It rained autographs – and swear words — at Cubs Convention

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineMost people who read my columns regularly know I am not much on sports. The only real sport for me is politics, but lately politics has become mean and it’s just not fun to cover any more.
I always thought I’d make a better sports writer. Writing about athletes would definitely attract less anger.
 Last week, I took my son Aaron to the 30th Annual Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. At first, I was disappointed.
 The Cubs bring in old and new players who sit on stages and sign autographs for fans who wait in long lines. My first autograph line ended just as I was about to get an autograph from some Cubs player I didn’t really know. He decided he had enough and left the stage.
I was left wondering if I just wasted a whole lotta money.
But the next day, it rained autographs. My son collected more than 60 on baseballs from current players like Starlin Castro to former players like Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith.
The lines were horrific. Standing there for up to an hour to get a quick autograph and a photo with the player was difficult and boring. It was a mess. The conventions had been held in the past at the Hilton, where I was told the lines were better organized, and more fun.
Have you ever seen the autograph of a player, or anyone, who has been writing his name over and over again 200 times in one hour? Sometimes, the signatures just don’t make sense. To ensure we didn’t forget who signed what, I created an iPhone App to take pictures of each autograph and then enter the name. It also let me add a photo of my son (and myself a few times) with the players. (You can see a lot of the pictures on my Facebook page at
Despite all the convention rah-rah about the Cubs going to the World Series, there was a touch of reality. Most players were courteous. Some were just downright mean.
And the fans?
Well, the Sheraton was filled with drunks. “Drunks” and “Cubs Fans” are synonyms. Fans literally brought cases of warm beer to the hotel, opening them as they dropped off their cars, packing the bottles into backpacks. The f-words flew everywhere. Loud and annoying.
Foul balls I can handle. Foul language, though is one of the reasons I hate going to Cubs games, although White Sox games are not much better.
 I got to see friends, like Wayne Messmer, who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the convention opening. He posed with my son and gave him an autograph too.
The only thing that made three days of standing in line less gruesome was Shula’s Steak House, which has the best steak and lobster in Chicagoland.
 But Aaron got most of his autographs outside the lines, waiting for the Cubs players as I sat in the lobby nearby. Some of the players only signed in clout lines where you had to know someone or have a lottery ticket. That sucked. Most of his signers were in the lobby. It was good to see him having fun.
Next time, though, I’ll buy all the baseballs and plastic cube cases from Oak Lawn’s Baseball Card King, where I know I would have saved a lot of money. The convention was way too expensive.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

You know my bucket list will be heavy on the Civil War

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logoI don’t think it is too late to begin working on my bucket list.
I believe it is a very appropriate time, especially after my open heart surgery at age 76 late last year. How many of you saw the movie, “The Bucket List”? It stars Jack Nicholson, a very rich guy, and Morgan Freeman, an average guy, who share a hospital room; in a hospital owned by Jack Nicholson.
Needless to say he wasn’t too happy about sharing a room with anyone, but that was the hospital policy.
And he set the policy.
In the movie, the Nicholson character was so rich he could afford to go anywhere and do anything. So after he and the Morgan Freeman character bonded somewhat, they decided to go to work on their bucket lists.
Well, my bucket list does not include anything near what they did in the movie; such as sky diving, traveling to the Great Pyramid of Khufu or racing cars. Needless to say I don’t have the money to try any of those adventures.
That doesn’t make me mad or jealous of those who do.
It does make me understand that what I have on my bucket list still may not be 100 percent attainable, but again, that’s okay with me. Throughout my life, I have never given much thought to a bucket list. My wife, Helen and my sons, D.J. and David and now my grandchildren, Athena,
Nikola and Samuel have just done things as the opportunity came along. And for the most part,
I think we have had some good times and made some good memories. I hope they feel the same way.
As for my list, I don’t even really have to leave the good old U.S. of A. to accomplish it.
Of course many items on my list will include things related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
That should be no surprise.
The list is not necessarily in order of how I want to accomplish them. Beggars cant’ be choosers and, as with many of you, it would require the winning lottery numbers for one of the really big jackpots. Oh! The other thing is I have been told you have to buy tickets on a somewhat regular basis to have a chance to win.
The following is my list and it will be subject to change as I grow older and may be less able to complete it.
•Spend many more years with my wife.
•Be here to watch my grandchildren grow into adults.
•Take a trip to Disney World with my wife, sons and their families – my treat.
•Take another trip to Washington, D.C. – including a visit to the White House and talk with a president, visit Ford’s Theatre and as many of the other sites as I have time for.
•Visit a few Civil War battlefields with my grandchildren.
•Write a book of historical fiction about my great-great-grandfather who served in the Civil War.
•Take a cruise down the Mississippi River on a paddle-wheeler and see as many Civil War cities and sites as possible.
•Attend my 60th reunion at Limestone Community High School bear Peoria in 2016.
•Have time to check my family history to see if any other grandparents fought in the Civil War.
•Take a trip to Salzburg, Austria. (I know – I said that I would not have to leave the country to fulfill my list – but this is the one exception.)
I have been given more time on this earth for whatever reason. Many of us don’t know for sure what our purpose in life really is. After my heart surgery last year, I truly believe that there is a reason I was given more time and I want to use it to fulfill that purpose. (Of course, being there to watch Samuel grow up is one.) No, I am not waiting for a sign from above or to be struck by lightning – I will just take it one day at a time and try to do my very best for humankind and see where it leads me.
As an aside, besides all of the cards, calls and well-wishes I received during my heart adventure, I want to thank all of the customers at Ace Hardware who said they read the article in the Reporter. It was wonderful to talk with you and especially those who shared their stories of heart surgeries.

Don C. White is a local historian from Palos Hills who has written a book on the Civil War.

Two brats get an education in manners

  • Written by Bob Rakow


I always know when my wife has had a bad day at work. It’s all in her body language.




Such was the case last week when she came home after working an evening shift.




I asked about her day and expected to hear her complain about an especially busy shift or the store being understaffed, forcing her to take on more work than usual.




Maybe a supervisor pushed a little too hard or got especially demanding, leaving my wife a tad bit annoyed.




As it turned out, the bad night had nothing to do with bosses, co-workers workload or any of the myriad reasons that lead all of us to grumble about the job at one time or another.




No, Annette was upset—hurt is a more apt description—because of an interaction with two customers.




It doesn’t happen often, but when’s she’s mistreated for no reason by a customer, it really throws her for a loop.




The incident occurred when two high school girls came into the clothing department and moved from one display table to the next, tossing clothing every which way after looking at the merchandise.




These are displays Annette spent half the night organizing—folding one shirt after another and neatly arranging them. It’s not her favorite task, but it comes with the territory in retail.




She asked politely that they not to mess up the displays while they shopped. It soon became evident to her that they were going out of their way to do just that.




The response from one of the entitled brats: “It’s your job to straighten the displays.”




She followed that up with, “If you had a college degree, you wouldn’t have to be here.”




That, of course, was the line that sunk Annette. She’s typically more thick skinned than I. But when a perfect stranger throws down such a nasty comment, it stings a bit.




My wife does not have a college degree—a decision she regrets at times. But she’s worked incredibly hard all her life and raised three children.




Mindful that she can’t respond to a customer’s remarks or complaints no matter how nasty or unfair, she did the next best thing. She called security, and the girls were kicked out of the store.




I guess there’s some satisfaction in that.




As they walked out, they unloaded on Annette with some profanity more commonly heard from the boys in the "Sons of Anarchy" television series, including a term that’s widely known as the worst word to call a woman.




All class.




Sort of makes you wonder who modeled the behavior for them. Who told them that people who work in retail, food and other service industries are essentially “the help” and should be treated accordingly?




Who filled their heads with the mush that says that folks should be measured by the level of education they’ve achieved?




These girls were, of course, were embarrassed and, by extension angry. They pushed the “uneducated” retail worker a little too hard, and she responded without saying a word. She got the last word, though.




SUBHEAD -- A nice crowd, by George




I attended the Chicago Ridge Worth Chamber of Commerce lunch last week and the happiest guy in the room was undoubtedly Chicago Ridge Clerk George Schleyer.




