You don't put together a 103-year championship drought without a few infamous and embarrassing moments. Cubs history is full of head-scratching and gut-wrenching moments. I believe these are the 13 worst:
13. Stop, Thief!
The Los Angeles Dodgers tangle with fans at Wrigley Field on May 16, 2000.
I've had the good fortune of sitting in the front row behind the visitors' bullpen, down the right-field line, at Wrigley Field on two occasions - on Sept. 16, 1978 when the Cubs hosted the St. Louis Cardinals and on May 14, 1997 when the Los Angeles Dodgers were in town.
Going to a major league game can be a huge thrill and the opportunities those seats gave me to interact with major league players made those experiences all the better.
During the 1978 game, a chilly afternoon at the Friendly Confines, I remember that Cardinals pitchers George Frazier and Roy Thomas, and coach Dave Ricketts were very friendly with me. Between half innings, they were nice enough to answer what had to be a long series of stupid questions from an 8-year-old baseball fan. I suppose that much of their banter was sarcastic and helped them pass the time during a boring and meaningless September game:
Chris: Do you know Jerry Morales?
George Frazier: Yes, he's on our team.
Chris: Did you know he used to play for the Cubs?
But the friendliness of Frazier, Thomas, and Ricketts made a positive impression on me. It was my first up-close-and-personal encounter with major league players and it drove home to me the fact that these players I watched on TV and read about in the newspaper were men very much like my father.
Nineteen years later, I had a similar enjoyable experience with Dodgers relievers Mark Guthrie and Darren Dreifort, and coach Mark Cresse. We engaged in a level of small talk that was similar to countless conversations I've had with strangers in grocery store checkout lines, but I appreciated that they chose to be friendly when they could just have easily ignored me. And best of all, Cresse tossed me a ball after the game's final out. Even though I was now an adult, it was a thrill all the same.
It's a shame all Cubs fans haven't behaved in a civil fashion while seated near the bullpen with the most embarrassing moment coming while the Cubs hosted the Dodgers on May 16, 2000.
Los Angeles catcher Chad Kreuter was seated in the right-field bullpen, watching the ninth inning, and minding his own business when a fan came up from behind, hit Kreuter in the back of the head, grabbed his cap, and took off up the steps of Aisle 37.
Kreuter took off into the seating area in pursuit of the moron along with several of his teammates and Dodgers coach Rick Dempsey. A nine-minute melee between the players and fans eight rows deep in the box seat section followed, featuring beer flying everywhere and a sucker punch.
The Dodgers' dugout emptied and the entire team was gathered along the first-base wall.
Three fans were cited for disorderly conduct and fined $100.
Sixteen players and three coaches were suspended a total of 76 games for the incident, although seven of those suspensions were overturned on appeal.
"I was shocked more than anything," Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield said." I've never seen it in my 12-year career. Not in highlights or anything.''
12. When a Fan Attacks
The Cubs were showing some historically uncharacteristic heart down the stretch of the 1995 season. Their chances of qualifying for the postseason were slim but never the less they entered their final series - a four-game set at Wrigley Field against the Houston Astros - with a mathematical chance of catching the wild-card leading Colorado Rockies.
The series opener - at the Friendly Confines on Sept. 28 - was the kind of game you dream about when you purchase tickets for a September game.
Myers had converted saves in each of his previous six appearances but that track record didn't matter to John Murray, a 27-year-old fan seated on the first-base side.
"If Myers gives up another homer to a guy, I'm going to run out on the field and yell at him," Murray told those who were seated around him.
Sure, John. I've got first round at Murphy's, might have been the response.
James Mouton hit a two-run, pinch homer off Myers to give the Astros a 9-7 lead. As Mouton rounded the bases, Murray bolted on to the field and charged the 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound Myers.
Myers watched Murray charging him, dropped his glove, and knocked him down with a forearm to the head. The two were rolling on the ground near the pitcher's mound, and Myers had Murray pinned by the time his teammates arrived.
"I felt the look in his eyes, that he wanted to hurt me," Myers said. "He reached for his pocket and I thought it could be for a knife or a gun, so I dropped him with a forearm."
The 6-1, 185-pound Murray was not armed, was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, and was released on $75 bond,
"In retrospect, it was a bad move on my part," Murray said
Myers received a standing ovation from the Wrigley crowd when he exited after facing one more batter.
11. Read my lips...
Will Clark bats during Game 1 of the 1989 National League Championship Series.
Have you ever wondered why the pitcher usually covers his mouth while speaking on the mound? I believe that technique became popular after Game 1 of the 1989 National League Championship Series.
The San Francisco Giants were leading the Cubs 4-2 in the top of the fourth at Wrigley Field on Oct. 4, 1989 when Will Clark, who had hit a solo homer in his previous at bat, stepped to the plate against Cubs young ace Greg Maddux.
Clark was still standing in the on-deck circle when Cubs catcher Joe Girardi went out to the mound to discuss with Maddux how they were planning to pitch the Giants slugger.
Legend has it that Clark read Maddux's lips as he told Girardi, "Fastball, high and inside."
True to his word, Maddux's first pitch was a high and inside fastball. Clark, swinging like he knew what was coming, launched it onto Sheffield Avenue and the Giants went on to claim an 11-3 win and a four games to one series victory.
