Bill Hands, whose effective starting pitching helped transform the Cubs from losers to contenders under manager Leo Durocher, was a familiar opponent of the Cardinals in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His best performance against St. Louis came on a day when the Cardinals also had their hands full with a group of Wrigley Field Bleacher Bums whose behavior had gotten out of hand.
Hands, who died March 9, 2017, at 76, pitched 11 seasons (1965-75) in the major leagues. He had a career record of 111-110 with a 3.35 ERA.
A right-hander, Hands was best in a three-year stretch for the Cubs when he was 16-10 in 1968, 20-14 in 1969 and 18-15 in 1970.
Against the Cardinals, Hands was 14-12 with a 2.58 ERA in his career. He had more wins (14), innings pitched (205.2) and appearances (38) against the Cardinals than he did versus any other opponent.
After posting losing records in 13 of 14 seasons from 1953-66, the Cubs had 87 wins in 1967 and 84 in 1968. By 1969, they were a threat to the reign of the Cardinals, who had won consecutive National League pennants in 1967 and 1968.
On June 28, 1969, the Cubs were in first place in the NL East at 46-26 entering a Saturday afternoon game with the Cardinals at Chicago. St. Louis was 35-37, 11 games behind the Cubs.
Looking to put a dagger into the St. Louis title hopes, the Cubs started Hands against Dave Giusti of the Cardinals.
The left field stands at Wrigley Field filled quickly that day with Cubs fans. Known as Bleacher Bums, the group was whipped into a frenzy by the early-season success of their hometown team and by the sight of the archrival Cardinals.
As Cardinals players appeared in the outfield to shag flies and play catch before the game, “bleacher fans showered the Redbirds players with flashlight batteries, quarters, paper cups, dry ice and other debris in pregame practice,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Curt Flood, Cardinals center fielder, told the Chicago Tribune, “They were throwing steel ball bearings at me. If I turn and catch one in the eye, it’s bye-bye career. I can start carrying a lunch pail to work.”
Cardinals pitcher Mudcat Grant said he was hit in the mouth by a hard rubber ball thrown from the left-field bleachers. Someone also flung a hard hat at him. Teammate Bob Gibson picked up the hard hat and “played the conductor’s role in leading the Bleacher Bums as they jeered the Cardinals with chants,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
Bleacher fans told the Tribune that Grant retaliated by hitting three of them with baseballs he threw into the stands.
“I just lobbed the ball,” Grant said to the Post-Dispatch. “They weren’t lobbing those nails and flashlight batteries and that helmet at me.”
Grant said he “scared” the fans by throwing two baseballs hard against the ivy-covered wall.
“You ought to put a cage over them,” Grant said of his tormenters.
The Bleacher Bums also taunted left fielder Lou Brock, a former Cub, with calls of “bush leaguer.”
“The thing that really bothers me about it is that they are showing you people (reporters) up,” Brock said to the Tribune. “You have glorified them and they show their gratitude by behaving like that. It’s not right.”
Once the game began, Hands became the story. He held the Cardinals to one hit _ a Tim McCarver single _ through five innings.
In the sixth, with the Cubs ahead, 1-0, Flood led off with a single to left. Brock stretched his hitting streak to 13 games with a double into the left-field corner, scoring Flood.
“Both the pitches they hit in that inning were mistakes,” Hands said. “Brock hit a fastball down the middle and Flood got a hanging slider.”
Reminding himself to bear down, Hands struck out Vada Pinson and Joe Torre _ “I got Pinson on a fastball on the corner and Torre missed a slider,” Hands said _ before McCarver flied out.
The Cubs went ahead, 2-1, when Willie Smith hit a home run off Giusti in the bottom half of the inning and they added a run in the seventh.
Hands retired the Cardinals in order in the last three innings, sealing the win and finishing with a three-hitter. Boxscore
It was the third consecutive complete game pitched by Hands.
“I knew Hands was a good pitcher, but I didn’t know he was that good,” said Sandy Koufax, the retired Dodgers ace who was broadcasting the game for NBC. “He really showed me something today.”
Said Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst: “He threw a good slider about 85 percent of the time to our right-handed batters. He had marvelous control of it _ low and away.”
The loss dropped the Cardinals 12 games behind the Cubs. “They’re far enough behind us that they’ve got to win almost every one of the (13) games left between us,” said Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger.
Though the Cardinals didn’t catch them, the Cubs couldn’t hold onto the division lead. The Mets would finish in first place at 100-62. The Cubs (92-70) placed second and the Cardinals (87-75) were fourth.
Previously: How Mike Shannon put brakes on Cubs title hopes