Cubs Alumni Spotlight with Randy Hundley
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This week, Cubs catcher Randy Hundley (1966-73, 1976-77) joins to chat about the 1969 Cubs, catching Milt Pappas’ near perfect game, advice for Willson Contreras and more.
Q: Thanks for joining us, Randy. You were a part of a memorable era of Cubs baseball, highlighted by the 1969 Cubs team. What stands out about that era of Cubs baseball for you and what did it mean to you to be a part of those teams?
Randy Hundley: Well, I certainly recall the first couple of years, we did not play that well, which was frustrating to say the least. But we eventually got things together and of course 1969 was a special season for us. Very frustrating that we ended up not being close to the top at the end of the season, but it was an exceptional season for the players, fans, the office people in the organization. It was just a special time for all of us.
Q: You began your career with the Giants, and then you were traded to Chicago following the 1965 season. What was your reaction to being traded to the Cubs and how were your first few years in Chicago?
RH: I was with San Francisco before I was traded, and at the end of the 1965 season I had asked to be traded, saying either play me, trade me or release me. So, they traded me to the Cubs and I was excited about being traded here. Needless to say in Spring Training we had a great time, and thought we had a great ballclub, but we just did not win many ball games that season.
There were a lot of changes being made in the organization and a lot of trades made for various players, and we had a very veteran pitching staff at the time. But, we just didn’t play as well as we thought we would, and then the following year was the same. So those were frustrating times, but then in ‘69 we started the season with Willie Smith hitting a walk-off pinch-hit home run vs. Philadelphia and we went on to start 11-1 and it was the beginning of a tremendous season for all of us.
Q: What made the 1969 team different than the previous years?
RH: We just all came together at the beginning of the season. Willie Smith’s pinch-hit home run was very exciting and we continued that for quite a period of time. It wasn’t anything in particular that anyone did or said. We just played well and things started going our way … well, I say go our way until about August and then things started happening with playing bad baseball and losing games. But it was still an outstanding season.
Q: What did it mean to you to be in the starting lineup every day, especially at such a physically demanding position?
RH: I loved playing. I just wanted to be in the lineup, I think in 1968 I caught 160 ball games. My son Todd has finally convinced me as we’ve talked about it that that was an awful lot of games to catch in a season, and I do think it did wear me out. I’d hit a ball as far as I could, and the outfielder would come in to catch the ball, when earlier in the season I was hitting the balls out of the ballpark. It was frustrating to say the least.
I remember a doubleheader in St. Louis in 1969. I think we had lost the first game and my locker was in front of Leo Durocher’s and I was sitting there just exhausted from the heat and Leo pokes his head out of the door and tells me to come to his office. So, I walk in and he asks how I feel. And I say, “Skip, look at me, how do you think I feel?”. He says, “Well, I need you to catch this next game.” And I say, “Skip I’ll be glad to catch it, but I don’t want you getting on me if you think I’m not hustling or giving it everything I got, because I’ll be doing that.” He said, “That’s ok, because we need to win this game.” But looking back on it, I’m not sure how I did that. It was like 147 degrees on the field in St. Louis and they were icing me down between innings and it just wore on me. My son says I shouldn’t have been playing in games like that, but I did.
Q: You had a great season in 1969, including making your only All-Star game appearance. What did it mean to you to make the All-Star team that year?
RH: It meant an awful lot. Our entire infield was on the All-Star team, plus Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, so we were well represented in Washington that year. Needless to say, it was very exciting.
Q: Today (Nov. 11) marks Veterans Day in America, a day of honoring military veterans who served in the Armed Forces. You were witness to one of the more memorable patriotic feats in sports in 1976, when your teammate Rick Monday saved a flag from burning in center field at Dodger Stadium. What was that moment like from your perspective?
