Last October, after Andy Pafko passed away, Lennie Merullo remained alone as the last living player who played for the Chicago Cubs in a World Series.
I thought that would be worth writing about, and I had remembered reading an article about Merullo that had appeared in the Boston Globe back in 2010. So I contacted the writer of that article and she was gracious enough to send me contact information for Lennie.
The result of that contact was this BCB article last October 28. But it also resulted in me asking Lennie, "If the Cubs invited you back as part of their 100th anniversary celebration next year, would you want to go?"
Well, you could tell that excited him, because he told me, "Of course!" Lennie's son Dave, who lives with his parents -- who have been married more than 73 years -- told me that at his dad's age, it was difficult at times just to get him to the doctor's office. But that planted a seed, and I learned the Cubs had actually been considering this -- but didn't have up-to-date direct contact information for Lennie. I passed that along to the team, and they took it from there and made arrangements for Lennie, his wife Jean, all four of his sons (including Lennie Jr., the one known as "Boots" because his dad made four errors on the day he was born -- in this game, which the Cubs won anyway!) and other family members to make the trip in from the Boston area, where Lennie grew up and where and his wife still live, to throw out a first pitch and lead the seventh-inning stretch Saturday afternoon.
I had the good fortune of being able to meet with Lennie before Saturday's game, as the Cubs were setting up a video interview with Lennie and baseball historian Ed Hartig. I accompanied him and his wife and Boots into Wrigley. Lennie gets around in a wheelchair, and so entered the stands through the wheelchair lift behind the plate. When he came out of the lift and saw Wrigley for the first time since 1980, he raised his fists in the air and said, "I'm on top of the world!"
His handshake is strong, as a former athlete's should be, even at age 97 -- his eyes clear and his memories intact. He told me of one Wrigley memory, of a ball he hit to deep left field that he thought was a home run. He was about to round first base when the left fielder caught it, and Lennie then tripped over the bag and fell flat on his face.
That resulted in hearty laughter from the people assembled. His first pitch to Justin Grimm bounced a couple of times, but I could see that Lennie relished just being on the field, and he tipped his cap to a hearty ovation from the crowd. The Cubs gave him a jersey with his name on the back and number 21, which he wore from 1943-47.
I later got to spend some time with him and his family and friends in a Wrigley suite during the game. Lennie was intently watching the action on the field, but that didn't stop him from paying attention to something else. In the fifth inning, Cubs personnel came to get him and his sons from the suite to go to the TV booth for the seventh-inning stretch. He's in a wheelchair, being pushed by his son, but that didn't stop him, with a twinkle in his eye, from grabbing a chocolate-chip cookie from the dessert tray on the way out.
Lennie Merullo is living history, a link to the Cubs' storied past, when they were winning pennants. He was never a great player, but he was the Cubs' more-or-less regular shortstop for about six seasons, playing in 639 games and then pursuing a career in scouting. He worked as a scout for the Cubs through 1972. Last fall he told me he was most proud of scouting Moe Drabowsky to sign with the Cubs. Drabowsky was, as were many young Cubs in those days, traded away for no one of significance and went on to a good career with other teams (he got two World Series rings with the Baltimore Orioles). Lennie then joined the Major League Scouting Bureau and worked there until he retired -- in 2003, at age 85! He received an award for long and meritorious service to baseball from the Cape Cod League in 2006. At 97, he still follows the Cubs avidly on television from his home outside Boston, and I think it's great that the Cubs were able to bring this living link to the team's World Series history back to Wrigley Field during this 100th-anniversary season. I'm thrilled to have played a small role in helping this come to pass, and honored to have met him and his family. Many thanks to Cubs Manager of Communications Kevin Saghy for his help in getting me involved in all of this.
Consider this: he's just three years younger than Wrigley Field itself. Hope he's around when the Cubs next win a World Series.