Chicago Baseball History Feature

Trade of base burglar Brock swiped the Cubs’ future, made Cards champs

By George Castle, CBM Historian
September 8, 2020

Lou Brock in the Polo Grounds, where in 1962 he slugged a 460-foot homer to center.

Lou Brock in the Polo Grounds, where in 1962 he slugged a 460-foot homer to center.

The true measure of Louis Clark Brock goes far beyond his Hall of Fame status, 938 stolen bases — including 14 in the World Series and an NL record 118 in 1974 – along with 3,023 hits.

The complete tally is Brock’s baseball intellect. He was a true student of the game whose bottom line was striving to improve. And those “smarts,” as baseball second-sight was once called, radically affected the fortunes of the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, the two teams to which Brock will always be tethered now that he has passed into the ages at 81, less than a week after worthy foe Tom Seaver.

Ever since June 15, 1964, one of the most infamous days in Cubs history, Brock has been the biggest ghost in the franchise timeline, the all-encompassing “What if?” that took away MVP-style production along with heart and soul from sports’ most star-crossed team.

The Cubs were a slow, ponderous team, and not just on the basepaths. A substandard baseball organization starved for both financial and intellectual capital by Phil Wrigley, likely baseball’s most affluent owner in his time, and then for decades by the Tribune Company could not nearly put together a championship-caliber team for an impossibly long time. All the while when the Cubs could advance just one base at a time, they had squandered away base burglar Brock and Bill North, two-time American League stolen-base king.

Three-hundred miles down Route 66/I-55 and in a more tropical climate, the Cardinals quenched their own 18-year pennant drought by stealing Brock from the Cubs in exchange for aching right-hander Ernie Broglio. Both team and man were simultaneously freed from shackles. Brock stole 33 bases and batted .348 in two-thirds of the remaining 1964 season, as if afterburners were suddenly affixed to Gussie Busch’s franchise. Busch paid decently, for the time, and Brock well-earned his pay leading the Cards to two World Series triumphs and three pennants to round out the Sixties.

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Injuries, not alcoholism, shortened the career of Dick Allen

By David J. Fletcher, MD, President, Chicago Baseball Museum
May 18, 2020

Last week, noted baseball writer and Hall of Fame prognosticator Jay Jaffe, author of The Cooperstown Casebook wrote a column for ESPN entitled “Every NL team’s best player not in the Hall of Fame — and should he get in?” [1]

Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of Dr. David Fletcher, M.D.

That story ignited a firestorm from Dick Allen supporters who  are trying to get him elected this December to the Baseball Hall of Fame when the Golden Days Era Veteran’s committee meets in Dallas at the Baseball Winter meetings.

“Dick retired because he had a bad Achilles tendon suffered in 1974 while playing with the White Sox. In fact he told the Phillies that before they made the trade for him in 1975. They didn’t care, they didn’t let the media know he was injured nor the opposing teams. They wanted him to bat 5th to protect Schmidt and Luzinski.  Ultimately it worked in 1976 when the Phillies won their first Championship of any kind since the 1950 Whiz Kids,” stated former Philadelphia Phillies groundskeeper named Mark “Froggy” Carfagno, who has since 2013 run a nonstop crusade to get Dick Allen elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Visit the Dick Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame FaceBook group…

Reading that Allen’s alcohol issues shortened his career was another gut punch to Froggy, who had endured the pain in San Diego when Allen in December 2014 received 11 of 16 votes — or one short of the number required for election to the class of 2015 via the Golden Era committee.

Since that painful day in December 2014, Froggy has continuously campaigned for Dick Allen, now 78 years old and failing health, to get elected him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame the next time the Golden Days era committee met.

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One-time White Sox ‘Mr. Smoke’ Bart Johnson dies at 70 after long career as scout

By  Dr. David J. Fletcher, CBM President

Bart Johnson as a teen-age hard thrower who soon got his "Mr. Smoke" nickname.

Bart Johnson as a teen-age hard thrower who soon got his “Mr. Smoke” nickname.

Bart Johnson, the free-spirited White Sox right-hander from Torrance, Calif. nicknamed “Mr. Smoke” for his 95 mph fastball, died April 22 in Palos Hills, Ill.  He suffered from complications from Parkinson’s disease, with which he was afflicted for a number of years.

The Sox’s No. 1 draft pick in 1968, Johnson, 70, spent 30 years with the organization – 12 as a player and 18 as a scout. He became a lifelong Chicago-area resident, making his home in southwest suburban Oak Lawn with his wife Nora.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson, whose birth name was Clair Barth Johnson, played his entire eight-year MLB career (1969-74, 1976-77) as a Sox, then scouted from 1980 to 1997, discovering future White Sox GM Kenny Williams, among others. He flirted briefly with coming out of retirement in 1985 at age 35 at the urging of Roland Hemond, then Sox GM.

