While my www.chuckblogerstrom.com mission statement is to post new content once every 3-to-4 days, sometimes life gets in the way. Not mine … I’m talking about life events for others.
That said, if you missed yesterday’s blog about Ron Santo and a fake press release created by yours truly (#pat-yourself-on-the-back), here’s a subtle reminder to read that post. I know you’ll find Ronnie stories as enjoyable as I do.
But today isn’t yesterday. I’m back because it’s February 29 – and I was one of the few privileged baseball media relations staffers lucky enough to work with a Leap Year Baby.
Back in 1990, at the tail end of April, the Cubs acquired Bill Long from the White Sox for minor league pitcher Frank Campos. It was one of the rare Cubs/Sox trades – and an even rarer in-season crosstown deal.
When he joined the Cubs, Long became the first – and still only – Leap Year Baby in Cubs history, having joined the world on February 29, 1960. The Cubs have been in existence since 1876, so an “only” over 140 seasons is pretty cool. Meanwhile, according to the great folks at baseball-reference.com (click here for proof: www.baseball-reference.com/friv/birthdays.cgi?date=02-29), Long is one of just 12 players in major league history born on February 29.
With today’s birthday, he is now 14 in Long years and 56 in government years. And to top it off, he’s now in a much more noble position than pitching – as he’s a middle school teacher!
I hope his 12-year-old sixth grade middle school social studies students remember to wish Mr. Long a Happy 14th Birthday!
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It’s safe to say that Ron Santo is sorely missed – as the birthday tribute from last week generated a lot of positive vibes.
As you probably figured, there are many Ron Santo stories that I can share – and I’ll trot them out from time-to-time. For instance, Opening Day just wouldn’t be Opening Day without reminiscing about the demise of Ron’s hairpiece at “the hands” of a Shea Stadium overhead heat vent.
The truth is, to understand Ronnie, you had to realize that his levels of passion and love that he had for the Cubs was 100% genuine. He wore it on his sleeve. And if he wasn’t talking about the Cubs, he was most assuredly talking about baseball.
If you wanted to get him going, ask him about a notorious head hunter from his day – Don Wilson. He could take an hour telling you about his encounters with Wilson – all negative – and as bad as this sounds, you could hear the excitement in his voice when he talked of the time that Wilson was found dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning. “I called Johnny Bench. I was the first one to let him know. Did you hear the news?!”
The same fire and intensity he brought to the ballpark as a player often popped up during his broadcasting days. Sometimes, the littlest nugget could flip on the switch, and you had to contain yourself when he went into full-throttle Ronnie mode. If you couldn’t stifle a smirk, you just made things worse.
At some point, I hope longtime Cubs traveling secretary Jimmy Bank (also known as the mayor of Tuscaloosa, the mayor of Tupelo, and Lenny) will guest column for me to fully tell the story of this one Saturday night in Philadelphia when Ron decided he wanted to take a bunch of us out for an Italian dinner. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, there apparently is a ginormous difference between Northern Italian and Southern Italian cuisine – and the restaurant the hotel concierge suggested served the fare that Ronnie didn’t care for. I was under the table laughing when he loudly said “Jimmy, this sauce came out of a Ragu jar.”
And there was nothing better than being a fly on the wall when instigators like Steve Stone … or Chip Caray … or Thom Brennaman got Ronnie going. They knew how to push his buttons -- as Mr. Santo could NOT take a joke.
I preferred being on Ron’s good side, so I rarely participated in egging him on. However, I am on the deviant side – and I’d often get called in to execute a plan.
This one time in the early 2000s, Steve Stone was visiting Wrigley Field during his hiatus from broadcasting. He was meeting with a co-conspirator who also knew how to push Ronnie’s buttons – an “unnamed” marketing/broadcasting guru who now has plenty of pictures hoisting the Stanley Cup as the president and CEO of a Chicago hockey team.
As the Cubs’ press release writer, I was summoned down the hall to the Marketing Department. They were hatching a plan, and they needed someone devious to pull this off. I was that deviant.
The grand plan: I was to write a faux press release stating that Stoney would be coming out of retirement to work as an analyst for WGN Radio.
As part of the press release, a fake quote was to be written for Stoney – talking about how great it was to be coming back and getting to work alongside Pat Hughes.
A fake quote was to be attributed to Pat – addressing how great it was going to be to finally work with someone with a great baseball intellect. And even better, something along the lines of how honored Pat was going to be to work with Steve Stone – an analyst who could further his career in the same way Bob Uecker did in Milwaukee.
And the bonus – and this was my biggest contribution … There was no mention of Ron Santo anywhere in the press release. None.
Need I remind you, Ron didn’t take jokes well. And while many would have, could have and should have seen through this, Ronnie wasn’t wired that way. It didn’t take much to get him going.
I’m guessing I wrote in the vicinity of 1,500 press releases during my time with the Cubs. But that fake one was the easiest press release I ever wrote. It literally took minutes to write. I wish I had the foresight to have kept a copy for myself, because I would have loved to be showing it to you here. But I also knew how it was going to play out, so I destroyed the evidence.
A little while later, that solitary faux press release found its way into Ronnie’s hands when he arrived in the Marketing Department to pick up his game notes and stats for that afternoon’s action. It was the lead piece of paper in his mailbox.
While I wasn’t physically in the vicinity when he began reading the release, you know where this is going.
I was at my desk – I’m guessing about 50 yards away – when this booming “I QUIT” came thundering down the hallway.