The purpose of the luncheon was to hear Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar and Worth Mayor Mary Werner talk about the progress that occurred in their communities over the past year.




The thing is, the two mayors could have been speaking to a very sparse crowd were it not for Schleyer, who deserves much of the credit for re-energizing the chamber.




Schleyer surveyed the banquet room at Jenny’s Steakhouse last week, quite pleased with number of businesspeople and community leaders in attendance.




The chamber went through some tough times a few years ago when the recession hit. Folks were singularly focused on keeping their businesses above water and didn’t have time for chamber events, much less associated costs, Schleyer said. Before long, membership was suffering.




Not long after he was elected clerk, Schleyer joined Worth Village Clerk Bonnie Price and a handful of others to get the chamber back on its feet. The results of their efforts were evident at the recent luncheon as well as the candidate forums the organization sponsored this week.




Mayors give the speeches, cut the ribbons and are the faces of their communities. But clerks do much of the heavy lifting, usually behind the scenes. What George Schleyer did to help rebuild the chamber is just one example.







Banks connected generations of Cubs fans -- and members of my family

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Some memories remain crystal clear even decades later.


That’s how it is for me and the time I met Ernie Banks.


I was a young boy with my dad at Wrigley Field. We were walking along the concourse on the third base side of the ballpark when my dad spotted him --  Mr. Cub.


“There’s Ernie Banks,” my father said.


That’s all he needed to say. Perhaps the greatest Cub ever was in our midst. I took off to see him for myself.


I never saw Ernie play. I was 6 years old when he retired in 1971. But I knew who he was, what he had accomplished. He was the face of the organization even in retirement when he served as a team ambassador.


Excited fans gathered around him seeking autographs and photos. Others just wanted to get a glance of Mr. Cub or shake his hand. He was happy to accommodate everyone with a cheerful greeting and a smile on his face.


“Don’t forget me, Ernie,” I said, worried that he would wrap up the meet-and-greet before I got to shake his hand and get an autograph. He assured me he wasn’t going anywhere.


I met Banks in the early 1970s, not long after he retired. He was wearing a burnt orange, fitted shirt, and I distinctly remember how muscular his arms appeared. He was not an especially big man, but he was strong and had a beautiful swing. The result was 512 home runs over 18 seasons long before steroids tainted the game.


Years later, my dad would recall the time we saw Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field. My father, after all, did see Ernie play and provide many of the highlights during some awful Cub seasons.


My wife met Ernie and got an autograph when she worked at Carson’s downtown store. My son met Ernie when he showed for a round of golf at Beverly Country Club. My son, a caddy, brought home an autographed Cubs cap. What a wonderful keepsake.


It seems like everyone met Ernie or has an Ernie story. That’s because he was always out and about, happy to greet fans and admirers. He was well aware of what he meant to Cubs fans. His optimism is a big part of why we keep the faith, hopeful that one day the Cubs can win the ultimate prize.


My wife woke me up Friday night to tell me Banks had died. I was shocked and saddened. It’s almost as though we don’t expect iconic figures like Banks to ever pass away. Banks is woven into the fabric of the Cubs, connecting one generation of fans to the next.


But rest assured, his memory will live on. When young fans ask their fathers about the foul pole banner that bears Banks’ name, they’ll be told about a Hall of Famer, a great Cub and, most importantly, a man who was ever-optimistic despite the racial injustices he faced during the early part of the his career.


My son wears an Anthony Rizzo jersey. Rizzo is the Cubs power hitting first baseman, who stands in the very spot on the field where Banks once stood.


The youngest player to win the Branch Rickey Award “as a strong role model for young people” Rizzo is the face of today’s Cubs. He is the leader of a team that hopes to accomplish what Banks’ teams could not. Who knows how we will recall his career.


It is unfair to compare Rizzo or any modern-day player to Banks. But Rizzo made some rather confident statements recently, saying the Cubs would win the division in 2015.


Banks would convey his optimism with pithy little phrases like “The Cubs will shine in ’69.” But I’m sure he loved Rizzo’s bold remarks.


