Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicago Radio Spotlight: Christopher Michael

This week's Chicago Radio Spotlight interview has been posted. I got the chance to chat with WGN Newsman Christopher Michael.

You can read the interview here.

Cubs 365, February 18

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1949, future Cub Jerry Morales was born in Puerto Rico. Jerry was acquired in the trade with the Padres that cost the Cubs fan favorite Glenn Beckert, but Morales would have a very respectable Cubs career. For parts of two decades his reliable glove patrolled all three outfield positions for the Cubs.

His best season in a Cubs uniform was probably 1977. Morales was named to the All-Star team that year, and even scored a run in the 1977 All-Star Game.

But to many of his Chicago fans, Jerry Morales will remembered for his most impressive off-the-field accomplishment. In the era of the bushy mustache, Jerry managed to grow the bushiest.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Sweetest Words in the English Language

Bill Holub worked with me at the Loop (WLUP) in Chicago. He was in the news department there for 18 years, and every year whenever he would hear or read the words "Pitchers and Catchers Report," he would say with great enthusiasm..."Those are the sweetest words in the English language."

A few years ago I asked him to write a guest blog for me about that subject matter, and it's become a tradition ever since to re-run his piece on that special day. Tomorrow is the day for the Cubs. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training in Mesa.

By Bill Holub

“Pitchers and catchers report."

These are indeed the sweetest words in the English language. Friends have been hearing me recite this every year at this time. I once had an old poker playing friend who used to say the sweetest words have always been “I’ll play these”. This is the same friend who couldn’t win even when dealt a pat hand. That however is a story for another time and place, where an explanation of the relationship between the quantity of beer consumed, what the cards in your hand really look like and the amount of money you bet can be fully explored. It’s really something scientists should be looking at.

In the meantime, I apologize to all those who came here looking for a sentimental dialogue on romance. I’m sorry to say it but the sweetest words in the English language are not “I love you”. Now that I think of it, this may instead be a sentimental dialogue on romance and baseball.

It’s funny how the two always converge around Valentine’s Day. Spring fever is referred to as that time of year when things start to bloom as the weather changes and love is in the air. It is no coincidence that this is the same time the baseball season opens and brings hope to all of us diehard baseball romantics.

My love affair with baseball was re-ignited in 1987-88. There was only one place to catch baseball highlights from all over the major leagues back then. Once a week you could tune in to “This Week In Baseball” with good ol’ Mel Allen. During those two seasons I was hooked into witnessing two West Coast baseball Gods embodied in the forms of a young Mark Mcgwire and Jose Canseco. This is before anyone had ever heard of andro, anabolics and the other chemical cocktails that have since cast a pall over these two. Back then, I was treated week in and week out to mammoth sized home runs flying out of every ballpark in the country. The fact that these home runs were being hit by players wearing what my brother and I had always considered the coolest looking baseball uniforms in the world (the Oakland A’s green and gold) had me embracing the game I grew up on all over again.

By 1989 I was so hooked on this game I even started collecting baseball cards again, although as much as an investor as a fanboy. I also started another nasty habit that impacts my life to this day. That is when I started a fantasy baseball league with a bunch of guys at work. 1989 also happened to be a division winning season for my beloved Cubs, so I was in baseball heaven and haven’t looked back since.


I think we can honestly say that baseball is no longer the national pastime in this country. It has been supplanted by football. I can accept that. Although I would insist the true national pastime is gambling, which is the driving force that makes football the number one spectator sport in America. I suppose I could go off on a George Carlin type of rant here on the differences between football and baseball, but that’s not why I’m writing this piece.

I just want to point out there is one major difference between the two and that is commitment. I’m talking about the commitment between baseball fans and football fans. Football is a four month season requiring your undivided attention one day a week, or two if you’re both a college and pro fan. Baseball is a six month season requiring your undivided attention throughout with your favorite team(s) playing as many as five or more games a week.

Baseball is a commitment. I believe it carries as much of a commitment as love. They both require dedication and attention. They can both go awry despite the best laid plans. An early swan dive in the standings in May that ends a team’s season before it even had a chance can be just as painful as not having your phone calls returned after the second or third date. Meanwhile an October champagne shower celebrating a pennant or World Series championship is as sweet and memorable as a ‘yes’ to a question posed on one knee.


Once that warm baseball is back feeling starts sinking in every year, I like to get fully immersed by throwing myself into my favorite baseball movies before the games actually begin. This is my form of spring training.

You’ve got your “Bull Durham”, “Field Of Dreams”, “Major League” (only the first one, please), but there is one movie that hits me in the right spot. “City Slickers” is not a real baseball movie per se, but there’s one scene that remains among my all-time favorites. It’s where the three friends (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby) are on the cattle drive and passing the time by discussing their favorite baseball memories. Billy Crystal remembers the first time his father took him to Yankee Stadium as a kid and how he had never seen grass that green before. Mickey Mantle even hit a home run that day. Daniel Stern recalls how growing up he and his father never saw eye to eye, but they could always talk about baseball with each other. “We always had baseball” he says.

As for me, one of my earliest baseball memories was getting to take the day off of school with my brother because my Dad got opening day tickets to Wrigley Field. I still remember wearing our warmest winter coats and knit hats, waiting to sit down while the Andy Frain usher brushed the snow off our seats. They don’t make Aprils in Chicago like that any more.


There is a sound that accompanies the words “pitchers and catchers report." It is the sound of a ball popping into a mitt. The sound of a simple game of catch. It is more than the crack of a bat sound. The sound of a mitt popping brings the memories and feelings of a lifetime of baseball flooding your senses all at once. It happens every time, whether it’s major leaguers or just a game of catch with your dad or your kid. The week pitchers and catchers report there are no cracking bats, only popping mitts. The sweetest sound in the world.

“Pitchers and catchers report."

The sweetest words in the English language.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cubs 365, February 16

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1880, future Cub Carl Lundgren was born. Lundgren would go on to pitch for three Cubs pennant winners (1906, 1907, & 1908). Even though he was a great pitcher, he never pitched in the World Series during those pennant winning seasons because there were even better pitchers on the team (like Mordecai Brown, Orval Overall, and big Ed Reulbach).

Lundgren was especially effective early in the season in cold weather, which led to his nickname "The Human Icicle." He won 17 games for the '06 pennant winners and 18 games for the '07 champs (with an unbelievable ERA of only 1.17 for the season), but slumped in '08 and managed to only win 6 games. After the next season his career was over.

Sure, it helped to pitch for the best team in baseball with the league's best defense, and sure he was overshadowed by the bigger stars on the team, but Lundgren's teammates didn't just think of him of as their fifth or (sometimes) sixth starter. He was a shrewd baseball man; just as valuable on the bench as he was on the field. Lundgren later went on to succeed Branch Rickey as the baseball coach at the University of Michigan, before ending his career in his dream job, as the coach of his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Book Cellar

Brendan Sullivan and I will be appearing tonight at Local Author Night at the Book Cellar in Chicago. It's our last scheduled book signing, so if you've been putting off coming out to see us, and/or you'd like to get an autographed copy of the book, this may be your last chance.

All of the details are here at the Book Cellar website.

Rick and Brendan on the Radio

Bill Leff (photo) was kind enough to have Brendan and I on his show for a full hour last night/this morning, between 12:30 and 1:30 AM. We had a great time. You can hear the audio here.

McCartney on "Mad Men"?

There was a rumor that Paul McCartney was scheduled to make a cameo on the show "Mad Men", which is set in the 1960s. When I heard that, I thought: "How are they planning on making him look 50 years younger?"

Turns out, it wasn't true at all. There was never a plan to have him on the show. It was just a rumor.

Milo is retiring

Milo Hamilton is holding a press conference today to announce that this will be his final season broadcasting Houston Astros games. He is retiring at age 84.

Details are here.

Of course Cubs fans remember Milo for his stints behind the microphone at Wrigley Field. Milo is already in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Cubs 365, February 15

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1932, future Cub Footer Johnson was born. His real name was Richard Allen Johnson, but everyone called him Footer or Treads because he was fast.

He was known for his speed in the minor leagues and at Duke University (he was there the same time as Dick Groat), but he didn't make much of an impact in his very short major league career. In 1958, Footer got a grand total of 5 at bats in 8 games (his other three appearances were as a pinch runner), but never got a hit. He did, however, score one run when he pinch ran for Cubs catcher Sammy Taylor during a double header on June 22nd. He was knocked in by another obscure Cub...future manager Chuck Tanner.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rick and Brendan on the Radio

I'll be taking a nap this afternoon, because Brendan and I will be appearing on Bill Leff's show tonight on WGN at around 12:30 AM. Looking forward to it, actually. We'll be talking about our book "The Living Wills" and undoubtedly promoting our Wednesday appearance at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square.

Cubs 365, February 14

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1929 one of the most famous and gruesome events in Chicago occurred: The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. And it happened only a few blocks away from Wrigley Field at the S.M.C. Carting Company (2122 N. Clark St). The intended target was North Side crime boss Bugs Moran (a Cubs fan).

Ironically, Bugs Moran, was not among the dead. He arrived late. He just happened to see the suspicious arrival of the police car on his way to the garage that doubled as a gang hideout, and got out of there unscathed. The men who died were Reinhold Schwimmer (an optometrist who had met Bugs because they both lived at 2100 Lincoln Park West), 41-year-old Bugs accountant Adam Heyer, 39-year-old James Clark, 40-year-old safe-cracker Johnnie May, 36-year-old speakeasy owner Al Weinshank, and hired guns Frank (40) and Pete (36) Gusenberg.

To say that Chicago was a rough town in 1929 is to understate the level of violence, crime, and vice. The Cubs team that played at Wrigley Field that summer, however, fit the mood of the town perfectly.

Some of the Cubs were pretty comfortable running in these circles, particularly centerfielder Hack Wilson and pitcher Pat Malone. Both were heavy drinkers, and in the Prohibition era, the only places to drink were illegal speakeasies run by the very same gangsters who perpetrated the massacre. Al Capone's Cicero speakeasies were favorite destinations of both Wilson and Malone. (Drinking eventually ended both of their careers and lives--they each died in their 40s.)

The Cubs were the toast of that unbelievably rough and tumble Chicago during the summer of 1929, as they made it all the way to the World Series, losing to the Philadelphia A's in 5 games.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Who is Paul McCartney?

"BP" sent me this link, and my jaw dropped. There are a lot of very stupid kids out there, and if yours is one of them, shame on you.

A collection of tweets asking this question during the Grammy's last night: Who is Paul McCartney?

I know that's harsh to call them stupid, but if you're old enough to tweet, and you've never heard of Paul McCartney, there is no other word that's appropriate. For those remedial learners, see the post below this one. He accomplished more in one day than you will in your entire lives.

Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields

On this day, exactly 45 years ago, the Beatles released a single in North America. On one side, this little song...

On the flipside, this one...

Not a bad day at the office.

Cubs 365, February 14

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1964, the Cubs lost their second baseman in the most tragic way imaginable.

Ken Hubbs wasn't even 20 when he debuted for the Cubs in September of 1961, but he made enough of an impact to be named the starting second baseman in 1962. It was a rough year for the Cubs (they finished with their worst record ever—behind even the expansion Houston Colt 45s, and ahead of only the worst team of all-time, the '62 Mets), but it was a breakout year for Ken Hubbs. He won a gold glove for his play at second base and was named the Rookie of the Year.

One of the roughest transitions for Hubbs had been the travel schedule. He was terrified of flying. (His roommate Ron Santo vividly describes the sheer terror Hubbs felt every time the Cubs had to fly in his autobiography "For the Love of Ivy," a book we highly recommend)

Instead of letting it get the best of him, Hubbs tackled it head on and learned how to fly himself. The technique worked. He purchased an airplane (a Cessna 172) in November of 1963, and got his pilot's license in late January of 1964. By learning how to fly, he had conquered his fear.

On February 13th, he took his life-long pal Larry Doyle up in the plane from their hometown in California to Provo Utah, to visit Doyle's wife. On the way home, however, he made the mistake of taking off in a snowstorm. Ken Hubbs and Larry Doyle died when they crashed into a lake just five miles from the airport. Their bodies weren't found until two days later. Hubbs was only 22 years old.

Ozzie on Carlos

Ozzie Guillen was quoted saying this about Carlos Zambrano. "They call him 'The Bull,' 'El Toro.' I'm the matador."

Careful, Ozzie. The matador doesn't always win.

Whitney Houston

I saw a lot of tributes to Whitney over the past weekend, and there's no question she was one of the greatest vocalists of all-time. To me, this was her finest moment. This was in the midst of the Persian Gulf war (the first one) in 1991 at the Super Bowl. Absolutely incredible...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Father Knows Nothing

This week's Father Knows Nothing column is entitled "Life is Good".

In this transcribed conversation with my son Sean, he exhibits the rarest of all childhood emotions: Gratitude.

You can read it here.

Cubs 365, February 12

Every day in 2012, the Just One Bad Century blog will feature a story about this day in Cubs history. We're calling it Cubs 365.

On this day in 1895 future Cub Sweetbreads Bailey was born in Joliet, Illinois. He pitched for the Cubs from 1919 to 1921.

What is the origin of his nickname? Well, "sweetbreads" is defined as "the thymus or, sometimes, the pancreas of a young animal (usually a calf or lamb) used for food," and though the origins of Bailey's nickname have been lost to time, historians think it may have come from Bailey's tendency to swerve his pitches right into the batter's "sweetbreads". He hit seven batters there.

The Chicago Cubs signed him in 1917, but before he jointed the team he served in the military with the 72nd field artillery. A relief pitcher for the Cubs for three seasons, he won four games, saved none, and finished up the 1921 season pitching for Brooklyn. After 1921, he was out of baseball.

After his baseball career he returned to his hometown of Joliet, and that's where he died of pituitary cancer in 1939 at the way too young age of 44.