I received a very nice, unexpected birthday present yesterday: The late Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs was inducted into the Hall of Fame. For those who are not Cub fans this might not seem like a big deal; but for those who lived and grew up in Chicago during the 60’s and worshipped the Cubs, I can guarantee you that this is huge. In honor of the occasion I am going to tell you one of my favorite Cubs anecdotes where Santo is peripheral, yet central: Enjoy.
During the time I was growing up in the Chicago area during the 1960’s I basically spent most of my time either playing baseball with my friends; watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN television; or planning on bustin’ someone’s chops. On this particular day I was on double duty.
When I wasn’t working on my baseball, I was fine tuning my pea shooting. Pea shooting was a skill that was right at the top of the deck for ten-year olds. The only talent which topped it on the little kid most desired proficiency list was hitting a baseball and ice skating for hockey. Although I was becoming a skilled marksman with my pea shooter, something was lacking: my Cock Robin ice cream straw was weak. The circular dimension of the vessel was miniscule and the length was insufficient for accurate projectile attacks. How was I supposed to land my ammo into the beehive hairdo of some woman thirty rows in front of me at the Cicero Theater while watching a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western with this weak apparatus?
The equipment breakthrough happened in a serendipitous manner while I was perusing the local Ben Franklin dime store. There it was: a red and white straw with thick gage plastic; and long enough to send a pea to Vietnam. I dug into the black hole of my blue jean pocket and pulled out fifty cents. Creeping in a clandestine manner to the front of the store I was able to ditch my mother and purchase two of the super-stealth pea shooting weapons.
By the time I got home with the pea shooters, which had been slid down the leg of my pants, I realized that it was one o’clock and that the Cubs were about to take the field against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I will see you after the baseball game,” I said to my mother as I ran out the back door, “I am going by Greg’s house.”
Running down the block, my heart began beating so fast that I thought that I might pass out (the anticipation of using the weapon on a target had given me an adrenaline rush). I knocked on the front door of my best friend Greg’s house and his eighty-year old Sicilian grandfather opened the portal, peered at me with trepidation, and through squinty eyes asked, “What you want?”
“I am here to see Greg.”
“No you’re not: you’re here to make trouble. You not bother me today; the Cubs are play.”
“That is why I am here: to watch the game with Greg and yourself.”
“Listen you son bitch; you make trouble today and you go to jail.”
“No trouble Mr. Catrambone,” I said lying through my teeth.
When he let me in I ran up the stairs and busted into Greg’s room. “Get off your ass,” I said, “I have hit the mother lode.” I pulled the two straws from the inside of my pants and handed one to Greg. “Holy shit,” he exclaimed, “Where did you get these?”
“I pilfered them from the Ben when my mother wasn’t looking. Go down stairs and get some of your mother’s garbanzo beans and we’ll go hammer someone’s ass.” We both galloped down the stairs while the old man settled into his recliner and smuggled the beans out the house as the national anthem was being sung at Wrigley field.
Hiding behind the evergreen bushes in front of the house we awaited a patsy. “Here comes a Rambler: let’s blow some holes in that piece of junk,” I said. We both crammed a jaw-full of beans in our mouth and strafed the target. Direct hit. KA-BOOM!, the car echoed as it skidded off the road and ricocheted off into a cluster of garbage cans before colliding with a telephone poll.
“Holy crap,” I said, “Back to the Bat-cave.”
We scrambled for safety running back up stairs to Greg’s room, but not before I noticed that Ron Santo was up to bat on television. The old man’s favorite Italian player was up and he didn’t blink an eye as we pounded the stairs and jumped under the bed.
The doorbell rang. “Ba fonguol,” the old man said as Santo took strike one.
The doorbell rang again, “Ba fonguol,” the old man said as Santo took strike two.
The doorbell rang again and the old man picked up his ancient bag of bones cursing in the Italian lingo once again. He opened the door and there stood a rather obese woman with a crease in her head and a welt on her nose.
“What you want?” he said, “My favorite Italian player bat.”
“I am sorry sir, but as I passed your house I was struck in the face through the open window with this bean. She held it in her hand. “I thought I had been stung by a bee at first, but when I found this bean in my lap, I thought it curious.”
“SONNA-BITCH. Gregory, get your ass down here!”
We came down the stairs with our tails between our legs. “Give me shooters!” he screamed with veins popping out of his forehead like he was about to have a stroke.
“You give me shooters before I bust heads,” he shouted.
Greg went up to the bedroom and came back with the shooters. The old man took them from his hand and in a fit of rage tried to tear them in half in front of the pimple-nosed woman. The plastic gage was too thick for him to rip them. “SONNA-BITCH─I kill you little bastards,” he screamed with a face as red as a beet as he desperately tried to shred the straws. “I sorry Mrs. I take care,” he said.
The woman left and we scrambled upstairs for cover. The old man, unable to take the stairs to beat us sat down in the recliner instead. Jack Brickhouse announced, “Hey, Hey”… Santo had just hit a home run and gramps had missed it.
“SONNA-BITCHS!” he screamed, “I KILL YOUS!”