Baseball Way Back: Raye-Stout the straw that stirs the drink
Part 1 of 2
When Cheryl Raye-Stout produced Chet Coppock's sports talk show on WMAQ radio in the 1980s, he dubbed her "the straw that stirs the drink."
Players and other members of the media picked up on the name.
"I said it was either I stirred the drink or broke the camel's back," said the veteran sports journalist who, these days, stirs up sports news for WBEZ radio.
Recently, she spoke to me via video chat from a "sports room" filled with memorabilia, including pictures and credentials for Chicago's major sports teams.
The Palatine resident is truly one of a kind, a radio reporter who blazed the trail for women covering baseball.
Unlike her television counterparts, she points out, she ventured into often hostile territory unaccompanied by a male cameraman.
She was born too early to play baseball, since Title IX did not arrive until the year following her graduation from Austin High School in Chicago.
But she nurtured a love for the sport that was passed down from her grandfather, a Polish immigrant who drove a coal truck delivering to both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park.
While growing up, her favorites included Joel Horlen, Dick Allen, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and, on the opposing side, Roberto Clemente.
"I used to cut school to go see him play," she said, savoring the memory of flat-footed throws that would catch runners at home plate.
"I wanted to go into sports. That was my thing. In radio, there were no role models at all. There was Jeannie Morris from TV. But there weren't a lot of people to glean anything from."
After graduating from Columbia College in 1980, Raye-Stout landed a gig as a producer in 1981 at WMAQ, which at the time was a country and western station but was moving into talk and would acquire rights to the NFL, Illini basketball and football and White Sox baseball.
One of her first jobs was producing the Tony La Russa show.
To this day, she remembers La Russa's kindness.
"He was the first manager that I covered going into the locker room," she said.
Raye-Stout earned her nickname after she was given the job of producing "Coppock on Sports."
Although she overheard Coppock tell someone they had just hired "a broad" to produce his show, she proved her worth immediately by booking Cubs GM Dallas Green as her first guest, relying on a Cubs connection.
When she branched into reporting, she had to develop a style that would earn the trust of the players. That included talking to the players in the dugout before entering the locker room.
Still, she encountered resistance and even taunting, such as when White Sox infielder Steve Lyons started showing off his unclad physique. She responded with humor, buying a bottle of suntan lotion and putting it in his locker with a note saying, "You have some tan marks you got to take care of."
But she soon developed relationships that blossomed into breaking stories. She developed a rapport with Bobby Bonilla when he was with the White Sox. After Bonilla was traded to the Pirates and returned to Wrigley Field, "This young, skinny guy comes up next to him, and Bobby goes, 'Barry, I want you to meet Cheryl. Treat her real nice.' From that point on, Barry Bonds would give me an interview anytime I asked him."
She said she received incredible support from bosses Tom Webb and Bill Gamble. It led to her "dream come true," sharing a broadcast booth with Sox announcer Don Drysdale for a game against Tony La Russa's Oakland A's. She said after the game, in the Comiskey Park Bard's Room, Drysdale held court, regaling his auditors with mesmerizing stories.
The last years at Comiskey were memorable ones, particularly 1986, the year that Hawk Harrelson took over as GM, "the most insane year ever behind the scenes."
It began with the firing of Sox GM Roland Hemond, which she learned about through her ex-husband, who was working at the Westin Hotel and overheard Hemond call his wife to break the news.
It continued with some of the bizarre Harrelson hirings, including Dick Allen as roving hitting instructor.
"One time, (Allen) stood behind the batting cage when they would take batting practice with a cigarette and a beer," she said.
And when sports reporter Jerry Kuc spoke to Billy Martin at the hotel where the Yankees were staying, Martin confirmed that talks were underway to fire La Russa and hire him, but after it was reported on Coppock's show, Harrelson quickly called a news conference during the game to deny it.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the scene was also lively on the North Side, with the Cubs seeking that elusive world championship. Raye-Stout remembered that during the winter meetings in Rosemont in 1990 there was a rumor that George Bell was coming to the Cubs.
"A couple of us reporters found out through George Bell's agent that he was signing with the Cubs," she said.
They caught GM Jim Frey coming out of an elevator. When they confronted him, he said, "You guys are nothing but pimps and whores."
• Part 2: Zim, Sammy, Frank, the last game at Comiskey and two World Series