For Sox fans, who had seen the franchise go from narrowly missing the pennant in 1967 to utter free-fall  in 1969-70 with talk of a franchise relocation,  the arrival of Johnson on the scene in late’69 as a 19 year-old provided hope. Johnson was followed to the majors by fellow home-grown  hard throwers in future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage and Terry Forester.

Johnson was touted as a future Nolan Ryan. For two seasons, (1971 and 1974) he was a budding star, but injuries shortened his promising career.

Before he had signed with the Sox after being scouted by George Norga and Doc Bennet, Johnson had considered a career in basketball as he was named to several high school All-America teams.

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Making Cubs into champs a bridge too far for manager, GM Jim Frey

By George Castle, CBM Historian
April 15, 2020

Jim Frey

Jim Frey

Jim Frey’s reputation for bluntness (sometimes to a fault) preceded him as Cubs manager. And it was enhanced to the last day he worked at Wrigley Field.

The man now locked into historic honors as the first manager to take the post-1945 Cubs to the playoffs – 39 endless years later — recalled the Stadium Club press conference that introduced Larry Himes, Frey’s successor as general manager, and ending his third and final Cubs job. And his play-by-play revealed the byzantine nature of Tribune Co. politics — “very secretive…a CIA mentality” was his description — from which Frey was extricating himself.

“(Then-Cubs chairman Stan) Cook said to (team president Don) Grenesko,’ Don’t let Frey talk today. Don’t let Frey grab that microphone,’” Frey recalled in 2004. The suits really feared Frey might reveal some of the inner machinations that weighed down the Cubs for too long.

“Despite that, I grabbed the mike. I thanked everyone for eight great years. (Cook and Grenesko) were greatly relieved.”

I can second Frey’s notion. One day Grenesko saw me in the upstairs press box lunchroom and proclaimed me “Inspector Clouseau.” The corporate crowd did not like any undue attention. No problem. I outlasted Grenesko by 20 years at Wrigley Field.

Peeking at the men behind the Cubs’ curtains was not a theme in the initial wave of broadcast and published obituaries for Frey, who died the other day at 88. The narratives rightfully focused on Frey, nicknamed “Preacher Man” by some of his players, leading the Cubs out of the wilderness to a surprise 1984 National League East title and falling one game short of a clash-of-the-titans World Series against the Detroit Tigers. His true calling being a savvy hitting coach, Frey’s counseling of Ryne Sandberg to evolve from a slap hitter to pulling the ball with power in run-producing situations also got proper credit. Later, as the 1989 NL East champion Cubs’ GM, he ranked as the only man in team history to serve as a manager and top exec for a pair of first-place teams.

However, when the history of the Cubs is written at some future date, beyond the Twilight Zone-style coronavirus pandemic in which we’re caught, Frey’s name will be entered at the next level below that of Phil Wrigley and John Holland. The latter two gents rank one-two as the top characters needlessly delaying a resource-rich franchise’s possession of a World Series title for a sports-record 108 years.

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Serious as a player, Glenn Beckert provoked smiles in his on- and off-the-field Cubs exploits

By George Castle, CBM Historian
April 13, 2020

Glenn Beckert in his prime.

Glenn Beckert in his prime.

Even when the news of Glenn Beckert’s passing at 79 came your way on a lazy, housebound Easter afternoon, the reaction was not sorrow, but a knowing smile.

An all-time Cubs second baseman, Beckert enjoyed the light side of life amid a serious career as a contact hitter and key member of the fabled 1969 Cubs.

The stories about Beckert, who was in declining health for years, evoke laughs. About his alleged thriftiness. About his night-time wanderings with roomie Ron Santo. About given a nickname after a wrassler. About his apparent nervousness fielding the final out of Ken Holtzman’s strikeout-free no-hitter in Wrigley Field in 1969.

Beckert, Billy Williams talk to Woody English, witness to Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot.”

Listen here…15:21 minutes; 14mb .mp3 audio

 

I didn’t meet Beckert during his playing days. But after he settled into his second career as a broker working the pits at the Chicago Board of Trade, I was fortunate to cross paths many times doing stories on his present and past timelines. The man who generated so much good feeling from his nine years as a Cub simply accumulated even more.

