“The Cubs had 25 base runners, and (the public-address) announcer grew hoarse saying, ‘Next batter …’” 1
The league-leading Cincinnati Reds completed a four-game series at Wrigley Field with a doubleheader on June 28, 1961, and found that the seventh place Cubs were not without life. Despite their lowly station, the Cubs (25-41) had won five of their prior nine meetings with the league leaders. In the first game of the twin bill, the Cubs had their best offensive output of the season, banging out 17 hits and winning handily, 16-5.
Slumping Ron Santo emerged from his streak of 14 at-bats without a hit and slammed two homers and a pair of singles, with seven RBIs. Prior to the game, he decided to skip batting practice, hoping that it would change his luck. In 1961 the Cubs seemed to have as many managers as the proverbial cat had lives. Owner Philip Wrigley was rotating coaches that season and on June 28, the head coach was Elvin Tappe. Tappe went along with the idea. After his success in the game, Santo said, “I not only bypassed batting practice today, but I’m going to do the same thing tomorrow, because I’ll never forget those seven RBIs.”2
Glen Hobbie (4-9) pitched for the Cubs and did not need any help from the bullpen. He was matched against Bob Purkey of the Reds. Santo’s first blast came in the first inning off Purkey and gave Chicago a 3-0 lead. Al Heist, who came into the game batting a lowly .186, led off for the Cubs with a single and moved to second when Don Zimmer singled. Santo followed with a three-run homer and Purkey had yet to retire a batter. Purkey had entered the game with a 9-3 record but was done after the Cubs scored in each of their first four turns at bat.
In the second inning, Sammy Taylor tripled and scored when Hobbie grounded into a double play. The Reds, down 4-0, appeared to have something going in the third inning. Eddie Kasko reached on a two-base error by Cubs rookie left fielder Billy Williams and advanced to third on a fly ball by Don Blasingame. However, when the Reds tried a safety squeeze with Vada Pinson batting, Hobbie grabbed the bunt grounder and trapped Kasko between home and third base. The pitcher threw to third baseman Santo, who tagged out Kasko as he tried to get back to the base.
In the Cubs’ third inning, the first batter again reached safely, as Santo, in his second plate appearance, singled to left field. That brought up George Altman, who came into the game with a .333 batting average. Altman scored Santo with a double that fell in right-center field between Pinson and Frank Robinson and went to the wall. The Cubs had a 5-0 lead.
The Reds’ bats were not silent in the game, but Hobbie maintained order. In each of the first three innings, the Reds had baserunners but failed to score. They broke through in the fourth. Gus Bell led off with a triple and a homer by Gordie Coleman made the score 5-2.
The Cubs wasted no time extending their lead to 8-2. With two out in the bottom of the fourth, Heist walked and advanced to third on a double by Zimmer. That brought Santo to the plate. A Purkey pitch eluded the grasp of catcher Johnny Edwards and Heist scored on the passed ball. Santo then hit his second homer of the game, this time a two-run blast, and after recording the last out of the inning, Purkey was given the rest of the game off.
By the beginning of the sixth inning, the contest had been decided, as the Cubs had a seven-run outburst in the fifth inning to stretch their lead to 15-2. Jay Hook had taken over the pitching from Purkey and absorbed the beating as Reds manager Fred Hutchinson was not about to overuse his staff in a game that was out of control — especially as there was the second game of the doubleheader yet to be played. After a bases-loaded walk to Heist scored the first run of the inning, Zimmer’s double produced a pair. Santo followed with a two-run single, and after an Altman double (his second of the game) put two runners in scoring position, Billy Williams completed the rally with a single that plated Santo and Altman.
But the Cubs continued to marvel in front of the Wednesday afternoon crowd of 12,785. Coleman, in a bid for another extra-base hit, sent a long fly ball to center field with one out in the top of the sixth inning. Heist leapt high in the air to grab the ball before it could land in the ivy.
In the seventh inning, the Reds scored their third run of the game as rookie catcher Edwards, in his first big-league start, led off the inning by tagging a ball inside the foul pole in right field for his first major-league homer. After a two-out double by Elio Chacon, Jerry Lynch drove in the Reds’ fourth run with a single to center field.
The teams completed their scoring on solo home runs by repeat offenders. Altman hit his second homer of the game with one out in Chicago’s half of the seventh inning and Coleman hit his second with one out in the Reds’ eighth inning. Coleman’s blast was his 14th of the season and brought his batting average for the season to .279, a noticeable improvement since earlier in the season, when his average at one point was.234. His performance in this game brought his average for June to .323 with 6 homers and 21 RBIs in 28 games.
Hobbie’s complete-game win brought his record to 5-9. He would finish the season at 7-13. Purkey (9-4) was charged with the loss, and would finish at 16-12 for the Reds in 1961. The following season was the best of his career, when he went 23-5.
The Cubs went on to win the second game of the doubleheader, 7-2, giving the Reds their first doubleheader loss of the season. The next afternoon, the Cubs made it three in a row with a 15-8 thrashing. It gave the Cubs a 3-1 series win and brought their season’s record against the Reds to 8-4. Nevertheless, the Reds still led the National League by 2½ games and went on to win the pennant by four games over the second-place Dodgers. In the World Series, they lost to the Yankees in five games. The Cubs, who won the season series from the Reds, 12-10, found the rest of the league harder to handle and finished the season in seventh place with a 64-90 record. They were 86 games and 55 years away from the National League pennant.
The 21-year-old Santo, in his first full season (he had appeared in 95 games in 1960 after being called up on June 26), went on to appear in 154 of the 156 Cubs games (there were two ties). Over his first 11 full seasons with the Cubs, he played in at least 150 games each year. During his career, he was awarded five consecutive Gold Gloves (1964-1968) and was named to nine All-Star teams. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Altman’s 4-for-5 performance took his average to .346. In the month of June, he was spectacular, garnering player-of-the-month honors with 10 homers, 29 RBIs, and a .355 batting average. He finished the season at .303, good for 10th in the league. In 1961, Altman had a breakout year, posting career highs in doubles (28), triples (12), homers (27), and RBIs (96). He was named to the first of two consecutive All-Star teams.
Hook, who pitched the last four innings of the game for Cincinnati and yielded eight runs, would finish the season at 1-3 and spend the next season with the expansion New York Mets. He gained a degree of lasting fame when, after the Mets had lost their first nine games, he pitched them to victory on April 23 with help from two players who played with him in the game at Wrigley Field on June 28, 1961 — Elio Chacon and Gus Bell.
It was a beautiful day for baseball and the Cubs did play two but, alas, Ernie Banks was on the bench with an ailing knee. He had been out of the lineup since June 22, and did not return until June 30, missing seven games.
This article appears in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison” (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book online, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes and Baseball-Reference.com, the author used:
Smith, Lou. “Sad Day for NL Leaders as Cubs Sweep, 16-5, 7-2,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 29, 1961: 39.
Tharp, Fred. “Cuff Stuff,” Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal, June 29, 1961: 28.
United Press International. “Cubs Crush Reds Twice as Altman, Santo Star,” Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), June 29, 1961: D-1.
1 Edward Prell, “Cubs Win 16-5, 7-2: North Siders Humble Pace-Setting Reds — Blast 17 Hits in First Game,” Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1961: 6-1.
2 Robert Goldensteen (Associated Press), “Practice Makes Perfect?” Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, June 29, 1961: 18.