On Being Pursued for Affection

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I suppose every young man, at least in his dreams, imagines being chased by a throng of attractive admirers. Like most, however, I live in relative anonymity. If there were ever any mobs in hot pursuit of me, they must have been invisible and remarkably quiet.

Until recently, that is.

No, I haven’t become a rock star. Indeed, if crowds were to gather around me, I might have expected the attention in the heady days of my early life — back when I was a “stud-muffin.” Since you will not necessarily take the latter description on faith, you can see the proof in this detailed, antique photo. The young woman has asked that I not reveal her name:

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In any case, the pursuit I shall describe began in August. A little background is required. Stick with me.

I live in the 10th Congressional District of the State of Illinois. My representative is Republican Robert Dold. In the last Congressional election he defeated incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider. Congressman Schneider wants to take another crack at the seat he lost. The contest will be close, probably less than 5000 votes separating the winner and loser. The candidates are battling for every one of them.

That’s where I come in.

Several weeks back I wrote Mr. Schneider about a policy position on which he and I disagreed. I mentioned my past support of him and present doubts. Within a day or two, I was surprised to get a response from one of his staffers. Not the boilerplate, “form letter” email one usually gets from elected representatives, but one crafted only for me. He wrote to tell me Mr. Schneider wanted to talk to me.

Within days my wife and I had a phone conversation with the former congressman about the issue in question. “Brad,” as he asked me to call him, was a good listener, very bright, and made his case. No one changed positions, but I appreciated the 20-minutes of his time. I thought it would be a “one-off” — something not to be repeated.

Wrong.

This past week, Twitter sent an email informing me of a new “follower” (see below). No, not Mr. Schneider, but his opponent, Congressman Dold. Since I never use Twitter except to announce a new blog post, his “following” can mean only one of two things:

  1. My representative wants to read future blogs or
  2. One of his staffers is making an effort to flatter me and, I suspect, every blogger in the 10th Illinois Congressional District expected to vote.

I am not so full of myself to think Mr. Dold wishes to read my blog or even knows of its existence. I do believe, however, his staff is doing everything to garner votes, as one would expect, even to the point of dressing their candidate in the uniform of the Chicago Cubs (again, see below), a baseball team that last won a World Series in 1908, but with a large fan base in our district.

I now feel foolish for never having thought to wear a Cubs uniform in order to increase the size of my therapy practice.

Earlier I failed to mention a third player in the race. Mr. Schneider is opposed in the Democratic Party primary election by Ms. Nancy Rotering, the Mayor of Highland Park, IL. I must say, however, I’m a bit disappointed not to have been contacted by her. Doesn’t she value my vote just as much as Schneider and Dold? Who does she think she is?

What’s more, she is the only female candidate. While my wife and I are happily married, my fantasy didn’t involve being pursued by men. Moreover, I never hoped to be wanted for my vote, but for something more tangible.

The proverb tells us “everything comes to him who waits.”

Well, almost everything.

Gerald M. Stein,
You have a new follower on Twitter.
Gerald M. Stein
Rep. Robert J. Dold
@RepDold
Proudly representing the 10th District of Illinois. Follow me on Facebook & Instagram: facebook.com/RepDold | instagram.com/RepDold
Illinois Tenth District · https://dold.house.gov

The “stud muffin” poster is the work of Lauren Eldridge-Murray and can be purchased at http://www.redbubble.com/people/retrocharm/works/6008982-hi-cupcake-hi-stud-muffin?c=109437-funny/ If you mention my name, you will receive no discount. In fact, the poster might cost you a bit more.

The Cleverest Cubs Fan Ever

One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream

As I watch still another Chicago baseball loss, probably numbering well over four figures in my career as a fan, I am reminded of three different people: Warren Brown, a one-armed man, and the only Cubs fan I ever met who displayed good judgment.

Brown was a legendary sports writer for the Chicago Tribune and other papers. He witnessed both the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and every baseball World Series for 50 years beginning in 1920. Additionally, he wrote a memorable history of the Cubs.

