A Little History for the Faithful

The CCO Feedback column is back. Over the next couple of days we will run another article from one of the Faithful, but today is Jim Kneisley’s turn and I appreciate the time he took to share a few very cool stories….

When Neil says he’s a history buff and that I’ve lived long enough to see most of it, you smile. When he asks for a little Chicago history and especially about the Cubs, you wonder if you can separate matters of possible interest from an ego trip. I’ve decided it is worth a try in a few numbered paragraphs.

  1. When you are 8 years old in La Porte, IN and you know the last names of guys named Phil, Stan, Peanuts, Andy, and Claude are Cavarretta, Hack, Lowrey, Pafko and Passeau, the year is 1945 and the Cubs have won the National League Pennant. WIND is your favorite radio station. There is no TV.
  2. When as an 18 year-old good field, .280 hitting high school first baseman, you get two hits in two heavily scouted games against the area’s top high school pitcher and you are invited to a late fall Cubs tryout camp in Gary, you are just lucky. And you prove it by getting a polite “Thank you for coming” – maybe from Stan Hack or Gabby Hartnett who were there.
  3. When, as an I.U. grad and active duty over infantry officer in 1962 you join The First National Bank of Chicago, you are ready for corporate lending and Cubs Baseball. How lucky can you be when you find yourself the number two officer on the Wrigley family businesses — including the Cubs. Because attendance is marginal at about one million a year, you often get four of the bank’s box seats, two rows behind the Cubs dugout on the aisle nearest home plate. You get to say “Hi” or “Hey” to people named Ernie, Billy, Ron and Fergie. You think you’ve died and gone to heaven.
  4. In 1966, you take the call from the Wrigley Company offices that an urgent matter has arisen. You learn that Mr. Wrigley wants to bring Leo Durocher to Chicago to manage the Cubs — but he has serious financial problems in Beverly Hills, CA. Turns out he got the house when he and actress Larraine Day divorced, and that’s all he has. The house has first, second and third mortgages — and Leo may have been the nation’s first sub-prime borrower. Leo was a rounder and an excellent manager. When he had managerial jobs, he was in the bars buying rounds. When he was out of work, he was in the bars hoping someone would buy him a round. I helped extract Leo from his situation, and he brought his talents to the Cubs.
  5. Of course, beer and baseball go together. In 1966, the owner and brewmeister of the old Peter Hand Brewery (makers of Meister Brau) tell you that they want to develop the first low calorie beer in the world. They point out that the big breweries are thinking about it but are reluctant to risk damage to their regular brands like Bud, Schlitz and Pabst. They ask to borrow $2 million, and I decide the idea is a reasonable risk. In 1967, Lite beer is introduced in Chicago. It does well; and a few years later the Miller Brewing Company buys the brewery just to get what we know today as Miller Lite — same logo, same beer. When you hear the Miller commercials that have run recently saying, “We invented Lite Beer“, you now know that they invented it by acquiring what an owner, a brewmeister and a banker did near Wrigley Field in the mid ’60’s.
  6. I was also the banker for La Crosse, Wisconsin’s G. Heileman Brewery —- makers of famed “Old Style“. When the vendors used to shout “Hey Beer Man” at Wrigley, I used to think they were calling me. I’d stand up and wave. And I still tip a few from time-to-time as does my first wife (of 48 years). Our next Cubs opportunity will be at Sluggo’s in Mesa on March 10th. We do have field box seats near the dugout for the three home games at HoHoKam that week. If you show up looking a little bedraggled or needy at an area watering hole there that we are at (like Leo used to do), I’ll buy you the beverage of your choice — as long as it’s Miller Lite or Old Style.

Happily, it’s about time to play ball. I say, “Listen to the Faithful, Jim Hendry, and a powering wind will be at your back! If you don’t listen, the wind at your back will be your own. Fail to win, and we will be on your case faster than a cop on a free donut!GO CUBS!

Jim Kneisley

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt