Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1969: Cubs - Mets (Part 2)

God, it was athletic poetry. Sadly, it was the last great hurrah. August 19, 1969, dawned hot and muggy in Chicago with the Cubs and Kenny Holtzman going head to head against the Atlanta Braves.
The Cubbies were so rich with new-found success that players were already talking about how they'd distribute play-off tickets. Keep in mind, this club hadn't been to a World Series since 1945. By the way, the last time I checked the meter, this club STILL hadn't been to a World Series since, uh, 1945. Hey, any club's entitled to a bad century.
How could you blame the Cubs for feeling like acne-faced, 12 year old little girls, screaming about The Monkees? Nobody west of Time Square thought the Mets, under the venerable Gil Hodges, had a chance in the old National Legaue East to catch up to the Cubs ... the gap was just too great. Cub Power wasn't just in vogue, it was becoming a way of life.
Sports Illustrated threw Ron Santo on a cover in July with the caption, "Chicago's Raucolus Cubs."
Do you remember the drive by Henry Aaron deep in sixth or seventh inning of that Cubs - Braves ballgame? The Hey - Hey man Jack Brickhouse, also the Godfather of my daughter, was behind the mic for WGN. Jack broadcast a number of no-hitters and thought he had another in his grasp until the Aaron blast. Brick actually said, "There goes the no hitter" as Bad Henry's fly ball appeared to be headed toward a face to face meeting with an apartment building across Waveland Avenue.
Now, this just had to be an act of God or ex-Cubs boss P.K.Wrigley. At the last instant, the ball just died ... flat out hit an invisible shield and was caught by Billy Williams in the "well" in left. You had to see it to believe it and I was fortunate enough to be part of the act.
As a young reporter, I was dispatched to Cubs park by the news department at WFLD TV to interview Holtzman. Kenny was obvioulsy thrilled. His blood pressure had to be running about 190 over 130. But I'll never forget his last few remarks to me.
"You know this is great," Holtzman told me. "But just imagine how our fans will react when we get to the playoffs."
So bring on the Titanic. Bring on the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Cubs, as I recall, were 8 games up on the Mets following the day's action.
About three weeks later, they were Max Schmeling on the canvas after he rematched Joe Louis. The Cubs epic collapse took the life out of this city during a wonderful summer.
It also set the table for a lousy Bears club, a club that invented bad breaks and bad karma, to go 1 and 13.
The Cubbies, despite 92 regular season wins, weren't a winner. They were Norman Bates' mother in "Psycho."
Yet, to this day, that team is still beloved, deified by baseball fans in our town.
Ernie, Ron, Billy, Rebel Hundley, Fergie Jenkins ... they all deserved a better fate. It just wasn't in the cards. The Mets down the stretch were trip aces ... The Cubs were Jake La Motta getting pounded by Sugar Ray Robinson.
It shouldn't have been that way ... but it was ...
No reason ... it just was.
Still hurts.
Always will.
Chet Coppock
Thanks, Chet, for that account ... as only YOU could deliver it!!!
Don't forget to order a copy of Chet's brand new book, "Fat Guys Shouldn't Be Dancing At Half Time". More info here: Click here:

Hey Kent,
Love your new segment on the year of "69".
Being 12 years old back in that glorious year, I have many memories. I remember sitting in front of the TV watching Walter Cronkite when they landed on the moon. I went outside with binoculars to see the astronauts on the moon (what a dumbass I was, huh?).
But, I will say my biggest memory of "69" was the Chicago Cubs. Ernie Banks with his slogan for the year of " The Cubs will Shine in '69" had the Cub fans hoping.
The season started out so great with Willie Smith hitting a pinch homer in the opener and Jack Brickhouse letting out a huge " HEY-HEY that-a-boy, Willie".

(Not exactly a PC comment nowadays!).
Yes, the Cubs season was underway with a great victory!
And as the season went on, the victories continued ... the Cubs were in 1st place until September 9th, when on that night a black cat walked past Ron Santo in the on deck circle at Shea Stadium ... uh-oh, our lead was fading and now the dreaded black cat -- could this be happening? ...
Although the Cubs did win the game that night to stay in 1st place, that was the end and the Cubs would never see 1st place again.
A team called the Mets came from behind to overtake the Cubs and even go on to win the series. Cub fans still look back and say WTF happened!!!
Yes, the Mets, a team that lost 120 games their first year in the majors only 7 years earlier, go on to win the series.
Cub fans do have one good Mets memory from that year. A guy named Jimmy Qualls in a July game at Shea Stadium earlier that year broke up Tom Seaver's perfect game in the 9th inning with a base hit. The season ended and the hope faded, but hey, wait 'til next year!!!
Well, I've been a Cubs fan for 43 years and I'm still waiting for that year arrive.
Don't laugh, Met fans ... your boys aren't doing so hot this year either.
But all kidding aside, the Cubs and Mets have a great rivialry because of that year. Here it is 40 years later and we're still talking about it, the Mets fans for winning it and the Cubs fans for what might have been.

