Memories of 8-8-88

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Aug. 8, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The 1984 Cubs ushered in the “yuppie era” at Wrigley Field. Seemingly overnight, the ballpark transformed from a slowly decaying, outdated, quirky facility to a 40,000-seat singles bar, a tourist attraction, and a baseball shrine. Harry Caray went from being an old, washed-up White Sox announcer to the hip grandfatherly Cub Fan, Bud Man. The bars that surrounded the park changed from quaint family-owned dives with juke boxes to corporate-owned establishments with dee jays. In the old days, the surrounding rooftops were usually empty and only occasionally would someone be seen watching the game from an across-the-street perch. After Ryno, Jody, The Sarge, and The Penguin, the rooftops became Big Business.

When the Tribune Company bought the Cubs, they expressed their desire to install lights at Wrigley Field but the ball did not really begin rolling until the explosion in the Cubs’ popularity after the ’84 division championship season.

There was some opposition to night baseball from groups like Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine, but with Major League Baseball applying much of the pressure, the installation of lights at Wrigley Field seemed inevitable. On Feb. 25, 1988, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance permitting the Cubs to play 18 night games annually through 2002. Eight night games were permitted for the 1988 season.

Construction of Wrigley Field’s six light towers began on April 7, 1988 and was completed on June 21.

The 1988 eight-game slate of night games was announced by the Cubs on June 20 with the first scheduled for Aug. 8. Demand for tickets to the 8-8-88 game was so great that a promotion by WGN Radio and True Value awarding 500 tickets received 400,000 applicants.

It certainly was the first baseball game at Wrigley Field scheduled under lights, but it was not the first night game. On Friday, June 25, 1943 the Cubs and Cardinals played a game at the Friendly Confines that was promoted as a “twilight game” and began at 6 p.m. Cubs pitcher Hi Bithorn, no doubt aided by the long shadows of the grandstand, pitched a two-hit complete game in the Cubs’ 6-0 victory.

The game lasted 2 hours, 17 minutes and was completed 13 minutes before sunset on what is one of the longest days of the year. As the Cardinals batted in the ninth, I imagine that it resembled a scene that played out in our neighborhood on so many occasions while I was growing up. Our evening pickup games would continue until we couldn’t see the ball, long after the streetlights had gone on.

As novel as that evening, it was not a rousing success at the box office. A wartime crowd of just 6.620 turned out which helps explain why the game has been long forgotten. I’ve never heard any of the old-timer Cubs fans I know discuss it. It also explains why the promotion was not repeated in subsequent years.

The Cubs’ 1943 season attendance of 508,247 was and still is the lowest total for the franchise since 1921 (strike years included).

Back to 1988:

I lucked out and had a pair of tickets to the Cubs-Phillies game on Monday, Aug. 8, 1988. I was 18. I purchased the tickets early in the season (they still listed a starting time of 1:20 p.m.), long before the night schedule was announced. The thought of scalping the tickets never crossed my mind.

I considered taking a friend to the game, but it was only a fleeting thought. My 68-year-old grandfather was the reason I was a Cubs fan and by far was the person who had taken me to the most games. Realizing the significance of the evening, it was a no-brainer. I had to take Pops.

Aug. 8 was typical hot and sticky Chicago summer day with the temperature in the 90s and no breeze to speak of. As Pops and I exited the Red Line train at the Addison stop, we noted that the flags atop the center-field were limp.

The Cubs announced that they were opening the park that night an hour earlier than usual, at 4:30, and we decided that we wanted to be there when the gates were raised. We wanted to be there for all the pregame festivities and also wanted to take advantage of a rare opportunity to watch the Cubs take batting practice.

The Cubs are usually done with BP by the time the Wrigley gates open. I’ve seen visiting teams take their pregame hacks at the Friendly Confines on hundreds of occasions, but that special night 22 years ago is still the only time I have seen the Cubs take BP in their home ballpark.

We had long been in our seats in Section 209, Row 15 and the grandstand was about half full when master of ceremonies Jack Brickhouse introduced 91-year-old Harry Grossman at 6 p.m. The crowd was instructed to holler, “Let there be lights!” on the count of three. When we did so, at 6:06 p.m., Grossman hit a switch that ended a 74-year tradition on the North Side. Hell had frozen over.

