Cubs, 1977

October 2, 2007
I will not be good for much for the next few days, or next couple weeks, or next month, depending on how far the Boston Red Sox can advance in the playoffs (or, taken from a darker angle, how physically and mentally debilitating a premature exit by the Boston Red Sox might prove to be). Starting tomorrow, Cardboard Gods will begin serving as Baseball Toaster’s headquarters for Open Game Thread chatter for each of the Red Sox games versus the California Angels. While I may be able to enhance that coverage with some stray memories about the past, I doubt I’ll be launching any wrenching multipart excursions into the wistful days of yore anytime soon. It’s the playoffs, and my concentration is already a little spotty. My primary goal for October is to not get hit by a bus.  

Anyway, I wanted to kick off the playoff coverage here at Cardboard Gods by mentioning the team that has the potential to be the biggest story of October 2007. As all baseball fans know, the Cubs have not won a World Series in 99 years, a drought that has gained some added sting in recent years with the long-awaited World Series wins of the Red Sox and, worse, the Cubs’ crosstown rivals, the White Sox. For many years the Red Sox, White Sox, and Cubs sat together at the loser table at lunch, duct tape on their glasses, acne on their faces, making each other snicker joylessly by spelling out “boobs” and “hELL” on their calculators as the cool guys sat at the Champions table with all the pretty girls. Now the Cubs are all alone at the loser table, nothing to keep them company but their stale peanut butter sandwich and their disappointing memories. As Merle Haggard might have put if he was a Cubs fan: “The only things I can count on now are my failures.”   

The Cubs had many years when they didn’t even sniff the playoffs, which in some ways is a less painful fate than getting so close you can taste it and then caving (if you don’t believe me, just ask a Mets fan or a Padres fan today how they’re feeling and then compare the response to the feelings of a Baltimore Oriole fan who long ago turned his attention to building a ship in a bottle or porn or whatever one does when not obsessed with baseball). But there have been some awful Cubs moments, especially in recent years. Before the hideous 2003 playoff collapse and the 2004 end-of-season el foldo there were playoff disappointments in 1998, 1989, and, most painfully, 1984, as well as a monumental implosion in 1969 that turned a mid-August World Smashing 9-game lead into a pitifully meek 8-game deficit by the end of the season. 

Eight years after the 1969 flop, the Cubs authored another lesser-known season of disillusionment. In 1977, the heads pictured in the card above combined with their unpictured necks, torsos, limbs, and other below-the-jaw bodily parts to race to a first-half lead in their division that grew as large as 8.5 games by June 28. They went 34-59 the rest of the way, however, finishing 20 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. They say that when you get beheaded you are aware of what’s going on for a few seconds. You remember that you were once whole and realize that you are no longer. I wonder if that feeling is anything like being 20 games out of the money by season’s end, dead as a doornail, and thinking back for one brief second before the final out of the year, remembering how sweet life was in the middle of summer.


  1. 1.  Who’s the old guy in the middle of the second row from the top? He doesn’t look too happy about his decapitation.

  2. 2.  Also, the Cubs, White Sox, and Red Sox were all in first place as late as August 6 that year.

  3. 3.  1 : I wondered about that guy, too. Is it a 100-year-old Bob Hope? Similarly, is that a young John Candy on the top row, second guy in?

    2 : I remember the Red Sox of ’77 of course and also have vivid memories of a midsummer Sports Illustrated article on the ’77 White Sox.

  4. 4.  3 John Candy = Rick Reuschel, if I’m not mistaken….

  5. 5.  Being a lifelong A’s fan, I will be rooting right along with you against the Angels. I would love it if the Red Sox crushed and humiliated them.

  6. 6.  4 : Yes, that sounds right. It’s nice that Topps put Rick’s head just above his bespectacled brother Paul’s head.

  7. 7.  6 I didn’t notice Paul right below Brother Rick. I was too busy counting moustaches….

  8. 8.  !5318008

  9. 9.  I believe the mysterious older man is one of two coaches: Barney Schultz or Peanuts Lowery.

    I think it’s the latter.

  10. 10.  The team is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I know, it’s silly. But they haven’t been California for a while now; Disney owned them before changing the name to Anaheim.

  11. 11.  That is one weird looking card. Its also the team that lost the first major league game that I attended, on August 29, 1977, two days after my brother’s birth. That would have been well into the Cubs late summer swoon of 77, and they sure didn’t look like much to the eyes of this 6 year old first time fan. I signed my lifetime contract to root for the Dodgers that night. I’m sure that finishing 20 games back was no fun for the Cubs, or my dad, a Cub fan. It was probably a heck of a lot easier to take than what Reggie did to us 2 months later. 77 was tough all over.

  12. 12.  10 : I mean no disrespect in how I referred to the Angels above, and I really did deliberate for a while (or for a few seconds anyway) over how to refer to them, but ultimately I just found myself unable to use their current geographical identifier. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if they were still calling themselves the Anaheim Angels, but the new name just rubs me the wrong way in a “real estate development-y” kind of way. Anyway, I decided since that this site is not just rooted in the 1970s but exists almost entirely in the 1970s I’m just going to use the old Nolan Ryan era name. Again, no disrespect, more a tribute to the Angels of a former era.

