Baseball Way Back: Stirring up baseball memories with 'the Straw'
Last of 2 parts
WBEZ radio sports journalist Cheryl Raye-Stout's career has come full circle.
She began her career in the 1980s producing the Tony La Russa Show for WMAQ. Now she will be one of the reporters covering La Russa in his return to the White Sox dugout as manager. The only difference will be her interaction is likely to be mainly over Zoom rather than in the clubhouse or dugout.
She remembers how La Russa took her to the security guards at the ballpark to make sure she received safe passage into the locker room.
But she also saw another side of La Russa when he was A's manager and White Sox pitcher Bobby Thigpen, in a fit of wildness, beaned one of his players, Terry Steinbach.
With Steinbach on the ground, La Russa came charging out of the dugout screaming. He then picked up a bat and hurled it toward the backstop, prompting both dugouts to clear.
At the start of the postgame news conference, La Russa told reporters, "I don't want to talk about it." But Bob Glass from AP chirped, "Be a man."
La Russa erupted.
"'Be a man? I got a guy on the ground.' And then Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson picked him up and threw him out of the locker room," she recalled.
Fortunately for Raye-Stout, her rapport with managers was much more cordial, although Cubs manager Don Zimmer posed a challenge.
"Don Zimmer didn't care for electronic media and didn't care for women in electronic media. I had the double whammy. Whenever I would ask a question, sometimes you would get, 'I don't want to answer it.' Then I would hear a writer ask the same question. And I was like, OK. And the next day he would see me and he would (say), 'Hey, how ya' doin' kid?' I just dealt with it."
One of her favorites was Cubs skipper Jim Riggleman.
"He talked in the locker room, so all the players could hear what he was saying. I thought that was one of the smartest things a manager could do."
Raye-Stout said White Sox manager Jeff Torborg made an especially generous gesture on the day of the last game at old Comiskey Park.
"He says, 'You know, Cheryl, you were with us through all the bad times.' "
Then he handed her a ball for the players to sign.
It was during that last year of old Comiskey that Michael Jordan took batting practice and threw in the bullpen of the baseball palace.
Afterward, there was a Bulls game, and Raye-Stout and Jordan struck up a conversation.
"He goes, 'You really love baseball, don't you?' And I said, 'I have a passion for baseball. But I also love basketball.' We talked a lot about baseball at that point. That's why I was able to break the story about him when he decided to work with the White Sox."
Raye-Stout has crossed paths with local Chicago baseball legends. She recalled how a young Sammy Sosa would rollerblade along the corridors of new Comiskey Park when he was with the Sox.
She said the Cubs "knew what was going on" with performance enhancing drugs. "They celebrated him. and then they cast him aside. And that should be rectified."
Frank Thomas, she said, was always affable.
"I said to him, 'If you were on the North Side, you would be as big as Sammy Sosa.'"
She includes Greg Hibbard, the "little bulldog," who pitched on both sides of town, the Cubs' Kyle Hendricks, Ozzie Guillen and Andre Dawson among the easiest players to deal with. She remembers conducting an interview with Dawson when a young fan intruded, shoving a ball and pen in front of him, and said, "Here. Sign this."
After signing, a gracious Dawson apologized, telling her, "I can't believe that kid did that."
Others were more standoffish, such as Tom Seaver.
"He wasn't happy being in Chicago. He was somebody that you didn't approach."
That didn't stop his shortstop.
She said, "Ozzie Guillen would torture him. In a fun way."
Raye-Stout's career chronicling baseball reached its pinnacle with the teams she grew up following and eventually covering winning the World Series.
She remembers the suspense surrounding Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
"They had put the champagne over by the Cubs side and then all of a sudden they are moving the champagne" toward the Cleveland side.
After the White Sox victory in the 2005 World Series, Raye-Stout said she was thinking about a memento to bring back to a friend in Arlington Heights, Judge Nicholas Pomaro, a huge Sox fan who is also blind.
She hit upon a solution when she entered the clubhouse and picked up a champagne cork.
"The next morning, I had a red-eye back. I called him up and said, 'Judge, I'm going to come bring you something.' "
When she went to his home, "He answers the door. I said, 'Hold out your hand.' I put the cork in his hand. And he held it. And he smelled it. And he goes, 'Is this what I think it is?' I said, 'Yeah.' It was the best thing that I could get him."