That 23-22 Phillies win over the Cubs in '79 ... 10 innings of grand entertainment
When the wind blows out at Wrigley Field, strange things can happen.
Pop flies to the infield become adventures for both infielders and outfielders. Routine flyballs sail over the ivy-covered walls and become windblown home runs.
For sheer delight and historical significance, it was no ill wind that howled out 40 years ago, when the Chicago Cubs battled the Philadelphia Phillies on May 17, 1979.
On that breezy Thursday afternoon, the Phillies scored 7 runs in the first inning, only to have the Cubs answer with 6 in the bottom half. The Phillies later took leads of 17-6 and 21-9 before the Cubs clawed back, eventually tying the game at 22 before the Phillies won it 23-22 on a 10th-inning home run by Cubs-killer Mike Schmidt. It was Schmidt's second homer of the game, putting him 1 behind the Cubs' Dave Kingman on this day.
This wild and crazy game is chronicled in a new book, "Ten Innings at Wrigley, the Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink," by Kevin Cook.
The book does as effective a job as telling an inning by inning story of baseball as does Daniel Okrent's "Nine Innings," which built a tale around a game between the Orioles and Brewers in 1982.
"Ten Innings at Wrigley" does much more than give you a play by play of the game. It begins with a quick history of the Cubs and Phillies franchises and ends with a section on the legacies of the key characters.
Cook also looks at this game as being a key milepost just ahead of the Steroid Era and the analytics revolution.
"I was in Chicago in the '80s and used to knock off work and go to see ballgames at what I believe is the best ballpark there ever was," said Cook, an Indiana native and author of several books. "I just kept hearing occasionally about this remarkable ballgame that happened in '79. There had been other games with an enormous number of runs scored, but they're usually like 28-5. This was a barnburner.
"The more you look at it, the more I was drawn to the cast of characters. There's Dave Kingman and Bill Buckner, Pete Rose and Bruce Sutter, Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa. Tug McGraw is a great character. Donnie Moore has a tragic trajectory ahead of him.
"It was really a time that was on the brink of a lot of things that were coming. It was right before the Steroids Era. It was right before metrics started to take over the game. I think fans who watch the game on YouTube will be amazed to see how skinny the ballplayers are."
Through the magic of YouTube, fans can watch the entire game, with Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau calling it on WGN-TV, which had just become a superstation, available on cable across the country. Cook also quotes the Phillies' radio broadcast, featuring the late Harry Kalas (a Naperville native) and the late Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who played for both the Phillies and Cubs.
Most impressive about this book is how Cook delved into the triumphs and tragedies of the protagonists:
• Cubs pitcher Moore, who came on in relief of Dennis Lamp in the first inning, went on to become a star closer for the Angels. The split-finger fastball, the "pitch of the '80s" and also Sutter's calling card, took a toll on Moore's arm. Cook also writes in detail about Moore's troubled home life and his eventual suicide.
"I thought it was tragic that this pitch that made him almost unhittable at his best is the very thing that put him in a situation where he's pitching through the injuries," Cook said. "The Angels are calling him a malingerer, which he was not. A lot of that leads to the inexcusable behavior that he engaged in much later in is life."
• Phillies reliever McGraw, master of the screwball (another pitch that has all but disappeared), and his relationship with his son Tim, the country-music star, is examined. McGraw died in 2004 of brain cancer.
• Rose, who said he signed with the Phillies to win -- they won the World Series under future Cubs boss Dallas Green in 1980 -- helped get the franchise over the hump, but he remains banned from baseball for gambling.
• Enigmatic Cubs slugger Kingman, no friend of the media nor teammate Buckner (as Cook makes clear), was derided for leading the National League in strikeouts in 1979 with 131, a figure today that wouldn't put him anywhere near the top. At 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, Kingman was considered a big man. These days, he's just another guy when it comes to size.
"You're looking at Kingman, a compelling character in that ballgame who hit tape-measure shots in that ballgame," Cook said. "He was mocked for striking out so much even though he struck out up to and into the 150s per year, which seemed ridiculous. And he was really a laughingstock.
"Well, who gets the last laugh in that case? His approach at the plate has really been vindicated by the subsequent evolution of the game when everybody is swinging for the fences these days. The more and more that I looked at it, the more appealing this ballgame got."
Many things in baseball are timeless, such as players from a previous era talking about how much better the game was in their day and how much tougher the players were. Cook gives the players from '79 their due without denigrating today's stars.
"I think it's pretty common that you feel like when you played was really the time that the game was at its best," Cook said. "And you also get that from fans. I want to be very careful not to become one of those curmudgeonly fans who invariably say when the golden age was, it just happened to be when I was a kid. It doesn't matter how old that fan is, they'll tell you, 'Oh, the game was so great when I was young.'
"I think in many ways the game is better today. The game is more demanding. The pitching is enormously better. I admire the athleticism of the players. In some ways, the game was more entertaining then, but I think we're in a time when offenses are starting to figure out how to impact the shift and do better against it. The game is endlessly interesting. I think this game is a great example of that."