41 years ago today was a triumphant Opening Day on the North Side with a special twist. The Cubs man of the hour that day was none other than later-to-be-nemesis-as-Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who scored the winning run on what was truly a walk-off win.
Tony laughed when he told me the story last year. “To me it’s a great example of what a lousy career I had. One of my highlights is that I scored the winning run for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day in my last major league appearance. That’s the kind of thing they make movies about except that highlight takes about two minutes and then what do you do for the other? I pinch-ran for Ron Santo, I didn’t get on base myself.”
To fill in a few details, a crowd of 40,273 packed Wrigley Field for Opening Day on Friday, April 6, 1973 and those that braved the chilly weather were treated to a comeback win. The Cubs trailed 2-1 going into the 9th. Neither team had scored since the first inning, but Joe Pepitone got the Cubs started in the 9th with a leadoff single. Montreal manager Gene Mauch went to a five-man infield only to see second baseman Ron Hunt make an error on a Ron Santo ground ball. Enter our hero for the day as LaRussa, who had made the club as a utility infielder, came in to run for Santo. Glenn Beckert walked to load the bases and Mauch summoned Mike Marshall from the bullpen to try and escape the jam. Marshall promptly walked Randy Hundley to force in a run and tie the game at 2, sending LaRussa to third base. Don Kessinger flied out, Jim Hickman struck out, but Rick Monday coaxed a walk and Tony trotted home with the winning run.
LaRussa remembers the day with a sense of humor. “I can remember it was really cold,” he said. “It was the bottom of the 9th and I would have had to play third base without warming up and my arm was always hurting. The whole time I’m on base I’m thinking ‘oh man if I don’t score, how am I going to get loose?’ I can’t get the ball to first base. So it got down to third base with two outs and Marshall is facing Rick Monday. I think the fans were happy when Monday walked. I was ecstatic because I didn’t have to get this ugly arm thrown’.”
So there you have it Cub fans – one reason to cheer Tony LaRussa. That’s him scoring the winning run below. For the record, it was his only appearance for the Cubs and his last appearance in the majors.