Monday, October 03, 2005

Bat Boy For a Day by Mike Faloon

Last spring the Chicago Tribune gave Zisk a great write up. In the weeks that followed we received a number of letters and emails, the best of which came from a White Sox fan named David Gershbein:

I was a bat boy for the day during the year of the South Side hit men (I think it was '77). I was around 12 years old...Richie Zisk was telling a story to two other players. One was on his right and the other to his left. I walked up to them and was facing Zisk to complete the circle in time to hear him inform the other players that he had just read that the average male penis erects over a mile per year. A little insight as to what players discuss during down time.
Naturally, we wanted to know more. (Interview by Mike Faloon)

David Gershbein: Before you ask any questions I did some research so you have a little background. The day of the game was May 22, 1977. This was batboy for a day, I believe it cost my parents $50 at an auction. The White Sox lost to Detroit 14-3. Wilbur Wood started for the White Sox. His box was one inning pitched, although I think he probably went into the second, six earned runs. I remember him getting yanked, coming into the dugout and whipping his mitt into the back of the dugout. He was all sweaty after one inning. He just whipped his mitt and went into the clubhouse. The manager for that team was Bob Lemon, and they said to me when they were showing me around to people, Don’t go by Bob, he doesn’t like to be bothered. He’s one of those managers who sat in one corner of the dugout and didn’t talk to anyone. None of the guys could talk to him. He didn’t move. When I got there they showed me around the clubhouse. I remember Oscar Gamble was getting dressed there with his big Afro. Chet Lemon came up to me and introduced himself. It was his second full year in the big leagues, so he was in his early 20s—“You need anything, you come see me. My name’s Chet.” He bent over backwards. I was not yet 12. Nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He got traded for Steve Kemp, just an awful trade. The winning pitcher for the Tigers was Dave Rozema. Gamble and Zisk had solo home runs. The big day for the Tigers was Jason Thompson who had a single, a triple, a homerun, and five RBIs. Rusty Staub had three RBIs. Like I said, they were showing me around the clubhouse and at one point Richie Zisk, this was on the field, was talking to two other guys and walked up in time to hear him tell the end of a story or say something that he’d read that the average American male penis erects over one mile per year. That’s the one thing I remember about Richie Zisk from that day. Before the game I picked up a bat and was swinging it on the steps of the dugout and some guy came up to me and said, Son, don’t swing the bat over here. You almost hit Brian. I looked down and Brian Downing, the catcher, was putting his shinguards on, pretty damn close. I think about it now seeing on ESPN Sports Center some batboy hits the catcher in the head. I remember having a picture with Jorge Orta, but I don’t remember talking to him. The clubhouse was pretty old fashioned, they didn’t have a big spread in there. They had a big tray, like what you’d see at a banquet, filled with Campbells’s Chicken Noodle soup, with crackers all around it, and they had some beverages. I remember Franciso Barrios was enjoying the soup. Ken Brett was on the team, George’s older brother, he was great. He was like, Hey, kid, how are you doing? Do you have an older sister? I said, No, I don’t. He said, Get out of here. I knew he was kidding around. You know, the reputation of the Brett brothers.

Zisk: You’d mentioned that before the game someone told you to stay out of Bob Lemon’s way. Did they give you any other tips or preparation before the game?

DG: They had a batboy go out and get the bat from the batter’s box, this is one of the full-time batboys, and I was to go out to meet him, get the bat, and bring it back to the dugout. I remember one time during the game they stopped play and I went out onto the field to pick up a hot dog wrapper that was blowing across the field. They did a good job showing me around. Then around the seventh inning they were like, All right, you’ve been doing a good job, why don’t you take a break. I went into the clubhouse and had something to drink. For $50 I can’t believe my parents got it for that.

Zisk: What was it like being so close to a game?

DG: It was really cool. This was before the modern stadiums and ESPN and the ballplayers making all the money. It was the gap between the old time days and the new. It was the start of free agency. Some of the guys were a little stand-offish, but like I said, Chet Lemon, that response, I don’t think you’d see something like that today.

Zisk: That was the year the White Sox were known as the South Side Hitmen…

DG: Yeah, in ’77 the White Sox were in first place for two or three months. Mid-August they fell out of first. That was the year the fans began singing “Nah Nah Nah,” (Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”) in Comiskey. They do that in a lot of parks now. The reason I was a White Sox even though I lived on the North side was because of Richie Allen. He won the home run title two of his three years in Chicago. He was a great team guy on the field, even though he showed up late off the field, and every team he was on won more when he was there and when he left they won less. He was almost a Hall of Fame talent. In my lifetime the White Sox have had a half a dozen special teams and that ’77 team was the first one of them. They had the Winning Ugly team in ’83 and a couple of good teams in the 90s and then 2000. They’re 3-10, I think, in the playoffs in my lifetime. People don’t talk about the White Sox like they do the Cubs and Red Sox but they’ve only made one World Series since 1919.

Zisk: And that ’77 team didn’t even make the playoffs, but they’re still pretty well known in Chicago. Was it their early season success, their personality, both?

DG: It was both. They were making a run at the playoffs, and they played the longball and fans identified with it. There was a team in ’64, the White Sox won 98 games that year and finished one game behind the Yankees. That was before I was alive but you never hear anything about that team in Chicago.

Zisk: So there’s more to a team’s lasting reputation than success.

DG: Yeah, it was also (owner) Bill Veeck and they had the exploding scoreboard, Harry Caray calling the games and it was that time, the 70s. Everything fit the South Side Hitmen. Zisk and Gamble were the big name guys, they were hitting a lot of homeruns. They were portrayed as a colorful team by the Chicago media—longball hitters and crazy personalities—I saw a little bit of that that day.

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