Friday, July 30, 2010

South Side Hit Men

     “Don’t worry about doing a budget,” owner Bill Veeck told general manager Roland Hemond upon reacquiring the White Sox in 1976. “We don’t have any money.” The two soon unveiled their “rent-a-player” strategy for 1977. Using players who were in their last year before free agency—such as sluggers Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble—or who were bargain-priced because of previous injuries, Veeck and Hemond transformed their hapless team into one of the most exciting in franchise history.
     Led by easy-going manager Bob Lemon, the White Sox became known as the South Side Hit Men and emerged as surprising contenders in the American League West Division. Their boisterous fans introduced two rituals that quickly caught on: dugout curtain calls after home runs and the serenading of departing enemy pitchers with “Nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, hey hey, goodbye!”
     The high point of that memorable season came on Sunday, July 31. A lively crowd of 50,412 turned out for a sun-drenched doubleheader with the defending division-champion Kansas City Royals. In the first game, Kansas City’s Marty Pattin led 1-0 and held the Sox hitless until Chet Lemon homered in the bottom of the sixth. A homer by Amos Otis the next inning gave the Royals a 2-1 lead, which they held until the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Alan Bannister reached on a two-base error. Jorge Orta’s single to right scored Bannister and sent the game into extra innings.
     White Sox starter Steve Stone retired the first two Royal hitters in the top of the 10th before issuing back-to-back walks to George Brett and Joe Lahoud. Stone headed for the showers, and successive singles by Cookie Rojas and Al Cowens scored Brett, then Lahoud. Further damage was narrowly averted when first baseman Jim Spencer speared a line drive off the bat of John Mayberry for the third out.
     With the Sox now trailing 4-2, Spencer led off the bottom of the 10th with a single to left. Royals manager Whitey Herzog summoned righthander Doug Bird to face Chet Lemon, whose homer had tied the game earlier. This time, Lemon fell behind in the count 0-and-2, then socked a long home run into the center-field bleachers, again tying the score and sending the crowd into a frenzy. This occasioned another of the curtain calls that opponents found so annoying. “It’s bush [league] what they do,” Hal McRae declared. “It’s a disgrace to baseball.” After the commotion had died down, Eric Soderholm coaxed a walk, reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Brian Downing, and scored on a base hit by Ralph Garr.
     The stirring 5-4 win was the ninth in the White Sox’ past 10 games. It put them 25 games over .500, at 62-37, and 6½ games in front of the second-place Royals. “If we’re all dreaming,” said Stone, “I hope we don’t wake up.”
     The second game was also quite eventful. The teams exchanged several knockdown pitches, and as umpire Art Frantz informed them that no further shenanigans would be tolerated on the field, a fight broke out in the stands near the press box. The one-legged, 63-year-old Veeck waded into the fray to act as peacemaker and came away with a bloody lip. “It’s a hot day,” he said cheerfully, “but all I’ve had is iced tea.” Most of the fans, of course, had quenched their thirst with something stronger.
     A good time was had by all, but the White Sox lost the second game 8-4. “We took three out of four [for the series],” said Zisk. “I’ll take it.” As July gave way to August, the White Sox and the equally unlikely Cubs were both in first place. Unfortunately, neither was able to go the distance. The Cubs dropped out of first place a week into August and faded fast thereafter to finish 20 games out. The Sox held on a while longer, occupying first place until August 19, but eventually finished 12 games behind the Royals. Still, the South Side Hit Men won 90 games and set a new franchise attendance record.
     Veeck’s second stint with the White Sox featured softball-style uniforms with untucked shirts and no stirrups, a shower in the center-field bleachers, and the infamous Disco Demolition Night in 1979 which forced the Sox to forfeit a game. It was fun while it lasted, but Veeck’s shoestring operation was on borrowed time. Veeck sold the Sox in 1981 and never set foot in Comiskey Park again. He became a regular in the center-field bleachers at Wrigley Field, perched between the ivy he himself had planted and the scoreboard he had built while working for the Cubs in the thirties.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bob Probert, 1965 - 2010