  13. 13.  They’re the @~%&& California Angels. And we shall whup them.

    Go Sox.

  14. 14.  Robert Olen Butler wrote a short story collection last year called Severance. He found out that (a) consciousness is said to persist for a minute and a half after decapitation, and (b) an agitated person can talk at a rate of 160 words per minute. So all the stories are written from the point of view of a just-decapitated head, and are exactly 240 words long.

    I could be wrong on any or all of these, but here goes. I think that’s Manny Trillo at the top left; yes, Reuschel next to him; Steve Stone two to the right. Maybe Steve Swisher at the left end of the middle row? And the four on the right end of that row might be Larry Biitner, Mick Kelleher, Chump Summers and Pete LaCock. Bottom row has Jose Cardenal at the left; Jerry Morales third in, Bill Madlock next to him, and Randy Hundley at the right end.

    Google Images is a wonderful thing. I’m still trying.

  15. 15.  BTW, that may be the single creepiest baseball card I’ve ever seen. Not only are the decapitated, but they appear to be mounted – perhaps on a dormitory wall, given that beige background.

  16. 16.  I am forced to recall former Cub Rogers Hornsby, when asked what he did after baseball season was over: look out the window and wait for spring.

    But not for us, boyo. I don’t have the furious need I had in 2007, but I still want this one pretty bad. Let’s go Sox!

  17. 17.  The Angels have had four different location designations without ever moving. That’s got to be worth something in the trivia department.

    I am rooting for a fifth– the Orange County Angels of Los Angeles and Anaheim.

  18. 18.  sorry were you saying something?

    i am not interested in baseball anymore.

    in the words of nat hentoff, “i am interested in something else…”

  19. 19.  This marketing gambit by the Angels – co-opting the name of a larger market while retaining their local identity – could be picked up by other teams as well. Why not have the Mexico City Pirates of Pittsburgh, or the Tokyo Royals of Kansas City?

  20. 20.  I watched a lot of Cubs games that season. I fell in love with them that year, despite how terrible they were.

  21. 21.  Well Josh, now that you live in Chicago, you should know that an easy way to strike up a conversation with another baseball fan your age is to mention either the 77 Cubs or the 77 White Sox. They both started extremely and well and then fell apart in August and September, the Cubs more drastically than the Sox. But for both teams, it was the only real whiff of competition amid long stretches of mediocrity. Fittingly, the 1977 cards for both teams are both aberrations too, between the floating-head Cubs and the White Sox wearing shorts.

    Also, look at Ernie Banks (by then a coach) on the bottom left. It sure seems that Topps just transposed the head from one of Ernie’s old cards rather than a recent photo. That, or Ernie magically grew younger-looking over the course of the previous decade.

  22. 22.  21 : I’ve heard the summer of ’77 brought up from time to time this summer, what with both teams looking strong. The White Sox scare me.

  23. 23.  You must do a feature on the Reuschel big league brothers card – one that had other brothers all over America rolling on the floor with glee. Two huge whales with ‘taches, chrystal blue drano pin-striped polyesther double knits, birth control glasses, and a retarded 70’s Boomer-style hittin’ helmet on a pitcher(?). Also as noted earlier taken on the road at that favorite Topps pose spot at Shea.

    Or Pete LaCock: the always fascinating tidbit that he was Peter Marshall’s son featured every year on his Topps card. What could be more 70’s? How jealous were we all? Why was his name not Marshall?

    I saw a great game Monday afternoon in June at Wrigley in 1987 where Rick Reuschel started for the Pirates against Jamie Moyer when he was a toddler. It was an afternoon game and Keith Moreland won it with a walk-off. There was a good crowd and the Cubs had been in first or second for 6 weeks – they finished last with yet another hideous sept/oct. Wrigleyville was not fully gentrified but on its way.

  24. 24.  23 Peter Marshall is a stage name for Ralph Pierre LaCock, which is also Pete’s full name, with a Junior, I suppose.

    Didn’t Topps make floating-heads Cubs (and only Cubs) team cards for several years? I remember the 1971 card:

  25. Oh, man, the commentary in this string is absolutely hilarious. I laughed out loud for 30 minutes! Good stuff. The Reuschel brothers, the mustaches, the floating heads . . . all great stuff. I watched these Cubbies in IL during that season. It is a great part of my childhood.

  26. Does anyone know why Topps did the floating head Cubs team cards? Did the Cubs have a thing against team photos?

  27. “You must do a feature on the Reuschel big league brothers card – one that had other brothers all over America rolling on the floor with glee”

    Read the Book…

  28. I still remember Jose Cardenal’s hair. Anybody know who the other player is with the matching hairstyle? Too bad they left Jack Brickhouse off this card. He could have been placed near the Reuschel bros. I watched a lot of afternoon games in the summer on WGN-before it was a superstation. Thanks for the memories Josh, I’m enjoying your book. Just finished the Wilbur Wood piece. I think Jim Kaat was in the rotation with Wilbur. Have you met any new born babies named Wilbur lately? Keep the laughs coming.

  29. “I still remember Jose Cardenal’s hair. Anybody know who the other player is with the matching hairstyle?”

    Dave Rosello, maybe?

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