Naturally, Brown covered the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs appeared in such an event. Atypically, it featured less than the best American baseball players. The reason? Most of the able-bodied men were serving in the army, navy, air force, or the marines. The Second World War had only just ended earlier in the year. The rosters of the Detroit Tigers and the Cubs therefore featured players who were either too old or too infirm to be considered prime cannon-fodder: the left-over athletes who could still play baseball passably well, if not to the pre-war standard.

Indeed, to give you a sense of how dramatic was the war’s effect on the quality of Major League play at that time, you need to hear a little bit about Pete Gray, who you can see in action here: Pete Gray

Gray played for the St. Louis Browns in the American League that year. The Browns eventually moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. But as the war ended, they were so desperate for athletic talent that they required the services of Mr. Gray, who had the distinction of being a one-armed man. He had lost his right arm in a farming accident at age 12.

Gray swung the bat from the left side, but had trouble stopping the motion of the wooden club once he’d started it, making him pretty easy pickings for the opposing pitcher. Nonetheless, in 77 games during the regular season, Gray batted .218 and had a .958 fielding percentage. Unfortunately, enemy base-runners also discovered that Gray’s routine in the field — catch the ball, flip the ball into the air, remove the glove, grab the ball coming down, and ready himself to throw — allowed them time to take an extra-base. Once the war heroes returned in 1946, Gray was expendable.

It was in an atmosphere such as this that Warren Brown was asked a simple question: which of the two teams in the 1945 World Series, the Tigers and the Cubs, did he think would become the World Champion?

Brown thought for a moment and then uttered the unforgettable line:

“I don’t see how either team can possibly win it.”

That brings me to a man I met who was a Cubs fan in that same year, 1945. He got angry at the team because it confirmed the half of Warren Brown’s prediction that was in its control: the Cubs lost the World Series.

As a result, this fellow decided he would never root for the Cubs again, never ever.

And, as I said, the Cubs have not been in the World Series since he made that vow.

Talk about good timing and superb judgment!

He was eight years old.

Baseball and Religion: Opening Day Humor

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Sometimes religion and sport intersect in an amusing fashion.

Jews For Jesus and Ivan Alvarez de Jesus arrived on the American scene at about the same time. The former was founded in 1973, an organization that attempts to reconcile a belief in Jesus with the apparent contradictions between the Jesus as described in Christian doctrine and the Messiah that was anticipated to be the fulfillment of Jewish teachings.

Ivan, I suspect, didn’t know too much about that religious movement. He was probably too busy playing baseball. His major league debut was in 1974 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. De Jesus became the Cubs starting shortstop in 1977 and stayed at that position, usually batting leadoff, until he was traded to Philadelphia in early 1982. Now a Cubs coach, de Jesus is best remembered, at least by me, for two things.

The first is that the Cubs received future Hall-of-Famer Ryan Sandberg and Larry Bowa in the aforementioned trade.

The second?

The following Wrigley Field moment, which I observed on TV.

De Jesus was at the plate. Out in the left field bleachers, that fact did not go unnoticed.

A couple of Cubs fans, tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, held up a white sign with bold lettering.

It read (scroll down):

JEWS FOR DE JESUS

Teenagers, Chicago Parking Meters, and Left Fielders

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The “Windy City” — the “City of Big Shoulders” — has a way of making some big mistakes.

Recently, they’ve come in the form of some fiscal short-sightedness affecting both baseball and government. Just over four years ago, the Chicago Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an eight year contract, all for the measly sum of $136 million dollars. Alfonso was 31 before he ever played for the team. They will “own” his contract (although the words “owe” and “ouch” come to mind) for three more seasons beyond this one.

After only the first three, he demonstrated that his sunny personality, million dollar smile, and ability to hit home runs when no one is on base don’t make up for declining offensive production and an attitude toward playing left field that suggests, according to Baseball Prospectus 2010, that Soriano believes the outfield wall at Wrigley is actually covered with poison ivy.

Not to be outdone, the local city fathers decided to lease every last parking meter in the city for a term of 75 years to an independent company that agreed to pay 1.15 billion in up-front dollars for the privilege. They doubtless wished to out-do the Cubs in boondoggles, since it is reported that the money is already spent. It has also been said that the city could have negotiated a better deal, and certainly one that didn’t so offend the parking populace by the inflation of parking fees to multiples of their previous size.

