left, Fanzone, sans trumpet, right, Milt Pappas
Me, circa 1972
On September 2, 1972, Milt Pappas no-hit the San Diego Padres 8-0 and came within a strike of a perfect game. I was lucky enough to be at that game with my family. I was 13 years old and had been a Cubs fan for 3 years. My dad was a huge fan and that got me interested. That was one thing I had in common with my dad. He worked as a bus mechanic at Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois and he also drove a bus for weekend field trips. It enabled him to bring my mom, me, my brother and sister. Because of his job, we got to go to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and visit Abraham Lincolns home in Salem, we got to sit in the audience of a local quiz show called Its Academic, but mostly we got to see our share of Cubs and Sox games. We got to witness Ernie Banks hit home run 511 of his great career of off Tug McGraw of the hated New York Mets. And now we were going to see Milt Pappas pitch. Milt Pappas originally came up with Baltimore as a member of a group of talented young pitchers who never quite fulfilled their promise, including Pappas, though he did have some productive seasons, even making a couple of All Star teams. But by 1966 his stock had fallen and when he was traded for Frank Robinson, it was seen as a slap in the face to be traded for such a mediocre pitcher. Atter 4 disappointing seasons with Cincy and Atlanta, he was sold to the Cubs who needed another starter following John Hollands terrible trade of Dick Selma. And Pappas proceeded to rise to another level in his first 2 seasons, reaching a career high in win in 1971 of 17. In 1972, he was on his way to equaling that number. And with his swarthy good looks and distinctive mutton chop sideburns he attracted my mom, who usually only tagged along. My mom was more into hockey at the time, but this was one game she was willing to see. My brother wasnt as much into baseball, but he seemed to enjoy going to the games. At the time we were pretty close. And my sister was always on the lookout for autographs. I just wanted the game to start. And it was a good game. The Cubs scored early and often that day. It wasnt unusual for the Cubs to score a lot, with Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Randy Hundley, Jim Hickman and Joe Pepitone in their primes. Unfortunately, my favorite player, 2nd Baseman Glenn Beckert was not playing that day because of an injury. Instead, Carmen Fanzone, normally a 3rd Baseman was playing 2nd. Fanzone was something of a character, occasionally playing the trumpet for the National Anthem. After his retirement he would become a musician, playing with several bands, including Judy Roberts. as the game progressed, it seemed like just another Cubs blowout, but by the 7th inning I noticed that not only had Pappas not allowed any hits, he hadnt allowed any baserunners at all. By the 9th inning, Wrigley was rocking and after Pappas made quick work of the first 2 men, Larry Stahl stood as the only one keeping him from history. Stahl, a journeyman who started his career with the hated Mets  wasnt giving in and the count reached 3 balls. Bruce Froemming, the ump, then made what still seems like a questionable call as Stahl took ball four. Pappas nearly lost it there. But he had to finish the game and he did on a groundball to Fanzone. A no-hitter! What an incredible moment. It all seemed unreal at the time. To have been part of such a rare achievement. We stood around for quite a while after the game, but when the crowds thinned out we made our way back to the bus.  Im not sure how the rest of my family felt, but I was just ecstatic. Little did I realize the significance of what had just transpired.
Only in the years since have I come to appreciate what that no-hitter really meant. A few days after the game I would start 8th grade and it would be the first time I noticed how much all my school mates were growing up. I would have my first real romance with a girl within a month, the fact that it was short lived is irrelevant, it was still my FIRST. Within 2 years I had discovered my dads Playboys and really began to feel adult stirrings. My parents marriage would begin to unravel shortly after, though it would be a couple of years before I noticed it. My brother was about 2 years from discovering drugs which forever change our relationship. And, the Cubs, well, 1972 would not end with a pennant and 1973 would begin promising, but end in an ugly way and soon, Wrigley would back up the truck and tear up the '69 era players. As for Pappas, he would struggle in 1973 and find himself out of baseball by 1974. The controversy would not end there. In 1980, his wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Her body would be found in 1986 in a pond near their house. And he still wont let go of the perfect game. Today, he still blames Froemming for costing him a place in history. Personally, I think he needs to let it go. I would be proud to have a no-hitter. That remained the last no-hitter by a Cubs pitcher until Carlos Zambrano pitched one in 2008.
As for me, I will always remember Sept. 1972 for being the last great highlight of my childhood, the last idyllic summer of my life. I will always be grateful to Milt Pappas for the last Almost Perfect Day........