Posts Tagged 'baseball'

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.



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.


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.



The Black Sox (9-28-1920)

The little boy is waiting outside the court house for his hero, the big league baseball player.  The player emerges.  Tears in his eyes, the boy approaches the man.  “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” the kid pleads.  The player says nothing.

If that familiar bit of folklore ever happened, this was the day it did.  This was the day that the Black Sox scandal broke.

In 1919 the Chicago White Sox had entered the World Series as heavy favorites.  When they were upset by the Cincinnati Reds, rumors spread that the series had been fixed.  Most of the public refused to believe it, and the whispers died down.

1919 Chicago White Sox

1919 Chicago White Sox

Then, in the summer of 1920, a Cook County grand jury began investigating a supposed fix in a Cubs-Phillies game.  Various baseball people testified.  The recent World Series came up, and Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte was summoned.

On the stand, Cicotte admitted to taking $10,000 from gamblers to throw the series.  Other players were called.  Eight White Sox were indicted by the grand jury.  The charges involved such things as running a confidence game, and conspiracy to defraud teammates out of  $1784—the difference between winners’ and losers’ shares in the World Series.

Team owner Charles Comiskey suspended the indicted players.  They became known as the Black Sox.  One of them was star outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson.  After his confession to the grand jury, a local paper ran the story about the tearful boy confronting him in disbelief.  Jackson always denied it happened.


The “Black Sox” and their lawyers in court

The Black Sox case dragged on into 1921.  Somewhere along the way, the players’ confessions mysteriously disappeared.  The eight players and assorted gamblers were eventually brought to trial, and all of them pleaded “Not Guilty.”  It took a jury two hours to acquit everyone.

Faced with a monumental P-R problem, the baseball club owners had hired federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as their commissioner.  He was given wide powers to clean up the game.  The day after the players were acquitted, Landis banned all eight of them for life—“regardless of the verdict of juries,” he said.

None of the eight Black Sox ever again played major league baseball.


An Ernie Banks Memory

I grew up on the Northwest Side in the 1950s.  I was a Sox fan, and so were most of my friends.

The Sox had Nellie Fox and Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso and Sherm Lollar, Little Louie and Jungle Jim.  Each year they battled the Yankees for the pennant.  In 1959 they even won it.

The Cubs were the other team in town.   Their players were amateur and forgettable.  Each year the Cubs battled the Pirates to stay out of last place.  We went to Cubs games only because Wrigley Field was closer to home, and the park was so empty you could easily sneak down into the box seats.

The Cubs had one thing, though—Ernie Banks.  He hit home runs.  Lots of home runs.  No matter how big the Cubs were losing a particular game, the fans would stick around until Erne’s last turn at bat.  Once that was over, all 5,000 people would get up and head for the exits.

The years passed.  The Cubs became Chicago’s Team.  Now they were battling for the pennant each year, while the Sox were likely to be moving to Seattle.

Through it all, Ernie Banks was growing older.  He moved from shortstop to first base.  He hit fewer home runs.  By 1971 he was 40 years old, and playing only occasionally.  Everyone knew this would be his last year.

On July 21st the Cubs were playing the Mets.  The game was a sellout, but I managed to get two box seats behind the third base dugout, and took my girlfriend Terri to the game.


It was a good game.  The wind was blowing out and there was lots of hitting.  By the top of the sixth the Cubs led 8-5, and Terri was getting restless.  The Cubs have it locked up, she said.  Let’s leave and beat the traffic.

So we left.  When we got to the car and turned on the radio, the Mets had scored a run, and the Cubs were coming up in the bottom of the sixth.

Most people of my generation remember where we were when President Kennedy was shot.  Most of us with some Polish heritage remember where we were when a Polish pope was elected.

I remember that I was at Irving Park and Elston when the Cubs sent Ernie Banks up to pinch hit.  I remember the crowd cheering.  I remember Tug McGraw throwing the pitch.

And . . . then . . . Ernie . . . hit . . . a . . . home . . . run.  And the crowd was still cheering when I got on the Kennedy.

That was Ernie’s #511.  It wasn’t his last home run—he’d add one more before the season was over.  But what could be more dramatic than hitting a dinger as a pinch-hitter before a packed house?  And what could be worse than listening to it over a car radio speeding away from the ballpark?

