My book The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow details how with a few trades not made or with better managing by Leo Durocher, the Cubs could have won the National League Eastern Division, and probably the National League pennant and the World Series that year.
But even with the team and manager they had, the Cubs should have won a championship that year. With the Cubs at 84-78 finishing five games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates at 89-73, a reversal of fortune in a mere six games would have meant the division championship. Here are the six games—three at home, and three on the road—the Cubs could have, should have, and would have won with a little more effort. Had they done so, the 1970 pennant would have flown over Wrigley Field.
June 19: St. Louis Cardinals 5, Chicago Cubs 3, in Chicago. The first place Cubs, down 3-2 to the sub-.500 Cardinals, tied the game in the ninth—and the contest ended up going 17 exhausting innings. Which means that this Cub team full of sluggers that included future Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks, had eight innings (the ninth through the 16th) to push across merely one run to win the game—yet they failed to do so.
The Cubs put the potential winning run on base in the tenth, 11th, and 15th innings. In that 15th, they loaded the bases with only one out and looked poised to win the game, but pinch hitter JC Martin and the great Williams, having his career best season, both made outs. The Cardinals finally pushed two across to win the game in the 17th.
Ted Abernathy, a relief pitcher the Cubs had foolishly traded to the Cardinals only three weeks before, held the Cubs scoreless in the tenth and 11th innings—which would not have happened had he been in the Cubs bullpen where he belonged, instead of baffling his former teammates with his unorthodox underhand deliveries.
This game also had the effect of being essentially a doubleheader, tiring out the players even more after an already grueling West Coast road trip, and directly contributing to a 12-game losing streak that would start two days later.
In this game, the pitchers delivered, but the hitters did not.
June 23: New York Mets 12, Chicago Cubs 10, in Chicago. Loss #4 of that 12-game losing streak is another that should have been a win. Chicago took a 10-8 lead in the fifth inning and Cub rookie pitcher Jim Dunegan shut out the heavy-hitting Mets over three innings. All the Cubs had to do was hold the Mets to one run or less in the ninth inning for the victory, but Manager Leo Durocher relied on relief pitcher Phil Regan, who was having a bad season, to try to shut the Mets down. The ancient Vulture could not do it, giving up two runs in the ninth inning and another two in the tenth for a New York win.
Instead of Regan, Durocher could have brought in reliever Hank Aguirre, who was having a good season but who had given up a three-run homer to Donn Clendenon the day before. Durocher tended to punish players who had failed in key situations, however, and Aguirre spent June 23 in the manager’s doghouse instead of on the mound shutting down the Mets—which the reliever had been able to do the previous afternoon after Clendenon’s homer.
In this game, the hitters delivered, but relief pitcher Regan cost the Cubs the victory.
July 3: Pittsburgh Pirates 16, Chicago Cubs 14, in Chicago. How does a team score 14 runs and lose? When the manager fails to give a faltering pitcher the hook quickly enough.
The Cubs held a 13-10 lead with two Pirates out in the eighth inning, when light-hitting infielders Gene Alley and Bill Mazeroski both homered off Cub pitcher Roberto Rodriguez. This should have been the signal for Durocher to get Rodriguez out of there with a 13-12 lead, but instead the manager—usually no fan of young pitchers—inexplicably left Rodriguez in to face Johnny Jeter, who walked and stole second, and Matty Alou, who drove in Jeter for the tie. Finally, Durocher removed Rodriguez for the equally ineffective Regan—who ended up losing this game too, as he had ten days before against the Mets.
This loss was due to more bad relief pitching coupled with bad managing, and was particularly hurtful because it not only would have added one more victory to the Cubs’ season total, but removed one from the Pirates’ final season tally as well.
August 1: Cincinnati Reds 6, Chicago Cubs 4, in Cincinnati. After pitching six innings of shutout baseball against the Big Red Machine, starter Milt Pappas entered the seventh inning with a 3-0 lead. The tiring Pappas gave up two runs so the lead was cut to 3-2, and with Pappas the first batter due up in the eighth, Durocher pinch hit for him—standard baseball procedure.
Unfortunately in the bottom of the frame, Durocher again brought in Regan instead of a more effective reliever, the Vulture gave up three runs while retiring only one batter, and the Cubs had another loss. This gave Regan his seventh blown save of the year, his seventh loss of the year, and ballooned his earned run average to 4.98, a high figure unheard of for a closer in that era.
The loss also so angered Durocher that he expected Pappas to go nine innings from then on, which went against modern baseball procedure of getting a tiring starting pitcher out of there late in the game so opposing batters could be baffled by a fresh closer and returned the Cubs to a 1940s style of expecting a tired starter to hang in there no matter what—an attitude that hurt them during the stretch drive.
Bad managing and bad relief pitching cost the Cubs yet another game.
September 20: Montreal Expos 6, Chicago Cubs 4, in Montreal. With the Cubs holding a 4-2 lead with one out in the bottom of the eighth in the heat of the late-season pennant race, Regan again proved ineffective, losing his ninth game of the year, as the Expos rallied to win. The game saw the oddity of Durocher bringing in star starter Ferguson Jenkins to relieve Regan to try to halt the Montreal rally.
Bad relief pitching once again resulted in a loss.
September 23: St. Louis Cardinals 2, Chicago Cubs 1, in St. Louis. In the top of the ninth inning, Williams made it to third base with nobody out and three of the Cubs’ best hitters coming up: future Hall of Famer Ron Santo; Jim Hickman, who was having his career-best year; and Tommy Davis, former two-time National League batting champion. A hit by any of these stars would tie the game, and a couple of hits would have given the Cubs the lead with recently acquired star reliever Hoyt Wilhelm on the mound. But sub-.500 Cardinal pitcher Jerry Reuss easily retired all three sluggers, and the Cubs had another crucial loss during the stretch drive.
This one was the hitters’ fault.
Put those six games in the win column, and the Cubs would have finished 90-72, with the Pirates at 88-74 instead of 89-73, with their July 3 win over the Cubs turning into a loss. So the Cubs even could have lost one of the other five games and still beat out the Pirates for the NL East championship 89-73 to 88-74.
Alas, because of bad managing, worse pitching, and a lack of hitting, the 1970 Cubs instead were yet another great Chicago team that failed to win. Six games made the difference.
The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, published by The History Press of Charleston, SC, is available at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467149082.