Followed seconds later by a door being slammed.
Followed by Marketing Department personnel chasing Santo down the stairs to make sure he didn’t jump.
Needless to say, that one-and-only press release wasn’t just humanely destroyed by Ronnie. It was slaughtered.
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Back in the day, one of the Cubs beat writers (who shall remain nameless to protect himself from himself) came up to me in the clubhouse and proudly said out loud to everyone within earshot: “Hey Chuck, you need a nickname!”
I replied with the only thing that came to mind: “Chuck is a nickname.”
The reality was … I didn’t need another nickname. The longer I was with the Cubs, the more name tags I wore.
Through it all, the one nickname that became the most sentimental to me – and the nickname only this person could have pulled off – was bestowed on me by Ron Santo: "Wasserstromi."
I will swear on legal documents and stacks of Cubs media guides that Ronnie actually thought my name was Wasserstromi. One word, like Madonna. I have my doubts that he even knew I had a first name.
And only Ron could pull off a conversational sentence like this when – at a mall – I bumped into him while pushing the twins in a double stroller: “Hey Wasserstromi! Hey Michelle! Are those yours?”
Ronnie was larger than life to me. He was still the Cubs’ third baseman when I went to my first baseball game in 1972, and he was one of the first players who signed an autograph for me. As a grownup, I was lucky enough to be with him on Cubs Caravans, at restaurants, on airplanes, on bus trips after road games. No one was more passionate about the Cubs than Ron. No one – and I truly mean no one – took losses harder than him. You could see the pain on his face after a 7-1 loss … on September 15 … with the team 19.0 games out of first place.
And no one was happier when the Cubs won.
The best way to describe his passion for his Cubs – and, shall we say, his unique broadcast flair – came on the final play of a Cubs/Colorado Rockies game on August 7, 2001. I was down the hallway in the Wrigley Field press box, so I didn’t hear the live call of the play. But it was such a classic Santo moment, and the WGN Radio production team had the cassette for me the next day.
I’ll set the stage in five bullet points.
Now, here is Pat Hughes’ chaotic and frenetic call of that play – with Mr. Santo’s succinct analysis in the background.
Pat: “1-and-0 on Girardi. 4-4 tie in the 9th. And the pitch … Girardi lines one to leftfield … ”
Ron: “Yes … yes … come on, come on.”
Pat: “It’s a base hit … Gutierrez heading toward third, he’s going to try to score … The throw by Shumpert ... ”
Ron: “Ohhh … nooooooooo.”
Pat: “Gutierrez falls down … He gets back to second ... ”
Ron: “Ohhhhhhhh … nooooooooooooooo.”
Pat: “The throw to second – not in time … Now they’re running Girardi back toward first ... ”
Ron: “JEE-zus Christ.” Followed by silence.
Pat: “Girardi being run toward second … Now Gutierrez gets back to third … The throw to first for Girardi … He’s in a rundown … Gutierrez trying to score … The throw to the plate … He slides … He’s safe … ”
Pat: “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! Unbelievable play. Cubs win! The Cubs win!”
Ron: Sound of clap-clap-clap-clap behind Mr. Hughes … Well, at least I think it’s Ron in the background. There’s a very distinct sound in the background, the sound of someone standing up – with his hands clapping in front of a microphone.
Most of the “Ron Santo Stories” are well documented in books and movies, but my favorite personal moment with Ronnie didn’t take place in the public eye. It was just the two of us on September 28, 2003 – the Sunday morning after the Cubs swept a doubleheader against Pittsburgh to clinch the National League Central Division title.
I was sitting in the Media Relations department working on the postseason media guide when I heard the familiar “Hey Wasserstromi!” Ron was standing at the doorway. “Isn’t this great?!”
I got out of my chair and asked him what he was most excited about – the Cubs going to the playoffs or that his uniform number was getting retired. The Cubs were finally honoring him, and the pregame ceremony was a couple hours away.
“What do you think?”
His big smile broke out, and he got a little teary-eyed. “I’m excited about everything. This is my Hall of Fame. But it’s better than that, because this is my home. This is my ballpark. These are my people.”
We had one of those half-handshake/half-man hug moments, then he continued down the hall – looking for someone else to hug and share his joy.
Ron Santo was born 76 years ago today and is sorely missed. Happy Birthday, No. 10!
I would be remiss in saying that nicknames only magically appeared during my time with the Cubs.
Even now, my always happy daughter drops new tags on me all the time. During the course of her young life, names she has called me … in no particular order … for no particular reason … include:
Her twin – the no-nonsense child – usually sticks to Dad when she needs something and Chuck when she’s in a good mood. At least she knows that Chuck is a nickname.
When you work in baseball, especially in cold weather cities, these are the four words you longed for every off-season:
Pitchers and Catchers Report.
No matter what you really thought about your team’s chances, the slate was mentally swept clean every off-season. Through the cold and the snow, you convince yourself … Who knows, we really did improve. Don’t let last year’s 72-90 mark fool you. We’re much better this season.
Look, even during my time with the Cubs, that “Pitchers and Catchers Report” mantra worked. The 1998 postseason run came directly off a 68-94 campaign in 1997. The 2003 division title came after a 67-95 season. The back-to-back 2007-2008 playoff appearances were preceded by a less than fun-filled 66-96 season.
But what happens when pitchers and catchers report, but THE PITCHER wasn’t there.
