“Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink”
The publishing info:
Henry Holt & Company, $30, 242 pages, to be released May 7
The review in 90 feet or less
The Dodgers’ annual venture today into Wrigley Field for a three-game series against the Cubs comes with its own crazy history to lean upon and laugh.
October, 2017: Kiki Hernandez hits three homers in the decisive 2017 NL Championship Series Game 5. We can read that sentence three times and it still makes no sense.
June 2015: Adrian Gonzalez reaches over a tarp roller along the first base line to make a catch, but a dad holding his baby in his left arm reaches out to grab the ball with his bare right hand. Fan interference prevailed.
May, 2000: Nineteen Dodgers players and coaches are fined or suspended after a fan reaches into the bullpen down the first-base line, grabs the cap off the head of Chad Krueter after hitting him in the head, and then the team roster went into the stands to chase him down.
August, 1982: Six years before they put lights in the park, the Cubs have to suspend a game in the 17th inning against the Dodgers because of darkness. So, they picked it up the next day. Ron Cey gets kicked out in the 20th inning. Tommy Lasorda has no more position players. Pedro Guerrero moves from right field to third base, and Fernando Valenzuela grabs a glove and heads to the outfield. Bob Welch ends up playing in the outfield as well, and the Dodgers claim a 2-1 win in the 21st inning in a game listed as six hours and 10 minutes. And not one home run.
Add to that: Jerry Reuss got the win pitching four innings of one-hit shutout relief. After resting a little bit, he pitches the first five innings of the next game and gets another win. Nine innings in one day, two wins, no complete games. You can’t make that up.
Was it as silly as the game play at Wrigley 40 years ago — May 17, 1979 – when the Philadelphia Phillies prevailed in a 23-22 decision that needed a 10th inning to sort it all out and create a line score that reads like a couple of random phone numbers from suburban Chicago and somewhere in Canada (area codes included)? Probably not.
Reviewing it on the 30th anniversary for the New York Times, Tyler Kemper called it the “Holy Grail of high-scoring games.” His story also tracked down the fan who tracked down the final run, a home run ball.
For starters, Phillies starting pitcher Randy Leach hit a homer in the top of the first inning. Then he was bounced out of the game after only getting one out in the bottom of the inning.
Cubs relief pitcher Donnie Moore, summoned into the first inning when Cubs starter Dennis Lamp could only get one out, hit a triple in his bottom-of-the-first at bat to drive in a run.
Phillies 7, Cubs 6. For anyone who just tuned into WGN.
“You’ve got to hold your breath today,” Richie Asburn says on the Phillies’ radio broadcast. “I’ve got a feeling this one might wind up 19 to 12.”
“The craziest game ever,” said Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa. “And then the second inning started.”
Dave Kingman clubbed three homers and Bill Bucker had a grand slam, but it wasn’t enough for the home team on a day when the wind was measured as blowing out at 17 mph, with gusts of 30 mph.
Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Newman, at the park to do a feature on Pete Rose joining up with the Phillies in his first season, instead phones his office and say this thing might be worthy of a story until itself. That’s as the Phillies had a 21-9 lead going into the bottom of the fifth.
It was 21-19 after six innings. Then things settled down.
When a 22-19 score welcomed the seventh inning stretch, there was no Harry Caray to sing along with. He wasn’t the Cubs’ broadcaster yet. That was three seasons away.
As shadows crept over the field, and there were still no lights yet, one wondered how it could possibly end.
Future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, walked four times already, wasn’t walked with two outs in the 10th. He cashed that in, hitting the 11th homer of the game off future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. Those 11 dingers tied an MLB record.
But the Cubs still had Buckner and Kingman coming up.
But as The Chicago Tribune’s Dave Nightingale would eventually report: The Cubs set a major league record for most runs by a team rallying to tie in a losing cause.
As Tribune columnist David Israel wrote on his new Tandy P-1800: “It was historical. It was hysterical.”
How it goes down in the scorebook
Cook’s previous sports-based works have been notable reads –
“Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minute of Fame that lasted Forever” in 2017, focused on Jackie Robinson’s first World Series as a rookie in 1947 between the Dodgers and Yankees, the first one ever televised; “The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ‘70s, the Era that Created Modern Sports,” in 2012;
“Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything” from 2010; and “Tommy’s Honour: The Extraordinary Story of Golf’s Founding Father and Son” in 2007. But one he assisted with in 2016, “Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family” by Bret Boone gave him the entry point into this, with access to Bob Boone, the Phillies catcher on this day.
But maybe in style that tends to be more regurgitation than celebration, our expectations were a bit higher. Maybe we recall that game as more bizarre than it really was, reading and re-reading the box score in the newspaper at a time when little information was given in the wire-service roundup. So many can vouch for how insanely the game played out. But as much as Cook supplemented this with what appears to be a new appreciation for what happened, we somehow come away wondering if we’d just rather see it replayed with the WGN feed on ESPN Classic and enjoy it that way instead of reading about it.
So here it is:
And here is the Phillies’ radio broadcast.
Yes, the game is humanized with all the back stories and especially with how some tragedy met those going forward. It’s a natural thing to bring that all into context.
But why was this game any sort of saving grace “with baseball on the brink”? We get a “what ever happened to” sort of finish with individual players like Kingman and Moore. And the financial structure of the game was about to take some important turns as the 1981 mid-season strike was coming and TV started take hold, especially cable, with financial input. As much as it was a kick to relive all this, there needed to be more personal accounts by those present in that moment.
BTW, we often in our head confuse this 1979 game with one played by the same teams in 1976 that also went ass-backwards, and starred Mike Schmidt:
== “Before They Were Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago’s First Professional Team,” by Jack Bales (McFarland, $39.95, 262 pages, released March 5). The franchise founded in 1869, charter members of the National League, were called the White Stockings, Colts and Orphans. A sportswriter referred to the roster of young players as Cubs once in 1902 in the Chicago Daily News. It stuck.