This is the public life of the modern television face. Hey, don't I know you? Aren't we friends? Stone is used to such public intrusions by now. He worked with the ABC network for two years and has worked seven more years with Harry Caray at WGN in Chicago. The face sells. He owns parts of two restaurants in Chicago and parts of two sports bars here in Arizona. He will talk about the lockout and baseball with the people from Kankakee. Business.
"My father always used to tell me, 'Baseball will open the door for you,' " Stone says. "Well, it's true...but what I've found is that the opening is about two inches wide. To do anything, you'd better push yourself the rest of the way. That door can close awfully fast."
When the money came, he was ready to work with it. He was preparing for a life after baseball long before he was through with baseball. His mother had been a waitress at a succession of shot-and-a-beer taverns in Cleveland. His father had serviced jukeboxes. The appeal of owning a bar or a restaurant had been as strong as the appeal of pitching in Municipal Stadium against the Yankees. A bar was familiar territory.
"In 1973, I went to the White Sox," Stone says. "My first three seasons [with the Giants and the White Sox] had been 5-9, 6-8 and 6-11. I had the feeling that I wasn't going right to the Hall of Fame, if you know what I mean. I was looking for something."
In Chicago, he would study the operation of the various bars he visited. How would I run this place? What changes would I make if it were mine? One of the hottest spots at the time was R.J. Grunt's, a place that catered to athletes by giving them free beer. This was a convenient operation to study.
The owner was a young guy, Rich Melman. Stone decided Melman was going to be a business winner and offered to become his partner. Melman declined. What did Stone have to offer? He was a ballplayer. Stone went down the street to Melman's main competitor and took a job in the off-season. He came back to Melman a year later.
"Rich asked me why I'd gone down the street," Stone says. "I told him that first, I wanted to learn more about the business. Second, I wanted to prove to him that I was serious about this. He already had opened another restaurant. He let me become involved."
The corporation that was eventually formed was called Lettuce Entertain You. Restaurants were opened with names like Jonathan Livingston Seafood and Lawrence of Oregano. The famous Pump Room was added to the string. Melman was the winner Stone had predicted. Stone had a piece of the success.
On the mound, he had moved to the Cubs for 1974 and '75 and found moderate success, but in 1976 he was bothered by arm problems. The Cubs never got around to signing him that year. This made him a somewhat reluctant—and not very attractive—free agent. His '76 record was 3-6 with a 4.08 ERA. Five teams drafted him, but only two showed any interest. The low-budget White Sox and owner Bill Veeck wanted him back because he was a bargain. The Texas Rangers had a more curious situation.
"Their general manager, Danny O'Brien, called and asked what I wanted," Stone says. "I breathed deep and told him I was looking for $75,000 for one season. O'Brien said he couldn't do that. I said, right away, 'All right, I'll settle for $60,000.' He said I didn't understand. I wasn't asking for enough money. He said Brad Corbett, the owner, wanted to pay a million dollars for a pitcher. Corbett thought this would be good public relations. I said that was fine with me. I would take a million. He said no. I said I would take $60,000 and they could tell everyone I was getting a million. O'Brien said he thought they could give Doyle Alexander a million dollars and Doyle would take it. And that's what happened. Doyle got the million."