today’s mike royko’s birthday

mike royko was the greatest newspaper columnist ever. even he would probably agree.

he was a no-nonsense toughguy who took on the biggest toughguys in chicago, namely the mayor, the cops, ditka, and the owners of the cubs.

he first started writing for real at the Chicago Daily News writing obits. Quickly they moved him to covering politics and folk music as a columnist. When the Daily News went out of business he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times.

As a Cubs fan I made a point out of not buying the Sun-Times, which was widely regarded as the Sox paper. But in my school they had both the Trib and the Sun-Times in the library and I snuck a peek at what Royko had to say from time to time. Ok, every day. And I wasnt alone. Many Cubs fans snuck glances at his super funny takes on Chicago politics and everyday life.

When Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun-Times Royko quit and moved over to the Tribune.

“No self-respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper,” Royko said, and the fish pretty much agreed.

Remember the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent who was outted by Rove and newspaperman Robert Novak? Novak is a Sun-Times columnist and has been for years. When Novak dies, he’s got an ass-kicking or two coming to him and I would bet money that the Good Lord will let Royko near the front of the line.

But I digress.

in his 40 year career Mike Royko wrote over 7,000 columns. Right up to the end of his life when he suffered from a brain annyerism, he continued to be biting, critical, and funny. For example, when he made a list of his favorite Westerns someone asked him about his pick of The Magnificent Seven, asking him if he felt weird that one of his faves was actually a remake of a Japanese classic.

Royko replied, “if the Japanese producer had a choice, he would surely have made a western rather than a movie in which the heroes were stumpy, bowlegged guys who wore bathrobes and couldn’t speak English.”

Out of context some of that might appear racist in this PC world, but that sort of crude, street, common language, delivered in an intentionally ignorant manner was part of Royko’s charm. And trust me, he wasnt any easier on the… lets say… plump mayor of Chicago.

Or the cops. In fact late in his life Royko was arrested for drunk driving and resisiting arrest. In the police report the officers wrote down at least a half-dozen ways that Royko insulted them, many times questioning their heterosexuality.

Maybe its a Chicago thing, maybe its a big-city thing, but to me it’s classic.

As I’ve said several times here, there have been a few major influences in my life that are mirrored in this blog. Mike Royko’s hard-hitting tell-it-like-it-is style is all up in this piece. He was afraid of no-one no matter how big they were or how much clout they carried. And ultimately he was the champion for the common folk, and the Cub fans.

And for that he will be loved forever.

here is a column he wrote the day Jackie Robinson died.

Jackie’s Debut a Unique Day

All that Saturday, the wise men of the neighborhood, who sat in chairs on the sidewalk outside the tavern, had talked about what it would do to baseball.

I hung around and listened because baseball was about the most important thing in the world, and if anything was going to ruin it, I was worried.

Most of the things they said, I didn’t understand, although it all sounded terrible. But could one man bring such ruin?

They said he could and would. And the next day he was going to be in Wrigley Field for the first time, on the same diamond as Hack, Nicholson, Cavarretta, Schmitz, Pafko, and all my other idols.

I had to see Jackie Robinson, the man who was going to somehow wreck everything. So the next day, another kid and I started walking to the ballpark early.

We always walked to save the streetcar fare. It was five or six miles, but I felt about baseball the way Abe Lincoln felt about education.

Usually, we could get there just at noon, find a seat in the grandstand, and watch some batting practice. But not that Sunday, May 18, 1947.

By noon, Wrigley Field was almost filled. The crowd outside spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. Scalpers were asking top dollar for box seats and getting it.

I had never seen anything like it. Not just the size, although it was a new record, more than 47,000. But this was twenty-five years ago, and in 1947 few blacks were seen in the Loop, much less up on the white North Side at a Cub game.

That day, they came by the thousands, pouring off the northbound Ls and out of their cars.

They didn’t wear baseball-game clothes. They had on church clothes and funeral clothes·suits, white shirts, ties, gleaming shoes, and straw hats. I’ve never seen so many straw hats.

As big as it was, the crowd was orderly. Almost unnaturally so. People didn’t jostle each other.

The whites tried to look as if nothing unusual was happening, while the blacks tried to look casual and dignified. So everybody looked slightly ill at ease.

For most, it was probably the first time they had been that close to each other in such great numbers.

We managed to get in, scramble up a ramp, and find a place to stand behind the last row of grandstand seats. Then they shut the gates. No place remained to stand.

Robinson came up in the first inning. I remember the sound. It wasn’t the shrill, teenage cry you now hear, or an excited gut roar. They applauded, long, rolling applause. A tall, middle-aged black man stood next to me, a smile of almost painful joy on his face, beating his palms together so hard they must have hurt.

