1959 was an exciting baseball year in Chicago, where I grew up.
Up until then, a guy could make chump change betting drunks that the Cubs would wind up in seventh place in the National League and the White Sox in second place in the American League. Why? Because both teams wound up in those positions pretty much every year.
And recall that both the American and National leagues each had eight teams back then.
Then a miracle occurred — the White Sox management traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for first baseman Ted Kluszewski, who was known for hitting line drives that smoked. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 225 pounds, he also had arms so well muscled that he had to cut the sleeves off his uniform shirt and the T-shirt underneath. This soon became a fashion statement for 10-year-old boys across Chicagoland.
How smokin’? A fireman sitting along the first base foul line past the visitors dugout reported that as one of Kluszewski’s foul balls shot by, he could see the ball’s seams were charred. And hearing the sound of one on television reminded me of Chuck Yeager’s breaking the sound barrier for the first time 12 years earlier.
Well, Kluszewski did what was expected of him: His line drives propelled the Sox to the American League pennant and into the World Series against the Dodgers. And that, in turn, led to the biggest regret of my life.
The first game of the series was in Chicago, and some of my high school friends asked me to join them going to the game, which meant cutting school, of course. The truth is that I lacked the temerity.
And so I listened regretfully to my friends the following day as they described how Kluszewski had two hits in four at-bats, three RBIs and even scored once in the 4-2 victory. He was, in other words, personally involved in all the While Sox’s scoring.
Sadly, the Sox lost the series, 4-2. But Chicago fans, unwilling to relinquish the joys of being in the World Series, proposed naming a street running past Comiskey P ark after Ted Kluszewski, the proposed name being Kluszewski Drive.
Well, Cubs fans said that if that happened, a street next to Wrigley Field had to be named after the Cubs. And so someone wrote in to The Daily News proposing the name be Seventh Place.