Going back 52 years to memories from the 1970 Cubs season

Mandatory Credit: Harry How /Allsport
Mandatory Credit: Harry How /Allsport /

On the night of July 14, 1970, I recall my parents let me stay up late. A bit less than a year earlier they did the same allowing to watch these guys named Neil and Buzz do something on a tiny nine inch black and white portable television while were on vacation in Sister Lakes, Michigan. If you were around, you remember where you were that night. This July we are in our living room, with a fairly new color TV, and I am sure I was laying prone on the floor, facing the screen, leaning on my elbows watching the screen.

I was watching the MLB All-Star game, and very late, Jim Hickman ripped a single to center field (great song John Fogarty) off of Angels lefty Clyde Wright in the bottom of the twelfth, and Pete Rose fired up his hometown Cincinnati Reds faithful at Riverfront Stadium (a bowl-shaped concrete relic of the era) by rounding third and heading for home, waved on by Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who was coaching third base.

Charlie Hustle was built like more a Moeller High School fullback than a baseball player in the 1960s and 1970s. He charged down the third base line as if the life of his children were at stake. Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse, an All-Star and Gold Glove recipient this year and next, collected a strong throw from center fielder Amos Otis. This was not a postseason game, I repeat. This was merely a Midsummer Classic. Many have expressed this was a career ending, certainly altering, for the backstop.
You can watch videos of the greatest hits in football and appreciate, (or be appalled with the knowledge we have of traumatic brain injuries) the ferocity of this collision. Fosse had the presence of mind to make the catch instantaneously before Rose hit him like a freight train. Rose scored, the National League won the game and Fosse was left with a separated shoulder. Standing somewhere near first base was Hickman, the Chicago Cubs right fielder.

Jim Hickman was a better than average journeyman ball player. He debuted in 1962 with the original New York Mets, playing thirteen seasons for four teams, six of those coming with the Cubbies. 1970 was his best season by far – he posted an OPS of 1.001, won the Comeback Player of the Year award and finished eighth in MVP voting. I remember his birthday, on May 10 that season, because I was there. Let me preface the next section by saying I can’t pound a nail straight but I have a pretty good memory.

My family took me to that game. Before today’s ‘walk up music’ the organist back then may play a song on a special occasion. I remember that it was Hickman’s birthday, and they played The Tennessee Waltz, in tribute to Gentleman Jim’s home state. A couple interesting things happened that day, which I have been able to confirm with a little research.

Ernie Banks hit a deep fly ball to left, narrowly missing the basket that lines the outfield wall at Wrigley. At the age of thirty-nine, the less than speedy Mr. Cub actually legged out a triple. Two days later he’d hit #500 and I just missed it by forty-eight hours.

In the ninth inning, I saw the aforementioned Mr. Rose hit an opposite field home run over the left field wall, a rarity for the singles hitter. Rose played in more games than any player in history, but only hit 160 home runs. I bet you didn’t know that. It was in at-bat from Reds first baseman Lee May that the biggest disappointment of my young life occurred.

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May hit a towering foul ball down the third base side. I grabbed my mitt, smacked my hand into it and repressed a smile knowing that ball was coming right down into my nine-year-old hands. Just then, a guy in the upper deck leans out, and snatches away my prize.