Fine reader of these pages Eric Boardman sent me an article and video about Jack Brickhouse, the former Chicago Cubs announcer who was born 100 years ago this year. As the Cubs actually move into the post-season (or hobble, at this point), it's especially appropriate. By the way it was Brickhouse who coined the phrase -- spoken at the Wrigley Field ceremony that unveiled his statue -- that when it came to the Cubs losing for so long, "Anyone can have a bad century."
If you've ever seen the great Organic Theater Company play Bleacher Bums (or the deeply mediocre movie adaptation), there is a speech near the end given by the character Decker -- played in the original production by Joe Mantegna -- about his dream for the Cubs. It's how the Cubs make it to the World Series, and in the bottom of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, with two outs and the bases loaded, and the Cubs losing by three runs, Ernie Banks comes out of retirement to hit a grand slam to win the championship. That speech, it turns out, is taken almost verbatim from something Jack Brickhouse had once said.
Brickhouse was remarkable. Absolutely a biased "homer" for the Cubs, but c'mon folks when your team hadn't won not only a World Series for (at that point) for 70 years -- and almost worse, were so bad that they finished in the bottom half of the National League for 20 consecutive years -- the last thing you wanted to listen to for six months was an objective announcer. But even if biased, Jack Brickhouse was fair to every player, profoundly honest, wonderful announcer who always appreciated the great plays of the other team, even if he was disappointed by them. He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame after all.
He broadcast the Cubs games for 40 years on WGN and had over 5,000 television broadcasts. Vin Scully certainly broadcast much longer for the Dodgers and had more broadcasts overall (and was as impeccable as they come) -- but for decades, most of Scully's legendary broadcasts were on the radio. All of Jack's were on TV. And the important thing about Brickhouse is what transcends even his Cubs broadcasts for 40 years. It's that he also broadcast the Chicago White Sox games for decades -- no, not in different years, eventually switching teams, but...AT THE SAME TIME. For almost two decades in Chicago, if you watched baseball on TV, and followed the two teams there, the only announcer you heard was Jack Brickhouse!. (He was able to do this because the Cubs only played during the day, and the White Sox usually at night. Or one team would be in town, while the other away. He tended to travel with the Cubs more than the White Sox) Even though a baseball season lasted 154 games at the time, later 162, he probably broadcast close to 250 ball games a year.
But it was more than even that. Because when summer and the baseball season was over, Jack Brickhouse also broadcast the Chicago Bears football games.for a quarter century. And then when the fall was over and winter kicked in, he continued announcing and broadcast the Chicago Bulls basketball for six years.
Mr. Boardman described Jack Brickhouse as the Voice of Chicago Summer. He was. But far more than that, he was the Voice of Chicago, period.
By the way, Brickhouse also had a national presence. No doubt, even if you're not a sports fan, you've seen the famous catch by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. Usually we only see the video -- but if you ever see that clip with the sound, listen closely: because that's Jack Brickhouse doing the play-by-play.
But it's even more than that, because Brickhouse also covered politics, and was a reporter for WGN at national presidential conventions, as well as doing other local reporting.
He was quite remarkable. Ebullient, effusive, partisan to the local team, fair-minded, enthusiastic and a great story teller. Sometimes, you hoped for a rain delay because it meant Jack would start telling tales.
Here below is a very nice little tribute film to him. I think I may have posted it before, but if so, hey, this is the 100th anniversary of his birth, so it deserves a repeat. (And sorry, that shouldn't have been, "Hey." This is Jack Brickhouse, after all -- it should be "Hey, hey!", his signature phrase on a home run.)
One last note. This video begins with footage of Brickhouse calling the final out of Don Cardwell's no-hitter. A personal story, if I may, since I remember watching this broadcast when I was a very little kidling. Don Cardwell had just been traded to the Cubs, and when I say "just"...it was his very first game with the team. The last play of the no-hitter was a sinking fly ball to left field where Walt "Moose" Moryn was playing -- and as you might have guessed by his nickname, he was not the most deft defensive player. So, collective were held as he lumbered in after the ball. And he made a shoestring catch before the ball could drop and ruin the no-hitter. After the out, my older brother John was SO excited that he immediately ran outside and started screaming for the whole neighborhood to hear, "Cardwell pitched a no-hitter!! Cardwell pitched a no-hitter!!" And like a dutiful younger brother, I followed him out, running around behind him, shouting the same thing. "Cardwell pitched a no-hitter!! Cardwell pitched a no-hitter!!" And what I clearly have always remembered will show you how very young a kidling I was -- because what I distinctly remember thinking to myself as I was SO excitedly shouting along with my brother was ..."What is a no-hitter??"
Happy 100th birthday, Jack. Hey, hey!!
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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