Constable: When Cubs beat Mets, do they beat heat jinx of '69?
The temperature topped 90 degrees at a sweltering Wrigley Field, headlines read "Cubs melt in heat, lose to Mets," and New York took two of three games against the first-place Cubs in an omen of a Chicago collapse to come.
At least, that's the way it was on a sweltering July day at Wrigley in 1969.
"Oh, don't say 1969," scolds Bill Shannon, an 82-year-old Cubs fan who drove in from his home in Rockford to games at Wrigley Field that year, and every year. He remembers those 1969 Cubs wilting down the stretch.
"That heat, day after day, drains your energy," Don Kessinger, the Cubs shortstop that year, said in a book by the late Daily Herald sports writer Bob Logan. "By August, the regulars were tired, but (Cubs Manager Leo) Durocher kept us in the lineup every day. When the Mets made their move, we had nothing left."
Randy Hundley, the Cubs catcher who played in 151 games that season, lost so much weight that he had to use suspenders because his belts were too big.
The current heat wave apparently didn't bother Cubs manager Joe Maddon's 2016 team, which rode pitcher Kyle Hendricks' strong start and slugger Anthony Rizzo's two monster home runs to a 6-2 victory, taking two out of three games from the hated Metropolitans to get back to 20 games above .500.
The sweltering heat of July and August or the frigid games of April (and sometimes May and, OK, June) generally don't bother Shannon. He remembers a few games during the deadly heat wave of 1995 when he'd sneak out of his season-ticket seats in the bleachers and stand in the shaded ramp to catch a breeze. He even photographed a wedding for a couple in the bleachers that year.
"People make too big a deal out of the weather," says fellow bleacher resident Al Yellon, the fan behind the popular bleedcubbieblue.com website. Yellon, 59, says today's Cubs are a better-managed, better-conditioned team than the 1969 squad that led the division by 8½ games on Aug. 19 that year and finished eight games behind the amazing Mets.
In 1984, when the Cubs won the division, the team won 51 games at home, all played in the afternoon in lightless Wrigley Field, Yellon says, adding that no one talked about the fatigue of day games that year.
"It doesn't matter to good teams," he says.
Fans (and a few reporters) might have been uncomfortable in a sticky Wrigley Field on Wednesday, but the players didn't seem to notice. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Hendricks, who improved his record to 9-6 on the year and lowered his team-leading ERA to 2.27, even wore his blue baseball sleeves under his jersey. Losing Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon dropped to 8-5 on the year and might have sweated away a few pounds from his 43-year-old, 5-foot-11, 285-pound frame.
The heat sent young fans Kyra Flesvig, 12, of Valparaiso, Indiana, and Faith Stein, 10, of Evansville, Indiana, into the cool water-misters in back of the bleachers. Faith's dad, Bill Stein, who made the six-hour drive to Wrigley, and Kyra's mom, Lori Flesvig, say they knew they'd be packed into the hot, sunny, humid Wrigley Field bleachers with other sweaty fans.
"We had a little bit of concern," Lori Flesvig says. "But it's the Cubs."
Happy fans can take comfort in knowing that if the Mets come to Wrigley Field again this year, it will be in October. That means the weather should be cool and the playoffs should be heating up.