Posts Tagged 'baseball'

Almost Perfect (6-27-1958)

Back in the 1950s, the era of the Go-Go White Sox, Billy Pierce was arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. Whitey Ford got the most publicity because he was a Yankee. But whenever the two aces went head-to-head, Pierce usually came out on top.

Besides, in the 1955 season, Pierce posted an ERA of 1.97. That was remarkable for such a high-scoring era.

Billy Pierce

Pierce was a power pitcher, always among the leaders in strikeouts. That was also remarkable, since he wasn’t a big man. His full overhand delivery was the likely explanation.

On the evening of June 27, 1958, Pierce took the mound at Comiskey Park. The Sox were playing the last-place Washington Senators. About 11,000 people were at the park. I was ten years old and listening on the radio, trusting I could stay awake despite Bob Elson’s droning play-by-play.

The Sox scored a run in the third, and added 2 more in the eighth. Meanwhile, Pierce was shutting down the opposition. Going into the ninth inning, he had retired the first 24 Senators in a row.

Pierce quickly disposed of Ken Aspromonte and Steve Korcheck. With the pitcher due up next, the Senators sent in a right-handed pinch-hitter.

Ed FitzGerald

Ed FitzGerald was an eleven-year veteran. The Senators’ roster listed him as a catcher, but at this stage of his career, he was mostly a pinch-hitter. He was good at it, too, batting better than .350 as a sub in 1958.

The book said FitzGerald was a first pitch, fastball hitter. Pierce wound up and threw a low curve. FitzGerald swung, slicing the ball down the right field line. It landed fair by a foot.

As FitzGerald chugged into second, the park erupted in boos. At home I vented my disappointment by shouting a bad word at the radio. I don’t recall what Bob Elson said.

The perfect game was gone. So was the no-hitter.  Then Pierce struck out Albie Pearson on three pitches to end the game. Afterward the police escorted FitzGerald from the park.

In 2014 Billy Pierce was honored at Sox Park for his charitable work. He died in 2015.

Ed FitzGerald celebrated a birthday last month. He is now 93. He has not been seen in Chicago for some time.

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Bleacher Bums (5-24-1920)

Forty-seven people were arrested today in the year’s biggest gambling raid.  The location was the bleachers at Cubs’ Park.

Club officials had been aware of the problem for some time.  The gamblers had staked out their own section of the stands.  Anybody in the park who wanted to place a bet knew exactly where to go.

So today undercover cops infiltrated the open-air casino.  They wore various disguises—“teamsters, sailors, soldiers, ice wagon drivers, sewing machine agents, bootblacks, farmers.”  They ate peanuts and drank pop like ordinary fans.  They watched the gamblers operate.

The Cubs were playing the Phillies.  Betting started as soon as the umpires announced the batteries.  Once the gamblers knew who was pitching, they could calculate the odds and accept wagers on the outcome of the game.

When play got underway, the action in the bleachers was even more intense.  Now there was betting on each pitch.

“Ten cents says he swings!”

“A dollar the pitcher changes his windup on the next one!”

“Two bits they send in a pinch-hitter the next time around!”

“Who wants ten dollars on the runner?  Ten dollars says he streaks down to second!”

At the end of the first inning, the undercover cops all stood up.  In one voice, they announced: “You’re all under arrest!”

Fans.jpg

The gamblers went meekly.  One of them tried the sympathy angle.  “Do you want to break up a home?” he pleaded to the nearest officer.  “My wife will get a divorce if she finds out about this.”

The cop was unmoved.  “Six bits says she finds out,” was his answer.

At the Town Hall Station, the 47 gamblers were charged.  They were each released on $25 bond.  Four of them didn’t have enough money.  They’d have to spend the night in jail, and probably lose their night-shift jobs.

Then one of the other accused stepped forward and posted their bond.  He didn’t know any of the four, but that made no difference.  “I have faith in human nature,” the Good Samaritan said.  “I’m betting they show up in court.”

What happened next?  The papers lost interest in the story, and nothing more was reported.  The final decisions are buried somewhere in a set of musty court files.

Cubs’ Park is now called Wrigley Field.  Is there still gambling in the bleachers?

Wanna make a bet on it?

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New Uniforms for the Cubs

Now that we’ve had a while to digest the Cubs’ World Series triumph, we’ll consider what the team should do next season. I suggest they change uniforms.  To understand why, let’s take a look at some baseball history.

We sometimes hear talk that sports has become too ego-driven and rude—sort of like the general culture.  Back in the good old days, winners were polite.  They did not do victory dances or fist pumps, or otherwise rub their superiority in the face of the losers.  If you happened to come out on top, you acknowledged it with quiet grace.

Well, not always.