      Bob Probert, who passed away earlier this month, reigned as the heavyweight champion of the NHL for 16 years.
     “He was the toughest guy I've ever seen,” Tim Sassone wrote, “not to mention the best and scariest fighter of his generation, maybe ever.”
     At six-foot-three and 225 pounds, Probert was an enforcer but not a goon; he was a skilled skater and scorer who accumulated 163 goals and 221 assists in his career—along with 3,300 penalty minutes. He was an All-Star for Detroit in 1987-88 when he logged 29 goals and 33 assists, then added 21 more points in 16 playoff games.
     Probert played for Detroit from 1985 through 1994. Finally, the Red Wings tired of his recurring problems with alcohol and cocaine and cut him loose. After serving a year-long suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Probert joined the Blackhawks in 1995 and played for them until his retirement in 2002. Although his best days were behind him, Probert gave the Hawks all he had in every game. He also stayed sober the entire time.
     As had been the case in Detroit, Chicago players and fans discovered that there was more to Probert than met the eye. “Just a big teddy bear,” said teammate Doug Gilmour. “Off the ice, he was soft-spoken, laughed, smiled. But when he put a helmet on and would go on the ice, he was a fierce competitor. When you were playing against him, you’re intimidated. Then you get to meet him in person (our families hung around each other in Chicago as neighbors), and you get to see another side. I think everybody would say the same thing—he was a gentle giant. He cared about people. He cared about his team and, obviously, his family. We all loved him.”
     Probert spent more time in the penalty box than all but four other players in NHL history. The most memorable of his hundreds of fights was a 1994 bout against Marty McSorley, who is one of the four. Probert, still with Detroit at the time, and McSorley of the Pittsburgh Penguins swapped punches for one minute and 44 seconds. After the linesmen finally stepped in, McSorley leaned forward and tapped his forehead against Probert’s. Probert reached up and affectionately tousled McSorley’s hair.
     As the most renowned fighter in the NHL, Probert was expected to take on the other contenders and pretenders around the league on a nightly basis. “Probert hated preseason games,” Sassone wrote, “because that's when the young up-and-coming fighters always would want to test themselves against the best. Probert would oblige the kids and drop the gloves, giving them a story to tell.”
     There must have been countless nights when Probert wasn’t in the mood to square off against every would-be tough guy who came along. But he did that dirty job uncomplainingly, and he never trash-talked or otherwise sought to embarrass the opponents whom he fought and usually vanquished. He was, as McSorley said admiringly, “an honest man.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Class of 2010

     Andre Dawson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, and in accepting this honor of a lifetime he showed the same dignity, humility, maturity, and gratitude that were constants throughout his 21-year playing career. You can boil it all down to one word: class.
     Dawson broke in with the Montreal Expos as the prototypical five-tool player who could hit for average, hit for power, and run, field, and throw with the best of them. A succession of knee injuries eventually compromised his speed, but nothing ever compromised his furious desire to succeed. Dawson was the National League's Rookie of the Year for Montreal in 1977 and Most Valuable Player for the Cubs in 1987. He was an eight-time All-Star, won eight Gold Gloves, and underwent 12 knee surgeries. “No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more, or did it better than Andre Dawson,” said teammate Ryne Sandberg, himself a Hall of Famer. “He's the best I've ever seen.”
     Dawson was a true professional who, as they say, played the game the right way. He played hurt, always hustled, never showed anyone up. He didn't boast when he was going good and he didn't make excuses when he was going bad.
     There has been much discussion of the fact that Dawson's Hall of Fame plaque depicts him in a Montreal cap, and Dawson himself expressed some disappointment at not being portrayed in a Cubs cap. “I don't feel a sense of loyalty to either one of those organizations,” said Dawson. “I left both organizations on bitter terms. My love affair was with the Chicago Cub fans. That's why I would prefer to put a Cubs cap on, to represent those fans.”
     A nice sentiment, to be sure, but after all Dawson played 11 years for Montreal and only six for the Cubs, so the decision was pretty clear-cut to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. It also in no way diminishes Dawson's achievements as a Cub or the esteem in which he is held by Cub fans. If it is true--as has been reported--that the Cubs have decided not to retire Dawson's uniform number because of the Expos' cap on his plaque, they should be ashamed of themselves. Either Dawson deserves the honor or he doesn't, but it's hard to see how a picture on a plaque would tilt that equation either way.
     If the Cubs really are pondering whether to retire Dawson's number, they might want to think too about Gabby Hartnett, a Hall of Famer who played 19 years for the Cubs--during which time they won four pennants, one with Hartnett as National League MVP and another with him as player/manager. He was by consensus the greatest catcher in N.L. history prior to 1950.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bill James's Greatest Chicago Players

