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Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Charlie O. Finley and Chalie O, the mule.

Frosene Phillips is on vacation today. In the spirit of the MLB Playoff Season, she shares a favorite column from June 26, 2009 when she attended a baseball game at the legendary Wrigley Field in Chicago, only to discover some local Oakland flavor along the way. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

There’s nothing like a little travel to recharge the old batteries. It never fails that whenever I travel to distant places, I usually stumble upon some sort of local connection. Last weekend was no exception— only this time I was in the great city of Chicago. Anyone who follows this space regularly knows that I’m a baseball fan so the opportunity to see the Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field was a no-brainer in my world.

The Cubs were playing the Cleveland Indians and naturally it was sold out. But the word on the street was that I could still buy a ticket from a scalper or check out StubHub. Not wanting to heckle with the` locals, I chose the StubHub route and off I went on the Red Line train with my NewYork friend and former Today show producer Dorie Klissas. Together we were ready for this baseball experience.

Under the awning, fully shaded and behind home plate, we cheered right along with the locals. Cans of beer were being poured by vendors in the stands. Fans lined up for Chicago style hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches. Scorecards with Cubby pencils were sold. Former Oakland Athletic Ted Lilly was on the mound for the Cubs. Even comic George Lopez was there to lead the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Fans could not have witnessed a better game as the lead went back and forth only to end up in a tie at 4-4 at the bottom of the ninth. Torn between facing a crowd of 40,000-plus leaving at once or experiencing the rest of my self-made itinerary, Dorie and I opted to leave (I know, it was a no, no, but wait, there’s more) and catch the train to make a stop at the famed Billy Goat Tavern.

Those of you not acquainted with the lore allow me to digress. The Billy Goat Tavern is the inspiration behind the famed Saturday Night Live sketch with John Belushi where he plays a short order cook yelling to customers: “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No Pepsi … Coke!” It is also home of the Cubs Curse. All of the scuttlebutt around the curse was revived in 2003 when the Cubs were five outs away from making it into the World Series – a feat that hasn’t been done since 1945.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the year that William “Billy Goat” Sianis bought two tickets to the World Series hoping to bring his team good luck. The only thing is that the second ticket was for his pet goat Murphy and the ushers would have no part of it – animals weren’t allowed in the stadium. That didn’t stop Sianis who appealed to owner P.K. Wrigley who said that Billy could come in but not the goat “because the goat stinks.”To that, according to legend, Sianis threw up his arms and pronounced, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” The Cubs were officially cursed. For the complete story, I invite you to visit In the meantime, allow me to take you on the rest of my journey.

On the way back to the Red Line, we ran into State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. A quick handshake and exchange later, we were on the train headed to the Billy Goat Tavern. For the record, the original Billy Goat Tavern was established in 1934 and located across the street from the Chicago Stadium. In 1964, Billy Goat Sianis moved his tavern to its present location at the lower level of N. Michigan Avenue near the Chicago Tribune. Today, however, they have expanded to several additional locations.

Walking quickly along The Magnificent Mile, Dorie asks to make a pit stop at Radio Shack to buy a charger for her phone. Once inside, three TVs had the game on and we were quickly brought up to date: Top of the 13th, game still tied 4-4. Just then, the Cubs pitcher gave up a home run and the Indians took the lead 5-4. “Maybe the Cubs will tie it back up by the time we get to the Billy Goat!” I stated. After all, the Cubs had beat the Indians in a walk off the night before.

Walking one more block we find the steps that lead us down under the street to the darkness of the underground street, home to the tavern. “Welcome to the Billy Goat Tavern, Enter At Your Own Risk” states the sign as we encountered a room of cheering fans. The Cubs had just tied the game and now had two runners on base. We wrestled up to the bar, ordered two draft beers and watched as the Cubs’ Andres Blanco scored on a wild pitch. The tavern exploded!!! We cheered with the locals, took pictures under the “Wise Guy Corner” sign and proceeded to order some cheezborgers.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S STILL MORE! Just when I went to add the condiments to my burger, there straight in front of me on the wall was a newspaper article with the headline: “A’s add a weapon – they get Sam’s goat.” Following the passing of Billy Goat Sianis, the tavern went to his nephew Sam Sianis who kept the tradition going — only his goat was named Socrates.

“The American League Champion that year (1974) is the Oakland A’s, owned by fun-loving iconoclast Charlie Finley, a frequent visit to the Billy Goat and an animal lover who often parades his mule, Charlie O., at Oakland games,” wrote Rick Kogan, a Chicago Tribune columnist. Kogan’s “A Chicago Tavern” column is posted on the Chicago Baseball Museum site. “He and Sam first meet in 1970, and for the next four years Socrates lives with Charlie O. on Finley’s farm in La Porte, Indiana. It is Finley’s idea to ship Charlie O. and Socrates, as well as Sam, out to Oakland to await the A’s return from the first two Series games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers,” he writes. “At the game, Sam and the goat parade around the field. The A’s win the series, and back in Chicago, Sam says, ‘I hope the Cubs learn and they let me in opening day in ’75 so we can see a World Series here. I don’t like flying so much.”

My cheezborger suddenly had the taste of Oakland in Chicago — life was good! My kind of town, Chicago is.

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