I asked my grandfather if he ever thought he’d live long enough to see what was happening before our eyes. He shook his head and i could see that he was choked up. It was a bittersweet moment for a man who attended his first game at Wrigley Field in the 1930s. The emotions that must have been washing over him were something that, because of my age and relative lack of experience as a fan, I could not totally relate to.

As the ballpark continued to fill up, the atmosphere that was developing was anything but typical. It reminded me of a postseason crowd – a lot of big shots and many more who were either casual fans or not Cubs fans at all. The event had taken precedence over the game.

Shortly after 7 p.m., in the instant that Rick Sutcliffe delivered the game’s first pitch to Philadelphia’s Phil Bradley, hundreds of flashbulbs lit up Wrigley Field. Three pitches later, Bradley launched a drive onto Waveland Avenue. It was an inauspicious start.

But Mitch Webster opened the bottom of the first with a line-drive single off Phillies starter Kevin Gross.

Up next was Ryne Sandberg and as the future Hall of Famer strolled to the batter’s box, Morganna “The Kissing Bandit” emerged from a section along the right-field line near the Phillies bullpen and charged toward home plate. The well-endowed trespasser never came close to planting one on Ryno. She was intercepted by several security guards by the time she reached the infield dirt and quickly was led away. The crowd booed.

On my tape of that evening’s broadcast, Steve Stone described what a great job the security crew did in apprehending Morganna.

“They may have done a great job, but it doesn’t say much for their imaginations,” was Caray’s response.

When the game resumed, Sandberg promptly homered into the left-field bleachers, near the well area, to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. The Cubs handed out white “Opening Night” caps (it remains one of my prized possessions) to fans as they passed through the turnstiles, and as Sandberg trotted around the bases, the fans waved their caps in the air. The Wrigley Field stands were a sea of white.

The Cubs added another run in he third inning, but by that time it was obvious that a storm was near. A stiff breeze kicked up and the air became noticeably cooler. Rumbles of thunder could be heard.

As the always-deliberate Sutcliffe worked in the top of the fourth, a flash of lightning caused the crowd to shutter and several moments later, at around 8:30, it started to, in the words of my grandfather, “Rain like hell.” The tarp was unrolled and placed over the infield.

Fortunately, the upper deck sheltered us from the deluge. As we waited for play to hopefully resume, we drank beer, we talked, we drank some more beer, we talked some more.

At about 9:30, a very young Greg Maddux, Jody Davis, Les Lancaster, and Al Nipper emerged from the Cubs dugout and entertained the crowd with several tarp slides. It was funny, but I also remember being concerned about our young 15-game winner’s health. Fortunately, there wasn’t a Cubbie Occurence but the quartet was later fined by a less-than-amused manager Don Zimmer.

Predictably, some fans, taking a cue from Maddux and Co., also decided to join in the tarp-sliding fun. Security spent much of the next hour running down those yahoos.

It continued to pour and at 10:30, umpire Jim Quick emerged from the third-base dugout and signaled to those who remained that the game was called. All records were scrapped and the game was replayed in its entirety as part of a September doubleheader.

The first official game under the lights was played on Aug. 9 as the Cubs topped the New York Mets 6-4.

I relaized that my Aug. 8 ticket stubs were possibly of value, but couldn’t pass up a free game. I exchanged them at the Wrigley Field box office and I took Pops to see the Cubs lose to the Cardinals on Sept. 16. It was as unmemorable as the Aug. 8 rainout was memorable. Oh well.

A popular theory regarding the Cubs’ failure to win a National League pennant since 1945 was the lack of night baseball at Wrigley Field until 1988. Playing under the sun on a daily basis, wore down the Cubs year after year. This maybe so, but pitcher Bill Hands, who won 20 games for the 1969 Cubs, disagreed.

In The Cubs of ’69 (Contemporary Books, 1989), Hands told Rick Talley that exclusive day baseball provided the Cubs with the ultimate homefield advantage. While Cubs players were often at home with their families getting a good night’s sleep, visiting teams were carousing on Division Street late into the night.

“If we would have won, everybody would be playing more day games today,” Hands said.

Chris and Ronnie’s grand night

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on July 6, 2010.

I lost interest in the All-Star Game long ago, but when I was a kid the Midsummer Classic was a very big deal.

The evolution of the separate but equal major leagues into the baseball equivalent of the NFC and AFC was well underway by 1983, but the National and American leagues of that era had distinct identities. Interleague play was a gimmick that was still far ahead in the future.

