Following the passing of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs have announced plans to pay tribute to the Hall of Famer during Spring Training, Opening Night at Wrigley Field and throughout the 2015 season.
Beginning in Spring Training and continuing throughout 2015, the team will wear a commemorative No. 14 patch on both its home and away jerseys. The Cubs will open their Spring Training schedule by wearing No. 14 hats during both split-squad games on March 5, with additional acknowledgments planned for that day’s opening game at Sloan Park.
Banks will also be honored with a pregame ceremony before Major League Baseball’s Cubs vs. Cardinals Season Opener at Wrigley Field on April 5. Each fan attending that night’s game will receive a commemorative pin in honor of the Cubs’ beloved shortstop. Fans will see many other tributes paying homage to Banks’ remarkable life and career throughout the evening.
A collection of videos, photos and articles have been posted to Cubs.com over the last several weeks, and Vine Line will publish a special feature edition honoring Mr. Cub in March.
Additional tributes will be finalized and incorporated throughout the 2015 season.
“There is no level of recognition that can properly acknowledge how much Ernie Banks meant to this franchise and fan base,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “Collectively, we must ensure Mr. Cub’s legacy rightfully lives on at the Friendly Confines and with future generations of baseball fans.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
Among Cubs players, Banks ranks first in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
While still a player in 1967, Banks turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African-American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.
He was the first Cub to have his number retired in 1982, was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, and was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
(Photo courtesy Chicago Cubs)
Holy cow! From 1982-98, there was no bigger personality at Wrigley Field than Hall of Fame broadcaster and man about town Harry Caray. His passion for the Cubs was rivaled only by his passion for life. In November, Vine Line ran a feature on Caray, who died 17 years ago today.
As was commonplace with Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, the game call took an unusual turn—this time to seedless grapes. A fruit lacking the ability to self-propagate spawned a conversation so lengthy, so in keeping with the legend, Caray’s longtime work partner still laughs about it decades later.
“It was mostly carefully crafted, the lunacy,” said former Cubs pitcher and broadcaster Steve Stone. “Out of his mind came the most unusual things.”
Stone, who now works for the crosstown White Sox, shared the WGN-TV broadcast booth with Harry Caray for 15 seasons until Caray’s death in 1998, and stories about the beloved broadcaster still pour out of him. Stone credited Caray with teaching him about loyalty, fans, calling a good game and calling a bad game well.
He recalled Caray launching into this yarn, on air, about riding in the back of a limousine and seeing a grocery store sign advertising seedless grapes. Caray marveled at the novelty of this “new” fruit—which, for the record, was neither new nor novel—and baited his partner for a good explanation of how such a thing could exist.
Stone, the college-educated straight man to Caray’s blue-collar wild card, cobbled together a workable theory about selective pollination, hybridization and the like.
“Well, that doesn’t sound right,” Caray grumbled, later adding, “Imagine if they came up with a seedless watermelon!”
“We talked an entire inning about seedless grapes,” Stone recalled with a laugh. “This is a story he was waiting to tell.”
These days, the legend of Harry Caray—and fans’ memories of him—tend to skew toward caricature. Everyone from Will Ferrell to Ryan Dempster can do a spot-on Caray impression. He was so beloved, so funny, so seemingly hapless, it’s easy to forget what a good baseball mind he had.
The grape conversation and others were hardly the ramblings of an eccentric older man. They were the deliberate selling of an experience, a persona and a ballpark that made Caray the beating heart of a club that still pulses with his legacy today. During his lengthy career, the Hall of Famer bellowed through 50 years of big league broadcasts, including two Cubs division titles, and took generations of fans out to the ballgame—his way.
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Atlanta Braves broadcaster Chip Caray said a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have penned a better story: A scrappy, St. Louis-bred orphan spends the bulk of his working life peddling the Chicago Cubs’ biggest rivals before climbing into the booth behind home plate at Wrigley Field.
“And he’s the most beloved announcer in the history of the franchise,” said the younger Caray, Harry’s grandson. “He ended up doing pretty damn well for himself.”
By the time Caray was born as Harry Christopher Carabina on March 1, 1914, he had already been abandoned by his father. His mother remarried but died in 1928, leaving her teenage boy to be raised by an aunt.
Caray was a decent high school baseball player and earned a scholarship to the University of Alabama. But he declined the offer because he couldn’t afford room and board, according to Cubs historian Ed Hartig.
“When people are brought up without much, they desire to get ahead,” said Caray’s widow, Dutchie.
And so he did. After listening to countless Cardinals broadcasts, the kid felt he could convey the sport’s excitement better than the team’s radio broadcasters, and he was cocky enough to let the station’s general manager hear about it. The GM gave Caray an audition and liked what he saw, but he preferred Caray start in small-market Joliet, Illinois, where he could gain some experience.
The newly minted broadcaster kicked off the 1940s with a new beat (high school and junior college basketball, bowling and softball), a new name (out with Carabina, in with Caray) and, after a promotion to sports director of a station in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a new catchphrase—a rousing “Holy cow!” belted out after home runs.
