Chicago to Philadelphia
On a clear, bright March morning in 1946, Eddie Waitkus relaxed against the batting cage at a sun-splashed baseball field on Catalina Island, site of the Chicago Cubs' spring training camp. He was twenty-six years old, and baseball was back in his life. The Cubs had invited him to spring training, and this time, he knew, his minor league days were behind him forever. Waitkus took in the California sun with ease and enjoyed the sights and sounds of baseball again. As he hummed a tune, which he always did when all was right with his world, and watched the players go through their drills, his quiet was suddenly broken.
“So we got a left-handed tenor for first base, ” said Charlie Grimm, manager of the Cubs, the defending National League champions. “Tell me, young man, do you also play the banjo?" “Jolly Cholly” Grimm, veteran of twenty major league seasons, was in his tenth year managing the Cubs. Grimm was a rotund, jovial man and a fan favorite in Chicago. He coached third base with a theatrical flair and loved to go jaw-to-jaw with the umpires. On a disputed call, he'd turn his hat askew and belly up to the ump, all the time his long arms waving in the air, Grimm's attempt to get the crowd going. He was a skillful first baseman during his playing days, but more importantly, Grimm considered himself an expert baritone and an even better banjo player.
“No, sir, not the banjo, ” Waitkus answered. “But I fool around a little with the mouth organ. ”
“Young man, ” Grimm continued, “I don't know whether to give you a tryout or an audition, but trot down to first base, and I will see how you handle low grounders—the high notes can wait. ”