Clark was 13-for-20 with six extra-base hits and eight RBI to lead the Giants to their first World Series since 1962. His two-run single off Mitch Williams in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 5 snapped a 1-1 tie and San Francisco held on for a 3-2 triumph.
10. The Billy Jurges Shooting
On July 6, 1932, 24-year-old Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot and seriously wounded by an attractive young brunette named Violet Valli, with whom he'd been romantically linked, in a room at Chicago's Carlos Hotel. In an apparent murder-suicide attempt (Valli had written a suicide note), three shots were fired. One bullet struck the little finger on Jurges' left hand while another struck a rib and ricocheted upward and out of his right shoulder. Valli was wounded in an arm.
Jurges survived the attack and was back in uniform just 16 days later. He refused to discuss the shooting, and did not press charges.
Jurges, who was ranked the 96th greatest shortstop by Bill James in 2001, recovered to play in that year's World Series and in 15 more major league seasons. The Cubs, in a horrible trade, sent him to the New York Giants in exchange for Dick Bartell following the 1938 season.
Jurges managed the Boston Red Sox in 1959 and had been married 51 years when his wife died in 1984.
Some believe that the Jurges incident was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud's The Natural (Harcourt Brace and Company, 1952), but the shooting incident in the novel resembled more closely the wounding of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus - a former Cub - by Ruth Ann Steinhagen on June 14, 1949, at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel.
9. Himes Lets Maddux Walk
The Cubs should have considered themselves fortunate to have a pitcher the caliber of Maddux to have emerged from their farm system, but in 1992 just as Maddux was reaching his prime, general manager Larry Himes decided to make an example of his young, talented right-hander who for the first time was eligible for free agency.
There was no way, in Himes mind, that the young hot shot and his agent, Scott Boras, were going to dictate the terms of a contract. Himes was determined to show Maddux - and his teammates - who the boss was as negotiations stretched on into the season.
A year after the Cubs had overpaid for free-agent stiffs Danny Jackson, Dave Smith, and George Bell, Maddux and Boras likely felt like they had the Cubs over a barrel. The 26-year-old Maddux had emerged as one of the National League best pitchers with win totals of 18 in 1988, 19 in '89, 15 in '90, and 15 in '91.
As spring training ended and negotiations dragged into the season, Maddux continued to help his bargaining power. At the All-Star break he sported just a 10-8 record, but as his statistics indicated, his mark would have been much better with a bit more support from his teammates. In 19 starts, over 142 1/3 innings, Maddux had allowed just 98 hits and struck out 106. The opposition was hitting just .195 against him. In six games during the first half, Maddux had settled for a loss or no decision in six games in which he had pitched seven or more innings and allowed two runs or fewer.
At the All-Star break, Boras asked for a five-year deal worth almost $40 million. Himes decided to call the agent's bluff and broke off negotiations, basically putting an end to the advantage he had of being able to work out a deal with his ace before he could test the open market.
"I'm going to go ahead and become free agent at the end of the year," Maddux told reporters. "I wouldn't say I'm bitter. I'm disappointed."
Maddux finished the season 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA and was selected as the NL Cy Young Award winner. After the season, he fielded offers from the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. At the Winter Meetings, Maddux waited for a call from Himes, but it never came. He placed a call to the Cubs GM and informed him that he was considering a five-year, $28 million deal from the Braves. Himes told Maddux that he had already spent his free-agent money on Myers, Jose Guzman, Dan Plesac, and Candy Maldonado.
Perhaps the best pitcher of that generation was basically cut loose. Maddux won the next three NL Cy Young Awards and won 194 games in 11 seasons with Atlanta. He made his Braves debut on April 5, 1993 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field and fittingly pitched a 1-0 shutout.
8. Lou Brock Trade
The Cubs headed into the 1964 season on a wave of optimism. The previous season, they posted an 82-80 record to finish above .500 for the first time since 1946. A quartet of talented young players - Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ken Hubbs, and Lou Brock - were continuing to develop while Ernie Banks was expected to bounce back from an injury plagued '63 campaign. And for the first time since the 1940s, the Cubs had a decent starting rotation that featured Larry Jackson, Dick Ellsworth, and Bob Buhl.
Tragedy struck on Feb. 13 when Hubbs, who was just 22, died in a plane crash, but the Cubs soldiered on. As the June 15 trade deadline arrived, the North Siders were in sixth place but trailed first-place Philadelphia by just 5½ games.
Jackson and Ellsworth each had eight wins while Buhl had contributed seven. But the No. 4 slot in the rotation was sore spot for head coach Bob Kennedy. Rookie Fred Norman lost four of his five starts before giving way in May to the equally shaky Paul Toth and in June to ineffective rookie Sterling Slaughter.
General manager John Holland was desperate to upgrade his rotation and just hours before the deadline, he believed he had found his man when the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to send right-hander Ernie Broglio (along with pitcher Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens) to the Cubs. The 28-year-old Broglio had won 21 games in 1960 and 18 in '63. He was just 3-5 when the trade was consummated, but nine of his 11 starts with the Cardinals today would be deemed as quality starts. He was victimized by a lack of support.
"We're taking a shot at the pennant," Holland crowed. "The race is wide open."
