While I was growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the early 1960s, I became a huge fan of the Milwaukee Braves. My dad took me to over 20 games while I was between the ages of five and eight years-old.
Dad also educated me on the history of the Braves, starting when they moved to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953. He also tutored me about about the great teams the Braves had from 1956 through 1959.
In 1956, the Braves finished one game out of first place to the then Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League. In 1957, the Braves won the World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees. In 1958, the Yankees returned the favor and beat the Braves in seven games in the World Series.
In 1959, the Braves tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League pennant, but lost the first two games of a three-game playoff.
It wasn’t until I was five years-old in 1962 that dad took me to see the Braves at old County Stadium. The team was still a very good hitting team, but the pitching had fallen off and the Braves were not really pennant contenders anymore.
Still, I idolized Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn, plus was a big fan of players like Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and Rico Carty.
But my world came crashing down after the 1965 season. That was because the Braves moved to Atlanta. I was totally crushed.
During the 1966 season, I tried to stay a Braves fan, but it was tough. To try and get over my anguish, I started listening to the games of the Chicago Cubs that year on WGN radio (Lou Boudreau, Vince Lloyd, Jack Brickhouse and Lloyd Pettit were the announcers) and sometimes watching games on television when the aerial on our roof in Milwaukee hit Channel 9 in Chicago just right. There was no cable television in those days.
The Cubs truly were “Lovable Losers” that year, as the team finished 59-103 behind new manager Leo Durocher. But there was something about that team that attracted me.
I loved the pinstripe home uniforms. I also loved Wrigley Field and that the Cubs only played during the day there then. But I also learned to love players like Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, as much as I loved Aaron and Matthews of the Braves.
The Cubs hosted the Braves during a homestand in early August of 1966 at Wrigley and I begged my dad to take me to one of the games.
So on August 2, six of us drove down to Chicago to see the Braves and the Cubs play. There was my dad, my sister Maribeth and myself, along with my buddy, his dad and sister from across the street.
Thankfully the 1966 Chevy Impala that my buddy’s dad drove was quite roomy.
We ended sitting about three rows behind the Cubs dugout. There were plenty of available seats for that game, as the attendance was just 7,266.
It was quite a game. The Cubs ended up winning 6-5 in 12 innings. It was at that game that I truly became a loyal fan of the Cubs.
Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to see Aaron get three hits, which included a homer. I was also thrilled to see Matthews get three hits as well.
But Santo and Banks also had two hits apiece, and even though Banks was now a first baseman after originally being a shortstop for most of his career, No. 14 had two triples in the game.
After that game, the Cubs were definitely my team. From 1966 through 1969, I followed the Cubs avidly. In 1967, the Cubs improved to 87-74, an improvement of 34 games from the 1966 season.
In 1968, the Cubs fell off a bit and won only 84 games. But in 1969, it sure looked like it was their year. The Cubbies won 92 games that year, but suffered a monumental collapse late in the year.
On August 16, the Cubs were leading the the rest of the National League by nine games. But less than a month later, the Cubs were trailing the New York Mets. The Cubs ended up eight games behind the Mets.
It was a painful memory. Almost like a Twilight Zone episode. As bad as that year was for Cub Nation, it was nothing compared to what happened to the team during the 1984 and 2003 postseason.
Getting back to the Cubs of the late ’60s, I recall the lineup that Durocher would put out there on the field often in those years:
Don Kessinger- SS
Glenn Beckert- 2B
Billy Williams- LF
Ernie Banks- IB
Jim Hickman/Al Spangler/Lou Johnson- RF
Adolfo Phillips- CF
Fergie Jenkins/Ken Holtzman/Bill Hands- SP
Phil Regan- RP
That was a fun group to watch and follow.
In 1970, the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Brew Crew became my American League team, while I still followed and backed the Cubs in the National League.
My love for the Brewers flourished and I ended up covering the team from 1980 through 1983. I wrote about that time last summer when I wrote about covering Bambi’s Bombers and Harvey’s Wallbangers.
The teams that I followed changed drastically in 1998. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the American League as an expansion team, while the Brewers changed leagues and went from the American to the National League.
I live in the Tampa Bay area, so the Devil Rays (now just the Rays) became my AL team, while the Brewers became my NL team. I still had a soft spot in my heart for the Cubs however.
That loyalty has been tested though, as the Brewers and Cubs have built up quite the rivalry.
And with the 2016 Cubs having former Rays manager Joe Madden leading the team, along with two former Rays on the team, Ben Zobrist and Mike Montgomery, this was an easy team to back. Former Brewer Chris Bosio is also the pitching coach for the Cubs.
The whole roster is an enjoyable team to watch play. The Cubs have a talented and fun-loving group of players, which includes players like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, David Ross, Addison Russell and many others.
It was heart-warming to see the Cubs finally win their first World Series in 108 years last night.
I’m thrilled for all the great fans of Cub Nation. Not just those in the city of Chicago, but also for those throughout the country and the world.
I’m also very happy for the alumni of the Cubs, both past and present. As I wrote in my article about covering the Brewers, I was able to cover the 1983 MLB All-Star game at old Comiskey Park on Chicago’s south side.
The biggest thrill for me on that occasion was being able to interview players at the Old-Timers game. I was able to not only talk to Aaron and Matthews, but also Banks and Santo.
I was definitely wagging some tail after that!
I also met Harry Caray in 1980 while he was announcing games for the White Sox back then. He was sitting in the press box lunch-room at County Stadium with his sidekick Jimmy Piersall.
Both Caray and Piersall were very gracious when I introduced myself.
Caray started announcing for the crosstown Cubs starting in 1982.
Bottom line, the seventh game of the 2016 World Series was truly a classic, as the Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings. It’s very apropos that the Cubs would end their 108-year chase of winning it all in baseball by playing in the very best Game 7 in baseball history in my opinion.
The Cubs now have won three World Series. 1907, 1908 and now in 2016.
So, let me hear you…
The Cubs are World Series Champs!
I’m sure that Ernie, Ron, Harry, Jack and many others were celebrating that fact in the spiritual clubhouse of the Cubs by hoisting an Old Style or Budweiser.
This World Series title is for you!