Last time out, I talked to Mike Greenberg about his early days in Chicago radio, and it got me thinking about my early days working with the Chicago media.
In particular, it brought back memories of watching games in the old press box.
Granted, I began my last post with the following paragraph – and yes, I’m quoting myself here: “When I started with the Cubs as an intern in 1986, the main press box was positioned where the mezzanine suites are now located – about halfway up the stadium directly behind the home plate screen. As part of Wrigley Field renovation for the 1990 All-Star Game, the press box was relocated to its present location – about halfway up to the clouds, attached to the underside of the roof. It’s the 800 level as far as seating is concerned.”
Back in the day, the Wrigley Field press box provided the ultimate view for watching baseball. I worked out of this tiny little two-row press box with almost no amenities – unless you counted the grill guy flipping greasy burgers in the far right-hand corner of the second row as an amenity. If you needed to use a bathroom, you had to leave the press box and walk along the concourse, hoping none of the people in the seats below recognized you.
And you had to be paying attention when pitches were thrown. The press box was in direct line of screaming line drives. I learned to duck on every foul ball straight back no matter what the trajectory was. There was a certain badge of honor in getting your head out of the way before a line drive dented the wall behind you. I guess there was a certain badge of honor if the ball hit you, too, but I never won that prize.
When I said that was the ultimate view, consider where the Cubs baseball operations people watch games from now. Same spot. Real amenities. And a much higher screen that blocks foul balls lined straight back.
The TV booth – with Harry Caray, Steve Stone and Jack Rosenberg – sat off in the distance on the concourse level down the third-base line. If you needed to get a message to them, off you ran.
Just to the left of the main press box sat the radio booth, which was manned by DeWayne Staats, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau when I started out. If I ever brain cramped during a home game and didn’t know what inning we were in (it was a manual scoreboard, you know), the crowd re-booted me after the third and sixth innings – when Harry flipped from TV to radio, and then back. Everybody below would be screaming at Harry as the legendary broadcaster switch spots, moving from booth to booth.
But it was in the main press box that I spent almost all of my time and where I was introduced to the legends of my game: the sports writers. Not only sports writers like Jerome Holtzman … and Joe Goddard … and Dave van Dyck … and Fred Mitchell … and all the people I later traveled with on road trips that I’m afraid to start listing in fear that I’ll miss a name.
The press box also is where I first spent time with The Sports Writers.
Remember the old Sunday sports talk show on WGN Radio? Ben Bentley, the moderator. Bill Gleason … Bill Jauss … Rick Telander … Joe Mooshil. A bunch of sports writers just sitting around talking sports. How cool was that concept? And thanks to the Wrigley Field press box, people like that were right in front of me – saying the same types of things in person as they did on the radio. I was just a kid, and I was in awe.
It’s so hard to describe the media world that existed back then. Newspapers still ruled the press box – with hard-and-fast deadlines that couldn’t be altered. There weren’t Internet editions of anything, as it was a medium that didn’t exist. Neither did smart phones, for that matter. Cell phones were still far from commonplace. Laptops were still in their infancy.
When I started, I reported game action for Sports Ticker. As in ticker from a ticker tape parade. As in ticker from a ticker tape machine. As in, I’m been around long enough to remember working next to a ticker tape machine – and watching breaking sports news come over in long, one-sentence strips of paper. Ticker tape was Morse Code, Version 2.0.
That quaint two-row press box was uncomfortable as a facility, but it was wonderful to call your workplace. I can still smell those greasy burgers.
It’s long overdue, but I do need to give a big shout out – although a Jerome Holtzman “doff of the chapeau” seems more appropriate – to the fine work done every single day by the Cubs beat writers: Bruce Miles, Carrie Muskat, Gordon Wittenmyer, Mark Gonzales, Paul Sullivan (I know, Sully’s a columnist, but he’s a beat guy at heart), Patrick Mooney and Jesse Rogers.
It’s not easy writing every day. It’s not easy finding fresh story topics very day. It’s not easy finding people who will talk to you every day. But they do … they’ve all been doing it for a long time … and they’re all good at it.