Thursday, June 5, 2014

Caddying for the Cubs

Looking across North Branch of the Chicago River to
the 17th green at Glen View Club.
Glen View Club in Golf, Illinois, where I caddied from the ages of 10 to 18 was and is a private country club. Its membership during my tenure from 1964 through 1972 was mostly corporate and conservative, old money being much preferred over the nouveau riche. Glen View was the sort of place that invited you to apply for membership. You did not approach it.

With a fixed and stable membership, it was pretty much the same lineup that showed up to play golf time after time. Ladies day was Tuesday mornings. Doctors played Wednesday afternoons. Saturday mornings and Sundays before 11:00 am were reserved for men. Husbands and wives and some cobbled together pairs, played couples golf, teeing off from 11:00 am on Sundays into the late afternoon. Many of the caddies had regular loops, and there were regular groups of players.  

If there was to be anything new and exciting it was generally in the way of guests and so it was for me one Monday morning in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The club pro, Ed Oldfield Sr., hosted a foursome of Chicago Cubs, on a rare major league baseball midsummer off day, to play as his guests. The foursome was made up of Ron Santo, Glenn Beckert, Kenny Holtzman and Peanuts Lowery.

The most famous member of this group, Ron Santo, played third base mostly -- the hot corner -- for the Cubs from 1960 through 1973. Professional baseball not being the road to riches it has since become, Santo worked hard at developing and promoting a product called "the pro's Pizza" and found a way to include his teammates in on the action. 
Ron Santo baseball card cover on the pro's Pizza box.
In the mid-1960s, Pro's Pizza was a concessionaire at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Soldier's Field, selling individual serving pizzas to those in attendance at Cubs, White Sox and Bears games.

In that era, the pizzas were sold in single-serving boxes that featured on their lids player pictures.

The earliest of the issues was a set of 1966 Chicago Cubs. The "card" portion of the box was about 6" x 6" and featured a large black-and-white player photo at left with white-and-red stripes and sports action drawings at right.
Roomies and Gold Glove winners Ron Santo and Glenn Beckert. 
The fans loved Santo. Ron was a good field, power hitting, lead footed batter, who was at least as likely to hit into a inning ending double play as to whack one out of the park. After his baseball career, Santo joined the WGN radio broadcasting team as an unabashed Cubs booster. Santo was a diabetic who raised much more money for diabetes research than he ever earned from the game. His association with Glenn Beckert was lifelong, for Beckert, along with other former teammates, Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley, and Billy Williams, were among the pall bearers at Santo's 2010 funeral.  In 2011 Santo was posthumously inducted into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.

Glenn Beckert was a good fielding, reliable slap hitting, second-baseman who excelled at hitting behind the runner and starting and making the pivot on the double play. He choked high up on the bat that was lathered with more pine tar than even George Brett imagined possible. Beckert made four all-star teams. Glenn was the toughest strike out in baseball. 

Ken Holtzman interviewed subsequent to his August, 1969 no hitter.
Kenny Holtzman was not your typical 1960s era ballplayer. He was smart and savvy. He completed college while playing in the major leagues, missing a large part of a season satisfying his active duty military service obligation in the National Guard. He was a hard throwing Jewish left hander, continually compared to Sandy Koufax, and a pitcher who could hit. On August 19, 1969 Holtzman pitched his first a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves, pushing the Cubs yet further ahead of the NL East Division. Hey, Hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way, Hey, Hey. 

Except nobody remembered to tell the Miracle Mets, who swamped the Cubs during their September swoon, and went on to become the improbable world champions. Holtzman was traded to the Oakland A's in 1971, where he played for three World Series champions himself.

Peanuts Lowery was not a player, but a coach, and a confidant of Cubs manager Leo "The Lip" Durocher. He was called Peanuts because he was a little guy. When he played for the Cubs in the 1940s he actually appeared in a World Series (imagine that Cub fans!). Lowery had a good arm and a bum arm. He used the good one to wave runners rounding third on the way to home. By the timing of Lowery's first stint as Cubs coach, the year of this loop must have been either 1970 or 1971 -- most likely 1970, when I had progressed to caddie badge number 2. 

I caddied for the pitcher and the coach. Santo and Beckert were good buddies and free swingers who bombed the ball, without a whole lot of respect for direction. They had decent short games and were obviously experienced golfers. Ken Holtzman was a neophyte golfer with a way too quick swing and a sharp temper that Santo and Beckert missed no opportunity to stoke. They called Holtzman not by name but by the sobriquet Heeb, which I found startling, to say the least. 

Reading Eagle,
October 20, 1966
When I was assigned Peanuts Lowery I thought at first that I had drawn the short straw. I mean, heck, this guy has a bum arm and can't even throw batting practice. I was totally wrong. It turns out that Lowery was a champion golfer, a competitor in many pro-ams and celebrity tournaments, to the point that his obituary in the Chicago Tribune noted
Off the field, Mr. Lowrey was a talented golfer. He won several tournaments for major league baseball players.
Peanuts Lowery shot a 74 that day on a course he had not previously seen, He was a perfect gentleman who took no umbrage and placed no blame when I mis-clubbed him on the 10th hole.

Ron Santo, Glenn Beckert and Peanuts Lowery had a good time. Holtzman persevered and suffered through it. So it was on a midsummer day some four decades back.

Ron Santo rolling pizza.

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