I made it to Chicago at the end of the '82 season. I played in 20 games, and had 29 at-bats. Defensively, I was impressed at what line-shots these guys stopped. In the minor leagues, my hits would break fielder's bones. Mom and Dad where there for my first at bat. Dad was asked what he thought of my playing. In true Slim fashion, he said he was more interested in me being a good person, than he was in me being a good ball player. He was a man of few words. He didn't say anything to me when I hit 2 or 3 home runs in a game, but he'd sure let me know if I mis-played a ball.
During spring training in 1983, there was no doubt in my mind I was ready to go back to Chicago. The issue of which position I would play wasn't as clear. In the minor leagues, I did a lot of catching, but with having Carlton Fisk on the team already, that position wasn't going to be available to a Rookie. Also having a good spring was Greg Walker. Greg didn't have the arm I had, so he went to 1st base, I went to left field. Greg and I had some press coming into 1983. We were dubbed Sweet and Swat.
Playing for Tony LaRussa wasn't new to me, he was one of my managers in the minor leagues. I knew his style was to take any advantage of anything to beat someone and I respected that. We started out slow, but when Tony put Carlton in the number 2 spot, everything started to come together. Pudge and Bull (Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinski) hitting started coming around. Harold and I started scoring runs. Rudy Law and Julio Cruz were burning up the base paths. Before we realized it, everyone was talking about us.
Then the All-Star break came. I was so humbled and honored to be selected to the team. I was a rookie, so my name wasn't on the ballot, but was selected to the team based on my performance. It was an amazing experience. Being on the field with the likes of Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski was incredible. I wanted to run around and get autographs like a 10-year old kid. Oh wait, I did. I went into the game playing right field. That wasn't my position, but Ricky Henderson said he wouldn't play right because he was left handed. It was the All Star game, I would have picked up peanut shells after the game if that's what they wanted me to do. I was really excited that my entire family got to come out, even my brother who was in the Navy, stationed in Virginia Beach.
I can't thank the fans enough that came out and supported me that day. Rick Sutcliffe, who was standing next to me during the introductions said he never heard an ovation so loud for anyone. To this day, I still do everything I can to show my thanks to fans.
There was no looking back. We went thru the rest of the season in such a groove. It was a thrill and an honor getting to go to the ballpark every day. We won the division and were going to the playoffs, something no pro sports team in Chicago had done since 1959. The City was so excited. We loved that the fans came out. They broke records too, hitting 2 million in attendance for the first time - and wouldn't you know, they broke the 2 million mark on the night we clinched the division. It was a night to remember. I'd bet Gene and Roger Bossard didn't even mind (too much) what the field looked like after Chicago partied on it. The excitement was infectious from them and us, we needed an appreciated each other.
The playoffs didn't go our way. I got hurt, again. In game 3, Mike Flannigan drilled me in the knee with a fastball-cutter. He broke my kneecap - hit it so hard, my kneecap was on the side of my knee. I tried to play through it, but by the next inning, it was swelled to the size of a softball. I was out for game 4, and would have probably been out for the rest of the post-season. People asked me if I thought it was on purpose. My (cleaned up) response is Mike had 1 wild pitch all season. He had complete command of his sh#t.
Even though we didn't go deep into the post-season, we pretty much swept the honors that year. Roland Hemond received Executive of the Year, Tony LaRussa received Manager of the Year, LaMarr Hoyt received the Cy Young, and I received the Rookie of the Year. I think what sits best with most of us from that team, people to this day still tell us that was not only their favorite team, it was the most magical. For us too.
Copyright © 2018-2019 Ron Kittle, Inc. - All Rights Reserved.