Jimmy Piersall

Andre Dawson the water-safety advocate could make another splash with Cubs kids

Some kind of middle ground in apparel must exist between Andre Dawson‘s funeral suit for his family business and the T-shirt and trunks for the youth swimming program that bears his Hall of Fame name in west suburban Lombard.

Like a Cubs uniform?

Andre Dawson is starting his first year as a Cubs ambassador.

In an under-publicized manner, Dawson has indeed worn the Cubs uniform officially for the first time in 26 years in spring training, and hopes to do so again sometime this season for Cubs minor leaguers. Add in more brightly-colored business casual wear for meeting fans and sponsors in other duties as a new team ambassador, and you have the perfect balance in the life of one of the most respected Cubs in history.

“Let’s say I’m all over the place,” Dawson, tracked down in Chicago the other day, said of his 2018 schedule. His base is hometown Miami, but much of his heart is in the city that he claims vaulted him into Cooperstown via six memorable Cubs seasons from 1987 to 1992. Mention that he’d spend even more time in Chicago if the temperature did not drop below 50 and he’d not have to wear anything heavier than a windbreaker, and Dawson breaks into a knowing laugh.

He was cast aside in the off-season, along with fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez, as a Miami Marlins special assistant by budget-slashing Fish boss Derek Jeter. Regrets are few because Dawson can now work for the Cubs — a longtime goal — while still tending to the funeral home he operates with wife Vanessa and two uncles, earning him national profiles such as respected baseball scribe Bob Nightengale in USA Today:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2018/05/08/andre-dawson-hall-famer-funeral-home-florida-retirement/590358002/

And when two female fans of Dawson hired him a decade back as national spokesman for their Baby Otter swimming program and wanted to expand out of Florida, he suggested Chicago for obvious reasons. A photo of Dawson in the Lombard pool with a young student and a story in the suburban Daily Herald provided a surprising aspect of his 63-year-young life:

http://www.dailyherald.com/business/20180521/andre-dawson-opens-baby-otter-aquatic-center-in-lombard

His Cubs role, though, is still in development. He had talked to team chairman Tom Ricketts about a return to the organization on several occasions. He was officially free when he left the Marlins. And Dawson received an alumni 2016 World Series ring in 2017, proudly wearing the bling on three occasions at events. The Chicago Baseball Museum played a role in ensuring Dawson got the ring. The only better outcome would have been Dawson earning the jewelry as a Cubs player in, say, 1989, but that’s a whole other story.

The Cubs now have all their living Hall of Famers in the fold — Dawson, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg as ambassadors, and Billy Williams as a special assistant. By now, Billy must be closing in on Yosh Kawano for most years in the team employ. “Whistler” has 57 seasons recorded as a player, coach, special assistant and marketing speaker.

Lee Smith (left) and Andre Dawson were 1975 draftees, Smith being picked by the Cubs nine rounds ahead of Dawson. But Dawson, who will represent the Cubs at the 2018 draft, made the Hall of Fame.

“I was hired as independent contractor,” the Hawk said. “I’ll go to  a variety of events during the year. When we reached agreement, the only other matter was getting out to spring training. I was in Mesa the final two weeks (of camp). I worked some with the outfielders.”

Dawson will represent the Cubs at the amateur draft starting Monday night, June 4. Back in 1975, the Cubs knew all about the Hawk coming out of Florida, but they passed on him, leaving Montreal to snare his rights.

Outfielder Brian Rosinski of Evanston Township High School was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in ’75. Injuries derailed Rosinski’s career. Master scout Buck O’Neil got GM John Holland to pick Lee Arthur Smith at No. 2.  Big Lee ended up as the only ’75 Cubs draftee to make the majors — and he should have gone all the way to Cooperstown. Dawson eventually was picked by Montreal in the 11th round. Choosing ahead of the Expos, the Cubs picked shortstop Robert Umfleet out of the University of Oklahoma. Smith and Dawson do a lot of appearances together, so the subject of draft pedigree probably comes up.

A minor-league instructional tour for Dawson at some point this season is under discussion. The Cubs are multiple-men deep in hitting instructors, but they could always use the acumen as an eight-time Gold Glove winner in the outfield.

“I’m waiting to hear from upper management what the next step will be,” Dawson said. “However they see me going forward, that’s what I’m here for.”

Dawson the outfield counselor would be welcome. The Cubs haven’t employed such a big name in the minor leagues since Jimmy Piersall‘s 14-season stint starting in the mid-1980s. Baseball thinking men like Doug Glanville and Darrin Jackson praised Piersall’s animated instruction. Dawson would not be available full-time like Piersall. But the Hawk with his commanding presence and credentials will command attention whenever he steps on the field.

Dawson may not bring up the anecdote to his Cubs pupils, but fundamental outfield play can win games all by itself. Somewhere in the WGN archives is his laser throw to zap a Giants baserunner at home plate and end a Wrigley Field game in 1991.

One wants to be a fly on the wall when Dawson and fellow Miami native Albert Almora, Jr., two experts in center-field play, get together. Dawson was a Montreal Expos Gold Glover in center before the ravages of the Olympic Stadium artificial turf caused his shift to right.  So he knows what goes into a champion ballhawk.

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Sox Organist Nancy Faust Slated for Induction into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals

How appropriate Tommy John and Nancy Faust get inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals together in Pasadena, California on July 22.

Nancy Faust is set to be honored by Baseball Reliquary’s Shire of Eternals

Lefty John was the savvy White Sox starting rotation veteran for whom rookie team organist Faust played appropriate theme music in 1970, trying to provide some entertainment for a lost 106-defeat season.

