On this day in 1969, a short-lived but beloved tradition was born when Ron Santo clicked his heels for the first time. The Cubs were struggling and about to lose the first game of a Wrigley double-header to the expansion Montreal Expos, but rallied for four runs in the ninth, capped by a Jim Hickman walk-off two-run homer. A wild celebration ensued led by Cubs captain Ron Santo.
For the rest of the story, let’s have Ronnie tell it:
“If we had lost that game we would have been tied with, I think at that time, the Cardinals. We led the division from the get-go from the start of the season. Hickman hit a home run and when he came around I was pounding him on his head, because I was so excited and I ran down the left field line. I don’t even remember doing this, that’s how excited I was and I went up in the air and I clicked my heels one time and we go into the clubhouse and it was just wonderful. I get home, and I always turned on WGN-TV to watch the highlights. The first thing, even before the news came on, was me clicking my heels. And I said ‘I did that?’ I couldn’t believe it. The next day I come into the clubhouse and Leo comes down to me and he said, ‘Can you continue to click your heels?’ And I said ‘Well, what do you mean?’ He said, ‘After a win, if you could still do that, that would be great.’ It was so exciting that year, ‘69, the way we started off, 11-1 and the excitement and I said, ‘Well, I think so’. He didn’t realize I had a cleat cut in one of my ankles from where I had clicked my heels. From that moment on, just at home, I would go up and click my heels after a win. The fans were all waiting for me after the game to go down the left field line to our clubhouse. Then I used to take Berteau Street when I left and I’d see kids come along my car and be clicking their heels. It was fantastic. I got a card from two elderly people and each of them had a leg up on a coffee table. They had tried to click their heels and both of them broke their ankles, but they sent me a card.”
Given how superstitious Durocher was, it’s not surprising he wanted to continue anything involved in winning. The clicks would come back to haunt Santo and the Cubs at the end of the season after the Mets roared past them. His peers were not enthralled with the celebration and Santo vented on that fact at the end of ’69 to the Tribune’s George Langford. “I’m being called ‘bush’ by opposing players because of the heel click thing and I’m having to eat a lot of things I said earlier in the season. All I can say is that I’m a highly excitable person and everything I did came from the heart. I’m not apologizing for anything. What the fans say and write bothers me some, but not that much. What really bothers me is when other ballplayers say I was ‘bush’. I never said that of any ballplayer.”
Santo’s Hall of Fame case was probably hurt by the heel-clicking, especially in the years when the Veterans’ Committee was all Hall of Fame players. That’s too bad and incredibly petty. It was a memorable part of an electric summer.
* The Cubs lost the nightcap when it was called on account of darkness at 6:30p, several hours before sunset, but because it was a dark, overcast day the umpiring crew ended things.
*The Cubs played 15 double-headers in 1969.