First off, if you are a Cub fan you might want to check out the hyper-links in this blog. Lots of great video embedded.
I’ve spent most of my idle time this summer watching baseball, but it’s been a long ride back.
As a youngster, my sister lived in Chicago and I spent some summer months visiting and watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN. This was before WGN became a cable superstation, and I became a Chicago Cubs fan and have remained that way. I was a young Cub fan in 1969 (well, I was a sophomore in high school) when the Cubs had a huge lead late in the season. In fact they led the division from the start of the season for 105 straight games going into August. They had a seemingly insurmountable lead of 8 ½ games over the Mets… But it was not to be. You know the story: The “Miracle Mets” went on a terror and won the division by 8 games over the 2nd place Cubs. Cub Skipper Leo Durocher made plenty of mistakes which resulted in the September swoon, and that was my first real shot at being heartbroken by the Cubs.
I was working in Florida when WGN became a superstation and finally I was able to watch 150+ games a year.
I watched the Cubs thru the 70’s and early 80’s on WGN whenever I could, but they were the lovable losers. “Wait ‘till next year” became my favorite saying.
In the early 80’s the Wrigley family sold the Cubs to the Chicago Tribune and the ledgendary Jack Brickhouse (“back, back, back, HEY HEY, a home run!”) retired and Harry Caray moved from the White Sox to the Cubs.
I saw Harry on TV (White Sox broadcasts) when I was in Chicago… the Sox were on a Chicago UHF station station, WSNS ch 44, and were not available anywhere but Chicago, I remember not particularly liking him. He seemed like he was more of a hard drinking fan than a play-by-play guy. I remember when he was doing White Sox games he was drinking and promoting Schlitz beer. Later on I would learn that it was because of a bad relationship with the Bush family when he was fired by the Cardinals. Caray admitted in 1984 to Milo Hamilton that he’d in fact had an affair with the daughter-in-law of the longtime Cardinals owner Gussie Bush – which has long been rumored to be the reason for his firing by the Cardinals in 1969. Harry was not going to promote Bush’s beer any more! Before and after the White Sox years Harry was a “Bud Man”. Harry was with the Sox during the infamous “disco Demolition Night” promotion on July 12, 1979. If you are in the radio biz, or were a Sox fan, you what that means. It was the beginning of the end of the disco era.
The significant thing to me about being a baseball fan during the 80’s was the baseball strike of 1982. My daughter, Jennifer was in the hospital in very critical condition and had just had open-heart surgery. I desperately needed a diversion and baseball was it. But the players and owners could not get together and the strike of 1981 was enevitable. The strike began on June 12 and forced the cancellation of 713 games resulting in the infamous split-season playoffs. All I remember about that was that the Cincinnati Reds had the best record in baseball and they didn’t make the post season playoffs.
When the middle of the season was cancelled it broke my heart and really changed my view of baseball players and owners.
I nearly gave up baseball but I was Cub fan and the future was looking good.
My family went to Tucson during spring training 1984 and watched the Cubs play the Indians at Hi Corbit Field in Tucson (before it was the spring training site for the Rockies the Indians played there). We also went to Phoenix and visited Sun City and Mesa to watch the Cubs. It was at Hohokam Park that I got a chance to talk to Dallas Green, the GM of the Cubs (he sat a row in front of me). I remembered him from his Philly days plus his first season as the Cub GM. I obtained his autograph. I also talked to Jim Fry, the new skipper, plus Jody Davis, Ryne Sandberg and almost the entire roster.
I also met and talked to Harry Caray and Milo Hamilton. They were so approachable in spring training and it was so much fun to be a fan. Dallas Green had made some significant trades and the Cubs looked good this season.
I remember watching the “Sandberg Game” in June. Check it out on YouTube if you get a chance. I knew then that Cubs would go all the way!
The Cubs won the division in 1984, and for the first time in a zillion years they were going to play in the post-season! I came very close to buying tickets to the game in Pittsburgh, knowing the Cubs would clinch the division title there, but I didn’t want to watch baseball at Three Rivers Stadium in front of 5,000 hapless fans (the Pirates really sucked during this time). In any event the Cubs won the division and would be playing the Padres in the NLCS. I will spare Leon Durham (whom I met and got his autograph at spring training) and not go into details of the NLCS. Suffice it to say that the Cubs lost in a heartbreaking game 5 of the series against the Padres.
In 1989 the Cubs again won the division and would play the Giants in the NLCS. Of course the Giants beat the Cubs in game 5 with Mike Beilecki pitching for the Cubs and former Cub Rick Reuschel pitching for the Giants. This was the year the Giants played the Oakland Athletics in the World Series and they had that earthquake!
I continued watching the Cubs thru the early 90’s but by 1994 the owners and players were at it again. On August 12th the strike began. It was the fourth in-season work stoppage in 22 years and resulted in the remainder of that season being cancelled, including the postseason and, for the first time since 1904, the World Series. The strike was suspended on April 2, 1995 after 232 days, making it the longest such stoppage in MLB history, breaking the record set by the 1981 strike.
948 games were cancelled in all, and MLB became the first major professional sports league to lose an entire postseason due to labor struggles. Due to the strike, both the 1994 and 1995 seasons were not played to a complete 162 games; the strike was called after most teams had played at least 113 games in 1994 and each team played 144 games in 1995.
I had had enough! I swore I would never watch a baseball game on TV or visit and major league ball park for the rest of my life.
As a result I missed out on the Sammy Sosa years plus the Cubs playing in the post season in 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. I will admit I did watch one of the games during the playoffs in 2003. That was when the Cubs played the Braves. I didn’t watch the entire game but I did see the fan interfere with Moises Alou’s catch and it reminded me that Cubs were still haunted by the curse of that stupid goat.
But I basically lived mostly true to my original statement. I did go to a couple of games in Cincinnati, one at Riverfront Stadium and one at Great American Ballpark. But let me make it clear, I got those tickets free from the radio station where I was working and it only cost me the gas.
While I was away they expanded the league, adding teams in Miami, Tampa, Denver and Phoenix. The Astros left the National League while the Brewers left the American league. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals. The National League teams were playing the American League teams during the regular season… Interleague Play was here. Lots of changes, most of which I knew nothing about until this spring.
During Spring training this year I looked at the roster and started paying a little more attention to the Cubs. I guess after 20 years, I could give baseball another chance.
I started the season watching the Cubs on Comcast Sports Net Chicago and WISH/WNDY. They had these young guys, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, plus Starlin Castro and a bunch of other good players. Plus, they were wining.
I pony’ed up for the MLB package on Dish Network so I could keep up with the Pirates and Cardinals and to be honest, I have watched a lot of baseball this season. A LOT OF BASEBALL!
The Cubs also brought up Kyle Schwarber in late June and he has been a delight to watch. Most of all the Cubs were winning. They’ve been the 3rd best team in the Major Leagues most of the year, but since they were playing in the toughest division, they were behind the Cardinals and Pirates.
As I write this we have about a week left in the season and the Cubs are in pretty good shape to make the wild card game. I am more excited about the Cubs this season than I have ever been. I have been wearing my Ryne Sandberg #23 Cubs jersey,
I don’t know if the Cubs will win in the post season, but they certainly have a shot with these guys.
No humor in this blog, but I did get to tell my baseball story, and re-live a lot of memories. I would have posted pictures from all of our trips to Arizona during spring training but the great flood of 2008 claimed them, along with my autographs and memorabilia.
But I have forgiven baseball and am enjoying the game again. I guess it’s about time.