During the summer of Woodstock, Hurricane Camille, and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, Ken Holtzman escalated to legend status in the Friendly Confines when he pitched a no-hitter against the Braves. Holtzman finished 1969 with a 17-13 record, 12 complete games, and six shutouts.
It was not, however, a turning point for the ’69 Cubs squad, which seemed destined for a World Series berth. In a 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue web site article about Holtzman’s achievement, Al Yellon clarified, “In hindsight, it was the climax of the season. The Cubs’ division lead, as big as nine games just a few days earlier, began to shrink. The team was 77-45 after that game, 32 games over .500, their high point of the season. They wouldn’t be that far over .500 again until 2008. They went 15-25 the rest of the way.”
Indeed, 1969 belonged to the Mets.
Ron Santo gave Holtzman sufficient padding with a three-run blast in the first inning—they were the only runs for the Cubs that afternoon. David Condon’s Chicago Tribune column “In the Wake of the News” captured the exhortations of Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who basked in the afterglow of Holtzman’s performance. “The grass slowed a couple of balls, I guess,” said Durocher. “It’s the same grass, tho we have all the time. It sure wasn’t as bad as the grass in San Francisco where you couldn’t blast thru it with a shotgun.
“They can’t grow grass high enough to have stopped that three-run homer by Santo. He hit the hell out of it. Had to, to get it thru the wind.”
Holtzman duplicated the feat two years later in a game against the Reds. It impacted the hurler’s bottom line—George Langford of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Holtzman, who did not strike out a batter in his gem two years ago, Fanned six tonight and after the game was presented a new contract by John Holland, the Cubs’ vice president and general manager, calling for a $1,500 raise.”
After the 1971 season, Holtzman went to Oakland, where he prospered as a keystone of the A’s dynasty that won three consecutive World Series championships (1972-1974).
Dan Epstein, author of the 2010 book Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, interviewed Holtzman for JLiving, a magazine about Jewish culture. Unpublished excerpts appear on Epstein’s web site www.bighairplasticgrass.com.
Prompted by Epstein’s query regarding which accomplishment brought the most satisfaction—three World Series rings with the A’s, two no-hitters with the Cubs, Jewish pitcher with the most career victories—Holtzman revealed, “Of the three choices given, I would say winning the three rings is tops. However, I’ve said many times my biggest thrill and accomplishment remains the first time I walked onto Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform because it validated all the hard work and sacrifices that I made to reach the big leagues. The other milestones were very satisfying but, in a sense, anti-climactic. Achieving a childhood dream is hard to surpass.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 19, 2016.
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