Stevens, Mantegna recall Wrigley
CHICAGO (AP) - Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first game on Wednesday with an afternoon matchup against Arizona. The ballpark that opened as Weeghman Park on April 23, 1914, has been the scene of some of baseball's most memorable plays and millions of fans have come through its gates. Memories from some of them:
Like everyone else under the age of 106, John Paul Stevens wasn't yet born the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. But the retired Supreme Court justice did see the single most famous moment at Wrigley Field that may or may not have happened, or if it happened, it may not have meant exactly what people think it did.
Stevens was 12 when his dad took him to Game 3 of the 1932 World Series between the Cubs and the New York Yankees. His seat behind third base was good enough to see that Ruth and Cubs pitcher Guy Bush were really jawing at each other whenever Ruth came to bat. It seems that the Yankees were steamed when they heard the Cubs had voted a former Yankee on the roster only a half-share of the World Series money.
"The Yankees regarded the Cubs as cheapskates," Stevens said.
Not that the future justice knew any of this, or could hear exactly what the two were yelling at each.
"I didn't know what the reason was for it but I remember... they were going back and forth," he said.
Ruth homered in the first inning and when he came up in the fifth, he'd apparently had it with Bush. "He did point the bat in the direction of the centerfield bleachers as everybody describes," he said.
The next day the buzz was that Ruth had called his second home run.
Stevens isn't so sure. He had the distinct impression Ruth was talking about hitting something besides a baseball.
"I remember thinking (it meant) he was going to knock Bush to the moon," Stevens said.
Joe Mantegna can't remember not being a devoted Cubs fan. When he was a young struggling actor in his hometown, a seat in the bleachers at Wrigley Field - about $1.25, he recalls - was one of the few things he could afford to buy.
Day after day, he'd see the same fans - the successful businessman who would take his shirt off and wrap it around his head like a turban, the three blind guys, the kid covered with ice cream and the lady who seemed to know more about the Cubs than any of them. He'd watch as they'd bet on anything - including how long it took for a bug to make its way up a wall.
"I'd look around at the end of the game and I'd say, 'What the hell, there are 35,000 people out here to watch this team every day that at best is mediocre,'" he said. "I thought if I can capture what it is that brings these people out, how they share this experience every day, I'd have a play."
Toward the end of the season of the theater company he was in, the director said they needed another play and had pretty much no money to do it. Any suggestions?
"I raised my hand (and said), 'Come to the ball game tomorrow and tell me if you don't think this is a play,'" he said.
They did and Mantegna didn't have to change much to create "Bleacher Bums." He tinkered with the names a bit, turned the three blind guys into one blind guy and turned a couple of fans into a married couple, but that was it.
The play, he said, was an immediate hit and soon the theater was getting calls from actual baseball fans who wanted to come to the theater.
They'd never seen a play and wanted to know what you wear when you come to a play," he said. "They were baseball fans so they were told to come dressed as they were."
Novelist Sara Paretsky had been a Cubs fan, though a casual one, since 1966. In 1973, home with a sprained ankle and with nothing to do, she started watching Cubs games on WGN. She admired Bill Buckner, a fleet, hard-hitting first baseman years before his famous gaffe while with the Red Sox.
"There was just something about him," she said.
Paretsky, who was working at a downtown insurance company, soon heard from a client about how a nice young man who lived near her and her mother had shoveled their sidewalk for them during the winter. Turns out it was Buckner.
"They were not fans, he didn't get anything out of it," said Paretsky. "That he would go out of his way to help these two women, that's when I became a die-hard fan."
And she wasn't the only one. So is V I Warshawski, the character that propelled Paretsky to the top ranks of mystery novelists and ultimately put her on the field she'd seen on television and from the stands. When the movie starring Kathleen Turner as Warshawski was being filmed, one scene - ultimately cut - was shot inside Wrigley, just hours after the Cubs and Paretsky favorite Andre Dawson had played a game.
When she got on the field, Paretsky kissed the grass in right field. She ran the bases.
"The movie was terrible and it bombed at the box office, but I still have this glorious memory of being on that field and on that grass," she said.
William Petersen thought he was onto something. All he had to do was walk down the street to a doughnut shop, pick up the pay phone, lower his voice to sound like his dad and inform the school secretary that young Billy too sick to attend.