Such as the time I took Beckert to his first game in the bleachers on Sept. 4, 1983 to surprise friend Jerrle Miller Gericke on her 28th birthday. We walked up to the still-empty center-field section before meeting Gericke in the last row in right field. Glenn spread his arms to exclaim, “I can’t believe the view you get from here.” Yep, the views of his crouched batting stance and his No. 18 pivoting to combine with Don Kessinger for another double play are never purged from memory.

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Tributes pour in after White Sox play-by-play man Ed Farmer’s death

Tributes are pouring in after White Sox play-by-play man Farmer’s death the other day at 70, having fought the good fight against kidney disease for decades.

Ed Farmer

By George Castle, CBM Historian, April 3, 2020

You always treasure a native Chicagoan rising high in media as sometimes such a status seems a detriment to hiring in a “destination market” like the Second City.

Non-natives hiring non-natives gets expressed in the TV newsperson pronouncing Devon Avenue as “DEE-VON” or the baseball beat writer from Seattle having to spend his entire first season on the job educating himself about Cubs 101.

No worries about Ed Farmer, though. Tributes are pouring in after White Sox play-by-play man Farmer’s death the other day at 70, having fought the good fight against kidney disease for decades.

WGN may brand itself “Chicago’s Very Own” (“Chicago’s Own Television Station” back in the 1960s), but Farmio surely was our “Very Own.” I’d rather have someone not a classic, dulcet-toned announcer work at the top of the food chain if he can talk the city’s language, customs and history.

Farmio may have received brickbats from baseball-broadcast purists for a near-laconic, conversational on-air style, yet status as an authentic Chicagoan overrides these picky details. More specifically, a St. Rita man. The Southwest Side Catholic high school, home to so much athletic success this past century, is such a quintessential representation of the city, an amalgamation of neighborhoods and parishes from which residents drew their identities.

In remembering Farmio, Cubs color analyst Ron Coomer provided a glimpse into the academic and athletic culture of St. Rita that helped shape the former. Coomer, whose early years were spent living near Midway Airport, attended St. Rita his first two years before the family moved to southwest suburban Lockport.

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Buckner plowed through pain of ankle, vitriol over World Series gaffe

By George Castle, CBM Historian, May 27, 2019

Baseball’s an inherently cruel game, the ultimate sport of failure, grinding down the toughest of men. By those standards, Bill Buckner was made of cast iron, as if he had an impenetrable barrier against the hurricane winds that could have blown him apart.

Bill Buckner (in left) photo joins Fergie Jenkins at his autograph table at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. on March 6 of this season. Buckner (right) was one of the most telegenic and productive Cubs of his era despite a gimpy left ankle.

One of the most popular and enduring Cubs of the last quarter of the 20th century, Buckner could have been crippled by a bad, surgically-repaired left ankle that required extensive treatment before and after games. Yet after missing chunks of the season in his first two years (1977-78) with the Cubs, Buckner rarely missed games, winning the 1980 NL batting title, until he was traded to the Boston Red Sox two months into the fateful 1984 season.

Then, after re-establishing himself at Fenway Park, Buckner was pilloried like few others in baseball history for allowing a potential game-ending Mookie Wilson grounder to go through his legs and allow the New York Mets to pull out Game 6 of the World Series. Raised from the dead , the Mets went on to snare Game 7 and extend Boston’s baseball neurosis another 18 years.

Amazingly, Leon Durham – the man who replaced Buckner at first for the Cubs – let a similar ball through the wicket in the deciding Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS against the Padres in San Diego. But Bull never got the guff from title-starved Cubs fans going forward. Buckner vitriol went to an unprecedented level. The man bent. He was human. But true to his form, he did not break.

Memories of Buckner’s steadfastness flowed on Memorial Day when his death at 69 from Lewy Body Dementia was announced. The debilitating disease that slowed body and mind still did not stop Billy Buck from enjoying the baseball life. As recently as spring training, he joined Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, his Cubs teammate in 1982-83, and other ex-Cubs in greeting fans at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz.

“He was moving around very slowly,” Jenkins said. “His hands shook from time to time. But he took photos and signed autographs. Bill still wanted to be a part of the baseball family and scene. Pete LaCock went and picked him up every day.”

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Pat Anderson, niece who crusaded to lift ‘Black Sox’ ban on Buck Weaver, dies

By on April 16, 2019

By Maureen O’Donnell
Originally posted in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 16, 2019

Pat Anderson, who crusaded unsuccessfully to get her “Uncle Buck” Weaver of the Chicago White Sox reinstated by Major League Baseball, has died almost a century after the “Black Sox” bribery scandal tarnished his legacy.

“She was the last person living who lived with him, knew him well,” said David J. Fletcher, who heads the petition drive www.clearbuck.com, which he launched with Mrs. Anderson and her cousin Marjorie Follett, who died in 2003.