In an era when prominent announcers were scrambling to find on-air calling cards, Caray’s served a dual purpose: It was memorable, and it kept him from swearing, Hartig said.
In 1944, Caray returned to his beloved hometown Cardinals, where he spent 25 years in the booth despite some personal entanglements. His growing fame and hectic schedule led to a divorce from his first wife, Dorothy, in 1949 (he would marry and divorce a second time before marrying Dutchie in 1975).
Later, rumors of an affair with an owner’s wife arose, and Caray did little to dispel them.
Following the 1969 campaign, he was fired by the Cardinals and spent one season calling games for the Oakland Athletics.
In 1971, he headed back to the Midwest to replace Bob Elson as the voice of the White Sox. The club capitalized on the broadcaster’s ability to self-promote by offering him an incentive-laden contract based on attendance numbers at Comiskey Park.
Caray quickly became immensely popular. When he wasn’t hobnobbing with South Siders, buying fans beers or broadcasting from the bleachers, he was carousing downtown and hitting bars and restaurants after games, earning himself the nickname “the Mayor of Rush Street.”
Personnel changes at the Sox and rumblings about a pay-per-view system for the 1982 season prompted Caray to contact the Cubs about replacing legend Jack Brickhouse, who was retiring after the 1981 season, Hartig said. Caray was ultimately hired, and the nationally viewed WGN Superstation, which had launched just prior to Caray’s arrival, sent his popularity into orbit.
“He was fun to listen to,” Dutchie Caray said. “He was just nuts.”
The Cubs capitalized on Caray’s oddball personality by promoting him almost as heavily as they did the team—and Caray followed suit by pursuing his own endorsements as the de facto face of the Cubs. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, especially during bleak years on the field when the stretch-singing, microphone-waving Caray was the one putting butts in seats.
“Harry sold the city of Chicago, Wrigley Field, the Cubs, and he sold Harry Caray,” Stone said. “And beer. That goes without saying.”
While Caray rarely met a party he didn’t like, stories of him being drunk in the booth during games are patently false. When fans heard the pop of a can followed by a long, gulping pull during broadcasts, Caray was generally drinking soda, not beer, Chip Caray said. While the elder Caray would hoist a glass during the seventh-inning stretch, its contents generally remained untouched. Stone said during their 14 years together in the WGN booth, he watched Caray drink a total of maybe 45 beers—roughly three per season.
“It was show business,” said the younger Caray, adding that his grandfather might enjoy a cold brew only on the hottest of days in the steamiest of cities, where the booth was like a “Japanese pillbox on Iwo Jima”—his grandfather’s words.
And perhaps it was Caray’s words—and his famous delivery of them—that compelled listeners to believe he was soused. He’d jumble players’ names, make silly puns, and dip into a vast well of ridiculous, incongruous stories during slow moments. Most fans can, and frequently do, quote them from memory.
“Alou’s name spelled backwards is Uola.”
“How could that guy lose the ball in the sun? He’s from Mexico.”
“The good Lord wants the Cubs to win.”
Said Stone: “He was never boring.”
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Caray first crossed paths with his longtime wingman at Comiskey Park, where Stone pitched for the White Sox in 1973 and from 1977-78. Stone was also part owner of The Pump Room, a swanky Chicago restaurant located in what was then the Ambassador East Hotel. He recalled sitting at the bar with teammate Ken Brett one night when Harry, who was living at the hotel at the time, walked in.
“He looks at Brett and says to him, ‘Boy, last year you were good! What the hell happened to you?’” Stone said. “And Kenny says, ‘Nice talking to you, Harry.’”
Caray’s no-nonsense style irked some and downright alienated others, such as former Cubs broadcaster Milo Hamilton and Sox owner John Allyn, who both “probably had the Harry Caray dartboard,” Hartig said.
“Harry would be a guy who’d be very difficult to hire today,” his grandson said.
And the same hard lines he drew professionally leaked into his home life as well.
“He didn’t know how to be a dad, to be a granddad,” Chip Caray said. “There are a lot of holes in my life and in my dad’s life.”
Chip Caray credited his step-grandmother, Dutchie, with working to mend any familial rifts.
“I tried to get Harry to realize he needed to treat all his kids alike,” she said, adding that he tended to favor the boys within his own brood of five. At home, the usually voluble Caray was quiet and typically buried in newspapers. He read about seven papers a day, prompting Dutchie to lay out towels to protect their home’s white carpeting.
“He would come into the house, and his hands would be black from newsprint,” Dutchie Caray said. “I’d say, ‘Don’t touch anything!’”
Stone recalled that same devotion to print. Caray would often amble into the booth and drop a gigantic tome he was working his way through onto the table, and his gameday prep was poring over everything he could get his ink-stained mitts on.
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The roar of the Wrigley Field crowd between innings of an uneventful game often left WGN-TV’s director of production Bob Vorwald puzzled—that is, until he realized Caray was making his way from the TV booth to the radio booth.
“He was a force of nature,” Vorwald said.
