Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chicagoland U.S. Opens

     Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tore up the course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, this past weekend to take the 2011 U.S. Open championship in fine style. The 22-year-old McIlroy shot under 70 for all four rounds, finished eight shots ahead of the runner-up, and set tournament records for the most strokes under par (16) and lowest total score (268).
     The previous record for lowest total score was 272, established by Jack Nicklaus in 1980 and equaled by Lee Janzen in 1993, Tiger Woods in 2000, and Jim Furyk in 2003--at Olympia Fields Country Club. The 2003 Open was the 13th played in the Chicago area, and the most recent to date.
     Some of the 13 have been more memorable than others. The 1975 Open at Medinah was decided by an 18-hole playoff on the fifth day, in which Lou Graham outlasted John Mahaffey. But what makes that year's Open famous, or infamous, is that Lee Trevino was struck by lightning while on the course. Always a jokester, Trevino said afterwards that he would know what to do the next time. "If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning," he said, "hold up your 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron."

Chicagoland U.S. Opens:

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton
Champion: Joe Lloyd
Score: (unknown)

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton
Champion: Harry Vardon
Score: 313

Glen View Club, Golf
Champion: Willie Anderson
Score: 303

Onwentsia Club, Lake Forest
Champion: Alex Smith
Score: 295

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton
Champion: John McDermott
Score: 307

Midlothian Country Club, Midlothian
Champion: Walter Hagen
Score: 290

Skokie Country Club, Glencoe
Champion: Gene Sarazen
Score: 288

Olympia Fields Country Club, Olympia Fields
Champion: Johnny Farrell
Score: 294

North Shore Country Club, Glenview
Champion: Johnny Goodman
Score: 287 (1 under par)

Medinah Country Club (Course No. 3), Medinah
Champion: Cary Middlecoff
Score: 286 (2 over par)

Medinah Country Club (Course No. 3), Medinah
Champion: Lou Graham
Score: 287 (3 over par)

Medinah Country Club (Course No. 3), Medinah
Champion: Hale Irwin
Score: 280 (8 under par)

Olympia Fields Country Club (North Course), Olympia Fields
Champion: Jim Furyk
Score: 272 (8 under par)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cubs vs. Yankees, 2003

     The New York Yankees are in town this weekend to visit the Cubs for the first time since the two clubs staged a memorable series in June 2003. This years Cubs appear hard-pressed to stay out of the cellar, but in 2003 the Cubs were destined to win a division championship. They would have met the Yankees again in that years World Series but for their unfortunate meltdown in Games 6 and 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. All that was a long way off on the first weekend of June. 

     Sammy Sosa’s suspension for using a corked bat was still pending when the New York Yankees invaded Wrigley Field just three days after the episode, so he was in the lineup against the 26-time world champions, who were playing the Cubs for the first time since the 1938 World Series.
     The park was absolutely packed for all three games, and the atmosphere was fully charged. The first game, on Friday, June 6, was played in a light mist under cloudy skies. The Yankees led 5-0 after two and a half innings, but Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano and four relievers held them in check after that. A two-run homer by second baseman Ramon Martinez in the third and a solo shot by center fielder Corey Patterson in the eighth got the Cubs back in the game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs had the tying runs on second and third and the winning run at the plate when Hee Seop Choi struck out swinging.
     Saturday’s game matched Cubs righthander Kerry Wood against Roger Clemens, a six-time Cy Young award winner who was still potent as ever at the age of 40. Wood had exploded onto the scene five years earlier, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth major-league outing. Only two Astros reached base, one on a scratch single off the glove of third baseman Kevin Orie and the other when he was hit by a pitch. Eight pitches were hit into fair territory, just two out of the infield. With 20 strikeouts in a single game, Wood had joined a very exclusive club whose only other member was Clemens. He’d won 13 games for the season, fanned 233 batters in 167 innings, and been named Rookie of the Year. He had battled injuries and inconsistency since then, but he was coming into his own by 2003, and he made the All-Star team for the first time.
     Wood admitted he was thrilled to be facing Clemens, a fellow Texan and (along with Nolan Ryan) his idol. Adding some spice to the mix was the fact that Clemens was seeking his 300th victory.
     Both pitchers were sharp. A solo homer by Hideki Matsui in the fifth was the Yankees’ lone hit off Wood for the first seven innings. Clemens retired 15 straight Cubs in one stretch and carried a two-hit shutout into the bottom of the seventh. With two on and one out, New York manager Joe Torre removed Clemens and handed the ball to reliever Juan Acevedo. Clemens did not appear to be happy, and he was less so when Cubs first baseman Eric Karros drove Acevedo’s first offering into the left-field bleachers to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
     The drama wasn’t over yet. With two on and two out in the Yankees’ eighth, Wood issued a walk to Derek Jeter. Cubs skipper Dusty Baker called for lefty Mike Remlinger to face the next hitter, Jason Giambi. Wood departed to a standing ovation; he had allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out 11. Giambi, a former American League MVP, had already clouted 14 homers on the season, including one the day before. After a swinging strike and a called strike, he waited out three deliveries that were off the mark. Then, with the crowd roaring, the baserunners going, and no margin for error, the crafty Remlinger threw a changeup, right over the heart of the plate. Giambi swung through it for strike three.
     The Cubs won 5-2. “The most electric game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Karros.
     The Cubs won again Sunday night, defeating the Yankees 8-7. Entertaining as it was, the series against the New Yorkers was hardly crucial, for there were still 101 games left in the season. But the Cubs were gaining credibility and confidence. “You don’t know,” Baker said, “if this is a defining moment or a turning point until down the road.”

