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Chicago Cubs history: Carmen Fanzone and the 1971 Cubs

Fanzone played baseball... and music.

Cards framed of from former Major League Baseball Chicago Cubs player Carmen Fanzone (CQ) framed in Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

1971 saw the Cubs slip slightly, dropping from their hold on the number two spot in their division, but their record was only one game different from the previous season, showing they still had a good thing going under manager Leo Durocher.

1971 Cubs

Record: 83-79
Standing: 3rd in the National League East
Managers: Leo Durocher

Joe Pepitone, who we featured in our 1970 historical flashback, was a big hit for the Cubs in 1971, quite literally. He hit .307/.347/.482 and with 16 home runs. Billy Williams and Ron Santo likewise kept their home run numbers high for the team, but it was second baseman Glenn Beckert who truly dazzled, hitting .342/.367/.406... somehow with a mere two home runs.

Fergie Jenkins was utterly dominant once again, with 24 wins and a 2.77 ERA, and 1971 was the year he finally got recognized for what an ace he was, winning the NL Cy Young Award in addition to making his second All-Star team. (Is there a fan club for thinking Fergie Jenkins might be the most underappreciated pitcher who IS in the Hall of Fame? He had seven seasons with 20 or more wins and a career ERA of 3.34 and 3,192 strikeouts, I mean... come on)

But for one mid-season trade acquisition from the Red Sox, it was the beginning of a four-year Cubs career.

Carmen Fanzone

I must make a confession here. My initial selection of Carmen Fanzone is strictly because I found his name delightful. “Fan-zone.” What a great baseball name. But as I dug into the man who made his Cubs debut at age 29, I found there was a fascinating story worthy of spotlight. Truly that is the joy of this project: Discovering players I had never before heard of, and finding amazing lives as a result.

Fanzone, a first-generation American born to Italian immigrant parents, spent the bulk of his early career in the Red Sox minor league system. He was traded to the Cubs in 1971, and played only 12 games for Chicago that season, but proved himself to be a useful utility player. In his career, Fanzone played primarily third base, but did stints at first and second, and even once at shortstop, and played every outfield position at least once as well. In five seasons the only positions he didn’t play were catcher and pitcher.

He grew up in Detroit loving baseball, and once said, “I used to sit on the front porch with a couple of gloves and just wait for people to walk down the street and ask them if they wanted to play catch. I just always wanted to be a ballplayer and I was fortunate enough that I was able to live out my dream.”

Aside from being a consummate utilityman, Fanzone was also a gifted horn player, and on June 18, 1972 he played “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a home game at Wrigley. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be video of that online, but this page has a photo of Fanzone on the trumpet — while in full uniform!

He spent almost as much of his life playing music as he did playing baseball — not surprising for a boy growing up on Motown. While he had been on the radar of the Detroit Tigers even in high school, he decided to go to college instead.

In his early days of baseball one spring training in Ocala, Florida, none other than Ted Williams took Fanzone under his wing. “He noticed something when I was hitting in the cage. I took some swings and he asked, ‘Have you always hit that way? You’re not moving your hands. You’re not getting them started. You’re losing all kind of power.’ In the next couple of swings in the cage, the ball started jumping off my bat.”

His Cubs debut in 1971 certainly stood out for him, since he barely made it to Pittsburgh in time for the game. The Cubs might have lost badly that day, but Fanzone swung at the first ball he saw pinch hitting in the eighth and hit a massive home run.

Another great moment in Fanzone’s Cubs career came on September 2, 1972 — arguably his best season with the Cubs — when he caught the final out of Milt Pappas’ no-hitter (curse that ninth inning walk for spoiling a perfect game!):

The Cubs would be the last major-league team Fanzone played for. By 1976 he was out of baseball entirely, and shifted his focus to music instead. He worked for the American Federation of Musicians, and it was during his wayfarer music career that he met his wife Sue Raney. Although Sue — a Grammy-nominated jazz singer — was married when she met Carmen, the two eventually found their way together and have been together since 1981. Here’s a song she recorded called “Baseball.” Fanzone is one of the backup horn players:

Somewhat interestingly, when Fanzone played his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1972 it was prior to a game against the Dodgers. Sue Raney sang her own rendition of the song at a Dodger game in Los Angeles during the 1978 World Series.

Fanzone is an advocate for big-league player pensions, especially for those like him who spent fewer than five years in the majors before ending their career, thus not qualifying for a pension. This rule changed in 1980, but too late for Fanzone and others.