It will be hard to match WGN's Cubs legacy
ST. LOUIS -- Unless you have been living in a pre-1948 time warp, you've noted that WGN-TV has signed off and faded to black with its Chicago Cubs telecasts.
The tributes have been heartfelt and sentimental.
So here's the question: Why?
After all, isn't a baseball telecast just a baseball telecast, with a few cameras and a couple of guys (and the far too few women) in the booth?
Yes, but no.
Here's why it mattered with WGN. The station and later superstation known as "good ol' Channel 9" (thanks to legendary broadcaster Jack Brickhouse) had the right touch and the right feel when it came to bringing baseball into our homes.
That's important because baseball is the most rhythmic of sports. It's a day-to-day companion, and if you're going to be with somebody for 72 years, as WGN was with its Cubs viewers, you better have the right touch and feel.
WGN may not always have had all the gadgets and gizmos (some of them superfluous) as some of the networks, but they had just the right amount of the techno stuff, and their camera work was always on top of the play, as Jack would note when Ron Santo would snag a "hot line drive."
But with WGN, it was always a comfortable listen, from Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Chip Caray and Steve Stone to Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies.
My memories of watching Cubs and White Sox (more on them in a sec) games on Channel 9 go back to the early- and mid-1960s. I was one of those kids who ran home from school to catch the last couple innings of the game. In those days, the Cubs started home games at 1:30 p.m., and they might be in the eighth inning of their game at 3:30, when I got home. (Today, 3:30 can mean the fourth inning.)
If you had a complete afternoon off and were able to catch the whole game, that baseball rhythm hummed to the beat of producer Jack Rosenberg's typewriter tap-tap-tapping copy for Brickhouse or Vince Lloyd or Lloyd Pettit. You might even see your mom, dad or grandparent nodding off with that soothing sound in the background, only to be startled awake by Jack's "Hey-hey!" when Ernie, Billy or Ronnie hit one. "Atta boy, Ernie, wheeee!"
The guys in the WGN director's chair set the tone, from Arne Harris to Pete Toma to Marc Brady.
In all of the tributes to WGN, I wish that their role in televising White Sox baseball in the early years would have been given more prominence. Jack Brickhouse, perhaps the greatest broadcaster in Chicago history, worked games of both the Cubs and Sox until 1967, and he displayed just as much enthusiasm describing a Sox homer as he did a Cubs homer. Go online and find Jack's description of the Sox winning the 1959 American League pennant, and you'll hear the excitement in his voice.
Times changed, and the Sox foolishly left Channel 9 for UHF and Channel 32. The Cubs had WGN to themselves, but the landscape changed again, with other outlets siphoning off games.
Let it be said here that NBC Sports Chicago also did a great job with Cubs telecasts (keeping the same talent in the booth was important), but for those of a certain age and a certain generation, you just couldn't shake the warm feeling games on Channel 9 brought to afternoons and evenings.
It's a brave new world for the Cubs now, and we wish them godspeed with their new Marquee venture as they bring you the pictures, descriptions and accounts of these games.
But if they hit a snag along the way, I know of a station that might be able to help.