When Robinson stepped into the batter’s box, it was as if someone had flicked a switch. The place went silent.

He swung at the first pitch and they erupted as if he had knocked it over the wall. But it was only a high foul that dropped into the box seats. I remember thinking it was strange that a foul could make that many people happy. When he struck out, the low moan was genuine.

I’ve forgotten most of the details of the game, other than that the Dodgers won and Robinson didn’t get a hit or do anything special, although he was cheered on every swing and every routine play.

But two things happened I’ll never forget. Robinson played first, and early in the game a Cub star hit a grounder and it was a close play.

Just before the Cub reached first, he swerved to his left. And as he got to the bag, he seemed to slam his foot down hard at Robinson’s foot.

It was obvious to everyone that he was trying to run into him or spike him. Robinson took the throw and got clear at the last instant.

I was shocked. That Cub, a hometown boy, was my biggest hero. It was not only an unheroic stunt, but it seemed a rude thing to do in front of people who would cheer for a foul ball. I didn’t understand why he had done it. It wasn’t at all big league.

I didn’t know that while the white fans were relatively polite, the Cubs and most other teams kept up a steady stream of racial abuse from the dugout. I thought that all they did down there was talk about how good Wheaties are.

Late in the game, Robinson was up again, and he hit another foul ball. This time it came into the stands low and fast, in our direction. Somebody in the seats grabbed for it, but it caromed off his hand and kept coming. There was a flurry of arms as the ball kept bouncing, and suddenly it was between me and my pal. We both grabbed. I had a baseball.

The two of us stood there examining it and chortling. A genuine major-league baseball that had actually been gripped and thrown by a Cub pitcher, hit by a Dodger batter. What a possession.

Then I heard the voice say: “Would you consider selling that?”

It was the black man who had applauded so fiercely.

I mumbled something. I didn’t want to sell it.

“I’ll give you ten dollars for it,” he said.

Ten dollars. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what ten dollars could buy because I’d never had that much money. But I knew that a lot of men in the neighborhood considered sixty dollars a week to be good pay.

I handed it to him, and he paid me with ten $1 bills.

When I left the ball park, with that much money in my pocket, I was sure that Jackie Robinson wasn’t bad for the game.

Since then, I’ve regretted a few times that I didn’t keep the ball. Or that I hadn’t given it to him free. I didn’t know, then, how hard he probably had to work for that ten dollars.

But Tuesday I was glad I had sold it to him. And if that man is still around, and has that baseball, I’m sure he thinks it was worth every cent.

rokyo collection donated to library – nothing from former mayor + some classic columns + a nice piece by salon on royko + royko on daley

Rob writes in yet again:

Actually, I’m older than you. 38 to be exact. I know who my family was descended from on the South Side, and we were the bottom of the barrel, like the rest of our neighbors.

According to this wikipedia article, the Near North side is 69% white. Nea…h_Side,_Chicago

Hell the median income of Wrigleyville is $53,811. Lak…go#Wrigleyville

The median U.S. Income? $43,318.

Let’s face it, the Cubs have always been a rich man’s team, just as the South Side has been a poor man’s neighborhood and the Sox, a poor man’s team. When I was a kid, not far from where you grew up, the Cubs were the team loved by 90% of the populace. Sox, the also rans. The die-hards kept the flame alive.

If you mean to say that the Cubs had more fans while both teams sucked, that’s damn right. That’s what makes being a Sox fan so great–we stayed with the team despite its unpopularity. The bandwagon Cubs fans stayed with theirs.

Dan l, shut the fuck up. I live in Washington, D.C. now, am I not a “real” Sox fan? Who the fuck appointed you king, asshole. What a dumbfuck.


Ignore Dan. his theory is unless you were born in the city and stayed in the city you have no right to root for anyone except the sox or else youre fake, a bandwagoner, a rich white yuppie, or the taliban. he also believes the world is still flat, that brownie did a heck of a job, and cock tastes better fresh from the ass of a third man preferably a sleeping teen. he gets no hits on his blog and his attitude is just as repulsive as frat boys drinking Bud Light with their caps on backwards at my beloved Wrigley. for the sake of this discussion, i will throw out his type of sox fan, if you also admonish the above type of cub fan, which i think we both agree dilute the scientific nature of our discussion.

as for median incomes, etc. i have never argued that the north side hasn’t been far more affluent than the south side – thats obvious. nor am i arguing that the Cubs had more fans than the Sox did when they both sucked, because i think that’s obvious too but i dont think that the affluence of the neighborhood means that the teams belong to those tax brackets.