I beat Greg Maddux to the major leagues by a few months. I “got the call” when I was hired by Ned Colletti as a media relations intern, and I started in June 1986. In September, the 20-year-old Maddux made his major league debut, and I was a witness inputting play-by-play in the press box. Maddux entered a game against Houston in the 18th inning. After retiring Craig Reynolds, he surrendered a homer to Billy Hatcher and took the loss in an inauspicious 8-7 decision. He made his first big league start a few days later and, in typical Maddux fashion, went the distance for his first big league win.
A down-to-earth guy with a warped – bordering on sick – sense of humor, I had a front row seat to the beginning stages of his Hall of Fame career, which included the typical learning curve for a young major league pitcher. There was a point in time that he struggled, and he did go back to the minors for a bit to work on his craft out of the public eye.
After the 1989 season, he was arbitration-eligible for the first time. The following January, I was with Greg on a Cubs Caravan – a goodwill bus trip (run by the media relations office) to multiple metropolitan areas throughout Illinois, parts of Indiana and as far west as the Quad Cities Iowa/Illinois border.
On this trip, Greg and I wandered to the back of the bus – and the topic of arbitration came up. He started asking questions about it. While not an expert on the subject, I could speak to it – as I had already done some money related projects. All Greg knew was that he wanted what was fair. He had made $275,000 in 1989, and he thought a bump to $450,000 would be fair.
After a bit of contentious negotiating that month, he would get a 1990 contract of $437,500. It was the last time Greg wasn’t in control of his financial future. And receiving even a few pennies less than he thought was fair was something he didn’t dismiss.
Big 1990 and 1991 seasons saw his annual salary increase to $2.4 million and $4.2 million – which brings us to 1992. That year, in his “Age 26” season, it all came together for him. He had his first 20-win season … he had a 2.18 ERA … he allowed only 7 homers in 268.0 innings, pitching half his games at Wrigley Field … and he easily won his first Cy Young Award.
Greg and his wife, Kathy, were in Chicago for the Cy Young announcement. After all the handshaking and interviews and pomp and circumstance that goes into these events, it was my job to get them back to O’Hare Airport.
Being the nice guy that I was, I asked if they wanted to stop anywhere to get something to eat. Mad Dog being Mad Dog, he said the McDonald’s drive-through across from the ballpark would be good for them.
Leaving the drive-through lane, I made a right turn onto Clark Street before another quick right onto Addison. And then I heard those fateful words that made me cringe: “Don’t look now, but the ballpark is in the rearview mirror.”
For the next few minutes, I was the quiet designated driver just listening in on a husband-and-wife talking about their future. This was really heady stuff for me, listening to a star pitcher with a huge baseball life in front of him. And there was nothing I could do other than listen to them talk.
“You know, this might be it.”
“I really like it here.”
“We’ll like it wherever we go.”
“You’ve always said we’ll be happy wherever we’re wanted.”
“We both know we just want what’s fair.”
This was never going to be about “what’s fair.” This was going to be about getting the absolute largest contract that his agent, Scott Boras, could get.
Prior to the 1992 season, Larry Himes was named the Cubs’ general manager. Over the course of his first year, numerous on-field staff, minor league coaches and scouts were politely asked to find other jobs. There was a whole lot of stuff going on. But during the ’92-’93 off-season, I was naïve enough to think my bosses would come to their senses and retain Greg Maddux’s services.
Seriously, he just won the Cy Young. He was 26 years old. He never missed his turn due to injuries. And, for crying out loud, everyone knew that money didn’t affect him. His salary grew from major league minimum to $4.2 million – yet he was the same guy. Go ahead and blame Himes – you have every right – but the Cubs’ negotiating team pre-dating Himes botched it up every step of the way, too.
There had been an attempt to sign Maddux long-term during the All-Star break, but the two sides couldn’t come close to an agreement. Greg then went out and had a great second half, earning the first of his four consecutive Cy Youngs.
And now here we were, on the way to the airport.
Finally, I got “the word” that it was time for me to be included in their conversation.
“So,” Mad Dog said. “Who do you think they’re going to get to replace me?”
He wasn’t laughing. He asked it in a serious tone.
I told him I was keeping my fingers crossed that things could work out … that he wasn’t replaceable … that if he and Kathy wanted to stay in Chicago, that I knew things would work out. I told you I was naïve. I also said that if he wasn’t back, it would take a bunch of guys to replace him – not just one.
And he said something like “You never know.”
It was too bad, because I know the money for him wasn’t the issue. It was fairness. He wanted what he thought was a fair offer. Heck, he went on to sign for less money with the Braves than the Yankees offered because he felt more comfortable with the situation he would be going into in Atlanta. Remember, this is someone who still eats and thinks and acts the same way he did as a 20-year-old rookie.
When pitchers and catchers reported to camp in February 1993, Greg Hibbard had been added to the pitching staff via trade. Jose Guzman, Dan Plesac and Randy Myers were signed as free agents.
But Greg Maddux wasn’t there. Going to spring training that February just wasn’t the same.
As I write this, just a few hours from now, spring training workouts officially begin for the Cubs in lovely Mesa, AZ.
Instead of looking ahead – like everyone should – I get to look back. And with good reason.
A couple days ago, I stumbled upon an envelope containing pictures I took back in 1990 – the first year I traveled to Arizona. It was liquid gold!
So please kick back as I set the time machine for 1990 when the Cubs trained at old HoHoKam Park.