The AL was the league of old, dumpy ballparks like Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Fenway Park. It used the designated hitter. It was over-reliant on home runs and under-reliant on strategies like the double-switch.

The NL was the hip, modern league with futuristic ballparks like the Astrodome and Riverfront Stadium. Pitchers batted. Astroturf was the playing surface in six of the league’s 12 ballparks, and the parks generally had spacious dimensions. Such an environment placed a premium on speed and defense. It was an exciting brand of baseball.

There were players like Dave Winfield, Ted Simmons, Nolan Ryan, and Greg Luzinski who switched leagues – but more players tended to play their entire careers in the same league back in those days.

I was 13 – heading into eighth grade – and still enjoying the time in my life when summers seemed to last for years. There were few worries and plenty of time for watching Cubs games on Channel 9, Little League, pickup ballgames, pool hopping, and trading baseball cards with my friends.

The 50th anniversary All-Star Game was scheduled for July 6, 1983 at the old Comiskey Park – exactly 50 years to the day of the first showcase that was played on the South Side during the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

My 11-year-old brother, Ronnie, and I didn’t dare dream of attending the game. It was an event reserved for Sox fans and big shots. We were neither.

My Aunt Bea was a huge White Sox fan – almost annoyingly so. She never could understand why we were Cubs fans. We were South Siders and as far as Aunt Bea was concerned, it was our duty to back the Sox. The Sox were cooler. They played night games. They had fireworks. They had a Diamond Vision scoreboard.

The Cubs played on the North Side, and as far as Aunt Bea was concerned, anywhere north of Madison Street may as well have been a foreign country.

Aunt Bea recognized the significance of an All-Star Game in Chicago and she was determined to have my brother and me experience it. When the Sox announced that they were selling non-reserved tickets for $5 each for the All-Star workout day and an old-timers game on July 5, she jumped at the chance and bought tickets.

We sat several rows behind the third-base dugout. I remember that it was claimed the old-timer’s game represented the biggest gathering of Hall of Famers at a place other than Cooperstown. It was the only time that I ever saw Joe DiMaggio in the flesh and, as an added bonus, I got to see a 45-year-old Billy Williams hit an upper-deck home run to right.

The All-Star workout was also very cool. We were able to see some of our favorites up close, like Dale Murphy, George Brett, and Robin Yount. Future major leaguers Bret and Aaron Boone, who sporting Phiadelphia Phillies uniforms and were there with their All-Star father Bob, played catch in the outfield.

And I’ll never forget the power display of San Francisco’s Darrell Evans during batting practice. Evans hit towering fly ball after towering fly ball on top of and over the right-field roof. It was breathtaking.

The next day, I was eating lunch in our kitchen when the phone rang. It was Aunt Bea. She told me that she had scored two tickets for the All-Star Game and wanted to know if my brother and me wanted to go. I didn’t even have to ask. The problem we had, though, was finding a ride to my aunt’s home in Bridgeport. My parents were both working.

Fortunately, I soon learned that our across-the-street neighbor, Mr. Quinn, was attending the game and he said he’d be glad to give us a lift.

It was the first time we had ever attended a ballgame without adults and the sellout crowd made it somewhat intimidating. But we were blessed to have aisle seats in the right-field upper deck and and a couple cool middle-aged guys seated to our right. They bought us soda, gave us some Babe Ruth postage stamps, and asked me a trivia question I remember to this day:

Who was the last switch-hitter to win a league MVP award?

My answer: Pete Rose.

The correct answer: Vida Blue in 1971.

The seats weren’t that great, but there were very few decent seats at the old Comiskey. There was very little leg room, less elbow room, far too many obstructed view seats, and too many seats that were much too far away from the field.

The highlight of the game, of course, was Fred Lynn’s grand slam off Atlee Hammaker – still the only grand slam in All-Star Game history – during the American League’s seven-run third inning. The AL rolled to a 13-3 victory to end an 11-game NL winning streak. Lynn’s home run sailed high into the air and disappeared into the lower deck below us.

Fourteen of the players who participated in the contest, if you include the soon-to-be-inducted Andre Dawson, were Hall of Famers. It was the final All-Star Game for Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.

