Posts Tagged 'Sports'

Super Bowling (1-8-1901)

It’s 1901 and it’s winter.  The football season has ended, and baseball is just a memory.  Only Canadians care about hockey.  You say there’s a new sport called basketball?

But there’s big sports news in Chicago today.  The first national bowling championships are being held here.

Americans had played various forms of bowling since colonial times.  In 1895 a group of New York clubs founded the American Bowling Congress.  They drew up a list of standard rules and equipment specs.

Opening squad of the first ABC Tournament

Within a few years, bowling clubs in other cities joined the ABC.  Now there was talk about having a tournament to decide who the country’s best bowlers were.  Chicago was given the honor of hosting the first ABC Tournament in 1901.

The Chicagoans leased the second floor of a warehouse on Wabash Avenue.  Six bowling lanes were donated by Brunswick, an equipment manufacturer eager to promote the sport.  The tournament was planned for three divisions—Team (5-man), Doubles (2-man), and Singles (individual).

Forty-one teams signed up for the three-day event.  The tournament attracted added publicity when Cap Anson announced he would compete.  The recently-retired baseball star was the most famous athlete in the country.  It was like getting Michael Jordan to bowl a century later.

Frank Brill

January 8th, opening day, was for five-man teams.  The early lead was taken by a quintet from Erie, Pennsylvania.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and the Tribune reported only one problem—there wasn’t enough room for all the fans who wanted to watch the action.

On the second day, Standard Five of Chicago clinched the Team championship.  The Doubles event was won by two New Yorkers, C.K. Starr and Johnny Voorhies.  Meanwhile, Cap Anson was bowling terribly.

The final day brought the Singles.  A total of 115 men rolled three games each to determine who would win the medal as the first National Bowling Champion.  And another ex-ballplayer stole the show.

Frank Brill had pitched one season for Detroit.  He was never the diamond star that Anson had been.  But Brill was a master of the 19-pound, no-hole bowling ball.  His 648 score took the Singles.

After this modest start, the ABC Tournament became an annual event.  Today it is known as the United States Bowling Congress Open Championship.  With a field of over 80,000 men and women, it is the largest participatory sporting event in the world.


The Sonny and Floyd Show (9-25-1962)

Chicago has witnessed many championship boxing matches.  This is one that the city tries to forget.

In 1956, at age 21, Floyd Patterson became the youngest-ever heavyweight champion.  He lost the title in 1959, then won it back the next year—and became the first heavyweight to regain the championship after losing it.  Here was a boxer for the history books.

Patterson was gentlemanly and well-liked.  But his ring skills were often questioned.  There weren’t many good heavyweight fighters during this period.  And looming over Patterson was the imposing shadow of Sonny Liston.


If Patterson was a gentleman, Liston was a thug—a very tough thug.  By 1962 Liston had knocked out a string of opponents.  He had also served two hitches in prison for robbery and parole violation.  Boxing insiders whispered that Liston was controlled by the syndicate.

Liston accused Patterson of being afraid to fight him.  Early in 1962, the champion agreed to face the challenger in New York City.  Then the New York State Athletic Commission refused to give Liston a license, because of his criminal record.  The fight was moved to Comiskey Park in Chicago.

When the two men entered the ring on the evening of September 25, Liston was actually a 2-to-1 favorite.  He had even predicted that he would knock out Patterson in five rounds.  Spectators were still arriving when Liston caught Patterson with a left hook to the jaw, and dropped him at 2:06 of the first round.  In less time than you’ve spent reading this post, the fight was over.

It was the most decisive championship bout since Joe Louis floored Max Schmelling in 1938.  Boxing folklore claims that Patterson was so embarrassed that he left Chicago disguised in glasses and a fake beard.  Which raises an interesting point—why would a boxer come into a fight with an escape disguise already prepared?

In the rematch the next year, Liston again demolished Patterson in the first round.  But in 1964, Liston lost the title to Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).  Sonny Liston continued boxing, with less and less success.  He died in 1970, under mysterious circumstances.

Floyd Patterson never regained the heavyweight championship.  He died in 2006.