I joined the Cubs full time in January 1988, not long after Zim was named manager. We met each other at the Cubs Convention, back in the day when someone with my less-than-chiseled physique could actually serve as a bodyguard. After I introduced myself to him, he responded with a sentence I will never forget: “Kid, you’re never late if you’re early.” That was his way of saying don’t even think of showing up on time. When we were on road trips, if the posted time for the bus to head back to the hotel was 11:45 p.m., then the bus was leaving at 11:45 pm – no matter who was still in the clubhouse. No manager ever gambled on gut instincts more than Popeye. Zim was the definition of baseball lifer, spending 65 years in uniform before his passing two years ago.
Rick Sutcliffe and Doug Dascenzo
Sut was a foot taller than Doug, so it’s no surprise that the big guy picked on the little one. Yes, those houses in the background were that close to HoHoKam. It was cool seeing Paul Assenmacher in the background. It was because of him that Greg Maddux nicknamed me Wassermacher – a name that didn’t stick, thankfully, for anyone other than Mad Dog. How many of you recognize the guy with the catcher’s glove? Does the name Rick Wrona ring a bell?
I don’t know what I enjoyed more in this picture, seeing Wild Thing or the big old HoHo scoreboard. This is one of the few pictures on record where the information on the scoreboard was correct.
Lloyd McClendon, Shawon Dunston and Andre Dawson
Two of the quietest, most intense, game-face guys I ever met. And then there was Shawon. He was loud. He usually had a smile on his face. He was goofy. He was so much fun to be around, typically keeping the clubhouse loose. I hope the old Shawon-o-meter sign is hanging proudly somewhere.
Bleach Blonde Mark Grace. Need I say more?
Phil Roof, Chuck Cottier and Jose Martinez
Three of the greatest, funniest coaches ever. I learned so much during the years from coaches, and these guys were the best. They taught me about communication skills. They taught me about accountability. They taught me that just because I wasn’t an athlete, it didn’t mean I was inferior to the people in the clubhouse. Hard to believe that Mr. Cottier is now 80 years old and Mr. Roof is going to be 75. Sadly, Jose passed away about 18 months ago. I honestly don’t know how old he was; Jose actually somehow convinced me two years running to lower his age in the Media Guide. He said he was from Kooba (that’s Cuba for you and me) and nobody there actually knew when they were born, so he constantly had me change the year of his birth.
Nobody shows up in fewer photographs than the team photographer – since they’re usually recording the action. I’m betting Steve Green is wishing a picture of him with that mustache didn’t make it into print.
So Much To Say
What stands out to you in this one? Ryno laughing? Dwight Smith giving the full Smitty look? Those lovely rightfield bleachers at HoHoKam. For me, the winner is the pair of shorts a certain trainer is wearing. Nice job of painting those on!
On The Beat
There’s no truth to the rumor that a lot of media members just stand around during spring training. In fact, you can clearly tell that the guy in shorts – Andy Bagnato – isn’t standing; it’s more of a lean.
Jim Frey and Don Zimmer
Remember, this was spring training 1990. The Cubs had won the division in 1989 and everything appeared to be on the upswing. The team had talent, the team had a great mix of veterans and youngsters,and the minor league pipeline was still going strong. But the train derailed quick. Zim was fired during the 1991 season; Frey was replaced by Larry Himes prior to the 1992 campaign.
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Before I begin, I know that this blog has to be less about Chuck and more about what I saw and the perspective I can bring to the events that took place over my 25-year run with the organization. I was in a behind-the-scenes/under-the-radar role, and I had a distinctive view of these events. Working for the Cubs was a reality show, as virtually every game was televised.
Every once in a while, though, I have to insert myself into the story. Hopefully, you’ll understand why some of these stories are about me.
And this is one of them. Kind of sounds like the beginning of a Law and Order episode, doesn’t it?
“Dun Dun … These Are My Stories.”
I parked my car in the lot down the leftfield line and slowly walked toward the lone solitary door near Clark and Addison, mostly tucked from public view.
It was a very surreal feeling as I headed toward the Administrative Entrance door that Thursday morning back in 1986 – June 12, to be exact. I had entered Wrigley Field literally hundreds of times before, through a turnstile as a ticket-bearing patron.
This was different. This time, I was entering the ballpark as the new Chicago Cubs media relations intern.
I’m often asked, what would be your dream job? How about landing an internship with the Cubs, the team that I had breathlessly followed since I was six years old? I was “that kid” – the one that camp counselors made fun of because I could correctly spell Billy Grabarkewitz’s name.
I may not remember what I ate for lunch yesterday – or if I ate lunch yesterday – but that first day as an intern is etched into my skull.
Work life was a tick easier back in 1986. Not that getting an internship was easy, but there weren’t a whole lot of hoops to jump through. Human Resources was just a concept; the closest the Cubs had to an HR representative was the legendary Salty Saltwell – the one-time GM who became the ultimate jack-of-all-tradesman. Personnel decisions were handled by each department, meaning I only had one interview to survive. And that was nice, considering the pay was a solid $250 per month for six months of indentured servitude. At least I received college credit for missing a semester of class time.
I had come across a newspaper blurb that the Cubs had split their public relations department into two – with Bob Ibach moving to publications to launch VineLine and Ned Colletti taking over the newly created title of media relations director.
I did what you did back then – I sent a Smith Corona-typed letter directly to Ned to inquire about summer internship possibilities. After a short interview process, the internship was mine.