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Harry Caray, Part 2

     Broadcaster Harry Caray and general manager Dallas Green did more than anyone else to turn the Cubs into one of the most popular and richest franchises in baseball, after decades of benign neglect under the stewardship of the eccentric chewing-gum heir P.K. Wrigley.
     Artistically, Caray’s best days were behind him when he joined the Cubs in 1982, but his popularity soared to new heights. At first, he was less than beloved even in his own booth, for his arrival quashed Milo Hamilton’s plans to assume the top spot in the wake of Jack Brickhouse’s retirement. When Caray got up to do his first rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Wrigley Field, Hamilton stalked out of the booth muttering “I don’t have to listen to this shit.”
     Hamilton—the only broadcaster who could, and did, make a transcendent moment like Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run as dull as dishwater—was advised to get used to Caray and his singing. He was relegated to radio only the next year, and was gone by 1985. Steve Stone became Caray’s partner in the TV booth, and, although the two could hardly have been more dissimilar, they had genuine chemistry on the air and became good friends away from the ballpark as well. They worked together for the rest of Caray’s career.
     Thanks to the reach of WGN’s cable-TV superstation, the Cubs’ magical, heartbreaking 1984 season introduced Caray to a far wider audience than he could have imagined even in his heyday with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs became a national phenomenon, with Caray as ringleader of the summer-long celebration. He nicknamed Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg “the Daily Double” and Rick Sutcliffe “the Red Baron.” He serenaded Jody Davis with his own made-up lyrics to the old “Davy Crockett” theme song. He was, as William Nack wrote, “mirror and magnet for the emotions the team evoked.” When the dream turned into a nightmare in the National League Championship Series, Caray could not conceal the shock and dismay that he felt as deeply as any other Cubs fan.

     Despite his famous propensity for bar-hopping until the wee hours almost every day, Caray never missed so much as one inning in his first 42 years at the microphone. His incredible streak of 6,668 consecutive games ended in 1987 after Caray suffered a stroke in February while playing cards with some cronies in Palm Springs, California.
     If he didn’t already know, Caray learned during his recuperation how many people he had touched over the years. Every day, his wife Dutchie brought him box after box of mail from people who wanted him to know how much he meant to them and their families. “I can’t describe the effect it had on my entire being,” said Caray.
     He returned several weeks into the season with his enthusiasm intact, even enhanced, but with his skills diminished. After the stroke, Caray’s tendency to mispronounce names and to confuse contemporary players with those of earlier decades became more noticeable with each passing year.
     It didn’t matter. What mattered was that Caray was still at it, joyously selling baseball, beautiful Wrigley Field, and Budweiser. Fans realized that Caray was the last of the true originals, and that he would be sorely missed when he was gone. They could put up with a few mistakes from the most passionate, most entertaining announcer they’d ever know.
     In 1989, Caray received a long-overdue honor when he was admitted to the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall of Fame. In his brief, eloquent induction speech, Caray pointed out that his was the first family to produce three generations of broadcasters; the audience for the ceremonies included his son Harry Christopher, Jr., and grandson Harry Christopher III (better known as Skip and Chip, respectively). He went on to say, “I think of the fans, and perhaps that’s who I represent today. We are all fans, and I know it’s the fans who are responsible for my being here. They are the unsung heroes. We are temporary actors on the baseball stage. We move on but the game remains. I’m very proud to have been a part of this piece of Americana.”

