Following are three short stories about the Cubs which have been published, one in an annual collection gone belly up, two others in a magazine which is like pulling teeth to get back issues from, so I'm posting them here.
'The Greatest" was in Knight Literary Journal, and is about a fictional all-star game played between white and black big leaguers in the early Thirties. "A Bunch of Guys Named Marion" is the story of a little boy who lives and dies with the 1945 Cubs, and "Right Field Out--Part Two" describes sneaking into Wrigley Field. The last two were in Spitball.
If you like them, there are more. And if you don't like them, those other ones
will stay put ... But I hope you like them.
Fall '08 Spitball
Right Field Out--Part Two
Jakey Johns wasn't the biggest hood in Ray's neighborhood--Angel Sallas beat up every kid on the block but Ray was a southpaw like him so instead gave him pitching tips. Angel pitched for Lane Tech when the coach could get him sober enough, and he could start a curve ball at your head and nip the outside corner low and away while laughing at you down in the dust. Had a good fastball, too, even though he was 5'5" 125 and became a second story man when he got cut from the Cubs' class D team at Janesville, getting through transoms no bigger guy could. He was a good source for hot baseball gloves, maybe the one stolen from you last month, dealing dope on street corners with dark glasses fedora down collar up on hot summer days and ending up in Joliet before he was 19, out, in, out, in, out and finally just in for the rest of his life.
Jakey, on the other hand, wasn't half so bad. He'd cut school and sneak on buses, sure, and when he turned 12 he started peeking in bedroom windows, but it was really just kid stuff. He wasn't anywhere near as bad as Angel Sallas, yet his luck was a hell of a lot worse.
Ray didn't like him even though he played right for the Eastwood Terrors and neither of them had a father around. Then Ray turned 12 and started cutting school himself, coming home from school for lunch and just staying there, nothing happening for the longest time, with Mom at work and Sister DeBrunio apparently unaware. Sometimes he read, Captain Nemo or Roy Tucker The Kid from Tompkinsville, maybe the radio, Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, Have you tried Wheaties, the Green Hornet, Kato, The Lone Ranger, Terry and the Pirates fighting the evil Japs on behalf of the humanitarian Chinese, decrypting urgent messages with secret decoder rings purchased with boxtops, then the Cubs, Bert Wilson and Wayne Osborne at 3 PM. Never missing a pitch, once wanting to be Bill Nicholson and play right field for the Cubs until finding out that Phil Cavaretta came from Lane Tech where Angel went, then shifting to first both in his fantasies and for the Eastwood Terrors. One day he was retasting the mustard from the baloney sandwiches that Mom made and left, thinking about the Cubs and Cards later when he heard a knock on the door and there was Jakey Johns grinning down at him, as tall as a man but the face of a mischievous little boy.
--How'dja know I was home?
--Knew you wuz here, been watchin yer door. Wanna go see the Cubs?
--I don't even have carfare.
--Toldja, it's on me!
and they were out the door before he knew it.
He sits under the wire fence over which Andy Pafko has just hooked a liner onto Waveland as the multi colored crowd of almost 10 thousand still roars, white and red players in the sunshine of a brilliant green field like a billiard table, watching the others led by Jakey scramble down onto the catwalk and past the grinning usher only few years older than they who is holding open the gate to the grandstand and Ray is wondering should he risk the leap down, never having been very agile and afraid of breaking something.
If he'd known that Jakey's idea of "treating" was to sneak onto the el and into Wrigley Field, he would never have gone. Faced with the humiliation of going home, he amazed himself by desperately wriggling past the green CTA bars and kamikaze-ing the rusty hinges of a locked gate outside left field, being pulled up by Jakey and another guy--Jakey's agility was even more surprising for a kid almost 6' tall--but now the way down and into the grandstand seems to invite a broken ankle, looking like 20 or 30 feet, probably more like 10.
--Hey, wait for me, please!
and launches into space rather than deciding, landing on both feet, sending a shock up into the shoulders, going down but catching himself on both hands and sprinting for the gate, still held open by the laughing Andy Frain usher
--Wot the hell, take my fuckin' job!
and searches for Jakey in the crowd of the left field grandstand.
There he is ahead, striding manfully, arms swinging out and away from his body, and as he passes a beautiful young woman the right hand "bumps" into her derriere and for a slow motion moment fondles her right buttock, she startling but saying nothing and then he is past her, stalking another. Ray is fascinated and watches him grab a girl approaching him in the crotch, then overtake and goose another, she shouting at his rapidly disappearing back
--You fuckin' pervert!
but he is melting into the crowd.
Ray panics when he realizes that he no longer knows where Jakey is and doesn't know how to get home, but by the time Jakey turns up in a box seat near the Cubs' dugout, Ray has gotten interested in the game, Cubs 1, Cards 0 in the 3rd. An usher in Andy Frain blue and gold shoos them but Jakey finds a first row box on the right field side, just west of the visitors' dugout, where a silver haired Pat Pieper is absent-mindedly tending a brown leather bag containing discarded baseballs. Before Ray knows it, the field announcer turns his back and Jakey holds a ball in his big hands, grinning.
