Bleeding Cubbie Blue

If you don’t live around Chicago the expression, “die hard” is likely associated with a Bruce Willis movie. Otherwise, in the Windy City environs it refers to a person who needs to be put out of his or her misery- a Cubs fan. There is no logical explanation as to why a mature adult is willing to subject himself to yearly disappointment, abject failure and unrequited dreams of popping champagne after the last game of the World Series.

Cubs fidelity is genetic. My mother is a Cub fan; ergo, I am, too. My father was agnostic. He knew that there were major league baseball players on the city’s North Side but wasn’t sure why he should care. He held little interest in sports in general. It was Ma who taught me how to catch and hit a ball. Ma’s first Cub hero was Bill Nicholson back in 1930’s and 40’s. My allegiance didn’t germinate until the 1960’s. That’s when I took to revering Billy Leo WIlliams, the sweet swinging lefty from Alabama. (Lefties got to stick together.)

My first visit to Wrigley Field, perennial shrine of the Cubs, was in the early 1960’s. Ma and I sat on the first base side which was also where the visitor’s dugout was located. Ma conveniently pointed out to me opposing players as they stood on the on deck circle. Guys such as Jerry Lynch, Smokey Burgess, natural born Cub killers. It seemed like every guy who picked up a bat owned Cub pitching. If Mr. Wrigley told the general manager to go out and trade for a Cub killer, you could be sure that the guy would hit .220 for the time he spent with the Boys in Blue.

When I was eleven or twelve I had to give up my bedroom so that an older sister didn’t have to share with two other sisters and could have her own privacy. I was shifted to the dining room and slept on something that looked like a cot at night and resembled a couch during the day. To assuage my feelings I was allowed to pick a reasonably priced present. I chose a Cubs baseball uniform. That summer, even as I grew out of it, I proudly wore that uniform as many times as possible when I went to play ball with friends.

Until the late 1960’s there was not much to cheer about the Cubs. The most humiliating event was in 1965 as I listened late at night to my portable radio while in bed. Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers undressed my boys one by one systematically and pitched a perfect game. It seemed as if the announcer was presiding over a funeral in his glum description of each Cub batter muttering to himself while walking back to the dugout. There came a point where I didn’t care if the Cubs won or even scored. Just get one person on base, dammit!

I got my revenge the following year (like I was part of the squad). A buddy’s father was a cab driver who knew Barney Sterling, the Cubs official photographer. He wrangled a few tickets out of him and treated us to a very special Sunday afternoon, September 25, 1966, the day before my fourteenth birthday. We sat seven rows up from the backdrop to home plate. All that separated us from getting whacked by a 100 mile an hour fastball was netting.

Koufax and Ken Holtzman were dueling on the mound. Holtzman was being talked about as the next great lefty when Koufax would retire. Holtzman achieved his own fame several years later immediately after being traded by the Cubs. He helped the Oakland Athletics win three World Series in a row. Naturally.

Koufax and Holtzman both did not allow any hits into the seventh inning. Holtzman eventually outlasted the great Dodger and won 2-1. It was to be Koufax’s last lost in a regular season game. He retired after the World Series.

Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, I was there in person when several other noteworthy events took place at the North Side ivy-covered ballpark. Opening day 1969, I mulled leaving the park in the ninth after the bums blew a three-run lead despite a two homer performance by Ernie Banks. Slowly inching from the third base side of the stands toward the Addison Street section to the south, I looked around to make sure there were no Andy Frain ushers close by and casually sat in an empty seat just to the left behind home plate. The Phillies took the lead by a run in the top of the eleventh. Quickly, there was one man on and one man out for the Cubs in the bottom half of the inning. I got up and started to head towards the stairs anticipating the usual game-ending double play.

Pinch hitter Willie Smith, not known for his muscle power, came to bat. In an instant, his bat launched the ball into the right field bleachers. Just like that the game was over. The Cubbies had won out and it started a euphoric roller coaster ride. The talented group of young men- the entire infield went to the All-Star Game as well as Williams in the outfield- were managed by the legendary Leo ‘the Lip’ Durocher. They just had to win it all. It ended in deep despair not just for the players but also for a million and one half fans who were taken for the usual sucker ride.

On Sunday, September 8, 1985, I was at Wrigley the day Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record. Recently some baseball historians became convinced that Cobb’s record was overstated by one. So it was possible that I did see the record breaker. At that time, Pistol Pete was managing the Cincinnati Reds so he also controlled the lineup. The record-tying hit came early in the game and then it started to rain. Play was held up for quite a while. We left early because the rain delay took too long. We also figured Pete would anyway pull himself out so that he could get the chance to break it before his own home crowd two days later in Cincy. Pete did stay in the game when play resumed so that the commissioner wouldn’t get on his back. But, he did not get another hit that long afternoon. Stan Musial got his 2,000 and 3,000 hits at Wrigley Field back in the 1950’s even though he played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ironically, that same Sunday was the beginning of the NFL football season. The Bears were playing Tampa Bay. I looked up at the Wrigley Field scoreboard and noticed that the Bears were losing 28-14 at half time. I thought that it was also going to be a long football season. The Bears turned it around in the second half of the game and went on to win 38-28. It also turned out to be their most memorable season with a record of 15-1 and won the Super Bowl in a blowout 46-10.

More recently, I attended a night game where the Bear’s Superbowl coach Mike Ditka rushed upstairs to take his turn at singing “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch. Mike was winded and also rushed through the song off-key. The fans in the stands looked at each other not wanting to believe that “Da Coach” had embarrassed himself.

Another crazy night was when one of Ditka’s players from the 1985 Super Bowl Winners, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, was also asked to do the seventh inning cheering. Over the loudspeaker microphone, he threatened to beat up the home plate umpire who had made a couple of questionable calls. And he wasn’t kidding. He was quickly escorted from the ball park or the Cubs were told that they would have to forfeit the game.