Rizzo sounded more like Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. “Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”


But the next time Rizzo hits a home run at Wrigley Field, he should point at Banks’ retired number as he rounds the bases to honor a man who played for the love of the game, the fans and Wrigley Field.


The night Banks died, Rizzo tweeted: “Mr. Cub. What you have done for the game of baseball, the city of Chicago and everyone you have ever touched will never be forgotten. RIP.”

Above the tweet is sketch of Harry Caray opening the gates of heaven and Ron Santo placing his arm around Banks shoulder. Touching stuff.

RIP Mr. Banks. You will be missed.


Sorry, Mary, breaking rules and cheating are same

  • Written by Bob Rakow

If I ever commit adultery and my wife finds out, I plan to tell her that I didn’t cheat, I merely broke the rules. There is, after all, a difference.


Just ask Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.


I’m not so sure my wife would see the distinction. Chances are I’d be in big trouble if I stepped out on her—I mean broke the marital vows that we took in 1991.


Mitchell’s Feb. 11 column came the same day that Little League International rightly stripped the Jackie Robinson West baseball team of its U.S. championship for violating boundary rules.


I’m not surprised that Mitchell defended JRW. She’s a black columnist who often writes about the social injustices faced by African Americans. She’s written many good columns over the years and raised issues that deserved attention.


But hard as I try, I can’t get my head around Mitchell’s contention that there’s a difference between cheating and breaking the rules.


It’s the same thing. You are a cheater if you break the rules. Students cheat on tests, people cheat on their taxes. They cheat when they break the rules set forth by a school, the government and so on.


Later in her column, Mitchell switched gears and opined about the severity of the infractions committed by JRW.


She writes: “Maybe I’m missing the seriousness of the accusations, but is that all there is? We’re not talking about corked bats, or a 14-year-old pretending to be 11?”

I’d argue that placing a ringer on a team is on par with manipulating geographic boundaries. Either infraction is designed to give a team an unfair advantage.

I spent several years watching my son play youth baseball and came to understand that some players—the ones that play on All-Star and travel teams—are immensely more talented than other boys the same age. Put enough top-tier players on one team, and there’s a good chance they’ll go places.

That’s what JRW did, but Mitchell justifies the move.

“We’re talking about officials making adjustments to ensure kids who have played together for most of their young lives got a shot at going to the Little League World Series — together,” Mitchell continues.

Two words caught my eye: “making adjustments.”

Baseball teams make adjustments when they alter the batting order or bench one player in favor of another. Recruiting top players from other communities is not “making an adjustment.”

As far as corked bats, Mary, Little Leaguers use aluminum ones.

Mitchell added that stories about the JRW controversy cast black families in the worst possible light.

Here, I agree. Any coach or parent involved in this controversy or who stood by and said nothing is complicit. Shame on them for bringing a win-at-all-costs approach to Little League baseball.

“I don’t advocate that people break the rules, even when rules seem unnecessary or unfair,” Mitchell wrote.

I’m sure she doesn’t support rule breaking, but if fudging league boundary lines to gain an advantage isn’t cheating then what is? I’d love to hear Mitchell’s thoughts on how best to organize a baseball league in which the competition is fair and balanced and the formation of super teams is disallowed.


The Reporter has kept a close eye on this story because officials from the Evergreen Park Athletic Association first raised the allegations. It should be noted that the Evergreen Park team played JRW last year and never stood a chance.

EPAA officials said that game had nothing to do with the decision to bring the boundary violation issue to the attention of Little League International. I tend to believe them.

Chris Janes, vice president of the league, told me there were whispers of cheating for a long time, but no one wanted to burst the bubble on the feel-good story that was JRW’s Little League World Series run.

Janes refused to be silent and has received death threats as a result.

This controversy eventually will go away and Little League players will be back on the field soon enough. But don’t let Mary Mitchell or anyone else tell you the JRW boys are still champs. They’re not. They got caught up in something not of their own making. Rules were broken and now consequences are being paid.

Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis had this to say about the decision after noting that it was made during Black History Month.

“I do not respect the decision of Little League International because the officials have not respected the ethical and emotional well-being of the children involved in this matter,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ comments should have been directed at JRW coaches because in the end they’re to blame.