In both instances, there is more to come — more parking fee increases and further productivity decline from the Cubs left-fielder. And, long before the end of either contracted term, we will be saddled, metaphorically speaking, with the back-end of an animal that didn’t even look too great from the front-end.

When I think about this sort of short-sightedness in clinical terms, the behavior of teenagers inevitably comes to mind. Teenagers are stereotyped for taking risks, acting on impulse, and using poor judgment. Some of them tend to allow tomorrow to take care of itself, not fully grasping that tomorrow will indeed arrive soon enough and claim payment for the errors of today.

Now, I’m not talking about all teenagers, but rather those prone to vices like smoking, drinking and drugging to excess, blowing off academics, etc. And, it is not as if adults are free from this “live for today” approach, even adults not employed in management by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

In a just world, all such folks would pay for their indiscretions somewhere down the line.

But, of course, the world isn’t just. And sometimes this works out quite well for the impulsive and heedless joy-seekers in our midst.

I recall one woman who ate and smoked and drank and had unprotected sex as if there would be no tomorrow. When I reminded her that tomorrow would likely come, she assured me that she would be dead by then, and so it didn’t matter. Even as she entered middle-age, she ignored the pain in her joints and her diabetes, continuing to indulge herself well beyond the bounds of medical advice and good sense. This lady believed in the motto uttered by John Derek in the old Humphrey Bogart film, Knock On Any Door:  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”

I doubted the wisdom of this, but she turned out to be right, dying of a cancer unrelated to her excesses in her late-40s. I guess if you know with certainty that your time is relatively short, then indulgence might become the preferred path, although it can also create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, most of us don’t know the appointed day of our departure with the prescience that characterized my acquaintance. Many decisions depend upon just such an estimate of the future: whether to go to college, how much to save for retirement, the care and feeding of your body, the need to exercise, and so forth. In a way, we all are gamblers, those of us who imbibe and those who abstain, those who are profligate and those who save for a rainy day.

We place our bets on what “feels” right now, how we expect to feel in the future, and how long that future might last, if there is one.

Let’s just hope that our bets are wiser than those practiced by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

The photo above taken by Scott Ableman at RFK Stadium on May 5, 2006 is of Alfonso Soriano in his days as a Washington National. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Ricketts or Rickets? “What’s in a Name?”

When I heard that the Ricketts family had purchased the Cubs, I immediately began to worry. Rickets (note that the name has only one “t,” unlike that of the Ricketts family) is, after all, a childhood vitamin deficiency disease, typically caused by a lack of vitamin D. The bones, as a result, are softened and malformed. Just what we need on the Cubs, I thought.

Names. The value of names. That is really what I’m talking about. (More about the Cubs later in this essay). Early in their life in school, kids find out that names can be a problem. Kids will rhyme and twist names to make you wish you didn’t have one or could crawl under a rock. I remember a girl called Leslie who was the only female in my high school physics class. The class wit called her “Lester” and the over-matched teacher didn’t rein him in. Doubtless, Leslie felt miserable.

Someone I know has a nephew with the initials “F.U.” What were the parents thinking? In fact, it was pointed out to them, very early, that the name they had in mind would, because of these initials, cause the child endless grief. Did they care? Apparently not. Some parents will argue that they do this to “toughen-up” their little guys. I doubt it.

Most of us are sensitive about our names. We want them said correctly and written correctly. They are us, in effect. I’ve been corrected properly when I called a woman “Judy” whose name was Judith. We want to be noted and respected. We don’t want our names besmirched, mutilated, or forgotten. When speakers thank others in public, they often take pains to list everyone who deserves some credit. They do this with good reason. We want to be thought of fondly and well.

