This article was written by John Bauer
When the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers met on June 9, 1963, at Wrigley Field, the game provided a matchup of early-season league leaders. After winning the first two games of a three-game series, Los Angeles occupied the top spot in the NL standings, mere percentage points ahead of the Cardinals. Despite the first-place standing, manager Walter Alston saw room for improvement, saying, “It’s good to be up there, but I’m still not satisfied with the way we have played so far. We’ve goofed up too much and haven’t hit consistently.”1 The Cubs, after a miserable 1962 season, found themselves among the early leaders, tied with the Giants just one game back. General manager John Holland claimed that he had predicted the Cubs would become a first-division team, but he added, “I’m not going to say yet that we’ll win the pennant. I’d like to, but I just can’t.”2 The Cubs’ turnaround was attributed to improved pitching and fielding,3but Holland also extended praise to manager Bob Kennedy. About his skipper, Holland said, “Kennedy gives the players leadership and confidence. I don’t know how he does it, but they’re a different ball club with him.”4 Cubs partisans were taking notice, too. Over 35,000 packed Wrigley Field for the Sunday-afternoon tilt, giving the Cubs their largest gate since a July 4, 1960, doubleheader with San Francisco.5
Based on the mound matchup, a pitchers’ duel seemed a likely outcome. Starters Sandy Koufax and Dick Ellsworth sported 8-3 records and their respective ERAs of 1.45 and 1.51 led the NL. Events proved otherwise. Portending the hits to come, Maury Wills led off the game with a single to center off Ellsworth. With Jim Gilliam at the plate, Wills took off for second and claimed his 14th stolen base of the season; he claimed third base, too, when catcher Dick Bertell’s low throw missed its mark. Gilliam lofted a fly to left fielder Billy Williams, allowing Wills to complete his trip around the bases for the first run of the game. Ellsworth settled down, giving up only a Tommy Davis single before getting out the inning. In the Cubs first, Koufax looked like Koufax, striking out Lou Brock and Ken Hubbs to start. He walked Williams, but Ron Santo’s fly ball to center fielder Ron Fairly ended the frame. Koufax provided some offense in the top of the second. With two on and one out, he singled to right field as the ball got past Brock “as he tried for the shoestring catch.”6 The hit scored Bill Skrowron, and John Roseboro also crossed the plate when Ellsworth was charged with an error for failing to cut off Brock’s throw. Roseboro’s run made the score 3-0.
Ernie Banks led off the bottom of the second with a line-drive home run into the left-field bleachers. Banks’s effort seemed like an anomaly when Koufax struck out Nelson Mathews and Bertell after Andre Rodgers grounded out to keep the score at 3-1. In the top of the third, Tommy Davis got back that run when he lofted Ellsworth’s pitch over the left-center-field wall for his fifth home run of the campaign. In turn, the Cubs cut into the Dodgers’ lead in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Rodgers and Mathews.
Koufax took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth, but the inning proved to be good for the home team. The inning started well enough when Koufax fanned Ellsworth for his sixth strikeout of the game. Brock drove the ball into left field for a double, and he might have scored on Hubbs’s single but Tommy Davis nailed Brock at the plate. With Hubbs taking second on the throw, Williams lined the ball to the right-center-field wall for a run-scoring double.7 With the Cubs within one run, Alston emerged from the dugout to talk with Koufax. After taking the first pitch, Santo powered the next pitch high into the left-field bleachers, giving the Cubs the lead, 5-4. Koufax’s day ended after Banks hit a first-pitch blast onto the left-field catwalk. With his ace now trailing 6-4, Alston called for Ed Roebuck. The Dodgers reliever found the elusive third out when Rodgers grounded to Dick Tracewski.