So here I was reporting for duty a little before 9 a.m. I walked past the security guard, up the stairs, past the reception desk, and made a quick turn into the first office on the left. Then I met the soon-to-be-departing intern who was going to mentor me through my first homestand.
And as could only happen in Cubland, the soon-to-be-departing intern – future three-time Stanley Cup-champion Jay Blunk – greeted me with a “Hey, it’s going to be real busy here today. No one is going to have time to talk. Just sit down, be quiet and watch.” At least he gave me his chair.
All I could think was, huh? First day on the job, and already I’m being told to sit down and shut up. Welcome to the big leagues – yeah, right.
So there I sat. Just watching. Quietly. Mouth closed. Eyes and ears open. And right before my eyes, it all played out – my up-close-and-personal introduction to Media Relations, Internal Communications, External Communications, Crisis Communications, whatever job title you want to insert here.
Exactly one hour into my Cubs career, the club announced that manager Jim Frey and third base coach Don Zimmer had been relieved of their duties. The manager who – just 21 months before had led the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945 – was out.
I was mesmerized watching the small media relations staff go into scramble/crisis mode. The press release being faxed … one at a time (no email back then) … to every Chicago media outlet big and small. The phone calls to every important media member to hustle to the ballpark for a press conference. Ned Colletti, a former newspaper beat writer and a future Los Angeles Dodgers general manager (and a genius for hiring me), helping GM Dallas Green with some talking points for the media. Sharon Pannozzo, Ernie Roth and Doris Acosta working the phones and making sure everything was ready for the press conference.
What I learned after the fact – and I did get plenty of after-the-fact time with Mr. Frey, as he uniquely parlayed being fired in 1986 to becoming a WGN Radio broadcaster in 1987 and then the Cubs general manager from 1988-1991 – was that he wanted young kids brought up to the majors ASAP. He was tired of watching some of the veterans who had phoned in it. He wanted to see some of the young ones with fresh legs – not thirtysomethings on their last legs.
Two days later – and two days after he was told his services were no longer necessary – Frey’s “want” became a reality. The Cubs brought up Jamie Moyer – who went on to pitch in 25 major league seasons – and Davey Martinez, who played in 16 major league campaigns.
So, in my first official act as a Cubs intern, I got to help Moyer and Martinez carry their luggage to the clubhouse. That’s what interns do. Welcome to the big leagues.
Every Valentine’s Day becomes more special for me. It’s a time to be grateful and thankful for the family I have. With each passing year, it becomes harder to remember the solitude of being on my own, without a roommate, and dateless because of all the hours I spent at work.
While the headline might have made you thought about beer or Harry Caray, this February 14 story is about my wife, Michelle. This is about our becoming an “item” 21 years ago – during Valentine’s Day week in 1995. This is about the woman I affectionately call Bud.
By the time she finishes reading this little tribute, I do fear what she’ll be calling me. Maybe I’ll get future fodder out of that. Or maybe I’ll drive her into starting her own blog. Stay tuned.
First, though, a little backstory – and a lot of whining.
Working in professional baseball is tough on a personal level. Very, very tough. If you work in certain departments like Media Relations and Baseball Operations, it can be 24/7/365 tough. And for the scouts in the trenches, living out of hotels and cars for weeks at a time, it’s worse.
Baseball hours are not 9-to-5 – ever. In season, you lose all your weekends. Most of your midweek nights are shot. You miss family events. You don’t get to see friends very often. Your life is the team you’re affiliated with.
I never worked in other professional leagues, so it’s unfair to throw a blanket over everything and say the baseball life is worse than anyone else has it – but you can’t convince me that other sports have it rougher than their baseball counterparts. Baseball is a 162-game regular season … plus a 30-plus game exhibition season … and if that’s not enough, you have a keep-your-fingers-crossed mentality that you’re also going to be a postseason participant. You have no summer vacation. You give up your weekends. You give up a lot of nights. Most of your winter is toast, as that’s when you’re in the player acquisition business for the following season.
I don’t know what’s worse – being single and working in baseball, or being married with kids and working in baseball.
It was a stomach-turning feeling for me to miss so many events in my girls’ early lives. I missed music shows. I missed their entire first season of AYSO soccer (I know, that could be considered a blessing in disguise). Factually speaking, during my last full year with the Cubs in 2011, between spring training and regular season trips and the barrage of out-of-town meetings after the season – I was physically out of town 13 full weeks.
I know, cue the violin. There are plenty of you who have to travel all the time and miss all kinds of activities. Think of the airline miles and hotel points you receive.
If I’m going to complain about the life, then why did I stay in it? That’s a fair question.
Working for a baseball team, no matter what your role, is solely about one thing – getting that ring. Obviously, that was a quarter of a century waste of my time if “the ring” meant a successful run. But you kept coming back because of all the perks that most other professions don’t have.
No, I didn’t get that World Series ring, but after moving into the Baseball Operations department, I did receive championship rings whenever one of the Cubs’ minor league teams won a league title. I had the chance to meet and get my picture taken with President Clinton. I had my crotch sniffed by a German shepherd on bomb patrol the day President Reagan visited Wrigley Field. I was the person who drove Ryne Sandberg home after he won the 1990 Home Run Derby and Greg Maddux back to O’Hare after his 1992 Cy Young Award press conference (yes, taking Mad Dog through a McDonald’s drive-thru was a perk, as he bought me fries). I was there to help break in up-and-coming radio guys like Mike Greenberg and Andrew Siciliano when they were just cutting their teeth in the business. And yes, playing any part in helping the young ones succeed WAS a perk for me.