what i am saying is your bandwagon theory is faulty because, to me, a bandwagon is a phenomenom that happens when a team is winning and fence-sitters and quasi-fans suddenly love the team and become fans for a short period of time when the team is hot.

the cubs have never been hot (or good) for more than a year or a year and a half. therefore there hasn’t been a bandwagon for years. its not that bandwagons didnt exist, they certainly did with the bulls with mj and with the bears during the super bowl shuffel. it was then that people who never went to the old chicago stadium or the unforgiving benches of soldier field suddenly donned jerseys and packed the stands.

i once went to a pre-mj bulls game at chicago stadium where the bulls faced the boston celtics with larry bird, and the san diego chicken was there, and still the bulls couldnt sell out for a sunday afternoon game. six years later you couldnt see the bulls if you tried and everyone was suddenly an expert on all things bulls. thats a bandwagon in my mind.

the reason i think the cubs have had more fans over the last 50 years than the Sox is two-fold.

the first is how i became a Cub fan: wgn. now, at 113, approaching 114 years old, i am indeed older than you, but perhaps a 38 yr old like yourself remembers the wgn lineup in the early 70s during your formative years.

you woke up with Ray Rayner at 8am or maybe Garfield Goose at 7am if you were an early riser, and then watched Ray. when noon rolled around you had Bozo which somehow kids watched despite having to be in school and despite tivo being nowhere to be seen. then the Cubs would be on, for free, at 1:00p with the Lead-off Man and the game would begin at 1:20p. meaning that if you were a kid your dial would be locked in to wgn from 8am to 3pm. for most of the spring, all of the summer, and part of the fall.

decades of that schedule created a familiarity with the Cubs via WGN that carried through the 80s.

now in the mid 80s the second reason why there are now more cubs fans who are loyal and real appeared, the greatest ambassador to baseball ever came to Wrigley with an act that he started on the South Side that was good down there but better on the North Side because everything is better in natural sunlight with a backdrop of ivy: mr. harry caray. it also didnt hurt that the Cubs had a great team in 84 and 89 led by a soft spoken second basemen who was adored by women and respected by men: hall of famer ryne sandberg.

harry + ryno + wgn over the period of years and years added later with sammy sosa’s 500 homers and kisses to his momma via that dugout camera in the 90s created a momentum and a tradition that established not bandwagoners, but serious fans who learned to enjoy baseball for baseball because harry showed us what love was.

the same amount of fans could have turned into Sox fans if the Sox had had the same relationship with one station (instead of jumping around from 44 to SportsChannel to WGN and now a weird mix of WGN and CLTV). But as my buddy Bobby D says, when they pissed off Harry by trying to charge extra through the failed pay-per-view scamola in the 80s, it was over for them in Chicago. not because Hawk Harrelson isnt/wasnt good – he was great – but because nobody could touch Harry at Wrigley on WGN for free. and it also didnt hurt that ex-sox owner Bill Veeck was also in the bleachers with his beer and shirt off and wooden leg exposed – validation that there was only one true place to watch baseball in chicago.

not only did it sway the fencesitters in the city, and the young kids in the suburbs, but also millions of orphaned baseball fans across the country who had no team to root for, particularily fans in states and cities that had no mlb team at the time. cities like phoenix, and denver, and miami who got wgn via cable, and grew up with the team and flocked to wrigley when either they moved here as adults or visited the second largest city in the nation.

but as Chicago’s suburbs boomed in the 70s, my belief is, so did the real fanbase of the Cubs in Chicagoland because those kids who were brought up on the Rayner > Bozo > Brickhouse (and later Caray) diet drove or took the train into the city as often as they could and experienced the greatest ballpark in the world and were instantly made lifelong fans.

Part of that was because of Harry’s 7th Inning Stretch which was an inclusion of the fans who were there in the park, which, like i said, got started in Sox Park, but made into a national phenomenon when he brought the act to clark & addison and it got beamed through the superstation.

Bozo taught us that every circus needs a ringmaster, and Harry was that star, and when the Cubs get the long parade of guest conductors for the stretch his legacy continues in a way that continues the great tradition at Wrigley.

added with the mess that the new Sox park is, the corporate whoring of the name, the lack of charm, and the team’s inability to market itself against the behemoth that is the wgn + cubs one-two punch, it is not surprising to me that there will be many more days to come where a cubs team in last place on a friday at 1:20p can draw just as many fans as a sox game 4 games out of the wild card on a warm monday night. it has nothing to do with median incomes, it has to do with how one was raised.

i will be in DC in two weeks, we should drink!


