During this Wrigley Field centennial year, the media are celebrating famous (and infamous) moments in Wrigley Field history. Opening Day, 1914; the 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945 World Series; Gabby Hartnett's Homer in the Gloamin'; Babe Ruth's called shot that never happened; Ernie Banks' 500th homer; Kerry Wood's 20 Ks; the Bears' 1963 NFL championship game; and many more.
These storied Wrigley Field events have inspired Cub fans everywhere, myself included, to reflect on their own favorite memories of the old ball yard at Clark and Addison.
I've been going to my single favorite place on earth since 1958. Someone recently asked me how many games I've attended. I have no idea! Hundreds, certainly. Thousands? Not sure. But I, as with many fans, have probably forgotten more games than I remember.
So I've decided to do a series of 12 blogs that will cover 13 favorite memories. Why only 12 blogs to cover 13 events? Because I covered one of those in this blog about my very first game at Wrigley Field in 1958 when I was seven years old.
Memory number two happened about a year later, on August 13, 1959. As with my first game, the Cubs played the Willie Mays/Orlando Cepeda San Francisco Giants. I have to think that my first two games were Cubs/Giants because my dad thought Mays to be among the best baseball players he ever saw and liked to see him play in person.
I recall being at the game, but not actually seeing much of it. I'll explain later.
1959 was the year of the "Go-Go White Sox" of Aparicio, Fox, Landis, Lollar, and manager Al Lopez. The Sox owned the city, much as the Blackhawks own Chicago as I write this blog. Neither of my parents came from Chicago, so our family had no hereditary sports loyalties. I loved both the Cubs and the Sox, and had two favorite players: Luis Aparicio of the Sox, and Cubs second baseman Tony Taylor.
The Cubs were playing typically mediocre to bad baseball and were solidly under .500 in mid-August. The Giants led the Natioinal League. They would later collapse in a season-ending choke worthy of, well, the Cubs!
Our family had just moved from south suburban Riverdale to Oak Park, the first suburb due west of Chicago. Oak Park straddles Madison Street, the North Side/South Side dividing line, so baseball loyalties among our neighbors and friends resembled those is the border states during the Civil War.
We drove through North Side neighborhoods, mile after mile of typical Chicago main streets lined with small retailers, corner drug stores, hardware stores, Ben Franklins, A&Ps, local banks, and gas stations. The year before we had traveled on Lake Shore Drive from the South Side, a much more scenic trip even for a little kid.
But we finally arrived at the ballpark and it looked as splendid as ever. The weather was gorgeous on this Thursday afternoon in August. Clear blue sky and warm but not too hot. We parked in a Shell gas station at Halsted and Addison. My dad always parked there, especially for Bear games when he began buying season tickets in 1963. The station is still there, and I believe you can still park there for Cub games.
An Andy Frain usher led us to our seats just a few rows behind the Giants' dugout. It was fun seeing Willie Mays up close. I recall it being crowded, but the attendance was recorded as only 17,963. Actually, that was probably a pretty good house for Cubs teams of those years (average attendance for 1959 was 10,596 per game). Plus, we were in a section that would be most full on the worst of days, so it no doubt looked packed to this eight-year-old.
The game started with the Giants taking a first inning lead on a triple and a double, but in the Cubs' half of the first Cub outfielder George Altman hit a two-run home run to tie the score. And that was the just the beginning of the fireworks.
The Giants scored nine runs total that day while hitting three homers (including one by Mays), two doubles, and two triples.
But the Cubs scored 20 behind two doubles, two triples, and five home runs, including two by Altman in consecutive innings! They sent 13 batters to the plate in the bottom of the 7th, during which Alvin Dark and my favorite Cub, Tony Taylor, both went deep. This was crazy because Taylor wasn't exactly known for his power. 1959 would be his best year with eight total homers.
I assume the wind was blowing out that day.
A few years later when my baseball loyalties were firmly on the North Side while some siblings gravitated to 35th Street, one sister noted that the Sox had won a game 20-9 (or something like that) and did the stinky Cubs ever do that? I was very happy to reply that indeed they had, and I was at the game.
I was at the game, but I didn't really see it. I was only eight years old and maybe four feet tall, surrounded by big men who all looked to be six-foot-six. And they all wore fedoras. Every time a batter cracked a hit that looked like it was headed for the bleachers, or even one of the power alleys, everyone around me stood and I missed the play entirely. That's really all I remember about that game -- lots of tall men blocking my view.
But I remember the final score and I remember being there. A classic Wrigley Field slug fest.
One other thing I recall. Because of all the long balls, every time there was even a routine fly, everyone stood until someone would inevitably say, "Too high." Then everyone sat as the ball was caught in the outfield. I had no idea how they could tell the ball was too high to be a homer, but they always seemed right. From my vantage point, when the ball left the bat it looked like it was going yard! But then everyone stood up again ...
To this day when a fly ball leaves the bat and I can tell it isn't deep enough, I mumble, "Too high" to anyone who happens to be within earshot.
On the way out, my dad offered to buy me a souvenir. I already had a Cubs pennant, and I didn't want to ask for a Giants pennant, so I chose a Dodgers pennant. My dad said, "What? You're taking the bus home!" The vendor laughed as he handed me the azure felt souvenir. Little did I know that the Dodgers would later outlast the Giants and the Braves to take the National League championship, and win the World Series by beating the White Sox in six games. For some reason, I left the Los Angeles pennant on my bedroom wall even after that very disappointing ending to the 1959 season.
(Many thanks to baseball-reference.com for helping me with this memory!)
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