The first World Series was played in 1903. The next year, the New York Giants won the National League pennant, then refused to play the American League champions—Giants’ manager John McGraw was feuding with the A.L. president.  There was no formal agreement mandating a World Series, so that was that.

1906 Giants--Turkey Mike Donlin

1906 Giants–Turkey Mike Donlin

Then baseball’s club owners belatedly realized that an annual championship playoff would be a great source of revenue. Beginning in 1905, the World Series became part of the game’s law.

As luck would have it, the New York Giants again won the N.L. pennant in 1905. Now they were required to face the A.L. champs.  The Giants made quick work of the Philadelphia A’s, winning the best-of-seven series, 4 games to 1.

The victory over the A.L. didn’t mellow Giants manager McGraw. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to gloat.  So for the 1906 season, the Giants wore uniforms with the words “WORLD’S CHAMPIONS” emblazoned across the chest.

The Giants tumbled to second place in the N.L. in 1906, so for the next several seasons, the World Series winners settled for rings and gold watches, and didn’t use their uniforms to boast of their achievement. Then, in 1920, the Cleveland Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Series.

1921 Indians--Smoky Joe Wood

1921 Indians–Smoky Joe Wood

Baseball was in the middle of scandal. The news had just come out that a group of Chicago White Sox players had been paid off by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.  The public was questioning the integrity of its national pastime.

In any event, the newly-crowned Cleveland Indians opted to follow the Giant’s dormant example. For 1921 the Indians wore uniforms proclaiming “WORLDS CHAMPIONS.”  Perhaps they thought leaving out the apostrophe would guarantee they’d repeat.  But like the 1906 Giants, the 1921 Indians came in second.

Now we move forward to 1926. The St. Louis Cardinals had been the N.L.’s lovable losers, never winning a pennant.  This year they did it, and capped it off by knocking off the Yankees in a thrilling seven-game series.

1927 Cardinals--Grover Cleveland Alexander

1927 Cardinals–G.C. Alexander

Over the winter, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby got into a contract dispute with the front office.  Hornsby was also their star player, and wanted more money.  The upshot was that the Hero of ’26 was traded to the Giants.

“The team is bigger than one man!” argued management. So to underscore the point that they didn’t need Hornsby—and to underline the fact that St. Louis finally had a winner—they outfitted the 1927 Cardinals with “WORLD CHAMPION” uniforms.  Perhaps learning a lesson in discretion, the words were relegated to smaller print on the left breast, encircling a Cardinal logo.

It didn’t matter. In 1927, the Cardinals finished second.

After the fall of the Cardinals, World Series winners were reluctant to boast about it on their uniforms. However, in 1980 the Philadelphia Phillies went all the way.  They were the last of the original 16 franchises to win the grand championship.

1981 Phillies--Pete Rose

1981 Phillies–Pete Rose

Phillies fans had endured 77 years of frustration (which may seem like a short time to Cubs fans, but never mind).  Now team management wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion, but they didn’t want to go overboard.  So for 1981, the Phillies wore the same style uniforms as they had worn in 1980.  However, the team’s warm-up jackets now sported the words “WORLD CHAMPIONS.”

The 1981 baseball seasons was thrown into disarray by a players’ strike. Suffice to say that the Phillies didn’t make it back to the World Series.

Now for the big question—what do the 2017 Cubs do? I say that they show their pride in their accomplishment.  The team should be outfitted in new uniforms with the words “WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS” across the front.  So what if it didn’t work for other teams in the past!

After all, do we really believe in jinxes?

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Come Back, Steve Bartman—All Is Forgiven!

The Cubs are going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.  I think it would be a nice gesture to call Steve Bartman out of hiding to throw out the first ball at the first home game.  Just because the Cubs haven’t actually won the World Series in 108 years doesn’t mean we believe in jinxes.

I’ve already told my Ernie Banks story here.  I also have a Cubs World Series story.

In 1984 the Cubs won the National League Eastern Division title, finally avenging the Great Collapse of 1969.  Of course, they’d have to get by the San Diego Padres in the playoffs, but everyone knew that was a mere formality.

wrigley-field-opening-day-b-1977

Anyway, as soon as the Cubs had clinched the division, they put World Series tickets on sale.  For us everyday fans who didn’t have connections, there was a lottery.  You mailed in your name and address on a postcard, and then there would be a drawing.  If your card was drawn, you could buy two tickets.  Only one postcard per household was allowed.

I figured that getting my card drawn was a longshot.  I also figured that if they did happen to draw one of my cards, they’d probably draw a second one, and I’d be disqualified.  So I played by the rules and only sent in one card.  But I did have my mother send in a card.

My card wasn’t drawn.  My mother’s was.