I wasn’t at the ballpark for other “great” moments in Cubbie Baseball such as the “Bartman Ball” episode in the 2003 playoffs or the following year when Sosa uncorked a wild bat. They are mere pebbles in the sands of time that flow the mystique of Cub anguish. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Or Ma will take away my allowance.

English Ain’t What it Used to Be

Whatever happened to English? I’m not referring to the citizens of a certain country who cried “Uncle” in the late 1700’s and then again in 1812 or so. You know, the ones who said that the sun would never set on the British Empire? Our European forefathers made a point in saying that we do not speak or write English but an American jive.
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I’m Not Getting Older, I’m Getting Crankier

Remember when Peter Pan enthralled a generation of baby boomers with “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” in the 1950’s and 60’s? Well, I’m still living the dream. Here I am in my mid fifties’ (okay, late fifties) and I still act the way I did thirty years ago. Immature you say? Nah, just a free spirit with a blend of impishness to go.

As I get older, younger people look at me and think of me as cranky. It’s like the average middle class guy who does weird things and people call him crazy. He wins the lottery and then all of a sudden he is called eccentric. I’m cranky because I have developed a lifetime of piques and interests and don’t care if other people share them or not. When I do what I want to do, act as I please, all of a sudden I am cranky. If I went in the other direction and just tried to please everyone but myself, they would say I have low self-esteem. Hey, esteem comes out of a radiator (sorry). It’s like that old song, “I do something to me, something that really mystifies me.” Okay, that’s not exactly how it goes, but I sounds it better. It’s like the schizophrenic who walks out of a psychiatrist’s office singing, “I gotta be me, and me, I gotta be me, and me.”
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Debit Cards – Pay As You Go

The expression “pay as you go” can mean a lot of things. It can refer to getting laid to rest in a cemetery only after a surviving family member coughs up enough dough for the burial plot and funeral services. It can also allude to the former practice, at least where I live, of the local airport having pay toilets. They had to cut it out because people made a stink (sorry).

For me it means using a debit card more often than using a credit card. When I tell friends that I do so they usually roll their eyes and indicate that only poor people or those with bad credit use debit cards. I reply that it is just the opposite. I have the best of credit. Why? Because I only use a credit card for items that have big ticket prices or where I need an element of protection. By that I mean when I buy something that I am concerned it may not work properly or it may not get shipped so quickly, I use a credit card as leverage. How so? I can always tell the credit card company that I am challenging the sale. No merchant wants to get into such a hassle.
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Is Social Security a Silver-Haired Lining?

The Economy is on everyone’s mind more so than ever. We read and hear how things are getting better but Unemployment is still way too high and many are working jobs below their skill level and collecting pay that does not keep up with the Joneses. I have it on good word, though, that Mr. Jones has been out of a job for the last eighteen months as his wife tries to hold the fort down with her meager salary. Jonesy is thinking of asking about that greeter’s job opening at Walmart.

Around the beginning of this century, baby boomers figured we would continue to hold our own in eking out enough of a living to pay current expenses even if we were not putting much away for the future. We also figured that Social Security benefits at age 65 would help when we retired and that Medicare would take care of health payments for our old age ailments and drug prescriptions. But, of course, that all changed.
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Bring Back What’s My Line

As a kid in the early 1960’s, the tv shows I watched were part of a group decision. There was only one set for a family of four kids (for the time being) and two parental units. My three sisters had their preference for girlie shows, but, we all always wanted to watch what we thought must have been meant for adult viewing. As if we got extra credit for trying to make ourselves seem more sophisticated than we were.

In those days, if a show got good ratings, it stayed on the air for several years. Good ratings meant that they were drawing lots of people on a regular basis. Of course, this was before cable and dishes that give you anywhere from 50 to 150 channels to choose from. In the big cities, you were glad to have five or six channels. In 1973, All in The Family one week drew a 33.7 rating which translated into a 54 share. This meant that fifty-four percent of all tv’s in use were watching Archie Bunker pontificate. Today, the most watched shows are ecstatic to get up to 25 percent of the sets in use.
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A Driving Lesson Learned

By all rights, I should have received my drivers license when I turned sixteen in the fall of 1968. The problem was that I flunked the driving test portion of driver’s education class. I got an A in the classroom portion but apparently it did not hold much weight against the fact that I didn’t know how to drive within the lines and parallel park. You’d have thought they would have given me a second chance. But, no- it was tough times in the ‘hood and no one wanted to hang around to re-test me. This was during the summer at Austin High School on Chicago’s far west side a few weeks after the riots in the area just to the east of us in the aftermath of the murder of Martin Luther King.
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Whatever Happened to TV Westerns?

Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, there were more than twenty western shows on TV at one time. Each one had a gimmick. There was Bat Masterson with his cane and derby hat, Chuck Connors with a sawed off shotgun, Richard Boone with his unique calling card, Nick Adams wearing a rebel hat and so on…

wyattearp batmasterson havegunwilltravel maverick

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Soy milk comes from vegetarian cows?

When I was young, not even ten years old, my digestive system as well as my psyche told me that I did not like milk. It’s not easy for a kid to tell his parents that he doesn’t want any dairy products. The process of eliminating that stuff from my diet was a slow wean. I quickly stopped drinking regular white milk, eating butter, cheese and related ichy edibles. I still drank chocolate milk, chocolate shakes and sodas and ate ice cream cones into my early teens. I even gobbled up milk chocolate candy bars until my thirties. And then I stopped cold turkey.

I remember at age six my father trying to force me to eat a cream cheese sandwich and I practically glued my mouth shut until my mother came home from wherever she was to save me.
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