Caray had a knack for appealing to “regular guys” and relished talking to fans and signing autographs. When Stone began working with Caray, the legend told him: “Never talk down to your audience.”
Prior to going on-air, Caray would often ask his partner to pick any side on any issue, and the veteran broadcaster would counter it. From seedless grapes to Stone’s cigar smoking, Caray had a retort for everything, and it usually was consistent with the opinions of the guy bellying up to the bar.
“He’d say, ‘Don’t take it personally. That’s good television,’” Stone remembered.
But baseball always came first.
“I think people remember the personality,” Vorwald said. “But they don’t always remember what an outstanding broadcaster he was and how well he knew the game.”
Caray missed the start of the 1987 season after suffering a stroke. His return was heralded by an on-air phone call from no less than President Ronald Reagan—a call ridiculously cut short.
“He hung up on Ronald Reagan because Bobby Dernier got a bunt single,” said Stone, laughing.
While Caray’s bits weren’t an act, they weren’t an accident either. For many of the seasons he covered the Cubs, the team struggled, so the broadcast had to be more interesting to keep viewers from changing the channel.
“He saw a lot of bad baseball,” Vorwald said. “You have to work harder when teams and games are not so good.”
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Cubs suffered a dismal 38-65 record and drew an unusually low half-million in attendance. The following year, Caray’s first, the team still came in under .500, yet attendance doubled. And it continued to grow for years after that.
Late in his career and in declining health, Caray cut back on his travel—and his drinking. He collapsed at a Palm Springs Valentine’s Day dinner with Dutchie in 1998 and died of cardiac arrest and brain damage four days later—just shy of his 84th birthday. His funeral was held at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and was followed by a motorcade around Wrigley Field.
Chip Caray remembered sitting in a limousine with his dad when the procession to the North Side halted. They slowed through downtown roadwork on that frigid Chicago winter’s day and looked out the window. Construction workers stood in silent salute as the caravan passed, hard hats held steady over their hearts for someone they recognized as uniquely their own.
And that’s just how Caray would have wanted it.
The Cubs today released details for Saturday’s memorial service in honor of Ernie Banks at Fourth Presbyterian Church and the procession that will pass Ernie Banks’ statue in Daley Plaza and Wrigley Field.
Saturday’s memorial service will begin at 10 a.m. and will include remembrances, readings and tributes from the following dignitaries who will speak in the order listed below:
Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Chicago Cubs, with a remembrance on behalf of the Chicago Cubs
Joe Torre, Chief Baseball Officer, with a remembrance on behalf of Major League Baseball
Billy Williams, Hall of Fame teammate, with a personal remembrance
Fergie Jenkins, Hall of Fame teammate, with a reading
Lou Brock, Hall of Famer and Cubs roommate, with a reading
The Hon. Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois, with a remembrance on behalf of the State
The Hon. Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, with a remembrance on behalf of the City
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., with a personal tribute
John Rogers, Friend of Ernie Banks, with a personal tribute
Jerry and Joey Banks, twin sons of Ernie Banks, with personal tributes
Following the memorial service at Fourth Presbyterian Church, the procession will embark on a route that will pass Ernie Banks’ statue in Daley Plaza and Wrigley Field. Due to the restoration of Wrigley Field, fans gathering at the ballpark are asked to view the procession from the following locations: the southwest corner of Sheffield Avenue and Addison Street in front of the Captain Morgan Club; along the south side of Addison Street between Sheffield Avenue and Clark Street; or along the west side of Clark Street between Addison Street and Waveland Avenue.
At the end of the service, the procession will leave Fourth Presbyterian Church and drive south on Michigan Avenue, west on Randolph Street, south on Clark Street and east on Washington Street, where it will pass the Ernie Banks statue in Daley Plaza. The procession will then head to Lake Shore Drive to the Belmont Avenue exit. The procession will head west on Belmont Avenue, northwest on Clark Street, north on Sheffield Avenue and west on Addison Street to Clark Street, where it will pass the Wrigley Field Marquee.
The Chicago Cubs and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday that Ernie Banks’ Wrigley Field statue will be placed in Daley Plaza this week from Wednesday morning through Saturday, allowing fans to honor and remember the Hall of Famer. Banks passed away Friday night after suffering cardiac arrest at the age of 83.
Banks became the first player in Cubs history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field in 2008. Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago will host the statue, which has been temporarily removed from its home at the corner of Clark and Addison during the current phase of the Wrigley Field restoration project. The statue is being transported from a facility outside of the city where it is being restored and will be placed in Daley Plaza upon arrival in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel called Banks a friend who was a great ambassador for the city.
“Ernie Banks’ legacy extends far beyond his Hall of Fame stats. He was beloved by generations of people for the way he played on the field and—more importantly—for the kind and warm person he was off the field,” Emanuel said. “We are bringing Ernie’s statue to Daley Plaza to honor not just one of the best ballplayers of all time, but a great man who made our city proud from the day we first met him in 1953.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
The greatest player in franchise history, Banks ranks first among Cubs in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
He was the first Cub to have his number retired in 1982, was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
“Ernie Banks was a great player and an even better person,” said Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Cubs. “He was a kind, gentle man who loved his fans as much as they loved him. We couldn’t think of a better way to honor Ernie than to allow those fans a way to pay their final respects to this great man.”
(Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
The Chicago Cubs tonight are saddened to announce that Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, the greatest Cub in franchise history, has passed away at the age of 83.
“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time,” said Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Cubs. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And, more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.
“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind-hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Ernie played the game he loved as a lifelong Cub for 19 seasons from when he made his debut with the club in 1953 until his retirement in 1971. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI in 1958 and followed that up with 45 home runs and 143 RBI in 1959.
Banks hit 512 home runs in his career, surpassing the 40-home run mark five times, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
Banks ranks first among Cubs players in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
While still a player in 1967, Ernie turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African-American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.
Banks became the first player in franchise history to have his number retired in 1982, and his flag flies from the left-field foul pole to this day. He was also voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team, and he was honored on the field at the All-Star Game in Fenway Park in 1999.
Beyond his statistics on the field, Banks was famous for his endearing charm and his remarkable wit. He became the first player in franchise history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field when he helped with the unveiling at Clark and Addison on March 31, 2008. His statue is adorned with his famous line, “Let’s Play Two.”
In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given to those who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
On April 23, 1914, a new and thoroughly modern ballpark opened up on Chicago’s North Side. When the gates were flung wide on the Federal League’s crown jewel, Weeghman Park, fans were treated to their first look at a beautiful steel and brick structure that was designed to stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t need a little help.
Over the last 100 years, the iconic ballpark at the corner of Clark and Addison has gone through countless enhancements, modernizations and expansions. The game moves fast, and major league teams need to keep pace. In 1914, Weeghman Park had only one level, the press box was on the roof, and the facility seated just north of 14,000 people. Not much of that would fly today.
Since then, Wrigley Field has been updated with everything from a second deck, to a hand-operated scoreboard, to new bleachers, to stadium lights, to an improved field drainage system, to a right-field video board. At every step along the way, the Friendly Confines has retained its charm and feel—and has been better off for the additions. A ballpark doesn’t get to be 100 years old without evolving to meet the demands of its sport.
There are pros and cons about playing in a landmark, century-old facility. On the plus side, there is no more beautiful place to watch a Major League Baseball game than the Friendly Confines, from the bricks and ivy of the outfield wall to being ensconced in a thriving urban neighborhood. But there are things the park is missing too, from both a fan and player perspective.
Most fans wouldn’t argue with more and better food options or a few extra restrooms here and there. The players could use a larger clubhouse facility, a better strength and conditioning center, and underground batting tunnels to use during games. And the front office would love additional revenue from things like new video boards and advertising to help keep the Cubs competitive for the foreseeable future.
Every other team in the fiercely competitive NL Central has opened a new facility since 2001, and, make no mistake, they all have these things.
This offseason begins the next, and most ambitious, step in the evolution of Wrigley Field. Over the next four years, the Cubs plan to preserve the beauty and historic features fans have cherished about the ballpark for decades while updating and improving the gameday experience for everyone.
In Vine Line‘s November issue, we get a first look at The 1060 Project and how the plan will come together between now and 2018. We talked to the people who are making the restoration happen, from Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein to the project team, so fans know what to expect as the ballpark is enhanced.
“Wrigley has a very special vibe,” Ricketts said. “It’s a special place. We respect that. We think we understand what makes it so special, and all the things that people associate with this beautiful ballpark will be preserved. It will just have better amenities and better services and more information.”
We also jump into the 2014-15 offseason along with the Cubs players. After more than seven months of continuous routine and rigorous training, it’s an unusual experience for them to suddenly have so much free time on their hands. We stopped by the clubhouse in the season’s final days to find out how the Cubs handle the transition to the offseason.
Finally, for our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look back at one of the most beloved Cubs figures of all time, Harry Caray. The legendary broadcaster and Hall of Famer died in 1998, but he more than left his mark on the franchise in his 16 years in (and out) of the booth.
We’ll spend this offseason keeping you up-to-date on all the details of The 1060 Project in the pages of Vine Line, on the Web and on Twitter at @cubsvineline. Here’s to the next 100 years at Wrigley Field.
Jack Brickhouse, the longtime face and voice of the Chicago Cubs on WGN broadcasts, was eternally and unapologetically an optimist. From 1941-81, including 33 years in the television booth, Brickhouse “Hey-hey’d!” the Cubs’ highs and rallied fans through the many lows. In the doldrums of team history, during a decades-long span when it was exceedingly easy to bail on the downtrodden North Side nine, Brickhouse remained steadfast.
Of course, that might have been by necessity.
“He saw a lot of bad baseball,” said Bob Vorwald, director of production for WGN-TV. “He called over 5,000 games through rose-colored glasses.”
