When Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals trots out to his position in left in Wrigley Field at about 1:40 p.m. this Friday, oh, is he going to get it! In May, Brock predicted that the Cards would be in first place the next time they played in Chicago, and a raucous delegation of Cub fans, about 200 strong and formally known as the Left Field Bleacher Bums, are all set to give Brock the razz. What the Bleacher Bums will do is tantamount to a state secret, but the Bums know how to work over a visiting player.
Tommy Agee of the Mets has called the Bums the "harshest" fans he ever has encountered, and Pete Rose of the Reds, whom the Bums absolutely detest since he spiked Ernie Banks two years ago, was positively distraught at the reception he got in one game. The Bums do not take it easy on Rose. When the Reds played in Wrigley Field a few weeks back the Bums greeted Pete by clapping and chanting, "Rose is a fairy, Rose is a fairy."
Jesus Alou of the Astros is another preferred target. When he recently came out to left field, there were cries of "Hey, Carlos! Rico! Roberto! Felipe! Manny! Matty! Chico!" The volley of Latin names thundered down in such volume that Alou turned and glared up at the bleachers with eyes of menace. For about a second there was silence, and then Foghorn Ralph, one of the Bums, bellowed down, "Don't even know your own name, ya dumdum!"
To anyone accustomed to what used to be known around Chicago as "the friendly confines of Wrigley Field," the screams of the Bleacher Bums and the winning ways of the Cubs must come as a shock. For years the Cubs and Wrigley Field symbolized Chicago's aspirations to respectability. In a city with more than its share of gangsters, ward-heeling politicians and numbers runners, the Cubs appeared as so many bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church and Wrigley Field was Chicago's answer to the Boston Athenaeum. One could lay claim to gentility by rooting for the Cubs. There was a certain air of snobbishness even about going to Wrigley Field. The Mob might dump a dozen bodies in the Chicago River, the cops could shake down motorists on the Outer Drive and the stink from the stockyards could corrode any sinus in town, but all was right in Chicagoland as long as the Cubs played daylight ball in ivied Wrigley Field and took yet another pasting. They knew how to lose nobly, like Adlai Stevenson.
But Wrigley Field has changed. The Bleacher Bums and fans yell and scream. The Cubs look like a winner. They bunt, they take the extra base, they hit home runs. Their manager is Leo (the Lip) Durocher, who a dozen years ago was considered too rambunctious for the job by Phil Wrigley, the Cub owner. The Cubs have a truly exciting team. Suddenly a number of younger players—Don Kessinger, a brilliant shortstop, Second Baseman Glenn Beckert, Catcher Randy Hundley, Pitcher Ken Holtzman—are coming into their own, and the old standbys—Ernie Banks, Ron Santo (see cover) and Billy Williams—are on their way to knocking in 100 runs apiece. The bullpen of Ted Abernathy, Phil Regan and Hank Aguirre is among the best in baseball. Spurred on by Durocher and buoyed by the Bums, the Cubs are doing a job.
"This is the finest piece of baseball machinery I've ever seen," says Gene Oliver, the second-string catcher who has played in both leagues for 10 years. "It's a fantastic, synchronized mechanism." Although the Cubs' lead over the Mets early this week was down to five games, they were still 10� ahead of the Cards, preseason favorites. Holtzman says, "Everywhere you go people say, 'Hey, what's happened to the Cards?' We're what's happened to the Cardinals."
No one knows better than Durocher how a team can blow a pennant. He managed the Dodgers when they blew a 10�-game lead to the Cardinals in 1942, and in 1951 he led the Giants to victory from 13� games back of the Dodgers. Despite last week's losses, the Cubs may be more like the '51 Giants. They do not give up, though they may lose a few. With the Cubs leading 10-1 in a recent game against the Reds, Kessinger almost slid into the Cub dugout on his head trying to stop an overthrow at third. "You never know which run is going to be the big one," Kessinger said after the trainer anointed his bruises. In that same game Beckert broke his thumb tagging out a runner. When the Cubs heard the news later in the clubhouse they were down only for a moment. "There's no reason in the world why we shouldn't win," said Santo. "We're too good a ball club."
Inasmuch as almost a generation has passed since the Cubs won their last pennant in 1945, it is no wonder that the Bleacher Bums, who began in the pre-Leo days but have been coming on strong in each of the last three years, have to start lining up at 6 in the morning to get into a game. So far there has been one conspicuous absentee, Phil Wrigley, a shy, somewhat eccentric and very decent man. There were headlines this year when Wrigley was reported seen in the family box, but it turned out to be his cousin Byron. Always apprehensive about appearing in public—"The only thing I don't like about baseball is the publicity that goes with it," Wrigley says—he stopped sitting in the family box years ago because he did not like any fuss made over him. For a number of years he used to roam the grandstand anonymously in the late innings, but he says he has not been to a game at Wrigley Field in three years. "I just get so nervous, and I've gotten to be a pretty old man, you know," he says. "You get pretty good coverage on television." Wrigley is now 74 but he looks fit, and during the week he is to be found behind his desk in his office on the 16th floor of the Wrigley Building. He is still active as chairman of the board of the Wrigley chewing gum company, and as he works away in the afternoons he keeps an eye peeled at the game on a TV set built into the wall opposite his desk. When the Cubs come to bat in the seventh, he stands up and so does anyone else in his office. At his estate at Lake Geneva on weekends, where he has been busy digging 5,000 postholes, he and Mrs. Wrigley watch the game on TV together and stand up for the seventh-inning stretch. When the Cubs win, Wrigley pours himself a highball. Should they lose, he suffers "quietly, in my insides." Asked if he would attend the World Series should the Cubs win the pennant, he said "No."
The only time Wrigley goes to Wrigley Field is when the team is away. All the club profits are going into redoing the upper deck. He has plans for elevators and escalators and, even, for lights. The lights, however, will not be used for night ball. "That's so we won't have a game called on account of darkness," he explains.
With Wrigley the fans come first. He could sell out many games far ahead of time, but he purposely holds back 22,000 seats for sale the day of each game so fans will not feel shut out. It has always been Wrigley's practice to answer his own office phone, and even in years of the most bitter frustration he heard out every fan patiently.