So I was walking about of a bar the other night and someone said, “Hey, are you a Cubs fan?” I didn’t really register the comment, and certainly I didn’t think it was directed at me. They someone said, even louder and pointedly in my direction, “HEY, are you a Cubs fan?” That’s when I remembered that I was wearing my Cubs Spring Training on Catalina Island T-shirt that daughter #2 bought for me. (“I sent my kid to archaeology camp and all I got was this t-shirt.”) It’s not your usual glaringly cubby team sort of shirt, this guy obviously had a different sort of interest in my being a Cubs fan.
Me: Well I used to be, but now I’ve been down here longer than I lived up there so my loyalties have shifted.
He: Don’t give up on them.
Me: Oh, it’s not that I gave up on them. Besides, years of being a Cubs fan have prepared me for being an Astros fan.
He: Yeah, I played for the Cubs…
Me: REALLY?!?! When?
He: ’69 – were you around then?
Me: Oh yeah….what is your name? (Mind starting to spin, accessing 10-year-old me’s memory banks)
He: Bill Heath.
Me: (Drawing a total blank) That’s really cool. Nice to meet you.
Walking away, thinking I could have had a better conversation there, after all, those were the years of MY Cubs…
Husband: That was pretty cool – ’69, wasn’t that the year of the Mets?
Me: Yup, greatest meltdown in baseball history. I have a book about the ’69 Cubs. I’ll be looking up Bill Heath when I get home.
So my book is called The Cubs of ’69: Recollections of the Team That Should Have Been by Rick Talley. The pain of that season, fortunately, hasn’t stuck with me, but the players from that team are etched in my memory as my baseball heroes. They are the boys of summer who made me fall in love with the game. And, sure enough, there is a page about Bill Heath. Heath was a reserve catcher, he played four years of major league ball for four different teams, left baseball and has had a very successful career in financial planning, settling in the Houston area. He got some playing time in ’69 when one of my heroes, Randy Hundley was injured and Heath’s season highlight was catching (most of) Kenny Holtzman’s no-hitter. It was also the last game of his major league career when he broke his finger in the seventh inning and had to be taken out of the game.
The book came out in 1989. The last comment about the season and the team by Bill Heath is:
I know I wasn’t there long, but I would love to see those guys again, all of them. But they never invite the rinky-dinks to Old-Timers Games or fantasy camps. I’d just like to see them, not to get back on the field, just to see the guys.
So my heroes must have made a lasting impression on Heath, too.
If I run into Bill Heath again, I’m going to buy him a beer or two if he’ll share some stories with me. I’ll even let him borrow my book.