Celebrity fans like Newhart, Mantegna, Cusack share Cubs memories
John Cusack is posting Cubs photos on Instagram. Joe Mantegna is hosting a big Cubs playoffs party. Former WWE wrestler CM Punk is selling custom designed Cubs T-shirts. And Bob Newhart is refusing to do anything Wednesday night except watch the Cubs wild card playoff game on his living room TV.
"I think they're going to go all the way. That's how you gotta feel, if you're a Cubs fan," Newhart said. "But what do I know? I cheered for the 1945 Cubs."
Celebrities with Chicago roots are as swept up in Cubs playoff mania as the rest of the city, and like everyone else, it's got them reminiscing about past seasons, fond memories and dashed hopes.
Mantegna, who grew up on Chicago's West Side, is one of the team's biggest and most loyal celebrity fans but also one of the most pessimistic. Still, he can't deny he's excited about this year's Cubs.
"I have guarded optimism," said Mantegna, 67, star of "Criminal Minds" on CBS and co-writer of the 1977 hit play "Bleacher Bums," about characters in the Wrigley Field bleachers. "I'd like nothing better than to see them go all the way. But I refuse to wear my heart on my sleeve after all these years. I have to guard my heart ... but if they win, it will be incredible."
Last month, Mantegna's mother celebrated her 100th birthday and he realized she's never seen the Cubs win the World Series.
"She's not the hugest fan, but maybe that's why she's 100," he said. "There are people out there as old as my mother. I'd love to see the Cubs win for them. But who's to say? They could go another 100 years."
Mantegna's Los Angeles office includes a cabinet full of Cubs memorabilia, including one of his most prized possessions -- a baseball signed and dated by pitcher Kerry Wood before he threw a 20-strikeout, 1-hit game in 1998.
In Hollywood, Mantegna has worked with Ron Santo's son, Jeff, who's a filmmaker, and Ernie Banks' son, Joey, who's a Teamsters driver. He even opened a restaurant in Burbank, Calif., called Taste Chicago, which has become a gathering spot for Chicago transplants who want to gather to watch Chicago sports teams. A big viewing party is planned there for Wednesday night's playoff game.
Mantegna estimates he's been to hundreds of games in his lifetime, and along with comedian Tom Dreesen (who grew up in suburban Harvey), holds the record for the most times singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.
"Talk about the goat, maybe it's me?" he said, referencing one of the team's alleged curses.
John Cusack, 49, who grew up in Evanston, has been cheering the Cubs via social media. "They coming to Pittsburg -- get ready," he said Monday on Instagram, misspelling the city's name and adding a picture of Cubs players Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in the on-deck circle. He recently posted an Instagram photo of himself decades ago in the Cubs dugout with the late manager Don Zimmer.
Actor Bob Newhart, 86, who grew up in Chicago's Austin neighborhood, can still recite the starting lineups from the Cubs teams of his youth in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including third baseman Stan Hack, shortstop Billy Jergus and right fielder Bill Nicholson.
In 1945, at age 16, Newhart remembers cheering as he watched the Cubs parade down LaSalle Street to celebrate winning the National League pennant.
"All the able-bodied men were off to war. That was the last time the Cubs won the pennant," he said.
He also remembers seeing the Cubs' one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, catch the ball with his one hand, tuck his mitt under his bad arm, and then throw the ball to the infield.
After he became famous, Newhart still frequently went to Cubs games and often signed autographs for kids who recognized him at Wrigley Field. One night years later, while he was waiting to do "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," actor John Belushi came into the green room and introduced himself.
"He said, 'Do you remember, at a Cubs ballgame, when you signed some baseballs for kids? I was one of those kids,'" Newhart said.
Celebrity love of the Cubs has inspired music, too, including classic songs by the late singer/songwriter Steve Goodman and a more recent tune by Evanston native Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the band Pearl Jam. His song, "All the Way," expressed his love for the Cubs:
There's magic in the ivy and the old scoreboard
The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score
Don't let anyone say that it's just a game
For I've seen other teams and it's never the same
When you're born in Chicago you're blessed and you're healed
The first time you walk into Wrigley Field
In a world full of greed, I could never want more
Than someday we'll go all the way.
Celebrity Cubs fan dossiersJoe Mantegna, actor who grew up in ChicagoFirst trip to Wrigley Field: "I was probably single digits in terms of age. I have one distinct memory of going one summer, and I went 10 times and they lost all 10 times. When my Dad asked me to go the 11th time, I declined. I thought it was my fault."
Favorite player of all time: Ernie Banks. Ron Santo is a very tight second.
Favorite player on the current team: Anthony Rizzo ("I go ethnic, you know. Gotta love the Italians"). Also Kris Bryant and manager Joe Maddon.
Most heartbreaking memory of being a Cubs fan: "You got an hour? There is a list," he said. Forced to pick one, he chooses the 1984 series against the San Diego Padres. The Cubs only needed to win one of three games and they would have gone to the World Series, but Mantegna remembers the sinking feeling of watching Steve Garvey hit a home run and knowing the Cubs were going to lose. "I play golf with (Garvey) now, and I still say, 'I don't know why I like you.'"
Why do you love this team?: "It was put on me by my father. He said, this is who you should follow, and it's a done deal."
Jeff Garlin, comedian and actor from Morton Grove First trip to Wrigley Field: "Seeing Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks up close blew me away. I say 'up close' because they were signing autographs, but I didn't get one as I was too young, like, 7 years old."
Favorite player of all time: Ron Santo.
Favorite player on current team: Anthony Rizzo.
Most heartbreaking memory of being a Cubs fan: "That is a question that bleeds into a giant blur."
Why do you love this team? "Because Joe Maddon has a great sense of humor and he brings out the best in these young players. They all seem like really good guys. Asking me why I stay hooked on the Cubs is like asking me why I keep breathing. I just do."
Bob Newhart, actor who grew up in ChicagoFirst trip to Wrigley Field:
"I had to be like, 6 or 7. My mother used to take me. We lived on the West Side, in the Austin neighborhood. They used to run what we called feeder busses up Central. That's how we got there. My dad loved the Sox, and I guess that was my first sign of rebellion. The Sox were so boring."
Favorite player of all time: Ernie Banks. "I got to know Ernie, and he and his wife were such nice people. I also liked Phil Cavarretta (1934-1953) and Andy Pafko (1943-1951). My dad belonged to Elmhurst Country Club. He'd take me out to play golf, and he said to me one day, 'Look, that's Andy Pafko.' And he was mowing the lawn. Baseball players, they didn't wind up with these incredible salaries back then. They'd play ball, and then they'd go work as a groundskeepers at Elmhurst Country Club."
Favorite player on current team: Anthony Rizzo.
Most heartbreaking memory of being a Cubs fan: "(In 1969), when Leo Durocher was the manager, the Cubs were ahead by eight games to win the National League pennant. And they blew it. But I always said, the Cubs kind of prepared you for life."
Why do you love this team? "Because I still love Chicago. It's a great city. And (the team) is special. They can be 7 runs behind and come back. My wife and I went to a game once, and it looked like a losing cause so we left early. As we walked out of the ballpark, we heard this loud cheer. The pitcher had hit a home run and they won."