Or in the words of the late great Harry Caray, “Holy Cow! Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!”
In 1965, I was transplanted into Chicago from Southern West Virginia. It was quite a shock to my system, but as youngsters are prone to do I latched on to something familiar. Baseball. On most summer afternoons, if I was at home, there was a Cubs game on WGN. There were no lights at Wrigley Field so every game was an afternoon game. I went to my first professional baseball game at Wrigley and was there some late spring days when I should have been in school. Wrigley was then and even now with modernization, America’s best ball park. All it takes is one visit to fall in love with the place. From a fan perspective, there are no bad seats. In my day, the center field bleacher bums wore yellow batting helmets or construction helmets and throwing back opposing team homerun balls became a tradition that is not optional. Not adhering to that bit of Wrigley lore could end up bad for you. I always compare Wrigley that to the game I took my son to at Atlanta’s old Fulton County Stadium. Sitting there way up in the nosebleed seats, it was tough to keep up with the little tiny people playing the game. There simply was no comparison to Wrigley’s “friendly confines.”
I was watching the game on television when Ernie Banks hit home run number 500. Just as plain as ever I still recall Cub’s announcer Jack Brickhouse and his trademark “Back! Back! Hey-Hey!” as the ball left the park. I remember Ron Santo running across the outfield clicking his heels together every time the Cubs won. I remember Leo Durocher showing the umpire the shoe polish on a baseball to prove a player was hit by the pitch and that was certainly one of his more congenial umpire visits. This was the days of leather cleats and chewing tobacco and no play reviews. I remember the players in the Cubs dugout throwing a ball attached to a string on top of the dugout and pulling it back just before one of the kids could grab it. I remember the team recording a song, “Hey Hey holy mackerel the Chicago Cubs are on the way,” Just before “Tom Terrific” Seaver and the “Miracle Mets” wiped out a 13 game Cub’s lead to go on and win the pennant and the World Series.
I have been a Cubs fan ever since. Since 1969, I have also hated the Mets. Following last season’s National League Championship Series (NLCS), I wondered which I hated most the doggonned goat or the Mets. It is the Mets.
Throughout the NLCS and the World Series, I mostly heard about the greatness of the opposing pitchers. Joe Buck, one of my favorite sports announcers by the way, clearly had a man crush on Dodger’s pitcher Kershaw which he transferred to Cleveland’s Kubler and Miller. It was obvious, whenever a game tightened, that the announcers and the pre-game crew were on the verge of declaring same old see you next year Cubs. The announcers were not rooting for the other teams, but you could sense what they thought. Or it was likely just my own insecurity and the doubt I kept beating back except that Buck certainly did have that man crush. The Cubs just proved that great pitchers simply cannot dominate great hitting on their second or third visit.
As good as this Cubs team has been all year, I cannot say honestly that Russell to Baez to Rizzo is any better than Kessinger to Beckert to Hickman. I do not think that Bryant is a better at third than Santo. I do not believe Lester or Arietta are any better than Fergie Jenkins, who could also hit homeruns, or Milt Pappas and as steady as is Hendricks, he ain’t no Greg Maddox – yet. And today’s Cubs have no better long ball hitter than Ernie Banks – at least not yet. But I can tell you what I do know. Ron Santo was clicking his heels running toward center field last night and Ernie Banks with that big ol’ friendly smile is saying, “Let’s play three today.”
I believe I am going to go order my World Series Champions cap, and probably a sweat shirt or two. Probably drag out my Son’s twenty thousand or so baseball cards and day dream some today. Maybe I will ponder the world for a bit and remind myself there is nothing more American that baseball, nothing more exciting than a seven game World Series, and there is still a place where we can all come together and forget our problems for awhile.
Thank you Cubs. I took you 50 years from when I first became a fan, but it was worth the wait.
© 2016 J. D. Pendry