Last week, Jerry Pritikin recalled his experiences growing up during the late 1940s and 1950s in Albany Park. Despite the 20-year difference in our ages, our memories of the area around Von Steuben had much in common.
In part two of my interview, I asked Jerry about his lifelong passion for Chicago baseball, “the official language of the kitchen table” in his childhood home. Here again, our memories matched up. The only difference was my father, a Cuban immigrant, talked to me incessantly about Chicago baseball in Spanish.
Frances: Did you know Marvin Rotblatt, the former White Sox pitcher from Albany Park? I’ve read that he was on the Von Steuben baseball team.
Jerry: My brother’s friend Ronnie Rotblatt lived on the 4700 block of North Troy Street. His brother Marv made a name for himself pitching for the University of Illinois. He was signed by the White Sox and played in the 3 “I” League [Illinois-Indiana-Iowa] and later for the Memphis Chicks.
Frances: On the U. of I. website, Rotblatt is mentioned as one of the top pitchers in school history. He stills holds the school’s individual single-game strikeout record.
Jerry: In Memphis, he set a Southern Association strikeout record of 209 in a season. The White Sox called him up in ’48 and ’49 but didn’t use him much.
In 1951 the White Sox made a run for the pennant. That’s the year they were first called the “Go-Go Sox.” At one point they won 14 in a row.
I remember listening one night to White Sox sportscaster Bob Elson when the Sox were playing the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland. [May 13, 1951] The Sox had won 11 in a row going into the game, and they had the lead at the top of the 9th. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs. Manager Paul Richards brought in Marv as the relief pitcher.
It was the first time that the Indians used an automobile to bring in a pitcher from the bullpen (Bill Veeck’s idea). Marv faced three of the best players in the American League: Bobby Avila, Luke Easter, Al Rosen– and he retired them in order.
Marv was swamped by his teammates. The following day he was pictured on the front page of the newspaper, holding a baseball with the #11 on it! However, Marv didn’t play much after that year.
“When Rotblatt pitched in the minors, he sometimes brought a bucket of baseballs to River Park 2. He had us shag flies while he and his friends would hit baseballs.”
“In 1957, Marv sold me my first life insurance policy. I saw him recently in the documentary, Jews and Baseball. I was lucky over the years, because I got to meet some of my Jewish baseball heroes, including Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen.”
The Unfulfilled Promise
Frances: When did you first become a Cubs fan?
Jerry: Back in 1945, my dad bought my brother and me two-wheel Schwinn bicycles and J.C. Higgins mitts (the Sears brand, phased out in 1961) to celebrate the end of WWII. He also gave me a crash course in baseball and Cubs history, with a special chapter about Jewish Major Leaguer Hank Greenberg.
That year, he took me to my first game at beautiful Wrigley Field. When the Cubs clinched the pennant, I asked my dad to take me to the World Series. He said I was too young, but made me a PROMISE… he would take me the next time!
I am still waiting to get to the PROMISED LAND!
Starting in 1946 and for several years, my brother, some neighborhood kids, and I would clean up the grandstands after Cubs games during the summer. The work earned us a free pass to the following game. Once, as we were cleaning up after the last game of the summer before school started, the kid next to me looked up at the 1945 Cubs National League Pennant flying from the left field foul pole and said, “Wait until next year!” It was the first time I heard that expression.
West Coast’s Top Cubs Fan
I moved to San Francisco in the 1960s and always watched the Cubs when they were in town. In 1981, while channel switching I came across the PBS/Organic Theater Company’s televised production of Bleacher Bums. The following day I happened to read an ad calling for actors for a San Francisco production. I talked the producer into hiring me as their PR man based on my love of the Cubs.
The play was supposed to run for six weeks, but ended up lasting for over a year. I earned the moniker, Bay Area Resident Cubs Fan. After the play’s run ended, I continued doing Chicago tie-in promotions whenever the Bears or Cubs were in the Bay Area.
I moved back to Chicago in the mid-1980s and for the next 25 years I roamed the cheap seats of the Friendly Confines and became part of the lore of the fabled Bleacher Bums. Once I appeared on Harry Caray’s 10th Inning Show, and in 1987 he tabbed me as the team’s #1 fan.
Frances: My thanks to Jerry Pritikin. You won’t find stories like his in books, and traces of the old Jewish neighborhood life in Chicago have all but disappeared.
All photographs courtesy of Jerry Pritikin.
More about Jerry Pritikin: Last year, Jerry’s photographs of 1970s-era San Francisco, including the iconic Harvey Milk photograph shown on the poster above, were featured in an exhibit at Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery. Jerry writes about his interesting life and times on his own blog, When Then Was…Now!
Images from the Chicago Tribune: KELLY TRIUMPHS OVER MARSHALL IN 2 TO 1 BATTLE :Oak Park Wins, 2 to 0, from Steinmetz. Prep Baseball. (1943, April 10). Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),23. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 471508442); Rotblatt Sets Hot Pace for Sox Pitchers. (1951, March 22). Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),p. b2. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 503628672).
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