“In All the World No Park Like This,” an advertisement in the April 19, 1923, edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune blared.
Or, as Chicago Tribune columnist Daniel Israel noted a half century later, “If baseball is the moral equivalent of war, then Wrigley Field is the moral equivalent of Belgium.”
Either description suited the “Friendly Confines,” which could be pure hell for pitchers. No lead ever seemed safe at Wrigley, especially when the wind was blowing toward the ivy covered outfield walls.
A Thursday afternoon game at Wrigley 40 years ago fit both descriptions. The Philadelphia Phillies’ 23-22 victory in 10 innings on May 17, 1979, included 50 hits, 11 home runs and 22 total extra-base hits.
Kevin Cook brings that craziness to life in Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Baseball Game Ever, With Baseball on the Brink (Henry Holt and Company; hardback; $28; 253 pages). Cook gives the reader a “you are there” feel thanks to his research, which included watching the Cubs’ telecast and listening to the Phillies’ radio broadcast.
Cook, a former senior editor at Sports Illustrated whose earlier works include Tommy’s Honor (2007), The Last Headbangers (2012) Electric October (2017), combines his flair for storytelling with vignettes about the players and fascinating facts about that game at windy Wrigley Field.
I enjoyed the tidbits. For example, Randy Lerch and Bob Boone became the first pitcher/catcher duo to homer before taking the field, as both connected during the Phillies’ seven-run outburst in the top of the first inning. Or, pitcher Bill Caudill would become the first client for super-agent Scott Boras. And for people who love numbers, Ron Reed and Dave Kingman marked the first time in the 1979 season in which the pitcher and batter totaled 13 feet tall.
Things were odd outside the ballpark, too. Cook writes about a sanitation truck chugging down Waveland Avenue suddenly bursting into flames during the bottom of the second inning.
The Phillies had high expectations heading into 1979, coming off three straight National League East division titles. Philadelphia had veterans like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Larry Bowa, along with Bob Boone and Tug McGraw. The Cubs, on the other hand, were going nowhere fast, which was not surprising. Their two top hitters, Kingman and Bill Buckner, could not stand one another. No wonder manager Herman Franks “invented grumpiness,” which is a stretch. Franks cut his teeth in baseball under the managerial eye of Leo Durocher, who was much more combative and demonstrative.
Still, it’s not a bad description.
Cook tells the story of Cubs starter Dennis Lamp, who only got one out in the first inning and lasted 10 minutes on the mound. Lamp’s wife, Janet, arrived late to the game and asked about her husband: “Where is he? How’s he doing?”
“Nobody wanted to tell her,” Cook writes.
When Donnie Moore finally got the Phillies out to end the first, Philadelphia shortstop Bowa posed a question to Lerch.
“Seven runs. That enough for you?” Bowa he asked.
As it turned out, no. While the Phillies took later leads of 15-6 and 21-9, the Cubs did not roll over and play dead. Lifted by a 17 mph win that produced three Kingman home runs and a grand slam by Buckner, Chicago pulled to within 21-19 and then tied the game, 22-22, with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Ashburn was not exaggerating when he told his listeners, “We might see grown men cry on the mound."
Schmidt’s second homer of the game, in the top of the 10th inning, ended the scoring and left both teams frazzled.
“What a wacko game,” Schmidt would say.
Cook divides Ten Innings at Wrigley into three parts. The beginning deals with the history of both teams, while the second part goes into the game itself, with each chapter representing a half inning. A graphic at the top of the page of each new chapter in Part Two is a scoreline with the game’s inning-by-inning breakdown to that point.
The final part of the book is an afterward, where Cook writes about legacies of the Phillies, who would win their first World Series in 1980; Kingman’s prickly relationship with the media; Buckner, “a pro in the best sense”; the tragedy of Moore, who was always on the edge but became even more dangerous after allowing a home run to Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, with the Angels sitting one strike away from going to the World Series; the legacy of the Boone family (Cook co-wrote a book with Bret Boone in 2008); and Wrigley Field itself.
Cook’s short vignettes about each participant are lively, interesting, and at times downright funny. In describing Cubs center fielder Jerry Martin, Cook notes.
Cook interviewed players, sportswriters, fans at the game and Cubs historian Ed Harig. He also immersed himself in the archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and his bibliography is well-rounded.
Ten Innings at Wrigley is a fun, quick read. In terms of crazy games at Wrigley Field, this 1979 is definitely among the weirdest. Cook does a nice job conveying that to the reader.
Here are the highlights of the game, preserved on YouTube. You've got to love some of Cubs' announcer Jack Brickhouse's calls. To say he was flabbergasted at times would be an understatement.