Ray nods, and while Pat Pieper matter of factly intones
--NOW BATTING FOR THE CARDINALS, NUMBER SEVENTEEN, HARRY BRECHEEN!
Jakey hooks another and Ray has his first big league ball, caressing and studying its red seams, white and only slightly scuffed horsehide with Ford Frick's blue signature before slipping it into his pocket, having never seen or felt so lovely a thing.
An inning or so later they are chased by an usher who looks like but isn't "Forty Thousand Murphy" so Jakey locates them near the Cubs batboy from whom he wheedles the broken bat when Brecheen runs one up and in on Bill "Swish" Nicholson, Ray caressing it, too, knowing that nails could be driven in the crack, tape applied, and they could hit with the very bat that one of his idols used. And when Nicholson catches a fastball
and drives it towards right center, up and out and over the wall one row up into the screaming crowd giving the Cubs a two run lead which Hank Wyse holds onto with a 6 hit shutout, his day is complete.
The following summer, having much to his surprise graduated in spite of the confrontation with Principal DeBrunio, Mom, and his sister, a great many tears, and repeated promises to never do it again, he was riding his Schwinn with the heavy shock absorbers to Welles Park with the taped Nicholson slugger when he met Lefty Roy, who grinned in a funny way and said
--Looks like we'll hafta get a new right fielder, huh?
and that was when Ray learned that the night before Jakey had climbed up onto a ladder and was peering into a bedroom when a cop surprised him. The cop said he ordered him down, and the "man" jumped and ran down the alley, ignoring three warning shots and only stopping when the next bullet struck the pavement and ricocheted almost 90 degrees straight up and into his left buttock, passing through his right lung and exiting the neck.
He was DOA at Ravenswood Hospital.
At the funeral they were black armband pallbearers, Jamie and Lambert, Lefty Roy and Ray, Gillipy and Ben, the first brush with death for these kids whose graduation from high school was to be marked by the North Koreans crossing the 38th Parallel, hearing speculation that the cop had shot him off the ladder, then dragging his body down the alley. Ray wondered about it.
After all, Jakey was as big as a man.
But he wasn't, of course, nor was he really all that bad, nowhere near as vicious as Angel Sallas.
But a lot more unlucky.
Knight Literary Journal 2004 .
There's a old joke goes like this.
--Whaddya think Babe Ruth woulda hit if he coulda played today?
--Maybe .280, .290.
--Is that all?!
--Yeah. well. you gotta remember if Babe Ruth was playin today, he'd be well over 90 years old!
A good joke but a lie. Babe Ruth in his prime couldn't of hit .200 in any league which had black pitchers in it and I know because I seen the game where the Babe batted against Satchel Paige in Wrigley Field in July of 1932 when I was 10 years old and it like to break my heart. You won't never read or hear nothing about that game because of what happened but I'm here to tell you what DID happen because I saw every pitch from the owner's box.
I remember the date because it was my birthday 5 July, the day before the first All Star game in Comiskey Park. You could look it up if you don't believe me. I'm selling the old Chicago American from the corner of Irving and Western and smoking a Phillip Morris when this mean looking old biddy all of 30 or 50 or something fisheyes me and says
--How old are you, young man?
and just then a Checker cab pulls up, rear window going down and Babe Ruth is grinning out at me wearing that same cap all the kids is wearing only this one is Camels Hair and ours are cotton, mine has holes in it for crissake, and the old bitch is saying something but I can't hear because the Babe's handing me a sawbuck and saying
--Gimme a paper Keed and keep the change!
so I do and blurt out around my coffin nail
--Geeziz Babe what're YOU doin here?!
and his grin gets bigger and I can smell just a touch of whiskey on his breath, not a lot, just a little like Dad when he's just getting started but not like later when the beatings come, as he says
--Goin ta Wrigley Field, Keed, ta the game!
and a bald little guy which I don't recognize next to the Babe pipes up
--No game today kid, the Babe is mistaken!
and a bigger guy on the other side who looks an awful lot like Lefty Grove has the paper open to the sports and says
--Nothin not a word!
and the baldy says
--Thass the way it's supposta be, hey!
and the light goes green and the Checker roars east on Irving towards Clark.
I don't know how long I stand there but it must of been a while because my fag is almost burning my lip, so I spit it out and look at the old bag who says
--Well, are you going to sell me a newspaper OR ARE YOU NOT?!!
and I say
--Lady stick yer money up yer ass!
and she looks just like Maggie when she is pissed off at Jiggs but I don't hang around to talk and drop the papers taking it on the Arthur Duffy straight east after that cab just as fast my legs can carry me.
