Monday, February 14, 2011

One and Done: 1970 Bill Heath

This is an occasional series where I take a look at a Cubs player who had only one Topps card while with the Cubs. But today, I've also got some comments from the player featured, a Wrigley Wax first!

The picture on the card would have been taken July 8-9, 1969, his only trip to Shea during his time with the Cubs)

Today I'm featuring the one and done card of catcher Bill Heath. The Cubs purchased Heath's contract from the Dodgers prior to the 1969 season. Previously he had been with the Phillies, White Sox, Astros, Tigers, and Yankees organizations and had some big league time with the White Sox, Astros, and Tigers. Heath didn't make the team in spring training and spent the first month of the season in AAA before coming to the Cubs on May 10.

His role with the Cubs was back up catcher and occasional pinch hitter. Randy Hundley, the Cubs first string catcher, was someone who liked to play every day. In 1968 he set an MLB record by catching in 160 games. So Heath wasn't going to see much action. He did play in 27 games during the 1969 season. But it is his last game that was the most memorable.

On August 19 at Wrigley FIeld, Heath got the start behind the plate because Randy Hundley was nursing a bruised finger. Ken Holtzman was the Cubs starter and he was electric. Throwing mostly fastballs, through seven innings Holtzman had a no-hitter going against the powerful Atlanta Braves.

In the eighth inning, things got interesting. The Braves Gil Garrido hit a foul ball that nailed Heath on the index finger of his right hand. The finger was broken and Heath had to come out of the game. Imagine, a journeyman catcher behind the plate, catching the most memorable game of his career, and he has to come out of the game! The baseball gods were not smiling on Bill Heath that day. Third string catcher, Gene Oliver, who had been behind the plate only four games all season, would have to take over. The disruption didn't bother Holtzman, who kept firing away, and would record his no-hitter. This article from Baseball Digest tells the story for Holtzman's perspective.

In an even more ironic twist of fate, that game would also be Heath's final as a big leaguer. He didn't make the Cubs in 1970 and spent the season at AAA before hanging up his spikes.

After retiring from baseball, Heath entered the world of finance and that is where I found him today. Since I knew little about his playing career, I googled him and found the investment company he runs. There was a bio on him and an email address. I figured, what the heck, and sent him an email with some questions about his time with the Cubs.

A mere two days later, I got a response, a great response. He not only told me a little about his post-baseball career, but he answered, in detail, each of my questions. I was blown away by his generosity with his time.

Here are the contents of the email:

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the query and I hope my answers below are insightful. For your information, after leaving baseball, I have had the good fortune of a very successful career in the financial advisory service business. During my baseball playing days, I received an accounting degree and worked off seasons for Haskins & Sells and Price Waterhouse public accounting firms. In 1972, I left the public accounting firms and started my own firm which is what run today. I will say that because of baseball, I have made infinitely more money than I did in baseball. I do owe a lot to professional baseball and try to give back today helping Major League Baseball Alumni.
Please feel free to call me if you would like to visit.
Have a Blessed Day,
William C. Heath, CFP®
Chairman & CEO
Barrington Financial Advisors, nc.

Dear Mr. Heath,
I hope it's alright to contact you via your professional email. My name is Paul Kosman and I write a blog on Cubs baseball cards called Wrigley Wax. I have an occasional feature called One And Done, where I write about players who had only one baseball card as a Cub. I'm writing a post on your Topps 1970 card and would love to hear anything you have to say about your time with the 1969 Cubs.

What was Leo Durocher like as a manager?
He gruff on the outside but was actually very soft inside. His grave management mistake in 1969 was to play the starters all season until in September when they were tired. He tried to use a bench that had not played all season and could not effectively contribute when the team needed to give the starters a rest.

You caught a Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins, and a were those experiences? Yes, I caught Fergie and what a wonderful experience. He had the ability to put any pitch I called exactly where I wanted it. As to his ability to rise to the occasion, in San Diego after Randy Hundley hurt his had sliding into first base on a pickoff play, I was brought into the game to catch. We had San Diego shutout going into the late innings when they got the bases loaded with one out when I went to the mound and told Fergie that he was throwing a shutout but needed to really bear down to get the next outs. He certainly rose to the occasion. He struck out the next batter and popped up the third out preserving the shutout and the victory. (Here is the box score for that game)

The no-hitter that Ken Holtzman threw on August 19, 1969 was a master piece that I caught with Randy still hurt since it was against the Atlanta Braves and Phil Niekro. Atlanta was a powerful hitting offense with Hank Aaron and Ricko Carty. Billy Williams make a great catch against the wall in left on a ball Hank Aaron hit that was out of the park but the wind held it up and Billy made the catch against the Ivy wall. Also, Glenn Beckert made another great play at second stopping a possible hit keeping the no-hitter alive. The most unusual event occurred in the seventh inning when a foul tip hit my hand and broke my finger causing me to leave the game for the hospital to get the finger set in a cast. As you know, a no-hitter is an extremely psychological event and anything unusual could break the momentum. Changing catchers late in the game is one of those mental changes that can break the momentum. To Holtzman’s credit, he did not let it bother him as he completed the no-hitter game. The down side for me was it was the last game I played that year and in the big leagues. We questioned years later by the writer of “Cub Power” I commented that it was a time in my career that “Was the twilight of a mediocre career” The Cubs went into a downslide from that point to lose the National League race to the Mets and make the “Miracle Mets”. What a sad year for the Chicago Fans.

Any stories about the Cubs fans, especially the bleacher bums? My roommate, Dick Selma started the Bums from the bullpen when he would encourage them to yell which turned into the yellow work hats, etc. One night in St Louis after our win, he proceeded to march a band of Bleacher Bum Fans through our room when I was in bed. I had just had my hemorrhoids cut out that afternoon and was not feeling like celebrating. The next day Leo asked me to pinch hit against Nelson Briles and I hit a high hopper over his head and the second baseman fielded it in short center field and threw me out as I was struggling to run with my butt tapped up. Joe Torre, the first baseman asked Amalfitano the first base coach what was wrong with me. Joey told him and he almost fell down laughing. It would have been a sure hit as I could run very well for a catcher but with the luck of my career, what can I say. At the time I was hitting in the high 300’s and from there it went down. (Here is that game's box)

And if you don't answer any of the other questions, I'd really like to hear your answer to this: Were you with the team after you broke your finger, or were you sent home? If you were with the team, do you have an opinion as to what happened in late August and September?
Yes, as I said above, it was Leo’s mismanagement of the bench. You may have noticed that managers since then use the whole bench all year.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia: The Cubs were 58-34 during your time on the active roster, and 15-25 when you were on the disabled list. Was your injury the reason for the team's collapse??!!
I truly wish I could say that but I don’t think I had that kind of impact on the team. At that time in my career, I was one the few very smart catchers in the game and called very good games for my pitchers. I believe the record will show the no-hitter, shutouts and one-hitters produced during my very short time of playing as a Cub. From my rookie year in Houston with the Astros when I hit .301 it seemed I became a good catcher and a worse hitter. I think the hitting was a function of not getting to play more often. Batting practice is not enough to keep a big league hitter sharp. I wished we would have had batting cages.

I thank you for your time and look forward to hearing your responses.
Paul Kosman
Wrigley Wax

Thank you Bill Heath, for your time and responses!!

1 comment:

  1. Great job Paul! As a 11 year old in 1969 I watched the Cubs most every day on WGN. I remember Bill Heath very well and I have all those Topps cards from the team. Another good one and done card would be the 1970 card of Don Young who had a bad time of it that season at Shea Stadium.

    Ken Svevo