And even 48 years later, Faust — who always ad-libbed theme songs for her players — came up with John-oriented songs that she likely would have played for the tiny crowds at her center-field organ at old Comiskey Park.

“I probably played ‘Big Bad John’ or the theme for ‘Tommy,'” said Faust, the latter for the then-recent rock opera from “The Who.”  “Or maybe ‘Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.'”

“I couldn’t be more honored to be on the same (induction) ceremony with Tommy John.”

The West Coast audience likely will associate John much more with his groundbreaking elbow ligament reconstruction surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974 instead of his original Sox tenure. But they’ll sure know about Faust, whom the Baseball Reliquary described as “the most famous ballpark organist in the last half century.”

Still blonde, perky, and youthful, the far north suburban Mundelein resident at nearly the same time originated the seventh-inning singalong with Harry Caray and the playing of “Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Them Good-Bye” when a Sox opposing pitcher was pulled from the game. Her 41 seasons  at the organ at two ballparks, ranging from that horrible ’70 season to the World Series champions in 2005, was a true pinpoint of joy in Chicago baseball history

Dave “Baby” Cortez crafted “The Happy Organ,” the first instrumental to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1959. But “Baby” still had nothing on Faust in full keyboard throttle.

Faust was so popular she was the No. 3 vote-getter in the Reliquary’s version of the Hall of Fame. The top three gain entry into the Shrine of the Eternals. John got 44 percent, the recently deceased  Rusty Staub 29 percent, and Faust 26.5 percent. And how delicious was it that the cheery Faust beat out the second runner-up: Leo Durocher at 25 percent. At 23 years-old Faust was up-and-coming in 1970 while Durocher should have still been going at 64, his sclerotic managing eight miles north wasting a fine collection of future Hall of Fame Cubs.

Baseball honors should not be limited to just the Hall of Fame or post-season writers’ awards votes. The Baseball Reliquary is a nonprofit, educational organization http://www.baseballreliquary.org dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history.  The West Coast-based Reliquary gladly accepts the donation of artworks and objects of historic content, provided their authenticity is well-documented.

A grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission supports the Reliquary, which is affiliated with the Whittier College Institute for Baseball Studies. The Institute, the first humanities-based research center of its kind associated with a college or university in the United States, is a partnership between Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary and Whittier College.

Thus honored by this prestigious academic institution, Faust joins some fellow White Sox eternals with whom she was associated in her long career.

John was traded at the 1971 winter meetings for Dick Allen, an enshrinee. She had no shortage of inspiring songs to play for the 1972 American League MVP. She would play “Jesus Christ Superstar” when Allen came to bat. Faust also played for fellow Eternal Minnie Minoso in his brief comebacks in 1976 and 1980. Ditto for Bo Jackson when he played for the Sox despite hip-replacement surgery in the early 1990s. Bill Veeck, who masterminded the Caray-Faust seventh-inning combo, is a member. Jimmy Piersall, Caray’s partner in their guerilla-theater-of-the-air presentation under Veeck, has been inducted.

The old upper-deck organ loft at Comiskey Park, where Nancy Faust could make eye contact with Harry Caray in the broadcast booth for their seventh-inning singalongs.

Amazingly, a second Veeck drew votes in this year’s balloting. Mike Veeck, Bill’s son and instigator of the famed Disco Demolition promotion-gone-bad, drew 17.5 percent of the votes.

Our own CBM Founder, Dr. David Fletcher was the winner in 2005 of the Baseball Reliquary’s Hilda Award for his work trying to get MLB to reinstate banned Sox third baseman Buck Weaver.  Named in memory of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers baseball fan Hilda Chester, the Hilda Award was established in 2001 by the Baseball Reliquary to recognize distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan.

You wish Faust could play at the Pasadena ceremony. But at 70, she likely hits the keyboard only for her family these days. She is mostly retired, only playing for specific events that suit her. In 2006, she began cutting back her South Side schedule to day games only before leaving the Guaranteed Rate Field organ booth for good in 2010.

“I wanted to quit  when I was still good,” she said. “I want the memories to be good. Forty-one years was a long time.”

Faust played Sunday home games for the Class-A Kane County Cougars for a couple of years, but even that gig is in the rear-view mirror as she wanted her Sundays free.

Now she travels around the Midwest and winters in Arizona with husband Joe Jenkins. She played at the Cactus League kickoff luncheon at a Phoenix hotel in February. At home in Lake County, the animal-lover tends to beloved full-sized female donkey Mandy and miniature donkey Gigi on the couple’s five-acre  spread.

It’s always great to be remembered,” Faust said. “You like to think you made a difference in people’s lives. I am most humbled and pinch myself to have had the career I did. I feel fortunate my life took me in the direction it did. If I had any notoriety, it’s because I’m a good musician. Hopefully my fingers spoke for themselves.

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A look back at the late Joe McConnell’s White Sox broadcasting career

By Mark Litpak

Contributor to CBM

Joe McConnell, a truly underrated White Sox radio announcer spanning the Bill Veeck and Jerry Reinsdorf ownership groups from 1980 to 1984, died at 79 on April 8.

McConnell’s time with the Sox overlapped his eight-year stint (1977-84) as the Bears’ chief radio announcer. Timing is everything – McConnell left the year before Super Bowl XX.

Like Jack Brickhouse, Joe McConnell broadcast the Bears and Chicago baseball at the same time.

He worked alongside two of the best loved Sox announcers in history, Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall. In that time he saw a young manager and future Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa get his first taste of success. He saw new Sox ownership in Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn take over for Veeck. He saw the formation of a team that had three straight winning seasons, capped off by the 1983 Western Division champion “Winnin’ Ugly” White Sox.

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