Saturday, May 3, 2014

"in the friendly confines of beautiful Wrigley Field"

Joining the 500 Homerun club is hard enough, but often it seems getting from 499 to 500 can be the hardest part.  Players will often go through an extended stretch before reaching the milestone event.  That is what made Albert Pujols hitting 499 and 500 in the same game (not just the same day) all the more rare.  Sadly, the last 25 years of the homerun deluge took value away from reaching those counting number milestones.  You would think, in 2014 with at least 4 cable channels carrying games nationally weekly, that the game would be carried outside of the local markets.  However, much like when Mays or Aaron hit their 500th, coverage was as minimal as it could get.

As was pointed out in this post a few years ago, nine players hit their 500th homerun between 1960 and 1980.  During that time, many owners still saw television broadcasts as cutting into their attendance.  A few did not.  Thanks to major markets like New York and Chicago, some of these events were televised.  In the case of Ernie Banks, WGN actually preserved homeruns 498, 499 and 500.  

Ernie Banks ended the 1969 season needing three homeruns to become the 9th member of the club.  In speaking with Jack Brickhouse during Spring Training, Banks said that he'd hoped the number 500 would come on April 14th at the home opener "in the friendly confines of beautiful Wrigley Field".  Banks would be right about hitting 500 at Wrigley, but would be off by nearly a month.  

All three (498, 499, 500) came at Wrigley Field.  

The Cubs entered the 3rd inning of their April 25th game trailing the Astros 3-2.  Both Glenn Beckert and Billy Williams had reached base before Banks stepped to the plate.  Mr. Cub would hit a 'Wrigley Special' in the left-center gap off of Jim Bouton for his 498th career homerun.  In the clip, we can see the Toy Cannon Jimmy Wynn settling under this routine fly ball as it just continues to carry into the stands.  Wynn actually hurts his elbow a bit when he bangs into the door handle on the big red metal doors in the wall.  This clip is the shortest of the three.  In fact, this clip is so short that WGN used a technique that George Lucas would later use in Star Wars and played the beginning of the clip both forwards and backwards to make it appear Banks was patiently waiting on the pitch.


It would be 12 more games before Banks hit his 2nd homerun of the year. On May 9th, the Cubs were already roughing up the Reds and had run Gary Nolan from the game.  The second reliever of the day, Don Gullett would serve up number 499 to Banks.  Again pulling the ball, this time a no-doubter, Banks hits a 2-run homerun over the head of a whirling Bernie Carbo.  A special treat in this clip is the fantastic polyester team apparel worn by a member of the club's staff waiting for Banks in the dugout.  This clip starts seconds before Gullett checks the runner and delivers home.  Seen at homeplate, waiting in disgust, is soon-to-be NL MVP Johnny Bench.


While the other two clips are short, this one features the entirety of Banks' at-bat.  Made available as a bonus feature on Chicago Cubs Legends - Great Games Collector's Edition DVD, this footage begins as the fielders throw the ball out of play from the previous play. You can actually see this clip (in abbreviated form) here on's YouTube page.  While there is a longer clip, if a partial or entire broadcast existed from this game, it would have made it's way into the two Greatest/Essential games sets that MLB has released for the Cubs.  At the very least, the partial would have been sold on iTunes.  The historic blast came on May 12th against the Braves' Pat Jarvis.


These last two shots are from the pregame during the WGN broadcast of Wrigley's 100th Anniversary game.  They give you an idea of how great some of these old clips can look if the are restored and shown in high definition.


The footage of all these homeruns come from the WGN Video Archives. They were used in a WGN special titled "Memorable Moments in Chicago Sports". All three of them feature Jack Brickhouse howling his famous 'Hey, Hey' homerun call.  It is interesting to see how quickly the Ivy blooms over the span of the 12 games that separated 498 and 499.

The amount of coverage WGN gave the Cubs years before other teams committed to carrying their team's game consistently on television has saved some great moments in baseball history.  Without them and the serendipitous "snip" of the WPIX coverage of Mantle's 500th, we wouldn't have broadcast footage of any of the first eleven 500th career homeruns.

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