     Bill James and his fellow sabermetricians--so named after the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), through which they operate--seek to go beyond the traditional figures that have populated the sports pages for more than a century (batting average, home runs, runs batted in, wins, strikeouts, and earned-run average), in order to measure every aspect of a player's performance and value.
     Their work leads inevitably to the ranking of players, which is always interesting, often controversial, and sometimes changes considerably over time (for example, Ernie Banks was ranked 40th in an early version of James's list of the greatest players of all time, but has since slipped to 77th). The rankings have made James's books best sellers and are surefire conversation starters.
     The best Chicago player of all time, according to James, was Eddie Collins. "Collins is described by various sources," James wrote, "as the best bunter in the history of baseball, the best hit-and-run man in the history of baseball, the best defensive second baseman in the history of baseball, the best sign-stealer who ever lived, and the greatest World Series star who ever lived. Kid Gleason, who managed Collins on the White Sox, said that Collins was the greatest team player who ever lived. Connie Mack [who managed Collins with the Athletics] said that Collins was the greatest team player who ever lived."
     Below is a list of all the Chicago players in James's most recent top 100. (Note that some of them played only briefly in Chicago, and therefore earned their ranking elsewhere.) Notable by his absence from this list is Sammy Sosa, whose steroid-tainted career remains difficult to evaluate at present.

