When I was 9 years old, there was a lot of optimism surrounding that year and the future of the Cubs. It reminds me a little bit of what I am now feeling as a soon to be 55 year old. Wow, that is a lot of years! However, that is one of the things I like most about baseball and the Cubs. With any sliver of hope, I can look at the coming season through the eyes of, and with the enthusiasm of a 9 year old.
The ’69 Cubs had a dominant starting rotation led by future Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins (Spring Training picture with Fergie and my oldest son on my office wall). Bill Hands-love that name. A young Kenny Holtzman. I remember Holtzman having reserve duty where he would miss a weekend with the club here and there. It was a different era. The Cubs were probably at their highest point that year when Holtzman through his no-hitter in mid-August with the Cubs up 8 ½ games. A bullpen anchored by Dick Selma, Ted Abernathy and “The Vulture” Phil Regan. Regan had his best year in ’69. He would wave a big white towel in the left field bullpen, whipping the Bleacher Bums into a frenzy. My marine father thought it was way over the top! Not to mention Santo clicking his heels after a win, which was way too showy.
Two Hall of Famers in the infield. Santo (who I caddied for) at 3B. Kessinger, the sure handed SS with great range. Glenn Beckert at 2B-scrappy. HOF Ernie Banks at 1B. Randy Hundley, who I had the pleasure of golfing with at a charity event, at catcher. Man, did Leo “The Lip” Durocher run him into the ground. Paul Popovich, super-sub.
The outfield had Billy Williams, Hall of Famer. Billy had this strange habit as he approached the plate. He would spit into the air and try to hit it with his bat. I know that sounds gross, but trust me, almost all of us tried to imitate it in our Little League and Pick Up games. Jim Hickman in RF had a very good year. The weak link was in CF. Veteran Don Young and rookie Adolfo Phillips struggled in the field and at bat all year. Santo famously ripped Young after a bad error, which only made things worse.
What is most memorable was going through this experience with my dad, Calvin. His father was a fire captain in the firehouse on Waveland Ave., just over the LF wall. This Cubs disease has been handed down many generations and my older son has the virus. My dad and I would go to games early to watch batting practice-the gates opened at 10am back then. My dad could squeeze a car into a parking spot like no other-yes we parked around the ballpark back then. We would bring our lunch and I would learn the game through my dad. Heck, we waited longer for the game to start than the game actually took to play.
One of our most memorable days at Wrigley was actually a double-header loss to the hated Cardinals. It was a hot July/August day. Mid 90’s, humid, no wind. We had SRO tickets and back then you were actually allowed to sit in the aisles-the vendors must have loved that! We were on the RF side looking right down the LF line, about 25 rows up. It was so hot. We played so poorly. There was an obnoxious fan who ducked out of the way of a foul ball that landed in his seat and he proceeded to loudly brag about how he had caught that ball for the rest of the day. Man was that annoying. But I was at Wrigley field, sitting with my dad, and watching our beloved Cubs. How could any day be more perfect?
Enthusiasm was very high as the Cubs’ lead grew. It was so sad watching my dad’s disappointment as that lead dwindled and eventually disappeared, never to come back again. Up 8 ½ games in mid/late August. This was our year. How could a season that started so magically with an opening day, 9th inning, come from behind 2-run pinch-hit walk-off homer from Willie Smith go downhill so quickly? Back then we would run home from school to watch the last inning or two of the Cubs games and I actually saw that home run live. I wasn’t nearly as upset as dad since I had my whole life and many championships ahead of me. Sadly, I am now 10 years older than my dad was that year and I am beginning to wonder if I will live long enough to see my beloved Cubs win it all. However, I am that 9 year old kid again. Certainly Bryant, Almora, Soler, Russell, Castro, Baez, Rizzo, Schwarber, Montero, Lester, Hendricks, Arietta, Ramirez, Grimm, Rondon, and Alcantera have to win one! Right?