We never know what will happen any given day at a baseball game. A game that appears on the schedule to be just a typical, relatively inconsequential game could turn into one for the ages.
May 17, 1979 appeared to be one of those inconsequential days on the schedule. In front of just 14,952 fans at Wrigley Field, the first place Philadelphia Phillies were about to take on the hapless Chicago Cubs. Yet with the infamous wind blowing out, the teams combined for 13 runs in the first inning: It was Phillies 7, Cubs 6 after one. “The craziest game ever,” one player called it. “And then the second inning started.”
The game was so memorable that, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the game, Kevin Cook has released his book chronicling the game: Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink.
I was a little skeptical about this book at first, as writing an entire book about one game, no matter how entertaining that game was, is a challenge. And I’ll admit that I did get bogged down at times with the descriptions of virtually every play of the game. Still, I found this to be an entertaining and easy read.
After that wild first inning in which both starting pitchers only recorded one out, the Phillies went on to score eight runs in the third inning and at one point led the game 21-9. The Cubs would come back to tie the game at 22, but in the 10th inning the Phillies took the lead for good and won, 23-22.
Interspersed with details of the game are little nuggets about some of the players involved. Phillies players that day included slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt, who tormented Cubs fans for years (though he’d “only” hit two home runs on this day while making two errors); Pete Rose towards the end of his career; Larry Bowa, who would have five hits; and Bob Boone, who would drive in five runs.
The two big Cubs stars that day were Dave Kingman, the big slugger the fans adored, and the late Bill Buckner, whose stellar major league career was overshadowed by his error in the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox. Cook describes how the two did not like each other, though on this day they combined for 13 RBIs.
After the description of the game, Cook takes some time to describe what would later happen to several of the key players, including Boone, Kingman, and troubled Cubs pitcher Donnie Moore, who would give up seven runs in two innings that day. Moore later blew a ninth inning lead for the Angels as they were one out away from a World Series appearance, and he would later take his own life in an attempted murder-suicide involving his wife.
This game took place six years before I was born, and while I knew vaguely about it, I learned a lot of detail from this book. I also learned a lot about the state of Major League Baseball in the late 1970s. Whether you are old enough to remember this crazy game and want to relive it, or you’re learning about it for the first time, I would recommend this book to baseball fans everywhere.