Mike Mertes
C'mon, enough already!!! Cub fans have been hiding behind the excuses of black cats and billy goats for DECADES now!!! Somehow they just seem to collapse under pressure ... yet they have always been OUR "lovable losers"!!!
Quite honestly, in 1969 they probably just burned themselves out ... their season PRIOR to September was exemplary ... they literally could do no wrong. Maybe they got a little over-confident? Maybe they just got tired. Maybe it just wasn't their year ... but a 17-game spread turn-around at the end of the season wasn't something you typically saw ... so the Cubs' collapse ... and the rise of The Mets became the focal point of the nation that summer.
Personally, I hated to see Tom Seaver lose his perfect game ... it would have just made for just one more incredible highlight in a pretty inexplicable season. (Ironically, outfielder Jimmy Qualls was only in the line-up that day because Cubs Manager Leo Durocher had benched regular outfielder Don Young for dropping a routine fly ball the day before that Durocher said his thirteen year old son could have caught!!!)
The bottom line is, The Mets' statistics for 1969 are truly nothing short of amazing. Dubbed by The New York Media as "The Lovable Losers", The Mets set the record for the most games EVER lost by a major league team in a single season when they dropped 120 games in their inaugural season. It's a record that STILL stands to this day, giving whole new meaning to the phrase "From Worst To First"!!! In fact, The Mets finished dead last in five of their first six seasons. Previously their best season (the first under new manage Gil Hodges) saw them finish sixteen games below .500. But, as mentioned yesterday, even these depressing statistics don't accurately paint the picture of just how consistently horrible they really were.
The Mets had never been more than two games above .500 during their first seven seasons ... and had never been more than ONE game over .500 past the first week of any previous season! And, quite honestly, 1969 didn't start out any more promising. The Mets lost their season opener to The Montreal Expos ... an expansion team that didn't even EXIST the year before ... that's right, a team that had never even played a Major League Game before came out and defeated our Lovable Losers! In fact, they lost seven of their first ten games. Meanwhile, The Cubs won their first four games and eleven out of their first twelve. Without question, they were shaping up as the team to beat.
Whereas The Mets didn't really have a "star" player in their line-up, the entire Cubs infield of Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Ron Santo was named to The National League All-Star Team that season, along with catcher Randy Hundley. Their pitching staff included Ferguson Jenkins, Kenny Holtzman and Bill Hands ... and they had the great Billy Williams in the outfield! HOW could THIS team lose?!?!? At The All-Star Break, The Cubs held a commanding eight game lead over The Mets.
What The Mets may have lacked in offense, they more than made up for with an INCREDIBLE pitching staff ... and many of these "also-ran" position players had career seasons. Little by little, they whittled away at The Cubs lead ... and, when the dust finally settled, they pulled off a seventeen game turn-around, going from being 9 1/2 games behind to winning the division by eight games. TRULY AMAZING!!! (kk)

Hi Kent.
You asked for some Mets memories from 1969. I was only eleven, so don't have much.

I lived in Queens, and with my best friend, would take the bus into Jamaica, the E or F train to Roosevelt Avenue, then transfer upstairs to the Flushing Line to Shea. And we did this by ourselves!
We saved ahead of time to buy field level box seats for a doubleheader against the Cardinals that summer. Great seats near first base (I believe the tickets were $6.50). I can't tell you who won the games. About the only thing I remember is that Tommie Agee struck out five times.
The other doubleheader we went to was Banner Day, which we tried to go to every year. Between games, the fans got to go on the field with their homemade banners. They would enter in center field, walk across to home plate, then around the sidelines back to the outfield. Prizes were given for the best ones. Had to have been hundreds of people marching around the field. A lot of fun, actually going on the field. After the game we would wait around by the players parking area and get autographs as they left. Still have some of them.
Again, not much for you. We were just kids.
Also, have to give a mention of the Jets winning the Superbowl earlier that year.
Thanks, Rich ... yes, we'll cover some of the OTHER sports headlines of 1969 tomorrow in Forgotten Hits! (kk)

When I think of 1969 I can't help but think of the recent movie "Frequency". It's one of our top favorites, blending so many elements that I'm interested in. Heck, you have a hot woman, kids and bicycles, baseball, ham radio, cops and firefighters, time travel, imperfect people struggling to figure life out, some great acting - and the good guys win! (That's not a comment on the Series: I didn't have a favorite.) Too far off the beaten path for Forgotten Hits?
David Lewis

Not at all ... "Frequency" is one of OUR favorite recent movies, too ... and I had forgotten how big a part 1969 played in the film. (In fact, the Cleon Jones / shoe polish incident becomes a MAJOR part of the drama!!!) If you haven't seen this film, it's well worth renting ... it's also been playing on cable quite a bit recently. (kk)

Regarding The '69 Mets ... In those days, all the World Series games were played during the day, so that meant during school hours for weekday games. Normally, in my northern New Jersey high school, bringing a transistor radio to school was frowned upon, but the excitement surrounding the Mets in the Series that year was so high that for most of my classes I was allowed to listen to the game through my radio's earpiece and, at the end of each inning, update the score on the blackboard.
- Randy Price
I had forgotten about that ... being all day games, I mean!!! I guess I went to a pretty progressive school ... I remember the teachers having the radios on IN THE CLASSROOM ... Shop Class in particular ... so that we, too, could listen in to the games. The whole city was pretty much in a Cubs Frenzy for most of the season ... 155 days in first place will do that to a team that hadn't won a World Series in over sixty years!!! So when The Mets finally overtook the Cubs and headed into Post Season Play, we pretty much collectively went from frenzy to funk ... a LOT of people refused to watch or listen to the games at all! (Chicago's kinda like that!!! lol) kk

THIS JUST IN: I just found this posted regarding former Chicago White Sox Infielder (and Mets World Series Hero) Al Weiss ... sounds like a reunion is in the works for the '69 team ... and just look who's planning to attend!
Click here: Former Mets infielder Al Weis is always in the Spirit of '69