On This Date in Sports September 9, 1969: The Black Cat Game

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Mets close to within a half-game of first place with a 7-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. The Mets had trailed by as much as ten games on August 13th. Since that they the Mets had a record of 20-6, while the Cubs were 10-15. Already unnerved the Cubs were further shaken by a tiny black cat that paced their dugout and went into the clubhouse.

Baseball Players tend to be a superstitious lot. From the game bat to a luck jockstrap, they don’t like anything that could shake up the norm or bring bad luck. Going back to medieval days, Black Cats were considered bad luck. According to folklore, Black Cats were used as spies for Witches and Demons. It was believed that if a Black Cat walked away, you would receive good fortune, while if a Black Cat walked in your path, you were said to be doomed. One could forgive the Cubs for being a little shook by curses and black cats, as they had not been to a World Series since 1945 and had not won one since 1908. The team was said to have been cursed by a man with a goat during the 1945 World Series. So a black cat seemed to follow in this belief of curses and jinxes.

The 1969 season was the summer of the Chicago Cubs, as they began the season with a walk-off home run by Willie Smith beating the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5 in 11 innings, making a winner of “The Vulture” Phil Regan. From there the Cubs managed by Leo Durocher won 11 of 12 games and were in first place every day of the season as they held a record of 74-43 on August 13th. The Cubs began showing some cracks in the dog days of August, dropping seven of ten.

The New York Mets had never finished higher than ninth, before 1969 and appeared to be destined for more losing when they lost on opening day at home to the expansion Montreal Expos. Managed by Gil Hodges, the Mets hovered near .500 over the first two months but began turning things around as May turned into June as they embarked on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak. The Mets first served notice to the Cubs when they won two-of-three in a July series best remembered for a ninth-inning comeback against Cubs ace Ferguson Jenkins and a new Perfect Game by Tom Seaver.

As September began the Mets and Cubs were heading in opposite directions, as the Mets who had trailed by ten games on August 13th were closing fast when they faced the Cubs again at Shea Stadium in a brief two-game series. Coming into the series the Cubs were on a four-game losing streak having just been swept over the weekend by the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. The Cubs held a two and a half-game led when the series began. In the opener, the Mets won 3-2 as Tommie Agee beat the tag on Randy Hundley at the plate in the sixth inning, making a winner of Jerry Koosman, while Bill Hands suffered the loss for Chicago.

The following day would bring 51,448 to Shea Stadium, as the Mets now had a city of believers. With Tom Seaver facing Ferguson Jenkins the Mets took an early 2-0 lead on a double by Ken Boswell. The Mets added two more runs in the third on a home run by Donn Clendenon. Feeling the heat of the Mets, the Cubs watched in horror as a Black Cat came out of nowhere and circled Ron Santo in the on-deck circle in the fourth inning and paced the clubhouse. Members of the Cubs tried to shoe away from the black cat but were afraid to approach it, before it decided to take off down into the Cubs’ Clubhouse area. Santo would single and score, but the Mets answered on a sac-fly by Wayne Garrett. In the fifth, they got a home run by Art Shamsky and an RBI double by Jerry Grote in the seventh to win the game 7-1 trimming the Cubs lead to a half-game. The game would become known as “The Black Cat Game” as it symbolized the Mets officially catching the Cubs.

The following day the Mets swept a doubleheader from the Expos, while the Cubs suffered a 6-2 loss in Philadelphia. This enabled the Mets to move into first place for the first time in franchise history. The Mets would remain in first the rest of the season, winning 38 of their last 49 games as they beat the Cubs by eight games to win the Eastern Division in the National League with a record of 100-62. The Cubs, who led most of the season, by contrast, won just eight games in September, as the black cat did indeed bring bad luck.