Chicago Baseball History Feature

The two faces (and hairstyles) of Oscar Gamble with Cubs, White Sox

Ballyhooed top prospect promoted prematurely vs. rent-a-free-agent.

Close-cropped hair in a conservative organization vs. baseball’s most luxuriant Afro playing for original rebel Bill Veeck.

Perceived speed demon center fielder vs. locked-in designated hitter.

Oscar Gamble belts home run for ’77 South Side Hit Men Sox team. Leo Bauby collection

Over a span of eight years, Oscar Gamble dramatically changed how he was presented to the public as a raw rookie Cub and veteran White Sox. The 18th player from the fabled 1969 Cubs and surprisingly the second middle-of-the-lineup staple (after Jim Spencer) of the equally storied 1977 South Side Hit Men to pass away, Gamble made news for the final time the other day with his death at 68.

For two franchises just eight miles apart but stereotyped as being light years distant in so many other ways, the Cubs and Sox have shared almost too many players to list here. Gamble is on that last, and impressive compared to most others. His even 200 homers, including a team-leading 31 for the ’77 Sox, prove some of the initial overheated evaluations as a teen-age Cub were correct. Gamble was yet another talented player snared by the keen scouting eye of the legendary Cubs scout and Negro League icon Buck O’Neil.

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Good guy Jim Thome punches express ticket to Hall of Fame

A patient man at the plate, Jim Thome did not have to wait one extra second to gain entrance into the Hall of Fame.

Move over, Leo Durocher. Nice guys do finish first. And on his first year of eligibility, Thome finished third when voting totals were  announced Jan. 24 after Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero to garner nearly 90 percent of the vote. All-time closer Trevor Hoffman slipped in as the fourth 2018 inductee.

Thome was  baseball fan who mimicked childhood idol Dave Kingman’s swing long before he slugged the first of 612 career homers. But after already touring Cooperstown with father Chuck Thome, he’ll enjoy sports’ greatest museum in his next visit as a fan as much as a fresh inductee.

“There were so many, many things,” he said in a teleconference about the Hall’s top attractions. “Walking through the front doors gives you chills enough. Going into the basement and putting on the white gloves and touching Babe Ruth’s items…and Lou Gehrig’s. The Hall of Fame is so magical. It’s the greatest place there is. One day doesn’t do it justice. You need to spend two or three to truly understand the great things in their place. It’s truly special.”

Jim Thome (right) and fellow former Sox Mike Huff at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle, Ill. in 2013

Character should count for a lion’s share of an inductee’s votes. Thome is the pride of Peoria, who grew up as a Cubs fan in the central Illinois city and starred for the White Sox from 2006 to 2009. He had baseball good-citizen status in gobs.

 

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Randy Hundley advocates enough rest for energetic Willson Contreras

Randy Hundley knows exactly how Willson Contreras feels on the field.

Both Hundley, one of the most popular Cubs catchers in history, and up-and-coming catcher Contreras were both energy guys. They’d like to be in the center of things. In Hundley’s case, probably too much so. He tried to offer the 1969-vintage Cubs too much of a good thing by catching in 151 games, a year after he set the big-league ironman record behind the plate with 160 games.

Hundley catching doubleheaders was like Jack Brickhouse yelling “Hey Hey!” It was second nature in summer. Over the Labor Day weekend — Friday through Monday — in 1967, the Cubs played a barbaric four consecutive doubleheaders. Ernie Banks got his “let’s play two” wish by starting all eight games at 36. Hundley caught seven of the eight games while appearing in the eighth contest via a double switch.

Now he is older and wiser as a veteran of multiple knee injuries that probably had a connection with his self-imposed overwork. Hundley, handsome and youthful-looking as a 75-year-old great grandfather, firmly advocates Contreras — whose offensive potential is too valuable for the Cubs to squander — take regular breaks from catching, either on the bench or in left field.

Randy Hundley (center) is always a fountain of knowledge about catching. He did it again in a recent reunion of 1969 Cubs personalities. From left, WGN sports editor Jack Rosenberg, Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, lefty pitcher Rich Nye and Cubs media relations director Chuck Shriver.

“I see him as being a 25-homer guy, maybe 30, if he can stay healthy,” said Hundley, who no doubt will cross paths with Contreras at the Cubs Convention and spring training. “But I can tell you right now, it’s going to be difficult as long as he stays behind the plate. They could play him in the outfield (against some lefties). I’d say anytime he can play in the outfield, I would certainly do it.

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Veecks’ Hinsdale home preserved from the wrecking ball by history-loving family

The main Veeck home (foreground) and the coach house that contained Bill Veeck's first apartment stand on an attractive corner lot in Hinsdale.

The main Veeck family home (foreground) and the coach house that contained Bill Veeck’s first apartment stand on an attractive corner lot in Hinsdale.

Written by George Castle, CBM Historian, and Dr. David J. Fletcher, CBM President
All photos courtesy of Dr. David J. Fletcher

The white frame Colonial-style house with an attendant garage-coach house, breathing easy on a corner lot on tony Hinsdale, seems modest by the mansion-size housing in every direction.

But the two structures stand tall, above everything else in the neighborhood, with their historical value.

Chicago’s baseball timeline coursed through this home in the first four decades of the 20th century. The structures, saved from the wrecking ball recently, were the home of two generations of baseball Veecks – dynamic Cubs President William L. Veeck, Sr. and his active, tousled-haired son Bill, later the Baseball Barnum and two-time White Sox owner.

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Coaches’ purge a first for a Cubs’ post-postseason

Joe Maddon obviously had the deciding vote in the departures of three key coaches.

Joe Maddon obviously had the deciding vote in the departures of three key coaches.

