clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On This Day in Phillies History: The Chicago Eight and the Phillies Nine

The Chicago Eight plead not guilty to conspiracy charges forty-four years ago today. The Phillies also lost a baseball game against the Cubs. Let's think about both.

More Dick Allen and More Chicago.  KISMET.
More Dick Allen and More Chicago. KISMET.

Forty-four years ago today, on April 9, 1969, the infamous "Chicago Eight" pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to start a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Campaign. Forty-four years ago today, on April 9, 1969, the Philadelphia Phillies played a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on the North Side of Chicago. There is certainly some argument to be made that the latter occasion was of somewhat less world historical importance than the former, but we'll take a more open view of history if only for the span of this article, and consider the two instances together, as of a piece.

First, the Chicago Eight. From Wikipedia (because the bare boned facts, depoliticized as much as they can be, may serve us more here): the Chicago Eight were a group of eight men (later seven, after famous Black Party Panther co-founder Bobby Seale had his trial severed from the group) who were accused of inciting the riots that stemmed from a Grant Park protest of Lyndon Johnson and his pro-war policies in Vietnam. As protesters marched on from Grant Park -- the sole protest they were given city permission to hold -- on the International Amphitheater where the convention itself was being held (which, ed. note, was not a particularly easy walk at 6.4 miles), they were met in the streets by police who, in view of national television cameras, used physical force, tear gas, and batons to beat back the (not always passive) protesters.

At the end of five days and nights of violence -- described as a "police riot" -- and hundreds of arrests and injuries, the riots ended, though not without causing massive unrest due to police violence, upheaval in the American left, and the wide-ranging challenge to and presence of the national media. As a result of the widely influential nature of the '68 DNC, a Federal Grand Jury was convened to determine what if any criminal charges should be handed down, and upon whom. Despite then-President Johnson's insistence that none of the protesters face criminal charges due to the involvement of the police in the origins of the violence itself, charges were handed down once Richard Nixon took office: eight police officers were charged with civil rights violations (and they will drop out of our story at this point), and eight protesters -- including the infamous Abbie Hoffman -- were charged with a variety of crimes, including committing conspiracy to cross state lines to induce a riot and providing instruction on how to use incendiary devices. These charges were handed down on March 20, 1969, and were officially contested by the defendants on April 9.

That very same day, the Phillies visited the scarred city itself, Chicago, which had -- if only for a moment -- become the center for the unrest surrounding the Vietnam War, and the world-wide revolutionary (if ultimately abortive) youth foment that was May, 1968 (perhaps more on that in another installment). The Phillies were not great in 1969. They finished 63-99, good for fifth in the NL East that year, ahead of only the lowly Montreal Expos (52-110). The Miracle Mets finished first that year, famously going from winning no more than 73 games in any season since their creation in 1962 (a year they set the record for major league losses with 120) to a 100-62 record that would eventually propel them to a World Series victory. The Cubs, who the Phillies would play on the April day in 1969, were second only to the Mets in the NL East that year, suffering a late season collapse (9-21 through September and October, with an eight game losing streak) that would doom them to irrelevancy at 92-70.

They were good enough for the Phillies on April 9th, however, as they got to starting pitcher Rick Wise for 4 runs (2 earned) off 8 hits, 4 walks, and 2 strikeouts. Wise would actually go on to have a nice year for the Fightin's, as he went 15-13 over 220 innings with a 3.23 ERA, a 3.06 FIP, and a positively dead ball-ian K:BB of 144:61 (side note: Kyle Kendrick was born 30-40 years too late). Wise garnered no votes for the Cy Young award that year, but he did pitch 7 complete games, one of which was a shutout. Less stellar on April 9 were his bullpen mates, the immortals Gary Wagner (1.1 innings, 4 earned runs, 5 hits), Luis Peraza (.2 innings, 2 earned runs, 3 hits, 1 strikeout), and Bill Wilson (1 inning, 0 earned runs (!!), and 1 strikeout). Of these three relievers, none would earn a positive WAR, though Wilson and Wagner would each earn 6 saves, and Luis Peraza would only pitch 9 innings that year, and for the rest of his major league career. Little surprise that they were batted around as they were by a talented Cubs lineup including future Hall-of-Famers and statues that I see when I go to work: left-fielder Billy Williams (4-for-4, all doubles, with a walk, and 2 RBI), third baseman Ron Santo (1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI), and first baseman Ernie Banks (3-for-5 with an RBI).

For the Phillies, there were relative luminaries hitting, though they were more Ron Santo than Billy Williams for the day. Third baseman Tony Taylor did go 2-for-4, but first baseman Dick Allen could only muster one hit -- a double -- in four at bats,while second baseman Cookie Rojas and left-fielder Johnnie Callison went hitless in four at bats each. The best performance of the night came from left fielder Ron Stone, who I have never heard of and who is almost certainly a secret nickname near-anagram for Ron Santo. Stone spent five years in the bigs, with the Kansas City Athletics and the Phillies, earning -2.3 fWAR over 925 plate appearances spread across 388 games. He had fine peripherals -- a 10.9% career walk rate and a 13.2% career strikeout rate -- but he just couldn't hit very well, earning a career 241/326/318 slash. Drag. Wikipedia has little to add, simply naming him as an outfielder born in the 1940's, which is considerably more, I will say, than Wikipedia has to say about me. He also went 2-for-4 with a triple -- one of a career eight -- and an RBI off of Cubs starter Bill Hands, which on that day, was no small feat. So may he live in immortality for this one performance on this blog post.

Bill Hands, who I had also never heard of, was actually a very solid starter for the Cubs not just on April 9th, but for the whole season. He would pitch 11 seasons from 1965-1975, seven of those with the Cubs, and he would be valuable through most of them, garnering 35 career fWAR. 1969 and 1970, if we credit fWAR, were his masterpieces, as he earned 7.5 and 7.3 fWAR respectively. To put this in context, Justin Verlander was worth the most fWAR of pitchers in 2012 at 7.0; Hands was damn good. In 1969, he put up a 2.49 ERA and 3.00 FIP in 300 innings, going 20-14. He also got no love in Cy Young voting, but did hurl 18 complete games and 3 shutouts. One of those complete games was on April 9th, as he went nine innings (natch), giving up three runs (one earned) with six strikeouts and no walks. The Cubs had three errors on the night and he still did this. Hands is still alive and was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, so, at 73 years young, I feel he could be a fantastic fit with the current Phillies.

In the end, this was a fairly close game (2-to-4 Cubs in the bottom of the fourth) that became a laugher after a seven run bottom of the seventh. The outcome of the game generally suggested a trend for both teams, as the Phils would sink ever further from the brief Whiz Kids heyday of Richie Ashburn, and trend ever nearer towards the Schmidtian-Carltonian golden age of the late 70's and early 80's. It is tempting then to suggest two lines of connection with the Chicago Eight: one that Chicago needed a win to cement its healing after the trauma of the riots was seemingly closing in upon its own conclusion; and two that, just as the Cubs and Phillies would redeem the early promises of their 2-0 and 0-2 respective starts, the political turn to conservatism that required the official defence of Hoffman and Company and the election of Nixon would soon bear itself out through a Reaganite resurgence further down the road.

Neither of these readings is quite right. The long haul of a baseball season is frankly not conducive to metaphorical readings in its particularity. To ask a question with an obvious answer, which means more -- that the Cubs throttled the Phillies on April 9th, or that they choked in 1969? Obviously the part cannot displace the whole. But the second reading is wrong in a different way, in that it reads as total a very complicated history. It is true, of course, that the defendants were found not guilty and not sentenced to jail time, and that Nixon was humiliated in the Watergate scandal just four years later, so maybe the conservative trend is overstated. But it is also true that Reagan and Bush and Thatcher -- for better or for worse -- happened, and that we might read a kind of trend in the social shifts inherent in the indictment of the Chicago Eight. And if we do, how do we understand it in terms of baseball?

Maybe not at all. Maybe it's just too wide a gulf between the particular and the general. But hear this: forty-four years ago, the Chicago Eight pleaded not guilty to the indictment of crossing state lines to incite a riot against American engagement in Vietnam, and the Phillies were drubbed 11-3 by the Chicago Cubs. We might describe both as tumultuous, pessimistic, and a simultaneous rise and wane of versions of power -- in American politics, and in the National League. If folks are interested, I'd like to do more of these more often, but even if not, here's what I already know: I feel more about both instances, about the people in them, because of this uncomfortable conflation of these illegible moments. And I hope that maybe you feel the same, because that, my friends, is valuable.