Chicago Baseball History Feature

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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White Sox Rebuild Year Two…But Questions Remain

By on May 29, 2018

CBM Editor’s Note

One third of the White Sox season has past and now in year two of the “Sox Rebuild” the team has the worst record in baseball with a 16-35 mark and is ten and half games out of first place.

Attendance at G-Rate Field is down. After 26 dates the White Sox have only drawn 415,654 fans or 15,987 per game, down from 20,244 a game a year ago. The Sox are trying to offer value with their 4 pack family offer ticket packages, that includes seats, hot dogs, and drink for around $50 in contrast to the Cubs that continue to raise their ticket prices, making attending a baseball game a once or twice a year event rather than a regular source of entertainment.

However, some long time Sox fans are starting to question whether this rebuild strategy will succeed with attendance now the third lowest in baseball in a city that is the number three market in America.  Further hurting matters is that the Sox media coverage has been poor compared to the Cubs with no regular beat reporter covering the team at the Chicago Tribune, who are using a Cubs “College of Coaches” approach to cover them due to financial budget cuts.

To give a fan perspective on the “State of the Sox Rebuild”, the CBM welcomes guest editorialist Mark Liptak, who has contributed to our site in the past and who for 11 years was associated with White Sox Interactive for his thoughts.

White Sox Rebuild….But the Questions Remain

By Mark Liptak

For every franchise there comes a moment of truth. A period when decisions made or not made can reverberate for years or even decades. For the Chicago White Sox that time came after another disastrous season, 2016. The Sox lost 84 games after a 23-10 start. It marked their fourth straight losing season and seventh out of ten dating back to 2007.

 

2nd baseman Yoán Manuel Moncada was the big prize in the Chris Sale deal

It was then when General Manager Rick Hahn was finally able to convince owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Vice President Kenny Williams that the “go for it” or “stars and scrubs” approach simply wasn’t working. That unless the franchise was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lure the top free agents the only way to change the fortunes of the organization was with a total rebuild or “tanking” in popular parlance to get the needed young talent to give the franchise a shot for sustained success.To get Reinsdorf and Williams to give that approval after years of trying to win another title was very hard in Hahn’s own words.

 

 

But the path was decided upon and out the door over the next 18 months went players like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak. In return the Sox got arguably the greatest collection of young, unproven, cost-controlled talent in baseball. It was hailed across the national media landscape as a job well done by Hahn. Most Sox fans and even some of the more caustic members of the mainstream media in Chicago approved of it.

 

Given the successes of teams like the Astros, Royals,  and Cubs in recent years the general feeling was that with a little bit of luck, the Sox had a very good chance to completely turn around their fortunes. But… (you knew there had to be a “but” in there)

Not every Sox fan approved of the decision. Going around the various Sox web sites you still see a segment of the fan base that wondered why a major market franchise was acting like the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres or the Cincinnati Reds.

They and others, including again, some in the media brought up valid, uncomfortable points that in their mind didn’t guarantee the Sox anything given their history.

Those generally break down into five areas, which we’ll examine. Then I’ll give you my take on the situation.

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Almora gets rating as most gifted defensively among post-war Cubs center fielders

By on May 22, 2018

Albert Almora, Jr.: Silky. smooth. Gliding. Graceful.

Throw any superlative out there. All apply to Albert Almora, Jr.’s defensive skills in center field.

Almora Jr.’s glovework at his position is the best I’ve witnessed in five decades watching the Cubs.

Albert Almora, Jr.

Better than Brock Davis turning on a final burst of speed to make up for a slow jump, finally engaging in a sprawling, diving catch in Wrigley Field.

Better than “Tarzan” Joe Wallis playing shallow, then going back…back…back…back and hopefully not running out of room before he hits the ivy and unforgiving bricks behind the foliage.

Better than Gentleman Jim Hickman, his spirit willing but the legs a bit too heavy, trying to flag down a Jay Alou triple picking up speed on the artificial turf in the right-center gap in the Astrodome.

A stereotype used to be floated that one did not needed a truly great defensive center fielder in cozy Wrigley Field. Oh, yes you did. You need a good one anywhere, including old Thillens Stadium. Someone athletically gifted. Definitely a take-charge, smart guy. And someone who craves mastering the position rather than marking time or having doubts because the Cubs needed another bat in the lineup, sacrificing some defense in the process.

Almora’s arrival was welcomed. Now if he can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he can hit tough righties, he’ll be a lock for years to come, and one of the best in baseball.