Now it was a question of claiming the two World Series tickets.  The rules said that the lucky winner had to pick up the tickets in person, showing an I.D.  My mother wasn’t a baseball fan, and didn’t care about going to the Series.  The problem was, she’d just broken her foot and had it in a cast.

wrigley-field-upper-deck-a-1979

So I drove her out to Wrigley one day.  A nice cop let me wait on Clark Street while she hobbled into the ticket line on her crutches.  While she was waiting, a Tribune photographer spotted her, and thought that a 63-year-old temporarily-disabled woman who’d stand in an hour-long line on her crutches was a great story, and wanted to take her picture.  Mom refused; she hadn’t put on her makeup.

Of course, I never did get to use those World Series tickets.  My daughter Tracy Samantha was just four months old when these events transpired.  Last night she was really excited about the Cubs making it to the Series, and maybe she’ll be able to score a ticket.

As for me, I just realized that I’m already older than my Mom was when she braved that ticket line.  So I think I’ll stick to listening to the Series on the radio, and not even try to get into Wrigley for one of the games.

After all, I don’t want to somehow jinx the team.

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The Waitkus Tragedy (6-14-1949)

Unlike some other baseball players, Eddie Waitkus did not have a reputation as a horndog.  That made the event doubly tragic.

After returning from World War II in 1946, Waitkus became the Cubs’ regular first baseman.  He was a fine defensive player and a solid line-drive hitter.  In 1948 he played in the All-Star game.

Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1948 season.  In June 1949 he returned to Chicago with his new team.  While in town, the Phillies stayed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel on Sheridan Road.

About 11 p.m. on June 14, a hotel bellboy gave Waitkus a note from a Ruth Anne Burns, asking to see him about something “extremely important.”  Waitkus phoned her room.  After talking briefly with the woman on the phone, he went up to meet her.

At Room 1227A, a tall young woman invited him in.  With little preliminary, she produced a rifle and pointed it at Waitkus.  “For two years you’ve bothered me,” she said.  “Now you’re going to die.”

The woman shot Waitkus in the chest.  He collapsed in a pool of blood, muttering over and over, “Baby, why did you do that?”

A doctor and a house detective came rushing down the hall.  The woman told them, “I’ve shot Eddie Waitkus.”  An ambulance was called, and Waitkus was taken to the hospital.  The woman was placed under arrest.Steinhagen

Her name was Ruth Anne Steinhagen.  She was 19 years old and worked as a typist.  She had become obsessed with Waitkus when he’d played for the Cubs, though she had never met him.

“I had to kill him,” she told the police.  “I thought it would get rid of the tension.”

Waitkus nearly died on the operating table.  The bullet was finally removed.  By August he was back in uniform and finished the season.

Ruth Anne Steinhagen was found to be legally insane.  She was committed to a mental institution.  After receiving shock treatments, Steinhagen was declared sane and released in 1952.  She lived the rest of her life under an assumed name, dying in 2012.

The shooting changed Waitkus.  He became moody and suspicious, and was treated for alcoholism.  Today we’d say he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome.  Eddie Waitkus died in 1972, at the age of 53.

In 1952, Bernard Malamud wrote a novel called The Natural, based on the Waitkus shooting.  A version of the book was later made into a movie.

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Cap Anson, Baseball Superstar

His life sounded like the plot of a dime novel from the turn of the 20th Century.

He was born in a log cabin in Iowa in 1852, and grew up in a little farm settlement called Marshalltown.  At 19 he set out for the big city to earn his fortune.  He worked hard at his profession, got rich, became a leading citizen of Chicago, and one of the most famous men in the country.

His name was Adrian Constantine Anson.  He was a baseball player.

Professional baseball was a risky career choice when Anson started playing.  The pay was low and the top league was loosely organized, with a haphazard schedule.  Anson spent one year with Rockford, then four more in Philadelphia.Anson, Cap - Copy

When the National League was founded in 1876, the game stabilized.  Anson already had a reputation as a hard-hitting first baseman.  The Chicago team wanted him, and they got him.

Anson was a big man for his time, about 6’1″ and 210 pounds, when most players were four inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter.  He became the sport’s #1 star.  There was no All-Star game or MVP award yet, or Anson would have claimed each honor several times.

He took over as Chicago’s captain-manager in 1879, and afterward became known as Cap Anson.  During his watch, the team won five National League pennants.  Anson was the first player to collect 3,000 hits, and one of the first elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

He had one negative legacy.  Anson refused to play against African Americans.  He was probably no more unconsciously racist than most white Americans of his time, but he was also baseball’s leading player.  His example prompted the sport to adopt an informal “color line” which lasted until 1945.