18. Eddie Collins, White Sox 1915-1926

20. Grover Alexander, Cubs 1918-1926

22. Rogers Hornsby, Cubs 1929-1932

29. Jimmie Foxx, Cubs 1942, 1944

38. Tom Seaver, White Sox 1984-1986

58. Ryne Sandberg, Cubs 1982-1994, 1996-1997

66. Joe Jackson, White Sox 1916-1920

71. Al Simmons, White Sox 1933-1935

73. Ken Griffey Jr., White Sox 2008

75. Frank Thomas, White Sox 1990-2005

77. Ernie Banks, Cubs 1953-1971

78. Steve Carlton, White Sox 1986

80. Roberto Alomar, White Sox 2003-2004

81. Tim Raines, White Sox 1991-1995

83. Mordecai Brown, Cubs 1904-1912, 1916

85. Minnie Minoso, White Sox 1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964

87. Ron Santo, Cubs 1960-1973; White Sox 1974

92. Greg Maddux, Cubs 1986-1992, 2004-2006

96. Robin Roberts, Cubs 1966

97. Carlton Fisk, White Sox, 1981-1993

100. Billy Williams, Cubs 1959-1974

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Once and Future Kings

     The man who had dominated professional golf for the past five years and the man who would dominate the game for the next two decades were already well acquainted when they met in the 1963 Western Open at Beverly Country Club on the South Side. When Arnold Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus had been runner-up; in Nicklaus’s 1962 Open win, he had defeated Palmer in a playoff.
     The 33-year-old Palmer had won seven major championships. Though he was 10 years younger, Nicklaus had already won five majors, including the Masters three months before and the PGA just a week before the Western.
     Nicklaus was poised to surpass Palmer as the best player in the world, but not yet as the most popular. At every tournament Palmer was trailed by huge and demonstrative galleries, known collectively as “Arnie’s Army.” The crowds at Beverly were no exception; they politely applauded such luminaries as Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Julius Boros, but they reserved their most effusive responses for Palmer. When Palmer four-putted the 15th green in the first round, it seemed to knock the wind out of every member of his army.
     They were breathing easier within the ranks when Palmer shot 67 in the third round to surge into a tie for the lead. Arnie capped his sensational back nine of 31 by sinking a 20-foot putt to birdie the mammoth 596-yard 18th. Nicklaus’s 71 left him seven strokes behind.
     Sunday belonged to Nicklaus. “I thought I might have a good chance,” he said, “if I did a 65 today.” He didn’t—but his 66 was the best round of the tournament, punctuated by a six-foot birdie putt on 18 that drew him even with Boros at four-under 280 for the 72 holes. Palmer struggled to a 73 for the day, giving him 280 for the tournament as well.
     For the first time in the Western’s 60-year history, three players had tied for the championship. Palmer, Nicklaus, and Boros came back on Monday to settle the issue in an 18-hole playoff.
     Much to the delight of his army, Palmer required only 33 strokes to complete the front nine, while Boros and Nicklaus took 36 and 37, respectively. But things tightened up on the back nine. After 15 holes, Palmer and Boros were deadlocked at two-under 57, with Nicklaus at even-par 59. On 16, Nicklaus missed a chance for birdie from six feet out, and the three players went to 17 with the status quo intact.
     The 17th hole was a nasty 210-yard par three with a sloping green shielded by an array of bunkers. It had separated the contenders from the pretenders all weekend, and it proved decisive in the playoff as well. Boros’s tee shot landed in the rough behind the green, Palmer’s in a bunker in front. Nicklaus struck a near-perfect shot that plopped onto the green, then rolled to within five feet of the cup.
     Boros’s chip from the rough and Palmer’s blast from the sand each ended up 35 to 40 feet from the hole. Both putted to within three feet. Now it was Nicklaus’s turn to putt. If he made it, he would go to 18 no worse than tied for the lead. But he went for it too aggressively, and the ball skittered past the hole.
     Palmer made his next putt. Boros missed, and Nicklaus missed again. They went to 18 with Palmer leading Boros by one and Nicklaus by two. Nicklaus banged his third shot over the green and into the crowd; he took a bogey six. Boros missed his birdie try from 10 feet out, and Palmer tapped in for par to claim the championship.
     The win placed Palmer’s earnings for the year at $96,955—a new record. It also gave him a bit of revenge for his playoff losses to Nicklaus and Boros, respectively, in the previous two U.S. Opens. Nicklaus, of course, would be heard from again.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lightning in a Bottle

     In the summer of 1948, White Sox fans could hardly savor the misfortunes of the last-place Cubs, for the Pale Hose were even worse. But on July 18, an obscure outfielder by the name of Pat Seerey gave them something to shout about, if only for one game.
     The chunky five-foot-ten, 200-pound Seerey had been acquired early in the season after five years with the Cleveland Indians, during which time he had hit 68 home runs while struggling to keep his batting average over .225. He’d also struck out about twice for every seven at-bats. Seerey was a player of limited talents to say the least—just the sort of fellow who would be rendered obsolete when the doors were opened to more than a handful of African Americans. On this one day, though, he accomplished something that Babe Ruth, for one, never did.
     The White Sox, visiting the Philadelphia A’s for a Sunday doubleheader, were behind 5-1 in the first game when Seerey came to bat in the fourth inning. He blasted a solo home run that cleared the roof of the left-field pavilion. In the fifth, with a teammate on base, he landed one on top of the roof. In the sixth, he again hit the roof, this time with two teammates aboard.
     Seerey had hit three home runs and knocked in six runs in a little less than an hour, but his production was not sufficient to keep the game from going into extra innings after the Sox blew a four-run lead in the seventh. He came up again with two outs in the top of the 11th. This time his drive fell short of the roof, landing in the left-field stands instead. Seerey’s fourth home run of the game provided the margin of victory as the Sox prevailed 12-11 for their 26th win of the year against 50 losses.
     The unknown Seerey was only the third player in the modern era to hit four homers in a single game, equaling the feats of Lou Gehrig in 1932 and Chuck Klein in 1936. He and the Sox immediately reverted to form in the second game of the doubleheader, losing 6-1.
     For the season, the Sox lost 101 games and finished 44½ games behind Cleveland. (The Cubs also finished last, and it was the first time that both Chicago clubs had achieved that dubious distinction in the same year.) Seerey ended up just about where he always did—18 homers, 64 RBIs, a .229 average, and 94 strikeouts in 340 at-bats. The next year, after going hitless in four at-bats, he disappeared from the major leagues for good.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Ones That Got Away: Lou Brock

     There have been many instances of players who were traded to Chicago early in what became illustrious careers. These include Doug Atkins, Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, Tony Esposito, Nellie Fox, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Hall, Bob Love, Minnie Minoso, Ryne Sandberg, and Jerry Sloan.
     But it is the future stars who were traded from Chicago that stick achingly in our collective memory. There are about three dozen prominent examples of ones that got away from Chicago and went on to greater glory elsewhere. Among them are Hall-of-Famers George Blanda, Dennis Eckersley, Phil Esposito, Goose Gossage, Bobby Layne, and Rube Waddell.
     We will recall these from time to time, starting with the case that has lived in infamy above the others.