Witness Shakespeare’s Henry V motivating his men on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, which was to occur on St. Crispin’s Day:

“…He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d…”

Of course, being “named,” isn’t always a good thing. Being named in an indictment, for example; or, during the infamous days of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, having your name uttered by a witness as a possible Communist. The hearings in question concerned alleged Communist infiltration of the Federal Government and the entertainment industry. These could result in the subpoena of the named-individual to testify before the same congressional committee, not to mention the possibility of being fired from his job and being blackballed from making a living. Unless, of course, he too would be willing to go before the committee and “name names,” thus betraying people he knew and even, sometimes, people he was close to.

Back to the Cubs, we are told that there is little possibility that “naming rights” to Wrigley Field will be sold. If that were to happen, however, the fans of the Cubs would have their attachment to a name sorely tested. But, of course, one can only hope that the “Ricketts era” will bring the World Series that we have all been waiting for, and that many have died waiting for after leading long lives that began in late 1908 or later, and ended anytime since. And we’ve heard other, older names carrying the same promise: the infamous “College of Coaches” that was supposed to transform the Cubs in the early 1960s, the hiring of Leo Durocher to manage the 1966 team that finished in 10th place, the purchase of the Cubs by the Tribune Company and the installation of Dallas Green (named General Manager) to produce a retooling that would lead to the World Series; and, who can forget how Dusty Baker was touted as a savior a few years ago, only to be replaced by the naming of Lou Pinella, savior next-in-line, to replace Dusty in the dugout.

Will the Ricketts name be worth the paper it is written on? Will it be a better name than Chicago Tribune? Shakespeare gives us a hint, in the form of Juliet’s words to Romeo, who, after all, has a last name detested by her family, and visa versa:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

So, it would appear that the real question is whether the “Ricketts Era” Cubs will pass the smell test.

Shakespeare knew everything.

How Watching the Cubs can Kill You–Literally

“Chicago Cubs fans are ninety percent scar tissue.” So said George Will. But could it be even worse than that? Could it be that the Cubs can kill you?

Case in point. Let me take you back to the year 1984, now 25 years in the past. It was the Cubs first appearance in the post-season since 1945. And maybe, just maybe, we thought, the long-awaited World Championship was at hand, the laurel we’d last won in 1908.

If your name was Theresa Boucek, 1908 wasn’t just something you’d read about. Indeed, Boucek, who had been born on October 7, 1882, could even recall the 1906 World Series between the Cubs and the White Sox. She’d been a famously attractive young woman back then, and was still comely enough to win a beauty contest at age 99! Of course, I’m not sure that she had much competition, but still, being the Arkansas Tri-County Nursing Home Queen must count for something.

That aside, lovely Theresa’s life was unremarkable. Daughter of a tailor, Boucek lived on Chicago’s West Side, and worked as a department store clerk and later, as a store detective. After marrying in 1906, she continued to work outside the home. Before moving to Arkansas in 1972 with her son Fred, she’d resided in Berwyn and Glenview. And all the while, Theresa Boucek was a life-long Cubs fan, suffering the “slings and arrows of outrageous (Cubs) fortune” known to many of us.

Fast forward to the 1984 playoffs: the Cubs vs. the San Diego Padres. Our boys won the first two games at Wrigley Field and needed only one victory in three possible tries in Southern California. But we lost the first two games in San Diego and were left with one final chance to make it to the World Series. And Theresa Boucek watched it all on her TV, watched in hope and watched in frustration, watched with her grandson Michael by her side, watched and prayed, as all Cubs fans do, for a final trip to the promised land and World Series glory.

Those of you with long memories will recall that the Cubs were actually leading in Game #5, and had their ace, Rick Sutcliffe on the mound. But Rick started to fade late in the game, and, as Michael Boucek recalled for the Chicago Sun Times, “as a matter of fact, (my grandmother) died during the game when Sutcliffe started to go downhill.”

It was her 102nd birthday. A fitting payoff for a lifetime of devotion to her favorite team.

Is there a moral to this story? I guess my thoughts go to the legendary Steve Bartman, the man who (some think) cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series in 2003 by allegedly interfering with Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a foul ball. I’ve always thought that this young man got a raw deal, that it was not Bartman but the men on the field who failed themselves and us.

But then, I guess the punishment suffered by Cubs fans is relative. The lifetime of shame suffered by Bartman might not be so bad after all.