One of the players who the Cubs sent to St. Louis (along with pitchers Jack Spring and Toth) was Brock, but Holland and Kennedy had apparently run out of patience with the 25-year-old outfielder. His defense was considered suspect, his baserunning poor, and he was hitting just .251.
"Thank, thank you, oh, you lovely St. Louis Cardinals," a giddy Bob Smith wrote in the Chicago Daily News. "Nice doing business with you. Please call again."
Broglio lost his first five decisions and won just once in his first nine starts with his new team. The Cubs dropped to 10 games out by July 2 and finished 76-86, a distant 17 games out of first in eighth place in the 10-team National League. Brock, meanwhile, was an instant sensation with the Cardinals, hitting .348 and stealing 33 bases as St. Louis charged past the Phillies in the final week of the season to claim the pennant and defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Brock went on to help the Cardinals to two more NL pennants and another world championship and went on to compile 3,023 hits in a 19-year Hall of Fame career.
It was ironic that Brock collected his 3.000th career hit against the Cubs, at Busch Stadium on Aug. 13, 1979. In a game that, strangely, was not televised in Chicago,
Brock led off the bottom of the fourth with a line smash off the pitching hand of Cubs starter Dennis Lamp for the milestone hit.
Lamp was promptly removed by manager Herman Franks and after the game, Brock visited the Cubs clubhouse to make sure that the young Cubs right-hander was all right.
"I guess I'd better send my fingers to Cooperstown," Lamp told Brock. "Don't be afraid to pull the ball next time, Lou."
Broglio? He told roommate Joey Amalfitano that his pitching elbow had locked during an August road trip. He had surgery to reset the ulnar nerve in the elbow following the season, but was never able to regain his form. He followed a 4-7 showing with the Cubs with awful '65 (1-6, 6.93 ERA) and '66 (2-6, 6.35 ERA) campaigns.
"I was the highest-paid batting practice pitcher in baseball," Broglio told Sports Illustrated in 2000.
7. College of Coaches
Philip K. Wrigley speaks with the College of Coaches during spring training in 1961.
Santo has told the story often.
During the first year of the College of Coaches experiment in 1961, Santo was manning third base and peered into the Cubs dugout for instruction on how to play a hitter.
One coach was waving Santo to move in while at the same time another was motioning for Santo to play back.
Welcome to the College of Coaches, a concept that made the Cubs the laughing stocks of baseball, where there was no doubt that too many chefs were spoiling the broth.
The Cubs had gone the unconventional route early in the 1960 season when, with the team 5-11, manager Charlie Grimm and broadcaster Lou Boudreau traded places. The results did not improve under Boudreau with the North Siders finishing an awful 60-94 - their 15th straight below-.500 finish.
Just 809,770 passed through the Wrigley Field turnstiles in 1960. That's a hard-to-imagine average of 10,516 a game. Plenty of good seats were available at the Friendly Confines.
Owner Philip K. Wrigley's reactions to these calamities were unconventional and drastic.
Wrigley called coach El Tappe to his office in the Wrigley Building to discuss the structure of the Cubs coaching staff. Tappe suggested to Wrigley that the Cubs should employ a system in which coaches rotated during the season between the major league club and the teams throughout the farm system. The thinking was to teach players throughout the Cubs system a uniform way of playing baseball. It wasn't such a terrible idea - but the eccentric Wrigley had to take it a step further.
"Can the coaches also rotate as the manager?" Wrigley asked Tappe.
"Uh, sure," said Tappe who hadn't before considered it.
Wrigley announced on Dec. 20, 1960 that the Cubs would no longer employ a manager. Instead he had hired an eight-man coaching staff that would rotate through the major league team and the minor league system with four coaches with the major league team and four roving throughout the minors at any given time. The role of "head coach" would also be assigned on a revolving basis. The goals were to give the Cubs organization a uniform playing approach and to speed up player development. The results were chaos.
The original College of Coaches consisted of Tappe, Rip Collins, Vedie Himsl, Harry Craft, Gordie Holt, Grimm, Verlon Walker, and Bobby Adams.
"If you look at that list, there is not one decent major league manager in that group," Cubs reliever Don Elston told Peter Golenbock in Wrigleyville (St. Martin's Press, 1996). "Not one. And yet, you've got them taking turns every five or six weeks."
Wrigley believed those eight men to be the best and the brightest.
"Instead of going fishing or hunting after the season ends, they'll be in the office tabulating and working on a scientific system which we hope will be reflected in winning teams."
All four major league coaches would have a vote on the starting lineup, but once the game began, the head coach would have complete control over personnel.
General manager Holland explained that the temperament of those eight pioneers was important.
"We had to be careful," Holland said. "We couldn't hire a (Leo) Durocher or (Eddie) Stanky, although they're good baseball men. We didn't want the type of guy who wants it done his way or else. We needed harmony, men who could be overruled and not take it personally."
The result was eight wishy-washy individuals, each with his own way of doing things.
"It seemed to us that that they were trying to make an impression on someone," Elston said. "As if to say, 'I know more than the guy who managed in front of me. I'm the guy who should have the job all the time."
Instead of having the coaching staff that would support him, the head coach was usually left to preside over a group who wished him to fail. It was a disaster.
"We'll have the advantage," Holt said."We'll have four minds working and the other teams only one."
What nonsense! It's as if a manager never had consulted his subordinate coaches for advice.
By May 15, Himsl and Craft had served as head coach and the Cubs were 10-17 in seventh place. Tappe and Klein also had shots at the head job later in the season but fared no better. The baton was passed between the four men eight times. The Cubs were 48-66 by mid-August. They finished 64-90, in seventh place, with an alarming season attendance of 673,057 (a single-game average of 8,741). Wrigley Field was not a happening place.
The goal of continuity was not achieved at the major league level. Morale sagged. In the first 28 games, the Cubs used nine different outfield combinations. Banks was shifted from shortstop to left field by Himsl on May 23, to first base by Tappe on June 16, and finally back to short on July 1.
It was claimed by one coach, who wished to remain anonymous, that the other coaches could barely contain their joy after a loss in which they did not call the shots.
"It was a nutty idea," Cubs center fielder Richie Ashburn said when the season mercifully came to an end.
Infielder Don Zimmer demanded a trade following the season.
"I've been unhappy under this system," Zimmer said. "I think the same thing goes for most of the men on the roster. I can't play under that many bosses."
Zimmer was discarded to the New York Mets in the 1962 expansion draft.
"Next year when I'm with the Mets, I'll look over at all my friends on the Chicago bench and feel sorry for them," Zimmer said. "They don't have a chance to do their best."
A perfect illustration of the lack of leadership the College provided came during spring training in 1962. Pitcher Bobby Locke was promptly sent to St. Louis in exchange for a minor leaguer after he walked off the mound and back to the clubhouse during the middle of an inning of a spring training game. Locke, who claimed his shoulder had stiffened, didn't mean any disrespect.
"I didn't know who to talk to," he said.
Brock, who got his first taste of major league action late in the 1961 season and struggled through 2 ½ years with the Cubs echoed Locke's sentiments many years later.
Williams remembered that one coach would urge Brock to develop a power stroke and then another would insist he concentrate on leadoff skills like the drag bunt.
"Players are great followers of rules and regulations of one manager," Brock told George Castle in The Million-To-One-Team (Diamond Communications Inc., 2000). "When you have 14 coaches, who do you follow?"
In 1962, the Cubs continued to sink on the field (59-103 in 9th place) and at the gate (609, 802 total attendance). Three coaches got a crack at the head job: Tappe, (4-16), Klein (12-18), and Charlie Metro (43-69).
Metro years later recalled the jealousy and infighting among the coaching staff.
"All of the coaches were supposed to get together and decide the lineup," Metro said. "It was the second game of a doubleheader. Some of the recommendations were ridiculous. I just put my lineup on the table and said, 'If there are any objections, speak up.' Nobody said anything.
"I go out to the bench and there's another lineup. And it wasn't mine. I tacked up my lineup and threw the other one in the crapper. Either Ron Santo or Ernie Banks, I don't remember who it was, said, 'Which lineup are we going to use?' And I said, 'The one that's got my name on it.' "
The follies continued in 1963 when it was announced that Kennedy would become the permanent head coach, but that former Air Force colonel Robert Whitlow would serve as "athletic director" and was put in complete charge of the Cubs organization.
Whitlow, who had no baseball experience, was soon told to butt out of personnel decisions by Holland and was Mr. Irelevant until he resigned after the 1964 season. His primary contributions were a screen that was installed above the center-field wall that robbed the Cubs of dozens of home runs and an oxygen tank (nobody used it) he had installed in the home dugout.
"Whitlow was a man who was ahead of the times," Wrigley said after the colonel's departure."Baseball was simply not ready for an athletic director."
Over four decades later, it has yet to be.
Kennedy's installment as head coach, in reality, ended the experiment and it officially
came to an end following the 1965 season when Durocher was hired to run the Cubs from their bench.
"If they haven't given me a title, I'll give myself one," Durocher said at his introductory news conference. "I'm the manager and the only manager. Don't ever call me coach."
6. Lee !@#$%^& Elia
It's been nearly three decades since frustrated manager Lee Elia unloaded on Cubs fans with the mother of all locker room tirades - and it continues to shock and amuse listeners like no other sound byte.
Elia, a veteran minor league manager, was given his first shot at a major league job as a 44-year-old in 1982 He piloted the Cubs to a 73-89 record on his maiden voyage. The 1983 campaign began disastrously with the Cubs losing 14 of their first 19. The final loss in that stretch came in front of 9,391 fans at Wrigley Field on April 29, 1983. The Dodgers claimed a 4-3 victory when Ken Landreaux scored the go-ahead run from third on a Lee Smith wild pitch in the eighth inning.
After the game, Elia watched with dismay as a couple of his players were abused by fans.
"We were walking down the left-field line to the clubhouse," Elia later explained. "One guy poured beer on (Keith) Moreland. Moreland went after him. Then someone hit (Larry) Bowa in the neck with something. We were lucky nobody was hurt."
Elia was enraged at the fans' behavior as he returned to his office to brief reporters Robert Markus of the Tribune, Joel Behrig of the Sun-Times, and Don Friske of the Daily Herald. Reporter Les Grobstein of WLS-AM, with tape recorder in hand, was also present and captured Elia's soliloquy for posterity.
