Tonight’s the night, and although I don’t have any special plans to mark the event, the twin wonders of Retrosheet and Baseball-Register are helping jog my memory and take me back, way back, back to the beginning of time as it was on August 13, 1952, the date of my first trip to see Cubs baseball at Beautiful Wrigley Field.
I won’t bore you with the obligatory comments about how green the field looked from the top step behind home plate, or how good the Frosty Malts were during a doubleheader against the Reds that was over in less than four and a half hours.
For one thing, I don’t think Borden’s had yet invented the Frosty Malt in 1952. For another, I’m sure my dad wouldn’t have bothered with box seats in the lower deck when the upper grandstand along third was wide open for any fan to relax, enjoy a gentle breeze off the lake, and save a dollar.
So it’s that panoramic view from the Uecker seats I remember best from 60 years ago: the apartment buildings, the billboards, blue water on the horizon, and BCB’s very own Ballhawk, waiting on the east side of Kenmore near the Ricketts Restaurant sign to snag a Harry Chiti blast in that day’s nightcap, a 7-0 win for the Cubs behind Bob Kelly’s complete game shutout.
Six decades of watching bad baseball may not seem like much to celebrate, but as Cubs fans know, satisfaction can be found in the details that surround this unique franchise before, during, and after most games. In those seasons before my family moved to the suburbs in 1957, we saw many contests typical of the Terrible Twenty years of P.K. Wrigley’s postwar stewardship. Certainly in those days, getting to and from Wrigley Field was more than half the fun of Cubs baseball.
Back then, public transportation to the game from a starting point near Division and Leavitt left you with a choice: either walk two blocks to catch the PCC Green Hornet and ride up Western Avenue all the way past Riverview, then change at Addison. Or, take an eastbound bus along Division Street to the subway entrance at Clark.
Lucky for me, my dad usually took the eastern route, often a faster trip and always a richer environment for him to dispense wisdom while adding to my knowledge of baseball and the city of Chicago. Of course, he wasn’t the only local who found inspiration in the controlled chaos of Division Street. Algren, Bellow and Royko were busy mining that same environment on the road to fame and fortune.
Today, inspired by my 60 years with the Cubs, I took a drive on Google Maps street view to look at the modern Division Street, filled with sushi bars and new condos. I especially noticed a set of condos at Division and Paulina that covers the former right-of-way of the old Logan Square “L”, gateway to the Loop from the Northwest Side between 1892 and the opening of the Milwaukee-Dearborn subway in 1951.
In fact, seeing a building on that spot reminded me of something my dad said during one of those 1950’s trips to Wrigley Field. As we passed under the abandoned “L” on that long-ago day, he glanced south and began speaking of the legendary teams of Tinker, Evers and Chance. "50 years ago, they probably were running special trains along those tracks for all the crowds that used to go see the Cubs play at West Side Park,” he said.
Who knows? Born in 1916, the first year of the north side Cubs, he had no more first-hand knowledge of the true glory years of Cubs baseball than I did. But today, thinking of his comment made me realize the entire west side “L” system likely was laid out in the 1890’s with the Cubs as a magnet for citywide ridership. Douglas, Garfield, Logan Square and Humboldt lines all met at one giant station known as Marshfield Junction, only a block or two away from West Side Park.
Of course, it was an arrangement too good to last even 25 years, and for decades after the Cubs absconded to the north, riders who never knew West Side Park were left to wonder why the “L” lines converged at Marshfield and Van Buren, and why it took so long to ride into the Loop.
Anyway, great Cubs teams turn up about as often as diamond jubilees, so tonight I’ll be tuning-in to Pat and Keith with no illusions: If we win, great. If not, a better draft may be in store for 2013. Either way, I won’t be singing “Go Cubs Go" or “Someday We’ll Go All the Way.” After 60 years with the Cubs, I’ll just turn up the volume on this version of a 1952 hit and let the Fat Man take me home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eab0NY5pwEc