Chicago Trivia Quiz #14–Answers


1. The Chicago team in the Federal League was nicknamed the __________.

(B) Whales

2. Which of these incidents helped the Cubs win the 1908 World Series?

(A) The Merkle Boner (allowed Cubs to win N.L. pennant and get to the Series)

3. Why did Sox pitcher Billy Pierce play first base during a 1953 game?

(B) He played first base temporarily, so a right-hander could pitch for awhile.

4. Who was known as The Mayor of Wrigley Field?

(D) Hank Sauer

5. Which three teams did the Sox defeat in the 2005 post-season?

(D) Red Sox–Angels–Astros

Chicago Trivia Quiz #14


A quiz on Chicago baseball—

1. The Chicago team in the Federal League was nicknamed the __________.

(A) Blue Sox

(B) Whales

(C) Sharks

(D) Fighting Bohemians

2. Which of these incidents helped the Cubs win the 1908 World Series?

(A) The Merkle Boner

(B) The Homer in the Gloamin’

(C) The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

(D) The Strange Death of Big Ed Delahanty

3. Why did Sox pitcher Billy Pierce play first base during a 1953 game?

(A) All of the regular first basemen were either injured or ejected from the game.

(B) He played first base temporarily, so a right-hander could pitch for awhile.

(C) He wanted to become an everyday player and home run hitter, like Babe Ruth.

(D) It was one of Bill Veeck’s stunts.

4. Who was known as The Mayor of Wrigley Field?

(A) Ernie Banks

(B) Jack Brickhouse

(C) Charlie Grimm

(D) Hank Sauer

5. Which three teams did the Sox defeat in the 2005 post-season?

(A) Yankees–Angels–Braves

(B) Yankees–Royals–Mets

(C) Tigers–A’s–Astros

(D) Red Sox–Angels–Astros



A Star Is Born (8-21-1914)

In August 1914 golf’s United States Open championship was being staged at the south suburban Midlothian Country Club. Among the entrants was a 21-year-old pro from upstate New York named Walter Hagen.

Hagen had finished fourth in the previous Open. But he’d been ready to abandon golf in favor of a baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was back at the Open only because a wealthy friend had bankrolled the trip.

Hagen at Midlothian

This was Hagen’s first visit to Chicago. The night before the tournament, Hagen and a buddy had dinner at a Loop restaurant. Within a few hours, the young golfer was throwing up.

Hagen wanted to withdraw from the tournament. His buddy convinced him to at least give it a try. Popping pills and stumbling around in a daze, Hagen shot 68, a course record. He was leading the Open.

By now, Hagen was feeling better. His scoring fell off the next two rounds. Still, he held the lead going into the final eighteen holes.

On his way to the most important round of golf in his life, Hagen stopped to watch a 7-year-old boy knocking a golf ball around the practice green. Hagen asked what he was doing. “Playing golf,” was the answer. As Hagen listened intently, the kid proceeded to give him a lesson.

Fourth round. Hagen’s play was raggedy now. Yet he managed to drain a long putt on the last green and post a final total of 292. When local amateur Chick Evans just missed holing out a chip on that same green, Hagen became the 1914 U.S. Open champion.

Afterward, at the ceremony where officials presented Hagen with the trophy, nobody was prouder that a certain 7-year-old boy. He went around telling everyone that he’d taught the new champ to play golf only a few hours earlier.

For his part, Hagen didn’t stick around the clubhouse too long after his victory. During his final round, he’d become acquainted with a young lady in the gallery, and they’d made a date. Now he hurried off to meet her.

Walter Hagen went on to become one of history’s greatest golfers.  He was the winner of eleven major championships—or sixteen, if you count his five Western Open titles, a big event in those times.  He summed up his philosophy of life memorably: “You’re only here for a short time. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”


The Bowling Ball That Went Around the World (5-28-1914)

Guest Post from The Oldest Chicagoan

Brunswick is a famous Chicago company.  They make bowling and billiards equipment.  In 1914 they came up with a new advertising stunt.  They were going to send a bowling ball around the world.

People didn’t travel much then—not even 50 miles, never mind around the world.  But there were YMCAs in all the British colonies.  So Brunswick planned to ship one of their Mineralite model balls from one YMCA to another, and the ball would get around the world that way.

