Baseball Way Back: Plenty of vicarious World Series thrills for Chicago baseball fans
COVID-19 has brought baseball fans a different kind of baseball season.
For Chicago baseball fans, however, the pandemic season has delivered a familiar result -- yet another World Series without the Cubs or Sox.
World Series involving Chicago teams have been as rare as left-handed throwing third basemen.
Over the years, Chicago fans have had to settle for the consolation -- if you want to call it that -- of watching the World Series heroics of former Cubs and Sox.
In 1964 and 1967, Cubs fans were subjected to watching Lou Brock, traded in 1964 for the sore-armed Ernie Broglio, play a key role in two Cardinals championships.
In game one of the 1964 series, Brock's throw from left field to cut down Yankees starter Whitey Ford at home plate was the turning point in a 9-5 victory. In Game 7, Brock's fifth-inning home run off Al Downing, who would later serve up Hank Aaron's 715th homer, contributed to a 7-5 win over the Yankees.
In the 1967 series, another seven-game dogfight, this time against Carl Yastrzemski and the Boston Red Sox, Brock was on fire, piling up 12 hits, scoring eight runs, and stealing seven bases.
The combination of Brock and Bob Gibson was all the Redbirds needed to triumph in the opener. Brock hit four singles, stole two bases, and scored both Cardinal runs on two groundouts by Roger Maris in a 2-1 win.
After the game, Red Sox manager Dick Williams said, "Lou Brock just beat us."
An unlikely hero, Lou Johnson was 25 in 1960 when he made his major league debut with the Cubs. He did little to distinguish himself in 34 games that year, batting .206.
But in 1965, after three years away from the big leagues, Louis Brown Johnson -- LBJ to his teammates -- received his big break when he was called up by the Dodgers from Spokane after Tommy Davis broke his ankle in May. Johnson proved himself valuable as a cleanup hitter against lefthanders.
In game seven of the World Series, which featured a marquee pitching matchup of the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax against Jim Kaat of the Minnesota Twins, Johnson broke a scoreless tie with a home run in the fourth. Koufax allowed only three hits in a 2-0 victory.
The next year, the Dodgers were swept in the series by the Baltimore Orioles. Two of the Baltimore heroes were ex-Cubs pitcher Moe Drabowsky, who set a single-game World Series record for relievers with 11 strikeouts when he rescued a struggling Dave McNally in game one, and ex-Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio.
It was a bit of poetic justice for Aparicio, a key cog in the Go-Go Sox machine that reached the 1959 World Series.
When the Sox traded Aparicio to the Orioles in 1963, Aparicio predicted, "The Sox will need 40 years to win the pennant again." He was off by two years.
In 1967, the Sox fell from a first-place tie on Sept. 7 to a fourth-place finish. Two years later, Sox fans watched several members of that 1967 squad, Don Buford of the Orioles and Al Weis, J.C. Martin and Tommie Agee of the New York Mets, in the 1969 series.
The 1972 World Series brought rings to two Chicago pitchers of the 1960s.
From 1964-1968, Joe Horlen of the Sox led American League pitchers with a 2.32 ERA. In 1967, a year when he led the league in ERA with 2.06 and won 19 games, including six shutouts, he pitched a no-hitter.
On the North Side, Ken Holtzman pitched two no-hitters and posted 17-win seasons in 1969 and 1970.
Both Horlen and Holtzman landed in Oakland in 1972 and wound up pitching against Cincinnati for the MLB championship.
As a starter, Holtzman won game one against a formidable lineup that included Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench. He also started game four and relieved in game seven.
Horlen, pitching the final innings of his career, was less successful. In game six, which the A's lost, he uncorked a wild pitch and gave up a two-run single to Cesar Geronimo in one inning and escaped a jam in another inning after Dave Concepcion led off with a triple.
After earning his ring in 1972, Holtzman would earn two more rings with the A's and, despite being denied a regular season at-bat because of the DH, hit a home run in the 1974 series against Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers.
Erstwhile Chicago players would continue to populate World Series rosters in the 1980s.
Former White Sox center fielder Chet Lemon played on a dominant 1984 Detroit Tigers team. Teammate Willie Hernandez emerged as an ace reliever for that team and might have faced his ex-Cubs mates in the World Series, were it not for Steve Garvey and a Tim Flannery grounder that passed between Leon Durham's legs.
One wonders what might have happened if Bill Buckner, traded by the Cubs on May 25, 1984, had been playing first base instead of Durham. However, Buckner didn't have any better luck in the 1986 World Series, when his failure to field a ground ball turned him into a legendary series goat.
It is sad but true that Chicago fans have rarely seen World Series parades. But the parade of ex-Chicago players who have experienced both World Series glory and ignominy has been a crowded procession.