Rob from Ironmouth

writes in to say:

Tony, Tony, Tony. For all of your insistence that the Sox fans are haters, I see 1600 and 44 words up here saying how much the Sox suck.

The first step is admitting that you are jealous of our success. You’ll feel much better then.

The Sox and their fans are the real underdogs, even if they did win. When everybody in town was on the Cubs bandwagon, all day long, we were the real die-hards, the ones that stuck with our team while it was cool to love the Cubs.

Funny how for Cubs fans being on the bandwagon makes you the underdog. Where I was from, not far from Hanover Park (insert Anthony voice here, all Dahl fans), it was so easy to be a Cub fan because everyone else was. It was hard to be a Sox fan because you were the outcast, the loser.

Nope. We are the ones who have been long suffering and its our suffering that made our World Series title so tasty.

The Cubs have always been the rich man’s team in Chicago and the great unwashed on the South Side (where my gene pool originates), loved the Sox. Basically Irish drunks and African Americans from the projects, not the rich Northsiders, were the Sox fans. The rich ones up North were the Cubbie fans. Yes, we are your janitors and trashmen and all of that. Apparently you think there is something wrong with that. That’s fine. You’re entitled to look down on whomever you want.

Rob, Did you miss the comments from one of your fellow Sox fans that started all this nonsense? To summarize, it was boring and pretty much taken care of. Your bro wanted some attention and it was given to him. Even during the World Series i had no problem ignoring the Sox, as you remember. Trust me when I say I have no jealousy to any AL team, particularily the Sox.

As for your comments… clearly im much older than you. for when i was in high school there was no such thing as a “rich man’s team” in Chicago – for any sport as they all sucked – and there definately was no such thing as a Cubs bandwagon. and if there was any bandwagon in the 70s to mid 80s it arrived first on the south side for the Sox who made it into the playoffs in 83 with the Winnin Ugly fisk-baines-luzinski team.

at that time our school was evenly split between cubs and sox fans and the kids who switched allegiances over to the Sox were rightly pummeled by both real Sox and Cub fans. and, again, these were the days when bleacher seats for either team only cost a few dollars.

if there was a cubs bandwagon it happened after i had moved away, and the question you should ask yourself is why more joined the 84 Cubs playoff run than jumped on with the Sox a year earlier? and why would they stay after the heartbreak that was the 84 playoff series against the Padres that lead to four sub .500 seasons in a row before they made it to the playoffs again in ’89?

Since the 80s the cubs have only six seasons where they were above .500 and only two seasons where they placed first or second, meaning in the last 16 years those who have jumped on this imaginary bandwagon of yours have only been rewarded twice. thats not exactly why people join bandwagons.

meanwhile your claim that the Sox fans are the real die-hards is also as ridiculous. remember that Cubs game that i went to last Friday afternoon? at the time the Cubs were more than 30 games below .500 and they still drew over 37,000 fans.

meanwhile your Sox, who last night were still in the playoff chase (albeit it, not a great chance, but still in it) played a night game and only drew just 39,427

you’re telling me that the defending champs, during a pennant race, playing on a 68 degree night, with the wind blowing out, against a first place Detroit team (who should be responsible for at least a few thousand transplant fans) can only barely attract 2k more fans than a Cub team fielded by players who are not named Wood, Prior, or Maddux?

what sort of bandwagon is it when a team is in dead last place and the fans still nearly sell out the game? thats not a bandwagon, that’s called loyal fans.

not selling out during a pennant race against the first place team in your division, at night is an embarrassment, and nothing for Cub fans to be jealous of.

perhaps the attendees of Wrigley have increased in affluence over the years, but they were not the lovable Bleacher Bums who were portrayed in the famous play, or the hapless losers painted in the Rockwell classic.

the Cubs have always been the team for the average man. for the exception of the last few years they were the ones who televised nearly every game on free, local, non-cable tv. which attracted the likes of Harry Caray away from the south side who said that he didn’t want to work for a team that would charge the working man extra to see his team on tv.

and when talking about african-american fans, the north side had plenty to root for: Buck O’Neil was MLB’s first black coach, Ernie Banks was the first black to win back to back MVPs, Hall of Famer Billy Williams played at Wrigley from 59-74, the torch was passed to Bill Madlock who won back to back batting titles in 75 and 76, which is to say nothing of Fergie Jenkins who had six consecutive 20 game win seasons from 67-72.

just because the south side had more african americans living closer to Comiskey didnt mean that the north side didnt have blacks worth rooting for. indeed, with all due respect to larry doby, bobby bonds, and harold baines, the cubs had better ones. which again prompts me to say, we had nothing to be jealous of. nothing.