During the 11 days since the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, much has been written and circulated about the dedicated fans, supporters and players who lived their lives and died before they could experience the exhilaration enjoyed earlier this month by the living Cubs faithful.
There was even a guy who took a radio to his father’s grave, so they could “listen” together as Chicago closed out the Series in what was probably the most exciting WS finish since Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates belted a sayonara home run to beat the New York Yankees 10-9 in Game 7 of the 1960 Fall Classic.
As rain fell intermittently — even causing a delay — during the ninth inning of that final game on Nov. 2, there was mention the raindrops could have been tears of joy dropped from heaven by former Cubs players and fans watching from above. Those such as Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Harry Caray.
Banks, known affectionately in the Windy City as “Mr. Cub” or “Mr. Sunshine,” and Santo were key members of the Cubbies teams in the past; most notably the 1969 club that held a nine-and-a-half-game lead over the New York Mets in the National League East Division in mid-August.
Then Chicago was overtaken by the “Miracle Mets” and finished eight games behind New York, completing a 17½-game turnaround in the season’s final six weeks. The hearts of Cubs’ backers were broken.
Banks, the Chicago shortstop and first baseman from 1953 through 1971, was in Japan 16 years ago when the Cubs opened the official 2000 NL season against the Mets at Tokyo Dome. He died 17 months ago on Jan. 23, 2015, at 83.
Santo was the third baseman on that unlucky 1969 Cubs team. He died on Dec. 3, 2010, at 70. So, both Banks and Santo also lived through the 2003 Steve Bartman incident but never got to see their former club get to a World Series.
Bartman was the fan who interfered with a foul ball that might have been caught by Cubs’ left fielder Moises Alou at Wrigley Field during the ’03 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. It was said to help the Marlins rally and eventually knock the Cubs out of the running for the World Series.
Caray, of course, was the popular play-by-play announcer and Chicago restaurant proprietor famous for his “Holy Cow!” catch phrase and off-key rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as he led the home crowd in song while leaning out of the telecast booth during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.
A bronze image of Caray, holding a microphone and displaying his trademark oversized black-rimmed eye glasses, stands outside the ballpark. He died Feb. 18, 1998, at 83.
Yet another broadcaster looking down with pride must be Paul Harvey, the Oklahoma native who later made Chicago the base for his ABC radio programs.
His “Paul Harvey News and Comment” and “The Rest of the Story” segments aired in Japan on the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Service for more than 40 years.
Mr. Harvey, as he was respectfully referred to by listeners, often mentioned the Cubs and their frustrations over the decades as he, too, lived his life without seeing the team win a World Series. He died Feb. 28, 2009, at age 90.
One more who did not live to see the Cubs victory in a World Series is Ken Usyak. Not a famous former player or radio or TV personality, Usyak was nevertheless a passionate Cubs fan who lived the second half of his life in Japan. He was a native of Norridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb located near O’Hare Airport.
I first met him in October of 1969 when we were stationed together with the U.S. Air Force in Fukuoka. That was right after he and the rest of the Cubs rooters had suffered through the late-season collapse that robbed the team of its chance to get into the World Series.
We became great friends and had a wonderful memory of being in Wrigley Field on Sept. 2, 1972, watching the Cubs play while Chicago’s Milt Pappas threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. Pappas was one pitch from a perfect game when he walked the 27th Pads’ batter on a full count.
Pappas, by the way, died just seven months ago on April 19, 2016, at 76.
Usyak had attended Chicago’s Loyola University and earned a master’s degree at Northern Illinois University where he majored in education and also picked up a teaching certificate. He taught at Nagoya International School in Japan from 1974 to 1981 and eventually became a sixth-grade teacher at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo. He was on the faculty staff there from 1981 until he died on Sept. 12, 1993, after a bout with leukemia. He was 50.
Through the years, Ken often talked about his beloved Cubs and longed to see them win even a National League pennant, let alone a World Series. During summer vacations, he always made it a point while on home leave to see a few Cubs games at Wrigley.
One of his treasures was his blue Cubs hat with the round red C on the front, just as this year’s World Series champions wore. After he died, his widow Tamiko said she had to discard a lot of Ken’s belongings but would keep the Cubs cap.
If indeed those raindrops that fell at the end of Game 7 in this year’s World Series were happy tears from heaven, I believe some of them were shed by Ken Usyak and mixed with those of Banks, Santo, Pappas, Caray and Harvey.
They may not have lived long enough to see the Cubs’ World Series triumph, but they can rest in peace knowing the 108-year drought is finally in the past.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com