After a while them legs give out and my lungs ain't all that great with so much smoking so I'm walking sweaty in that July heat, hell, it must have been 90 that afternoon, looking for a Red Rocket which I can easy afford since with Babe's sawbuck I got enough to ride and still buy Dad his halfpint. Shit, I could get a fifth but what he don't know wont hurt him, I'm thinking, when I see Skinny Williams pop out of a doorway by St. Bennys. He's probably the only kid I know is a bigger and better booster than me, my Dad not approving of him, not because of boosting but because he's colored, which don't bother me none. In fact I kind of like it because he don't have no dad to beat him, only his mom, which is too busy scrubbing homes out in Winnetka and Wilmette for the rich to pay much attention, so he does what he wants which is the way I'd like to be. He is probably my best, maybe my only friend.
--Where da fire, Bags?
and he filches a coffin nail out of my shirt pocket but I don't care.
--Remember how the Cubs bought Babe Herman?
--Yeah and they supposta be buyin Chuck Klein too, but they too cheap so they aint gonna!
--I tink dey just bought da Babe instead!
and the Phillip Morris falls from his lower lip while his eyes look like saucers so I tell him what happened and before long a streetcar clangs along and we are off to Clark and Addison.
Wiggely Field is crawling with coppers and Andy Frains only instead of helping people in, they're turning them out, not that there are many and when me and Skinny try to buy a ticket since I can easy afford the couple dimes it takes, a cop which resembles W. C. Fields with a pot belly slaps his palm with a billy stick and looks daggers.
--No game today, move on!
--Move on an take da little nigger witcha!
Skinny got his name because he likes to say there's more ways than one to skin a cat so we go over the left field wall when nobody's looking, me making a stirrup with my hands for him first, then him pulling me up and we both drop to our feet onto the grass in left. Inside the field is filled with ballplayers in different uniforms but more to the point a couple of red face Andy Frains see us and we take off towards center with half a dozen ushers in light blue and gold and cops in dark blue puffing along behind with pretty soon a bunch more in front so we cut for right but that don't do no good because there's a small army waiting for us and before long we are being hauled kicking and screaming and dragging our heels by the W. C. Fields cop who has appeared like magic and has a hammerlock on me. I can see uniformed ballplayers out of the corner of my eye, including Babe Ruth with his pinstripes and hat too small for that big head, grinning like the big ape he is though I kind of doubt he recognizes me when a voice comes from a box just behind third
--Bring those young men over here!
and W.C. snaps to without never letting go of me
--Yessir, Mr. Wrigley!
and pretty soon I am facing this clean shaven man with slick back hair beneath his homburg and gray eyes which look like money. He's the new owner, his father died earlier in the year, and when he did, I seen his picture in the Trib, kind of pudgy and smiley, but this guy looks like he don't never smile. He tells them to release us and looks at me.
--You won't run, will you, boy?
and I shake my head no, so W. C.lets me go and I am held in place by those eyes. I hear another voice say kind of weak like and coughing
--One of KAFF KAFF them is a KAFF negro. How KAFF KAFF KAFF appropriate!
and I realize this is President William Veeck not him which in a few years would plant the vines for the Cubs then later hire a midget for the Browns, but his dad which don't look too healthy hisself, and besides him there's 4 or 5 other guys in the box--fedoras and a Camels Hair like Babe's plus one boater with a long face and a short smile and a tie knotted just so below this wrinkly old face out of which hardly comes nothing the whole time we are there, but also never loses the smile....and even a silk high hat like the guy in Monopoly but Mr. Wrigley is the only one can hold my attention.
--What's your name, boy?
--Bags sir I mean Rudy uh RUDOLPH sir!
--Very good, boy. Now can you tell me your full name?
--Rudolph Bagwell sir!
--Excellent! And your friend?
and I start to answer but Skinny pipes up.
--Ah kin answer fer myself, Mistuh. Mah name Skinny Williams!
and squirms out of the grasp of this pimple face usher to stand tall for Mr. Wrigley.
Well, he gives us a regular third degree but what it boils down to is me and Skinny promise to never tell nobody, even our parents, about the game so we can stay and watch. While talking we been looking around and not only is Babe Ruth on that field but what seems like both squads from the first All Star game to be played in Comiskey the next day plus a bunch of coloreds among which is Satchel Paige! So of course we promise on our momma's souls, mine having special meaning because my Mom's dead, but as much as that means there is something about Mr. Wrigley's eyes make me want to keep that secret, and I have from that day til now.
--Say Mr. Wrigley, how'd you get all dese players fer one game?
--Same way you get any ballplayer to do anything today, Son, I paid them handsomely!
and they all laugh not the sort of hearty HAW! HAW! HAW! like Dad and his buddies do down at Schuliens when somebody tells a Rufus joke but more polite and refined like they was afraid their mustaches would fall off if they laugh too hard. And then somebody asks Mr. Wrigley ain't The Bambino, just like that, The Bambino, a little past his prime and Mr. Wrigley says maybe so but he's still the biggest name in the game, it having been a choice between him and Lou Gehrig which is why Gehrig ain't there and they all laugh that fruity little laugh again. And it is true. This is the first year Ruth don't lead the majors in homers since the Big Tummyache even though he did hit the first All Star homer the next day, but none of that matters.
What happens that day would have happened if he'd of been in his prime.
