Every Friday this season we are proud to bring you personal anecdotes from those who played in a Cub uniform. These reflections find their source in Carrie Muskatís fine compilation Banks to Sandberg to Grace. Look for it in your favorite outlet featuring fine Cub literature.
Next week: Steve Stone
When I first went to Wrigley Field, Iíll never forget it. Iíll never forget leaving the clubhouse in the left field corner and walking with Ernie Banks. In those days when you were a rookie your teammates wouldnít talk to you, but Ernie talked to me. Weíre going out and he said ìWhatís this feel like?î I said ìErnie, I canít believe it.î
I walked on the field and there was an atmosphere. Thereís nothing like it. The stands were empty. It was so beautiful. It was like playing in my backyard. It didnít feel like ìJeez, Iím overwhelmed.î It felt like ìThis is baseball.î
Leo didnít have to kick me in the ass but, but there was one time when I was in a slump. It was June and Iím still hitting over .300and leading the club in RBI and Iím hitting fourth in the lineup. I was the captain. I would take the lineup card out to the umpires. Usually Leo would walk over and give me the card and say ìHowís so-and-so doing?î
Heíd always confide in me. He always had a comment. On this particular day, he walks over, hands me the card and walks away. I put the card in my pocket and go out to loosen up. Billy Williams came over to me. Now we never changed the lineup. Billy says ìAny changes in the lineup?î I take it out and Iím hitting seventh. I look at this and Iím pissed.
Leo used to stand behind the cage and watch hitting. Every day, arms crossed, watch hitting. And then heíd walk away. So heís back there. Itís my turn to hit and because Iím hitting seventh, Iím in the third group. And Iím pissed. I get up there and take ten swings; the next time, five swings; the next time, three, and another three. After the last turn I turned and looked right at him, and I threw the bat at the cage and I walked out of the cage.
The game starts and I go 4 for 4, two home runs and drove in five runs. What did he do? He got me on track. He won that battle. I didnít realize it. He got me out of the slump.
You donít know how tough it was to leave the Chicago Cubs. When general manager John Holland called me, my first wife was sick with salmonella poisoning. I had taken her to the hospital in the middle of the night. The next morning John calls me and says ìRon, weíve got a chance. You know weíre moving players. This is the toughest thing Iíve ever had to do. Youíre a 5 and 10 player and you have a right to turn it down, but we have a chance to get three pitchers from the California Angels and they want you bad. Theyíre willing to give you a two year deal, unbelievable money!î
I said ìJohn, you called me at a bad time. My wife is in the hospital and I donít have time to talk about it or even discuss it. Call me in a week.î I hung up the phone and I had tears. I didnít cry, I just had tears.
A week later he calls me and I said ìJohn, Iím not going to move my family to California.î I wanted to be a Cub. Then he really hurt me and said ìWhere do you want to go?î I had to hang up the phone. I bawled because I knew that was it. I called him back and said ìIím going to retire. Iím not going anywhere.î
Then I got a call from White Sox manager Chuck Tanner and I was staying in Chicago. To be honest when that happened, I lost my desire and love for the game. I hit .300 that last year for the Cubs, I had 25 home runs or whatever. But I lost my enthusiasm. Even tho I was happy to stay in Chicago, it wasnít the same.