While 5,000 baseball broadcasts may seem like a lot, that only scratched the surface of what Brickhouse accomplished during his career. He also called games for the crosstown White Sox, the NFL’s Chicago Bears and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. On top of that, he covered political conventions, interviewed politicians (including four presidents) and contributed to the evening news. At one point, he even interviewed Pope Paul VI. But through it all, it was his work with the Cubs that made him a broadcasting legend and earned him a well-deserved spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“His was the voice people aligned with the Cubs,” Vorwald said. “He was also a voice of endless enthusiasm and optimism.”
Brickhouse’s fans credit his unflinching positivity and unconditional love for the Cubs with the creation of a devoted and unshakable fan base. His omnipresence in the WGN-TV broadcast booth also aided in the formation of a nationwide patchwork of Cubs boosters as the television era was dawning and WGN was increasing its reach.
“He was as much a part of the team as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “You remember broadcasters. They’re the first ones you learn the game from.”
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The truly classic tales always seem to include humble beginnings, and Brickhouse’s early years certainly fit the mold.
“He was very proud of [that],” said Jack Rosenberg, Brickhouse’s longtime sports editor and friend. “He was a phenomenal guy who came up the hard way.”
Born in 1916 in Peoria, Illinois, Brickhouse lost his father when he was just a toddler, according to Hartig. His mother remarried, but the family’s financial outlook was bleak. In high school, he played basketball and acted in the senior play while cutting his reporting teeth at the school paper. His college days ended after only one year when the family coffers ran dry, but other promising opportunities emerged.
In 1934, a teenaged Brickhouse got a part-time job at the local WMBD radio station working the switchboard and forming the foundations of his on-air personality. But he never grew up dreaming of making a name for himself on the airwaves. His first foray into radio was actually entering—and losing—an announcing contest. The prize was a $50 watch, which the young man planned to sell for cash to give to his mother, said Jack’s widow, Pat Brickhouse.
While the watch ultimately went to a more seasoned entrant, the station manager heard something in the kid’s voice and hired him anyway. While in Peoria, Brickhouse ran the gamut from news to sports, but he also covered every barn dance and variety show in between. He pushed to expand coverage of Bradley University basketball, and later became the voice of Big Ten football, boxing matches and minor league baseball in the area.
Chicago broadcasting stalwart and longtime White Sox announcer Bob Elson brought the young broadcaster to WGN in 1940 to work Cubs and Sox games, as well as Notre Dame football. Though Brickhouse was already an experienced radio man by this point, the national pastime was still a bit outside his comfort zone.
“If asked, [tell them] you know everything about baseball,” Pat Brickhouse recounted of the wire message alerting her late husband of his new position. “He didn’t know dibbledydook about baseball.”
But, clearly, he managed. Brickhouse jumped around and filled in for the next several years as World War II beckoned Elson away from the booth (childhood tuberculosis kept Brickhouse a civilian). Brickhouse eventually became the lead broadcaster for all Sox and Cubs games. He also covered political conventions, and later briefly worked for baseball’s Giants in New York on WMCA. Brickhouse’s career seemed to be taking off, but Pat Brickhouse said her future husband’s year in New York was the worst of his life. He loved Chicago and was desperate to get home.
In 1947, a new medium beckoned him back to his beloved city. WBKB in Chicago was televising Cubs home games courtesy of local sponsors and needed a personality to anchor its broadcasts. Brickhouse jumped at the opportunity and worked alongside Joe Wilson until the following year when WGN-TV rehired him. The fledgling television arm of the radio giant would be broadcasting all Cubs and White Sox home games, which Brickhouse called in addition to serving as sports service manager.
Along with baseball, Brickhouse worked college and pro football games and some wrestling, which Hartig said irked the broadcaster initially. But he later learned to appreciate the sport’s over-the-top theatrics.
* * * *
WGN-TV, Channel 9 in Chicago, broadcast its first Cubs game, a crosstown affair with the White Sox, on April 16, 1948, from Wrigley Field. The South Siders bested the home team 4-1, and Brickhouse’s legendary 33-year tenure as the station’s televised baseball ambassador was off and running.
“Jack was on his own in that regard,” said Len Kasper, WGN-TV’s Cubs play-by-play announcer. “He was so ingrained here for so many decades.”
The station gained exclusive rights to Cubs games in 1952, with Jack Brickhouse and Harry Creighton taking television-owning Chicagoans out to the ballgame every summer—and it shouldn’t be taken for granted just how novel that experience was. While every baseball game is now broadcast, stations were still scrambling to figure out the medium around the time of Brickhouse’s television debut.
No longer did an announcer need to paint the picture—the picture was already being beamed into living rooms—so the call had to be more deft and data-driven. Broadcasters weren’t groomed for telegenics either. They simply made the jump from radio.
“This was all brand new, the idea of [baseball on] television,” Hartig said of the early broadcasts. “How do you cover this [sport]?”
The first major league game was televised in 1939 from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, but by the end of the 1940s, most teams were getting on board. Yet no broadcaster had a presence quite like Brickhouse’s, and none was calling as many games, Kasper said. The sheer volume of work he did, the knowledge he gleaned about the American and National leagues, and the time he spent behind the mic were, and continue to be, without equal.