That barely scratches the surface. And over time, the stories will be “outed” from my brain to my laptop keys.
But the greatest perk of my Chicago Cubs career was meeting my future wife at Wrigley Field. Yes, I’m talking about Michelle – not wife No. 2 (unless this blog goes over rather poorly).
As I wrote a few paragraphs back, if you’re single and putting in the maniacal hours we all were putting in, there was little to no time for dating.
In 1993, Michelle joined the team as an intern in the Baseball Operations department. It wasn’t very long before we hit it off as friends.
She was different. She knew and understood the game from the players’ perspective. She had come to the Cubs after spending her college days at Indiana State University where – as a Division 1 scholarship athlete – she played catcher, shortstop and outfield as a four-year starter on the Sycamores’ softball team. She didn’t take spit from anyone – which might be her biggest strength and biggest weakness. And she understood what the 24/7/365 sports life was.
We kind of danced around a relationship for a long time. People in the building thought we were going out when we 100% were not. This wasn’t a friends-with-benefits hook up.
But everything changed in February 1995. At this point, you might as well cue the Bonnie Raitt music …
“People are talkin', talkin' 'bout people,
I hear them whisper, you won't believe it.
They think we're lovers kept under cover,
I just ignore it but they keep sayin' we...
Laugh just a little too loud,
Stand just a little too close,
We stare just a little too long.
Maybe they're seein', somethin' we don't darlin'.”
It started with a tough Saturday night for me at a ‘70s Party – where I was hit on by someone of the gender that I prefer wouldn’t hit on me. After the party, a group of us went to the Smart Bar – a goth-like venue beneath the Metro right down the street from Wrigley. And it happened again, another guy hitting on me (not that there’s anything wrong with it; that’s just not my preference).
I was a little bit freaked that night. Michelle and I had a long conversation about it when I drove her home, but nothing noteworthy took place. For what it’s worth, I did track down a picture of my outfit from that evening. You’ll have to go to the bottom of this post to see it. Tell me, what person male or female would have found me “hit-on-able” that night?
The following Saturday (February 11, to be exact), I was helping Michelle with the final project she needed to complete her master’s. This would be a good time to reach out to the taxpayers of the great state of Indiana and say “Thank You” for putting Michelle through school – which brought us together.
It might have been the joy and excitement of getting the paper finished, but things were different that night between us. Once the project was done, I went for it … first kiss … I ducked … but she didn’t punch me.
Once more, Bonnie Raitt …
“Let's give 'em somethin' to talk about
How about love?”
That’s when we officially became an item. Of course, everyone in the building thought we had been going out for a year, so no one cared.
We did our thing at our own pace for five and a half more years. We were in the process of buying a house when the “M” word came up for the first time. She didn’t want to be listed as “Spinster” on the paperwork as we prepared to close on the house. The conversation went something like this:
Michelle: “I really don’t want to be called a spinster.”
Me: “Would you rather have the last name of Blanco or Wasserstrom?”
Michelle: “Blanco. Your last name is too long.”
Me: “I know. Been there, done it. What happens if we decide to get married later on?”
Michelle: “We’d have to fill out the paperwork all over again. That’s going to be a pain in the ass.”
Me: “Well then, Wasserstrom or spinster?”
Michelle: “Gun to my head, Wasserstrom.”
Me: “OK then, let’s get married.”
Five days later, after going through the metal detector, there we were in the lovely Skokie Courthouse – doing the “I do” thing with the honorable Jerry Orbach presiding. Judge Jerry Orbach – not Lennie Briscoe Jerry Orbach.
My Tiny Valentine
Our girls are now of the age where I think they kinda sorta comprehend where their Mom came from. As they close in on their teenage years (shoot me now), I want them to understand who Mom is and what she’s done.
She might be 5-foot-2 soaking wet … from a town that only had one stoplight when she was growing up … and she managed to play four varsity seasons in three sports while earning a college scholarship.
She’s one of the toughest people I know … overcoming a horrific ankle injury in 1997 that still causes her ankle to stiffen up pretty much every day … and enduring a 26-plus hour labor before her doctor finally went in and yanked the kids out before she hit him with a restraining order.
She’s an athlete … still getting in the trenches and helping young softball catchers with blocking drills and release times.
She’s put up with me through all of it, from the steadiness of a paycheck during the Cubs years to the what-the-heck-happened-to-Chuck black hole that I’ve finally started clawing myself out of.
Michelle is my personal PR project. She won’t brag about herself, so I get to. Her name can still be found in a half dozen single-season and career all-time Top 10 lists at Indiana State – and she hasn’t played there in 25 years. How cool is that?!
She batted .301 as a college senior during an era when .301 was pretty damn good. Sadly, the midget only walked five times in 128 plate appearances, but she has been known to say that you don’t walk off the island.
I was able to reach out to a friend of mine with the Missouri Valley Conference … who put me in touch with the right people in the Indiana State athletic department … who helped track down some information and pictures. I thank all of you very, very much for the assistance. And, best of all, I was able to obtain the wonderful photo of the “non-walker” in action. Way to keep your eye on the ball!
