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|| News Item: Posted 2003-06-30

A Corkin' Good Time in Chicago
By Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Cub fans in the right field bleachers cheer Sammy Sosa as one lone New York Yankee fan gives him a special salute.
The week of June 2, 2003, started out in fun.

I'd spent a long weekend shooting two Cubs-Astros games (one, a 16 inning 1-0 Cubs win was just a whale of a game in freezing, 40 mph wind-howling-off-the-lake temperatures) and I followed little dynamo Annika Sorenstam and her buddy Darren ("No Letter") Carroll around on Sunday during the final round of the Chicago LPGA tour stop.

A long working weekend in mostly chilly Chicago "springtime" weather.

Monday found me surfing the fine Sport Shooter web site after burning all of my CDs for the clients. I noticed a message thread started by Alan Look, a photographer from Bloomington, Illinois, titled "Cubs in 1st."

I just had to reply. The devil made me do it.

During the day on Tuesday the 3rd, I had fun trashing New Yorkers and non-Cub fans about the upcoming Cubs-Yankees series, the first for the two teams since the 1938 World Series, in the thread.

I sent e-mails to friends telling them how great the weekend series was going to be. I was pumped and it was only Tuesday afternoon.

By Tuesday night, things got ugly. The water turned to whine…and it was corked.

Cub hero Sammy Sosa got tossed in the first inning for using a corked bat in a game against, of all teams, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

My wife had to go to bed. I just had to stay up and watch all of the sports on TV that I could.

And I had to suck it up with a new thread titled "Cork This."

On Wednesday morning, my good buddy Mike Shayotovich, the Newspaper Division Sales Manager at Getty Images News and Sport in New York, and Indiana-transplanted-die-hard Cub fan, sent me an e-mail.

"I don't know what all the hub bub is about," he wrote. "The bat was clearly marked with a 'c'. It was an honest mistake…"

"A true Cub fan, you are," I replied.

"Come on, dude. It had a 'c' on it!" He continued. "He grabbed the wrong stick!"

"Can we blame it on the batboy?" I answered. "Where's Dusty's little snot-nosed kid when we really need him?"

I spent Wednesday morning lamenting. Why do all of the good Chicago baseball photo ops happen when I'm not working? Fans running onto the field at Sox Park…Sammy using a corked bat…. Fans stealing Chad Kreuters' cap as he sat in the bullpen during a Wrigley night game causing a major fight in the stands. Jeez. What fresh hell is next?

Then the fresh hell e-mail came from LA.

Cover Wednesday night's Cubs game, please. Shoot Sammy. Go early, get BP.

Photo by Rich Pilling / MLB Photos

Photo by Rich Pilling / MLB Photos

The Chicago Sports Shooter Capos pose at Wrigley (from l): Jonathan (“Big Chooch”) Daniel; Steve (“The Cork”) Green; Nuccio DiNuzzo; Phil (“Scorecards”) Velasquez; David Banks; Ron (“Ten Aspirins”) Vesely; David Durochik. Also pictured: Little Pedro.
So much for steaks on the grill that night.

What a fresh hell it was at Wrigley. Hoards of media (mostly TV types) and a very grumpy Sammy. And an ugly loss to the Devil Rays for the first place Cubs.

" I didn't kill nobody," Sammy said as he left the dugout to hit in batting practice and spied all of the media in attendance two and half-hours before the start of the game. Truly, you didn't Sammy. But the sports radio pundits in Chicago spent the entire day saying you did.

The fans at the game, contrary to the folks calling the radio talk shows, cheered Sammy as he ran into right field at the start of the game. Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood was quoted in the paper the next day saying, "It was good to see the fans didn't lash out. That's fans in Chicago for you. They're true blue."

Indeed they are. Except for the drunken father and son combinations that run onto the field to beat up first base coaches at White Sox games. They're true black and blue.

Brian ("The Punk") Kersey, a fine Northwestern graduate and young, go-getting' AP stringer, was ready to kill someone after the game. He discovered someone had stolen his computer from the third base photo pit where all of the TV geeks, reporters, news anchors, producers, techs, cable pullers and the like were hanging around before the game telling the world the story of Sammy's corked bat. Only Cubs photographer Steve ("The Cork") Green, Brian and myself worked in that "pit" during the game. And Steve and I already have our own computers. It appears that one of our fine TV media brethren was responsible for the theft, although we can't prove it.

