the Cubs ahead, 65 came with a lead of 1 run, 45 of 2, 30 of 3 and 29 of 4.

That's a total of 169, which is 81.6 percent of all 207.

Their biggest lead when they dropped a fly was 17 runs, 26-9.


The Cubs were behind by no more than 4 runs when 136 of the errors were made: 56 by 1 run, 35 by 2, 29 by 3 and 16 by 4.

Those 136 times are 79.1 percent of all 172.

Their biggest deficit when a fly was dropped was 12 runs, 4-16.


Including ties, 86.3 percent of the errors took place with the score between 4 behind and 4 ahead.

52.1 percent came with the score between 1 behind and 1 ahead.



Here is how many errors were made in each inning, with the number made in the top and bottom of each inning in parentheses after the total:

By inning:

1st: 62 (33/29)

2nd: 68 (39/29)

3rd: 60 (36/24)

4th: 48 (25/23)

5th: 55 (23/32)

6th: 63 (34/29)

7th: 59 (31/28)

8th: 57 (30/27)

9th: 56 (39/17)

10th: 4 (2/2)

11th: 3 (2/1)

12th: 2 (2/0)

13th: 2 (1/1)

Total: 539 (297/242)


Note that the fifth inning, in which Happ made his error Wednesday, is the only inning in which the Cubs have dropped more flies in the bottom of the inning than in top -- i.e., on the road, rather than at home.

They have made the most total errors in the second inning (68), followed by the sixth (63) and first (62).

Their 48 in the fourth are 7 fewer than in any other inning.

54.8 percent of the errors have come in the top and 45.2 percent in the bottom.



The first of the 2 errors in the 13th inning happened on June 26, 1923, at home vs. the Reds, with the score 3-3, 2 outs and a runner on second. Center fielder Jigger Statz dropped the fly, but right fielder Cliff Heathcote recovered the ball and threw it home in time to tag out the runner.

The Reds won the game, 4-3, in the 14th, thanks to a leadoff homer from catcher Bubbles Hargrave, who had broken in with the Cubs in 1913-15, then was out of the major leagues until he joined the Reds in 1921.


The second 13th-inning drop came on Sept. 21, 1955, at St. Louis.

The Cubs had taken a 7-3 lead in the top of the inning when Randy Jackson tripled with the bases loaded and 2 out, then came home on a single.

In the bottom half, with 2 out and runners on first and second, center fielder Gale Wade's misplay allowed both runners to score and the batter to reach second. When the next batter grounded to short, the runner was tagged out at third, ending the game.



Here is how many of the errors have come with 0, 1 and 2 outs, when the Cubs were ahead, tied and behind:

Ahead: 78, 79, 50 = 207

Tied: 45, 59, 56 = 160

Behind: 62, 49, 61 = 172

Total: 186, 187, 167 = 539

Until Happ made his error on Wednesday, there had been exactly the same number with no outs and 1 out.



Happ's error happened with nobody on base, by far the most frequent situation: 304 of 539 errors, which is 56.6 percent.

The next-most frequent, 87, is with a runner only on first. That is 16.1 percent.

Here are all 8 combinations of runners, with how many came with 0, 1 and 2 outs in parentheses after the total for each combination:

---: 304 (136, 96, 72)

1--: 87 (29, 28, 30)

12-: 41 (5, 17, 19)

1-3: 21 (5, 7, 9)

123: 14 (0, 6, 8)

-2-: 38 (5, 19, 14)

-23: 12 (3, 6, 3)

--3: 22 (2, 8, 12)


Note that the 3 most common combinations were the 3 with only a runner on first.

Tied for fourth are runners on first and second, with 2 out, and only on second, with 1 out.

First and second, with 2 out, and only on second, with 2 out, are the only other combinations that have happened more than 9 times.



Center fielders have dropped 182 fly balls; left fielders, 170; and right fielders, 157.

That adds up to 509.

The 30 remaining errors were made by infielders on balls hit to the outfield: shortstops, 12; second basemen, 11; first basemen, 6; and third basemen, 1.

The most recent by each infielder:

First baseman: Sept. 6, 1980, at home vs. Reds, by Cliff Johnson, in sixth inning, with Cubs behind 3-1, 2 out and nobody on base. Next batter made an out. Cubs tied score at 3 on 1-out RBI double in ninth by Mike Vail. In 10th, first 2 batters reached on single and hit by pitch. Next batter bunted, pitcher fielded ball and threw it past third, allowing winning run to score.

Second baseman: June 3, 1960, at Los Angeles vs. Dodgers, by Jerry Kindall, in eighth inning, with Cubs ahead 5-0, nobody out and runners on first and second. Runners held, loading bases. All 3 eventually scored. Dodgers tied game on 2-run homer by Duke Snider with nobody out in ninth, but Cubs got RBI single from George Altman in 10th and held on to win, 6-5.

Shortstop: July 28, 1988, at Philadelphia, by Shawon Dunston, in fifth inning, with Cubs ahead 3-0, nobody on and nobody out. Dunston retrieved ball and threw out batter at second. Cubs won, 7-0.

(Just 2 days earlier, at Montreal, Dunston had dropped a fly ball in the third inning with the Cubs behind 1-0, 1 out and runners on second and third. The runner from third scored. It was the first error on a fly ball by a Cubs shortstop since 1949. The Cubs lost, 8-4, on a 2-out grand slam in the 11th.)

Third baseman: July 12, 1920, at home vs. Robins (today's Dodgers), by Buck Herzog, in the third inning with the Cubs behind 3-1, 2 out and nobody on base. The next batter tripled, then he scored when Herzog bobbled a grounder. The Cubs lost, 13-4.

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