The outcome of the game had long been determined by the time Cubs representatives Leon Durham and Lee Smith saw action. We saw Morganna “The Kissing Bandit” unsuccessfully attempt to plant one on Fernando Valenzuela and I suspect that actor George Burns had to be awakened in the middle of the seventh in order to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

As we exited the ballpark with fireworks filling the sky, I was certain that it was my favorite baseball experience at a ballpark other than Wrigley Field – and it remains so more than 30 years later.

1960: Don Cardwell’s amazing Cubs debut

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Jan. 16, 2011.)

 

By CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

When newly-acquired pitcher Don Cardwell arrived at Wrigley Field on May 15, 1960 he was still toting a Philadelphia Phillies gym bag.

 

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Boudreau selected the 24-year-old right-hander to pitch Game 2 of a Sunday doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cardwell had never worked with Cubs catcher Del Rice before and the pair decided between games to keep it simple. Cardwell did not throw a slider the entire afternoon.

“Fastballs did it for me,” Cardwell said. “I threw almost all fastballs in the early innings … I just wanted to hum.”

Did he ever.

Cardwell walked the second batter of the game, Alex Grammas, and then set down the final 26 batters he faced. Cardwell’s no-hitter included plenty of late-inning drama for the 33,543 in attendance.

cardwell 2.jpg

Don Cardwell set down the final 26 St. Louis Cardinals he faced.

Darryl Spencer led off the eighth with a hot smash, but second baseman Jerry Kindall made a sensational stop and threw out Spencer at first by a step.

Carl Sawatski led off the ninth and ripped a 1-and-2 pitch to deep right, but George Altman made a leaping, one-handed grab on the warning track. Cardwell fell behind 2-and-0 on the next hitter, George Crowe, but recovered to retire him on a lazy fly to center fielder Richie Ashburn.

Joe Cunningham stood between Cardwell and history. Cunningham was upset with a strike call by home plate umpire Tony Venzon on a 3-and-1 pitch.

“And Cunningham is barking at Venzon,” Cubs radio play-by-play man Jack Quinlan reported. “He is letting him have it. He is really peeved at Venzon!”

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Joe Cunningham and home plate umpire Tony Venzon exchange pleasantries with two outs in the top of the ninth.

Cunningham stepped back in the box and then drilled Cardwell’s full-count offering the opposite way to left. It looked like a sure hit, but with Jack Brickhouse screaming, “C’mon, Moose! C’mon, Moose!” left fielder Walt “Moose” Moryn made a sensational shoestring catch.

Cardwell was mobbed by his teammates and by many of the fans who jubilantly raced onto the playing field. It took Cardwell more than 20 minutes to fight his way through the mob and into the Cubs clubhouse.

“This fame may mean I’ll never pitch again because while all the fans were crowding around me, they kept standing there beating on my shoulder and pulling on my arm like they wanted a souvenir – me!” Cardwell said. “But it was worth it.”

1938: Hartnett’s Homer in the Gloamin’

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Oct. 7, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It was perhaps the most dramatic moment in Cubs history and was once considered one of the clutch hits in baseball history. Old-timers like my grandfather have always enjoyed sharing with me their recollections of Gabby Hartnett’s 1938 “Homer in the Gloamin’,” but unfortunately there aren’t many people around anymore who can share their firsthand recollections of the event.

 

Its glow has faded thanks to the unrelenting forward progress of time and the fact that it was not captured on film. In the 79 years since in happened, Hartnett’s blow has been surpassed by other home runs in the collective consciousness of baseball fans – Bobby Thomson’s in 1951, Bill Mazeroski’s in 1960, Carlton Fisk’s in 1975, Kirk Gibson’s in 1988, and Joe Carter’s in 1993.

My late grandfather was 18 years old in 1938 and has seen thousands of Cubs games and he insists that listening to the play-by-play account of Hartnett’s home run on the radio has always remained his biggest thrill in regards to his favorite team.

Hartnett, who had been the Cubs’ star catcher since 1922, was appointed the team’s player-manager on July 21, 1938. Hartnett, who at the time was widely considered as the greatest catcher in baseball history, replaced Charlie Grimm as skipper, 81 games into the season with the Cubs in third place, 5 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh. The North Siders were still seven games behind the Pirates on Sept. 3, but then mounted a dramatic Colorado Rockies-like charge by winning 18 of their next 21.When Dizzy Dean pitched the Cubs to a 2-1 victory over the Pirates on Sept. 27 in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Pittsburgh lead had been trimmed to one-half game.

