The '69 Cubs: Still Heartbreaking, 50 Years Later

George Ofman
July 10, 2019 - 6:00 am

Ron Santo, in his 1969 glory, on the Chicago Cubs. (courtesy: Chicago Sun-Times)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- 1969 was a year of transition. Man landed on the moon. The Beatles made their last public performance. PBS was established. And the Chicago Cubs were seemingly on their way to a dream season.

“We thought we were good enough to do it,” recalls former shortstop Don Kessinger, one of five players who made the All-Star Team that year (so did the entire Chicago infield).

Starting with a dramatic Opening Day homer by Willie Smith in the 10th inning, this Cubs team looked as if they were headed for greatness. Pitcher Dick Selma was leading the bleachers in chants and Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo was clicking his heels after home victories. The Cubs sported a 9-game division lead in mid-August. Kenny Holtzman threw a no-hitter.

 Then everything that could go wrong … did.

 “It started to slide,” Brad Palmer recalled. He was a WBBM Newsradio sports reporter then and chronicled what would be a colossal collapse. “By Sept. 10, they were out of first place.”

The Cubs went into a monumental tailspin and by season’s end actually lost the East Division to the Mets by eight games. Those Miracle Mets would go on to win the World Series.

Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher visits the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field, April 22, 1969. (Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, who authored a book with George Castle entitled The 1969 Cubs: Long Remembered - Not Forgotten, said the team was full of players that liked to be together.

“We played good to win,” says Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. “We didn’t lose it. The Mets won it because they played great.”

To this day, the ’69 Cubs are still remembered with fondness and even reverence, despite their epic demise. All Star catcher Randy Hundley said he cherished that year.

“Although we didn’t win it, we gave it everything we had.” 

A group shot, 1983, of some '69 Cubs: from left, Ernie Banks; Ron Santo; Don Kessinger; and Billy Williams. (courtesy: Chicago Sun-Times)

editor's note: WBBM Newsradio's Lisa Fielding and digital content producer Mike Ramsey contributed to this presentation. Thanks also to WGN-TV for highlights from the season and the Chicago Sun-Times for archival photos.