5 p.m. July 17--
There's nothing like the first time of being in first place--at least for 22 years.
In July, 1967 Rich Nye was the Cubs starting pitcher when the Cubs held sole posession of first place for the first time since 1945.
I was 12 years old and kept a daily Cubs scrapbook from clippings in all four Chicago newspapers. I Elmer-glued stories of the Cubs coming-out period into a loose leaf notebook. One headline actually read: "CUBS WIN--TIED FOR LEAD!" The Chicago Today newspaper even offered a blank Cubs scrapbook as a promotional item.
"I pitched against Cincinnati in the (nationally televised) 'Game of the Week'," Nye recalled while grinding down a chinchilla's teeth at a suburban veternarian office. Nye is now one of America's premiere exotic animal veternarians. Check out this great Jon Sall video of the crafty left hander at work. During our visit, Dr. Nye saw two chinchillas, an iguana and a turtle with an abscess:
"The 'Game of the Week' was the first time my folks (in Northern California) had seen me play," he said. "I don't remember the opposing pitcher. It was a 90 degree day........
"The Cardinals had lost the first game of a double header. Then we won. We went into first place by a half a game. The Cardinals won the second game of the double header and went back into first. The next day Fergie Jenkins won and the Cardinals lost. They ran the (Cubs) flag up (atop the scoreboard) and nobody left the ballpark. We celebrated in the clubhouse."
My friend Mike Murphy, the esteemed afternoon host at WSCR-AM in Chicago was there. "He's exactly right," said Murphy, an original Bleacher Bum. "That was the 'Change The Flags Game.' In 1967 all 10 teams were in one league. Five flags on the left side, first through fifth place, five flags on the right, sixth through 10th."
The Cubs were usually on the right side, but the wrong side of the standings.
"When the game ends the guy in the scoreboard takes the flags down as they still do," Murphy said. "He comes down the little ladder to get out, padlocks the scoreboard and leaves. There's only one problem. There's 40,000 people there. And the left field Bleacher Bums say, 'Wait a minute. We want to see the Cubs flag up top. They're going on the road and it may never happen again.' So we started chanting, 'CHANGE THE FLAG!' like 'THROW IT BACK' today. The whole ballpark started chanting. But the scoreboard man had left and nobody would leave the park. They finally found someone to go back up there to hoist the Cubs flag. They didn't put all 10 back up---just the Cubs flag. Everyone cheered and finally went home."
Nye played under the grizzled watch of Cubs manager Leo Durocher. "Leo the Lip" was from a different era. "There were three or four of us who had college educations," Nye said. "Joe Niekro, who was my roomate. Kenny Holtzman. Frank Reberger. BIll Stoneman, who became General Manager of the Anaheim Angels (they were all pitchers). Leo looked as us a cocky kids off the college campus. He didn't understand how to communicate with us. Baseball wasn't necessarily going to be our career in life. He was used to the guys who came off the ranks of the minor leagues. In those days the minor leagues were huge."
Nye was selected by the Cubs in the 10th round of the 1966 draft, the 840th pick overall. He was a civil engineering graduate of the University of California/Berkley with a nearly straight-A average. Leo was straight, no chaser.
I love this story written my my old friend Ray Sons in the June 1, 1967 edition of the Chicago Daily News.
Sons began, "Handsome Rich Nye, the Cubs bright new pitching star from the land of the Hippies, is a throwback to another era....22-year-old Rich is a square with sharp corners. He shaves. He wears his blond hair cropped short. He dresses with immaculate good taste. And he works hard and thinks without the aid of "acid" or banana."
A young Nye could also put his foot in his mouth. From the Aug. 28, 1967 Daily News, beat writer George Vaas spoke to Nye after beating future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver 3-1 in an important double header at Shea Stadium in New York. "It was one of the most pleasing victores I've had," Nye told Vaas. "Particulary because Tom Seaver is from the University of Southern California and I'm from California. It was like carrying on the traditional rivalry between the schools."
I bet Leo loved hearing that.
Nye played with the Cubs until December, 1969 when he was traded to St. Louis for the immortal Boots Day. Boots joined the Cubs boot hill of center fielders (Cleo James, Jimmy Qualls, Don Young and even Jim Hickman). Nye's career ended later in 1970 with Montreal when he suffered a rotator cuff injury.