A crowd of 34,465 showed up at the Friendly Confines the next afternoon on a gloomy, overcast Wednesday to see if the Cubs could vault into first place.

The Cubs scored twice in the eighth inning to tie the game at 5. Fifty years before lights would be installed at Wrigley the impending late afternoon darkness was beginning to threaten play. The umpires announced that the ninth inning would be the last and under the rules of the time, it would be declared a tie game and would have to be made up in its entirety. Advantage, Pirates. An overtaxed Cubs pitching staff had already endured six doubleheaders in September.

Pirates reliever Mace Brown, using the darkening conditions to his advantage, easily retired the first two Cubs hitters – Phil Cavaretta and Carl Reynolds – in the bottom of the ninth. Just after 5:30 p.m., up stepped Hartnett and he quickly fell behind Brown 0-and-2.

Brown’s next pitch, a high fastball, caught too much of the plate and Gabby was ready, crushing a line drive into the darkening sky and depositing it into the first row of the left-field bleachers, just to the right of the “well” area. Bedlam ensued.

“I could hardly believe my eyes,” Pittsburgh left fielder Paul Waner told Lawrence S. Ritter in The Glory of Their Times (William Morrow, 1966). “The game was over, and I should have run into the clubhouse. But I didn’t. I just stood out there and watched Hartnett circle the bases, and take the lousy pennant with him. I just watched and wondered, sort of objectively, you know, how the devil he could get all the way around to touch home plate.

“You see, the crowd was in an uproar, absolutely gone wild. They ran onto the field like a bunch of maniacs, and his teammates and the crowd were mobbing Hartnett, and piling on top of him, and throwing him up in the air, and everything you could think of. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. So I just stood there in the outfield and stared, like I was sort of somebody else, and wondered what the chances were that he could actually make it all the way around the bases.”

By the time Hartnett reached second, he “couldn’t see third for all the players and fans there.” Once Hartnett reached third, he remembered that his feet never touched the ground until he reached home.

The Cubs completed a three-game series sweep on Sept. 29 and moved a game-and-a-half ahead of Pittsburgh.

“We could have beaten nine Babe Ruths that day,” Cubs second baseman Billy Herman remembered.

The Cubs clinched the pennant two days later.

Hail to the Chief: Presidents and baseball

“I’ll never forget the first time President Taft appeared at our ballpark, in the season of 1909. Our players got so excited that we booted the game away to the Red Sox.”
-Walter Johnson
Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Just five weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Commisioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sent a handwritten letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for Spring training camps,” Landis wrote. “However inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”

Roosevelt, in what became known as “The Green Light Letter,” responded to Landis the next day.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Woodrow Wilson did baseball no favors during World War I. Wilson’s “work or fight” order forced the 1918 season to end on Labor Day. That year’s World Series, between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, was played in early September.

The first president to host organized baseball teams at the White House was Andrew Johnson who met members of the Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics at the executive mansion on Aug. 30, 1865.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first all-professional team who completed an undefeated 1869 campaign, were honored that year at the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The 1924 world champion Washington Senators
during their White House visit in 1925
(Library of Congress).

The first world championship team to be feted at the White House were the 1924 Washington Senators who paid a visit to President Calvin Coolidge the following year.

The world champion White House visit became an annual tradition during the Ronald Reagan administration. The Chicago Cubs – then known as the White Stockings – first visited the White House to see President Grover Cleveland following their offseason world tour in 1889 and paid their second visit to the White House last week during the final days of Barack Obama’s stay in office.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States, was the first commander in chief to attend a major league game while in office when he witnessed the National League’s Washington Senators loss at home to the Cincinnati Reds on June 6, 1892. Harrison also attended the Senators’ game 19 days later when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.

President William Howard Taft started a baseball tradition on April 14, 1910 when he attended Washington’s season opener against the Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium. Taft threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game from his front-row seat and then stayed to watch Walter Johnson shut out the Athletics, 3-0. Legend has it that the portly Taft, who tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, was feeling cramped in his seat. He stood up to stretch his legs midway through the seventh. Out of respect, other spectators also rose to their feet. The tradition of the “seventh inning stretch” was born.

Since Taft, every U.S. president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has thrown a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day.

FDR owns the record with eight ceremonial first pitches between 1933 and 1941. Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy did not miss an opener during their three years in office.