Thursday was a relatively uneventful day at Wrigley except that the Cubs won and finally were able to hit the ball, scoring 7 runs in the third inning. The hapless Devil Rays couldn't hit a bull in the ass with a sack of rice. Sammy had a single and after one long drive, did his signature "Home Run Hop"…only to have Devil Rays center fielder Carl Crawford catch the ball at the warning track. Poor Sammy. He so wanted to "dial 8"… with an uncorked bat.

The fans at Wrigley still cheered him and many held signs in his support. The sports radio shows were still fielding calls from people who were just crucifying Sosa. Most were White Sox fans, I suspect.

MLB announced they had x-rayed 76 of Sammy's bats taken from Wrigley on Tuesday night and had found all were solid wood. Not a trace of Viagra, either.

The photographer contingent grew larger at Thursdays' game, giving us an inkling of what was to come during the weekend series against the Yankees. Space in the photo locations at first and third was tighter than usual with several Korean and Japanese photographers showing up to shoot. Kersey had no luck retrieving his stolen computer and was still livid. Didn't blame him at all.

I already had my game face on for the weekend series. I got up to shoot the pitchers in the first inning from the stands as I usually do and when I returned to third base, another photographer had taken my seat. "Hey…the goddamn Yankees ain't in town yet…get your ass up." I also vowed not to take any crap from the those "gold chain wearing, wife beatin', goobaagoo eatin' Tony Soprano, Gudio Cheesedick MFs from New York this weekend." (In all honesty, my buddy Shayotovich was responsible for part of the original rave in an earlier e-mail. But I was completely on the same page with him.)

Friday, the alarm went off at 4:30am…. sheesh. I had to take my lovely wife out to the airport so she could catch an early flight for a weekend conference in…you guessed it…New York. She had it all backwards. I tried to explain that New York was coming to Chicago this weekend. But she has her world of work to deal with and I have mine. And quite frankly, mine is easier.

Photo by

Jonathan Daniel waits out a rain delay on Friday.
The media throng at Wrigley on Friday was smaller than the post-cork game Wednesday night. Dusty Baker hugged old Yankee acquaintances during batting practice and there were a ton of fun pictures to be made. But the weather was getting darker and uglier. The sky rocked open and I spent the one and half hour rain delay under the dugout overhang in the third base photo pit, pissin' and moanin' with Chicago Tribune photographer Phil ("Scorecards") Velasquez.

Phil and I have been friends for some 25 years. He's one big-ass Cub fan. He's the kind of guy who remembers all the old Cubs who played when he was growing up and who remembers every detail of every game he's ever covered. I can't remember yesterday, for cryin' out loud. Last year I accused him of keeping every scorecard he's filled out from every game he's ever covered, in big boxes in his house. He didn't deny it and I know it's true. I feel sorry for his wife Robin if she ever tries to throw that crap out. It'll be war.

The game was a bit of a letdown, especially since we had been sitting around the park for five hours before it even started. The Yankees looked awesome. At one point midway through the game, I yelled down to Phil. "Hey, Mo…our line-up compared to theirs…"
"Scorecards" finished my sentence for me.

"Night and Day."

Maybe this weekend wouldn't be as much fun as I thought. We're wet, we're tired and we wanna go home. I had the pleasure both Friday and Saturday of sitting next to Chuck ("The Sage") Solomon, another old friend and Sports Illustrated staffer. Late in the game he asks me…"OK…are you a Cub fan that wants to see them tie this game up and go 14 innings or are you a journalist that just wants this game over so we can get out of here?" Hey, I might be a Cub fan, but I'm not stupid. "Let's get out of here…my dogs have been waiting to pee for eight hours." I was in no mood to come home and find, as some smart aleck Chicago photog said, "turds on the pillows."

The Yankees won 5-3. Mr. "$120 Million" Jason Giambi hit a monster two-run shot in the first inning. Lard-bucket David Wells showed the form he never did when he was with the White Sox for a season and even hit a double during the game. Sammy does his home run hop yet AGAIN on a fly ball, caught at the wall.