The new championship era provides a platform for some unprecedented Cubbie Occurrences, of the type Sweet Lou Piniella, coiner of the latter phrase, never envisioned.

Latest is the cashiering of three of Joe Maddon’s four top coaches in the wake of a 92-victory, NLCS-worthy season.

Never in the often-tortured postseason Cubs history have the hitting, pitching and third-base coaches been given the gate in the immediate aftermath of October baseball.

Field staffs are usually swept out with manager’s firings, as the coaches are typically tied in with the skipper, moving from team to team. Similar hiring/firing patterns are seen in sports media jobs.

Rare is the coach who spans five different managers, as former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild did in a nine-season run under Don Baylor, Bruce Kimm, Dusty Baker, Piniella and Mike Quade. Rothschild was privately uncomfortable when Baker imported Dick Pole, his favorite pitching guru, in 2003 to work under Rothschild. Interestingly, Pole was Cubs pitching coach when Greg Maddux first became a big winner in 1988-89.

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Jim Landis one of Chicago’s all-time center fielders for Sox

Written by Mark Liptak, CBM Contributor

Jim Landis (left) and pitcher Billy Pierce were mainstays of the "Go-Go" Sox.

Jim Landis (left) and pitcher Billy Pierce were mainstays of the “Go-Go” Sox.

The Chicago Baseball Museum is honoring the life and career of Jim Landis, one of Chicago’s greatest all-time center fielders during his service with the White Sox in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Landis died recently at 83. But his personality comes alive via his remembrances of the 1959 World Series on its 35th anniversary on the Diamond Gems radio show. A segment of that show can be accessed by clicking here…

In addition, CBM contributor Mark Liptak, one of the top Sox historians, interviewed Landis at-length in 2003. His narrative follows:

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Glamour envelops Herman Sitrick, but John McDonough’s personal tribute the best honors

Herman Sitrick (second from left) is honored during the National Anthem, sung by Jim Cornelison (right), before the Blackhawks season opener Oct. 5. A retired Air Force lieutenant general (to Sitrick's left) also participated as old Army corporal Sitrick was remembered for his astounding Battle of the Bulge heroics (Photo courtesy Chicago Blackhawks).

Herman Sitrick (second from left) is honored during the National Anthem, sung by Jim Cornelison (right), before the Blackhawks season opener Oct. 5. A retired Air Force lieutenant general (to Sitrick’s left) also participated as old Army corporal Sitrick was remembered for his astounding Battle of the Bulge heroics (Photo courtesy Chicago Blackhawks).

After Jim Cornelison delivered the last note of the National Anthem and the last gesture toward the flag, after the last 90-decibel fans’ roar abated, John McDonough provided the best tribute to Herman Sitrick humanly possible to an intimate gathering in a United Center suite.

Blackhawks president McDonough, of course, was behind the largest public ceremony to date honoring stunning World War II hero Sitrick, 92, his old partner in successfully promoting the Chicago Cubs through what McDonough recalled were numerous seasons of 85 to 97 losses. Former Cubs chief adman Sitrick’s story of singlehandedly capturing 21 German prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge on the cusp of 1945 had earned him Opening Night serviceman’s honors before the Hawks’ record-breaking season opener.

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Out of range of the majors as a kid, Denver fan brings old ballparks to his museum

Bruce Hellerstein at his National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Bruce Hellerstein at his National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

What man grows up out of range of most big-league broadcasts, still falls in love with old Crosley Field and self-funds a baseball museum across the street from the home-plate entrance of Coors Field in Denver?

“It’s an incredible passion,” Bruce Hellerstein said of his National Ballpark Museum. “It might seem strange, but I really felt my (baseball-fan) needs were met during my childhood growing up in Denver.”

At 68, Hellerstein is old enough to remember attending games at 20,000-seat Bears Stadium before it was expanded into multi-purpose Mile High Stadium, eventually the first home of the Colorado Rockies in 1993.

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’67 Sox greatest waste of stellar pitching

Cash had the most productive career of any of the home-grown hitters the Sox traded away after 1959.

Cash had the most productive career of any of the home-grown hitters the Sox traded away after 1959.

Fifty years later, the statistics still don’t lie: the White Sox had a better overall pitching staff in 1967 than the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers of previous seasons.

“We had a bullpen and a half,” recalled then-long reliever Wilbur Wood, who’d go on to become the team’s knuckleball ace in the early 1970s, but then yielded late-inning work to closer Bob Locker, flutterball master Hoyt Wilhelm and veteran Don McMahon.

The starting Big Three of Joel Horlen (2.06 ERA) — who threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers — and lefties Gary Peters and a pre-surgery Tommy John helped produce an American League-leading team ERA of 2.45, a throwback to the Dead Ball Era.

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Pressy his own ‘Syncopated Clock’ through more than 2,500 games at Wrigley Field organ

Gary Pressy, showing off his Cubs championship ring, prepares to sing in the seventh inning of his 2,500th consecutive game.

Gary Pressy, showing off his Cubs championship ring, prepares to sing in the seventh inning of his 2,500th consecutive game.

Even though they have copiously honored Gary Pressy for ability and uncommon endurance, the Cubs may not know what they truly have in their generation-long organist.

Just celebrating 2,500 consecutive games at which he has performed from his Wrigley Field career debut on Opening Day 1987, Pressy could be the reigning “rain man” of baseball history and pop culture on any given day at Clark and Addison.

Ed Hartig is the figure filbert of Cubs stats and milestones going back a century-plus. But the Pressy ability to recall events long forgotten by almost all those who enjoy his keyboard artistry is the underlying basis of his talent. He lived Cubs history, did not forget it and can revive it at any time on his Lowery Heritage organ.

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