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.”
* * * *
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.
Mr. Cub and Mr. November. When it comes to playing shortstop in the major leagues, it’s hard to do better than Cubs legend Ernie Banks and all-time Yankees great Derek Jeter.
Between them, they have 28 All-Star appearances, two MVP Awards (with 10 top-10 finishes) and six Gold Gloves. They have also amassed nearly 6,000 hits and 800 home runs. Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Assuming Jeter holds firm on his decision to retire after this season, he just needs the calendar to turn to 2019 for his certain enshrinement.
Both enjoyed long and distinguished careers with one organization; both spawned memorable moments and were the faces of their respective franchises; and both became great ambassadors for the game.
When Derek Jeter made a rare interleague appearance in Chicago this past May, Vine Line and Yankees Magazine couldn’t let the opportunity to get the two iconic players together slip away.
Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III spoke to the man affectionately known as Mr. Cub and the Yankees captain about playing a demanding defensive position, spending their entire careers with a single team, playing at the Friendly Confines and more.
For baseball fans, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Vine Line: First of all, it’s an honor to be here with two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen. Thank you both. Mr. Jeter, how did Mr. Banks, who is over 6 feet tall, impact the future of the position?
Derek Jeter: I’ve had the opportunity to meet Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese, who were two of the other great shortstops from Mr. Banks’ era. Those guys epitomized who played that position back then—shorter guys without a lot of power. Mr. Banks redefined the position, and he really paved the way for taller players like me to get the opportunity to play shortstop.
Ernie Banks: Who were the shortstops you watched when you were growing up?
DJ: I was a big Cal Ripken Jr. fan. He’s 6 foot 4, and he played the position as well as anyone I had seen. I also liked watching Barry Larkin, who played his college ball in my home state of Michigan. Alan Trammell played for the Detroit Tigers, and they were on TV a lot in my house when I was growing up, so I got to see him play frequently.
EB: Why didn’t they ever move you to third base?
DJ: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.
VL: Mr. Banks, what are your thoughts on Mr. Jeter’s ability to play such a demanding position so well for nearly two decades?
EB: Well, he’s a remarkable player, and that’s proven by the fact that he is still playing shortstop. We all slow down a little as we get older. I moved to first base after about 10 seasons at shortstop. But Derek has done what no one else has, and that’s remarkable.
VL: How much does it mean to each of you to have played for one team your entire careers—and to be synonymous with those teams?
DJ: Playing my entire career in New York has always been important to me. I’ve been fortunate because in this day and age, it’s more difficult to stay with one team than when Mr. Banks was playing. With free agency, there is so much player movement, and teams get rid of players when there are younger players available who can play the same position a little better. But I can’t imagine playing anywhere else.
EB: It means the world to me. We played all day games in Chicago back then because they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field until 1988. That was something I got used to and really enjoyed. The only night games we played were when we were on the road. Like Derek said, I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like to play for another team. If I had played for another team and I had to play most of the games at night, it would have felt like every game was an away game for me.
VL: How would each of you describe your respective fan bases?
EB: The fans here are loyal. When I was playing, I got to meet a lot of fans, and that was a lot of fun. I signed autographs for as many kids as I could because I thought that one day I might be asking one of those kids for a job. Cubs fans aren’t as loud as Yankees fans though. The first time I met Derek, I asked him what it’s like playing in New York. He looked at me and said, “When you win, it’s loud.”
DJ: That’s a great story. Yankees fans follow the team closely, and there’s a lot of energy in Yankee Stadium every time we take the field. The expectation level is high, but there’s no better place to win than in New York.
VL: The enthusiasm that both of you have for the game is well documented. What makes playing baseball for a living so enjoyable?
DJ: Every day is a new day. It’s kind of like life in that you wake up and you never know what’s going to happen when you get to the ballpark. Regardless of how you played the day before, you come to the ballpark with a clean slate the next day. I like that about baseball. I have enjoyed competing and being around my teammates as well. That’s why I have played the game for as long as I have.
EB: It was fun being out there every day. That’s why I said, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” I especially enjoyed playing the shortstop position. For me, making adjustments to where I was going to play in the field depending on who was on the mound and who was at the plate was part of the game I relished. I got as much fun out of the strategy of the game and making sure I was in the right place to turn double plays as I got out of hitting the ball out of the park.
VL: Mr. Banks, what were the most challenging aspects of going directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Cubs at a time when there were very few African-Americans in the majors?
EB: As far as being discriminated against, that’s all I knew since the time I was growing up. But the hardest thing about leaving the Monarchs for the Cubs was saying goodbye to my teammates in Kansas City. I liked being around those guys, and I didn’t want to leave them. They were like my family.
VL: How did you adjust to life in the big leagues?
