From November 2010 to May 2011, I wrote for a site called “The Sports Blog Network,” a sports website launched by Chris Reed. The site folded, as websites do, and at some point in the past year (maybe longer?) the content was removed.
I loved the work I did there and appreciated the opportunity Chris gave me (thanks man!) so I am reposting all of those stories on ReadJack.
A Cub to the last
Originally published on Sports Blog Network December 3, 2010
I never understood the bru-ha-ha over Ron Santo’s heel click.
It is, when you think about it, the most benign of celebrations. When I think of heel clicks, I think of Bugs Bunny cartoons and old men bowling. If Derrek Lee or Paul Konerko let loose the occasional heel click, we’d chuckle and call them “old-timey.” If Dorothy had jumped while trying to return to Kansas, and if, instead of being a young girl on her way home, she was a third baseman for the 75-44 Chicago Cubs in the summer of ’69, the baseball press would have chalked her up as a gloater and suggested she stay in Oz until she learns some manners.
Santo was the embodiment of that ’69 club. As my dad tells it, the 1969 Chicago Cubs were a rollicking good show, deft and powerful, afraid of no one. The same, he tells me, could be said of Santo.
Fitting then that it was Santo’s heel click that baseball pundits pegged as the karmic catalyst for their fateful collapse, and that of all the players who could have been waiting on-deck when fans at Shea Stadium released a black cat upon the field, that it was Santo who watched this curs-ed kitten prance on by…
The heel click and the black cat. The saddest single season of a possibly cursed, definitely bummed out franchise, and when the memories of ’69 flood back, we think of Ronnie.
And yeah, we think of Ernie and Billy, of Fergie and Kenny, of Hundley and Beckert and Kessinger and Durocher.
Somehow, though, Santo became the symbol of that season. The power. The confidence. And the confusion as it all slipped away.
He was a metaphor for a franchise, and later, the voice of a fan base. That was us in that radio booth. When Santo delivered his most famous call in late September 1998 – “OH NOOOOOO!” – I was watching the television feed. Which was perfect, actually, because I wouldn’t have heard Santo’s anguished cry anyhow. No one in Wilmette would have. It would not have been audible over my own.
When that game began, we were huddled in the back of Mr. Senior’s physics class listening to the feed on Jonny Corwin’s handheld radio. The Cubs were going to beat the Brewers and keep their hold on the NL Wild Card, and we were going to live it.
When we left school that day, the Cubbies were leading seven-nil after six innings. All was well. September 23, 1998 was one of those lucky, last days of summer that sneak in every fall, and when we got home from school, my brother and I decided to celebrate the warmth and the Cubs with some long toss.
The Brewers scored four in the 7th. Come on guys. Stop screwing around. Get this settled so we can celebrate. Another run in the 8th. Ha ha ha fellas. Yeah yeah. Very funny. A groundout to start the 9th, with Cubs closer Rod Beck on the mound. A single for Mark Loretta, a double for Jeff Cirillo, 2nd and 3rd for the Brewers, an intentional walk to set up the force, a foul pop for out number two fielded by Cubs 3rd baseman Jose Hernandez… two outs now… two outs…
At this point, I am standing in the front yard with only my neck stretched some 25 feet back to the television, my eyes upon the screen, my brother awaiting my attention, one sec Mike, one more out, and now here comes Geoff Jenkins, and an easy fly ball to left to defensive replacement Brant Brown, okay Mike, throw me the ball, Brown’s got this under con –
I didn’t have 1969. And in the end, 1998 was a magical year of happiness and achievement. But right at that moment, right as that pigeon darted in front of Brown and the ball caromed off the base of his glove, right as Beck gasped in horror and Hughes screamed and Santo SCREAMED… well, I finally knew what my parents had been talking about all those years. “It’s the Cubs,” they told me, as if that was explanation enough.
That’s what made Pat and Ron such a beloved pair. They were two generations of Cubs optimism. Pat the Son, the one who’d heard his father’s stories and wished upon wish that the Cubbies would finally win one for the older folks.
Ronnie the Father, the one who’d Lived It, the one who knew it doesn’t work out in the end, the one who felt a twinge of guilt for passing this inane, unrequited love to his innocent son, the one still shocked each and every time they did it again.
The Father is gone now, another Cub fan without a ring. But he never gave up. He knew, to the end, that if we just waited one more pitch, one more inning, come on guys, one more game, one more season, it was coming. The Cubs would win a World Series. The Cubs will win a World Series. It’s gonna happen. Mark my words.
And when it does, you’ll know what that waiting was all about.
Jack M Silverstein is a staff writer for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Say hey @readjack.