     In signing off the air at the end of the 1997 season, Caray said, “So long everybody. God willing, I hope to see you next year.”
     It wasn’t to be. On Valentine’s Day 1998, Caray collapsed in Palm Springs, while dancing with Dutchie. This time, there was no miraculous recovery. Caray never regained consciousness, and he died after a four-day vigil by family and friends.
     “Who wouldn't take this deal?” Bob Costas mused upon Caray’s death. “You live into your early eighties (no matter what the official bio said), you do what you love doing right up until the end, and in the end, this can truthfully be said: You made millions of people happy, and millions of people will never forget you.”

Part 2 of 2.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Harry Caray, Part 1

     “The first thing I fell deeply, passionately, madly and irrevocably in love with,” Harry Caray wrote, “was the game of baseball. I loved to play it and to watch it, I loved to read about it, and perhaps most of all, I loved to talk about it, argue about it, analyze it.” Over the course of his remarkable career as a broadcaster, Caray shared his love with millions, who in turn made it their own.
     Better than half of Caray’s 53 years at the microphone were spent in Chicago, where he worked 11 seasons with the White Sox and 16 with the Cubs. In Chicago he became larger than life, the Mayor of Rush Street and the celebrated singer of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”—but it was in St. Louis that he established himself as a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster. For much of his tenure with the Cardinals, St. Louis was the southernmost and westernmost city in the major leagues, and Caray’s voice crackling over the radio was the closest that fans throughout most of the country ever got to a big-league ballpark. When conditions were right, station KMOX’s 50,000-watt signal carried the broadcasts into virtually all of the contiguous 48 states.
     “On a clear night from a thousand miles away, here came Harry Caray over KMOX,” recalled Bob Costas, who used to tune in on the car radio from his family’s driveway on Long Island. “Not smooth and melodic, like Red Barber, Mel Allen, or Vin Scully, but loud and bombastic.”
     Caray was a St. Louis institution for a quarter century. “There were just two names in St. Louis,” he once said. “Stan Musial and me.”
     After the 1969 season, his 25th with the Cardinals, Caray was abruptly fired. “I expected a gold watch,” he later joked, “but what I got was a pink slip.” It was a devastating blow, but not a complete surprise in light of allegations that he had become amorously involved with the attractive young wife of an Anheuser-Busch executive. Caray never denied it. “I’d rather have people believing the rumor and have my middle-aged ego inflated,” he said, “than deny it and keep my job.”
     In 1970, Caray hooked on with Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s, but his blue-collar, beer-guzzling image and over-the-top broadcasting style were at odds with the laid-back culture of the Bay Area. After one forgettable season, Caray landed with the White Sox.
     The Sox were coming off a disastrous season in which they had lost a franchise-record 106 games and drawn only 495,535 fans. The club’s games were carried on WTAQ in LaGrange, a 5,000-watt station whose signal faded to 500 watts after dark, making it impossible for most homes in the Chicago area to receive the night games at all. It was quite a comedown for Caray, whose voice had boomed almost from coast to coast in his St. Louis days. It was also an adjustment for Chicago fans (and players), who had never known an announcer like him, accustomed as they were to the laconic Bob Elson and the always-optimistic Jack Brickhouse. Caray would root, root, root for the home team, but he never sugarcoated its shortcomings. “Look,” he said, “I don’t blast players, I just report what they do.”
     “Most announcers are shills for their teams,” said Caray. “I speak for the fan.” Like any fan, Caray came to the ballpark every day hoping, even expecting, to see something wonderful happen. When it didn’t, he was genuinely disappointed. When it did, though, he could hardly contain himself. For example, he made every home run sound like the first he had ever seen. “There’s a drive. Way back. It might be. It could be. It is! A home run! Holy cow! Listen to the crowd!”
     During his early years with the White Sox, the chief sponsors of Caray’s broadcasts were Falstaff Beer and the Chicken Unlimited chain. Caray sampled prodigious quantities of both products, and by the end of a game the booth would be littered with empty beer bottles and picked-over boxes of chicken. Often he would fling pieces of chicken from the booth into the waiting hands of fans below.
     White Sox fans loved his antics. Buoyed by Caray’s presence and the ballclub’s steady improvement under new manager Chuck Tanner, attendance at Comiskey Park climbed to 833,891 in 1971 and 1,186,018 in 1972 (that year, led by American League MVP Dick Allen, the Sox remained in contention all summer and finished a solid second to the A’s, who went on to win their first of three straight world championships). By 1973, Caray was on TV as well as radio, and the Sox drew 1,316,527 fans. Caray’s contract called for a relatively modest base salary of $50,000, with bonuses of $10,000 for every 100,000 spectators beyond 600,000; thus in 1973 his bonus was greater than his salary.
     By 1975, the White Sox were slipping badly, and Caray’s brutally honest appraisals of the situation were grating on players and management. Caray’s favorite target was third baseman Bill Melton, a former slugging star who’d never quite recovered from a back injury. “I didn’t mind him getting on me,” said Melton. “But we had a young ballclub—Bucky Dent, Terry Forster, a bunch of young players. He was getting on the whole team, the whole organization. It was building up. I had to confront him.” In July, he did; the two men had a well-publicized shouting match in a Milwaukee hotel lobby. At the end of the season, Melton’s request for a trade was granted, and Allyn indicated that Caray would not be invited back, either.

     Caray’s salvation (and that of the White Sox) was delivered by the chain-smoking, peg-legged entrepreneur Bill Veeck, who headed a group that bought the franchise from Allyn to prevent its moving to Seattle. Caray went for an interview to get his job back. “Here I am,” said Veeck, “talking to the man who ran me out of St. Louis.” It was true that Caray’s popularity had hastened the demise of Veeck’s St. Louis Browns in the early 1950s. Nonetheless, Veeck retained him.
     Caray flourished under Veeck’s anything-goes administration, which reached its apex in 1977—the year of the “South Side Hit Men.” The Sox rebounded from a last-place finish the year before by leading their division into August, winning 90 games, and drawing a club-record 1,657,315 fans. “Harry fits in with our group,” said Veeck. “He fits in with our style, which is casual, even raucous. Can you envision Dodger fans standing up in the middle of a game to cheer Vin Scully the way they cheer Harry here?” He might also have asked, can you envision Vin Scully broadcasting, shirtless, from a wind-whipped perch in the center-field bleachers, amidst hundreds of boisterous, imbibing young people?
     It was Veeck who created an enduring Chicago ritual for the seventh-inning stretch. Caray had been in the habit of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to himself. Veeck heard him one night. The next night, he had Caray’s microphone connected, surreptitiously, to the public-address system. “Here I am,” Caray remembered, “not dreaming that anyone notices, singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ All of a sudden, I hear my voice booming back at me, along with the sound of thousands of other voices. When the game was over, I went up to Veeck and asked him what this was all about. He said, ‘Harry, all my life I’ve wanted to do that. I was just looking for the right guy. I knew you were the right guy because I knew any fan sitting in the ballpark, no matter how badly he sings, would realize that he could sing better than you and would freely join in.’”
     It was also Veeck who, in a fit of inspiration (or lunacy), teamed Caray with the volatile Jimmy Piersall in the broadcast booth. During his playing days, Piersall had suffered a nervous breakdown that was later chronicled in the movie Fear Strikes Out. He and Caray were a memorable tandem. The two would sometimes become so engrossed in arguing about a certain aspect of the game that they would briefly forget about the action on the field. One time, an exasperated Caray exclaimed, “Aw, Jimmy, you’re crazy!” Without missing a beat, Piersall retorted, “And I’ve got the papers to prove it.”
     When physical and financial woes forced Veeck to sell the White Sox in 1981, Caray’s days on the South Side were numbered. He did not suit the image that new owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn sought to project. “What it really came down to,” Caray said, “was they were jealous of me because my picture was in the paper more than theirs.” He lasted for one year. After Einhorn announced that henceforth most Sox games would be available not on free TV, but on a new subscription service, SportsVision, Caray up and quit. Worse yet for the Sox, he joined the Cubs. In explaining his decision, Caray said, “It came down to, do you want to go into 8,000,000 homes free or 50,000 homes on pay TV?”

Part 1 of 2.