For some reason, the Japanese photographers only seem to want to photograph former Chicago Bear Matt Suhey, Walter Payton's old blocking back and who's been retired for years. I'm not about to tell them the guy's not playing anymore and that he never played baseball. Doesn't matter anyway…most of those guys don't speak much English. At least Derek Jeter slips and falls trying to throw to first and a couple of Cubbies hit home runs. Small solace for Cubs fans.

With the exception of that 4:30am wake-up call on Friday morning, I slept pretty well.

Friday night before the big Rogers Clemens-Kerry Wood match-up was another matter and it just wasn't because my wife was away and the dogs were sleeping on the bed with me.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

NY/NJ Capos present at Wrigley: Chuck (“The Sage”) Solomon, Sports Illustrated and Rich (“The Smurf”) Pilling, MLB Photo Director.
The fever dreams came early. Like the old Bogart movie "Deadline USA" the headlines flashed before my eyes. "Wood Tosses No Hitter; Stymies Yanks." "Wood Throws Perfect Game, Destroys Yankee Myth." "Sosa Homers in 9th, Cubs WIN!"

Clemens Chokes in 300 Win Attempt." "Clemens Announces Retirement after Failing 300th Win." "Sosa Never Corked Bat…It's All a Bad Dream."
Then the nightmare headline, uncorked from deep within my subconscious: "Unhitable Clemens Notches 300th Win."

Oh no, not that.

Saturday's weather was a complete turn-around from Friday. A beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky, with temperatures in the 70's. There was no batting practice because of the early start for national TV (12:20pm CDT) so the Chicago Sports Photographer "Capos" spent a few hours hanging around the field, snapping photos, joking around, debating the Sosa incident and generally cursing the Yankees.

"Scorecards" kept coming up with various scenarios about how the game would play out and what we would be able to shoot. By Noon, I was ready to whack him and get on with the game.

Much has already been written about the game by many of the fine sports scribes around the country. A column by Ira Berkow of the New York Times, titled "A Masterpiece, Painted on Canvas of Wrigley Field" was, in my opinion, the best of the lot.

The game was a masterpiece and maybe the best baseball game I've ever covered. The emotion of the day, the emotions of the crowd yelling "Yankees Suck, Yankees Suck" and the caliber of play by both teams made for a game that more than lived up to the hype.

The game was sailing along in a classic pitcher's duel between the 40-year-old Clemens seeking his 300th career win and the 25-year-old Wood, seeking his 50th career win. Then, Wood and Cub's first baseman Hee Seop Choi collided trying to catch a Giambi pop-up. As soon as I took a shot of Choi on the ground, I knew he was out cold. I was way over-lensed on the play and didn't get a decent shot of the collision.

But with a 400 lens and a converter, I was able to see the little cartoon birdies flying around his head as the trainers and doctors attended to him. Rarely do you ever see an ambulance drive on to the field at a baseball game, but Choi seemed to be seriously hurt. The Fans chanted "HEE SEOP CHOI! HEE SEOP CHOI!" as the ambulance left the field.

He made the catch and never let go of the ball.

Wood seemed rattled but continued his stellar performance, until Matt Suhey (not retired after all!) hit a dinger off him with a 3-2 count in the 5th.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Phil (“Scorecards”) Velasquez of the Chicago Tribune transmits pictures from the third base photo pit during a rain delay.
Joe Torre took Clemens out of the game after Sosa singled and Moises Alou walked in the Cub 7th. As Chois' replacement, Eric Karros, came up to bat, wise old sage Solomon said, "I don't know…Eric Karros…I don't think he's got it." Justice AND revenge were served up cold (an old Klingon proverb) when Karros hit a three-run home run on the first pitch from reliever Juan Acevedo. (The Yankees cut Acevedo a few days later for using corked baseballs.)

The crowd exploded. I caught myself cheering; "YYYYEEAAAHHH BAYBEE!" as Karros rounded first base. When the picture taking was over, I slapped Solomon on the leg. "Yeah, Karros, he ain't got it, Chuckie." He laughed, realizing his days as a baseball sage were over.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Karros had never faced Clemens before the game but "owned a .385 lifetime average against Acevedo, a former Colorado Rockie." I'm thinking Karros probably owns Acevedo's house and car as well.