Then Mr. Wrigley allows as how a few of the stars couldn't come on account of the short notice, but when I look around I can't see many which missed--Lefty Gomez and the Babe, plus Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin, Ducky Medwick, Paul Waner, Lefty ODoul, Mel Ott, Mickey Cochrane, Pepper Martin, Leo Durocher, Red Ruffing, Schoolboy Rowe, Lefty Grove, Rip Collins, Gabby Hartnett, Lon Warneke, and Frankie Frisch. The whites is mostly on the infield and in right and center where there's no big scoreboard like they put in a few years later and no vines neither, the walls just brick, and if you bounce off of the wall, tough shit. Off by themselves in left field playing catch away from the whites is them coloreds most of which I don't recognize but of course that long tall drink of water Paige and a chunky and muscular guy name of Josh Gibson, and Skinny later on points out Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Double Duty Radcliffe, which is not only the manager but the backup pitcher and catcher, plus some others I don't recall, Skinny knowing because he goes out to Comiskey Park on days when the Sox ain't playing to see colored teams like the Chicago American Giants and Pittsburgh Crawdads or something. The white manager is Charley Grimm which is kinda odd because he's only the first baseman on the Cubs, Rogers Hornsby's the manager, but Rajah ain't nowhere to be seen.
I don't really care to talk much about that game but I suppose I got to. It is like racing your milkman's horse against a thorobred, that's how much faster them coloreds is. They can't swing the bat no better than the whites, maybe just a little, but speed? Don't make me laugh. First pitch of the game Cool Papa Bell dumps Lefty Grove's fastball down the third base line and beats the throw, then steals second, third, and home on Mickey Cochrane! Next guy up hits a Texas Leaguer into right and takes second when Babe is a bit slow and breaks for third to get caught in a rundown but scores when Leo Durocher panics and throws one into the third base boxes just over our heads. Me and Skinny is both scrambling for the ball when we realize ain't nobody else going to go for it, unless it is Mr. Wrigley and his pals, which don't seem likely so we both grin and I say
--Skinny, I'll flip yah fer it!
and Skinny throws that big smile from cheekbone to cheekbone, come to think a it he musta been part Indian like me and Dad, and says
--Nah nah Bags....Aftuh YOU mah man!
so I get my first and so far only souvenir baseball.
Lefty Grove actually got good stuff, although Gibson clips one into Waveland in the third and tears around the bases like a greyhound, but compared to Satchel Paige, Lefty's pitching batting practice.
Paige pumps once, twice, 3 times, maybe 4, with bench jockeys like Babe Ruth going
--Cmon you big spook, throw the damn thing!
and never says nothing but rears back back back until you think he will fall, left foot climbing, climbing, climbing until it is over his head and for a second that white ball is dangling in his brown hand next to his right kneecap with the trouser leg puffed over it
and then the shoe starts down and BOOM!! the ball is kicking dust out of the catcher's mitt as Pepper Martin waits to swing.
Or comes right at Ducky Medwick's head while he hits the dirt and then the ball snaps over the outside corner low but high enough for a called strike.
Or floats lazy over the plate with Ruth hisself already wrapped into his follow through.
Gabby Hartnett comes over to our box after pinch hitting for Grove with 3 bad swings and taking out a big red handkerchief and mopping his forehead apologizes but Mr. Wrigley says
--That's all right, Gabby. How would some of these big black bucks look in blue and white?
but Hartnett don't hear nothing, being still busy wiping that kind of fat red Mick face of his, which is funny because the rest of him is all lean.
--It starts out like a baseball but what gets to the plate looks like a marble! And when I told him that, you know what he said? He said, "You all mus be talkin bout mah slow ball, Mistuh Gabby, mah fas ball look like a fish egg!"
but Mr. Wrigley don't hear him as York hits a can of corn to center, Waner goes down on 4 pitches and Gabby has to trudge back to catch Lon Warneck's warmups, his sore arm not allowing him to do much more all season long, while Mr. Wrigley is explaining to the other swells.
--After all, we employ Irish and Jews! Is there really that much difference?
and Mr. Veeck says
--The Cubs KAFF KAFF employ no Jews!
--Is it not the principle of the thing?!
--I am more KAFF KAFF than just a little bit concerned KAFF about how the rest of baseball will react KAFF KAFF KAFF!
and them gray eyes flash thunder and lightning as Mr. Wrigley says
--There speaks the voice of my dear departed father! The Cubs haven't won the World's Championship since 1908!! How long must we wait?!
and nobody says nothing.
No white man that day hits the ball very hard in spite of very generous calls from the white umpire, shit, they get only get maybe 3 or 4 scratch hits all game, but Paige seems to specially enjoy humiliating Ruth which don't hit a foul or take a ball just 1-2-3 OUT 1-2-3 OUT 1-2-3 OUT until his last at bat, which is still real painful to talk about even after all these years.