Lou Brock
Cubs, 1961 - 1964

     Lou Brock was not quite 25 years old when the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio on June 15, 1964. Brock hit a robust .348 for the remainder of the season, sparking the Cardinals to the world championship. The Redbirds also won the World Series in 1967 and the National League pennant in 1968.
     "If I'd been here [in Chicago]," Brock later said, "the Cubs would have won the pennant in '68 and '69." He was being immodest, but he was probably right.
     Broglio, only 28 himself at the time of the trade, had already won 70 games for the Cardinals--including 21 in 1960 and 18 in 1963. He won only seven for the Cubs, while losing 19, and retired in 1966.
     When Brock retired after the 1979 season, he had accumulated over 3,000 hits, scored 1,600 runs, and was baseball's all-time leading base stealer (his stolen-base record was later broken by Rickey Henderson). Brock entered the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Black Tie Affair, 1986 - 2010

     Black Tie Affair, who died July 1 at the age of 24, was the only Chicago-based Horse of the Year in recent decades, and given the lamentable state of racing in Illinois, he might well have been the last of all time. Owned by suburban car dealer Jeff Sullivan and trained by Chicago fixture Ernie Poulos, Black Tie Affair won his last six starts—all in graded-stakes competition—to take home the award in 1991.
     A gray colt foaled in Ireland in 1986, Black Tie Affair was, in racing parlance, a “speedball” who ran every race the same way. As soon as the gate opened, he charged to the front and played “catch me if you can.”
     For the first three years of his career, Black Tie Affair made 35 starts, 16 of them at Arlington, Hawthorne, or Sportsman’s Park. As his running style seemed to dictate, he was almost invariably entered in “sprint” races of a mile or less. On November 24, 1990, Poulos tried stretching him out to a mile and a quarter in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. At odds of 8-to-1, Black Tie Affair led from gate to wire under Juvenal Diaz for his first victory at any distance longer than a mile.
     Black Tie Affair never attempted a mile and a quarter again until a year later, in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic. By that time, he had won five consecutive races at five different tracks—each at the distance of a mile and an eighth and each in front-running fashion. The last of these was the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington on September 14, in which Black Tie Affair splashed to victory in the slop by seven and a half lengths under Shane Sellers.
     In the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 2 at Churchill Downs, Black Tie Affair confronted a field that included two Kentucky Derby winners, Unbridled and Strike the Gold, along with the highly regarded Twilight Agenda. Sent off at lukewarm odds of 4-to-1, he was equal to the task. Expertly ridden by Hall-of-Famer Jerry Bailey, Black Tie Affair went to the front, as usual, and never looked back.
     The Daily Racing Form official chart described the effort thusly: “Black Tie Affair, away alertly, was rated along on the lead while saving ground, held a clear advantage into the stretch and was roused to turn back Twilight Agenda in a long drive.” In layman’s terms, it means that Bailey sent Black Tie Affair to the front—or more accurately, allowed the horse to carry him to the front—and then deftly managed the pace so that the horse had enough left in the tank to withstand a challenge in the home stretch.
     Black Tie Affair’s victory was a perfect illustration of the old saying “pace makes the race.” It was also testimony to the skill of Bailey in holding him together for a mile and a quarter and of Poulos in preparing him to go that far against the best horses in the world. Black Tie Affair retired after the race and took up a lengthy career as a stallion. To date, 683 of his sons and daughters have raced, 410 have won at least once, and together they have earned $56 million. Two of them, Evening Attire and Formal Gold, have joined their dad in the ranks of Grade I winners.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"You Don't Think Pennants in July"

