By Tim Murphy:
When I was growing up, my whole world revolved around baseball: playing it; collecting baseball cards; listening to the games on the radio; sleeping with my glove under the pillow
. . . Summer and baseball were all good.
We were South Siders from the Chicago area, so that meant we were White Sox fans. Chicago had another team too, but they were on the North Side. If you know much about Chicago baseball, you know that you can’t like both teams. You can either hate the other team or, if you were a little more tolerant, you could fail to acknowledge their existence. To true Sox Fans, the only thing worse than a Cub Fan was a Sox Fan that said he liked the Cubs too. That was despicable. Cub Fans feel the same.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, we took a summer vacation to Gun Lake, Michigan. I had high expectations for the vacation: the lake, with a bunch of cabins so there would be a bunch of kids to play with, the brochure that showed a playground—it looked like it should be good.
When we got there, I went exploring and noticed there was no baseball field, so that kind of stunk. I went over and met the family in the cabin next to us. They were from Michigan and had a girl my age and she had a couple of older sisters. At that age, I wasn’t interested in girls, so that kind of stunk too. When I found out that we could not get the White Sox games on the radio because we were out of range, well this Michigan place didn’t seem to have much to offer anymore—some vacation.
So, I was kind of moping around and saw the girl my age from the cabin next door playing catch with her dad. She kind of caught my eye. She wasn’t bad. Her dad was tossing her pop ups, and she handled them very well. She knew what she was doing. I watched her throw the ball back, and she could throw as well as any shortstop in our neighborhood. So when her dad had to go do something else and she protested that she wanted to play some more, well, I already had my glove on. I offered to step in and play a little game of catch with her.
Her ball had some pop and a nice little tail on it. She was a crafty lefthander. I liked it. We made a little small talk. She asked me if I had seen the playground, and I said, “Yeah, that big slide seemed pretty cool, but it was a little slow.” She told me she could fix that and ran inside her cabin and came out with a couple of pieces of wax paper and told me to come with her. She climbed the slide, put the wax paper under her butt, and slid down. She gave me the other piece and told me to follow. I did, and it was much quicker! The more we did it, the faster it got, and I could tell she liked it fast. This girl was okay. . . for a girl.
That evening before supper, a bunch of kids got a Kick the Can game going. She came out to play too, and I got to see her both run and hide. She was fast, and she had skills. This girl was a player. The next day out at the lake as I waded around in the shallow end—because there were a bunch of minnows swimming around, and maybe because I didn’t know how to swim and wasn’t allowed to go out any deeper, but mostly because of the minnows—she came over and joined me and tried to catch the minnows too. I had never considered putting together a list of qualifications that a girl could possess that would get me going, but "catches pop-ups" and "likes to fish" would probably have been up at the top. This was a girl I could spend some time with.
So, the vacation was turning out to be much better than I expected—even without the Sox games on the radio and no baseball field to play on. Then my dad told me that the Sox were playing the Stinkin' Detroit Tigers that night, and we could get the game on the radio because we were in Michigan. Who knew the Stinkin' Tigers were from Michigan, and who would have thought they could be good for something? So, I took a chance and asked my new best friend if she was going to listen to the game on the radio that night and she said, “Heck, yeah!” She was a dream girl.
The vacation was really going great now, but there was a bit of a setback—the Sox lost that night, which kind of stunk. So the next morning, I met her for a Kool Aid and some wax paper at the slide, and she asked if I listened to the game. She was very spirited in the way she asked, and I was impressed that she could brush off the loss so well. It was a good quality to bounce back and not dwell on it. I told her that I had listened, and it was too bad they lost. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “What do you mean lost? They won!” I said, “No, I listened to the whole game, they lost 5 to 3.” She said, “No, they won 5 to 3!” Our first argument, but I was sure I would be able to set her straight. But before I could show her, she yelled to her sister, “Didn’t the Tigers win 5 to 3?” And I thought, “Wait . . . What? Tigers win?” And I realized: OH, NO, NO, NO . . . she was a Stinkin' Tigers Fan. OH, NO, NO, NO . . . not the Stinkin' Tigers! This would not do. Not a Stinkin' Tigers Fan. I could not have a lasting, meaningful relationship with a Stinkin' Tigers Fan. She had led me on with her pop ups and her cute little tailing fastball and her wax paper and her minnows, only to rip my heart out with her Stinkin' Tiger claws. That was it. I grabbed my glove and walked back to my cabin.
Stinkin' Tigers . . . no, no, no . . . She was dead to me now. Vacation was over. Never saw her again. Stinkin' Tigers.
So, all these years later as I think about that story on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I can’t tell if I have grown wiser or just recognize stupidity better, but it raises the question:
When does seemingly innocent loyalty turn into blind, stupid, destructive prejudice?
I admire loyalty. I grew up in a culture of loyalty. My grandfather was a Chicago Fireman. A Chief, actually, First Deputy Marshall—one of the “White Hats.” They were called the “White Hats” because their fire helmets were white so that they could be located quickly during a fire. Firemen have a fabulous dedication to loyalty. He used to meet with Mayor Dailey once a week while he wrote the Fire Code for high-rise buildings in Chicago. This was the original Mayor Dailey—Hizonner Da Mayor. My grandfather was very loyal to Da Mayor, and I was loyal to my grandfather, so I grew up thinking Dailey could do no wrong.
My grandfather was a very good man. At his funeral, tons of fireman came up to tell me so. Two of them told me separately that they would be dead if not for him—he had carried them out of burning buildings. So, if my grandfather told me that Mayor Dailey could do no wrong, well, then he could do no wrong. I grew up thinking that everyone felt that way. It wasn’t until I went to college and wrote a paper on the Chicago Riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention that I learned that some people didn’t think Hizonner Da Mayor was as good a guy as my grandfather did. It was another realization that what I once believed may have a very different side to it.
I never brought the subject up to my grandfather. I never mentioned it to him while he was alive. I was sure I wouldn’t have changed his mind about Mayor Dailey, but I was afraid it might have changed his mind about me.
So, when does admirable, honest loyalty turn from a very noble thing to something more questionable?
When does it slide into blind loyalty and then to blind prejudice? I suppose when it leads to stupidity—when it leads to closing out opportunities . . . or worse, somebody gets hurt. Maybe it’s when we put our heads up where the wax paper goes that things get a little sticky. It is a very slippery slide, this prejudice thing.
So, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I’m gonna try to take a step forward—a step toward reconciliation here. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna put myself out there and say it:
I think . . . the . . . Cubs . . . are . . . okay.
I know, I know—I might get shot the next time I show up on the South Side of Chicago, but I’ve gotta be a better man. I still have some limitations. I just can’t go all the way yet: they’re still the Stinkin' Tigers.
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!
Tim Murphy grew up on the south side of Chicago in a home filled with Catholic Irish traditions. He has kissed the Blarney Stone and been given the gift of storytelling. He attended Catholic Grade School, public high school and a Lutheran College—which perhaps has shaped his somewhat irreverent style. In his sixty-four years, he has received many blessings, and despite his misbehavior, they seem to keep coming.