It starts before the Babe comes to bat in the 9th. Warneke and Lefty Gomez actually hold the score down pretty good so them coloreds is only leading 4 to 0 with Pepper Martin leading off by nailing a liner which Judy Johnson runs down in center. Then Paige fans Mickey Cochrane on a 3 and 2 hesitation pitch that Mickey swings so hard at he falls down. Now Paige calls out his catcher Josh Gibson and entire infield and they talk until Buck Leonard gets angry and Mr. Veeck says
--They want that KAFF KAFF two thousand dollars!
and Mr. Monopoly says
--There's a two thousand dollar pot?
and Mr. Wrigley says
--Two thousand apiece, winner take all!
--Lord, more than those colored boys make in a year!
and then Double Duty Radcliffe comes out and starts arguing with Paige who just shakes his head no and smiles. Pretty soon the umpire steps over the plate and takes off his mask and blue serge cap and you can see his bald head shining in the late afternoon sun, rolls of fat round the neck, and says something sharp and they all go back shaking their heads, Radcliffe to the dugout, Buck Leonard to first talking to himself, only Gibson don't go back to squat behind the plate but stands 6 feet outside while Paige grinning like a lunatic lobs up 4 wide ones for an intentional pass to Frankie Frisch! You can tell none of them like it with Gibson cussing under his breath as he tosses it back to Satchel, and the rest standing around in the field almost in shock like they been told it was against the law for blacks to beat whites, and they would all be arrested after the game if they did. Ducky Joe Medwick steps in and Paige tosses 4 wide of the plate and with 2 on and 2 out damned if he don't give Foot in the Bucket Al Simmons ANOTHER intentional base on balls and them bags is full with Babe Ruth digging in with a look on his red face like he is planning on killing both the ball and Mr. Satchel Paige and he don't much care which comes first.
Paige steps back off of the mound and takes off his cap to wipe his brown face with the back of his hand, white inside just like yours and mine. He studies the Babe a while then says in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the park
--Mistuh Babe all Ah been done hearin about since Ah wuz a tadpole wuz about how great you is...the greates ballplayer evuh wuz!
Paige studies the ground for a while then continues
--An evuh since Ah been growed Ah done heard stuff lak "Aint it a shame he black, ol Satchel woulda bin the greates ballplayer evuh lived iff'n he hadn't had the bad taste to be born cullid!
Then he looks Ruth right square in the eye.
--Well, you know, Mistuh Babe, Ah bin wonderin lately which one a us actual IS bettuh. Leavin the race question outta it, that is. Now Ah know that aint somethin bin concernin you very much, whut wif bein rich and white and famous an all but it sho do puzzle mah poor ol black haid....so Ah aims to find out the answuh to that question. Right now! You ready, Mistuh Babe?
and Ruth says
--Pitch the ball, nigger!
and Paige just smiles and says
--All right, Mistuh Babe, this here first pitch gonna be a fast ball bout knee high onna outside!
and WHAP! the ball is right where he says it would be and by before Ruth can move.
--Now this nex pitch, Mistuh Babe, gonna be anothuh fast ball only shoulduh high an onna inside....and even fastuh!
and it ain't only faster but exactly where Satchel calls it, and Babe's eyes get big in his head until they look like milk saucers and Satchel's grow small and slitty like a big black cat about to pounce on a Baltimore Oriole, but his voice remains southern drawly.
--Mistuh Babe, iffn you thought them las two pitches wuz fast, jes wait til you see this one! So to make up foah it bein so fast, Ah'm gonna throw it right smack dab down the middle a the plate!! Ready, Mistuh Babe Ruth? Here it come!
and I never see that pitch, hell, I don't think the umpire sees that pitch but he knows it is in Gibson's glove and that glove is belt high and in back of the plate so he chokes out
kinda squeaky and Ruth drops his bat to the ground and stares at it while Satchel is strolling off the hill towards the first base dugout singing
If it hadnt been
For the referee
Jack Johnson woulda killed
and in the owner's box behind third base there is absolute silence. Finally the smiley guy breaks it but no longer smiling.
-- My Gawd, can you picture that happening in front of fifty thousand white men?
and somebody else says
--They'd lynch him!
and someone else says
--They'd lynch us!
and Mr. Wrigley says
--Gentlemen, they would lynch us all, but I can assure you that this is never going to happen!
and turning to me and Skinny
--Young sirs, did you enjoy the game?
and I can see Skinny did since he is grinning from ear to ear so I lie and say I did too and then we all go home.
I can see why he did it. For that one game he was King of the Hill and what he rightfully should of been if his ancestors wasn't slaves. And after the game and a shower in a real big league locker for maybe the first time in his life, he left out the park and had to say "Yes Sir Nossir!" and get out of the way of that white cop which resembled W. C. Fields or some asshole just like him. In other words after having just proved beyond doubt that he was a better ballplayer than the best the white world had to offer, he became a nigger again.
I would of done it, too.
I wouldof stuck that ball so far up Babe Ruth's ass it would of come out of his ear!
Mr. Veeck kicked the bucket before the season was up which didn't surprise me none and Charlie Grimm replaced Rogers Hornsby as manager which surprised me even less. And while he won the pennant, the Yankees took 4 straight in the Series with that big gorilla Ruth supposedly calling his shot but I doubt it--ain't nobody that good and like I said he wasn't as good as he was cracked up to be anyway.