The next year Terri and I were married.  We’re still married.  But we don’t go to ball games together any more.



The Sirens of September (9-22-1959)

After forty years of frustration, the White Sox clinched the American League pennant.  What followed became almost as big a story.

The Sox had won their last league championship in 1919–and then eight of their players had dumped the World Series.  Now it was 1959.  Bill Veeck had bought the team.  The Yankees were slumping.  This might be the year the Sox finally did it.

1959 Chicago White Sox

1959 Chicago White Sox

All season long, the Sox had been battling the Cleveland Indians for the league lead.  On September 22 the two teams were scheduled to play a night game in Cleveland.  Win this one, and the Sox had the pennant locked up.

WGN telecast both Cubs and Sox games in 1959.  TV was still relatively new.  Road games were not carried.  For that matter, neither were night games.

But this was a special occasion.  So WGN sent announcer Jack Brickhouse and his crew to Cleveland to beam the game back to Chicago.  All over the city–but particularly south of Madison Street–baseball fans tuned in.

It was an exciting game.  The Sox took a 4-2 lead.  Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland filled the bases with one out.  Dangerous Vic Power came to bat.  He banged the first pitch toward second.

Fire Commissioner Quinn

Fire Commissioner Quinn

Shortstop Luis Aparicio raced in and grabbed the grounder.  He kicked second base for the force, then fired to first to get Power.  9:41 p.m. CDT–Sox win!

Within moments, air raid sirens were sounding all over the city.

I was in 7th grade.  I’d been watching the game with my buddies.  The moment Power was thrown out, we raced outside to yell and cheer and generally celebrate.  When the sirens went off, we never doubted that they were for the Sox.

But there were people who hadn’t been watching WGN.  Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was in the U.S. at the time.  The Cold War was at its coldest.  Maybe somebody had shot Khrushchev, and World War III was under way!  Where are those fall-out shelters, anyway?

The next day, Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn took responsibility for sounding the sirens.  Mayor Richard J. Daley was a major Sox fan, and there was talk that the order had come from him.  A few stuffed shirts demanded an investigation.  In the end, the matter was dropped.

What happened after that, in the World Series?  Let’s talk about the 2005 Sox instead . . .


An Awesome Cubs’ Debut (5-15-1960)

The baseball season was a month old, and the Chicago Cubs were off to their usual, dismal start. Manager Charlie Grimm had resigned and been replaced by broadcaster Lou Boudreau—while Grimm took over Boudreau’s vacated spot in the radio booth. Trying to shake things up, the team swung a major trade with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wrigley Field was packed today for a double-header against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs dropped the first game, 6-1. In the nightcap, Don Cardwell was scheduled to make his first start since coming over from the Phillies.

Cardwell was a 24-year old right-hander. He had never had a winning season. But the Cubs’ front office thought he had potential, and decided to take a chance on him.

Don Cardwell, 5-15-1960

Don Cardwell, 5-15-1960

Making his Cub debut before a full house, Cardwell was shaky. He walked the second batter to face him. Then he settled down and retired the side. The innings went by, the Cardinals came to bat, and Cardwell mowed them down one-two-three. Meanwhile, the Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

About the seventh inning, the fans awoke to the fact that Cardwell hadn’t given up any hits. Baseball superstition decreed that no mention should ever be made of a no-hitter in progress. As the afternoon went on and the shadows began to stretch across the field, tension filled the stands, as everyone tried to avoid talking about what they were all thinking about.

The ninth inning came, and Cardwell retired the first two Cardinals. Now he faced Joe Cunningham, a dangerous left-handed hitter who had nearly won the league batting championship the year before. With the count full, Cunningham sliced a sinking line drive to short left field.

Walter "Moose" Moryn--once a Dodger

Walter “Moose” Moryn–once a Dodger

Moose Moryn, the Cubs’ left-fielder, was slow moving and ponderous. But now Moryn raced in at warp speed, glove-hand extended. He snatched the ball at his shoe tops, just before it hit the grass, then continued running in without breaking stride, holding the ball aloft in triumph.

Players and spectators poured onto the field. For the first time in major league history, a player had pitched a no-hitter in his first start with a new team. Surely, better times were ahead for the Cubs.

Don Cardwell spent three seasons with the Cubs, without doing anything else special.

Nothing more needs to be said.