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President John F. Kennedy (left) was joined by managers
Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators and Al Lopez
of the Chicago White Sox during pregame ceremonies on
Opening Day of 1961 at Griffith Stadium (JFK Presidential
Library).

On April 10, 1961, Kennedy attended Washington’s opener against the Chicago White Sox and was the guest of broadcaster Vince Lloyd on WGN-TV’s pregame “Lead-Off Man” show.

By that time, the ceremonial first pitch tradition had evolved to include two balls.

The second ball was sent to the White House as a presidential souvenir.

The first ball was a free-for-all. Players from both teams lined up in front of the presidential box. The president threw the ball into the crowd of players, like a groom hurling the bride’s garter into a crowd of bachelors at a wedding reception. The player lucky enough to catch the ball got to keep it.

Kennedy’s toss in 1961 was hauled in by Jim Rivera. The White Sox outfielder approached the presidential box and asked JFK to sign the baseball. The president sloppily scribbled his autograph on the ball and handed it back to Rivera.

White Sox trainer Ed Froelich, recalling the occasion years later to the Chicago Tribune’s David Condon, remembered that Rivera, upon inspecting the ball, barked at the president.

“What kind of garbage college is Harvard, where they don’t even teach you how to write?” Rivera shouted. “What kind of garbage writing is this? What is this garbage autograph? Do you think I can go into any tavern on the South Side and really say that the president of the United States signed this ball?”

Rivera shoved the ball back into Kennedy’s hands.

“Take this thing back and give me something other than this garbage autograph!” Rivera exclaimed.

Froehlich remembered that Kennedy laughed hysterically and wrote “JOHN F. KENNEDY” on the ball in big block letters.

Rivera looked at the baseball and told the president, “You know? You’re all right!”

President George Herbert Walker Bush – who was the captain of the baseball team while he attended Yale – attended all four Baltimore Orioles home openers during his one term in office and Herbert Hoover was a perfect 4-for-4 in attending Senators’ opening days during his time in office.

Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower each attended seven Washington opening days during their presidencies.

Gerald Ford had the ceremonial first pitch honors at the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia during the nation’s bicentennial celebration.

President Reagan, who once broadcast Chicago Cubs games for Des Moines, Iowa radio station WHO, showed up at Wrigley Field for a late-season game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 30, 1988. Reagan donned a Cubs jacket, strolled out on the field and from several feet in front of the pitcher’s mound, fired a pitch to Cubs catcher Damon Berryhill.

ESPN Does 30 for 30 on George W. Bush's First Pitch and the Healing Power of Baseball

President George W. Bush throws a perfect strike to Derek Jeter before Game 3 of the 2001 World
Series (still from Fox broadcast).

One of the highlights of George W. Bush’s presidency came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he let loose the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 30, 2001 before Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bush, who wore a bulletproof vest beneath a New York Fire Department jacket, walked out to the mound and gave the crowd a thumb’s up before firing a perfect strike to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

As Bush, who once was a managing partner of the Texas Rangers, warmed up in the tunnel beneath the stands, Jeter warned the president to not bounce the ball.

“They will boo you,” Jeter told him.

” I was nervous, really nervous,” Bush recalled. “The ball felt like a shot put.”

It was an emotional and powerful moment.

“What President Bush told us without uttering a single word was that we could once again attempt to carry on our lives,” sportscaster Jim Gray told the Dallas Morning News. “What an amazing symbol it was. It’s a moment that when I think about it, I get goosebumps.”

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President Obama delivers to Cardinals star Albert Pujols before the 2009 All-Star
Game in St. Louis.

President Obama handled ceremonial first pitch honors at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, at the Washington Nationals’ home opener in 2010 and before last year’s historic exhibition game in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

“We do a lot of tough stuff as president,” Obama told ESPN. “And by definition you don’t end up being president if you don’t handle stress well. [But] nothing is more stressful than throwing a first pitch.

“They just hand you the ball. And I don’t care if you’ve been practicing ahead of time. When they just hand you the ball…”

1930: One Hack of a season

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Sept. 7, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The story of Hack Wilson’s incredible 1930 season began the previous autumn, on Oct. 12, 1929 at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

Wilson and his Cubs teammates led the Philadelphia Athletics 8-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series. The North Siders appeared well on their way to evening the series at two games apiece – and with the final two games scheduled at Wrigley Field – they had to like their chances of rewarding their long-suffering fans with their first world championship in 21 years.