My Dad drunk hisself to death in '35 and I become a ward of the state which I definitely don't wanta talk about. Skinny was dead the following year after getting stuck late at night in a transom he wasn't suppose to be in and a white cop drew on him from behind and I caught a midnight freight to Texas shortly after because I couldn't stand living in a city like that no more. Skinny was 2 weeks dying and I was with him most of the time. I never cried so much in life, not before or since, even for my Mom or when I was on The Canal and most of my platoon bought the farm.
That first night I was in my foxhole feeling none too comfortable when some Nip screamed
--Brood for the Emperor!
and one of our jokers shouted
--Blood fer Eleanor!
and we all laughed.
Then another Jap shouted
--Babe Ruth stinks!
and I couldn't hear the answer because all I could think of was "You donno the half a it little man, not the half!"
I'm a crabby old man now living in Dallas and got to get up 8 or 9 times a night to take a leak, and them kid docs down at the VA been up my ass more often than a Kansas City fairy. I suspect Skinny and them dead Gyrenes got the best of it checking out when they was still young and good looking. Saw this special on TV the other night about how good them coloreds was and how it was racism keeping them out of the Hall of Fame and I imagine that's true, but don't know for sure because I don't follow baseball as much as I did when I was a kid. In fact the only thing I am sure of is what happened the day before the first All Star game in 1932 when Satchel Paige struck out Babe Ruth 4 times on 3 pitches in Wrigley Field, and now you know as much as I do.
[SIGNED] M/Sgt Rudolph A. Bagwell USMC (ret'd)
A Bunch of Guys Named Marion
Bert Wilson, who was usually at the mike, didn't have much of a home run call
--Deep! Deep! DEEEP! It's a HOME RUN!
and he was often misleading, a standing joke being that he once called
--Deep! Deep! DEEEP! The second sacker grabs it on the outfield grass!
But Wayne Osbourne sometimes took the Cubs' mike and he had a real talent for announcing a homer:
--It's DEEP to right, DEEP DEEP DEEP, at the track, at the ivy...GOING, GOING, GONE!!!!
and Ray could shout
in unison with the radio as Billy "Swish" Nicholson hit another home run....
Except that Nicholson seemed to be mired in a year long slump and struck out so many times often swinging so hard that he'd fall down that he justified his nickname of "Swish" even in Ray's mind.
One day Nick struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded and the winning run on second in the ninth inning and Ray who believed it a sin to swear could only vent his anger by taking out his copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and going to the page on which the Yankee had expressed his contempt for Merlin by saying
--Oh, damn Merlin!
and crossing out "Merlin" wrote in "Nicholson" so that it read
--Oh, damn Nicholson!
and felt better at once although only temporarily.
Nicholson looks pretty much as Ray has pictured him, 43 across muscular back, a big "C" with "ubs" within it, but the colors! Deep Cub blue on home team white, brilliant Cardinal red on visitors' light gray, lush green grass, white bases and foul lines, verdant vines, dark gray scoreboard below red, white and blue American flag snapping in the incoming breeze, white capped blue lake to the east and all of this beneath a powder blue sky with fluffy white clouds chasing one another into the hot summer sun. Ray has played baseball and heard balls hit bats and gloves before but when it is Phil Cavaretta driving a batting practice pitch into the right field wall or Hank Wyse burning a fast ball into the catcher's mitt of Dewey Williams it is hypnotic, as is
--RED HOTS!! GETCHER RED HOTS HERE!
--BEEEER MAN! ICE COLD BEER!!
PEA-NUTS!! SALTED IN THE SHELL PEANUTS!!
and when Uncle Pete buys him a sack of peanuts and a Coca Cola, he feels as if he has come home, even though this is the first time he has ever been in Wrigley Field in his life.
--ATTENTION! ATTENTION PLEASE!! HAVE YOUR PENCILS AND SCORECARDS READY....AND I'LL GIVE YOU THE CORRECT STARTING LINEUPS....FOR TODAY'S GAME!
Ray doesn't need Pat Pieper to tell him the Cubs:
Stan Hack, 3B
Don Johnson, 2B
Harry "P-Nuts" Lowery, LF
Phil Cavaretta, IB
Andy Pafko, Cf
Bill Nicholson, RF
Dewey Williams, C
Lenny Merullo, SS
Hank Wyse, P
and he has never heard of any of the Cardinals, a bunch of guys named Marion, Kurowski, Schoendienst, and Brecheen, so when they go three up, three down to lead off the first, he is not surprised. He is, however, surprised to see both Stan Hack and Don Johnson retired on strikeouts by the Cardinals' southpaw, Harry "The Cat" Brecheen, so named, says Pete, because he is an exceptional fielder. Then Cavaretta coaxes a walk and here is Big Bill Nicholson, digging in menacingly, wide stance, grooving his swing and pointing the bat directly at the pitcher, hunching over the plate, fingers squeezing the ash and twitching, twitching, twitching, coiling to strike as Brecheen stretches and delivers, a mighty swing, WHOOOOSH!
and Ray's head is automatically tracking to right, searching for the ball which must surely be in the bleachers or even Sheffield Avenue when he hears
and his uncle sees where he is looking and cries
--OHO! You thought it was a homer, didn't yah?!
and a tall and skinny negro with a straw hat stands up two rows behind to shout
--Attababy, Cat! Any Cubbie money heahabout?!
and after Nicholson fans on three pitches to trudge head down out to right where his brown glove awaits him on the green grass, his uncle is still chiding him for his misplaced optimism and the colored man is still going strong:
--Ah got a C-Note say it a Cub loss! Ain't none a you'all got any GUTS?!
