His stats aren’t dazzling: 3,442 hits, 813 hits, 82 home runs, .236 batting average, 381 runs scored in 1,061 games. But baseball is more than cold numbers, and Randy Hundley was more than a catcher for the Chicago Cubs. .
It’s not strange to turn to baseball these winter months, especially considering the incompetence of our professional sports teams these days. Baseball is a summer game, and memories bring warmth and joy because the game is like a novel in progress, filled with players (heroic and flawed) and millions of characters who populate the city’s baseball history. We take in sights and sounds, we feel disappointments and joys, we remember goats and black cats, corked bats, sportswriters, fans, owners, coaches, managers, umps, broadcasters, dealers, Andy Frains and that lively chorus known as unforgettable quotes.
My favourite? “I’ve never played drunk. Hangover, yes. But never get drunk!” A century before Cubs center fielder Hack Wilson.
And now I have “Ironman: Legendary Chicago Cubs Catcher,” and Hundley writes, “I’ve always wanted to share my memories. … When I turned 80 in 2022, I figured things would come to this.” ‘now or never’ I point to tell my story.
And he does so over the course of nearly 200 vivid pages that take us through his upbringing in Martinsville, Virginia, and how his father taught him the method of catching a baseball with one gloved hand; This will quietly revolutionize the catcher’s position. We follow his minor league years with the San Francisco Giants, the major leagues and his trade to the Cubs in 1966, his first full season. And of course, the Cubs’ years shine.
I have to admit that my favorite Cub of those youthful days was Billy Williams (and Luis Aparicio for the White Sox), but this book reminded me of his full name, Cecil Randolph Hundley Jr. It gives me a new appreciation for Hundley.
Battery mate, friend and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins writes in the free introduction to Hundley’s great book: “When you think of the thousands of players who played in the major leagues, most of their names are forgotten, but he will forever be remembered as the man who caught more games in a single season than any other catcher in the history of football.” one name: Randy Hundley.”
Yes, he holds that record; perhaps a testament to stamina and work ethic rather than talent, but admirable nonetheless. He was behind the plate for 160 games in a 162-game season at Wrigley Field and elsewhere in 1968.
However, what happened in the next season, that famous, heartbreaking fainting of 1969, is more resonant and more memorable. “Time has erased much of that glorious yet bittersweet season when we set the world on fire,” he writes. Good for him, but the pain of that season still remains with me.
Hundley, then and still living in the suburbs, was eventually traded before ending his career with the Cubs with a handful of games in 1976 and 1977.
He coached in the lower leagues for a while and then inspiration struck. With the advice of restaurateur and baseball fan Richard Melman, he created the first fantasy baseball camp, a week-long experience in which middle-aged fans mingle and play with former professional players returning to the jersey to assist the coach. He recruited former teammates like Jenkins, Ron Santo, Williams and others to mix and coach the potbellied amateurs.
With the slogan “Where lifelong dreams come true,” many people reacted enthusiastically to the idea of Hundley’s fantasy baseball camp. Among them was Tribune columnist and devoted Cubs fan Mike Royko, who wrote: “One of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard. So crazy I’m dying to join in.”
Mike never did, sticking with 16-inch softball, but thousands signed up and helped spawn similar efforts across the country. You will hear from some of the participants in the book. Comedian Mark DeCarlo, a two-time camper, writes: “I just tried to fit in, but for a kid from Chicago, it’s a huge experience… (One memory is) hitting two grand slams on a pitching machine, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.” (at least that’s what I tell people).”
Bob Sirott of WGN radio was a camper in 1983 and called it “an epic experience.” Besides the aches and pains, bad leads and jitters, I found myself in the presence of baseball royalty.
This book is by John St. John St., an inexhaustibly creative man who is a writer, radio host, producer, and more. Written with Augustine. Frankly, it was a labor of love and respect, as he describes first meeting Hundley as a wide-eyed 8-year-old, looking for autographs and getting into Hundley’s Corvette. A few decades later, he went to fantasy camp and wrote about it for an old sports magazine. There he hit the grand slam, but more importantly, it formed the basis of what became a deep friendship.
“We worked on the book for more than five and a half months,” he told me over the weekend. “We would meet for breakfast and then go back to Randy’s house and record our conversations. “Nothing was off-limits, and it was very emotional for him at times, especially when he talked about his wife.”
The book is dedicated to Hundley’s late wife, Betty, and Hundley is clearly proud of his children, including his son, former major league catcher/outfielder Todd Hundley. There are inevitably shadows here, as when he writes: “Nineteen players from the 1969 team have passed away… (but) my memories are pure gold. In my mind, we are locked in the same way we were then; Invincible young men playing the game we love.”
The book is only available through Lulu.com. Winter is here, but the Cubs’ opening day at Wrigley is April 1, 2024. Hundley is now 81 and hopes to be there.