Awhile ago my uncle told me that his father (my maternal grandfather) was a big White Sox fan and had pitched for a semi-pro team in Chicago before his marriage in 1910. As a baseball fan, I found this information very interesting. Baseball is the one sport that has held up in the family.
My grandfather, Charles McHugh, moved to Chicago in 1904 with his mother and some of his siblings. He was in Chicago when the Sox beat the Cubs in the 1906 World Series and when old Comiskey Park opened in 1910—the year he married Bess Catherine Crail.
The family moved to Indianapolis a few years later. So Grandpa McHugh was in Indy when the Sox won their last World Series in 1917. I can only imagine the agony he went through as a Sox fan in 1919 when they fell to Cincinnati in 8 games (best of 9 that year) and the "Black Sox Scandal" broke. "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and seven other members of the 1919 team were accused of accepting bets to throw (lose) the Series. Although found not guilty in court, the eight ballplayers were banned from baseball by newly-appointed Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Over the years my grandfather would witness such Sox stars as Luke Appling, Al Simmons, Jimmy Dykes, Monty Stratton, Nellie Fox, Ted Lyons, and Minnie Minoso.
Charles McHugh died in 1954, a month before my 3rd birthday. Memories are scant, but family pictures exist. From those pictures and stories told by my mother and uncle, I can picture Grandpa McHugh sitting in his chair listening to the Sox games on the radio.
Grandpa would probably be glued to the TV set these days watching his Sox battle for a World Series berth.
My father has told me about the days that his mother took him to Victory Field to watch the Indianapolis Indians play baseball. He has also related watching New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio belt a home run off of Dizzy Dean in game two of the 1938 World Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
My interest in baseball began about 1961, my first year in Little League. The magnitude of that '61 Major League season was lost on a novice baseball fan. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record.
Over the years both of my parents were out in the yard playing catch with me. My mother missed a bunch of Little League games manning the concession stand. I played sandlot ball nearly every day during the summer for 7-8 years. I spent 20 years coaching Little League and Dixie Youth baseball.
One day in the spring of 1962, convinced that I was serious about playing baseball, my Dad bought me my first quality baseball glove. It was a six-fingered Rawlings Whitey Ford-autographed model. From that day forward I was a Whitey Ford fan and a Yankee fan. I also adopted Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and the rest of the team. Fortunately in those days, the CBS Game of the Week was the NY Yankees. Pee Wee Reese (famed Brooklyn Dodger shortstop) and Dizzy Dean (former St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs hurler) were the broadcasters. Ol' Diz was nothing if not colorful as he described the action.
That summer my parents and I went to Comiskey Park in Chicago to see a Yankees-Sox Sunday double-header. (See, connections are being made!) I had two items on my wish list: (1) see Whitey Ford pitch and (2) see Mickey Mantle hit a home run. I was crushed when Ford pitched on Saturday. During game one Mantle came to the plate and ripped a drive to left field that nearly cleared the stadium roof! We were sitting along the left field line - the homer rocketed right past me!
In 1963, one of my classmates got me hooked on the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were close to home and became a logical team to root for. '63 was Pete Rose's rookie season.
I also rooted for the hometown AAA Indianapolis Indians. We attended games at the same Victory Field that my grandmother had taken my father to watch ball games. Trips to Cincinnati's Crosley Field were frequent until I went off to college. We also visited other ballparks during summer vacations. The racket created by fans in the Washington Senators' ballpark with tin flooring, a colorful beer vendor in Atlanta, the scoreboard and hotdogs at the Astrodome, and some weird happenings at Crosley Field are still topics for discussion between my Dad and I.
I was fortunate enough to watch the careers of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez unfold and the advent of the "Big Red Machine." I also watched Rose's fall from grace as he was banned from the sport for gambling on baseball games.
As the Yankee greats of the '60s retired or were traded, my loyalty shifted to the Reds, where it has remained through thick and thin. An awful lot of thin lately! My Dad and I watch ball games together when I visit him during the baseball season. We reminisce about the good old days of Mantle and Ford, how Crosley Field was more fun than Riverfront Stadium for watching ball games, and how much fun it was to listen to Dizzy Dean call a game.
Players that my grandparents and parents followed in their day, I read about, listened to as broadcasters (Waite Hoyt, Dizzy Dean, Pee Wee Reese, etc.), or watched in the twilight of their careers. We all watched players at Indianapolis who became major leaguers.
My grandfather got to root for "Shoeless Joe" in Chicago, my father got to see "The Yankee Clipper" homer in Chicago, and I got to see "The Mick" homer in Chicago. All three of us (plus Mom) attended games at Comiskey Park in Chicago. We all became baseball fans and saw games at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
I would love to have been able to talk baseball with my grandfather. He was able to see some great ballplayers over the years. My Dad and I have spent hours comparing the teams of the '60s and '70s to today's teams.
I would take the '62 Yankees or '75 -'76 Reds over top teams of this era. I'd love to see Barry Bonds stand and admire one of his home runs and then try to survive his next at bat against Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, or Joe Nuxhall. (Duck, Barry!)
"Field of Dreams" was a terrific baseball movie. James Earl Jones' "They will come" speech describing the link between baseball and the generations of its fans was right on target, "Baseball. It reminds us of all that was once good."
Old Comiskey Park, Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium, the Astrodome, and Victory Field are gone. They have been replaced by U.S. Cellular Field, Great American Ball Park, Minute Maid Park, and a new Victory Field. The memories will last as long as we last.
Three generations of the family have been baseball fans. I guess I should include a fourth. A few years ago, I was getting acquainted and reacquainted with one of my cousin's kids. We sat around the dinner table chatting and the talk eventually turned to baseball. I told them about seeing Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax pitch and Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle hit home runs. They were as enthralled with my stories as I was with those of my father's about DiMaggio and Dean. The baton, or should I say bat, was passed on to the next generation. As genealogists, we look for things that link our ancestors together. In this case it is America's Game - baseball. We share our memories and lament the changes in the game that we see as negative.
I don't know which teams will appear in the 2005 World Series, certainly not my Cincinnati Reds. So to keep the family tradition, such as it is, going, I'll be rooting for the White Sox in honor of Grandpa McHugh. Go Sox!