The Cubbies went on to win 5-3. I had NOT dreamed of the Tribune headline the next day:

"In the end, joy for Choi."

I didn't have an assignment to shoot the Sunday night rubber match between the two teams. I attended my niece's high school graduation in the pouring rain that afternoon (any umpire would have CALLED that silly outdoor event). I picked up my wife upon her return from New York, then settled in to watch the game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, which I NEVER do.

Cubs pitcher Mark Prior tossed a gem and although the Yankees threatened in the 8th and 9th, the Cubbies won 8-7.

The Cubs line-up may have looked like night and day against the Yankees on Friday but by Sunday night the Yankees bullpen had more holes than a palace formally owned by Saddam Hussein.

A week later in New York, Clemens got his 300th win and 4,000th strikeout in a game against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. I guess it would have been nice to cover a bit of baseball history but no one in Chicago, with the exception of a few misguided White Sox fans, wanted it to happen against the Cubs. We were more than happy to see Clemens and the Yankees whack the Cards, however.

Sosa received an 8 game suspension for his corked bat. In his first game at Baltimore, some goof ran onto the field and rolled pieces of cork at him. Gonna be tough for Sosa on the road this season. I can't wait to see what the fans in St. Louis, not to mention the White Sox fans, have in store for him later in the season. Those off-duty Chicago cops working security at Sox games are gonna have to "beef it up." (I guess the Sox will cancel that "Father-Son Cork Day" promotion they had planned for one of the Cubs games.)

Only Sammy knows in his heart if he took that bat up to the plate intentionally. Most fans and sportswriters seem to think he knew what he was doing. White Sox team photographer Ron ("Ten Aspirins") Vesely got into it with me before the Saturday Cubs-Yankees game when I griped about Pale Hose fans calling into the sports radio talk shows. "You KNOW how guys treat their equipment in this game. He had to know what he was doing."

Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. What I DO know is this: He shouldn't have had a corked bat for any reason in the first place. And for Sosa to work up an "enemies list" and to play the race card regarding his treatment of the incident is, at best, stupid and at worst, preposterous. No one will ever accuse Sammy of being the "sharpest knife in the drawer."

Everyday of his life, he will spend at least a few moments thinking "I got caught using a corked bat in a game." He might be playing with his kids on a warm day in the Dominican, he might be trying to hit for the cycle against the Cards, he may be sitting in the dugout dumping water on his face, he may be waiting to be interviewed when he's 84 years old by some yet-unknown ESPN pretty boy…but he will think about it every day and be asked about it until the day he dies.

For a guy with such a carefully cultivated good-guy image; a guy that loves to be loved by the fans; a guy already in the record books with over 500 home runs and three 60 home run seasons…well, it seems to me that always having to think about his little gaff and his now-tarnished legacy is punishment enough.

It was a joke for MLB to take one day off of his suspension. What was the friggin' point of that? Oh, I almost forgot…Bud Selig is the Commissioner. A Cheesehead who made that great call to end the All-Star game last season when it was TIED. 'Nuff said.

The Cubs may not hang around first place much longer this year because as we've all said…they are the Cubs, after all. But Dusty seems to have made a difference in the team.

Cub fans will spend all year hoping that "waiting until next year" was worth it…if next year is actually THIS year.

And no matter what, the Cubs do play in the premier stadium in all of American sports. It's always a pleasure to cover a game at Wrigley Field, even in the rain.

This is also the main reason Wrigley Field and Cub fans are the bane of existence to all White Sox fans.

The fans and the media have been starved for good, exciting, noteworthy baseball on the north side of Chicago for such a damn long time.

The week of June 2nd through the 8th was pretty good for starters.

(Chicago Sports Shooter Capo Jonathan (" Big Chooch") Daniel is a free-lance sports photographer in his 15th year as a retainer photographer for Getty Images in Chicago and the team photographer for the MLS/Chicago Fire. He resides in Riverside, IL with his wife, Dr. Jinger ("Beautiful Brainiac") Hoop; two Whippets, Alice ("The Little Kid") and Gracie ("The Queen of Quite A Lot") and a one big, old "Chicago Attitude.")

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