A 17-year-old Les Grobstein stands between Fergie Jenkins (left) and Ernie Banks (right) at the Thillens Stadium softball benefit Les organized on July 15, 1969. At far left is Thillens game worker Bob Pollack, who went on to become a CNBC camera operator.
By George Castle, CBM Historian
Les Grobstein already was a legend in his travels when he agreed to co-host my syndicated “Diamond Gems” baseball radio show in 2003 after predecessor Red Mottlow had passed away at 76 from a brain tumor.
Once in a while, you could catch Les Grobstein in a sport coat and tie, but more often you’d see him as his informal self, pictured here.
As the story goes, one seemingly impossible trip had The Grobber finishing his all-night show on The Score AM 670 at dawn Friday, then hopping a plane to Seattle to cover the White Sox-Mariners American League Division Series Game 3 scheduled for 3 p.m. Central Time. When the Sox lost, The Grobber simply turned around on the longest Lower-48 States flight to Chicago and returned home. The next afternoon, he supposedly was in attendance as usual at a Northwestern home football game.
Another all-nighter on radio, then a round-trip to a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis, were also endurance feats to Grobstein’s credit.
“He lived the life that he wanted to live,” said Mark Grote, Grobstein’s Score teammate, former Cubs radio pre-and-post-game host and Frank Gorshin-like imitator of Les and Sweet Lou Piniella.
By Mark Liptak, White Sox Historian
December 13, 2021
Word came to me on Monday afternoon that Roland Hemond, a friend and former executive with the White Sox had passed away at the age of 92. I knew Roland had been ill for the past few years but still to actually find out that he had passed was jarring and sad.
Roland and I had spoken a lot over the years and as I explain later in this tribute to him, he was always a man of his word.
The role of a general manager cannot be understated. He is the person directly responsible for acquiring and evaluating talent needed to win games at the big-league level. He also has to balance in his head the roles of economics, baseball rules, the player’s union, dealing with the media and thousands of other things on a daily basis. It is not a job for the faint of heart or for those who don’t have the experience of upper management.
In my opinion Roland was the best G.M. in the history of the organization and I mean no disrespect to others who also deserve consideration for that title…men like Frank “Trader” Lane, Ed Short, Ron Schueler or Kenny Williams.
When Hemond took over the organization the franchise was literally in shambles. He faced challenges no other individual who held the position of player personnel director/G.M. ever faced.
The Sox were on their way to a franchise record 106 loss season in 1970. Comiskey Park was falling apart from disrepair. Fans were staying away in droves because the area was supposedly in a bad neighborhood. In 1969 for example the team drew, for the season, only 589,000… even that would fall to a paltry 495,000 in 1970. In 1968 and 1969, owner Art Allyn was playing a portion of his home games in Milwaukee trying the market to see if it would accept a move of the franchise from the South Side. The Sox would even lose their radio station and have to broadcast games starting in 1971 on two small outlets in LaGrange and Evanston, Illinois. Anything and everything that could go wrong for the White Sox did. And into this cesspool stepped Hemond along with new field manager Chuck Tanner when they were hired in September 1970.
Thom Ross makes his point – very sharply – about the Black Sox via his art in the most publicized exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of sports’ biggest scandal.
All of Ross’ drawings of the celebrities, sanctimonious arbiters and shadowy characters involved in the attempting throwing of the 1919 World Series have angular, almost severe lines. He did not sketch rounded, softer edges. The style makes everyone seem taller.
Sketch of Buck Weaver.
In fact, Ross’ depiction of Kenesaw Mountain Landis required a rectangular display case. The judge who threw the book – and then some – at the Black Sox almost seems to grow out of his confines with the artist making him long, lean and spare.
Artist Thom Ross
A lot of the motivations of the 1919 White Sox who took gamblers money and those who judged them are still up for debate. But not Ross’ MO in his sketching style. He has put it all together in an exhibit, “The Black Sox – A Century Later,” running through July at the Beverly Arts Center on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and 111th Street in Chicago. Commuters from nearby I-57 on 111th go up a sudden incline at Longwood Drive to Chicago’s highest point to gain a special perspective into baseball’s lowest moment that has been made into books, movies and endless recrimination.
“It’s just who I am,” Ross said, appropriately dressed in 1919 garb, complete with straw skimmer, for the opening of the exhibit. “My theory is things like mythology and legend are inspired by historical stories and truth. But it gets warped (over the decades). That’s why these figures (with sharp edges) don’t look like photographs. In that mythic world, you appear like you do in a dream.
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.
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.
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.
You can tell the players without a scorecard under Joe Maddon, but you better keep a sharp eye where they’ve shifted defensively in the field.
An accompanying Chicago Baseball Museum story details the historic defensive brilliance of Albert Almora, Jr. in center field. But at any time, Almora, Jr. could be flanked in the outfield by former MVP Kris Bryant, a pretty good defensive third baseman. Or by energetic starting catcher Willson Contreras, taking a break from behind the plate. Bryant has played every position on the field except second and catcher.
Bill Melton’s mood had improved considerably by the time this photo was taken, compared to the days he broke his nose playing third base and got shifted to right field.
Under Maddon, Ben Zobrist plays anywhere, and will continue to do so as long as he’s a Cub. Javy Baez is a wizard at second base, but you’ll also see him at shortstop and maybe even third. About the only Cub who is safe at his natural position is first baseman Anthony Rizzo. But he had batted leadoff, and if Maddon got some kind of brainstorm to play Rizzo in, say, left field, the affable team leader would be game.
Notice that none of these players are Hall of Famers, yet, or has led the NL in homers. Apparently, being able to take your glove anywhere, under duress or via an ill-advised management decision, toughens you up. That’s what Chicago baseball historical (sometimes hysterical) annals show.
Some of the top achievers in the town’s history have played well out of position, and if you remind present-day fans who haven’t done a forensic research of the game, they won’t believe you when informed of their on-field wanderings.
Ernie Banks in left field and third base. Ron Santo at shortstop, second and left field. Billy Williams at first base. Bill Melton in right field. Carlton Fisk in left. And Kenny Williams, GM of the only Sox team to win the World Series since 1917, survived a trial by fire playing Melton’s old natural position at third after being a good center fielder.
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 https://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.
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.”
Too bad a WGN engineer did not set up a kinescope — a film made directly off an internal feed of a TV broadcast — in 1948 to preserve even a snippet of “Good Ol’ Channel 9’s” first season of WGN-TV baseball telecasts that have continued uninterrupted into the present day.
Such a highlight would have been the topper on WGN’s impromptu April 16 special marking the 70th anniversary of the station’s first ballgame, a Cubs-Sox pre-season affair at Wrigley Field. Executive producer Bob Vorwald and crew did a yeoman’s job putting the two-hour show together in a few hours after the vintage highlights were originally scheduled to be scattered through The Leadoff Man and the Cubs-Cardinals game, both postponed by frigid weather.
Vince Lloyd (left) and Jack Brickhouse were staples of WGN’s Cubs telecasts when the station still competed for baseball viewers against WBKB-TV in 1951.
The elongated version of video highlights and a film (not an actual kinescope) off a TV monitor of Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit in 1958 caused my own postponement of other programming, such a DVR of James Comey’s ABC interview. That’s how precious Jack Brickhouse’s 1969 play-by-play of the entire Henry Aaron at-bat concluding Ken Holtzman’s strikeout-free no-hitter and Ron Santo’s heel clicking: “C’mon, Nijinsky, let’s have it…that’s it. Hah. There you go Ronnie…weeee!”