Though Brickhouse became a Chicago institution, his reach extended beyond the city’s borders. He called five All-Star Games as well as four World Series games—all while publishing his Jack Brickhouse’s Major League Record Book and working to get pro golf televised, Hartig said. Brickhouse began 20-plus years as the radio voice of the Chicago Bears in 1953; he became the first announcer for the Chicago Bulls in 1966, a role he held until 1973; he served on the Cubs’ board of directors for 11 years; he interviewed presidents and dignitaries; and he occasionally popped up on the local Chicago news.
But it was at Wrigley Field where he felt most at home, his widow said. While the 40 years of his Cubs tenure witnessed more blight than bliss, Brickhouse saw, and delighted in, several no-hitters and Ernie Banks’ 500th career home run. In the archived broadcast of the latter event, his voice cracks and bellows with unfiltered joy.
“He was a homer,” Hartig said. “No Cub was ever in a slump. They were always overdue.”
The broadcaster called his unprecedented 5,000th game in 1979 and retired from announcing Cubs baseball in 1981. As Pat Brickhouse put it, he wanted to go out at the top of his game.
“Forty years as a broadcaster is never going to be topped,” she said. “People don’t stick around that long.”
Brickhouse didn’t exactly spend his retired years enjoying the quiet life. He wrote two books, made various speaking engagements and played a great deal of gin rummy. In a fitting cap to his esteemed broadcasting career, he was given the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
In March 1998, Brickhouse died of cardiac arrest at the age of 82, after surgery to remove a brain tumor. His beloved but beleaguered Cubs finished the 1998 season in second place in the NL Central with a 90-73 record, and went to the postseason as the Wild Card winner. It would have been one of the finest seasons on Brickhouse’s watch.
* * * *
“I think everybody over the age of 40 can do a Jack Brickhouse impression,” said Vorwald, striking a delighted, high-pitched “Wheeeeee!” to demonstrate.
Brickhouse’s signature “Hey-hey!” call following each Cubs run—a phrase now emblazoned on the foul poles at Wrigley Field in the legendary broadcaster’s honor—was typical of the man who unabashedly root, root, rooted for the Cubbies, even when they weren’t winning.
“They were dreadful,” Vorwald reiterated. “He always found a way to never let it show on the air. “The fans’ optimism—that comes from Jack.”
Brickhouse’s cheery, glass-half-full style earned him his detractors, but largely drew more fans into the Cubs fold.
“That’s just how the man was. He was optimistic about life,” Pat Brickhouse said. “And about his beloved Cubs.”
A 1970 letter to the Chicago Tribune sports editor came to Brickhouse’s defense after a column suggested the city’s broadcasters should consider “shutting up.”
“If [the columnist] doesn’t expect the sportscasters to get excited during a hockey or baseball game, then he must not get very excited himself,” wrote the reader, signed P.A. Mueller. “With Lloyd Pettit yelling ‘A shot and a goal,’ and Jack Brickhouse yelling ‘Hey-hey!’ it all adds to the excitement of the game. I think they do a marvelous job of reporting the action.”
Ed Hartig credits Brickhouse with turning the historian—and native South Sider—into a lifelong Cubs fan.
“Every day, Jack Brickhouse was there,” said the 49-year-old Hartig.
Rosenberg, whose tip-tapping typewriter can be heard churning out production notes in the background of his friend’s old broadcasts, said he hears stories like Hartig’s all the time.
“What they remember was that he was like part of the family,” said Rosenberg, who penned Brickhouse’s Hall of Fame speech. “People grew up with us.”
A statue of Brickhouse, which his wife was instrumental in securing, now stands on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. Notes in hand and microphone poised, he appears mid-call—his eyes cast ahead and mouth turned up in a smile.
“‘I hope I never have to go to work for a living,’” Pat Brickhouse recalled her husband saying. “He just loved what he was doing so much.”
For the August issue of Vine Line, we took a look back at the inimitable career of former Cubs player, coach and manager Don Zimmer.
On July 17, 1990, manager Don Zimmer’s struggling Cubs squad was in the midst of a modest three-game winning streak. But what the team really needed was to get its slumping ace, Greg Maddux, back on track. Following a comfortable 7-2 win over the Padres, Zimmer was asked about the next day’s game and was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying:
“Hopefully, tomorrow, [Maddux] can go out and pitch well enough to get a W. If he does, who knows? He might win four, five, six games.”
And then the coup de grâce.
“I’d swim Lake Michigan if Maddux could win tomorrow.”
Though, at first glance, it would seem like a bad idea to bet against a future Hall of Famer and eventual 355-game winner, Maddux was in the midst of a rare rough patch. He had gone 0-8 in his last 13 starts with a 6.15 ERA and hadn’t won since May 5. He was also just 24 years old, and his shelves were not yet lined with Cy Young Awards, so a successful rebound wasn’t a certainty.
Apparently just as eager to see Zimmer jump in a lake as the press corps, The Professor responded by twirling seven solid innings in a Cubs 4-2 win and picking up his 50th career victory to propel the team to a three-game sweep of the Friars.
