The Rundown: Recognizing Chicago’s Female Fan Base, Remembering Ron Santo, Labor Negotiations Could Kill Reboot Proposals

If you were a Cubs fan before 1984, you suffered through some pretty lean times for the franchise. Except for a whiff of playoff caliber baseball from 1969-71, the Cubbies were one of the more deplorable teams in all of baseball for four decades. To say they earned the moniker of “lovable losers” is a vast understatement. The fan base followed suit, generally speaking.

That said, the organization tried to make Wrigley Field a welcoming place for female baseball fans going all the way back at least as far as 1919, when the Cubs’ brass defied a league-wide ban on Ladies’ Day promotions. The other team owners asserted that women — then on the precipice of the national suffrage and temperance movements of 1920 — no longer required a special day to attend games. In actuality, the league likely feared losing male fans who had voiced their displeasure with the women’s rights platform.

Cubs ownership expected that adding female fans would help the team attract the “socially elite of [Chicago],” as chewing gum magnate William Wrigley said at the time. He may have just needed butts in seats to compete with the White Sox, because similar promotions were not discontinued in the American League. The Friday afternoon Ladies’ Days events at Wrigley Field were enormously successful, leading to an eventual reversal of the ban by the league.

My mom was not much of a sports fan but she did have a huge crush on Ron Santo. In fact, she was an original member of the third baseman’s official fan club and attended every Ladies’ Day home game sporting her members-only jacket, no matter the weather, after spending hours getting ready like she actually had a date with “Ravishing Ronnie” (as she called him).

Like many other families at that time, mine was a one-income unit. My father worked and my mom took care of the kids and the home. The house was always clean and dinner was on the table every night when dad returned from the office. He’d cut the grass, wash the car, and organize the garage on the weekends, but that was the extent of his domestic chores.

Every other Friday, however, my mother and her girlfriends would attend the Cubs games while my siblings and I enjoyed dinners by Pizza Pete and some quality time with our father. That usually meant a Muhammad Ali fight on TV or Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash records on the Zenith hi-fi. I could do a spot-on impersonation of both Ali and Howard Cosell by the time I reached the second grade.

One year, my mom received a signed chalk caricature of Santo, something that was offered as a prize for one of his mostly female fan club members. She framed it and hung it in the foyer of our home and my dad immediately hated it. In fact, it was the topic of what seemed like hundreds of arguments between the two. I think my dad was actually a little jealous of my mom’s not-so-secret affection for her favorite player.

The caricature had replaced a velvet portrait of Elvis, a source of consternation for my father because he held Presley in a place of reverence usually reserved for gods or heads of state. Dad had been drafted into the Army a week ahead of Elvis and both were eventually stationed in Germany, though not together. It’s a pretty big country, and at the time there were something like 40-45 US military installations there. That never stopped my old man from bragging that he “served in the Army with Elvis in Germany.”  So while mom was gone, Santo’s picture came down and Presley’s went back up.

My parents separated in 1974, the same year the Cubs traded their all-star third baseman to the White Sox for Steve Stone, Ken Frailing, and Steve Swisher, so my mom switched her allegiance to Santo’s new team. Though court records show that her crush on Ronnie and resulting abandonment of the Cubs had nothing to do with the dissolution of their marriage, I’d bet the judge who heard the proceedings got an earful from my dad.

As for the Cubs, they eventually abolished Ladies’ Day events due to concerns that they constituted a form of discrimination, and I have no idea if players still have official, dedicated fan clubs that include member jackets. Nevertheless, women continued to support the North Siders and the club’s female fan base remains the largest in baseball, something worth recognizing as a follow up to Mother’s Day.

Cubs News & Notes

Apropos of Nothing

Currently, 74% of sports fans want to see baseball return ASAP, even if it means games played in empty stadiums. Meanwhile, 72% of Americans say they’ll reach a breaking point if stay-safer-at-home requirements extend into June, so, my math says we are all just about ready to experience at least some semblance of whatever the new normal may be.

A recent survey revealed 53% of MLB fans believe baseball will return in June or July.

Odds & Sods

See “Apropos of Nothing.”

MLB News & Notes

It has been reported that the the league is going to propose a universal DH when it meets with the players union today to discuss restarting the season. There would be no realignment of divisions in consideration of the proposal, and interleague play would consist of crossover division play only (i.e. NL Central vs. AL Central).

A “labor war” may be looming if the league asks players to take further reductions in guaranteed salaries for games played in empty stadiums.

At least one unnamed team is planning to cut payroll after this season, and many more front offices may follow suit. That could lead to a higher than normal number of non-tenders, and increased player movement this winter. That probably won’t sit well with the MLBPA, either.

Contentious negotiations for a shortened 2020 season could lead to a lockout when the current CBA expires after the 2021 season.

A five-round first year player draft plays right into the hands of the league’s desire to eliminate minor league affiliates.

Sixty of the 5,754 people in a study of the Major League Baseball employee population tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, per Jeff Passan of ESPN. The rate was lower than expected.

On Deck

Things I learned while watching episodes 7 and 8 of The Last Dance: speculative reporting is apparently not a new thing, and probably everybody except the most die-hard of fans forgot that Ron Schueler once ran the White Sox. Is it just me or does it seem like Kenny Williams has been there for a hundred years?

Bet you forgot Schueler worked for the Cubs after he left the Sox, too.

Extra Innings

Baseball America scouted Michael Jordan as a baseball player back in 1994 and republished that column yesterday (free content).

They Said It

  • “I think [Sandberg] would have been a Hall of Famer no matter where he played. I think somebody would have eventually got to him, maybe not as quick as Jim Frey did. But I think eventually somebody would have tapped that and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to be strong and hit some balls out of the ballpark.’” – Larry Bowa

Monday Walk Up Song

I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan – Just like those heartbreaking SPCA commercials, if you watch baseball highlights while listening to this song you’ll need some tissues.

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