Jake Arrieta coming within four outs of pitching a no-hitter last night immediately brought to mind another almost-no-hitter that was pitched at Wrigley Field in 1960.
It's a twice told tale, but many of us are repeating favorite Wrigley Field stories during the ballpark's centennial year. Below is the full story, as told in my book, and comprises the second installment of a proposed series of 12 blogs covering 13 memories. The first blog covered two memorable games I attended as a young kid.
Perhaps this tale of Cubs woe doesn't really qualify as being one of my best memories. It's an awful memory. And the "almost" doesn't refer to the pitcher having his no-hitter spoiled, because it wasn't. It refers to a group of Oak Parkers who sat together in the grandstands along the third base line that day.
Excerpt from, Waiting for the Cubs (with some minor editing).
On May 15, 1960, the Cubs played a traditional Sunday doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. I was nine years old and my brother, Steve, was seven. We had moved into our new house, one of a whole long block of virtually identical red brick bungalows in suburban Oak Park, less than a year before. I say “suburban” but we lived only four blocks south of the city limits at North Avenue, and six blocks west of Austin Boulevard, Chicago’s western boundary with Oak Park. Our neighbors two doors to the north invited us to the games. Their son, two years older than I, and daughter, a year or two younger than Steve, would be with us. My first doubleheader. I was in heaven.
The Cubs lost the first game 6-1 in typical fashion. Anemic hitting and mediocre pitching. It was expected. They had finished in fifth place (out of eight teams) the year before, six games under .500. They were already five games below .500 for the young 1960 season. The second game of the “twin bill” started very slowly for four young kids. Not much action at all. Our neighbor’s daughter had had enough baseball for one day and was getting very restless. She wanted to go home.
I didn’t. There was no score, so anything could still happen. And the Cubs had Ernie Banks at shortstop, National League MVP two years running in spite of being on the hapless Cubs. By the way, future Cubs manager Don Zimmer was also on this team and came in to play part of game two.
Our neighbor decided that it would be more painful for him to ignore his daughter’s complaints than to listen to our pleas to stay. My brother and I would never protest too vehemently anyway. He was an adult and we had been taught to obey adults without question. And we had seen almost a game and a half of big league baseball, so we had no grounds for protest.
We left the ballpark, found the car and drove west, probably on Fullerton, to Austin Avenue and then south to Oak Park, the radio tuned to WGN. We listened as the Cubs scored a run in the fifth, two in the sixth and one more in the seventh. The Cardinals hadn’t scored at all. But something more was happening. The buzz of the crowd grew more intense with every inning and with every block we passed driving through the Northwest Side. Palpable electricity filled the airwaves. You could hear it in the voices of the announcer whose pitch seemed to rise an octave over the course of the last innings.
We pulled into our neighbor’s garage during the ninth. I ran down the alley, neglecting my little brother, raced through our postage stamp backyard, and finally burst through the back door of the house. My father sat chatting with a guest in the kitchen. Distracted and rude, I didn’t pause to say hello.
I turned on the television just in time to see Joe Cunningham of the Cardinals come to the plate with two out in the top of the ninth. Jack Brickhouse’s voice seemed to break with every pitch, each word lilting up and into the air, alive with the tension of the moment.
“Everybody in the ballpark is standing up,” he cried. The crowd screamed in anticipation, screeching whistles and shrill women’s voices penetrating the chaos. Cunningham, a lefty, worked the count to three and two, getting in the home plate umpire’s face to protest the call on strike two. The Cub pitcher, a new guy from the Phillies with whom I was completely unfamiliar, looked uncomfortable on the mound, picking up the rosin bag, circling the rubber, taking off his mitt and rubbing the ball. I found out later that he had given up two deep fly balls already that inning, one all the way to the right field wall, George Altman leaping high to make a spectacular catch that prevented an extra base hit.
As the crowd roared, Brickhouse said his signature simple, yet frantic, “Watch it!” as if all of us watching at home needed to be very, very careful about something. Cunningham connected on the three-two pitch going the opposite way, lining what looked like a base hit to left. Mixed feelings here. If the ball fell safely it would mean that our early departure was not so tragic after all.
Out of the upper left corner of the little black and white screen Walt “Moose” Moran loped toward the ball. A somewhat chunky guy, not very fleet of foot, and not athletic enough to be enthusiastic about diving for balls, he reached down to his left side, at about ankle height, and grabbed the sinking line drive in the webbing of his mitt to preserve Don Cardwell’s no-hitter.
Pandemonium reigned. The crowd rushed the field. Brickhouse’s voice cracked noticeably. I know these details not because I have a great memory but because you can see the last inning of that game on YouTube, just as it was broadcast by WGN TV. I went there to refresh long forgotten details of my misery. It’s still painful to watch.
We had walked out of a no-hitter, the greatest kind of baseball game one could ever see in person, and the kind of game only the luckiest of fans get a chance to witness. And it was a Cub no-hitter. What were the odds of ever being at Wrigley Field for one of those again?
Totally despondent and almost in tears, I turned the TV off. My father and his guest came into the room. He asked if I was okay. I blurted out, “We walked out of a NO-HITTER!” Not able to face anyone, I ran out of the room.
Behind me I could hear my father say, “I don’t blame him.”
His guest replied, “No. That’s a tough one to handle.” Or words to that effect.
Years later, sometime during the 1970’s, I sat with some friends in the center field bleachers during the late innings of a Cub loss, the temperature dipping into the thirties. They wanted to retire to Ray’s (now Murphy’s) for something strong and warming. I had to explain to them why I couldn’t leave, and in fact never left any sporting event, ever, before it ended. My friend Bob Cooney listened politely all the way to the part where I said, “ … to see Moose Moran make a shoestring catch to preserve Don Cardwell’s no-hitter.”
“Guess what,” said Cooney, laughing, as I took a sip of Schlitz (the Old Style had sold out a couple of innings before). “I was at that game. We stormed the field. I still have dirt from the mound in a glass jar.”
I almost gagged on my beer.
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