Following the game, Zimmer showed up at his press conference wearing sunglasses, an orange life jacket and an inflatable inner tube around his rather sizable waist. As for the 60-mile swim, the fun-loving Zim demurred, saying he swam “like a rock.”
“Sometimes you make statements,” he explained. “I just wanted the kid to win a ballgame.”
And that, in essence, was former Cubs player, coach and manager Don Zimmer, who died on June 4 in Dunedin, Florida, at the age of 83. He was passionate, comical and, above all, a dedicated baseball man who would do anything to motivate his players and pick up a win. Zimmer spent his life learning and trying to understand baseball, and he had a special gift for passing on his acquired knowledge in a friendly, accessible way.
“He was like a psychologist,” said Cubs Hall of Famer and former teammate Ernie Banks. “He understood things real well. A lot of people look at the world as backward. But he did not. He looked at [baseball] as a business you could learn. You can learn playing this game. You can learn how to play it. You can learn how to manage it.”
Over six professional decades, Zimmer made All-Star teams as a player and coach, collected six World Series rings, won a Manager of the Year Award and left an indelible mark on the game by influencing generations of players, from Cubs greats Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace to modern superstars like Evan Longoria and Derek Jeter (who used to rub Zim’s head for luck before at-bats).
“[He was] iconic, jolly,” said Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who was with Tampa Bay when Zimmer was a senior advisor there. “He was a voice of influence—a man with so much history in the game you couldn’t help but engage with him in conversation about baseball, stories about baseball, advice about things you could do differently to help improve your game.”
During his years on the diamond, the jowly, ebullient baseball lifer earned a reputation as a character. He was a phenomenal storyteller who was quick with a joke—especially if it was directed at himself.
Modern fans probably best remember Zimmer as the bench coach for Joe Torre’s championship New York Yankees teams, on which he collected four World Series rings between 1996-2003. In classic Zimmer style, he liked to downplay his impact on those dominant Yankees squads—even though Torre was always quick to admit he ran everything by his second in command, who managed more than 1,700 of his own major league games.
“People say, ‘What is the job of a bench coach?’” said Zimmer in a 2001 interview with Esquire. “Very simple—I sit next to Torre on the bench. When he plays hit-and-run that works, I say, ‘Nice goin’, Skipper,’ and if it doesn’t work, I go down to the other end of the bench, get a drink and get out of his way. We only got one manager. I don’t want no credit for doin’ anything.”
When most fans picture Zimmer, they probably see him wearing a green army helmet emblazoned with the Yankees logo one day after being struck on the side of his face by a foul ball during a 1999 playoff game against Texas. Or charging at, and being thrown to the ground by, then-Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS at 72 years old.
But lost in these remembrances is what a dedicated, intelligent, forward-thinking baseball man he actually was. Truly, there’s almost nothing Zimmer didn’t do in his years on a baseball field.
He married his high school sweetheart, Jean (nicknamed Soot), at home plate in Class-A Elmira, New York, in 1951, with his teammates holding a canopy of bats over their heads; he met Babe Ruth; he played alongside Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers; he helped move baseball westward on the inaugural Los Angeles Dodgers team; he was an original New York Met; he played in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Japan; he coached, he managed, he advised; he won World Series championships as a player and coach; and he taught legions of players what it means to be a major leaguer.
But Zimmer was also a survivor. He was fired from four managerial jobs; he was Boston’s manager when Bucky (Effin’) Dent hit his fateful, wind-aided home run over the Green Monster in the 1978 AL East tiebreaker game; and he had more than his fair share of run-ins with management.
But that was hardly the worst of it. During his playing career, he fought his way back from two near-fatal beanings—the first in 1953 and the second in ’56. The initial one, which happened when he was still in Triple-A, fractured his skull and left him unconscious for almost two weeks, requiring doctors to drill four holes in his head to relieve the pressure and swelling. The second, a fastball from Reds pitcher Hal Jeff-coat, crushed his cheekbone and almost cost him an eye. Though he was never really the same player after that, he still found ways to contribute to the game he loved and hung on to play until 1965.
“What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time,” Zimmer once told the Chicago Tribune.
Through it all, he never lost his passion for the game and never once considered any other career.
“I can’t say it enough about how much he still loved the game,” said former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, who met Zimmer during his time with the Rays. “To be in something for 60-plus years, you’ve got to really have a passion for it.”
Despite his success in New York, perhaps no stretch in Zimmer’s career was as wild and as colorful as his time with the Cubs. The squat, muscular infielder—his forearms were so large, Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella nicknamed him Popeye—made the lone All-Star appearance of his 12-year playing career as a Cubs second baseman in 1961. That season, he hit .252/.291/.403 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 home runs in 128 games.
Zimmer began his big league baseball career in 1954 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he won a World Series title as a reserve infielder in 1955 and then made the move westward to Los Angeles in 1958. In April 1960, with Maury Wills ready to take over the Dodgers shortstop job, Zimmer was traded to the Cubs for Ron Perranoski, Johnny Goryl, Lee Handley and $25,000.
