Posted by chitownradio.com on April 15, 2008 at 16:06:30:
Chicago Cubs fan tradition a throwback to 1969
By Jim Mueller | Special to the Tribune
April 13, 2008
Consider this a call to arms—lightly tanned Wrigley Field bleacher arms, that is. Because now is when the fun starts, when bleacherites embrace their duty to return every home run ball poked over the basket by the enemy.
For those wondering, this rather quaint Cubs tradition of flinging opponent homers back onto the playing field is traced directly to the summer of 1969. Mike Murphy of WSCR-AM 670 sports radio, original bugler for the legendary Left Field Bleacher Bums, has fingered Bums founder Ron Grousl as the sneaky culprit who started all this cosmic hoo-ha.
"It was spur of the moment," confided Murph, as he's known to his noon-to-2 weekday audience. "[Grousl] caught a Hank Aaron home run and said, 'I don't want this ball!' He threw it back to [umpire] Chris Pelekoudas ... and that had never been done before. ... It said we don't want any stinking enemy ball out here!"
And 39 years later the ritual continues, with Cubs management deftly looking the other way (technically you're not supposed to throw objects onto the field).
A 150-foot flip into the outfield from three or four rows up in the bleachers is about as far as most aging pony leaguers can throw. Blitzed wise guys firing 275-foot missiles toward the infield get applause, yes, but a lighter toss is preferred for safety's sake.
Former Cubs outfielder Bob Dernier approves of keeping those returned homers safely behind Cubs infielders. "Anytime a [bleacher] throw reaches the infield—that's quite a toss," he said. "You'd want to make sure [Mark] DeRosa and [Ryan] Theriot know if you're gonna throw that one."
How would a pair of typical fans handle the long peg toward home?
Tony Scilingo, 55, pitched his 1970 Morton East High School team to a state championship. He still throws 80 m.p.h. fastballs for his Chicago North Men's Senior Baseball League team. And even after three arm surgeries, he's certain he has enough gas to make a 300-foot throw—a fair estimate of the distance from six or seven rows up in left center field to the infield near second base.
But Silingo insisted he'd never attempt it. "Not after a torn rotator, torn labrum and rebuilt elbow. Not without properly warming up."
Geoff Rowan is 17 and catches for the 2007 IHSA-AA championship Nequa Valley High School team in Naperville. Rowan often warms up by playing catch with his outfielders 270 feet away from home plate.
Unlike Scilingo, he'd try a bleacher throw cold. "I'm a Cubs fan," he said. "You're in the moment during a game. ... I think I could hit the pitchers mound on a bounce, or two. Maybe on the fly. Who knows?"
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