Wilson was an odd-looking man. He stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 190 pounds. The hard-drinking Wilson was described as looking like a beer barrell and not being unfamiliar with its contents. He had a size 18 neck; bulging biceps; stumpy, muscular legs; and wore size 6 shoes.

He may not have looked swift, but Wilson was athletic enough to patrol center field – and he did so adequately – committing 12 errors in 406 chances for the ’29 Cubs.

But Wilson’s defensive reputation was forever tarnished on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Athletics finally scored against Cubs starter Charlie Root, who up to that point had only surrendered three hits, when Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run.

Jimmie Foxx followed with an opposite-field single to right and Bing Miller hit a fly ball to center that Wilson lost in the sun. It dropped in for a single. Jimmy Dykes singled in Foxx and Joe Boley singled in Miller to make it 8-3.

Pinch hitter George Burns popped out to short, but an RBI single by Max Bishop cut the Cubs’ once seemingly insurmountable lead in half.

With two runners on base, manager Joe McCarthy called upon veteran left-hander Art Nehf to relieve Root. Up stepped Mule Haas.

Haas hit a looper to shallow center. Wilson started in on it, but suddenly froze. Seemingly blinded by the sun, Wilson ducked away as the ball shot past him and rolled into the deep recesses of center field. By the time right fielder Kiki Cuyler chased the ball down and relayed it to the infield, Haas had circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer and trimmed the lead to 8-7. A once quiet Shibe Park was up for grabs.

After walking Mickey Cochrane, Nehf was replaced by Sheriff Blake. A Simmons single advanced Cochrane to third and a Foxx safety drove him in with the tying run.

Pat Malone became the fourth Cubs pitcher of the inning, but he hit Haas in the ribs with a pitch to load the bases and surrendered a two-run, go-ahead double to Dykes. The 10-run inning remains a World Series record.

The Cubs lost that game 10-8 and then allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose Game 5, 3-2, to close out the series.

Wilson, despite hitting .471 in the World Series, was tagged by Cubs fans as the goat and apparently he entered the 1930 season determined to win the Wrigley faithful over.

In 1930, major league owners introduced a livlier baseball in hopes of promoting offense and increasing sagging attendance, Many hitters obliged, but none more impressively than Wilson.

Wilson’s 1930 stat line on http://www.baseball-reference.com is astounding.He hit .356; smashed 56 homers (an NL record that stood for 68 years); had an incredible, major league record 191 RBI; scored 146 runs, collected 423 total bases, and amassed a .723 slugging percentage. He also was credited with 18 sacrifice hits and walked 105 times.

Of Wilson’s 208 hits, 111 were singles, 35 were doubles, and six were triples.

He was a fearsome sight to opposing pitchers and his batting style was described by The Bleacher Report’s Cliff Eastham:

“At the plate he was a sight to see, squat, stumpy, and menacing, with an earnest, clenched-jaw look on the square face. He loved the high fastball and brought the bat around from the right side to meet it with little grace and mighty effort.”

Warren Brown of the Chicago Herald-Examiner called Wilson, “A highball hitter, on and off the field.”

Wilson’s season highlights included:

* On June 23, he hit for the cycle and drove in six runs as the Cubs routed the Phillies 21-8 at Wrigley Field.

* On July 26, he homered three times in the Cubs’ 16-2 victory over host Philadelphia at Baker Bowl.

* On Aug. 10, he had three homers and seven RBI in a doubleheader sweep of the Boston Braves at the Friendly Confines.

* On Aug. 30, Wilson capped a monster 53-RBI month with two homers and six knocked in against St. Louis at Wrigley.

* On Sept. 20, he drove in his 176th run in a 3-2 loss at Boston to break Lou Gehrig’s three-year-old major league record.

Can Wilson’s record be broken?

Bill James thinks it’s possible, but concedes in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (The Free Press, 2001):

“In 1930, most teams had one or two power hitters, surrounded by players who slapped at the ball and tried to get on base. That meant lots of RBI opportunities for the one or two power hitters.

“In modern baseball, everybody tries to hit home runs, spreading the offense top to bottom, but creating no ‘clusters’ of RBI opportunities.”

Wilson’s “clusters” were mostly created by Woody English and Cuyler.

Wilson batted cleanup in all 155 of his games in 1930. English, who batted second 118 times and first on 38 occasions, had a .430 on-base percentage and scored 152 runs. Cuyler, who hit third 133 times, had a .428 OBP and scored 155 runs.