But Zimmer’s first go-round in Chicago would be short-lived. In 1961, he played for the Cubs during the initial season of the College of Coaches. With the team forgoing a single manager and constantly changing leadership, owner Philip K. Wrigley and General Manager John Holland named Zim captain, calling upon his “veteran presence.”
But he ruffled a few feathers when WGN Radio broadcaster Lou Boudreau interviewed him midseason about the coaching experiment. Zimmer, as usual, spoke his mind and told the listening audience about the system’s faults—coaches playing favorites, guys not knowing who would be starting, one coach wanting things one way while another wanted things a different way, etc. The coaches had the radio on in the clubhouse and heard the interview. Afterward, one of them told Zimmer he wouldn’t have to worry about it for too much longer because he’d be gone before the start of the next season.
And the coaches were true to their word. On Oct. 10, 1961, Zimmer was selected by the New York Mets from the Cubs in the expansion draft. After that, he spent brief stints with the Reds, Dodgers and Senators, where he played his final major league game in 1965. He toiled one last year in Japan in 1966 and then moved into coaching, eventually becoming the manager of the San Diego Padres (1972-73), Boston Red Sox (1976-80) and Texas Rangers (1981-82).
He wouldn’t rejoin the Cubs until 1984, as the team’s third base coach under longtime friend and manager Jim Frey. Though that 1984 Cubs team ultimately won the NL East title, both Zimmer and Frey would lose their jobs in June 1986, with the club languishing 16.5 games out of first.
He spent the intervening years with the Yankees and Giants, but rejoined the North Siders as manager in 1988, when Frey was hired as GM following Dallas Green’s resignation.
After a below-.500 season in 1988, Zimmer had the finest managerial campaign of his career in 1989, when he led the “Boys of Zimmer” to a surprising NL East crown. His popularity on the North Side skyrocketed, as he used aggressive strategies no one had ever seen before—or since—to help Sandberg, Grace, Maddux, Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe, Mitch Williams and the rest win 93 games.
“This guy was an amazing person,” Banks said. “He was like a genius to me. He could do things that were so special in this game. It was like the game was built for him. When he came in to manage the Cubs, the things that he was doing, nobody could understand it. Bases loaded—a bunt. You’d say, ‘Why is he doing that?’ He knew everything there is. He was one of the smartest guys I ever met in the game.
“He understood the fans here. He understood the players here. He understood everything about the park. The wind blowing out to right, the wind blowing to left field, the foul lines. I mean, he just knew everything about this park that I don’t think anybody knew about. He had great instincts for the game.”
Zimmer’s colorful personality and wild strategies grabbed the attention of the baseball world. Though the Cubs ultimately fell to the Giants in five games in the NLCS, he was awarded Manager of the Year for his efforts—and a permanent place in the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere.
“I’ve been in a lot of great cities and known a lot of great fans, but I’ve never seen so many fans of one team in so many different places,” Zimmer said during that 1989 season. “I was with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and there were a lot of Brooklyn fans everywhere, but I’ve never seen as many fans around the country as Cub fans.”
PAY IT FORWARD
In his last professional stop, Zimmer joined the Rays as a senior advisor in 2004 and remained there until his death. With Tampa Bay, the man who gave his life to the game was able to spend his later years dispensing knowledge and helping younger players develop.
“I always loved to go to the clubhouse early for lunch and just sit down, and he’d be in there, and he’d just be telling stories,” Ruggiano said of his days with the Rays. “I just feel like, as a player, you get a real feel for the history of baseball from older veteran guys’ stories, and he was one of the best at it. He could tell story after story. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to go work.”
Hammel, who was with the Rays during their shocking 2008 run to the World Series, credits Zim with helping turn that moribund franchise around after a decade in the AL East cellar.
“For him to come over and all of a sudden completely change the dynamic that he was surrounded with—[the Yankees had] a lot of veterans and a team that knew only winning,” Hammel said. “Then to come to Tampa, and it’s just a bunch of young guys who didn’t know winning. I really do believe he was part of the turnaround there.”
I guess, after 66 years on a baseball diamond, you learn a thing or two.
“The guy went through everything,” Ruggiano said. “You can imagine in 60 years of baseball, he’d been through everything that any player nowadays who plays the game for five or 10 years can go through. And then all the different things he did in the game—coaching, managing, playing. He had seen it all. He had so much information for younger guys that helped us all out.”
Zimmer is survived by his wife of 62 years; his son, Thomas; his daughter, Donna; and four grandchildren. He also leaves behind an unmatched baseball legacy and an unforgettable mark on Cubs history.
Despite hailing from the Boston area, Lennie Merullo is a Cub through and through. The spry, 97-year-old former shortstop is the last surviving link to the team’s most recent World Series appearance in 1945 and is the oldest living Cub. After his seven-year playing career ended, Merullo remained with the organization for decades as a scout and said he truly bleeds Cubbie blue. He still watches every game, and his house is filled with memorabilia from his years on the North Side.
Vine Line caught up with Merullo when was honored at the park in early June. To read the complete interview, pick up the August issue.