Saturday, April 26, 2008

Brush with Cubs Greatness: Jose Cardenal

Jose Cardenal was an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1970s. He was known for his giant 'fro, his sneaky speed, and his bad excuses for missing games. (He was too tired to play one day because a cricket kept him up all night.) He also happened to be one of my favorite players when I was a kid.

By Rick Kaempfer

I've been an afflicted Cubs fan since 1968 when my Uncle Manny took me to my very first game. Since then I've seen well over a hundred games, and met many of the Cubs players, managers, and broadcasters; but all of those encounters occured in places you'd expect: at the ballpark, at the radio station, at station promotions or events. My Jose Cardenal story happened in a place you'd least expect it: Jewel.

I was grocery shopping with two of my boys, following my usual routine of breaking up fights and castigating unkind comments about the vegetables, when I saw him. He was holding an onion and looking for a plastic baggie. I know this sounds completely ridiculous given the number of celebrities I've met, but my heart started pitter-pattering and I became so nervous I walked in the other direction to regain my composure.

I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to talk to him. I was plotting a way to confront him casually, when I saw him rip a plastic baggie off the plastic roll. That’s when I made my move. Leaving the yelping youngsters near the oranges where they couldn’t do any damage, I strolled up to the baggies to get one for myself.

“I don’t want to embarrass you,” I said, my voice squeaking with fear, “but aren’t you Jose Cardenal?

He looked at me and smiled. “Yes,” he said with his Cuban accent. He offered his hand for a handshake.

“Good Ol' #1,” I said, shaking his hand. “I was your biggest fan. We used to sit out in the right field bleachers at Wrigley so we could cheer you.”

“You must have been pretty young,” he said. This wasn’t just a scrappy former ballplayer—he recognized youth when he saw it.

“Well, yes I was,” I said.

I knew he was the first base coach of a team in another city and hadn’t been part of either Chicago team for thirty years, so that led to an obvious question.

“What are you doing in town?” I asked.

“I never sold my house,” he said. “I still spend my off-seasons here. I love it.”

That was pretty much our entire conversation.

My kids, as you might imagine, were less than impressed by our brush with greatness, and not just because I left them by the oranges. They weren’t even impressed when I showed them the Jose Cardenal baseball cards I keep in a shoebox in the basement.

I can understand that. They weren’t born yet when Jose played for the Cubs. But I was impressed big-time. Not because I’m a geeky Cubs fan. Not because Jose is such a big celebrity, or because he was so nice, or because he knows a good onion when he sees one. I was most impressed that he actually still lives the Chicago suburbs.

How cool are we?

A Cuban millionaire spends his winters here.

That should be in all of our brochures.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Letters, we get letters...

If you have a personal Cubs story to share, send them in to me at, and I'll share them with the class. This one is from Scott Thomas of Crown Point, Indiana...

Hey Rick, here’s my story…

My mom’s boss at the time, Randy, took me to the first home game after the Cubs won the division in Pittsburgh in 1984. I was 11 years old, and all I can remember is absolute PANDEMONIUM! I remember standing in the upper deck as the Cubs took the field to the sound of Van Halen’s “JUMP” and vividly recall Wayne Messmer proclaiming “Ladies and Gentlemen, your 1984 Eastern Division Champion CHICAGO CUBS!!!” It was so awesome.

We went to Murphy’s before the game. I guess they figured since the kid was with a few adults, they’d let me in. Anyhow, we’re sitting around the table, me sipping my Pepsi amidst the Old Style. Randy leans into me and says, “Hey Scottie, you see that older guy sitting over there? – look down, the guy with the wooden leg?” “Yea” I said. “I see him”. Randy continued: “I want you to go over to him and say, “Hello Mr. Veeck, can I have your autograph please?”

So I did, and Bill Veeck cheerfully signed my ticket. What a thrill knowing years later that he was the man who planted the ivy, who wore the straw hat in the right field bleachers, who’s idea it was for the exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park. At the age of 11, I met a Chicago sports legend. It was an awesome day – a Cubs Division Championship, a day out at the ball game with the ‘fellas’, and an autograph from Bill Veeck.

Rick's note: If you haven't watched this yet, Media Burn has posted an awesome Bill Veeck special from 1985. In this video, Veeck spends a lot of time in his beloved Wrigley Field discussing his days with the Cubs and the Sox.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Did the Cubs throw the 1918 World Series?

The World Series the Cubs (maybe) gave away. This link will take you a story in The Sporting News written by Sean Deveney. He writes:

"Now, it cannot be said for certain that gamblers got to the '18 Cubs. But Eddie Cicotte, pitcher and one of the eight White Sox outcasts from the '19 World Series, did say in a newly found affidavit he gave to the 1920 Cook County grand jury that the Cubs influenced the Black Sox. Cicotte said the notion of throwing a World Series first came up when the White Sox were on a train to New York. The team was discussing the previous year's World Series, which had been fixed, according to players. Some members of the Sox tried to figure how many players it would take to throw a Series. From that conversation, Cicotte said, a scandal was born...

What stuck with me, though, was Cicotte's testimony. The '18 Cubs, inspiration for the '19 Sox? Two pillars of baseball infamy -- the Cubs' 99-year streak and the Black Sox scandal -- both in Chicago, both solidly linked to what should have been a Cubs championship.

The Cubs were 84-45 that year and serious favorites. Cicotte is not alone in suggesting they had been paid off. The lost diary of Charles Comiskey's righthand man, Harry Grabiner, supposedly indicates that the 1918 World Series was fixed. The reporting of baseball columnist Hugh Fullerton -- the man who eventually blew the whistle on baseball's gambling problem -- also suggested that something was afoul in 1918. Fullerton's accounts of those games repeatedly point out bizarre baserunning mistakes and defensive flubs.

The box scores support his descriptions. The Cubs were picked off three times, including twice in the decisive Game 6. That game was lost, 2-1, on a 2-run error by Cubs right fielder Max Flack. Game 4 had been tied, 2-2, in the eighth inning, when Cubs pitcher Shufflin' Phil Douglas gave up a single, followed by a passed ball, followed by an errant throw on a bunt attempt that allowed the winning run to score."

There's more at the link above...