One snowy New England afternoon a few years ago, the phone rang in the den at Lennie Merullo's Reading, Massachusetts, home. It was Hank Wyse, Merullo's teammate on the pennant-winning 1945 Chicago Cubs. “Out of the blue, Hank called, ” Merullo said. “I hadn't talked with him in twenty years. ” Wyse's health was failing, and he talked just above a whisper, but the two old ballplayers stayed on the phone for nearly an hour. They caught up on all the usual things—family, the way things, especially baseball, used to be, and, of course, they reminisced about their friends, players like Phil Cavarretta, Don Johnson, Andy Pafko. One of the first players they talked about was a Cubs first baseman named Eddie Waitkus.
“I was pitching one day, and Eddie booted an easy grounder, really bad, you know, kicked it all over the place, ” said Wyse. “He called time-out, walked over to the mound and slammed the ball in the pocket of my glove, and said, 'Let them try me again, Hank. '”
As the old pitcher talked, Merullo turned to a neatly framed photo on his wall. There they were, Waitkus and Merullo, somewhere in the minor leagues, clowning around for the camera in a 1933 Reo touring car. “You know, Hank, I can see Eddie now, sitting all by himself at the Commodore Bar in New York. A cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, in a doublebreasted suit with a boutonniere, maybe humming the latest show tune. ”
Eddie Waitkus played ball for most of his fifty-three years, including eleven seasons as a major leaguer. A self-taught, thinking man's player, Waitkus was a hero to some for surviving what life threw at him. Born and raised in working-class East Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was smart enough to attend Harvard, friends said, but he chose baseball instead. He survived World War II combat and played in the World Series, but he'll always be remembered for the tragedy that befell him on a warm summer night in Chicago in 1949.
“The first time I saw him, I was playing stickball with the neighborhood guys in front of Longfellow Grammar School in Cambridge, ” said Steve