Baseball BeatAugust 02, 2005
My Kind of Town
By Rich Lederer

. . .Chicago is.

I was in the Windy City for business last week and had the opportunity to go to Wrigley Field for the first time, the National Sports Collectors Convention, and hang out with three of my favorite baseball writers.

On my flight from Los Angeles International to O'Hare a week ago today, I read Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. I didn't realize that Jonathn Eig, the author, lived in Chicago. I would have tried to arrange a meeting if I had known that because Eig captures Gehrig like no writer before. As far as I am concerned, the book is the definitive work of my all-time favorite baseball player.

Aside from Eig, the book has Chicago ties that made reading it that much more enjoyable on this particular trip. Gehrig's wife, the former Eleanor Grace Twitchell, lived with her mother and younger brother on Chicago's South Side prior to their brief courtship and subsequent move to New York prior to tieing the knot. The real Mrs. Gehrig was far different than the one portrayed by Teresa Wright (1918-2005) in The Pride of the Yankees. Although Wright received an Academy Award nomination for her work in 1942 (and an Oscar for another film that same year), her role as Gehrig's wife didn't quite capture the poker-playing, cigarette-smoking, and hard-drinking woman that she was in reality.

After I checked into the hotel, I took a courtesy shuttle back to the airport to catch the Blue Line toward Wrigley Field. I took the train to the Irving Park exit where I met Dayn Perry of FoxSports and Baseball Prospectus for the first time in person. Dayn and I then rode the bus to Wrigley, walking the last several blocks in the rain. A native of Southern California, I wore blue jeans and a t-shirt and--other than a small umbrella which failed me--was ill-prepared for a rainstorm that evening.

We picked up our tickets across from the ballpark and passed through the turnstiles more than a half hour before the scheduled game time of 7:05. I have never been tempted to sign up for those credit card promotions that can be found at almost any sporting event but came pretty close to doing so that night. I didn't need any credit, mind you, but a dry t-shirt and/or blanket (even with the Chicago Cubs logo) was somewhat appealing at that moment in time.

As we made our way toward aisle 110, I was hoping that the rain would go away and come back some other day. The tarp was lifted nearly three hours later and the game finally began around 9:40 p.m. The rain delay wasn't so bad because it gave Dayn and me a whole bunch more time to talk. What did we talk about? Baseball. And more baseball. From sabermetrics to discussions about the Hall of Fame merits of certain players to possible subjects for future articles, we talked about everything under the sun grandstands.

Our patience was rewarded when Greg Maddux struck out Omar Vizquel (does David Schoenfield really believe Omar is a worthy HOF candidate?) to end the third inning. You see, it wasn't just another strikeout. It was the four-time Cy Young Award winner's 3,000th K of his career. Maddux is now one of only 13 pitchers to strike out that many in the big leagues.

This is how the all-time leaders looked at that moment in time.

STRIKEOUTS                      SO     
1    Nolan Ryan                 5714   
2    Roger Clemens              4440   
3    Randy Johnson              4303   
4    Steve Carlton              4136   
5    Bert Blyleven              3701   
6    Tom Seaver                 3640   
7    Don Sutton                 3574   
8    Gaylord Perry              3534   
9    Walter Johnson             3509   
10   Phil Niekro                3342   
11   Ferguson Jenkins           3192   
12   Bob Gibson                 3117   
13   Greg Maddux                3000

I pulled out a copy of my train schedule so I could have something to write on, and Dayn and I came up with 12 of the 13 within a couple of minutes of Maddux's achievement (including the top six in order). I wrote down Warren Spahn, thinking his 20-plus-year career would have resulted in 3,000 Ks even though he never whiffed 200 batters in any season. As it turns out, Spahn only struck out 2,583--good for 22nd on the all-time list.

Shortly after Bruce Sutter sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the home half of the seventh, Dayn and I decided to exit stadium left. It was a couple of minutes before midnight. I didn't want to turn into a pumpkin at Wrigley Field and, besides, I had a long drive ahead of me the following morning. We caught the Addison bus directly in front of the ballpark and made our way to the blue line, not knowing that the Cubs were in the midst of tieing the score and sending the game into extra innings. There is the sentimental part of me that wishes I had stayed, but, thankfully, the more rational side won out as the game didn't end 'til about 1:15 a.m.

I had dinner with Bryan Smith on Wednesday night. We met at the Cheesecake Factory in Oak Brook, directly across the street from McDonald's world headquarters. We talked about the ballgame the night before and lots, lots more. Three hours went by in what seemed like 90 minutes. Bryan and I didn't prepare our food, but we cooked up some interesting ideas down the road for Baseball Analysts.

My baseball travels found me at the National Sports Collectors Convention on Thursday. Hundreds of memorabilia dealers had tables set up to buy, sell, and trade anything from old baseball cards to artwork and photographs to game-used equipment. Penny Marshall was there along with some members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, who were signing autographs. You could also buy autograph tickets for Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner, Rollie Fingers, Billy Williams, and Dave Winfield, as well as Dwyane Wade, Ara Parseghian, the 1965 Green Bay Packers, and many former Bears, Bulls, and White Sox players.

On Saturday morning, I had the good fortune of having breakfast with Jim Callis of Baseball America. Jim is one of the brightest and most knowledgeable baseball writers in the biz. He is also a great guy. Married and the father of two boys and two girls, Jim was nice enough to meet with me prior to coaching a summer league youth baseball game that morning.

Callis predicted the first 18 selections in the MLB draft in June in the exact order that they were taken. From Justin Upton at #1 to Cesar Carrillo at #18, Jim nailed each and every pick. He missed the Rangers' and Cubs' choices at #19 and #20, got back on track when the A's grabbed Cliff Pennington at #21, and dialed a few more first rounders to boot.

We chatted about Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, the recent signings of Craig Hansen and Jeff Clement, and rumored baseball deals a day before the trade deadline. Jim and I agreed that we could have talked baseball with each other for hours upon hours with no problem whatsoever.

A trip like this could only happen to a guy like me. And only happen in a town like this. So may I say to Dayn, Bryan, and Jim most gratefully as I give Greg Maddux a high five, this is my kind of town, Chicago is. My kind of people, too. The Wrigley Field, Chicago is. The National Sports Collectors Convention, Chicago is. One town that won't let you down. It's my kind of town.


You lucky dog!

so which 3000K did you not think of?

Ferguson Jenkins. We had Fergie down as a "maybe" in the event we were wrong about one of our top 13 choices.