The end of summer was near, second grade was beckoning, and the Cubs' fortunes were plummeting. If that wasn't bad enough, my mother informed me on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 16, 1977, that I would be accompanying her and my Aunt Barb to Orland Square Mall. I had been planning to watch that afternoon's game between the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates, but a 7-year-old's plans are quite often trumped by Mom's.
The 1977 major league season was the first that I could comprehend and the first that I followed closely in the papers.
The day the Cubs moved into first, with a 6-3 win over the Pirates at Wrigley Field on May 28, was perhaps the most exciting day of my brief life. I recall that throughout the ninth, as Cubs relief ace Bruce Sutter mowed down the Pirates, a boisterous Wrigley Field crowd chanted, "We're No. 1!"
And as Cubs players shook hands after the final out, a WGN-TV graphic displaying the final score also flashed the phrase, "We're No. 1!"
The Cubs were as many as 25 games over .500 on June 28 and as many as 8.5 games in front in the NL East on June 29, but an arm injury suffered by Sutter in July contributed prominently to a precipitous downfall.
The Cubs fell from first after 72 days on Aug. 7 and, following a horrific four-game weekend series sweep at the hands of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies, were 6.5 games out when they limped home to play the Pirates on Aug.16.
My illogical 7-year-old mind led me to believe that the Cubs could bounce back. A lack of experience, I suppose, caused me to be gullible.
To Mom's credit, she allowed me to loiter in the TV section of a department store for much of the afternoon. In front of a bank of TVs, I watched as Steve Ontiveros capped a three-run first with a two-run double and added a sacrifice fly in the third that gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead.
We got in the car and were heading home as the Pirates batted in the top of the eighth with the Cubs leading 4-1. I listened from the back seat in horror as Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau described Pittsburgh's four-run inning. Bill Robinson's home run - his second of the game - with two on, off Bill Bonham, tied the game. Fernando Gonzalez's two-out RBI single off reliever Dave Roberts put the Pirates in front.
My moans and groans from the back seat during the top of the eighth were nothing in comparison to what transpired in the bottom of the eighth.
With leadoff hitter Bobby Murcer at the plate, Lloyd was cut off in mid-sentence by a bulletin from the WGN Radio newsroom.
"Elvis Presley has died at the age of 42," the announcer said.
My mother and aunt shrieked and Mom pulled over to the side of Southwest Highway.
I was confused and a bit startled by the reaction of the shrieking adults in the front seat - and also a bit ticked off because I was missing the play-by-play account of a game that I had gone through a great deal of trouble to follow that afternoon.
By the time WGN sent it back to Vince and Lou at Wrigley Field, the Pirates were batting in the top of the ninth and still leading 5-4. Mom had regained enough of her senses to resume driving home but the hysterical conversation between her and my aunt continued for the remainder of the drive.
I happily watched the extra innings from the couch in our living room while the women continued their hysterics from the kitchen. Murcer slid home with the winning run in the bottom of the 15th after a throwing error by Pittsburgh second baseman Rennie Stennett.
Elvis, shmelvis. The Cubs had won 6-5 to end a five-game losing streak. When the dust had settled on the 1977 baseball season, that game mattered little. The Cubs finished with an 81-81 record, 20 games behind the champion Phillies.
Perhaps, I remember that game so vividly is because it was the day that Elvis died. But I like to think that part of what made that day so memorable was the fact that it was the day that my lifelong love affair with Cubs baseball was cemented.