He often recalled his first trip to a ballpark for a World Series game when he was 11-years old. At 5 a.m. on a cold Oct. 5, 1935 Saturday morning, he was getting prepared for a day with his father that would forever be a joyous memory.
The Chicago Cubs were scheduled to play the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series, with the Tigers holding a two games to one edge over the Cubs in the best-of-seven showdown.
As he often recalled, the events of that day began when his father sat him down at the kitchen table for some breakfast.
“Dad cooked up a batch of oatmeal and had said, ‘Eat some of this . . . it’ll warm you up and stick to your ribs.’
“We ate the oatmeal, but it was tasteless. Our mind was on the big adventure—our first World Series game together.
“I don’t remember much about the trip to Wrigley Field, but I do remember waiting in line for bleacher tickets. We waited on Sheffield Ave., and recall looking in wonderment at hardy souls who had been in line all night long.
“I remember, too, the temporary bleachers that had been erected so they extended outside the ball park. Finally, we got our tickets and we sat in the right field stands. The fans were noisy and boisterous and packed together like sardines.
“But, we didn’t mind. We were in . . . the land of enchantment for an 11-year-old kid.
We watched the Cubs work out, and we watched the Tigers. ‘The Tigers,’ my father said, had a fine ball club.
‘See,’ he said, ‘there’s Mickey Cochrane and Charlie Gehringer and Billy Rogell and Tommy Bridges.
‘Bridges is very good,’ he said. ‘He has a wicked curve ball.’
‘Will he pitch today?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘They have a fella named Crowder. Alvin Crowder. He’s good, too.
‘There,’ my dad pointed. ‘There’s Tex Carleton warming up. He’s going to pitch for the Cubs.’
“The game started. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember some of them.
“The Tigers scoring the winning run on two errors—one by left fielder Augie Galan and the other by shortstop Billy Jurges. ‘They are usually excellent fielders,’ dad said.
“I remember Gabby Hartnett hitting a home run. It headed our way. ‘Here it comes!’ he shouted. ‘Maybe, we can catch it!’
“We didn’t. The ball landed a few rows in front of us. The Cubs lost, 2-1.
“The trip back home has been lost in memory, and I don’t recall too much about the many other games we later saw together.
“But, I remember that first one. And now when baseball comes alive over the prospects of another World Series, I think back fondly to that happy day in 1935 when a skinny, redheaded kid saw his heroes in the flesh for the first time.
“Jurges, Billy Herman, Galan, Lon Warneke, Stan Hack, Frank Demaree, a teenager named Phil Cavarretta . . . and even Charlie Root who was an ancient 36 then.
“It all seems so long ago . . . that wonderful time when life was simple and baseball its mainspring.”
When that young boy grew up into a respected writer, husband, father and friend, he would witness many other World Series games, including two other Cubs defeats in 1938 to the New York Yankees and 1945 to the Tigers.
He cherished his days as a baseball beat writer and magazine editor with exciting days covering some of Chicago’s best teams.
The 1959 pennant-winning White Sox, a club he always claimed was the best team in the majors that season, only to fall short in the Fall Classic against the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
“That White Sox team had great players with Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Sherm Lollar, Al Smith, Jim Landis . . .” He recalled every player with little side stories on each one.
He reminisced about the good Cubs teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s that featured many outstanding players, including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins. He would always claim they never quite had enough to win a pennant.
During these wondrous years, he helped generate a fandom among family members for both the White Sox and Cubs. A following they would continue through heartbreaking defeats and memories that are recalled with a loving touch of family history.
We recall when he would attend postseason games for work and keep score at home when he no longer traveled with the clubs. In 1983, the White Sox defeat to the Orioles was disappointing and he often claimed how Baltimore eliminated a big White Sox threat when they hit rookie slugger Ron Kittle on the knee with a pitched ball, sidelining him with injury for the last two games of the series.
We remember in 1984 when the Cubs were the best team in the National League as he sorrowfully claimed. He attended the first two games of the NLCS at Wrigley Field and was witness to the victories over the San Diego Padres and leaving the Cubs one win away from the World Series.
Then, as fortune would have it, the Cubs lost the first two games in Padre-land to force a deciding fifth game. That final contest was played on a Sunday afternoon, October 7, 1984, and the Cubs were one win away from the club’s first pennant in 39 years. He was scheduled to cover the World Series and the opening game of the Fall Classic was going to be played in Detroit on Tuesday evening, regardless of whether the Cubs or Padres won the game.
He sometimes jumped the gun in sporting events. Well, he jumped way early on this one! The Cubs’ Leon Durham hit a two-run homer to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead after one inning. In the top of the second, Jody Davis hit a solo shot for a 3-0 lead.
As soon as Davis hit that homer, the veteran writer sprang up from the couch and said, “that’s it, they’re going to win this one.” He then went to the back room, packed a suitcase, stuffed his credential in his pocket and was out the front door to the airport for a trip and early arrival to Detroit. As we all know, the Padres came back with two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh and won the game and the pennant, 6-3.
About an hour after the game had concluded, he slowly walked through the front door telling us he listened to the game on the radio and then asked, “What the hell happened?”
Then came 2003 and the Cubs’ collapse in the sixth game of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins when they were six outs away from the pennant.
He was 79 years old and we were both assigned credentials to cover the game. We parked the car a couple of miles from Wrigley Field, because he enjoyed making it a game to see if he could find free parking to avoid the expensive fees. With a little circling around the neighborhood, we found a spot. Free parking, things were looking good.
The Cubs were in control of the game and before that excruciating eighth inning began, it was recalled how fans were flooding the streets in anticipation of a Cubs victory and the man’s number three son was wondering how he was going to safely guide the elder statesman to his vehicle through the hectic crowd if the Cubs win.
The answer to that was found in the Cubs’ collapse when they surrendered eight runs in an eventual 8-3 defeat that included the Steve Bartman play, shaky Cubs defense and no bullpen pitching to be found.
The crowd inside and outside the park was silent. Our walk outside the field through the hundreds of somber and confused fans was safe. As we made our journey back to the car without incident, the topic of conversation during the 45-minute drive home was how that game slipped away.
In 2005, he witnessed his first and only hometown World Series championship team when the White Sox swept the Houston Astros. The Sox were dominating that year in the postseason, going 11-1. The most vivid recollection was the smile on the venerable baseball writer’s face after Scott Podsednik hit a walk-off home run in Game 2. It was priceless.
At 81, he was buzzing around like the young reporter of old, talking, writing and reminiscing about baseball, the Series and his long career.
Today, with the Cubs finally capturing their long awaited title, he would have kept score in his home and made some phone calls detailing his markings in his self-made scorebook. He would have been 92 and he would have soaked this victory in and written an unforgettable story—one that would have had his eight kids, 20 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren proud to follow in his footsteps as a fan.
With that being said, we collectively have one thought on our minds.
Thanks Dad, for the memories. —by Bob Kuenster
Bob Kuenster is editor of Baseball Digest and has worked for the publication since 1987 and is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.