Back in the day, one of the great perks of working for the Cubs was getting to meet lots and lots of interesting people – especially in the entertainment industry. Perhaps you’ve heard that the Cubs are somewhat popular?!
Heck, two of my most surreal phone calls were of the celebrity nature.
There was the voicemail left for me on my work line a week after Pearl Jam played Soldier Field in 1995, which went something like this: “Hey Chuck, this is Eddie. Thanks for coming out last week. I know it was a tough loss tonight, but if you get a chance, I’m staying at the ‘Xxxxxx’ Hotel. Call xxx-xxx-xxxx. Ask the operator for ‘Xxxx Xxxxxx’ – and she’ll transfer the call to me. I’ll be in town for the next week. I’d love to meet you.”
That was Eddie, as in Eddie Vedder. The “x’s” are there to protect the innocent.
And then there was the phone call from a guy in Southern California who called the Cubs’ Media Relations department to have a message relayed.
Chuck: “Media Relations office, this is Chuck speaking. How may I help you?”
Caller: “Hi, this is Ray Manzarek of The Doors. The Cubs are in Los Angeles and I was supposed to let Mark Grace know to leave me some tickets. I don’t know where the team is staying. Can you help me out?”
How do you not stare at the phone after that conversation ended?
Note to my readers: For the record, my most surreal phone call took place in my high school days, when a guy named Chuck Wasserstrom called my parents’ house looking to see if he was related to my dad. “Hello, my name is Chuck Wasserstrom.” Uh, my name is Chuck Wasserstrom. I don’t know if that call was more surreal or frightening. Anyway …
Looking back, I think I took it for granted how cool it was to meet some of the people I came across.
When a movie was filmed at Wrigley Field or in the vicinity, invariably, you’d bump into an actor – so I was able to meet big names like Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines when they were in town for “Running Scared” … and John Goodman when he was shooting “The Babe” … and a lot of the actors when “A League of Their Own” was at the ballpark.
Certainly, once the 7th-Inning Stretch tradition started, it was a given that you could meet TV and movie icons. I think I only went fanboy twice: When Dennis Franz was in the press box lunch room – he was Andy Sipowicz, for crying out loud – and when Joe Pantoliano was at a game.
Joe Pantoliano: “Why would you want my autograph?”
Chuck: “You're Guido the Killer Pimp.”
Once I got on the laptop this morning and started typing away, more and more names started to reappear in the memory part of the brain.
Meeting Geddy Lee of the rock group Rush … photo ops with President Clinton and Governor Blagojevich … receiving a handwritten note from Johnny Ramone … having John Cusack ask me in the Cubs clubhouse to see if Neve Campbell – his girlfriend at the time – was still waiting for him on the concourse. Sadly, she wasn’t. And I spent a lot of time looking for her.
There’s the time in the Dodger Stadium press box when my boss, Sharon Pannozzo, was standing up for a brief moment while the game was going on. A nasally/squeaky voice in the top row of the press box yelled, “Hey, down in front.”
Without looking, I said, “That sounded like Squiggy.”
Then I looked up. It WAS Squiggy. Actually, it was actor David L. Lander, who played Squiggy in “Laverne and Shirley.”
Of course, there’s the other side of the Dodger Stadium experience. During the Sammy years, there always were celebrities showing up in the Cubs’ clubhouse after a game. The visiting clubhouse itself wasn’t that big to begin with, so extra bodies weren’t exactly necessary. Throw in a loss, which was somewhat commonplace in L.A., and it made for some awkward celebrity sightings.
After one game, Charlie Sheen, Adam Rich (yes, Nicholas Bradford in “Eight is Enough”) and a third actor were in the clubhouse. The third guy couldn’t help notice that I was staring at him – as were several Cubs players. He wandered over to me and said: “I bet you’re thinking, what movie have I seen you in?” I kind of let my inner voice externalize itself. “Actually, I’m wondering what you’re doing in the clubhouse.” For the record, I never got his name – nor do I think I ever saw him in anything.
During my early years in Media Relations, the Cubs’ spring training ballpark was the old HoHoKam Park – which didn’t have actual offices. The front office was literally on wheels – an RV parked about 100 feet from the home clubhouse double doors.
The RV literally had enough room for a receptionist up front … a small media relations office shared by two … an office for the traveling secretary … and a back third for the general manager, the assistant GM and Arlene Gill – the executive assistant. You couldn’t see the people in the back without going to the back.
This one day after a game, I walked in and yelled something along the line of “Arlene, there’s a guy outside looking for you.”
I heard a somewhat quiet “She’s not here.”
I didn’t recognize the voice, so I walked to the back of the RV. There’s a guy standing there, and he calmly repeated, “She’s not here.”
“Uh, OK,” I said to Bill Murray. I didn’t quite know what else to say, other than “Thanks.”
I wish I could have had that moment back.
Bill’s older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, is friends with legendary scout Gary Hughes. Thanks to Mr. Hughes, I met Brian a couple times during my Baseball Operations years. At least I was able to carry on a conversation with him that lasted more than a word or two.
Which brings me to Joel Murray – the youngest brother in the Murray family (he is the youngest of nine).
I had known of Joel Murray for a long time. I saw him perform on The Second City mainstage in the late ‘80s. I saw him in “The Bleacher Bums” at the Organic Theater. I had seen him in numerous television series. And I knew he was a big-time Cubs fan.
Through the miracle of social media, I reached out to him to see if he would be amenable to an interview – and he said yes.
Consider this story the prequel to the interview.
You know what … it’s still pretty cool when you come across celebrities.