Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hey, Hey! Holy Mackerel!

a picture I took of the old Wrigley Field scoreboard

Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way!

This was the opening lyric of the song written by Johnny Frigo which we associated with the Cubs when I was a kid. We lived in Elmwood Park, a Chicago Suburb, and geographically, north side territory. There were no White Sox fans in Elmwood Park, at least none that you could see. They had to stay in the closet, not because we would beat them up or anything. Heavens no. We were actually afraid of them.

White Sox fans in my neighborhood stayed secret because of their reputation as south side brutes. In Comiskey Park, their fans cheered more for the fights between spectators in the stands than they did for the play on the field. Need proof of their aggressive nature? How about the time two White Sox fans attacked the Royals first base coach back in 2002, during a game! Both shirtless, the father and his 15 year old son charged the field and beat the 54 year old to the ground with their fists, then beat the security guards that came to assist. As Cubs fans, we were different. We were civil, turn-the-other-cheek, sorts, and we learned to accept losing.

The Cubs are gonna hit today, they're gonna pitch today, they're gonna field today. Come what may, the Cubs are gonna win today!

Winning was always a promise turned bridge too far for the Cubs. Games were daytime affairs until 1988, which meant the people in the stands were mostly those who could afford to take a day off from work, or those who didn't work. It often made for a support group atmosphere in the stands, or so I am told. I know my dad took me to a Cubs game when I was a kid. I remember holding the program and sitting somewhere high up behind the third base line. I guess I was too young to remember much more of being there.  

Hey, hey holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way!

The "Hey, Hey," in the song was a familiar noise. Jack Brickhouse was the legendary Cubs announcer before Harry Caray claimed the mantle, and he used those two words all the time, often getting as excited, if not more excited, than the Cubs Fans. Here's an example of what he said when Ernie Banks notched his 500th home run in 1970, with Pat Jarvis pitching for Atlanta.

"Jarvis fires away ... That's a fly ball, deep to left, back, back ... Hey-Hey! He did it!! Ernie Banks got number 500!!! The ball tossed to the bullpen ... everybody on your feet ... this ... is it!!!! wheeeeeee!!!!!"

Yes, Jack Brickhouse said, "wheee," on television.

They've got the hustle, they've got the muscle, the Chicago Cubs are on their way!!!

We fans knew the Cubs had heart to spare. It was runs they lacked. Everywhere else in professional baseball, the times were a-changing; new stadiums, retractable roofs, and championships. On the north side of Chicago, however, it seemed we were destined to remain in a time capsule. I didn't mind.
Jim and Me before the game
I took my son to his first game when he was eight years old. I'm not sure he appreciated the game of baseball as much as I did, or even if he was aware of his birthright legacy of being born a north side Cubs fan. But one thing was for sure, it was time for the two of them to meet.

May 26, 2006. We sat on the first base line near the visiting bull pen. His mom and I were divorced. She was from Atlanta, so I got tickets to a Braves Game, sure that the Cubs would beat them as a small avenging token for my failed marriage. They must not have gotten my memo, as me, Jim, and 40,863 others in attendance watched the Braves beat the Cubs, 6 to 5. In retrospect, the loss was fitting. Learn how to be a good loser and you become a better person. Often we call those better people, Cubs fans. 

Father of the Year takes son to see Cubs get beat!
... is an award you will never find handed out.

Father shares day of baseball with son!
... is an award that should be given out more often.

Yes, my son saw the Cubs lose to the Braves. He also got to pee in the old men's room troughs and was surprised to see women standing in line to use our toilets because Wrigley Field was designed in a time when mostly men attended games and there were not enough places for women to find relief. We sat in the sun and ate hot dogs and listened to the chatter, long before there were giant video displays in the park or the end of a 108 year championship drought. It's an afternoon I wish I could live again.

I was never one of those obsessive fans, memorizing stats and such, but I did teach Jim to appreciate the beauty of the game, and how it is a metaphor for life. There is an unpredictability to the sport, married to the strength of teamwork. It is a beautiful game that allows us to see it as a friend. We don't need to spend every minute together to be welcomed back time and time again and embraced with it's emotions. In 1988 I was in college and on the "L" when we stopped at Addison, right next to Wrigley Field. There was a noise overhead and I strained to look out the window to see what it was. As it turned out, it was the future in the form of a helicopter lowering the lights that were finally being installed at Wrigley. 

As the story goes, Wrigley was supposed to get lights for night games long before. Their installation was delayed because of the second world war. I wonder why they didn't install them after the war was over. Perhaps with the world having changed as much as it did because of the war, we needed to have a benchmark of the innocence, a reminder of what it was like before nuclear weapons and fascist dictators committing religious genocide became a part of our scrapbook. And there I was, on that train, staring at the stadium, a student, young and optimistic, curious as to how night games at Wrigley would change the Cubs, being the last major league team to play only day games at the time.

It took some time, but I guess it all worked out in the end, except for this whole, get used to winning, thing. Still feels strange.