On this day in 1967, the “Lovable Losers” took their first step toward respectability on a crazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field when the crowd wouldn’t leave.
Manager Leo Durocher had taken over the Cubs the year before and declared they were not an eighth place ball club. His team promptly proved him right by finishing dead last in tenth. But 1967 was different.
The Cubs got off to a decent start, then were hotter than a firecracker at the end of June.
On July 2, they got a 3-hitter from Fergie Jenkins, who had a double, triple and RBI to beat Sammy Ellis and the Reds. Their win put them in the win column for the 13th time in 14 games and in first place that late in the season for the first time since 1945. The crowd wouldn’t budge until the grounds crew changed the center field standings flags and put the Cubs on top.
Fergie Jenkins never forgot that feeling. “One of my favorite days was in 1967 when we went into first place for the first time in quite a few seasons. The crowd stayed because I think the Cardinals were playing the Mets and the Mets ended up beating the Cardinals. I think like 40,000 people stayed here for the outcome of that game. We beat Cincinnati that afternoon and they put our W flag up. The crowd was pretty happy. It was the first time in quite a few years the Cubs had gone into first place. We couldn’t leave and we didn’t want to.”
Shortstop Don Kessinger remembered the day well. “It had been a long time since the Cubs went into first place. We had two hours trying to get out of the ballpark to go home. It was a great feeling.”
George Langford described the mayhem in the next day’s Tribune:
The Cubs scurried to their cave under the left field stands for cover, then kept creeping back to the entrance and peering out with looks of disbelief.
“They won’t leave,” Randy Hundley exclaimed. “Look at ‘em, 4O,OOO people and they won’t leave.”
But the emotionally charged throng in Wrigley field yesterday just kept roaring and chanting, “We’re No. 1.”
One by one the Cubs returned and stuck their necks through the door to gaze amazed at the bedlam brought on by the Cubs’ rise to first place. The band of urchins from the coal cellar of the National league had just barged to the top of the stairs and caused everybody in the joint to lose their grip.
Ron Santo, who was interviewed on a postgame television show, had to fight his way through the mob to the Cub quarters and when he staggered thru the dressing room door he looked like a man just off a three-day binge.
“Don’t go out there,” he warned his teammates, who wandered around almost stunned as a radio blared a description of the bedlam. “I’m lucky to get back here alive.”