The passing of Tony Gwynn yesterday at the age of 54 and Father’s Day have me thinking more and more of my dad and baseball players past, some I saw play with or against the Cubs (Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Greg Maddux) and those my dad watched as a kid (Andy Pafko, Lennie Merullo, Phil Cavarretta and more). All these players, some gone, some in the Baseball Hall of Fame, some still somehow active in baseball, are baseball history.
My dad took me to my first Cubs game when I was eight. I sat in grandstands on the third base side for years. After I moved to Atlanta my dad and some of his friends got season tickets in the first row of the upper deck near the press box and I would come back at least once a summer to see games with him. Now I sit in the left field bleachers. It’s the four years after I moved back to Chicago and the many Cubs games Dad and I went to together I am remembering today. Dad and I saw a lot of bad teams and bad games, especially in 2006. It was during those bad games that my dad would start talking about Wrigley Field and the Cubs of his youth. One of those players was Lennie Merullo.
Merullo, now 97, came back to Wrigley Field on June 7 for the first time since 1980. I met Merullo before the game, and watched his face as he was wheeled to a seat along the first base line for a string of interviews. As his wheelchair was turned around, his eyes lit up and he raised his arms as if in victory. He told me that despite some signage and the LED board in right field, the place still looked and felt the same.
Later on I watched him as he watched the game from a suite behind home plate before leading the singing of the Seventh Inning Stretch. He was mesmerized by the ballpark and the play. The look on his face was the same look my dad would get when he was remembering the Cubs he knew as a kid.
Merullo led the Seventh Inning Stretch, and stayed for two innings talking to Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Afterward, Kasper said Merullo was the best interview he’d had in his 10 years in the Cubs WGN television booth.
Merullo was the Cubs shortstop for seven years during the 1940s and played three games during the 1945 World Series. He is the only living Cub player to have played in a World Series. He retired from baseball and in 1950 he became the Cubs chief scout until 1972, finally retiring in 2003 from the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau.
He has four sons, Boots is the eldest. The name was suggested by the Chicago papers after his father made four errors in one inning after being informed that his wife was in labor. The name stuck. My dad told me that story, and there I was talking to Boots and his father.
My dad made Cubs history come alive for me every game he and I attended. On June 7, I spoke with history. I wish my dad could have been there with me.