Baseball Way Back: Idea of LaRussa return raises memories of past revivals
I used to tell friends I will remain young as long as Harold Baines is still playing.
I enjoyed quite an extended youth as a result.
Now I'm ready to say I won't be old as long as Tony LaRussa is still managing.
If the Sox hire LaRussa, it wouldn't be the first time a Chicago baseball team has tried to recapture glory by mining the managerial boneyard.
Bill Veeck, embarking on his second stint as owner, named Paul Richards his manager for the 1976 campaign.
Richards previously managed the Sox at the onset of the Go-Go era, taking over in 1951 and guiding the team to three third-place finishes until he quit late in the 1954 season to become both the general manager and the manager of the Baltimore Orioles.
When Richards returned to the South Side, he was 67 years old and hadn't managed since 1961.
To add nostalgic seasoning to Richards' rehire, one of the stars of Richards' teams of the 1950s, Minnie Minoso, joined as a coach. In fact, Minoso even came to bat eight times that year and, at age 50, singled off the Angels' Sid Monge.
In spring training, Richards said, "If our young pitchers come through and Orta can play third base, we have a chance to be contenders," referring to hurlers Rich Gossage, Terry Forster and Bart Johnson and third-sacker Jorge Orta.
He fended off questions about his age by saying, "If you're talking about communicating with younger people, then that's a lot of bullion. Nobody has any trouble communicating if he knows what he's talking about."
Before an opening day crowd of 40,318 at Comiskey Park, Richards, Veeck and business manager Rudie Schaffer, in a nod to the Bicentennial, dressed as Minutemen and, marching onto the field, portrayed the Spirit of '76 during pre-game ceremonies. Richards, sporting a white wig and hoisting an American flag, recited the fourth stanza of the National Anthem, while Veeck played the fife and Schaffer played the drum.
At first, the team's performance validated the fanfare, following Wilbur Wood's opening day 4-0 complete game win against the Royals, with Jim Spencer driving in three runs, including two on a home run off Arlington Heights' own Paul Splittorff.
But after a 23-20 start, highlighted by a 10-game winning streak, the team finished with a dismal 64-97 record in a year remembered for the three-game stretch when the Sox wore uniforms with shorts.
On the North Side, the Cubs also looked to the past to extricate them from a stagnant present. In 1960, frustrated by 15 years without a pennant, they turned to the last manager to lead the club to the World Series, a left-handed banjo player named Charlie Grimm.
"Jolly Cholly" had managed in four Cubs pennant years, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945.
In August, 1932, the 33-year-old team captain and first baseman became a player-manager after the Cubs parted ways with Rogers Hornsby.
He managed a full season in the 1935 NL championship year, but was relieved of the managerial reins during the 1938 campaign by catcher Gabby Hartnett.
Grimm would be back in the pilot's seat from 1944 until 1949.
When Grimm returned to the Cubs in 1960, he said before the season, "We could win it all," touting the acquisition of veterans Richie Ashburn and Frank Thomas. He said rookie pitcher Dick Ellsworth could bolster the starting rotation.
He also had another promising rookie in Ron Santo. In spring training, Grimm said, "I don't see how I can help taking him back to Chicago with us." But he didn't take Santo north, opening instead with veteran Don Zimmer at third base.
The Cubs won two of their first three games, including a 6-5 victory over the Giants sparked by an Ernie Banks grand slam home run.
The team then went into a 1-9 tailspin.
On April 29, the day Banks broke Hartnett's club home run record, Grimm even brought in Rogers Hornsby, the man he replaced in 1932, to help out Cubs hitters.
When the record reached 6-11, owner P.K. Wrigley decided it was time for a change.
Cubs announcer Lou Boudreau swooped down from the broadcast booth into the dugout, while Grimm replaced Boudreau in front of a WGN microphone.
Alas, Boudreau could only muster a 54-83 record the remainder of the season and returned to broadcasting the next year.
"Yes, I was disappointed,"
Grimm said. "I thought I could do a better job, but the ball didn't bounce right. Baseball's been good to me. I want to stay in the ball park."
In a sense, Jolly Cholly got his wish. After his death in 1983, his ashes were scattered in Wrigley Field.