Ray has never seen a negro before and wonders if this guy is typical. He would ask his uncle but is afraid that will only get him going on the Jews and doesn't want to hear any more of that, wishes he had some money so he could call the guy's bluff but doesn't so that is that.
Things really get bad when some guy named Hopp drills one into the wind and over the wall in right and the Cards take a one run lead in the fourth.
--EEEE-Yah! Cards sho gonna win now, Ah give 3 ta 2 odds, heah, 3 ta 2, any takers? Coahse not, none a y'all gennulmen f'um da Windy City believes in yoah team, does yah? Eeee-YAH! HOT DAWWG, Cardinals gonna win to day!!
Bottom of the ninth, still a one run game. Hack leads off and slashes one to left for a hit. Johnson pops out but Cavaretta fouls the first pitch straight back into the screen looped over the box seats, the fans going
as the ball coasts down the netting and pops up to drop into the batboy's cupped and waiting hands, then Cavvy drags one by the pitcher, in front of the second baseman, legs it out for a bunt single. The fans are clapping their hands rhythmically, clapping and beating their feet into the cement beneath them, rocking the park, making a noise that the players must not only hear but feel because Ray can feel it in his feet and up through his buttocks--THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!--Nicholson up, working the count to three and two, Brecheen stretching, twisting, hurling:
--STEEE-RIKE THREE, YER OUT!
yell the umpire and negro in unison but the negro goes on at great length, commenting on the ancestry of all the Cubs and their fans, the hopelessness of their situation, considering the skill of the opposition, and his willingness to offer 3 to 1 odds on the
Cardinals, now. Ray hunkers down in his seat and prays as newcomer Andy Pafko digs in from the right, takes two fast strikes, a ball, foul ball, then that magic sound:
And Ray and his uncle are up out of their seats and screaming as the ball is between the left and center fielders and Hack wheels around third to score and Cavaretta
--Go Philabuck Go!
Ray is shouting but unaware of it)
hitting the third base sack in full strike on the inside corner like the baseball magazines advise and never stopping digging for home and the center fielder Johnny Hopp is throwing the ball to the shortstop Marty Marion pivoting and throwing a perfect strike to the catcher Ken O'Dea lunging at Cavaretta sliding away from the tag towards the pitcher's side and one spike hitting home plate precisely as the catcher is tagging him and the umpire flinging his arms out wide to both sides mask still in right hand
and the Cubs have won. Fans pour on the field and Ray wants to jump up and down but glances back instead at the negro who has sunk back down in his seat, straw hat tilted over his face, hiding it, and is saying nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
Jamie and Lambert --in fact, all the kids--called Gilhooley "Gillippy" or "Gillespie" because the Cubs had a catcher named Paul Gillespie but Daniel Gilhooley was his real name and he was, according to Ray's Mom, as "Irish as Paddy's Pig." Ray was not sure what that meant, nor if the Gilhooleys were Lace Curtain or Shanty Irish, the Youngs being mostly Irish themselves and Ray not certain of the distinction anyway, but got a hint one hot summer day visiting the Gilhooleys and meeting Jake Gilhooley, Paul's father, a hulking, red faced, black beetle browed man who clad in undershirt and suspendered trousers leaned down from his magisterial height in the dark of the heavily curtained Gilhooley living room to drip perspiration on his floor and speak in gentle tones to Ray:
or at least what sounded like it. Dan noting Ray's confusion said
--He's very glad ta meet yah!
and Ray said
--I'm pleased to meet you, sir!
and the giant beamed and a drop of perspiration fell from his big red nose and he said
and Dan said
--He wants ta know if yer a Cub fan!
and Ray said
--O, indeed I am, Sir, indeed I am!
and the giant's sweaty smile grew even broader.
Eventually, with practice, Ray grew to understand Dan's father, and by the time they--Dan, Mr. Gilhooley, and Ray--were listening to Bert Wilson describe the Cubs attempting to clinch the National League pennant for 1945 in the semi-dark of the Gilhooley living room, no longer needed a translator when Mr. G. spoke to him:
--Stop yer pacin, lad, you'll wear a hole in me rug!
--Pacing?! Who, me?!
--Indeed, it is yerself, lad, you've been after doin it since da first innin! Now give it a rest, won'tcha?!
Ray blushed and sat down, listening to Bert Wilson.
Wilson: Two outs, Merullo pinch hits for Hank Borowy.
Osbourne: Lenny has taken his benching for Roy Hughes well, Bert. The
problem was too many errors, but he's not a bad hitter!
Wilson: First pitch, BASE hit through the hole, way to go, Lenny!
Without realizing it, Ray has begun pacing again, up and down the the carpet, both Gilhooleys watching him silently, outside the wind sighing softly though the trees, the shade from which helps to keep the living room dark and a little bit cooler.
Wilson: Merullo leads off first, Hack digs in, Merullo is going! Throw to
second, HE'S OUT!
and Ray is not aware that he is talking, almost shouting
--Godammit, that DAMN Merullo!
and Danny just stares as he has never heard Ray swear before and Mr. Gilhooley booms
and Ray can only stammer an apology as he is not sure what he said.
Ninth inning. Two out. Cubs up 5 to 4. Paul Erickson pitching, Tommy O'Brien pinch hitting, Ray stalking again but this time silently. A first pitch fast ball strike, then STRI KE TWO! another heater, and Ray is thinking Please God one more Please God one more and can see Erickson pump, wind, rear and deliver in his mind's eye, can somehow see the ball curving briskly over the heart of the plate even though Bert Wilson hasn't said it was a curve:
STRIKE THREE! STRIKE THREE!! THE CUBS WIN THE PENNANT! THE CUBS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE CUBS WIN THE PENNANT!!!
and Ray decides that life is not so bad after all.
Ray wasn't sure how long he had been on the steps of the rear entrance of Queen of Angels Grammar School, but the sun was a lot closer to the horizon now, the smell of burning leaves so familiar that he hardly noticed it. Across the street were three A-frames, a yellow brick two flat, and two more houses with inverted V roofs and gables, just across the street, Welles Park, in the background, Queen of Angels Church, dominating all, with its tall bell tower and smaller chimney. One of the A-frames displayed an octagonal pothole which to Ray became a jewel in the forehead of an Arab or Indian potentate, half closed eyes windows above a gabled porch becoming the sneering mouth of a face which disapproved of Ray in particular and all things American in general.
The longest limousine Ray had ever seen passed south on Western, closely followed by a tiny two door coupe, one fender red, the others green, blue, and yellow, the body orange with blue polka dots, both blasting horns, a fragment of silk or white taffeta fluttering in the wind from the antenna of the limo, which, tiny technicolor car so close as to seem in tow, disappeared down Western, horns still audible long after vanishing.
A fly buzzed, an airplane droned by, and then a long slow silent procession of cars, lights ablaze in the late afternoon summer sun, almost reverently northbound--5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 15, over twenty, other traffic pulling aside and waiting to let them pass.
Ray sighed, heaved to his feet, went down the alley in back of the school, turned left down the first alley, picking his way through the droppings of the horses of the Rags Old Iron guys and milkmen. He was careful to avoid streets and busy places like Waters School, where he might see somebody he knew who would blurt out
--Ain't it great?
--Ain't it awful?!
and Ray would learn what he was too nervous to learn from the radio, working his way down the alley where Jackie Johns had been shot by the cop, finally emerging near where a tall red brick monolith marked "EASTWOOD" on one side and "ROCKWELL" on the other reminded him of a grave marker in front of the mausoleum near his father's grave. An "el" train rumbled past, no longer elevated, down the tracks where two years before a twister had come up to blow all the glass in all the stores on either side, including the Peacock Cleaners and Dyers where Mom worked, she spotting it coming and fleeing screaming to the basement of the store next door to let it pass.
Reinhardt's looked cool and delicious with its Pepsis, Cokes, Snickers, Milky Ways, Hershey Bars with Almonds and penny candy but the crabby old man didn't allow kids in the store unless they bought something and Ray had no money so lounged in front, sitting on the curb or pacing up and down on the sidewalk, the sun setting in the west over Fyfe'sTap, the apartment above where Angel Sallas lived, Gilhooleys down the street, West Branch of the Chicago River in the distance.
After what seemed like hours a truck careened around the corner and clattered to a stop, narrowing missing his dangling feet, Chicago Herald American on the sides and a burly black man throwing a bundle of papers in the general direction of Reinhardt's door, the truck gearing up and roaring down the street to peel around the next corner. One look at the huge black headlines told Ray everything:
Greenberg, Newhouser Too Much for Grimm's Charges!
Ray stared without saying a thing. Then he swallowed and started for home.
Two weeks later, he had begun to accept it. The Cubs might have lost but the Tigers were lucky, especially with that guy Greenberg or whatever his name was. Next year the Tigers would be lucky to even be in the World Series, and Ray was sure that the Cubs were definitely going to win it all. After all, they hadn't won the championship since 1908. It was certainly their turn. The United States had just won World War Two, like the Cubs, coming from way behind , the dark days of 1942, to do it. Ray was positive that no matter how bad things might seem at the moment, they would get better, he--and his, like the Cubs and The United States--would win out in the end. All you had to do was believe, really believe. After that, it was just a matter of time.