September 24, 1969
The 1969 Cubs
The North Siders flirt with pennant glory but fade as summer wears on.
Dejected Chicago Cubs players leave Wrigley Field following another loss during their September swoon. The season started out with high hopes, but the Cubs were eventually mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. (Tribune archive photo)
The season had started out with high hopes of ending a 24-year post-season drought as the Cubs reeled off nine wins in their first 10 games.
From opening day until Sept. 10, the team, which included such future Hall of Famers as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, stayed in first place in the new National League East. Said Ron Santo, the team's feisty third baseman: "We knew that this was the season we were going to win."
Ken Holtzman pitched a no-hitter Aug. 19 against the Atlanta Braves, but by then, the teasing baseball gods were warming up. A 9 1/2-game lead over the New York Mets started to disappear--oh, so slowly. By the end of the month, the Mets had chipped the Cubs' lead to four games.
Salt in the wound was an eight-game losing streak from Sept. 3 to the 11 that coincided with a Mets seven-game winning streak.
"If I'd known we were going to lose eight straight," Manager Leo Durocher said later, "I would have just played nine pitchers every day and let everyone else go home and rest."
Explanations for the Cubs' collapse abounded, from the team becoming too wrapped up in off-the-field endeavors to the remote possibility that the Mets, who would go on to win the World Series, simply had a better team.
Wrote Tribune sports columnist Robert Markus: "My theory is that the Cubs simply had to shoulder their burden too long. It is impossible to endure the kind of pressure the Cubs were under for six months."
Whatever the reason, it was the Mets who celebrated the night of Sept. 24. "The Mets served champagne, shaving cream and bath towels tonight to one and all, including themselves," wrote the Tribune's Edward Prell from New York that evening. It might have been the Cubs.