So, to the mother of our children … the one who loves the young and the old – and deals with the in-betweeners only if she has to … the neighborhood dog whisperer … and the person who has stuck with me through thick and thin (although I do worry that Michelle will repay me for this blog with a heavy pressurized pillow over my head) ... I’ll wrap this up in the bestest non-mushiest fashion that I can:
Happy Valentine's Day To My Best Friend,
The Guy You Saw Dressed Like This – But You Didn’t Walk Away
When you work in a Major League Baseball media relations department, and you’re entrusted to write the bulk of the department’s external communications, you start rehearsing press releases (circa my time in that department) in your sleep.
I can’t tell you how many days I woke up to the phrase “The Chicago Cubs today announced” instead of the sound of the alarm clock.
Now that I’m using my words again, I need to find ways to drive traffic to my site and gain followers. As I really, REALLY realize, you have to brand yourself. It’s all about the brand.
So I was kind of thinking that I should write a news release (circa today) to get the word out — something along the lines of:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CHICAGO — Chuck Wasserstrom today announced the creation of chuckblogerstrom.com, a storytelling blog dedicated to Chuck Wasserstrom’s ramblings about all things Chuck Wasserstrom.
Anyway, I made it through post No. 1 relatively unscathed — and no one told me to stop blogging (and if you thought it, thanks for being kind and not telling me).
So here I am, figuring out the intricacies of how this all works. Write … post … make sure my Facebook friends know (Like me on Facebook!) … alert the Twittersphere … re-post the post on LinkedIn. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Fun Fact: I was an early practitioner of utilizing bullets in game notes and media guides. Big long block paragraphs never have been aesthetically pleasing. Those bulleted notes were very similar to Twitter’s current 140-character count. I guess you can call me an original Twit.
Obviously, I know what I have to do every few days to feed the momentum. Type away. Bring those inner thoughts to life. Don’t be afraid to share my thoughts, no matter how feeble they may be. Just make sure to spell the words correctly and sprinkle in some good grammar in an Emil Faber “Knowledge Is Good” sort of way.
As I started to compose Chuck communique No. 2, the “right” song magically appeared on my playlist. I’ve always drawn inspiration from music, and I couldn’t help but enjoy the awesome timing of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” piping through the laptop speakers.
“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well … How did I get here?”
Yes, exactly … How did I get here?
A week ago, I was afraid of my own shadow. Then Groundhog Day came … I didn’t see my shadow … and now I’m writing for the masses. And by masses, it means I fully expect double-figure site views today — including my wife, at least one parent, and maybe even one of my kids.
I’ve always liked playing with words. By that, I mean words with double meanings or words that rhyme or the fun alliteration types. I was a legend in my own mind on the Columbia Missourian sports desk a few short years ago, and my copy editing responsibilities included putting (hopefully) interesting headlines on stories.
During my time in the Cubs’ media relations office, one of my responsibilities was writing the core pages of the daily game notes. Utilizing the J-School knowledge, I spent plenty of time trying to craft those attention-getting “jumping off the page” headers for every front page note. In my mind, I wanted to see which beat writers were paying attention to what was on the piece of paper in front of them.
But honestly — and it’s something I’m now figuring out half a lifetime later — I missed being around the day-to-day writing that I had previously been a part of. There is something unique about drafting sentences from scratch every single day.
While I’m not planning on writing every single day (trust me, I’m not interested in reading that much of me), it sure feels good to get a stream of thought going and see where it leads.
When the writing bug was unearthed last week (you have to go all the way back to my only previous www.chuckblogerstrom.com post to read about that), I knew my page had to have a headline that spoke to me.
I could have gone my typical Chuckism route — using phrases that get eye rolls on a daily basis. If you know me, you know I easily could have trotted out “All the Write Moves” or “The Write Stuff” or “I Have the Write of Way” or my personal favorite, “Lefties In Their Write Minds.”
But “Behind The Screen” moved me. It has multiple meanings, and I’m all about the double entendre.
Yes, there’s a picture of a computer screen at the top of the page. No, it’s not mine. My provider (hat tip to Weebly!) included it as one of the header elements for this site. Kind of a cool photo. I wonder if the glass being half full (or half empty) has subliminal meaning.
But “Behind The Screen” pretty much embodies where I’ve spent the majority of my life. I’m guessing that in 25 years with the Cubs … plus two internships … plus five years of postseason play (don’t laugh — there aren’t a whole lot of Cubs employees who can say they went to the playoffs five times) … plus all of those wonderful Cactus League games … that should come in somewhere north of 3,000 games viewed, with a plus/minus of three.
Thought at Large: For any of you saying spring training contests don’t count, go sit through the first 10 games this spring when you’re guaranteed to see 12–16 different pitchers and 32-plus position players every single day. If you have to watch that day in and day out, you know those spring games count.
And for every one of those games, I watched from behind the screen — either in the press box or directly behind home plate. As I exercise my brain cells and exorcise my mental scrapbooks, I’ll start bringing those stories to life. Whenever I have the photographic evidence for amusement purposes, you’ll get to see the artwork, too.
At the same time, I now get to watch my girls from a front row seat behind the screen for all of their softball action — along with their indoor soccer endeavors. I wouldn’t trade any of that. I’ll do my best not to embarrass my kids in blog form, since I get to do that on Facebook and Instagram.
If you think I should have gone a different route on the name, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. I considered “Outside The Lines,” but I didn’t want anyone to take any traffic away from ESPN. Also, “Behind Bars” came to mind — but I’m saving that for later in time.