RH: I was in the dugout, sort of in a coaching role that season, and I saw the two guys going out on the field carrying a flag and I didn’t know what was happening, until they kneeled down to try and light the flag on fire. Well, Rick Monday happened to see it and he came running in from center field and grabbed the flag and kept them from lighting it. That was a very patriotic thing to do, and needless to say we were very proud of Rick for doing that. He’ll always be remembered for protecting our flag.
Q: You’ve had a number of memorable accomplishments in your career, including being one of two players in MLB history to have caught two no-hitters in the same season (done in 1972), and also hit for the cycle. What personal achievements have meant the most to you?
RH: As a catcher, the no-hitters were very important, and Milt Pappas’ no-hitter (Sept. 2, 1972 vs. SD) could have easily been a perfect game. While the 3-2 pitch was not close to being a strike, the 2-2 pitch had the hitter struck out but the umpire didn’t call the pitch. Pappas had such control. If I wanted the fastball in, it was in, if I wanted it away, it was away. He never shook me off, we had an excellent game that day. It was frustrating not to have the perfect game, but the no-hitter was something to really be proud of. And then Burt Hooton’s game earlier in the season (April 16, 1972 vs. PHI) was also an incredible game. He had a knuckle curve that he had exceptional command of, and I was very proud to be able to catch that game too.
Q: As a catcher, what have been your impressions of Willson Contreras’ development behind the dish and as a hitter since breaking into the major leagues?
RH: I was fortunate enough to be with him and the whole club for a couple years in Spring Training, and he just has some exceptional talent. He has a very strong throwing arm and does a good job of keeping the runners from stealing bases like crazy. And, he keeps runners from advancing in a lot of areas with blocking the ball and other ways. He has really done a great job. He has a lot of strength in hitting, too, and can hit the ball a long way. He’s had a few injuries that have slowed him down, but other than that, he’s been a great player. He’s just a good player to have on your ball club.
Q: Have you ever leaned on your own experience with playing as much as you did to give advice to Willson or other catchers about taking more rest?
RH: I haven’t talked with Willson to give him advice on this, but he should take that advice when a manager wants to sit him a day and not wear himself out. Because he is an exceptional talent on the ball club, and they need him to be playing. I saw him play outfield one day, and I think that would be good for him too to play outfield a few games to rest from bending and squatting. That’s what wears you out, it makes it very difficult to do a lot of other things when your legs go on you.
Q: You’ve been involved post-retirement in creating the Randy Hundley fantasy camps, giving fans an opportunity to come and play baseball, be a part of a team and interact with baseball legends. I know the camps have had to stop briefly because of Covid, but what are your plans for them moving forward and what have they meant to you over the years?
RH: I’m hoping to bring the camps back. It has been an exceptional thing to be a part of and people have just enjoyed it immensely. The wonderful thing about the fantasy camp is the emotions that the guys get when they sign up are the same emotions the big league players get when they join a new ball club. That’s something we try to make sure they understand, that they’re experiencing the same thing that we were as players.
Q: Alright, a few rapid-fire questions. As a hitter, who were the best pitchers you ever faced?
RH: As a hitter, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale.
Q: When you were behind the dish catching, who was the one opposing hitter you never wanted to see stepping up to the plate?
RH: Willie Stargell. He just was an excellent hitter and he twirled that bat. I don’t care what you threw him, he could hit it a long way.
Q: The 1969 Cubs team had a lot of very talented players, including Hall of Famers. Who is a player from that team that has been underrated?
RH: I don’t know if even Billy Williams has ever really gotten the credit he should get. Of course, he’s a Hall of Famer, but he was such an exceptional player for us.
Q: What has it meant to be a part of the Cubs organization over the years?
RH: It’s the greatest place in the country to play and to be a Chicago Cub. We have fans all over the country. We go to Los Angeles and play, we have Cubs fans. Same with San Francisco. I don’t care where we go, well except for maybe New York, but other than that, we have Cubs fans all over this country. And I’m proud to say I was a Chicago Cub.
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