And despite Wilson’s heroics, the Cubs failed to defend their NL title, finishing in second, two games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals.

One more Wilson story.

McCarthy was concerned about his slugger’s drinking habits and summoned him over to a table in the Cubs clubhouse. He placed a glass of water next to a glass of whiskey and dropped a worm into each beverage. The worm in the water bounced around the glass while the worm submerged in whiskey went limp and floated to the top.

“What does this demonstrate, Wilson?” the manager asked.

“That if I drink whiskey, I won’t get worms,” Hack responded.

A better way to select Hall of Famers

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Baseball Lives by Mike Bryan was a wonderful book that I read while attending college.

Each of the book’s 55 chapters was devoted to first-person accounts of men and women who make a living working in professional baseball. The spectrum was immense and their perspectives were diverse. Bryan provided a forum for an owner, a general manager, a coach, a scout, and players who fulfilled various roles on a team. He spoke with a sportswriter, a broadcaster, and a public address announcer. He also talked to a bus driver, a team doctor, a seat vendor, and a groundskeeper.

All of Bryan’s subjects were thoughtful and intelligent and some were quite opinionated.

The book made me aware that the wide world of baseball extends far past the field. These diverse groups of people stitched together are what make up the game of baseball. Each group has its own perspective and its own biases.

So how silly is it that the writers, specifically active members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a tiny sliver of the baseball universe, are the sole arbiters of who gains membership in sports’ ultimate club?

The system is flawed. Too many people who are part of the process are not qualified and too many people shut out of the process are highly qualified .

Some of the balloting rules are nonsensical.

The BBWAA tightened its voting eligibility rules in 2007, But still, 440 ballots were cast last year and that’s way too many. Membership in the BBWAA is reserved for those who have covered baseball for at least 10 or more consecutive years and who have been active within the last decade. Membership is extended to sports editors and general sports columnists.

Some are well informed and take their votes very seriously. Others don’t.

Some solutions?

The current versions of the veterans committee – there are three that represent different eras of the game’s history and consider players who may have been overlooked on the writers’ ballot – should be done away with. There should only be one way into the Hall. The 75 percent election requirement should be retained, but other ballot rules should be scrapped.

There shouldn’t be a five-year waiting period. Players should be eligible upon retirement. There shouldn’t be a minimum annual vote requirement to remain on the ballot nor a maximum of 10 years on the ballot. Anybody who has played in the majors or contributed to baseball in a significant way should beopen to consideration.

I like the idea of a committee participating in the voting and the processes the the Hall of Fame board of directors uses to select individuals to participate in the voting could be emulated on a greater scale.

The super committee should be a better cross section of baseball than is represented by the BBWAA.

The writers should be represented on the committee but so should former players, managers and coaches, executives, scouts, umpires, broadcasters, and historians.

This would open up the process to former players who have a passionand appreciation for the game’s history like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Piniella, and Tim McCarver. Some of the game’s brightest minds like former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre would have input. Umpires like Doug Harvey and Bruce Froemming, men who have witnessed so much of the game’s history first-hand, would get to weigh in. Vin Scully, who was announcing games long before most readers of this post were born, would be involved. Scully and fellow broadcaters like Bob Uecker and Marty Brennaman have witnessed many more games than most of the writers who voted this year. And it would be great to get input from knowledgable historian/scholars of the game like Bill James, John Thorn, Ken Burns, and even George Will.

That’s eight groups. Twelve individuals should be selected to each group. That’s enough to fit into a big conference room. The voting process could begin with each subcommittee meeting to discuss the merits of prospective Hall of Famers. Then the committees could come together, presentations to the entire group could be made, there could be time for more discussion and debate, and the voting could commence. Seventy-five percent of the vote would still be required for election.

The writers would still have their biases. So would the players (the pompous Joe Morgan comes to mind). And so would every group. But the different factions would work as a check-and-balance system and give everybody a more fair shake

Far too many of the BBWAA act as if their vote is a birth right. Under my proposal, it would become more of an honor. Individuals would be eligible to serve on the Hall of Fame voting committee only once every four years. A fresh perspective would be brought to the process on an annual basis.

It would be a more just way of determining Hall of Fame worthiness.
I also have many ideas of how to reform and improve the American political system. But I’ll save those ideas for another place and another time.