A transcript of the diatribe does not do it justice. It needs to be heard to be truly appreciated.
Elia insisted that he had been misinterpreted.
"It sounded like I was cursing the entire Cub kingdom," he said. "But that's not true. I always talking about those fans who were harassing Moreland and Bowa."
Elia was fired Aug. 21 with the Cubs at 54-69, in fifth place in the NL East, 10.5 games behind the first-place Phillies.
5. Brant Brown Game
Brant Brown drops Geoff Jenkins' flyball on Sept. 23, 1998, costing the Cubs a devastating 8-7 loss in Milwaukee.
Left fielder Brant Brown dropped a routine fly ball with two outs in the ninth, allowing three runs to score and causing the Cubs to lose to the Brewers, 8-7 at Milwaukee's County Stadium on Sept. 23, 1998.
The Cubs were tied for the NL wild-card lead with the New York Mets heading into the season's final weekend and the disastrous loss seemed to spell doom for the team's postseason hopes.
The Cubs, who were on their way for a season-ending three game series in Houston against the first-place Astros, appeared to have the game well in hand. Sammy Sosa hit his 64th and 65th home runs of the season and the Cubs led 7-0 after six innings.
Closer Rod Beck came on in the ninth to protect a 7-5 lead. Mark Loretta reached on an infield single and advanced to third on a Jeff Cirillo double. Jeromy Burnitz was intentionally walked and the strategy seemed sound after Marquis Grissom popped out to third baseman Jose Hernandez.
Geoff Jenkins then lifted his fateful fly to left which was described by Cubs radio broadcasters Pat Hughes and Santo:
Hughes: Two down, the Brewers have the bases loaded, and a 2-and-2 count on Jenkins. Here's the pitch. Swung on. Fly ball to left field. Brant Brown going back. Brant Brown (pause) drops the ball!!!
Santo: Oh nooooo!!!!!
Hughes: He dropped the ball!
Hughes: Three runs will score, and the Brewers have beaten the Cubs.
Loretta scored, Cirillo crossed the plate with the tying run, and Burnitz dashed home with the winning run.
Imagine the agony the 27-year-old Brown was experiencing in the visitor's clubhouse at County Stadium.
"When I dropped the ball against the Brewers, after the game I was crying in (manager) Jim Riggleman's office," Brown told WGN Sports executive producer Bob Vorwald in an interview Vorwald posted on his Chicago Baseball Stories blog. "It was so upsetting to me, because I am such a perfectionist. I wanted to go to the playoffs more than anyone and I certainly didn't want that to mean that we weren't going to go to the playoffs."
On a lighter note, Hughes shared the following story in the Santo documentary, "This Old Cub":
"After the game, I go down to the clubhouse and there (Santo) is with Riggleman.
"I saw something that probably has not been ever seen before in a big league clubhouse. I saw the manager trying to cheer up the broadcaster after the game."
Despite the error, the Cubs reached the postseason. But that one play is what Brown, now the hitting coach for the Frisco Rough Riders, the Texas Rangers Double-A affliate, continues to be asked about.
"I don't talk about it much and to be honest, I hate it," Brown told Vorwald. "But it's a part of my life and I'm not going to say it didn't happen. I ran over there and the ball hit my glove. It's not like I wasn't paying attention and it's not like I wasn't trying hard."
4. The Win That Never Came in San Diego
It sank in as I watched Cubs left fielder Henry Cotto catch on the warning track a fly ball by San Diego's Terry Kennedy for the final out of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. As I exited Wrigley Field with my brother, I was overwhelmed with by the knowledge that the Cubs were just one victory away from reaching the World Series. And they would have three cracks at that one victory as the series shifted to San Diego. A National League team had never blown a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 LCS. In my naïve 14-year-old brain, it was a lock.
As we headed home, I was anticipating a World Series against the Detroit Tigers that would include an afternoon day game at the Friendly Confines. Would they cancel school? Or at least let us out early? All of those thoughts and worries proved to be wasted energy.
Even a 7-1 loss in Game 3 - a contest that featured a three-run homer by Kevin McReynolds off reliever Frazier - didn't shake my confidence. I figured Rick Sutcliffe would pitch on three days rest in Game 4. Sutcliffe breezed through six scoreless, seemingly effortless innings in Game 1 and had won 17 of 18 decisions since joining the Cubs in June. If if by remote chance Sutcliffe failed, Steve Trout ( who was brilliant in Game 2) would be available for Game 5.
Sometimes, I think, the weight of the Cubs pennant and world championship droughts is a burden that adversely affects the team's performance. The Cubs of 1969, 1984, 2003, 2007, and 2008 tensed up and began to play not to lose rather than playing in the loose manner in which they achieved their success over the course of the season. That pressure was never more evident than in those final two games at San Diego.
Manager Jim Frey opted to go with Scott Sanderson as his Game 4 starter. I suspected Frey was banking on closing it out that night and wanted Sutcliffe and Trout to be his first two starters in the World Series. Why Frey chose to play for tomorrow rather than for today I'll never know, but it was the first of several puzzling decisions by the Cubs skipper that weekend.
In Game 4, Steve Garvey delivered a two-out hit in each of his last four at-bats with each of those hits driving in runs - including his game-winning, two-run shot off Smith in the bottom of the ninth - in the Padres' 7-5 victory. Why the Cubs continued to challenge Garvey is beyond me. He should have been pitched around. In the fifth, with first base open, an intentional walk would have been appropriate.
Sutcliffe allowed just two hits - both singles - over the first five innings and had pitched 11 scoreless innings in the series entering the bottom of the sixth. A leadoff Alan Wiggins bunt single triggered a two-run San Diego rally in the sixth. A Tim Flannery ground ball, with one out and one on, that went through the legs of first baseman Durham allowed the tying run to score and opened the floodgates to the Padres' four-run seventh.
"I remember thinking, I cannot believe this has happened," Sutcliffe told Golenbock. "I sat there on the bench as the game was winding down and I thought, there is no way, no way this thing could get away from us."
The end came swiftly and suddenly, and as the Padres celebrated their 6-3 victory, I retired to my bedroom where I wept over the result of a Cubs game for the first and only time in my life.
"This will stay with me a long time," a dejected Sutcliffe said after the game.
It still bugs the heck out of me, over 26 years later.
3. '69 Collapse
Ron Santo meets a black cat at Shea Stadium on Sept.9,1969.
On Sept. 2, the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds twice, winning the completion of a suspended game 5-4 and then, with Fergie Jenkins claiming his 19th victory, winning the regularly scheduled game 8-2. The Cubs, at 84-52, led the National League East by five games over the hard-charging, second-place New York Mets.
Veteran reliever Ken Johnson, who had been acquired in August from the New York Yankees, earned the save in the suspended game and remembered the raucous atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse that night.
"I remember the reporters coming up and saying, 'Well, you've just wrapped up the pennant,' " Johnson told Rick Talley in The Cubs of '69 (Contemporary Books, 1989). "Then I don't know what happened. Nobody does."
What happened next was a collapse so traumatic to Cubs fans that even today my father and grandfather shake their heads while discussing it. It was a sad, slow, agonizing ending for what up to that point had been the season of a lifetime.
The Cubs lost eight in a row and 11 of their next 12.
The Mets, meanwhile, won 12 of 15. In a span of 12 days - Sept. 3-Sept. 15 - the Mets went from five games behind to 4.5 games in front.
"The only guys in the Mets lineup who could have started for any other team that year were (left fielder) Cleon Jones and (center fielder) Tommie Agee," Santo, the Cubs third baseman in 1969, said during a radio broadcast last season. "Maybe (shortstop) Bud Harrelson. But that's it."
The Cubs' collapse began on Sept. 3 in Cincinnati when Jim Maloney pitched a complete-game two-hitter in a 2-0 Reds victory, but the North Siders' lead remained at five and their magic number was reduced to 23 when the Mets lost to the Dodgers, 5-4, after an RBI double by Willie Davis in the bottom of the ninth.
In the finale on Sept. 7, a dramatic two-run homer by Jim Hickman in the bottom of the eighth gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead. Cubs closer Phil Regan opened the ninth by retiring Matty Alou on an infield popout and recorded the second out when Gene Alley hit a tapper back to the mound.
Up stepped Willie Stargell. Regan was a pitch away from giving the Cubs their 85th victory of the season when Stargell crushed a 2-and-2 pitch into a strong breeze off the lake, inside the right-field foul pole and onto Sheffield Avenue.
"I just couldn't believe it when when he hit the bloomin' ball over the wall," Cubs catcher Randy Hundley remembered.
The shell-shocked Cubs wasted a leadoff double by Williams in the bottom of the 10th and then lost in the 11th when an error by shortstop Don Kessinger led to a pair of unearned runs.
While the Cubs were being swept by the Pirates, the Mets took three of four from the
Phillies to trim their deficit to 2.5 games.
The Cubs were hearing footsteps as they opened a two-game series with the Mets in New York on Sept.8.
Cubs starter Bill Hands decided to send a message to the Mets with the first pitch in the bottom of the first when he delivered a fastball under the chin of Agee that knocked the New York center fielder on his ass.
The move backfired badly. The Mets were not intimidated. Mets starter Koosman hit Santo on the right forearm with the first pitch of the second inning. Santo, writhing in pain, walked to first base.
"(The Cubs) just sat there," Talley wrote. "Nobody charged the mound. Nobody screamed or shouted. They just there on a silent bench at Shea Stadium, while their cleanup hitter writhed in pain at home plate. It was a strange way indeed to battle for a pennant."
Agee gained his own vengence when he hit a two-run homer off Hands in the third.
The score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Agee led off with a double, setting the stage for the season's most memorable play.
Wayne Garrett grounded a single through the right side of the infield. Right fielder Hickman fielded it cleanly and fired an accurate one-hop throw to Hundley ahead of Agee. The Cubs catcher received the throw in front of the plate and as Agee slid past him, he delivered a sweep tag to the baserunner's hip.
Home plate umpire Satch Davidson called Agee safe in what proved to be the winning run in the Mets' 3-2 victory. Hundley reacted by leaping into the air so high that Kessinger recalled that "it had to be a world record for a vertical jump."
"I tagged him so hard, I almost dropped the ball," Hundley remembered. "Right up his bloomin' side. It wasn't just a little tag: I swept him right up the uniform.