EB: I played for [legendary Negro Leagues player and manager] Buck O’Neil in Kansas City, and I played alongside Gene Baker and Tony Taylor, who knew a lot about the game. I learned how to play the game from those guys. They taught me about the intricacies of the game and the shortstop position. That along with some God-given ability made it so I was prepared to play in the big leagues when I arrived in Chicago.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how was your career impacted by what Mr. Banks and others did in breaking the color barrier in the early 1950s?
DJ: It’s unimaginable for me. Mr. Banks is one of the players who paved the way for all African-Americans to play the game. I’m grateful to him for what he did on the field, and I also appreciate the way he has treated me since I was a young player.
VL: Mr. Banks, what stands out about Mr. Jeter’s accomplishments and the way he has represented himself and his team over the years?
EB: I really admire him. He’s accomplished so many great things. He’s knowledgeable about every aspect of playing the game. He studies the opposing pitchers, and he learned how to hit the ball to all fields at a young age. He’s an amazing young player. When he got his 3,000th hit on a home run, that was really special for me to watch. What was that like for you, Derek?
DJ: Well, I appreciate you referring to me as a young player. Hitting that home run felt great. More than anything, I was happy that it happened in front of our fans in New York.
EB: How did you do that?
DJ: I closed my eyes and swung the bat.
VL: Mr. Banks, what makes Wrigley Field such a special baseball destination?
EB: It’s special because it has been here for 100 years, and we’ve had some great teams. It’s a beautiful place, and so much history has taken place on this field. Babe Ruth stood a few feet from where we are sitting, pointed to the seats and then hit the ball out of the park. More than 80 years later, Derek Jeter will come up to the plate in the same place. That’s an amazing thing. Also, the fans are very close to the field, and that makes it an intimate setting for baseball. There’s no better place to watch a game.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how exciting is it to visit Wrigley Field in your final season—and during the stadium’s centennial?
DJ: I like being a part of history and tradition, and I’m thrilled to get one last chance to play here—especially since I was on the disabled list when we played here in 2011. I drove here with my class on my last day of high school, and that is a great memory. If I could have written a script for my career back then, I would have included a trip to Wrigley Field during my final season.
EB: You’re not really going to quit, are you?
DJ: After this season.
EB: You can’t do that.
DJ: Yes, I can.
EB: I wish guys like you never had to quit.
DJ: Well, let’s just say I’m moving on.
—Alfred Santasiere III
(Photo by Stephen Green)
A short, three-game homestand at Wrigley Field kicks off this Friday, July 11, as the Cubs welcome the Braves to town for a 1960s-themed celebration. Cubs fans can relive one of the venerable stadium’s greatest decades along with Hall of Fame Bears running back Gale Sayers, Rookie of the Year star Thomas Ian Nicholas and Cubs players from the 1960s.
Here are the other guests and promotions you’ll find at the Friendly Confines this weekend.
1960s Homestand Recap, July 11-13
Friday, July 11, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 3:05 p.m.
- Promotion: Gale Sayers Bobblehead presented by Comcast SportsNet (first 10,000 fans)
- First pitch: Carl Giammarese, Chicago native and original lead singer of 1960s band The Buckinghams
- Seventh-inning stretch: Former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers
- Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
Saturday, July 12, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 3:05 p.m.
- Promotion: Billy Williams Retired Number Flag presented by Wrigley (first 10,000 fans)
- First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Thomas Ian Nicholas, actor from Rookie of the Year
- National Anthem: Derrick Mitchell, Out at Wrigley contest winner
- Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
Sunday, July 13, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 1:20 p.m.
- Throwback uniforms: Retro 1969 home and visiting uniforms
- Promotion: ‘60s Throwback Cubs Etch-A-Sketch (first 5,000 children)
- First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Former teammates from the late-1960s, including Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley, Rich Nye, Paul Popovich and Ken Rudolph
- Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
For more information on Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration, please visit www.wrigleyfield100.com.
For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.
Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.
In the third installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, the 1930s provided a second baseman who saw his fair share of All-Star Games and provided a boost at the plate.
1930s – Billy Herman, 37.6
In 1935, second baseman Billy Herman compiled a 7.3 WAR. To put that into perspective, Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 Triple Crown season was good for a 6.8 WAR. Known for his defense, Herman had 466 putouts at second base in 1933, an NL record that still stands today. But his offensive output from the middle infield was equally impressive. In eight 1930s seasons on the North Side, he hit .300 or better six times, including a .341 average in his most productive season of 1935. The second baseman went to an All-Star Game in each of the last six years of the 1930s and was named a starter from 1935-38. Herman was a part of three Cubs World Series teams in the decade and was top 10 in the NL in WAR three times. In 1975, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.