The Rundown: Growing up a Cubs Fan on Chicago’s South Side, Ross and Espada Vie for Cubs Managerial Opening

Gather ’round the autumn bonfire noble friends, because due to the dearth of Cubs and other baseball news, it’s story time. Of course, I’m assuming you all know that Theo Epstein held a second interview with Astros bench coach Joe Espada by now.

Note: All literary quotes are from one of my favorite American novels, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain.

“You can’t reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.”

Even if you are a casual reader, you know my love affair with the Cubs goes back nearly five decades and that most of that is due in part to my father, who raised me on the South Side of Chicago as a fan of the city’s North Side baseball team. Dad died 40 years ago, and my fandom has not wavered, though I was victim of a few beat downs from some of the neighborhood kids who believed those who followed the Cubs were wimps. That still goes on today by the way. Spend a Sunday in Bridgeport sporting your Cubs gear and you’ll see what I mean.

Similar to many families in the 1970’s, I was raised in a broken household. My parents divorced in 1974, my mom let her boyfriend move into our house in ’76, and by 1977, all I wanted to do was live with my pops. You see, my mom and her boyfriend were die hard White Sox fans which, all things being fair, gave me reason to seek legal emancipation at 13 years old — or at least be granted the right to choose which parent I should get to live with.

In fairness to my mom, she had a huge crush on Ron Santo. And when the Cubs traded him to the White Sox in 1973 for Steve Stone, Steve Swisher and Ken Frailing, she immediately switched her allegiance. As for my father, he called Comiskey Park “the world’s largest urinal.”

But then mom’s boyfriend, who will henceforth be called “Ray” since that was his name, made it his sole mission to make me a White Sox fan. What a spectacular mistake.

“’Bridgeport?’ Said I.”
“‘Camelot,’ Said he.”

Though I had never gone to Comiskey Park, I hated it just because my dad did. In fact, every year the White Sox would provide two bleacher tickets to a designated home game for grammar school children who achieved straight A’s or had perfect attendance. Being the nerd that I am, I got two sets of tickets every year and only went to one “game,” a doubleheader against the Twins in 1978. On that dreary June day, the ChiSox lost both games while the 16,000 or so in attendance spent the afternoon brutally heckling Chicago outfielder Claudell Washington with chants of “Go to Hell, Claudell!” Yikes.

But in 1977, Ray decided he wanted to make a real go of it with my mom and take on the role of stepdad for my siblings and I, so he decided to take us all to a White Sox game. It was an early June game, and I reluctantly went because Stone, who had somehow found his way back to the White Sox, was pitching. Stoney gave up four gophers that afternoon, one each to Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Carlos May, and one monstrous tater to Reggie Jackson. The ChiSox lost that game 8-6, and the Stone Pony’s putrid performance would have been absolutely forgettable had that not been my first White Sox game.

“For I never care to do a thing in a quiet way; it’s got to be theatrical or I don’t take any interest in it.”

At that game, Ray gave me ten bucks and told me to go to the concession stand and buy myself a White Sox cap. Our seats were on the first base side of the stadium, so I made a pit stop at the Yankees dugout, hoping to get a baseball from one of the players or coaches. I introduced myself to Jackson like he and I had been pals for years.

“Hey Reg, how about a baseball?”

“Are you a White Sox or Yankees fan?”

“Neither. I’m a Cubs fan.”

He laughed at me and then he gave me a baseball. And since I was only a kid, I said something very kid-like next.

“I gotta go buy a White Sox cap just to make my future stepdad happy.”

“Somebody get this kid a cap.”

So I got a baseball and an authentic, autographed Yankees cap from the one guy in baseball who was larger than life, and I pocketed the sawbuck Ray gave me. I went back to my seat with an ear-to-ear smile, new cap on my head and ball in hand like I had just won the lottery. Of course, Ray thought I’d bought the hat with the money he gave me, and since I wasn’t going to tell him what really happened (because I wanted to keep the ten bucks), he refused to speak to me for the rest of the game. He continued that silent treatment throughout the summer.

My dad was extremely proud when I told him what went down. And for a few summers after that, I was as much a fan of the Bronx Bombers as I was the Cubs, even celebrating New York’s epic ’77 World Series win over the Dodgers. That Bronx Zoo team was so polarizing that Lite Beer actually made commercials championing their lack of camaraderie.

“Camelot—Camelot,” said I to myself.  “I don’t seem to remember hearing of it before.  Name of the asylum, likely.”

When Jackson signed with the Angels in 1982, I was a senior in high school and gave up my secondary love affair with the Yankees. My dad had been gone for three years, but Ray was still with my mom, never able to find a way to truly connect with me after I spurred his beloved South Side Hit Men.

Cubs News & Notes

Apropos of Nothing

I was also at Comiskey Park for Disco Demolition Night and their division clincher in 1983 (I rooted for the Mariners), but those are stories for another time.

On Deck

Jackson is in a bit of a pickle for comments he made about outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to Jim Bowden of MLB Radio without realizing he was speaking into a live microphone.

Extra Innings

In 1976, Swisher was the lone Cubs representative in that summer’s All-Star Game on the strength of, at the time, a .268 BA with three home runs and 24 RBI.

They Said It

Monday Walk Up Song

Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band by Meco. We all knew disco had to go after this musical travesty from ’77.

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