“He was a surrogate father to her,” her daughter Debbie Ebert said of Weaver.

Mrs. Anderson, 92, died Sunday at Tablerock HealthCare Center in Kimberling City, Missouri, according to her family. She had renal failure, Fletcher said.

Mrs. Anderson pushed for years to clear her uncle’s name. She, Fletcher and baseball historians have argued his lifetime ban was too harsh.

Read the full obituary at Chicago.SunTimes.com…

“He didn’t take any money. He was not in on the fix. He played flawlessly through the series,” Ebert said. “But he went to the meeting and heard what the plan was and said he wanted no part of it, and he left.”

“He was very truthful,” Mrs. Anderson said in 2013 when she appeared on a Society for American Baseball Research panel in Philadelphia. “I know people say, ‘Oh, well, everybody lies sometimes.’ Baseball was Buck’s life. He could not lie about that.”

Many agreed with Mrs. Anderson’s crusade, which her daughter said the family will continue.

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Niece Who Led Cause to Clear Buck Weaver is Dead at Age 92

Pat Anderson dead at age 92

By on April 14, 2019

Patricia Scanlan Anderson, one of the last living direct links to the banned Buck Weaver of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, has died at age 92 in Kimberling, Mo.

Anderson died peacefully Sunday evening April 14th surrounded by her family members, who will continue the fight to clear the name of Weaver, her uncle. The third baseman was one of eight White Sox players banned from organized baseball in 1921 by then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for their alleged roles in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

Born December 15, 1926 in Chicago, Anderson was an unlikely front person for a campaign to reinstate Weaver, whose career was destroyed for his connection to the Black Sox. Weaver had been accused of having knowledge of the pending fix, but not reporting the scandal to White Sox or American League officials.

At age 77, Anderson took up the fight to clear her Uncle Buck after the death of her sister Bette Scanlon, who had previously been the family’s spokesperson to promote Weaver’s cause. Anderson was joined by 89-year-old Marjorie Follett of Pontiac, Illinois in a “Clear Buck” protest at the 2003 All-Star Game at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field. The protest took place at 35th and Shields, only a few feet from the site of the original Comiskey Park, where Weaver played from 1912 to 1920 and as Chicago writer Nelson Algren wrote “guarded the spiked sand around third like his life…”

With the help of this author, Anderson and her cousin Marge launched  https://www.clearbuck.com at the same time of the All-Star Game protest. Demographically speaking, these two woman may have been America’s least likely firebrand Web protesters/proprietors. Former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig refused to meet the spirited duo, who sat with me just a few rows away from Selig.

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Divergent personalities Smith, Baines now linked by HOF induction

By on December 13, 2018

Lee Arthur Smith and Harold Baines cannot be more unlike as personalities.

To say Big Lee is raucous, riotous and ribald is putting it mildly. Stick around the man-mountain of a Giants roving minor-league pitching coach even a few minutes, and you’re likely to be doubled over in laughter. If Smith keeps the discourse to a hard-R rating, he’s keeping it clean by his standards. Good ol’ country hardball was his ticket to the majors. Despite his numerous big-league travels, he still identifies as a Cub and desires to be enshrined as a Cub.

Baines?  He’s known to everyone as Harold, we almost forget his last name. Baines used one or two words where a sentence might have been appropriate. Chicago radio talk-meister Les Grobstein once rated Harold practically his worst interview, and not because of any Dave Kingman-style hostility. He just didn’t fill up sound bites for mic jockeys.  And, like Big Lee, Harold put on a slew of uniforms, yet is as loyal a White Sox figure as they come with his number retired and statue in the outfield.

New Hall-of-Famer Baines always a fan favorite shows off his 2005 ring

Smith and Baines are now bound forever by pending induction into the Hall of Fame. Despite their contrasting personal styles, their links did not begin with the uncommon dual voting-in Dec. 9 by the Today’s Game Era Committee, the latest incarnation of the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee. That panel went many long years without choosing anyone while frustrating Ron Santo, only opening the door with a guilty conscience posthumously for Santo. To wave in two at one time is an old-school CBS-Radio net-alert bulletin.

Smith and Baines were both recruited from off-the-main-road small towns by fellow Hall of Famers. Buck O’Neil found Big Lee in tiny Castor, La., making him the No. 2 Cubs draft choice in 1975. Bill Veeck himself discovered Baines in Easton, Md., on the state’s quaint Eastern Shore where Baseball’s Barnum had established his getaway home. Harold was picked No. 1 by the Sox in the 1977 draft.

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