By George Castle, CBM Historian
December 29, 2020
Jack Rosenberg had to be the ultimate people person with the persuasive touch to book sitting presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan for WGN-TV baseball broadcasts.
But as adept as “Rosey” was for the station for whom he served as the “glue” for sports programming for more than three decades, he was even better when it came to dedicating his good works in memory of beloved wife Mayora Rosenberg.
Rather than simply mourning his beloved Mayora through his 80s, Rosey ensured her social-work career in tough inner-city circumstances would be remembered. Using the phone and pressing the flesh, two of his sublime attributes, the gravel-voiced native of downstate Pekin, Ill. helped spearhead a multi-millions fund-raising campaign for a women’s center at Swedish Hospital (formerly Swedish Covenant) in Chicago.
The value of a women’s center was not taken lightly. For religious or other reasons, many women felt uncomfortable seeing a male physician. At the new center, they could visit a female doctor in welcoming surroundings. Rosey’s involvement and work ethic ensured the project would get done.
Unfortunately, the next time Rosenberg’s name came up in connection with Swedish Hospital was the kind of bad news that 2020 — rivaling 1932 and 1861 as the worst years in U.S. history — has trademarked. Media accounts on Monday, Dec. 28, reported Rosey had died at 94 at the hospital.
Maybe I had taken Rosey, who I first got to know at Wrigley Field in the early 1980s, for granted. I had a lively session at his Lincolnwood, Ill. home to mark his 90th birthday 4½ years ago. Near Christmas in 2017, I drove him to a mini-reunion of 1969 Cubs figures at an eatery in the Yorktown Shopping Center in Lombard, Ill. I thought Rosey would just keep going.
Sadly, he was the last of the crew of WGN’s golden age of baseball broadcasting, of Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau and director Arne Harris, he of the “hat shots” and on-air references to his love of the ponies. Harry Caray was an honorary member, even though to me is more identified as a kind of wild man in the Cardinals’ and White Sox’s broadcast booths. I do not know the status of six-year Brickhouse Cubs TV partner Jim West, retired to Baltimore 25 years ago. But West is not really part of this core who made the summers pass by, win and often lose, in far less saturated media times.
Pound those keys, Rosey and Hanks!
When I jumped into Rosey’s time machine at his home, the connection with his baseball work device was embellished with celebrity wrappings. He showed off a personal birthday card from Tom Hanks. Rosey and Hanks had communicated based on their love of vintage manual typewriters. But Hanks wasn’t within signal reach of WGN or its Continental Baseball Network when Rosey’s clattering typewriter was the backdrop for Brickhouse’s “Hey! Hey!” home-run calls as summer soundtracks.
Rosey had taken a pay loss to make a lifelong gain to provide Brickhouse with his daily baseball narratives, updated news, and scripts for sportscasts and specials via the kind of typewriter he still possessed in 2016. An ace sportswriter for the Peoria Journal-Star in 1954, Rosey turned down $100 a week – then a middle-class paycheck – from the Chicago Tribune to stick closer to family in his native Pekin, lll. But Peoria native Brickhouse, who knew Rosey, figured the call to the Big Town was planted in his mind. Jack did not have the Trib’s budget, or thought he could get a bargain, but only offered $85 a week. This time, Rosenberg said yes. Soon the ubiquitous announcer Brickhouse leaned on his prolific writer and booker Rosey as his personal MVP. They were conjoined more than any other Brickhouse broadcast partner, including Irv “Dat’s Right, Jack” Kupcinet, who had 24 seasons as his Bears radio echo.
Rosey and Brick also developed a lifelong friendship. Brick served as a groomsman at Rosey’s nuptials with Mayora. He had never attended a Jewish wedding, so was shocked when Rosey stomped on a glass, a central custom along with the wedding canopy. As Rosey recalled, his Peoria friend thought someone had been shot.
Rosenberg did not have to wait long to start rubbing shoulders of the high and mighty, whose trust he gained over the decades. Barely on the job and working in the WGN sports department on a college football Saturday in ’54, he witnessed a tall, elderly man with the telltale white moustache walk in looking for scores. The visitor was Col. Robert R. McCormick, the media mogul who fashioned the “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” then bought a fledgling radio station whose new call letters he named after his paper’s slogan.
A half-decade later, Rosey’s rolodex and relationships were blossoming. He picked up the phone to arrange for Lloyd to interview Kennedy in the box seats when WGN telecast the Sox season opener at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1961, one of the station’s early road baseball broadcasts. JFK did not seem too thrilled with the interview as Lloyd inched along the box seats to thrust his mic near the new president, but gave him his couple of minutes anyway.
The enthusiastic Reagan, once a Cubs announcer himself at WHO-Radio in Des Moines, was far more liberal – is that the “right” term? – with his time in 1981 at the White House. Rosey had originally arranged for five minutes of Reagan with Brickhouse. But the two veterans of 1930s radio baseball re-creations happily gabbed for a half hour, giving WGN memorable tape to cut up.
If you couldn’t like Jack Rosenberg, you weren’t trying.
Surviving the Lion’s den
Brickhouse and the amoral Leo Durocher were basically enemies from the day in 1966 when first-year Cubs manager Durocher wanted his entire $22,500 WGN payout for pre-game radio and prime-time TV shows all in a lump sum, upfront prior to the first program. The feud was an open secret with Brickhouse, described anonymously as a prominent Chicago “telecaster,” torching Durocher in a Sept. 7, 1969 Chicago Sun-Times’ Midwest Magazine hit job by Tom Fitzpatrick.
But even with his close association with his No. 1 Cubs critic, Rosey somehow “reached” Durocher, who philosophized the sports editor would give him a few bucks if he was on the street and down-and-out, while Brickhouse would just keep walking. Durocher profanely told Rosey he could have the run of the Cubs clubhouse to book pre- and post-game guests and gather information. Hearing of the blessing, a Cubs coach told Rosey he had just gotten an endorsement from “Caesar.”
The era in which Rosey thrived will not soon be duplicated in a corporatized and overly-choreographed sports world whose full recovery from the pandemic is not assured. Yet those who worked on the field and in the booth, or who watched at home, cherish every memory and shake their fists at the inevitable departures of its mainstays.
In the spring of 2002, I stood outside Lloyd’s southern Arizona home under endless stars speckling the night desert sky in a kind of spiritual layout. Boudreau and Harris had died in 2001. Three years earlier, Brickhouse and Caray passed. Lloyd looked upward at the faraway lights. “Those were my friends,” he said, wistfully.
Jack Rosenberg was his friend, present tense, blessed with another 18½ years of good will and good stories. Now, Rosey’s memory will far outlive him as everybody’s friend.Category Chicago Baseball History Feature Tags Arne Harris, baseball broadcasting, Cardinals, Chicago Baseball, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Continental Baseball Network, Durocher, Griffith Stadium, Harry Caray, Irv Kupcinet, Jack Brickhouse, Jack Rosenberg, jewish wedding, Jim West, John F. Kennedy, Lou Boudreau, Mayora Rosenberg, Pekin, Peoria Journal-Star, Robert R. McCormick, Ronald Reagan, Rosey, Swedish Hospital, Tom Hanks, Vince Lloyd, vintage manual typewriters, WGN, WGN Sports, WGN-TV, WGN-TV baseball, White House, White Sox, Wrigley Field