Sunday, June 23, 2019

Books: "Ten Innings At Wrigley" On One Of The Wildest Ballgames Ever

Ten Innings At Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever with Baseball on the Brink
By Kevin Cook
Henry Holt and Company; hardcover, 272 pages; $28.00

There has been a great tradition in baseball writing of books that focus on one game and all that goes into it, with a recent example Power Ball by Rob Neyer, which focused on a game in the past few years between the Houston Astros and Oakland A's and the systems they employ to win.

The latest worthy addition to this form is Ten Innings at Wrigley by Kevin Cook, which goes into all the drama of the famous game on May 17, 1979 between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.

The wind was blowing out that day at Wrigley, and it was an afternoon game, and nobody was expecting this early-season matchup between the first-place Phillies and the Cubs, who were not having their best season, until the teams combined for 13 runs in the first inning. That was the start of a wild game in which the teams combined for 45 runs, with Philadelphia coming out on top, 23-22.

The number of famous faces in this game is astonishing, as there was slugger Dave Kingman, Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Bruce Suter; Pete Rose in his first season as a Phillie; Bill Buckner in the midst of his years in Chicago before moving on to Boston and his unlucky fate; troubled relief pitcher Donnie Moore (both he and Buckner are both rightly or wrongly remembered for what happened in the 1986 postseason; scarred Vietnam veteran Gary Maddox; and clubhouse jester Tug McGraw in his Phillie years.

Cook writes Ten Innings In Wrigley in a unique style, with the chapters based on each half-inning of the game, with anecdotes mixed in with game action.

Here is what Cook wrote on the top of the fifth, which Philadelphia entered up 17-9, "As the Phillies prepared to bat in the fifth, Tug McGraw got his left arm loose. The thirty-four-year-old reliever had spent four innings amusing himself in the visitors' bullpen down the right-field line. 'Wrigley Field was my favorite bullpen,' McGraw recalled. 'It's right there by the fans - you could trade baseballs for hot dogs and peanuts.' In the days before selfies, fans settled for bullpen balls, autographs, and handshakes. McGraw added waves to the better-looking female Cub fans while watching Randy Lerch allow five runs and Doug Bird four more. 'Can't nobody get nobody out?' he remembered thinking. 'I could stop all this foolishness.'
"Phils manager Danny Ozark sent Greg Luzinski to lead off the inning, pinch-hitting for Doug Bird. Luzinski was Philadelphia's answer to Kingman, a homer-hitting outfielder who had led the National League in both RBIs and strikeouts. Known as the Bull for his beefy build, the blond left fielder was among a dozen former All-Stars on the Philadelphia roster, but he'd slumped all April and so far in May. 'The team's not hitting and I'm not hitting,' he told reporters. 'I'm so messed up I don't even know what I'm doing wrong.' Then he pulled a leg muscle, which was why Del Unser was playing left field this week.
"Luzinski stepped gingerly to the plate. 'Bull might be hurt,' another player said, 'but he could fall out of a hospital bed hitting.'
"Willie Hernandez pitched Luzinski carefully and ended up walking him. Ozark then dispatched Nino Espinosa, a scrawny pitcher, to pinch-run for Luzinski.
"In the radio booth, Richie Ashburn noted the change. 'This scorecard is uncipherable,' he added.  
"Bake McBride grounded a single past first baseman Buckner, putting runners at first and second for Larry Bowa. 'Bowa's had a good day, two singles and a double,' Ashburn reminded listeners. 'Larry's probably over the .300 mark now.' At a time when stats were updated at the end of the game rather than instantly, announcers guessed. Ashburn had it right: Bowa was at .301.
"Choking up enough to show two inches of bat between his hands and the knob, Bowa hit a pop fly down the right-field line. Mike Vail, auditioning for a Cub Follies blooper reel, pulled up at the last instant, and the plummeting ball almost hit him on the foot. Nino Espinosa wheeled around third, losing his helmet to reveal the Phillies' biggest Afro. He touched home to boost the visitors' lead to 18-9. McBride stopped at third base as Bowa pulled into second.
"A few more fans got up to go. The rest watched Cubs third baseman Steve Ontiveros and shortstop Ivan DeJesus come in a step on the infield dirt. Herman Franks didn't want Pete Rose bunting, though a bunt was the last thing on Rose's mind. Rose swung away, rolling a grounder to DeJesus, who dropped it. He retrieved the ball and dropped it again. McBride scored. Bowa took third, and Rose was safe at first. There was still nobody out.
"Now behind by ten, the Cubs had to face Mike Schmidt. Hernandez set him up with breaking stuff and folded him with a two-strike fastball, a pitch the twenty-nine-year-old Schmidt might have swung at and missed a couple of years earlier, when he led the league in strikeouts, but after six years in the majors he was maturing as a hitter. He fouled it off to stay alive. The Inquirer's Frank Fitzpatrick called Schmidt 'an enigma, always tinkering with his swing.' That made him less predictable and more dangerous. Schmidt and Hernandez scrapped their way through a nine-pitch at-bat. Hernandez finally walked him for the third time, with ball four as the better part of valor. The Phils had loaded the bases for the fourth time in five innings. Hernandez paced around the mound.
"Del Unser's sacrifice fly brought Bowa home with Philadelphia's twentieth run. Rose, the runner at second, tagged up and showboated to third, sliding around the tag, reaching through a cloud of dust to get a hand on the bag.
"Greg Gross came up, batting in Garry Maddox's spot. Gross sent a fly to medium-deep left field. Kingman tracked it back to the warning track. Kong reached up and snagged the ball just short of the wall while Rose took off from third, hogfooting it home, his helmet flying off, Charlie Highlight.
"Hernandez let his breath out. Another mile an hour of wind blowing out to left would have meant four runs instead of the one on Gross's sacrifice fly. Even so,, Philadelphia had is biggest lead yet, 21-9."

While this book focuses on a game The New York Times called "the wildest in modern history," Cook looks at the larger picture of Major League Baseball in 1979, how there were many forces that were on the brink of reshaping the sport - cable television, free agency, weight training and the implementation of steroids, and modern statistics.

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