If you walk by Wrigley Field late at night and hear the distant sound of a phone ringing, don’t be alarmed. It’s just Charlie Grimm, the Cubs legendary player and manager from the 1930s, calling the bullpen to make a pitching change. Grimm has been dead nearly 24 years, but doesn’t seem to know the game is over.
So say Wrigley security guards who patrol the famous park after hours. The bullpen phone, which is a direct line from the dugout and cannot be dialed from anywhere else, sometimes rings across the empty field, when no one is in the building.
The theory that Grimm is making the call probably originates from the rumor that the departed manager’s ashes are buried nearby, in left-center field. If that’s true, he’s not alone. Songwriter Steve Goodman (what, you thought “Go Cubs Go” just happened
?) is said to have his remains interred at home plate. And countless fans have surreptitiously dropped the ashes of loved ones on the field when they think no one is looking.
It is not surprising that a city as steeped in baseball history as Chicago has accrued some baseball lore over the years. In researching Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends & Eerie Events
, we found that teams with deep baseball roots (like the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox, et al) had developed the most legends. Some of the stories we uncovered were spooky, some funny, and some downright touching.
But it’s fair to say that no city rendered more stories than Chicago. At Wrigley, players and fans told of balls hit into the ivy that then “disappear,” rumors of Harry Caray’s ghost lingering in the park (the Tribune Company even brought in paranormal researchers to investigate the claim), and shadowy figures glimpsed in offices and bleachers. Over at the site of Comiskey Park (now the parking lot for U.S. Cellular Field), the ghost of banned “Black Sox” Buck Weaver has been spotted several times, spurring the effort to reinstate him in baseball’s good graces.
People always ask me if I had any strange experiences while researching the book. One oddity came at a Sox/A’s game in May 2006. Third baseman Joe Crede had told me a story, shared among some players, that the spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson regularly visits U.S. Cellular Field in the form of a seagull, and that weird things happen when he’s present. Prior to the game, Crede showed me areas the bird frequents. “I haven’t seen him yet this season, though,” he said.
But at the start of the second inning, a lone gull flew into the stadium and perched itself on the wire netting behind home plate – just the spot Crede had pointed out to me. A second, then third bird arrived. Over the course of the inning, the gulls alit at various spots in the outfield, working their way toward the infield and eventually hovering directly over Crede. During that time:
- Frank Thomas had his first at-bat as a visiting player in Chicago. Ending weeks of speculation as to how he would be received, the crowd gave him an emotional standing ovation. He responded by hitting a homerun.
- Ozzie Guillen was ejected with much ado for arguing balls and strikes with the plate ump.
- Play was disrupted when two squirrels ran onto the field. The game eventually had to be stopped for several minutes while grounds crew members chased them around the outfield and out of the park.
At the end of the bizarre inning the birds left, and the game continued without incident.
Hard-to-explain moments like that are part of the fun of researching a topic like haunted baseball. Even oft-told tales that I thought I knew turned up some surprising twists upon closer inspection. A prime example is the Cubs curse. I had always heard that Billy Goat Sianis and his namesake pet were turned away at the Wrigley gate in 1945, which caused him to curse the team. I did not know that they were actually admitted to the park (though later ejected) or that Sianis officially lifted the hex in 1969. Nor did I know the deep history of the curse and the team’s dogged attempts to undo it.
And while we all read numerous references to the Curse of the Black Sox during the White Sox’s 2005 postseason march (interestingly, I had asked many fans and players about such a curse that summer – including Paul Konerko, Aaron Rowand, and Mark Buehrle – and no one had ever heard of it), I had not been aware of an alleged “Comiskey Curse” that was said to predate it. Unusual player injuries and unlucky breaks are cited as examples of its power. Some considered the Black Sox scandal to be a manifestation of it. The team even hosted an Anti-Superstition Night in 1977 to help break the spell that seemed to grip them. (In the following weeks, they zoomed to first place in their division, but it didn’t last.)
Nearly all players deny that curses exist, and this is not surprising: who is going to say that his team can’t possibly win? Even former Cubs like Greg Maddux and Sammy Sosa told me they never worried about the goat curse. Current players echo that sentiment.
“That stuff is fun to talk about,” says Matt Murton, “but there’s not much relevance to it.” Derrek Lee agrees. “I think it’s kind of a fun thing for [fans] to hold onto since they don’t have a World Series,” he says. “I think they understand that there is no curse.” But many fans I spoke with – not to mention Billy Goat’s nephew Sam Sianis, who has brought numerous goats to Wrigley over the years – are full-fledged believers.
What I learned in the course of researching Haunted Baseball
, though, is that the supernatural stories that pass around clubhouses and front offices and grandstands are equally entertaining for the both the faithful and the skeptical. These are stories that connect us to baseball’s past, be it a long-departed manager, a disgraced 1919 superstar, or a great team seeking to explain a conspicuous lack of World Championships. Tall tales and otherworldly claims keep baseball’s rich heritage alive figuratively by keeping it alive literally
. You don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy them. You just have to believe in baseball. Mickey Bradley will be speaking and signing copies of his book "Haunted Baseball" at Harry Caray's Restaurant on Thursday, December 6th from 6 - 8pm and at Borders Books & Music on State and Randolph on Friday, December 7th at 12:30 pm.
Mickey Bradley is co-author, with Dan Gordon, of
Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends & Eerie Events, published by Lyons Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the book, visit www.hauntedbaseball.com.