Summer of ’77: A Crosstown World Series lost to destiny

By Paul Sullivan
Tribune News Service

CHICAGO — The Cubs and White Sox gather together later this week for the 20th annual City Series, one of the few interleague matchups that always seems to live up to the hype.

But as we dream of a World Series between the two crosstown rivals, it’s important to remember there once was a time when that dream seemed like a done deal.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen.

The dream began in earnest 40 years ago this week, during the memorable summer of 1977, fueled by a wild weekend of some of the craziest baseball imaginable.

It started on July 28 on a windy afternoon at Wrigley Field where the first-place Cubs beat Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” 16-15 in 13 innings in a game that lasted nearly five hours and included 11 home runs.

The front page headline of the next day’s Tribune read: “Visions of a Cub pennant dance in their heads,” and reporter Daniel Egler’s story began: “It may have been the game that clinched the National League pennant for the Chicago Cubs — at least to the people in Ray’s Bleacher.”

Your 1977 Chicago Cubs

The Cubs trailed 6-0 in the bottom of the first, led 7-6 after two, trailed 10-8 after 3, and led 11-10 after four. They trailed 14-10 in the eighth, but tied it again the ninth and again at 15-15 in the 12th on George Mitterwald’s home run, sending Jack Brickhouse into ecstasy.

Manager Herman Franks, who was ejected in the ninth, used outfielders Jose Cardenal and Bobby Murcer at second base when he ran out of position players, switching Murcer switched back and forth between short and second, depending on whether the batter was left- or right-handed.

Davey Rosello’s RBI single in the 13th finally ended it, and portly Rick Reuschel, the Cubs’ ace, won it in relief.

“Sometimes you guys underestimate us fatties,” Frank said afterwards.

Mitterwald called it “the greatest game I ever saw,” and for many it remains so.

The next day it was the White Sox’s turn to prove they were for real. With a season-high crowd of 45,919 at old Comiskey Park, announcer Harry Caray began leading fans in singing from the booth and organist Nancy Faust began playing “Na, Na, Hey, Hey” when an opposing pitcher was knocked out. The Sox scored four in the seventh to beat the Royals.

“It was the most exciting game in the history of baseball, since yesterday at Wrigley Field,” third baseman Eric Soderholm said afterward.

“And the game wasn’t even the whole show.”

The big collars were back for the Sox in ’77; thankfully, the shorts were left in ’76.

The Sox had been dubbed the “South Side Hit Men,” and Comiskey was a mad house of drinking and brawling in the stands.

“It’s like the Christians and lions all over again,” Richie Zisk said after the game. “I don’t know whether the crowd comes here to watch us, or we come here to watch them. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.”

On the final day of the series, a doubleheader on July 31, the Sox came from behind to tie the first game 2-2 in the ninth, then scored three in the ninth to win 5-4.

A crowd of 50,412 turned up to watch, drink and, of course, fight. Owner Bill Veeck jumped into the middle of one fight in the stands in Game 2 when he saw administrative assistant Charlie Evranian get jumped by fans outside the press box.

“I had to go out there, or they’d have killed Charlie,” Veeck said. “It’s a hot day, but all I’ve had is 10 glasses of iced tea.”

After getting the split, the Royals called the Sox “bush league” for taking curtain calls after home runs, which was considered over-the-top back in the day.

“It makes the game a sideshow,” DH Hal McRae said. “And those fans are just making clowns of their players with all that jazz.”

The good times seemed like they’d last forever.

But the Cubs and Sox both faltered in the second half and fell out of contention. The dream was just another mirage.

They finally ended their respective World Series droughts in the 21st century, but we’re still waiting for that Crosstown World Series.

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