Baseball Way Back: Regan will always be linked to 1969 Cubs
Phil Regan spent his final innings as a player in Chicago.
For Cubs fans who rode the roller coaster of the unforgettable 1969 season, Regan will always be identified with that star-crossed crew that had the NL East flag in sight, only to let it slip into the hands of the Amazin' Mets.
Regan went 12-6 that season, with 17 saves for a team that finished 92-70. When the Cubs acquired him April 23, 1968, from the Los Angeles Dodgers along with future Cubs all-star Jim Hickman, it provided a badly needed boost to the bullpen.
Regan rewarded the Cubs by leading the NL in saves for the second time in his career, earning 25 in 1968. He was especially effective when used in games started by 23-year-old Joe Niekro. Regan saved nine of Niekro's 14 victories.
The 1968 campaign was also notable for Regan's run-in with umpire Chris Pelekoudas, who during a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati on Aug. 18 at Wrigley Field accused Regan of doctoring the baseball with Vaseline.
Pelekoudas disallowed outs, one in the seventh and another in the ninth, to two batters because of "illegal" pitches.
On one of those outs, Regan had struck out Pete Rose. When Rose returned to the plate, he singled, only to be caught stealing.
"They said with the rotation on the ball, we thought it was an illegal pitch," Regan said in an interview from Port St. Lucie, Florida.
The umpires "came out and took my hat off. They wiped my forehead. They checked my glove. They checked my uniform. They didn't find anything. They didn't kick me out of the game," despite a rule calling for a pitcher's ouster for throwing an illegal pitch.
Although Regan remained in the game, manager Leo Durocher, outfielder Al Spangler and catcher Randy Hundley were tossed in that game -- as was Rose, who threw his helmet after he was caught stealing.
Ultimately, National League President Warren Giles cleared Regan of the charges, but the inning did impact the record books.
Regan said, "Pete Rose was tied with Matty Alou for the batting title going into the last game of the season on the strength of that one hit he got after he struck out." Rose would win with a .335 average, while Alou finished at .332.
Hopes were high for 1969, Regan said, especially when general manager John Holland sent the players $500 bonuses as an incentive to come early to spring training.
The year began gloriously at Wrigley with an opening day walk-off 2-run home run by Willie Smith in the bottom of the 11th in a 7-6 win over the Phillies.
Regan, living up to his nickname -- the Vulture -- was the winning pitcher, even though in the top of the frame he had given up the go-ahead run on a double by Don Money.
Regan has vivid recollections of the fan euphoria that swept through Wrigley that year, reflected in attendance that swelled from 1,043,409 in 1968 to 1,674,993.
Bleacher Bums would jump on the field, mobbing the players on their way to the clubhouse in left field after the game.
He said, "Hundley came in one day, His uniform was all messed. His hat was gone, and he said, 'Wow, it's hard to get through them people.'"
And in the parking lot by the fire station, "After a game, you couldn't get through the crowd. It was just wall-to-wall people every day. I have to say it was pretty exciting," Regan said.
Regan said he enjoyed playing for Durocher, ranking him and Dodgers' manager Walt Alston as his favorites.
"I used to tell kids when they would come up, 'Don't argue with Leo. Because you can't outtalk him.' But he was exciting to play for. You would come to the ballpark every day and you never knew what was going to happen, what he was going to do, and I really liked him a lot."
Regan remembered that after the Cubs won a game in 1969, Durocher fined team captain Ron Santo $100, telling him, "'You loped. You didn't run from second to third as hard as you could.' That kind of got everybody's attention."
But Regan remains puzzled by the season's bitter outcome, given the Cubs' five-game lead going into September.
"To this day I don't know how the Mets beat us," he said, but offered a possible explanation.
"I really think this -- and you don't want to make excuses -- but I know I played in LA and I was in 60-some games out there and I was never tired, because you played at night and it was cool.
"I played at Wrigley Field and you play all those day games in the heat and I tell you I was tired at the end of the year. And I was in only 60-70 games maybe. I think our whole team got tired at the end. That's the only thing I can think of, because it was just too good a team not to win."
Regan played for the Cubs until he was sold June 2, 1972, to the White Sox, who released him July 20 after he went 0-1 in 10 games.
After stints as the pitching coach with Seattle and Cleveland and one year as manager in Baltimore, where former White Sox GM Roland Hemond was general manager, Regan returned to Chicago as the Cubs' pitching coach in 1997 and 1998. There he would nurture the young Kerry Wood.
He said he tried to get Wood away from his tendency to throw across his body and drop his arm. Regan said he tried to have him open up more and get over the ball.
He said, "In spring training, some of the people didn't want him to throw a slider. He had a great slider."
He said general manager Ed Lynch approached Wood and catcher Scott Servais and ordered Wood not to throw it, because it would hurt his arm.
"Then he walked away, and Kerry said, 'I'm throwing the slider.' And so Servais said, 'Well, just tell him it's a curve ball with a sharper break.'
"Then after he struck out the 20 guys, you never heard another word."