"How in the world could Davidson miss that play? I get upset right now just thinking about it. The pit of my stomach gets so stinkin' upset. I want to go through the wall. It wasn't even close. I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. I wanted to flatten (Davidson)."
Davidson stood firm.
"Randy made a sweep tag and missed," Davidson told Talley. "That's the way I saw it then, and that's the way I saw it later on TV replays."
"That had to be the most important run of the season for the Mets, and it was an outright gift," Hundley said.
In a gloomy Cubs postgame clubhouse, the only sounds were the roars of manager Durocher as he addressed the media.
"No comment," Durocher growled. "I don't say anything after a game - win or lose. You can wait until snow comes over the fucking clubhouse door, and I won't have anything to say. No comment. No fucking comment!"
The next day, the Mets completed a series sweep as Seaver, who earned his 21st victory. bested Jenkins in a 7-1 New York win. The Mets were just a half-game out.
It was the game that included a black cat walking in front of the Cubs dugout as Santo stood in the on-deck circle and the New York fans sang, "Goodbye, Leo!" throughout the evening.
"Nobody knew what to do," Williams told Talley. "I guess that's because we'd never been there before."
On Sept. 10, while the Cubs were losing their seventh straight, in Philadelphia, the Mets swept a doubleheader from Montreal to move a game in front. The Cubs, who had been in first for the first 155 days of the season, never returned to the top.
The next night, the losing streak reached eight in a 4-3 loss to the Phillies. The lowlight of that game came while the Cubs were leading 1-0 in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Johnny Briggs was on first and Tony Taylor was on second. Slugger Richie Allen was awaiting a 3-and-2 pitch when pitcher Dick Selma stepped off the rubber and fired the ball into the left-field corner. Selma anticipated Taylor to run on the pitch and hoped to catch the baserunner in a rundown. The problem was that Santo was not covering third base. Taylor scampered home with the unearned tying run.
The Mets again beat the Expos to extend their lead to two games with 18 games to play.
"I'd never seen (Durocher) so mad," Santo remembered. "I couldn't tell whether he was mad at me or Dick or what, but the veins were aout to burst out of his neck. He just couldn't believe what had happened."
It was a chaotic postgame scene in the visitor's clubhouse at Connie Mack Stadium.
"Leo kept yelling, 'Where's Selma? Where's Selma? Go find Selma, but nodody could find him," coach Amalfitano remembered."I'm looking everywhere. Then I go upstairs into the training room and there in a locker, I see two feet sticking out from under some clothes. It was Selma hiding."
The Mets' winning streak reached 10. The Cubs, meanwhile, lost 10 of 11 while averaging 2.63 runs and 6.63 hits per game. Opponents during that span averaged 5.73 runs per contest.
The Mets, who won 38 of their last 49, increased their lead to as many as nine games and finished eight in front of the Cubs with a 100-62 record.
"Those last three weeks were a nightmare," Santo remembered.
The Mets then swept the Atlanta Braves in the first National League Championship Series and topped the heavily favored-Baltimore Orioles in five games in the World Series.
"I never saw anything like it in my life," Durocher recalled. "Our offense went down the toilet, the defense went down the drain, and I'm still looking for the pitching staff. I could have dressed nine broads up as ballplayers, and they would have beaten the Cubs."
For highlights of the 1969 Cubs season, visit mediaburn.org.
2. 10-Run Inning
Philadelphia's Al Simmons crosses home plate during the Athletics' 10-run inning in Game 4 of the 1929 World Series.
The Cubs led the Philadelphia Athletics 8-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Oct. 12, 1929 at Philadelphia's Shibe Park.
The North Siders appeared well on their way to evening the series at two games apiece - and with the final two games scheduled at Wrigley Field - they had to like their chances of rewarding their long-suffering fans with their first world championship in 21 years.
Cubs center fielder Hack Wilson was an odd-looking man. He stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 190 pounds. The hard-drinking Wilson was described as looking like a beer barrell and not being unfamiliar with its contents. He had a size 18 neck; bulging biceps; stumpy, muscular legs; and wore size 6 shoes.
He may not have looked swift, but Wilson was athletic enough to patrol center field - and he did so adequately - committing 12 errors in 406 chances for the '29 Cubs.
But Wilson's defensive reputation was forever tarnished on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Jimmie Foxx followed with an opposite-field single to right and Bing Miller hit a fly ball to center that Wilson lost in the sun. It dropped in for a single. Jimmy Dykes singled in Foxx and Joe Boley singled in Miller to make it 8-3.
Haas hit a looper to shallow center. Wilson started in on it, but suddenly froze.
Seemingly blinded by the sun, Wilson ducked away as the ball shot past him and rolled into the deep recesses of center field. By the time right fielder Kiki Cuyler chased the ball down and relayed it to the infield, Haas had circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer and trimmed the lead to 8-7. A once quiet Shibe Park was up for grabs.
Pat Malone became the fourth Cubs pitcher of the inning, but he hit Haas in the ribs with a pitch to load the bases and surrendered a two-run, go-ahead double to Dykes. The 10-run inning remains a World Series record.
The Cubs lost that game 10-8 and then allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose Game 5, 3-2, to close out the series.