He doesn’t look like he’s laboring when he makes a sensational catch, such as the moment the other week when he almost effortlessly drifted back and in one motion leaped to steal a Tyler Flowers homer over the fence in Atlanta. That’s the standard you see from Almora, Jr., and the standard he expects from himself.

Almora, Jr. legitimately talks a great game. He is pleasant and welcoming. The other day he spoke on sports-talk radio of his love of deep-sea fishing in his native Miami, prompted by his father’s gig as a commercial fisherman. He was an easy conversationalist when we checked him out as a 19-year-old Class A player at Kane County in 2013, just a year after he ranked as the first No. 1 draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime. His words then apply to his striving now to lock down the regular’s job in center.

“I want to be a player known as going hard every day,” summed up Almora then. “You can’t have four hits every day. It ’s a sport of failure. But you can control how you play and your actions, and that’s what I want to be known for.”

A great defensive center fielder should be a true ball hawk. He should not be straining every last bit of sinew to race to meet the ball in the gap, above the wall or sinking in front of him. Willie Mays and Curt Flood had that extra sixth-sense. I believe Almora, Jr. is cut from the same cloth — take off in stride the moment the ball is hit, and smoothly arrive at its descent point.

The position requires more than just raw speed. I mention the 1970-71 vintage Davis above.  An original Houston Astro, Davis got some renown as a four-month Cubs regular in ’71 making those diving catches and exciting Jack Brickhouse on the call. But I believe if he had Almora Jr.’s gifts, Davis would have lasted a lot longer in the majors. Fastest man on the Cubs? Davis was 0-for-6 stealing bases in ’71.

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End game of Ron Kittle and his Harley Pooch a triumph, not a tragedy

By on May 10, 2018

Ron Kittle the 1983 American League  Rookie of the Year. Ron Kittle the strongman who belted rooftop homers at old Comiskey Park. Ron Kittle the ultimate self-deprecating White Sox ambassador.

All now pale thanks to social media and his own ongoing diary for Ron Kittle, the devoted “parent” to his beloved “Harley Pooch” soft-coated wheaten terrier.  Anything that preceded him in his rise to the Sox from Wirt High School in Gary, Ind. now must take a back seat to the story of the eternal boy and his dog.

Harley Pooch and devoted dad Ron Kittle at their favorite ballpark.

The scores of followers of Kittle’s Facebook site got to love the furry Harley, not Kittle’s foil in any way, but the star of the show. By the time Kittle’s better half appeared in most of his posts, he was slowed from an old injury in which he jumped up for joy one day and landed awkwardly on his back. But as winter grimly hung on in April, Harley Pooch’s health began to fail. His back legs were paralyzed, he lost his appetite and was incontinent.

Any veteran dog parent is initially in denial and tries veterinary intervention. Yet in the back of one’s mind the outcome looms. The process to end a pet’s life never gets easier, and one feels like a jerk even though it’s the right thing to do. So one Monday Kittle relayed the sad news on Facebook he had to terminate Harley’s suffering, though only after some two-way chatting as only a boy and his dog could do.

Kittle said he had his “talk” with Harley. In turn, he surely tapped into the “aura” — not proven by science quite yet — that perceptive pet owners know exists involving humans and dogs. After all, aren’t dogs employed to sniff out cancer and warn of coming epileptic seizures? Taken further, just because dogs can’t speak human language does not mean they can’t communicate clearly. Kittle got the message from Harley it was all right to let him go.

Before and after the tough call, Kittle got the word that Harley had an impact on everyone who interacted with Kittle. He was the people’s dog.

“I got well over 5,000 comments and messages,” said Kittle. “I got back to everybody.”

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Wood’s 20-K masterpiece tense to cover as baseball scribe

By on May 2, 2018

They talk about a buzz in the ballpark the day Kerry Wood threw a 20-K masterpiece to earn baseball immorality 20 years ago.

Yet even though Jerome Holtzman proscribed “no cheering in the pressbox,” a complementary buzz also enveloped the Wrigley Field pressbox on May 6, 1998 as Kerry Wood effortlessly mowed down a powerful Houston Astros lineup.

Kerry Wood always kept a level head about himself after his 20-K game, turning down invitations to appear on “The Tonight Show.”

With Wood and mound opponent Shane Reynolds breezing through the batting orders with a blizzard of strikeouts, this was going to be an on-time dinnertime for writers working a day game.

My vantage point was the third row of the pressbox, in my fifth season covering the Cubs for the Times of Northwest Indiana daily newspaper. Through much of that time, I had monitored strikeout wunderkind Wood’s progress with a countdown to his big-league debut.

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