For the first three months of the 1969 season, the Cubs looked unbeatable. They entered July with a 50-27 record and a seven-and-a-half-game lead in the standings. On July 8 (41 years ago today), the Cubs began a series against the second-place Mets in New York. This series and another in Chicago the next week showed that the race was far from over. “You don’t think pennants in July,” said Mets manager Gil Hodges. The following account of the two series is from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     The Cubs won nine of 12 games on a late June homestand, including four straight from Pittsburgh and three of four from St. Louis. Thus they sent their two most likely challengers spinning out of contention. By July 4, after Fergie Jenkins bested the great Bob Gibson in 10 innings, the Cardinals were seven games under .500 and 16 games behind the Cubs. The Pirates, in the throes of a seven-game losing streak, were 14½ games off the pace.
     The New York Mets had now emerged as the Cubs’ nearest pursuers. It was understandable that the Cubs weren’t sweating too hard just yet, for the Mets had been a running joke since entering the league in 1962. They’d lost an unprecedented 120 games their first season and had finished last or second-to-last every year since. Their numerous and inventive ways of losing ballgames had inspired Casey Stengel, their first manager, to call them “those amazin’ Mets.” Now, under the fatherly Gil Hodges, the Mets were changing the meaning of their nickname. An 11-game winning streak in late May and early June had put them over the .500 mark for the first time in their history, and they were still rising. There was no question that their pitching was good enough to keep them in the race (they had an outstanding young staff anchored by third-year man Tom Seaver, sophomores Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan, and rookie Gary Gentry), but their everyday lineup was adequate at best. “I know the Dodgers won pennants with just pitching,” Cubs third baseman Ron Santo declared, “but this Mets lineup is ridiculous.”
     On July 8, the Cubs invaded New York’s Shea Stadium for a firsthand look at the upstarts. Jenkins carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. The first batter, Ken Boswell, lifted a shallow fly ball that looked like an easy out, but the Cubs’ rookie center fielder Don Young misjudged it—he broke back, then raced in too late. It fell for a double. Tommie Agee fouled out, then Donn Clendenon drove one deep to left-center. Young sprinted back to the warning track, reached out and made a fine catch—only to have the ball drop out of his glove when he slammed into the wall. Clendenon was credited with a double, and the score was now 3-2. A legitimate double by Cleon Jones tied it up. After an intentional walk and a groundout, Ed Kranepool came to bat. Kranepool’s fifth-inning homer had been the only hit off Jenkins prior to the ninth. Jenkins fooled him this time with an off-speed pitch, but Kranepool threw his bat at the ball and looped a little humpback liner into left to score Jones with the winning run. “Somebody said the Cubs weren’t taking us seriously,” Jones said after the game. “Maybe they’ll take us seriously now.”
     “[Jenkins] pitched his heart out,” said Cubs manager Leo Durocher, “and one man can’t catch a fly ball. It’s a disgrace.” Although neither ball that escaped Young had been scored an error, his teammates believed he should certainly have caught the first one, at least. Santo said so within earshot of reporters. “Everybody was saying, ‘Jesus Christ, the ball’s got to be caught,’” Glenn Beckert recalled. “Santo’s name got associated with it. Not the other 24 guys who were saying the same thing.”
     Santo called a press conference the next morning to apologize for his remarks. That evening, though, Young was on the bench and another rookie, Jimmy Qualls, was in center field. A delirious crowd of 59,083 saw Seaver retire the first 25 Cubs to face him before Qualls lined a single to left with one out in the ninth. Seaver made short work of the next two batters to complete a one-hit shutout, 4-0, for New York’s seventh consecutive win and the Cubs’ fifth straight loss.
     It looked like more of the same the next day when Jones scaled the fence to rob Santo of a three-run homer in the fourth. But Qualls jump-started a five-run rally when he stretched a single into a double leading off the fifth. The Cubs went on to win 6-2 behind a gritty effort from righthander Bill Hands.

     The Cubs’ lead was five games when the Mets came calling at Wrigley Field the next week. “People used to laugh and laugh at the Mets,” said Ernie Banks, “but not anymore.” On Monday, July 14, a raucous crowd of 40,252 was treated to an exquisite pitching duel between Hands and Seaver. Don Kessinger led off the Cubs’ sixth with a single, went to second when Beckert grounded to the right side on a hit-and-run play, and scored on a single by Billy Williams. Hands scattered six hits before Phil Regan relieved him with one out in the ninth. The Cubs won 1-0, and Santo did his “victory kick” again and again for the ecstatic Bleacher Bums. “That,” said Durocher, “was a World Series game.”
     But New York won 5-4 on Tuesday on a three-run homer by journeyman infielder Al Weis; it was Weis’s second homer in the past four years and only the fifth of his career. Even more appallingly, the usually light-hitting Mets chased Jenkins to the showers on Wednesday with a six-run barrage in the first two innings en route to a 9-5 triumph.
     The Cubs’ lead was still a reasonably secure four games, but the Mets had been emboldened. “These boys have thought all along they were strong contenders,” said Hodges, “but it’s been tough convincing some others.” As Hodges spoke, Santo sat stunned in the opposite clubhouse. “Two out of three in our park,” he lamented. “I still don’t believe it.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Dream Game

Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game took place at old Comiskey Park 77 years ago today. The photo above shows the American League team, with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and manager Connie Mack (in business suit) recognizable on the left side of the back row.

     Arch Ward, sports editor of the Tribune, dreamed up what he called the Dream Game—better known as Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game—as an added attraction for Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. A capacity crowd of 47,595 turned out for the inaugural All-Star Game at Comiskey Park. A nationwide poll of fans had selected the American and National League rosters, and the league presidents appointed Connie Mack and John McGraw, respectively, as managers. These choices had sentimental appeal: Mack was in his 33rd year at the helm of the Philadelphia A’s, and McGraw had recently retired due to ill health after three decades with the New York Giants.
     The American Leaguers wore their regular home uniforms, while the National Leaguers were decked out in steel-gray flannels with NATIONAL LEAGUE in blue block letters across their chests. With the home folks cheering him on, the White Sox’ popular third baseman Jimmie Dykes scored the first run in All-Star history. He coaxed a walk in the second inning and came around to score on a single by Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez. Dykes played the entire game for the A.L., going two-for-three and fielding his position flawlessly.
     Appropriately, the first home run in All-Star competition came off the bat of Babe Ruth; it was a two-run shot in the third off Bill Hallahan of the Cardinals. Ruth was 38 and growing more rotund all the time. Yet he showed that he could still rise to the occasion. In the eighth, he made a fine running catch of Chick Hafey’s sinking line drive to end a National League threat.
     The American Leaguers held on to win 4-2. Gomez was the winning pitcher, while Hallahan took the loss. Al Simmons of the White Sox had one hit in four at-bats. For the Cubs, catcher Gabby Hartnett and shortstop Woody English each went 0-for-1, and pitcher Lon Warneke surrendered one run in four innings of work (he also rapped a triple and scored a run). Of the 30 players who appeared in the game, 17 were destined for the Hall of Fame.
     When this first All-Star Game captured the public’s imagination to an extent that hadn’t been anticipated, baseball’s powers decided to make the midsummer classic an annual event. It became an immensely popular fixture over the years, fueling the genuine rivalry between the two leagues.
     Having hit a home run with his idea for baseball’s dream game, Ward inaugurated football’s College All-Star Game the next year. It matched the defending NFL champions against an all-star team of incoming rookies, and was played at Soldier Field every summer from 1934 through 1976.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Going Forth From the Fourth

     The Fourth of July is a traditional milestone in the baseball season. The good teams and the bad teams have been sorting themselves out, and the pennant races are taking shape. As we mark the Fourth this year, it appears more than likely that the Cubs will not be active participants in a pennant race, but rather will be observing from a safe distance. It remains to be seen whether the White Sox will sustain their recent success for the long haul, but they at least have given themselves a shot. The Sox are 41-38 (.519), in third place, two games behind Detroit and Minnesota, who are in a virtual tie for first place.
     How does the Sox' current situation compare to previous seasons that ended with the South Siders at the top of the standings? Over the years, nine White Sox teams have finished in first place. One, the 1917 world champions, had an almost identical winning percentage before July 4 and thereafter. Five teams improved significantly in the latter part of the season--most notably, the 1983 Sox, who played almost .700 ball from July 4 onward (this club also overcame the largest deficit on July 4, four and a half games out, of any Sox club that has finished first). The three most recent Sox division champs each occupied first place on July 4 and also ended the season there--despite playing markedly worse from the Fourth to the finish line.
     The following list shows where the Sox' previous first-place finishers stood on the morning of July 4, and how they did the rest of the way.