Wilson, despite hitting .471 in the World Series, was tagged by Cubs fans as the goat.
Steve Bartman interferes with Moises Alou during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series.
When I was a child, my mother always used to warn me against premature celebration by singing to me, "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched!"
Thanks to Mom, I tend to carry low expectations in most of my endeavors and rooting interests. Therefore, I am not easily disappointed.
But on Oct. 14, 2003, I was as guilty as sin of getting ahead of myself when it appeared the Cubs were closing in on their first National League pennant since 1945. The Cubs, who were hosting the Florida Marlins in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, led the series three games to two, and with Mark Prior on the mound I liked their chances of closing it out. I should have known better.
The stars seemed to be aligned that night. I had a rare night off (during a Chicago baseball team playoff run) from my job on a newspaper's sports copy desk. This allowed me the rare opportunity to watch a game and I made sure that the most important people in my life were with me in my living room to share what I anticipated would be the moment of a lifetime.
My viewing party included my fiance, Denise; my parents; my 83-year-old grandfather; and my brother, Ron, and his family.
Prior, at the height of his powers, was mowing down the Marlins. Through seven innings, he allowed just three hits and had set down 14 of the previous 15 Florida batters. Juan Pierre, who was the only batter to reach base over that stretch, with a fifth inning single, was thrown out on an attempted steal of second.
My anticipation reached a fever pitch when Sosa scored from third on a two-out wild pitch by Dontrelle Willis to make it 2-0 in the sixth. In the top of the seventh, Prior retired Mike Lowell on a lazy fly to left.
"Eight outs to go!" I shouted.
Mom and Denise warned me about overconfidence, but when a Mark Grudzielanek RBI single in the bottom of the seventh made it 3-0, it only ratcheted up my excitement.
As Mike Mordecai led off the eighth for the Marlins, I was discussing with Dad and Ron the Cubs' possible pitching rotation for the World Series. I figured that with three days off before the start of the Fall Classic, the Cubs could go with Kerry Wood in Games 1, 4, and 7 and Prior in Games 2 and 5. Whether their opponent would be the Yankees or the Red Sox, you had to like the Cubs' chances.
Castillo hit a soft, lazy fly down the left-field line.
"Yes!" I shouted as I continued to count my chickens.
Alou approached the padded bricks behind the Cubs' bullpen and appeared to have a play, but the ball was deflected away from Alou by fan Steve Bartman, a 26-year-old fan wearing radio headphones and a Cubs cap, who was seated in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.
Our viewing party collectively groaned as Alou angrily slammed his glove against the railing and pointed at Bartman. In retrospect, I believe we fed off Alou's reaction more than anything. Alou overreacted, Prior from his infield vantage point overreacted, and therefore the fans at Wrigley Field and those watching on television overreacted.
Bartman, at first, seemed oblivious to the firestorm he had ignited. He took his seat as the inning continued and as the Cubs epically melted down, the abuse hurled Bartman's way intensified.
Castillo walked. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who had committed only 10 errors during the regular season, booted a routine Miguel Cabrera double-play grounder. Prior threw a wild pitch. Derrek Lee hit a two-run, game-tying double. Conine hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly. Mordecai lined a three-run double off reliever Kyle Farnsworth. When the dust settled, the Marlins had completed an eight-run inning.
Several fans were ejected for trying to get at Bartman who was pelted with steady streams of beer cups and peanuts.
Three Cubs security officers put a jacket over his head and escorted him to a private area on the lower level of the ballpark at the end of the inning.
"He was scared to death more than anything," security chief Mike Hill said.
After the game, Alou absolved Bartman of any wrongdoing.
"At the time, I was real upset," Alou said. "But at the same time, I kind of feel bad for the guy now, because every fan in every ballpark, their first reaction is they want a souvenir. Nobody's going to think about the outcome of the game."
Bartman was escorted by 10 security officers to the apartment of officer Erika Amundsen, about four blocks away from the ballpark.
Bartman and the officers watched a TV that replayed the incident with Alou over and over again.
"Did I really mess up the game?'' Bartman asked them.
Other questions followed. "How many outs were there? Why are they so mad at me? Wasn't the ball in foul territory?"
He has never commented publicly on the incident.
"I can tell you what he did do," Frank Murtha, an attorney representing Bartman's family, said. "There were many offers made to Steve, significant financial offers, and he has steadfastly turned them down. He was offered well into six figures for a Super Bowl commercial.
"He's a world-class young man who from a financial standpoint could have benefited from it and he has not."
Bartman, did, however, issue a statement after the game:
"There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours.
"I've been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the game. I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play.
"Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching, I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch.
"To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere, I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cub fan's broken heart.
"I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs."
Shortly after Kenny Lofton popped out on the infield to end Game 6, I sat alone in my living room surrounded by the remnants of our party spread and empty beer cans.
My wife, who left me alone to stew, claims it's as upset as she's ever seen me.
The Cubs followed the 8-3 loss with a 9-6 defeat in Game 7. Amazingly, the Cubs who were in need of one victory, lost back-to-back games at home with Prior and Wood as the starting pitchers.
I haven't counted down the outs needed for a victory - even when the Cubs are ahead 16-0 - ever since, nor will I ever again.