In the Dodgers’ sixth, it was Ellsworth’s turn to be chased from the game. Tommy Davis opened the inning with a liner to right field for a single. Right fielder Altman was unable to reel in Howard’s fly ball, which fell for a single. Ellsworth loaded the bases with none out when he walked Skowron, but steadied himself to strike out Roseboro. Tracewski tapped the ball back to Ellsworth, who, while getting the force at home, “might have turned it into a side-retiring double play with a quicker toss.”8 Likely not wanting to lose the scoring opportunity, Alston brought in Lee Walls to hit for Roebuck. When Ellsworth’s first two pitches were wide of the plate, Kennedy opted for a change of his own.9 Don Elston assumed pitching duties in mid-batter, but could not avoid allowing the walk; Walls trotted to first base while Howard crossed the plate. The walk pulled the Dodgers within a run, and the Dodgers took back the lead when Wills rapped a pitch into left-center field for a bases-clearing double and an 8-6 Dodgers lead. After missing 11 games, Wills had been rolling since rejoining the club on June 4 in Houston; an 11-for-22 run would see his batting average rise from .252 to .290. Elston finally got the third out when Gilliam lined out to Banks.
The Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the sixth, but that did not prevent the inning from being eventful. Larry Sherry assumed pitching duties for the Dodgers. Mathews hit a grounder back to Sherry for the first out, and Bertell followed with a single. Kennedy sent Bob Will up to hit for Elston. Will launched a fly ball toward the right-field fence. As Howard positioned himself to make the catch, a fan greeted him with a shower of peanuts to the face. The ball dropped for a single that would be the 202nd and final hit of Will’s major-league career.10 Expecting Howard to make the catch, Bertell had held up and only advanced to second. The Dodgers believed Wills passed Bertell on the basepath, leading to an argument during which umpire Shag Crawford tossed the Dodgers’ Walls. After all the drama, the Cubs stranded Bertell and Will, and the game remained 8-6, Dodgers.
Los Angeles added insurance runs against Cubs pitcher Lindy McDaniel in the seventh. Fairly and Tommy Davis both singled to right field. With runners at the corners, Howard’s line drive to left field scored Fairly. On the throw, Williams nailed Tommy Davis at third base for the first out. Willie Davis, who had taken Skowron’s spot in the batting order in the sixth, made it four Dodgers singles in a row with a shot to center field. Davis had made it to second base (and Howard to third) when Hubbs did not take the relay for which he would be charged an error. The hit parade ended only because Roseboro was intentionally walked to load the bases. With Wally Moon batting for Tracewski, McDaniel prolonged his personal misery with a wild pitch to score Howard. McDaniel’s ball-four pitch to Moon hit home plate for another wild pitch and another Dodgers run as Willie Davis scored from third. After Bertell gunned down Moon at second base on an attempted steal, Kennedy made the switch to Cal Koonce with Sherry coming to the plate. Koonce struck out Sherry for the third out.
Behind 11-6, the Cubs could not dent the Dodgers’ lead in the seventh or eighth. Chicago scored twice in the ninth when, with Williams on first base, Banks blasted Sherry’s first pitch over the catwalk screen in left field. It was a case of “too little, too late” as Los Angeles won, 11-8. While Banks’s ninth-inning home run did not affect the result, it was his third of the game. Banks now had five home runs and nine RBIs in the last week, a run of success he credited to his wife’s eye doctor. According to Banks, Dr. Morris Fridell told Banks after Mrs. Banks’s recent appointment that he had been taking his eye off the ball.11 On this day, Banks had no problem seeing the ball but he could not prevent the Dodgers from sweeping the Cubs.
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, the author also consulted baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 Frank Finch, “Wills’ Hitting Sparks Dodgers, 9-5,” Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1963: D-1.
2 “Holland Called Shot on Rise of 1963 Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1963: 2-3.
3 Edward Prell, “35,743 Watch Series Sweep by L.A., 11-8,” Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1963: 3-1.
4 “Holland Called Shot.”
6 Prell: 3-2.
10 Will played his last major-league game on June 12 against San Francisco. He finished the year in Salt Lake City.
11 Jerome Holtzman, “Banks’ Batting Binge Gives Bruins Exactly What Doc Ordered,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1963: 6.