Friday, June 15, 2012

A Fine Mess

My latest "A Fine Mess" column is in the current issue of Shore Magazine. It's my ode to the all-american tradition of garage poker.

You can read it here.

Cubs 365, June 15

On this day in 1964, the Cubs made the worst trade in the team's history. They traded Lou Brock.

At the time, it wasn't considered a horrible trade. In fact, St. Louis fans thought they were getting ripped off. Why? The guy the Cubs received for Brock, Ernie Broglio, had won 18 games in 1963. And Lou wasn't exactly the fully developed he player he later became.

Coming up during the ill-fated College of Coaches experiment, in an organization that provided very little guidance at all for their players, Lou Brock was hopelessly lost at the plate, and was a liability in the outfield. He had been yanked this way and that, and wasn't given the opportunity to find himself.

Lou Brock hit .263 in '62, .258 in '63, and was only hitting .251 in 1964 when the trade was completed. Still, Cubs players knew immediately that they had been ripped off. Every player on the bench to a man couldn't believe that the Cubs had traded Brock. He had obvious star qualities, had hit long home runs, had shown incredible speed and skill on the bases, and was only 24 years old. All he really needed was guidance and coaching.

He got that in St. Louis. The Cardinal coaches told him he wasn't a power hitter--and he should stop trying to hit home runs. They also told him he had the green light to steal bases, and highly encouraged him to run. This shocked Lou. The Cubs had discouraged that part of his game.

As a Cardinal, Lou Brock would lead the league in stolen bases 8 of the next 10 years, and would retire as the record holder for most stolen bases in a career. He wouldn't hit that many home runs, but with his new found stroke that concentrated on utilizing his speed, he became a .300 hitter, and a clutch hitter at that. In his three World Series with the Cardinals, he would hit .391, winning the Babe Ruth Award as the MVP of the 1967 World Series.

In his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

As a footnote, he guys the Cubs received in return didn't do a thing. Ernie Broglio went 7-19, Bobby Shantz won zero games, and Doug Clemens played a grand total of 182 games as a backup outfielder.

Anyway you slice it, this trade lives up to it's status as the worst trade in Cubs history.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Shopping Savants

Cubs 365, June 14

On this day in 1949, Eddie Waitkus became a household name in America, but he certainly didn't want it to happen the way it did.

While he was with the Cubs, the young first baseman was known for his great defense, his smoking line-drives, and his left-handed bat. The pinnacle of his Cubs career came in 1948, when he made the all-star team. But after the 1948 season the Cubs decided they needed to boost their pitching staff, so they traded the popular Waitkus to the Phillies for two aging starting pitchers (Dutch Leonard and Monk Dubiel). Many people in Chicago were very upset by that trade, but nobody was more upset than young Ruth Ann Steinhagen.

She kept an encyclopedic scrapbook of pictures and clippings of Waitkus. How big of a fan was she? She heard that Eddie was Lithuanian, so she studied and learned the language. Needless to say, 18-year-old Ruth Ann's world was shattered when Waitkus was traded, and according to her mother, she "cried night and day".

Eddie had no idea who Ruth Ann was, but he found out on this day in 1949. He was hitting over .300 for Philadelphia, and was leading all NL first basemen in all-star game balloting when the Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

He must have felt vindicated when his Phillies trounced the team that traded him, 9-2. He had a celebratory dinner that night with his teammate Russ Meyer and Meyer's parents and fiance. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when they returned to the Edgewater Beach hotel around 11:00 that night.

There was a note waiting for Eddie there, from a "Ruth Ann Burns," a girl Eddie had been dating. The note simply said that Ruth Ann was staying in room 1297. Excited to see her, Eddie quickly went to room 1297 and knocked on the door. Instead of Ruth Ann Burns, however, another girl was waiting for him there. She claimed to be Ruth Ann's friend.

"Ruth Ann will be back in a few minutes," the girl said, "why don't you have a seat."

Thinking it was perfectly conceivable that the statuesque 6-foot brunette was a friend, Eddie took her up on the offer. He was sitting in a chair in room 1297 when Ruth Ann Steinhagen emerged from the closet holding a 22 caliber rifle, and said...

"If I can't have you, nobody can."

Then she shot him in the chest.

As Eddie slumped to the ground in agony, Ruth Ann Steinhagen calmly picked up the phone and told the front desk that she had just shot Eddie Waitkus. That phone call probably saved his life. The bullet narrowly missed his heart, and miraculously missed all of his other major organs, but he surely would have bled to death. As it was, it took several hours in the operating room to successfully remove the bullet.

When it came time to punish Ruth Ann Steinhagen, Eddie refused to push for a harsh sentence. He did not attend the trial, and never saw her again. When asked about her, he simply replied: "She had the coldest looking face I've ever seen."

At her trial she couldn't explain why she had done what she had done. She simply explained that "I'm sorry that Eddie had to suffer so, (but) I had to relieve the tension that I have been under the past two weeks." Ruth Ann was found legally insane, and was sent to a mental institution. After a few years of electric shock therapy, she was declared "sane" and released in 1952.

Eddie Waitkus missed the rest of the 1949 season, but eventually returned to the Phillies the next year, and played six more seasons in the big leagues. His baseball abilities didn't seem altered by the event, but as you might imagine, Eddie changed. The once affable and friendly Waitkus became withdrawn. After his career, he became an alcoholic and a recluse. He died in 1972 at the very young age of 53.

His story is said to be the inspiration for Bernard Malamud's novel about a crazy female fan "with cold eyes" who shoots a baseball star. That novel is called "The Natural."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

45 Years Ago Today...

...people all over the world were listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band, which had just been released.

It was the first album I ever bought.

At the time, of course, I had no idea who all of these people were on the cover. Over the years I figured most of them out, one by one.

But to be honest, I still needed the following list spelled out to me to get them all. Thank you Wikipedia...

Top row:
Sri Yukteswar Giri (Hindu guru)
Aleister Crowley (occultist)
Mae West (actress)
Lenny Bruce (comedian)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer)
W. C. Fields (comedian/actor)
Carl Gustav Jung (psychiatrist)
Edgar Allan Poe (writer)
Fred Astaire (actor/dancer)
Richard Merkin (artist)
The Vargas Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
Huntz Hall (actor)
Simon Rodia (designer and builder of the Watts Towers)
Bob Dylan (singer/songwriter)

Second row:
Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
Sir Robert Peel (19th century British Prime Minister)
Aldous Huxley (writer)
Dylan Thomas (poet)
Terry Southern (writer)
Dion (singer)
Tony Curtis (actor)
Wallace Berman (artist)
Tommy Handley (comedian)
Marilyn Monroe (actress)
William S. Burroughs (writer)
Sri Mahavatar Babaji (Hindu guru)
Stan Laurel (actor/comedian)
Richard Lindner (artist)
Oliver Hardy (actor/comedian)
Karl Marx (political philosopher)
H. G. Wells (writer)
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Hindu guru)
Sigmund Freud (psychiatrist) - barely visible below Bob Dylan
Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)

Third row:
Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
Max Miller (comedian)
A "Petty Girl" (by artist George Petty)
Marlon Brando (actor)
Tom Mix (actor)
Oscar Wilde (writer)
Tyrone Power (actor)
Larry Bell (artist)
Dr. David Livingstone (missionary/explorer)
Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer/Tarzan actor)
Stephen Crane (writer) - barely visible between Issy Bonn's head and raised arm
Issy Bonn (comedian)
George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
H. C. Westermann (sculptor)
Albert Stubbins (football player)
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
Lewis Carroll (writer)
T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia")

Front row:
Wax model of Sonny Liston (boxer)
A "Petty Girl" (by George Petty)
Wax model of George Harrison
Wax model of John Lennon
Shirley Temple (child actress) - barely visible, first of three appearances on the cover
Wax model of Ringo Starr
Wax model of Paul McCartney
Albert Einstein (physicist) - largely obscured
John Lennon holding a French horn
Ringo Starr holding a trumpet
Paul McCartney holding a Cor Anglais
George Harrison holding a piccolo
Bobby Breen (singer)
Marlene Dietrich (actress/singer)
An American legionnaire[1]
Diana Dors (actress)
Shirley Temple (child actress) - second appearance on the cover

Other objects within the group include:
Cloth grandmother-figure by Jann Haworth
Cloth doll by Haworth of Shirley Temple wearing a sweater that reads "Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys"
A ceramic Mexican craft known as a Tree of Life from Metepec
A 9-inch Sony television set, apparently owned by Paul McCartney - the receipt, bearing McCartney's signature, is owned by a curator of a museum dedicated to The Beatles in Japan.[2]
A stone figure of a girl
Another stone figure
A statue brought over from John Lennon's house
A trophy
A doll of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi
A drum skin, designed by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave
A hookah (water pipe)
A velvet snake
A Fukusuke, Japanese china figure
A stone figure of Snow White
A garden gnome
A euphonium/baritone horn

Cubs 365, June 13

On this day in 1984, the Cubs traded away their top prospect, Joe Carter, and another stud outfielder named Mel Hall to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.

In some ways, Cubs management can never be begrudged for making this trade. Sutcliffe was nearly unhittable the rest of the year. He won the Cy Young Award, posted a record of 16-1, and led the Cubs to their first playoff appearance in 39 years. He also had two more All-Star caliber seasons for the team.

On the other hand, Joe Carter turned into a superstar. He hit 396 big league homers, and not a single one of those was with the Cubs. He is probably best remembered for hitting one of the most memorable round trippers in World Series history; a walk off homer against another former Cub (Mitch Williams) to win the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The BAC Book Club with Kim Strickland

If you're on the South Side of Chicago you won't want to miss a special event tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Beverly Arts Center. Eckhartz Press author Kim Strickland will be the featured author at the BAC Book Club.

Moderator Penny Golden will be talking to Kim about "Down at the Golden Coin" and Kim will take questions from the audience and sign books.

The BAC is promoting it as a "no pressure" book club, where the attendees don't have to have read the book. It will be an informal setting, with a cash bar and snacks; a fun "girls' night out" kind of evening. (Guys are welcome too, of course!).

The fun begins at 7:30. See you there!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cubs 365, June 12

On this day in 1938, Cubs pitcher Larry French made news when he bought a live bear cub from a fan for $10.

Larry learned a valuable lesson that summer...keeping a live bear cub isn't as easy as it sounds. After the cub tore up his apartment, French somehow managed to convince his teammate Ripper Collins to take the bear off his hands. Collins learned the same valuable lesson. After a similar unpleasant experience, he donated the cub to a conservation camp in New York.

Larry French also made news on the field that year. He became (and remains) the only pitcher in major league history to lose as many as 19 games (and have a losing record) for a pennant winner. He went 10-19 for the 1938 National League Champion Cubs, personally accounting for nearly 1/3 of the team's losses.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Euro 2012

If you call me between 11am and 3pm or so, and I don't answer the phone, don't take it personally. The second greatest soccer tournament in the world is going on the next few weeks--The European Cup. There have already been some incredible games.

Signing off now to watch some more.

Father Knows Nothing

I posted my latest Father Knows Nothing column over the weekend, and it's getting tons of hits. Apparently every dog owner can sympathize with the subject of this week's column. It's called "SKUNKED!"

You can read it here.

Cubs 365, June 11

On this day in 1896, future Cubs shortstop Charlie Hollocher was born. Charlie's life was a series of very high highs and very low lows.

He was one of the greatest hitters on the Cubs in his seven seasons in the big leagues. He led the 1918 team to the pennant, and led the league in hits. In 1922, he only struck out four times in 509 at-bats, still the best ratio in Cubs history. In two different seasons he was in the top ten in hitting, and he anchored the team's defense at shortstop. He seemed destined to have a Hall of Fame career.

But Charlie was a very troubled man.

In 1923 he developed a strange stomach problem. In August of that season, he left a note for his manager one day, saying he was going to quit for the year. He was convinced that baseball was making him sick. This is what his letter said:

"Feeling pretty rotten so made up my mind to go home and take a rest and forget baseball for the rest of the year. No hard feelings, just don't feel like baseball for the rest of the year."

He wrote that note on the day President Warren Harding died, so it didn't get much attention in the Chicago press. The Cubs simply described his problems as "nervousness," and vowed he would return the following season. It seemed like everything was fine when he came back the next year, but he couldn't shake the stomach problems. He saw dozens of doctors and specialists, but no one could figure out what he had. After the 1924 season, at the ridiculously young age of 28, he retired...with a lifetime average of .304.

When his playing days were over, he dropped out of public view and drifted from job to job, but Hollocher continued to suffer mightily, both physically and mentally; most likely from clinical depression. His return to baseball was rumored nearly every year, but the demons that ended his playing career eventually ended his life. In 1940, at the age of 44, he bought a shotgun and shot himself in the throat.

Charlie Hollocher is buried in Oak Hill Cemetary in Kirkwood, Missouri.

(I didn't post this weekend's Cubs 365 here, so if you want to read June 9th and June 10th, they were about Roy Smalley, and the Cubs getting uniform numbers for the first time.)