So that’s how I got here. See you behind the screen.
I don’t listen.
OK, that’s not exactly true. I can safely say that I can be a really good listener. I’ve interviewed enough people to know that I can sit down without a script, carry on a conversation, and get the interviewee to start talking about things that matter to him or her. And then I can follow up with a question based on that response that shows that I was paying attention to what that person had just said, instead of reading a preconceived list of questions from a notebook pad.
You know what I mean. If you’re around someone who isn’t a good listener, and then … there goes a squirrel … and whatever you were just talking about went in one ear and out that same ear.
This isn’t a squirrel moment coming up. I’m just trying to connect some dots by using a circle instead of a straight line.
I’m a big fan of “Modern Family” reruns, since I can typically watch them in blocks and vegetate. One of my favorite storylines revolved around a wedge salad. Claire and Phil had a fight – Phil, of course, didn’t know why – because (after taking the advice of the legendary Skip Woosnam) Phil wanted Claire to partake in the deliciousness of a wedge salad. Claire had been trying for years to get Phil to try a wedge salad, and she was hurt because she believed that Phil didn’t listen to her and didn’t appreciate her opinions. Claire believed he didn’t have a problem taking suggestions from friends and strangers – even when those suggestions were the exact same thing that she had been telling Phil to do. In the end, Phil brought out a scrapbook full of changes he had made in his life based on Claire’s advice.
Well, this is a wedge salad moment in time for me. Not my only wedge salad, of course, and I’m sure there will be more of those lettuce skeletons coming.
For the last few years, my wife has suggested on numerous occasions that I should write a book. By numerous, I do mean more than once or twice. She swears she can get financing for me to write that great Wasserstrom novel. I put in nearly 25 years working for the Cubs – and was there for so many events and saw so many things that she thinks would be book worthy. Heck, when I first started there, people were still using typewriters, Wrigley Field didn’t have lights, and internet meant there was a foul ball off the screen behind the plate: “He fouled it in ter net.”
At any rate, I didn’t listen about sitting down and writing. And no, there aren’t any book thoughts swirling in my head right now.
Earlier this week, I ate lunch with a former Cubs co-worker at this place called The Little Goat Diner in the West Loop. I give a gratuitous tip of the cap to the restaurant, because it’s possible none of this would have taken place had I not tried something different – and let me tell you, that Sloppy Goat sandwich was tremendous. This friend suggested STRONGLY that I need to share my thoughts … that I’m a strong writer … that I have stories to tell … that I have plenty to offer a viewing audience.
She reminded me that I had blogged before a lot of people knew what blogging was. Back in 2000, I had one of those “trip of a lifetime” adventures – as the Cubs opened the season in Tokyo. While overseas and in a time when AOL ruled the world and smartphones weren’t attached to everyone, I was half a day away from all of my people in the central time zone. The only real way to communicate was through e-mail.
I took the opportunity to sit down every night and compose my daily experiences in a Dear Diary sort of way – and sent those thoughts to an e-mail group who I thought would be interested. One of the people on that distribution list was this “lunch meeting” friend, who turned my writings/musings into a two-page spread in the since-departed in-house VineLine magazine – complete with some of the stellar photographs I took with store-bought box cameras.
She suggested I start telling my stories. She said I could even go back in time and post the Japan stories again, just for the humor of it.
She’s right. I need to do this. I want to do this. I love sitting down and turning the scribblings in my head into thoughts on a keyboard – then turning those thoughts into words.
I have written hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of press releases (yes, I know they’re called news releases now) and plenty of feature articles. After a self-imposed hiatus while I pursued a different opportunity that wasn’t me, I’m quickly getting back into social media, and I’m doing a little Twitter (@C_Wasserstrom), dabbling into Instagram to largely troll what my daughters are posting (chuck.wasserstrom) and became possibly the last person to join Facebook (chuck.wasserstrom). I’ve really enjoyed getting to reconnect with people – and it has been truly awesome to hear directly from old acquaintances that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years.
But those other channels only give me little nuggets of space. I have an ability to tell stories – be it from the past or what’s going on in my day-to-day world – and to tell these stories in a longer-form design. Write when I want … what I want … and forever long (or short) I want. I’m writing for and hopefully entertaining you, the reader, but I’m also writing for yours truly.
Note: If no one other than Chuck Wasserstrom is reading this other than me, myself and I, then I have to do a better job of selling Chuck. Metrics aren’t good if the only person clicking on the story is the author.
So this platform is my wedge salad. The plan is that my wife doesn’t get mad that I’m putting the voices in my head into written form solely at the suggestion of someone else (although I know she still wants that book, but I’m starting small).
Note No. 2: If you’re reading this and don’t really know much about me, my wife’s name is Michelle. If you also happen to be a reader of books that have actually been written, you might have heard of Crossing California, a novel with a main character named Michelle Wasserstrom. That character is not my wife. Someone else has profited off her name.
Anyway, welcome to my blog/journal/diary/musings/hobby/inner demons. I hope you enjoy the ride.
By the way, in case you read this far and did notice, I purposely did not name the person who encouraged me to get this started -- mainly to protect the innocent. If this takes off for me as planned, I’ll give her full credit – provided I also meet her exacting standards and provided she signs that disclosure agreement that I can use her name for the betterment of myself. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t want you to blame or shame her.
And, if this proves to be relaxing and fun and cathartic and a release of that inner me, I’ll also give due credit to that Sloppy Goat sandwich.