Before: Won 36, Lost 30 (.545), 4th place, 4 games out
After: Won 57, Lost 28 (.671), finished 3 games ahead
Won World Series over Cubs, 4 games to 2

Before: Won 45, Lost 24 (.652), 1st place, 2 games ahead
After: Won 55, Lost 30 (.647), finished 8 games ahead
Won World Series over New York Giants, 4 games to 2

Before: Won 37, Lost 24 (.607), 2nd place, 1.5 games out
After: Won 51, Lost 28 (.646), finished 3.5 games ahead
Lost World Series to Cincinnati Reds, 5 games to 3

Before: Won 41, Lost 34 (.547), 2nd place, 1 game out
After: Won 53, Lost 26 (.671), finished 5 games ahead
Lost World Series to Los Angeles Dodgers, 4 games to 2

Before: Won 39, Lost 37 (.513), 3rd place, 4.5 games out
After: Won 60, Lost 26 (.698), finished 20 games ahead
Lost A.L. Championship Series to Baltimore Orioles, 3 games to 1

Before: Won 40, Lost 38 (.513), tied for 1st place
After: Won 54, Lost 30 (.643), finished 8 games ahead
Lost A.L. Championship Series to Toronto Blue Jays, 4 games to 2

Before: Won 53, Lost 29 (.646), 1st place, 11 games ahead
After: Won 42, Lost 38 (.525), finished 5 games ahead
Lost A.L. Division Series to Seattle Mariners, 3 games to 0

Before: Won 54, Lost 26 (.675), 1st place, 8 games ahead
After: Won 45, Lost 37 (.549), finished 6 games ahead
Won World Series over Houston Astros, 4 games to 0

Before: Won 49, Lost 37 (.570), 1st place, 1.5 games ahead
After: Won 40, Lost 37 (.519), finished 1 game ahead
Lost A.L. Division Series to Tampa Bay Rays, 3 games to 1

Friday, July 2, 2010

Norris Trophy Winners

     The James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the best defenseman in the National Hockey League, was presented last week to Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks. The trophy is named after an early owner of the Detroit Red Wings, who later owned the Hawks and Chicago Stadium along with his son James, Jr., and Arthur Wirtz.
     We're going to loop back around sometime soon to recall James, Jr., who was one of the most colorful characters in Chicago sports history. For now, we're going to celebrate the Blackhawks who've won the trophy that (like Junior himself) was named after the old man.

Pierre Pilote, 1963, 1964, 1965

     Pierre Pilote joined the Hawks in 1955 and was a key member of the 1961 Stanley Cup champions. In 1964-65, Pilote won his third consecutive Norris Trophy and set a new scoring record for defensemen with 59 points (on 14 goals and 45 assists). Pilote also wore the "C" as Hawks captain for several years. His scoring record was broken by Boston's Bobby Orr in 1968-69, but Pilote's place in history was secure. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Doug Wilson, 1982

     Helmets were made mandatory throughout the NHL in 1980, but players already in the league were allowed to go without one if they chose. Doug Wilson so chose, and he was the last of the Blackhawks to take the ice bare-headed. The durable, steady Wilson was an offensive-minded defenseman whose booming slapshot from the point was a hallmark of the Chicago power play. He scored 225 goals while wearing the Indian head, and his 554 assists rank third in Hawks annals (behind only Stan Mikita and Denis Savard). Wilson is currently the general manager of the San Jose Sharks.

Chris Chelios, 1993, 1996

     Chicago native Chris Chelios won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens and two with the Detroit Red Wings. In between he spent almost nine seasons with the Blackhawks, who were in the midst of a prolonged Stanley Cup drought. With the Hawks, Chelios won the Norris Trophy for the second and third times, having previously won it in 1989 for Montreal. Chelios was acquired in a 1990 trade for another Hawks legend, Denis Savard, whom he will soon join in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He appeared in seven games with the Atlanta Thrashers, at the age of 48, this past season (his 26th in the NHL), and he ranks fourth all time in games played.

Duncan Keith, 2010

     Duncan Keith is one of three hockey players in the world who won both an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup in 2010. Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook--Keith's teammates on the Canadian Olympic team and the Blackhawks--are the others. Keith played all 82 regular-season games and all 22 playoff games for the Hawks, establishing himself as the best defenseman in the league. During the postseason, Keith proved his toughness and his commitment to the team (as if either were ever in doubt) when he took a puck flush in the mouth, lost seven teeth, and kept right on playing.