The Rundown: Happy Birthday to My Dad, Happy New Year to You, Clemente Legacy Continues to Grow

I was going to take today off, but it’s my dad’s birthday and I know he wouldn’t stand for that. It’s funny how our Cubs expectations have changed from decade to decade, isn’t it? Dad was a 50s/60s/70s fan and saw everything from the debut of Ernie Banks to the College of Coaches era. He departed this life just as Herman Franks was completing his second season as manager and Bruce Sutter was waylaying batters with his split-fingered fastball.

“Watch it, Michael. It disappears just as the batter starts his swing. He’s either a magician or the devil.”

Is there a difference?

My father was born on December 30, 1938, and the Cubs were coming off a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the World Series. He was six years old and living in a tent city near Fort Wayne, Indiana when the 1945 Cubs lost a heartbreaking series in seven games to the Tigers. Dad didn’t become a Cubs fan until his family moved to Gary in 1953. My grandfather worked at one of the steel mills and I’ll never understand how my father became a Cubs fan in a hardcore White Sox town. I’m certainly glad he did, or I probably wouldn’t be at Cubs Insider today.

Those are the little miracles in life that make you glad that fate exists. I couldn’t imagine being a fan of Chicago’s South Side baseballers, or for that matter, writing about the White Sox on the daily. If there is a fate worse than death, that’s it. Had my father stayed in Gary, I probably would have gone to Notre Dame or worked in the mills like my grandfather. Peer pressure might have forced me to baseball’s dark side as well.

Excuse me, I just felt an apparition try to put his left foot up my ass. Yes, Dad, I’m sorry for talking about the White Sox.

(Actually, Dad would be 84 today. I’m not as astute a mathematician in the middle of the night as I am during normal waking hours.)

Anyway, my father’s favorite Cubs players growing up were Banks, Ralph Kiner, Hank Sauer, and Bob Rush. When he finally started working with Chicago ballplayers in 1963, it was a dream come true. He had just left the Army after having an entire lung removed — he smoked a lot of Camels — and by chance met Ron Santo at a bowling alley. Mr. Santo and my dad started collaborating on investments, insurance, and annuities, and by 1965, my father had a full-time consultancy with the Cubs.

My father was an excellent bowler and regularly rolled perfect games. He was a lefty with a gigantic hook and I used to love to watch him participate in tournaments. Santo was a celebrity guest at Miami Bowl in Archer Heights when they met and he and my dad hit it off immediately. Thanks to that connection and friendship, my dad worked with almost all of the Cubs players up until 1975. The dawn of free agency meant players needed expert contract negotiators and legal advice, and Dad was just a financial guy.

When doctors discovered that my dad had a massive brain tumor in 1976, a lot of Cubs players — even ones he never got to work with — stepped up to the plate to help with expenses. A few months before he died, we had a softball game in Palos Heights and it was a genuine tear-inducing moment to watch my dad beat out an infield hit to Glenn Beckert. My father could barely move, and Mr. Beckert really took his time getting to that swinging bunt. We all had a big laugh, though nobody enjoyed it more than my dad. He was 38 at the time and ran with all the breathtaking speed of a 90-year-old.

At the end of his life, we did little besides watch Cubs games together. By then, his favorite players were Sutter, Bill Buckner, Manny Trillo, Mike Vail, and Smokin’ Ray Burris. The Cubs lost 3-1 to the Pirates on the night he died, then finished the season with two more losses that weekend to drop 21 of their final 30 games that year. They were 22 games above .500 at the halfway point but finished 81-81. It was a sad end to a disappointing season on a very emotional weekend.

Dad really loved Sutter. The annual Rolaids Relief Man of the Year finished his career with 300 saves, which was fitting because my father bowled 300 games. That’s not ironic or anything, just one of those small reminders that make you truly appreciate being a Cubs fan. It’s been 45 years since I’ve seen him, but I still consider William Eugene Canter my very best friend. Hopefully, he and I will be able to catch up someday somewhere. I do know he’d get a big kick if he knew I write about the Cubs every day, and that people actually read me. It’d be kind of cool if we can have a catch when I see him next.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

The Cubs were 37-44 at Wrigley Field in 2022 and had the same record in away games. If they reverse that home split this year, they’re a .500 team. With a little luck, they’re looking at 84-86 wins. That might not be enough to get them in the playoffs, but contending teams are active at the deadline, so one never knows.

A Personal 2022 Highlight

David Ross and his angry birds.

Friday Stove

The Padres may be open to moving either center fielder Trent Grisham or Ha-Seong Kim.

MLB announced that 10 umpires will be retiring this year, the most since 1999.

The Dodgers have fallen considerably in the latest MLB power rankings.

Should this baseball fan be given a year-end executive pardon?

This Weekend We Honor No. 21

Two of my dad’s favorite non-Cubs players were Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of Clemente’s death, and his impact on the game of baseball is still significant.

Clemente worked as hard at making the world a better place as he did at baseball.

The Pirates outfielder had exactly 3,000 career hits when his life was tragically cut short.

Extra Innings

Vin Scully talking about Sandy Koufax. What a pleasant way to close out 2022.


They Said It

These are my five favorite non-player quotes of 2022, by the way.

  • “A vision is different than what reality is, right? Can you envision what things will look like? Sure. But … things don’t always happen. There’s a lot of adversity that comes in our game. Can I see where things are headed here? Sure. Is that reality? Not yet.”  – Ross
  • “I talk to Tom [Ricketts] and Crane [Kenney] all the time. Everyone has questions. I have questions. Rossy has questions. You’d be sort of not paying attention or not doing your job if you’re not asking questions about why we’re struggling in certain areas. Some of it, I think, is obvious. And some of it, I think, is more nuanced. But I think everyone’s asking questions and they should be asking questions.”  – Jed Hoyer
  • “You can’t buy a championship team in baseball. You have to build it. And that’s what we’re doing. And in order to build it, you got to take years where you let young guys get at-bats, give them a chance to prove themselves, and find out who you actually have to build around. That’s been what this year’s all about. And it’s been a success.” – Ricketts
  • “The business is still healthy and that left Jed with a lot of money to spend this year. Like last year, when he didn’t spend all the money he had. Last year, he just didn’t see transactions that made sense to him. I hope there are transactions that make sense to us this year to spend all the money he has.” – Kenney
  • “We still have pieces of our team that are not complete.” – Hoyer

Friday Walk-Up Song

This was one of my dad’s favorite songs. “One fist of iron, the other of steel. If the right one don’t get you then the left one will.”

Wishing each of you a fantastic New Year and many blessings in 2023.

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