Bartman, at least, unlike Therese Boucek, wasn’t killed by the Cubs.

Cubs and Sox Fans: Be Careful What You Wish For

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Certain years ring bells for Cubs and Sox fans. For the South Siders, it’s 2005 and before that, 1959.

Make a note of the year: 1959. I’ll get back to it shortly.

For the Cubbie faithful, the remembered years cause pain: the twin failures of the last two, 2003, 1998, 1989, 1984 and too many others to mention. Years when the balloon of faith and hope got punctured in the playoffs by grim reality; years that brought tears and anger and much gnashing of teeth.

As Chicagoans know, but outsiders might not, you are not supposed to be able to be both a Cubs and a Sox fan. It is essential to make a choice, usually early in life; this is done by some combination of parental persuasion, family example, and geography. Most locals don’t want to break faith with family tradition and root for a different team than their neighbors root for.

And so, not surprisingly, I was a Cubs fan. So was my dad, so was his dad, etc. And for most of the aforementioned lives, I and my recent ancestors have been living on the North Side of the city or in the northern suburbs. You’ve heard the story before, how you get imprinted on the team when your dad first takes you to see them in a tender moment of your youth. After that, no amount of pain inflicted by the ball club’s failures can separate you from the attachment. Like certain wild animals, you have mated for life.

Thus it was in 1959, the year of the first White Sox pennant in 40 summers, that I discovered the meaning of the phrase “Be careful what you wish for.”

I was a little boy, of course, but not so little that I didn’t want the White Sox to fail. Like nearly all my friends, I hated the White Sox. It was something like a religious obligation, almost an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt hate the Chicago White Sox.” Just as religion required me to honor my father and my mother, so did it ask that I root for the Cubbies only: “Thou shalt have no team before the Cubs.”

My Uncle Sam was an exception to the family allegiance to the Cubs. He was my mother’s brother, was raised on the South Side, and breathed the air of other Sox loyalists. He also had a friend who was a White Sox scout and minor league manager, Frank Parenti. Frank would get Sam tickets for some of the games and occasionally I got to see American League contests played in old Comiskey Park as a result. But that didn’t mean that I had to like them or like the White Sox! No, I went out of curiosity, as a sort of scientific observer, and to see what the draw of the Sox was to my uncle; not to mention getting to watch Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, and other American League greats close up.

Thanks to Mr. Parenti, both my uncle and my dad got to see the second game of the 1959 World Series. Back in those days, the games were all played in natural light, so school required that I miss seeing most of the weekday action on TV. But I was more than happy when the Sox returned to Chicago for the sixth game down 3 games to 2. Only one more loss and the World Series would be over! The sooner, the better, I felt.

I came home after school on the afternoon of the 6th game, October 8th, to find the White Sox down by a score of  8 to 3 in the 7th inning. It was clear to me, as it must have been to every other Chicago baseball fan, that the World Series was effectively over. The Sox had a relatively weak hitting team staffed by the likes of Luis Aparicio, Nelson Fox, Sherman Lollar, and Al Smith; and had won the American League Championship by dint of excellent pitching and defense, and a surprising off-year from the Yankees. The South Siders would have needed a miracle to reverse their fortunes. I was feeling good!

Along about the 8th inning, still 8-3, my mom strolled into the living room where I was parked in front of a large Muntz TV. “What’s the score,” she asked?

“Eight to three,” I replied, “the World Series is pretty much over.”

Then the words I have not forgotten, will never forget; more indelible than a tattoo on the heart they were about to break:

“Oh, that’s too bad. Your dad had a World Series ticket for you tomorrow.”

I don’t have much recall after the trauma of those words. I think I started rooting feverishly for the White Sox, but I can’t really remember any detail. All I know is that my life changed forever. I had learned a hard lesson.

As Oscar Wilde put it many years before: “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it.”

In the succeeding 50 years, I have yet to see a World Series game except on TV. And I have become that rare Chicago sports fan who hopes for the best for both the Cubs and the Sox.

I know, all too well, the danger of doing otherwise.

The above image is by Kalel2007, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.