June 27, 2011

The Cubs, the Bleachers, and Bert Wilson

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent


As kids, we would walk straight south on Sheridan Road, and it ran straight on to Sheffield Ave. We would enter the bleachers at Waveland Ave. I think it cost 30 cents for the bleachers, which were, at that time, long benches. Sometimes, if we were lucky enough, we would get to walk down Sheridan with the Cubs' left fielder Andy Pafko, who stayed at the Sheridan Plaza Hotel. In the few times that we walked with Andy, we never once thought of asking him for his autograph.

 Original baseball card for sale on eBay.

I would come home from a game and my dad would mention the great plays that he heard on the radio and would ask me about them. I would tell Dad I didn't see any plays that were outstanding and could never figure out why he was asking me about spectacular plays.

Until one day, when I was listening to Bert Wilson call the ball game—wow, how exciting it sounded. It was then we realized that the radio announcer could basically say anything he wanted to. There was no TV at the time and it was the announcer's job to make it sound interesting.


Bert Wilson: "It's hit, there's a long fly ball going into deep center field. 'Peanuts Lowery' is racing back. He's climbing the vines, he leaps, and makes a one-handed stab. What a play, folks, I've never seen anything like it."

I was there that day—a blooper fly ball fell into Peanuts Lowery's glove.

That's when me and my friend Lionel decided to bring a portable radio with us. Now, in the mid-forties, portable radios were big bulky and very heavy. Lionel had a Trans-Oceanic short wave portable that was powered by big dry cell batteries; it was so heavy that we would take turns carrying it. We sat down on the bleachers and turned the radio on; it was the hit of the bleachers, listening to the way Bert Wilson described the game as opposed to what was actually happening.

On the way out, a big Andy Frain usher* told us never to bring the radio again.

Think maybe I was an original bleacher bum?

A couple of baseball expressions I haven't heard in a while are Texas Leaguer and the "old automatic." Sometime in the late 40's, my dad was listening to a Sox game (very rare in our house). Rudy York was at bat; Bob Elson the announcer said if he puts this one in the stands, I send everyone a turkey for thanksgiving. Rudy smacked out a homer, Sox won. My dad sent a letter to Bob Elson requesting the turkey. Around the first of November, we received a card, die-cut in the shape of a turkey, saying thanks. I always wondered how many they had to send out

*Editor's note. According to the Andy Frain website: Andy Frain Services was founded in 1924 by Andrew T. Frain who was certain that he could solve the perennial gate crashing problem at Chicago Stadium hockey games. After Andy and his small group of ushers showed the hockey promoter what honest gateman could do for his gate receipts and crowd control, Andy moved to Wrigley Field. William Wrigley, Jr. was so impressed with Andy's group, that he invested capital necessary to outfit Frain's men in their traditional blue and gold uniforms. The uniforms became a hallmark for professionalism and customer service, which still is demonstrated in Andy Frain Services today.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill,
I don't remember Bert Wilson, however, Sox announcer Bob Elson was the polar opposite in terms of style-- everything was totally balanced.

bill Matteson said...

I erroneous labeled Andy Pafkko as CF, he played left field,
and the fans nicknamed him "Satchel Ass" because of his unique batting stance.
A "Texas Leaguer" was a pop up fly ball just over the infield and short of the outfield,
The "old automatic" was a strike pitch on a 3-0 count, the batter was never allowed to swing at the fourth pitch.
bill

Anonymous said...

Andy Pafko did play center field for the Cubs. He also played 3rd base one year.
John Mangan

Randy said...

Thanks for the memories of my Grandpa, Bert Wilson. We are still searching for audio of him announcing a game.

bill Matteson said...

Randy
It is a pleasure to meet you
your Grandfather was a very colorful announcer and help make the Cubs a successful team
Pat Piper was also great calling the line up from the center field scoreboard
bill

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