Simple—and great publicity!  People would read about the ball as it moved from one place to the next.  When it got back to America, Brunswick would put it on display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.


So Brunswick Mineralite #391914 leaves Chicago for San Francisco on May 28, 1914, and gets to ‘Frisco two days later.  They bowl a match at the YMCA, then the ball goes back across the U.S. to New York.

At New York they put the ball on a ship and it goes to London.  There’s another ceremony there.  Next the ball is off to Berlin, for the big international bowling tournament.

Now things get complicated.

While the ball is on its way to Berlin, war breaks out between Britain and Germany—a little scrap called World War One.  The Brunswick ball arrives, and the Germans are suspicious.  Most of them have never seen a big, American-style bowling ball.  They think it’s a bomb.  They send it back.

Somehow, the ball winds up in Paris.  It sits around for a few months, then back it goes to London.  This time the Brits put it on a boat for India, and it gets to Bombay in November.

In Bombay, the ball is put on another boat heading for Sidney, Australia.  And that boat sinks.  It’s all over.

But no!  It turns out that the ball missed the boat that sank.  It’s still safe in India!

Anyway, the ball eventually gets to Australia, and from there it goes across the Pacific to San Francisco.  And in May 1915, the world-traveling bowling ball is proudly displayed at the Brunswick booth at the fair.

Then the fair closes, and after all that trouble, they lose the ball!  It’s missing for 19 years.  But in 1934, somebody finds #391914 in a warehouse.  And it finally returns to Chicago, just in time for our Century of Progress fair.

Where’s this famous bowling ball now?  Beats me!  Maybe it’s in that warehouse in the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  So I suppose we’ll have to have another world’s fair for it to show up again.


Lost Landmark: Evergreen Country Club

April is here. The golf clubs come out of the basement and into my car’s trunk. And yet the time is bittersweet. I’m starting another season without my favorite course—Evergreen Country Club.

Evergreen was located at Western Avenue and 91st Street in Evergreen Park. It wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t a great course. But in its own funky way, it was historic.

The site had originally been part of the Ahern farm. In 1924 the family opened an 18-hole daily fee course. Also on the property was a road house called the Beverly Gardens. At a time when most golf was played at private clubs, there weren’t many courses open to the public.

All sorts of people played Evergreen in those days. The most famous regular was Machine Gun Jack McGurn, Al Capone’s chief trigger-man. McGurn was a scratch player who once competed in the Western Open. Big Al came out to the course a few times, too.

John Dillinger also visited Evergreen, but not to play golf. On New Year’s Eve 1933, Dillinger and six pals stuck up the road house, shot it out with the local cops, and got away with $500.

I grew up on the Northwest Side, and never got around to playing Evergreen until the 1990s. Then I fell in love with the place. The Beverly Gardens had long since burned down, and the clubhouse was a little frame building with asbestos siding that looked like a renovated tool shed. But the green fees were cheap and it was seldom crowded.

The course was split in half by a live freight track, which you crossed four times during your 18 holes. Many of the holes were wide open and easy. A few were tricky, with narrow, tree-lined fairways and blind shots to elevated greens. Some were just weird—on the thirteenth, you teed off at roof-level of the houses behind you on 93rd Place.

One thing I appreciated was that the course was never littered with goose droppings. The greens crew simply let their dogs run free, and that kept the geese away.

By now the course was owned by Anna May “Babe” Ahern. She’d been born on the property in 1907 and was listed as the club pro. All the years I played at Evergreen, there’s was talk that the course was going to be sold to a developer, or Wal-Mart, or the Village of Evergreen Park. But like Babe Ahern, Evergreen went on.

On October 14, 2010, I holed-out a full 5-iron shot on Evergreen’s seventeenth. In nearly fifty years of golf, it was only my second eagle. Not wanting to spoil my mood, I skipped the last hole and walked off the course.

That was the last shot I ever hit at Evergreen Country Club. The next month Babe Ahern finally found a buyer who would pay her price, and the month after that she herself died, at 103.

I’ve driven past Evergreen’s site a few times in recent years.  I’ve seen the development that has taken place.  I realize that change is inevitable.

But sometimes it comes too damn quickly.