Being a Christian, I don't believe in karma. But...

As I've said before, we don't deserve to be in the World Series this year. The Wild Card- even when my Cubs win it- is a joke. No team unable to achieve the best record of the teams playing (roughly) the same schedule over the course of the best possible test- the regular season- really has any right to be playing in October, in my book.

"Joke" rhymes with "choke." And one of the epic chokes of all time was in 1969, the year we DID deserve it.

The Cubs clearly had the best personnel in the National League that year. In terms of talent, only the Baltimore Orioles compared. But somehow, a much less talented New York Mets team pulled off an epic second half while the Cubs were shooting themselves in the foot again... and again... and again... and again...

I still remember that helpless, surreal feeling as routine grounders went through the legs of normally slick-fielding Cub infielders, and reliable hitters struck out, and somehow the team that had torn up the league during the first half started looking like Little Leaguers. I kept comforting myself by remembering that this was the most talented team in the league. Surely this couldn't keep happening.

But it did.

Don't get me wrong. Our nemesis was the Tom Seaver Mets. They were a very good team. No other kind of team could have played the kind of baseball they did in the second half of 1969. But after decades of frustration, the Cubs had finally assembled a team for the ages. We spent entirely too much time during the 1969 season on premature self-congratulation. I well remember the sign on the Wrigleyville fire station that read, "CHICAGO CUBS- 1969 WORLD CHAMPIONS. Keep in mind, this was in April!

So when we fell, we fell hard. And somehow, it's kind of special to be playing the Mets in the National League Championship Series. We don't qualify, really. They won their division. We didn't. But we did have a better record than they did. And then, there's 1969.

This is image from the archive of the New York Daily Newsis burned into the psyche of every Cub fan of my generation:

In a critical game at Shea Stadium late in the season (I could be wrong, but as I recall the Cubs could have re-tied the Mets for first if they'd won), the game was tied. Tommy Agee was on second.

Wayne Garrett singled sharply to right. Jim Hickman picked the ball up on one bounce and, off-balance, fired a beautiful strike to Cubs catcher Randy Hundley, who tagged Agee firmly in the back.

The TV audience could see all this clearly. Unfortunately, the umpire allowed himself to be caught out of position, with Agee's body between him and the tag. Hundley tagged Agee so hard that the Met center fielder's body moved. But the umpire interpreted the movement as a successful effort to avoid the tag and ruled him safe.

Randy (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Hundley literally went ballistic. He jumped high into the air, turned bright red, and made remarks to the ump of sufficient impoliteness to get himself ejected.

It was the winning run, and while it didn't actually clinch anything, psychologically it was the moment the air went out of the Cub's balloon. The Mets never looked back.

Before he died, Agee admitted that yes, Hundley had indeed tagged him.

Playing the Mets in the NLCS has a little extra savor for Cub fans of my generation. We weren't the best team in the National League this year; the Cardinals were. But we were the best team in the National League in 1969.....and, well, you know that Klingon proverb...


Popular Posts