Then it was off to Wrigley Field.
Petersen, an actor and star of CSI: Crime Scene Investigators, grew up in Evanston, just north of Chicago. He loved the Cubs and worshipped their star shortstop, Ernie Banks. He said he was there on Aug. 4, 1960, when a scrappy Reds second baseman named Billy Martin charged the mound and punched Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer in the face, breaking an orbital bone.
Petersen recalled calling the school when he was in the 8th grade, then heading to Wrigley with a friend.
"We were wandering around the aisle of the grandstand down the third baseline and the Cubs were up in the bottom of the first," he recalled. The batter was Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger, who "scorched a foul ball over the third base dugout and coming at the aisle."
Petersen instinctively stuck his hand out to prevent the ball from hitting his friend in the head.
"It bounced off my wrist and... hit the railing and came right back to me," he said. "I caught it on the rebound."
It was a nice play that, unfortunately for Petersen, was captured on WGN, which broadcast the Cubs games.
"Some neighbor was watching the game and said, 'Hey, that's Billy Petersen, he just caught a foul ball. What's he doing there?' (and) he called my parents," Petersen said.
By the time he got home, not only did his parents know he'd been to the game, but the school had called to tell them this wasn't the first time "Dad" had telephoned to say Billy was sick.
"I had to spend the last month of my eighth-grade year cleaning the floors of hallways with the janitors," he said.
He turns 97 this spring and hasn't stepped inside Wrigley Field in at least a few decades, yet the "Friendly Confines" remain a special place for Lennie Merullo.
The former shortstop is the oldest surviving Cub. He's also the last link to their most recent pennant winner, and all these years later, his memories remain as sharp as a line drive.
"It was the center of the universe - Chicago, Illinois," Merullo said from his home near Boston in Reading, Mass. "There was so much to see, hear and believe in. I was always grateful for being a part of it."
He played seven seasons in the majors, all with the Cubs, and was a career .240 hitter who once had four errors in an inning. Merullo did that following in the second game of a doubleheader against the Braves in Boston, his hometown, on Sept. 13, 1942, after committing one in the opener.
He had an excuse: He was exhausted following the birth of his first son Len early that morning.
Three years later, Merullo was part of something special, something that hasn't happened on Chicago's North Side in nearly seven decades - a run to the World Series.
He was on the 1945 team that won 98 games on the way to a pennant, only to lose to Hank Greenberg and the Detroit Tigers in a World Series that is best remembered for the goat that got ejected from the ballpark and the curse from its angry owner that many fans believe endures to this day. The Cubs haven't made it that far since then, and they are still searching for their first championship since 1908 - six years before Wrigley Field opened and eight years before the Cubs moved in.
For Merullo, one of the lasting memories from the series is a boat. Management decided to house players on Lake Michigan rather than at a hotel during the series so they wouldn't be distracted.
"The wives and girlfriends of all the ballplayers were very, very disappointed because they all went out and bought special clothes for this occasion because they thought they were going to be in the limelight, wearing all these nice clothes," Merullo said. "Here we were being put on board a ship in the middle of Lake Michigan, away from everything. We just wanted to be a part of everything and yet they put us away from everything."
During the series, he got spiked on the forearm covering second on a steal and he kept picking at the scab. Why? So he'd have a scar and, therefore, his own lasting memento from that time.
He remembers the Cubs holding spring training on Catalina Island, which William Wrigley Jr. owned most of at the time, in the 1940s, thousands of miles from home.
"Wasn't it great? Here's a kid from Boston, Massachusetts, went to spring training all the way to Catalina Island on the other end of the world out in the Pacific Ocean," Merullo said. "We'd have our spring training there. We'd be at Catalina Island for three weeks, then come over to the mainland in Los Angeles. ... It was great being a part of the Cubs organization."
He remained a part of it long after he retired, serving as a scout for the Cubs from 1950 to 1972 and then spending time with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau before retiring in 1983. Merullo hasn't been to Wrigley since an old timer's game in the 1980s, but Chicago remains a special place for him.
"Wrigley Field has such a soft spot in my heart," he said.
Now, the old stadium he once called home is hitting a milestone that only one other ballpark has reached.
"We think Wrigley Field is better than Fenway," said Merullo's son, David.
Fighting words, particularly where they live.