Baseball in Chicago
By Patrick F. Cannon
My brother Pete called from Pittsburgh the other day to congratulate me on the Cubs World Series victory, and suggested I write something about it. I should mention that we were born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, which is in the Pittsburgh area. Pete has been a loyal Pittsburgher for most of his life, except for time in the Air Force and in Southern California, when jobs in Pittsburgh were almost non existent. In the end, he just couldn’t stay away.
He is a loyal Pirates and Steelers fan, and has loved sports, particularly baseball, all his life. As kids, he would drag me out of bed to play in a summer park league. On our way, he would often have to wake up the other laggards needed to make up the needed nine. This was in McKeesport, then the second largest city in the Pittsburgh area. Earlier, in our few years in Chicago, Pete played any game that involved a ball and a bat, including baseball, 16-inch softball and the local version of stick ball.
It was in Chicago that we first attended a Major League game, at the then Comiskey Park. Since we lived in South Shore, it was natural that we go to Sox games. In fact, several Sox players, including Gus Zernial, lived nearby. He came up in 1949 and in 1950 hit 29 homers and batted in 93 runs. He had his best year in 1951 but, alas, spent most of it with the Philadelphia Athletics after being traded early in the season.
Two of the games we attended stick in my mind. In the late 1940s, the Sox were perennial cellar dwellers (as were the Cubs for that matter). My father took us to a Sunday double header when the Sox were playing the St. Louis Browns, who vied with the Sox for worst team in the American League. The game was scoreless through 17 innings. In the top of the 18th, the Browns managed to score a run, which was enough as the Sox failed to answer in the bottom of the inning. Satisfied that we had actually seen two games, we didn’t stay for the second game.
On another occasion, Pete and I went alone. We took the 67th Street (Marquette Road) street car to State Street, then the famous “Green Hornet” car to 35th Street and the ball park. As the older brother, Pete held the dough. As fate would have it, we became separated. Cash rich Pete somehow ended up in the Loop, having caught the wrong street car. He was eventually able to call home, and my dad drove down and picked him up.
In the meantime, poverty-stricken me, with no money but a good sense of direction, walked home. On the way, I did make a tactical error. It was a week day, and my father’s office on 75th Street was actually closer, being just east of State Street. It never occurred to me that he might be frantically searching for his overdue son, so the office was closed. The detour added two miles to the walk, which totaled about 12 miles by the time I walked in the door to the general relief of all concerned. As I recall, I was fed a steak and the cops were told to call off the hunt.
Oh, yes, the Cubs. As far as I recall, we only went to one Cubs game during our South Shore years. A friend of the family, whose name and appearance have long faded from memory, offered to take us to Wrigley Field. I’m sure our parents were delighted to get rid of us, so off we went. In addition to being the only Cubs game we attended as kids, it was the only time we ever rode the El. When we went downtown, we always rode the Illinois Central electric commuter train. This time, we took what was then the Jackson Park-Howard line from 63rd and Stony Island. Although it now ends at Cottage Grove, the South Side portion is now part of the Green Line; and the North leg, the Red.
I don’t recall who the Cubs played that day or whether or not they won. Since I returned to Chicago in 1956, I’ve been to Wrigley quite a few times. As the Cubs got more competitive, it got to be both expensive and a hassle. When I was still working, one of my suppliers had season tickets, so I got to go gratis occasionally, although his tickets were on the lower deck, first base side, behind a column. You had to do some swinging and swaying to follow the ball. I used to park about six blocks away and walk, but I hear even that’s impossible now.
Comiskey Park became US Cellular Field and is now Guaranteed Rate Field. I hope the stupid name brings them luck! Frankly, it’s easier to attend games there. They have an actual parking lot, and no columns. They did win the World Series in 2005, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact as the Cubs win this year. Anyway, I’ve lived long enough to see both Chicago teams win the big one. Now, it’s the Bears who have become the “loveable losers.”
It’s a great city though, isn’t it?
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon