Monday, October 25, 2010

World Series Excitement on Chicago's South Side

While the Super Bowl has seemingly supplanted the World Series as America’s leading sporting event, the Fall Classic, with its rich 100+ year history, remains my favorite. The upcoming renewal pitting two interesting and fan-friendly teams will give thousands of fans their first taste of World Series excitement. Even as a Chicagoan, I’ve had my share.

My retort to Cubs fans is always, “How many World Series have you attended in Chicago?” For me, it’s two, Game 1 of both the 1959 and 2005 World Series . . . two ballparks, two victories but only one eventual champion. These are the White Sox’s only World Series appearances since the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Some background first. My grandfather’s family came to Chicago from Romania at the turn of the twentieth century and settled at 61st Street and Michigan Avenue. My grandmother’s family had emigrated from Germany during the 1880s. Their two sons, Adolph (who will be 99 in January) and Marvin, became White Sox fans at early ages. Uncle Adolph attended his first Sox game in 1921, which he says pitted Urban “Red” Faber vs. the Philadelphia Athletics and Eddie Rommel. My father was 4 at the time, so I doubt he went along, as they took the Wentworth Avenue streetcar to reach Comiskey Park. The boys would be in their 40s before seeing a World Series game on the South Side.

My father, circa 1920

My brother and I were 10 in 1959 and missed some of the pennant race excitement while attending summer camp. Because Adolph was a season-ticket holder, we saw a few games, including Joe Stanka’s only Major League victory, helped by an 11-run inning against the Tigers. Our family had moved to the North Shore four years earlier and, thus, did not hear the air-raid sirens set off by Fire Commissioner Quinn when the Sox clinched their first pennant in 40 years. A North Side colleague told me they thought the end of the world was imminent.

With no Internet, Ticketmaster, eBay, StubHub or other such services, one needed to know someone, in our case, ticket manager Tommy Maloney. Adolph got tickets for my father, brother and me for Game 1 in the right-field lower deck. My father said to wait for the opportune moment to quietly ask Mrs. Ray, my 5th-grade teacher, if I could take the next day off, so as not to make the other students jealous. I sat nervously for a few hours, then walked up to her desk and trying to whisper, blurted out, “Can I miss school tomorrow to go to the World Series?” My embarrassment was compounded by the laughter from both Mrs. Ray and my schoolmates. She said of course I could go.

Game 1 ticket stub, 1959

The route to the ballpark on October 1 included one of my two current preferred routes, Canal Street. The Dan Ryan had not yet been built. Long-suffering Bridgeport residents had clotheslines strung across Canal with dangling white socks and signs proclaiming, “Go Go Sox!” Entering at 35th and Shields, we saw Warren Giles, the president of the National League. I’m sure there were other dignitaries we didn’t recognize.

The Sox put 11 runs on the board in the first 4 innings on the way to an 11-0 win over the Dodgers. Ted Kluszewski (“Big Klu”) hit two home runs, both into the right-field stands but not close to us. A ball in batting practice almost hit me, having lost it in the sun only to hear it smack into the wall in front of me. My father would attend Games 2 and 6 in his brother’s box, both losses, as the Dodgers won the World Championship.

Program cover, 1959

The wait for the next one ended up even longer for me, 46 years. Through great luck, I split half a season-ticket plan six rows behind the Sox dugout and attended 19 regular-season games. Through various sources, I saw both Division Series victories vs. the Red Sox and the only post-season loss vs. the Angels. Before that game, I was interviewed by the Kansas City Star for a fan profile. Waving the above 1959 ticket stub got the reporter’s attention.

I did not get a ticket for Game 1 on October 22 until the night before. My cousin Jim had an extra, in the back of the lower deck behind the plate. My brother didn’t want to miss the excitement of a World Series on the South Side, so he was flying in from Denver the next morning and figured to be watching the game with me on television. I woke up early the next morning and called ticket brokers, looking to make a deal for my one ticket for two tickets in the upper deck – no can do. Tickets were still being sold on eBay, the cheapest being $1,000 for a $125 seat in the far reaches of the upper deck. There was one auction and, although originally it indicated I’d lost, a minute later the seller came back that I’d won a ticket two-thirds of the way up the right-field upper deck for $600. After sitting down for lunch at Gibson’s after his arrival, I told Frank, “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The bad news is you’re sitting in the upper deck and I’m sitting in the lower deck. The good news is we’re both going to the World Series.” As they say . . . priceless. We would also come to realize that our father was surely more excited than we had been to attend a World Series game.

Game 1 ticket, 2005

The view from Frank's World Series seat, 2008

The baseball world changed quite a bit during those 46 years. The Series is played at night; ticket stubs are scanned, not torn; there are no National League or American League presidents; and the home-team announcers (Bob Elson the exception in 1959) have been supplanted by network announcers, now the Fox team of Joe Buck and the blithering idiot, Tim McCarver. The Sox Game 1 starter, Jose Contreras, was one the few Cuban-born players in either league, ironic since Castro had come to power 46 years previously. Although I missed sitting with Frank, being with Jim added a sense of continuity over all of those years (my uncle couldn’t make it, mostly because of the constant standing up and sitting down now fashionable in big games). The Sox won, 5-3, and we watched Game 2 at our house. The happy ending: the first World Series victory since 1917, the year my father was born, and an unused ticket for Game 6.

With Cousin Jim, Game 1, 2005

It's a shame both teams can't win the 2010 World Series. The Giants haven't won since 1954, when Frank and I stayed home ill from school and saw Willie Mays' amazing catch in Game 1 on our tiny black-and-white console television. The Rangers are making their first appearence ever, and I won't begrudge them for putting the final nails in the coffin of the Sox's 1967 pennant run when they were the Washington Sentators. I ususally root for the American League team; this year I'm just hoping for great baseball.

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