When I came up in 1960, we were averaging maybe 600,000 fans. In '69, we felt that was going to be our year. The fan base started to get larger and larger, and in '69 when we were in first place from the get-go, the "Bleacher Bums" -- everything that was happening that year was unbelievable. You'd go on the road and you'd have the "Bleacher Bums" with you. You'd have fans there all the time. You knew the fans by their first name. And when we drew nearly 1.7 million fans for the first time ever, from that moment on, it's just gone straight up.
We were like rock stars. We always stayed in the clubhouse for two hours talking about the game, and we'd come out and we'd have 150 fans waiting. I had my shirt ripped off me once.You wonder what it would've been like if we'd have won.
Of course we should've won. I thought we were the best team that year in the National League. I felt the Orioles were probably the best team in baseball because of the pitching that they had. Yet, the Mets beat us and the Mets beat Baltimore. God lived in New York that year.
My dad left my sister and I when I was 6 years old. My mother and dad got a divorce. We were on the corner waiting for him to pick us up on weekends. He picked us up that first weekend and the second weekend, I never saw him again until I was 19. Then my stepfather came into my life when I was 12 and I call him Dad.
My mother had two jobs-waitress at a place in the afternoon, and then a drugstore. She'd come home about 10 o'clock and always with a smile on her face.
I think back to when I used to watch the "Game of the Week" on TV. The reason I tell you this is because that's when I became a Cubs fan. It was Wrigley Field, Ernie Banks, something about this ballpark and the Chicago Cubs.
To really tell the story, I ended up signing with the Cubs for the lowest amount. Everybody else was quite a bit higher, but I wanted to be a Cub.
My best baseball moment was when I came up on June 26, 1960. I was 20 years old and it was a doubleheader in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. We were in a nine-game losing streak. Lou Boudreau was the manager. He put me in. I played both games. We won both games. First time up, I ended up getting a base hit up the middle. I ended up going 4-for-7 and driving in five runs.
At the audition (1), I was so bad I can't tell you. I knew "5" was third base. I couldn't remember any other number. It was terrible. I had been out of the game for 17 years in business and done very well. So, we got done with the audition, and I went up to Bob Brenly-that's who I was auditioning against -- and I said, "Bobby, congratulations. There's no way they're going to pick me. When you come to Chicago, we'll play golf." About a month later, they called and said they hired both of us.
I was six years with Thom Brennaman and then Pat Hughes came along. I just kept getting more comfortable with being myself. I make mistakes. It doesn't bother me. I laugh at myself.
This homer stuff is for the birds. I work for the Cubs, but I'm a Cub fan, so of course, I'm going to pull for the Cubs.
It's Type-1 juvenile diabetes/insulin-dependent my whole career. It's not that I couldn't let anybody know; it's that I didn't want to. I was in the big leagues when I was 20 with diabetes. If I didn't make it, I didn't want people to think that was the reason I didn't make it.
I made my first All-Star Game when I was 23, and that's when I announced it to my general manager and my teammates. I didn't announce it to the fans until my 10th year.
When I found out, I went to the library and read, and the first thing I read was that life expectancy for a Type-1 juvenile diabetic/insulin -- dependent was 25 years. That's changed because of monies being raised since 1974 through JDRF (2) and the federal government and now the NIH (3).
The best thing is going to the cure, and we're going to have that and I hope it's within my lifetime.
I had problems 10 years after I was out of the game with my eyes. I had laser, which they had perfected. I have over 5,000 burns in my right eye and over 4,000 in my left. I'm in remission. I had hardening of the arteries. In '99, I had quadruple bypass. In 2000, I was clean. In 2001, I lost my first leg. In 2002, I lost my second leg. I went through 23 operations. I went through a bout of cancer, but I got through that.
You know what? I feel I'm doing very, very well.
A few more wins -- that's all I need.
1: As Cubs radio analyst in 1990.
2: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
3: National Institutes of Health.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun