October 6, 2003

Dave Uphoff

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Will the Cubs finally go all the way?

The Chicago Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves Sunday night to advance to the National League Playoff. It gave the long suffering Cubs fans hope that this might be the season when the Cubs go all the way. The Cubs have not been in a World Series since 1945 and have not won the World Series since 1908 when Barth Weistart was still in high school.

In spite of being the league doormat for years, the hapless Cubs have always been able to retain its faithful fans. I do not know of any Cub fan who has dropped their allegiance to the Cubs over the years. Why is that? My theory is that the Chicago Cubs have stayed true to the traditions that have made baseball our national past time.

Tradition oozes from the Cubs franchise. They were the last team to put up lights for night games back in the 1980's. They have played ball at Wrigley Field since 1918. Wrigley Field, along with Boston's Fenway Park, is the last of the old time ballparks that allows the fans a close perspective to the game. There is no fancy electronic scoreboard in Wrigley Field. Instead, the runs for each inning are hung by hand from behind the scoreboard. Sometimes, you could see the scorekeeper peer out of one of the empty inning boxes in the scoreboard. Finally, the Cubs ballpark is right smack dab in the middle of the northside of Chicago where most of the Yuppies and Dinks(double income no kids) live. In essence, a game at Wrigley Field today is just like it was 80 years ago.

I went to my first ball game in Wrigley Field in 1952. I rode with my Uncle Bill VonBehren in Ed Woltzen's car. Ed's son Moose Woltzen and Dick Dishinger also went along. Back then there were no interstate roads to Chicago. We would take old Route 66 and usually stop at the Welco Truck Stop in Lemont for a hamburger. Going on into Chicago was a tedious drive having to encounter stop lights for 20 miles or more. If you went to the Cubs game, you would take Ogden Avenue all the way to Halsted and then north to Wrigley Field. If you went to a White Sox game you would take Archer Avenue to 35th Street to get to Comiskey Park.

It usually would take over 3 hours to get to downtown Chicago back then. We would leave around eight o'clock in the morning so we could get there in time to watch batting practice. In those days you could go down next to the dugout during batting practice and get autographs from the players.

I still remember how beautiful the ivy colored outfield walls were when I first entered Wrigley Field. The Cubs were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers who were the best team in the National League. The Dodgers were loaded with power hitters like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella. I still rember how short and stocky Campy seemed to be. A few years later Campy was in an automobile accident and was paralyzed for life.

The Cubs were the doormats of the league back in 1952. Most baseball fans remember the famed 1910 White Sox trio of Tinkers to Evers to Chance which formed one of the best double play combinations in baseball history. The 1952 Cubs had a double play combination referred to as Miksis to Smalley to the grandstand. Hank Sauer was the Cubs power hitter. He would smoke a cigarette in the outfield each time he took the field until the first pitch was thrown for the inning.

Pat Piper was the field announcer for the Cubs. He wore a straw hat and sun glasses and would take the microphone to home plate prior to the start of the game and announce the lineups for each team. His opening line would always be, "Ladies and gentlemen. Get your score cards and pencils ready for today's ball game." He talked in short, raspy tones with a thick Chicago accent. At night he was the maitre de at the Ivanhoe Restaurant which was just a few blocks south of Wrigley Field on Clark Street.

The vendors at Wrigley Field in 1952 all looked like they were on leave from the Pacific Garden Mission on South State Street. With their deep raspy voices, you could hear them yell "Red hots" from half way across the field. I don't know if people still do this, but back then we would pop our paper cups on the concrete floor after finishing our drinks. We would place the cup upside down on the floor and then smash it with our foot making a loud popping sound. You could even hear the sound over the radio when you listened to the Cubs games.

I don't remember who won the game between the Cubs and the Dodgers. I do remember Moose Woltzen bowling over about 4 other people to retrieve a foul ball from one of the batters.

One event that I have never seen before occured at Wrigley Field back in the 1950's. The Cubs catcher Harry Chiti was being intentionally walked. However, the fourth pitch to walk Chiti came close enough to the plate that allowed Chiti to cream the lob pitch for a right field homerun. I still remember big Ted Kluzewski of the Cincinnati Reds hitting a line drive homerun that was still going up when it cleared the right field wall. Kluzewski had such big arms that he had the sleeves cut out up to his shoulders to allow movement for his huge biceps.

The event I remember most about Wrigley Field was when I went to a ballgame with the Veihman family to see the Cubs play the Cardinals on July 4th in 1957. Clifton Veihman was the former grade school principal at Minonk and was a real gentleman with a quiet and dignified reserve about him. However, when Ernie Banks hit a homerun to win the game, Mr. Veihman stood up and shouted and hollered just like a ten year old kid. That was the magic of baseball in Wrigley Field.

I hope that the Cubs can go on to win the World Series. The Cubs along with Mr. Veihman and all of the other Cub fans have done more to preserve the tradition of baseball than any other team in the major leagues.

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