Jim O'Donnell: Classy Jack Rosenberg prevented mayhem on the Wrigley Field catwalk

  • WGN TV and radio sports producer Jack Rosenberg in 2013 at Wrigley Field. "Jack Rosenberg is the kind of man you're lucky to meet once in a lifetime," Jack Brickhouse once said.

    WGN TV and radio sports producer Jack Rosenberg in 2013 at Wrigley Field. "Jack Rosenberg is the kind of man you're lucky to meet once in a lifetime," Jack Brickhouse once said. Courtesy of Bob Vorwald

 
Updated 12/30/2020 11:16 AM

ON A SUMMER EVENING at The Sports Page in north Arlington Heights, Jack Brickhouse once looked over a double J & B at a bearded "Celebrity Trivia Night" host and said:

"Jack Rosenberg is the kind of man you're lucky to meet once in a lifetime."

 

"Rosey" died at age 94 earlier this week -- close to three decades after his retirement -- still one of the most universally beloved men in Chicago sports media.

He was the last of the fabled "Peoria Pipeline" at WGN Sports, a group that once included such upstreamed rivermen as Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Jack Quinlan.

He was also the only talent among the group not to be featured on-air.

But what a talent he was.

In 1954, Brickhouse had the foresight to bring him up from the Peoria Journal-Transcript -- later the Journal Star -- to serve as an in-broadcast sports writer and producer.

With an encyclopedic beam that would eventually stretch from Cap Anson to Ryne Sandberg, Rosenberg would type out quick, texturizing notes during games that made Brickhouse sound like a flawless verifier for "Jeopardy!"

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"'Rosey' was a veritable Buckingham Fountain of sports statistics and information," Irv Kupcinet told a colleague outside the classic Sun-Times building in 2001.

Besides his time with Brickhouse in Cubs and Sox broadcast booths, Rosenberg also worked the final 22 seasons of Brickhouse-Kupcinet Bears gamecasts on WGN-AM (720).

On a memorable Cubs Opening Day at Wrigley Field, he also served as an assertive peacemaker when career crank Milo Hamilton was acting up.

It was Friday, April 9, 1982, and marked the first home game for Harry Caray as Brickhouse's successor.

The bad blood between Hamilton and Caray extended back to 1954, when Augie Busch's staff poleaxed young Milo in favor of Joe Garagiola in the St. Louis Cardinals broadcast scheme.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It intensified on the November 1981 afternoon when the new Cubs/Tribune Co. hierarchy confirmed a Daily Herald breakaway and introduced Caray as its new No. 1, bypassing the torpor of Hamilton.

On that next Opening Day, with a solid nudge from Caray, the Daily Herald insouciant was in the broadcast booth for the full game -- a 5-0 Fergie Jenkins/Lee Smith six-hitter over the Mets -- to report on the coronation.

No fewer than three local TV news crews shot video of the conquering Caray and even Gov. Jim Thompson stopped in as cameras rolled.

Finally, Caray's first seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley was about to happen. Bob Jordan and a team from WGN-Channel 9 edged in to tape the historic ivied bellow of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Rosenberg gave a silent nod to the writer to join him out on the catwalk.

Hamilton yanked his headset off and snapped, "I don't have to sit and listen to this (bleeping) bull-(bleep)."

On the catwalk, Rosenberg and chum idled.

Hamilton, now with a brown leather trenchcoat on, suddenly was in the writer's face, jabbing him pointedly in the breastbone with a finger and saying:

"You know, this is my (bleeping) booth too. Nobody cleared you being up here with me."

The writer looked down at the bitter little dreg and almost chuckled. Instead, he opted for restrained bemusement.

Hamilton still raged and added, "You ought to be the (bleep) out of here."

Rosenberg had enough. He looked at Hamilton and calmly said:

"Milo, he's here at the invitation of WGN Sports. Now knock it off."

Crisis over. No man over catwalk.

And the ceaselessly dignified Rosenberg showed yet again -- he was the kind of man you were lucky to meet once in a lifetime.

STREET-BEATIN': Sharpest Aaron Rodgers watchers remind that 2 of the ace's 5 interceptions this season came immediately after he landed on his head at Tampa Bay following a red-zone scramble in October. (Maybe that's the sort of break the Bears (+5½) need Sunday.) ...

Following a positive test for COVID-19, Kirk Herbstreit confirmed he will call the Clemson-Ohio State Sugar Bowl from home. (Double-guaranteed that his special Buckeyes "insight" will flow.) ...

Any rush to judgment over Billy Donovan on West Madison Street is silly. He's coaching a team that's young, incomplete and still has "One-Way" Zach LaVine around to play Gummy Bull. (Talk about trade bait.) ...

Diminished goaltending, thinning depth at center and the announcement the Blackhawks will be on NBC or NBCSN a league-high seven times this season. (Does Rocky Wirtz have that kind of influence at The Peacock Network?) ...

And "Diamond" John Trandel, on one of the biggest intangibles favoring the Bears against Green Bay Sunday: "Cody Parkey will be kicking in Cleveland."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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