13 best Wrigley Field memories - no. 5: Bill Veeck and Rick Sutcliffe

Photo by Son of Admin

Photo by Son of Admin

Sorry that Watiting4Cubs has been silent for a few weeks. Son of Admin and Wife of Son of Amin just had their second daughter!

And two days before that we celebrated the release of our second book, Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories ...with a launch event that featured Nancy Faust playing organ as only she can, and fan-favorite Sox slugger Ron Kittle telling hilarious stories.

That was it for all of my spare moment (sic)!

Of course, when you think about Old Comiskey Park, Bill Veeck immediately comes to mind. And thinking about Bill Veeck brings back one of my favorite Wrigley Field memories.

Wrigley Field?

Yes. Veeck's father was GM of the Cubs for many years. And the story goes that Bill himself helped plant the outfield vines. After selling the White Sox for the second time in 1981, Veeck would often be seen in the Wrigley Field center field bleachers under the scoreboard, bottom row, right field side.

On October 2, 1985, Rick Sutcliffe was scheduled to pitch for the Cubs against the Pirates after being on the Disabled List for most of the season. He had won the Cy Young Award the year before as the Cubs’ ace during the ill-fated Division Championship season of 1984, but had been crippled by hamstring and shoulder problems since May. This would be his second start since returning to the roster, and he was on a pitch count.

It was a Wednesday and I was at work. I wanted to be at the game. The tug of Sutcliffe’s return, a meaningless Wednesday afternoon game against Pittsburgh (the Pirates would lose 104 games that year), and a last chance to visit the ballpark that season were too much for me to resist.

So when my boss pissed me off, and it was a genuine argument over sending the company gofer out to go for something, I stormed out of the office at about 11:00AM. I called Wife of Admin (WoA) from the Grand and State subway station and told her what had happened and said I would be at the ballpark where my boss couldn’t find me. No cell phones back then. When he called our home phone, which I knew he would, she would say I wasn’t there and couldn’t be reached.

WoA was in total agreement, so I hopped on the Howard train (now the Red Line) and got off at Addison.

Maybe twelve fans sat in the center field bleachers that afternoon, including Bill Veeck with four or five friends in his favorite spot in the bottom row next to the stairs on the right field side of the section. Veeck didn’t look too well, thin and ravaged by age, cigarettes, and disease. But he was obviously happy to be at the ballpark, regaling his friends with story after story. A lot of laughs rang up from that row.

The rest of us sat scattered around the benches. Two guys were stretched out asleep under newspapers. The ballpark looked almost empty. Paid attendance would be announced at 4,637, back in the days when they counted bodies in seats, not total tickets sold.

During the fifth inning a fan above me and to my right, sitting alone like me and most of the others in the section, shouted, “Okay, how many pitches were they going to let Sutcliffe throw today?” By then Sutcliffe had all but lost it. After four shutout innings, and with a 3-0 lead, he was giving up single after single.

A guy about ten yards to my left answered, “Eighty.”

“How many has he thrown so far?”

No one spoke.

“Oh, come on!” the first guy said. “This is Wrigley Field. This is the center field bleachers. You can’t tell me that nobody here is counting pitches.”

I looked down at my score card, counted my chicken scratches and said, “He’s thrown eighty-three.”

The first guy laughed. “I knew someone would be counting. They should have taken him out at eighty like they said they were going to.”

At this point I must explain that I never count pitches. These days you don't have to because the scoreboard does it for you. The Sutcliffe game was the only time, and only because the sports media had made a big point of  "The Red Baron" being on a pitch count.

A few pitches later, Sutcliffe gave up a home run to Johnny Ray with two on for the second, third and fourth runs of the inning, and was pulled. The Cubs went on to lose the game. Sutcliffe was charged with the loss.

I still have the scorecard, buried somewhere, with eighty-seven chicken scratches and Bill Veeck’s autograph.  You can see it here as reproduced by Google Books from my book Waiting for the Cubs.

Veeck died exactly three months later, January 2, 1986.

Bill Veeck (right) with Chuck Comiskey celebrating 1959 AL champion White Sox.

Bill Veeck (right) with Chuck Comiskey celebrating 1959 AL champion White Sox. Photo copyright Chicago White Sox.

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