Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs 101 - Pt 14 - Hey, hey! It's Jack Brickhouse

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"Chicago Cubs Baseball is...On The Air!"

God help the Baby Boomers, and those like me who immediately followed them, for being overly nostalgic about our childhoods.  If I've read one, I've read 500 separate memoirs from young Chicago-area boys (and some girls) whose summertime childhood afternoons kicked off with pb&j with the crusts removed, then turning on Channel 9 at 1:00 for "The Leadoff Man", followed by the now antiquated announcement at 1:15 as the telecast proper began.  It hasn't been necessary for a long time for a television show to state that it is "on the air", considering that most of us get our teevee through a wire or on a satellite dish.

But my guy, our guy, Jack Brickhouse, the Voice of the Cubs, THE man who brought it home to us 162 times a year, started out when it was still a real curiosity that baseball games could be sucked up through the lens of a big camera, sent over airwaves to our attenae tethered to the tops of our houses, and pumped back down through what I called "ledium wire" to the big ol' Zenith in the corner of our living room.  Like most old dogs, he learned his habits when he was young, and saw no reason to change anything as the Cubs and baseball rolled onto the end of the 1970's and beyond.

I understand all of you who might have caught Brick's act on an episode of "Cubs Rain Delay Theatre", like Ernie Banks' 500th home run, or Moose Moryn's shoetop catch to preserve Don Cardwell's no-hitter, with the bad WGN graphics and the cameraman manually zooming the picture in-and-out to enhance the excitement...I get it if you all think he was cheesier than mama's au gratin hashbrowns.  Yeah, by the time I came to the party, all of Brick's cornball expressions - "WHEEEEE, boyyyy", "Whewwww, boy", and of course, "Hey, HEYYY!" were dated and stale, but I didn't know that!  Unlike many of my baby boomer brethren, who were more used to radio listening and perhaps caught games on the radio with Vince and Lloyd, I had absolutely ZERO tolerance for having to listening to the radio when I could SEE the game on the teevee!

So, as a result, I spend far, far more time listening to Jack Brickhouse than I spent listening to my own dad, or any other adult, for that matter.  For most of you, I understand Harry Caray is your guy.  It's kind of mind-blowing to think that for a generation of kids, Len Kasper is going to be That Guy.

Don't get me wrong, Jack wasn't Ron Santo as far as the manic-depressive spectrum is concerned.  We were never honored with his presence in terms of a postseason run, although they brought Jack back for the clinching game in Pittsburgh in 1984 where he deferred to Harry, of course.  So all of my Brick memories deal with individual instances, most of which were negative.  My most vivid Brick memory deals with a early-70s game where the Cubs needed to beat the Pirates to stay in the race, and Willie Stargell came to the plate in the 9th with a man on with us clinging to a one-run lead.  We got a "whooo-boy" as Pops walked to the plate, AND an "ohhhh, brother" as soon as he connected...that's ALL he said.  It was like somebody accidentally snipped his mike.

Of course, we've all heard some of the background on Brick, and probably what happened that either he or Arne Harris took the pre-emptive step of doing just that...turning off his mike as Brick launched into a stream of expletives.  As a kid, if you would have told me that Brick swore, and drank, and did other things that most red-blooded men did, I wouldn't have believed it for a second.  Brick was kind of like one of my teachers in my mind - beyond reproach!  When I was about 12 or 13, and recesses and weekends were spent trying to gross the other guys out, one of my friends who actually followed baseball more than I launched into a story about Jack and his proclivities in his hometown of Pee-oria, particularly concerning the strippers at Big Al's and...well, what happens in Pee-oria should stay in Pee-oria, if you can catch my drift.  Naturally, I was totally HORRIFIED!

This, this so-called...friend!  Who in the end, has turned out to be a total Sox fan...anyway, I tried as hard as I could to ignore him, but when I heard the same stories from other people in college, etc, I then assumed, like Dickey Dunn in "Slap Shot", that "It must be true!!"  Well, Jack Brickhouse was no saint, he probably could match the great Harry Caray beer for beer, but like Harry, Jack was just as bright and just as cognizant of his audience on WGN-TV - namely, the housewives that would flock to the park on "Ladies Day" Tuesdays, and children such as myself.  Chicago wasn't really ready for a guy with a hangover and slurred speech on "The Leadoff Man".  They wanted cheery, chirpy, corny, and unabashedly partisan.  Jack would point out ovations for visiting pitchers who had pitched well in Wrigley, which was quite often.  But, primarily, his efforts were spent building up the has-beens and never-will-bes that wore our laundry during the P.K.. Wrigley years.

Once in a while, you would find Brick at his most exuberant, like when the Cubs pulled out a 16-15 game against the Reds in 1977 - I will never forget the glee when Davey Rosello drove across the winning run!  Both of Kenny Holtzman's no-hitters, Burt Hooton's early in 1972, and Milt Pappas' disputed call of ball four to Larry Stahl with 2 outs in the ninth that blew uncle Miltie's perfect game.  Brick was not into criticizing umps, he merely said the 'pitch was close', but as he said it, his tone informed you that he did not agree with the call at all.  And, even though Milt and the Cubs were robbed of something that has happened less than 15 times in all of recorded history, Brick was just as pleased as punch when Pappas held his composure and retired the last hitter to at least preserve the no-no.

Yes, I realize that Brick also called for the Bears, as well as the Sox, and he did national broadcasts (do you know it was Brick who was calling the World Series game where Willie Mays made "The Catch"?)  But when I think of all the former Cubs who deserved to be part of a championship season, I always put Jack Brickhouse at the top of the list.

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