Anson retired from active play in 1897.  The next year he opened a combination billiard hall and bowling alley in the Loop known as Anson’s Emporium.  It was the largest business of its kind in Chicago.  The Emporium became a local hangout for the sporting crowd and a major tourist attraction.

He was an expert billiard player and a fine golfer.  In 1904 Anson took a team to the American Bowling Congress tournament in Cleveland and came home with the first place trophy.  That made him the answer to a sports trivia question: “Who is the only man elected to the baseball Hall of Fame who also won a national bowling championship?”

Fresh from his bowling triumph, Anson entered politics.  In 1905 he was elected Chicago city clerk as a Democrat.  But within a few years, everything came crashing down.

Anson had traded on his fame to become city clerk.  That proved to be his limit.  In 1906 he ran for Cook County sheriff and lost in the primary.  The next year he was defeated in his re-election bid as clerk.  His Emporium went bankrupt in 1909.  As a businessman and as a politician, Cap Anson was one helluva baseball player.

He was broke.  He sold his house, moving into a small apartment at 320 East 30th Street.  Years went by, and now people were calling him Pop Anson.  “He was an oddly anachronistic figure, like a rugged fragment from an ancient mountain,” one journalist wrote.  “Not forgotten, but not really part of the world around him any more.”

Today he might support himself autographing baseballs or working as a casino greeter.  In Anson’s time, his best option was the vaudeville stage.  His friends Ring Lardner and George M. Cohan helped Anson put together a monologue, and for several years he toured with two of his daughters.

Cap Anson died in 1922.  He was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery.  The graveyard later became the final resting place of Jesse Owens, Harold Washington, and other prominent African Americans.  But if Anson had any objection to this form of integration, he has not been heard from.

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The Wrigley Himself

Wrigley Field.  The Wrigley Building.

Two of Chicago’s most famous landmarks are named Wrigley.  If you’re into architecture, you probably know about the Wrigley Mansion, too.

Wrigley is a gum company.  But the word has become so identified with a product that we forget there was somebody named Wrigley who started it all.  After all, when you hear “Disney” or “Ford,” do you first think of Walt or Henry?William Wrigley

Older Cub fans remember long-time team owner Phil Wrigley.  The man we’re talking about here is his father, William Wrigley, Jr.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1861.  The Wrigleys of that era made soap.  William moved to Chicago when he was 30, planning to operate a branch of the family business.

“Everybody likes something for nothing,” he said.  So along with each can of scouring soap he sold, Wrigley included some baking powder as a bonus.  The baking powder soon proved more popular than the soap.

What would you do?  Wrigley switched over and made baking powder his primary product.  That meant he needed a new bonus item to go with the baking powder.

Now Wrigley began giving way two sticks of chewing gum with each box of baking powder.  And once again, the bonus became more popular than the original product.  So much for baking powder.  Wrigley started making gum.

In the 1890s, chewing gum was just catching on in America.  Wrigley had many competitors, but he was a born marketer.  “[William Wrigley] was the last of the super-salesmen,” Bill Veeck later wrote.  “He was a well-upholstered, jovial man who liked people and knew what made them tick.”

Wrigley enjoyed his work, saying that nothing great was ever done without enthusiasm.  In the early years he did most of the selling himself.  Even when the company became a global success, he never quit pushing forward.  New flavors were always being tried.

Wrigley ad

The promotion never stopped.  When he moved into a new market, he hired attractive women to walking around passing out free samples.  Merchants who sold the most Wrigley gum were given free gifts–lamps, razors, fishing tackles, cookbooks, and whatever.  And he advertised everywhere.

By 1910 millions of people were chewing gum.  If you asked them why, they probably couldn’t have explained it.  William Wrigley had become one of the richest men in America.  He began branching off into other fields.  One of his projects was Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, which he made into a renowned resort.

With his nose for publicity, Wrigley decided his gum company needed a headquarters building that people would talk about.  In 1921 he bought a site next to the new Michigan Avenue Bridge, and erected the magnificent terra-cotta wedding cake we all know so well.  It was the first major office building on what was to become the Magnificent Mile.

And the Cubs!  All his life, Wrigley had been a baseball fan.  When he got a chance to buy stock in the team in 1916, he jumped at it.  A few years later he had the controlling interest.

Wrigley--ball game

He renamed the ballpark Wrigley Field, spruced it up, and added an upper deck–the vines came later.  He also spent money on the finest available players.  The Cubs won the pennant in 1929 and set a major league attendance record.

As Wrigley grew older, he devoted more of his time to his Western operations.  Son Phil took over the gum company.  The Cubs were run by William Veeck Sr.  His last business venture was the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932.  If you seek his monument, there are some dandy ones around Chicago.

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