The Long & Winding Road
Yesterday’s tease piece in the Sun-Times that envisioned a reunion in Chicago next year of Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols got me connecting some dots of my own.
Years ago, before Pujols was born in fact, Jocketty and LaRussa first teamed up as the GM and skipper, respectively, of the Iowa Oaks. The year was 1979 and before that season ended LaRussa, at the mere age of 34, replaced Don Kessinger as manager of the White Sox.
I was an adrift 25 year-old quaffing beer in the stands, usually from a vantage point right behind the home dugout, courtesy of a buddy whose widowed mother was then consorting with one of the Oaks’ owners.
Bobby Molinaro was the driveshaft of that team; the player we most approved of and had most occasion to cheer. The ascendant Harold Baines was also catching eyes. LaRussa cut his managerial teeth against the likes of Jack McKeon, Jim Leyland and Lee Elia that summer, each of whom also had clubs in the American Association at the time.
Marv Foley was on that team. Years later, in 1993, he managed the Iowa Cubs to a pennant and spent some (after) hours in my pub helping me pass the time between last call and the janitor’s arrival at dawn. I still have a sleek, black fungo bat he bestowed upon me in return for my hospitalities. A couple of times I rescued it from the clutches of my two boys when they drug it into service in neighborhood sandlot games despite that they stood hardly taller than the bat.
I’d forgotten that Bobby Douglass did a cameo turn with that ’79 team. According to the archives I consulted he completed seven innings of work without fanning anyone while walking 13. Apparently the left-handed fastballs he winged in the general direction of receivers while quarterbacking for the Bears were no more accurate when aimed at someone equipped with a bat.
The last beer I had was at the same ballpark where LaRussa and Jocketty first collaborated. That was in 1994. By then they had both moved on and Pujols was 14, probably just coming into the natural hormonal supply that would fuel his unparalleled career, the commencement of which was still seven years distant.
Everyone mentioned here, with one exception, either moved on from Principal Park, nee Sec Taylor Stadium, to work in major league sports or, in the unusual case of Douglass, already had when they arrived in Des Moines.
But I, too, have come a long way.