The long-suffering Cubs fan is a cliche; in fact, there’s a certain perverse glory in being one. But what glory does Richard Lindberg garner for his lifelong love affair with the White Sox?
“I was the only Sox fan in Norwood Park,” Lindberg says. “My grandfather, whom I never met, was a Sox fan. I heard stories about him listening to Bob Elson on this old Zenith floor radio. I defended the Sox. We had these raging baseball battles. In our neighborhood, baseball was the only thing that mattered.”
Rich Lindberg’s neighborhood on the far northwest side taught him how to be the odd man out, how to wax poetic over the White Sox as an adult when everyone assumes the Wrigleyville team is the more fitting subject for verse. “It was a very tough area to grow up in,” he recalls. “It was Catholic, Irish, German, Polish, Italian. It was the archetypical 1950s neighborhood where you had a real rigid code of living and conformity.”
One person who didn’t conform was Lindberg; for a thousand reasons apparent only to his peers at Onahan Elementary School, he became their whipping boy. “I had a really rough time growing up in that school,” he says. “I went through eight years of living hell.” His childhood torments might explain his enduring love for the Pale Hose. All his friends wanted to take the bus to Wrigley Field, but when Lindberg suggested traveling south to see the Sox, he was met with derisive snorts. “The parents of the kids said, ‘Oh, you don’t want to go down there, that’s where all the Negroes live!'”
So one day Lindberg convinced his mother to accompany him and his best friend to Comiskey Park on the bus. “We took the Foster Avenue bus to Western Avenue, the Western Avenue bus to 35th Street, and by the time we got to the park it was about a two-and-a-half-hour ride. I was so excited, so thrilled to see the Sox, that I got sick on the bus. I was 11 years old, and it was my first White Sox game–June 20th, 1964–against the Yankees. I still have the ticket stub and the scorecard.” From then on, Lindberg was hooked. In high school he would travel alone on the bus to take in weekend games at Comiskey. “At each phase of my life they were very important to me.”
Now Lindberg has consummated his passion with the 592-page White Sox Encyclopedia, due out next week from Temple University Press; the Cubs Encyclopedia, penned by sportswriters Jerome Holtzman and George Vass, will hit bookstores about a week later. “It’s a labor of love,” says Lindberg. “The book is an accumulation of 25 years’ worth of research.” The White Sox Encyclopedia includes 179 player bios; a season-by-season history of the team from 1901 through 1996; profiles of owners, front-office personnel, and managers; a collection of anecdotes entitled “White Sox Yarns”; and about 700 photos.
Lindberg began working on the book three years ago. Though he works full time as editor of Illinois Police and Sheriff’s News, a publication of the Combined Counties Police Association in Palatine, he would rush home from work every night to put in four or five hours on the encyclopedia. On weekends he’d burrow in at the library, verifying facts in old newspapers on microfilm. “It was a fun project, but it’s been very draining the last two years,” he says.
Lindberg is known as the unofficial White Sox historian, a valuable resource to the club’s public relations department. “In the late 70s I began reaching out to the ball club,” he says. “I had all this historical data I’d gathered, and I began sharing it with the front office. Around the mid-80s I really began forging a relationship with them. I was assisting them with the production and development of their annual press guide. I was writing articles for their game programs. I was appearing on different television and radio talk shows, talking about Sox history.” Lindberg was even consulted during the production of John Sayles’s Eight Men Out, the story of the 1919 Black Sox, several of whom threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. But despite his many labors, Lindberg never has received a dime from the White Sox. “Anything I’ve ever done for the White Sox, I did it because I love the team,” he says.
That love stops short of Bill Veeck, the peg-legged former owner of the Sox. “Bill Veeck in the twilight of his life was just a very bitter and angry man,” Lindberg says. He remembers trying to introduce himself to the legend one day when he was in his mid-20s. He tiptoed up to Veeck and said in a properly deferential voice, “Excuse me, Mr. Veeck?”
“He peers over his glasses and says, ‘Are you tryin’ to hustle me, kid?’ It literally had the effect of slicing me in two. I just stepped back; when one of your heroes says something like that, it deflates you.” Lindberg notes how Veeck snubbed cow-town journalists during the White Sox play-off series in 1983, gutted the Sox farm system after the team won the 1959 American League championship, and committed a hundred other real and imagined sins.
Lindberg’s dislike of Veeck and his campaigning for a new Comiskey Park in 1988 have earned him scorn as one of Jerry Reinsdorf’s bobos, a charge he resents, yet he defends Reinsdorf (an activity that puts him squarely in the minority in this town) and hints that the White Sox owner’s unpopularity might just be disguised anti-Semitism. “I think he would trade all five of those Bulls championships for one White Sox World Series ring.”
Not a bad idea. In their entire history the White Sox have won a mere two World Series championships. Their legacy is not triumph but defeat, a fact not lost on the kid who was picked on every day in elementary school. Lindberg’s own favorite White Sox moment is one of failure. “If I could go back to any one day in baseball history it would be in September of 1908,” he says, “when Big Ed Walsh, the greatest White Sox player of all time, faced Addie Joss of the Cleveland Indians with the American League pennant on the line. Walsh was nearly flawless. The only run he allowed scored on a passed ball by the catcher, who broke his finger trying to hang on to Walsh’s spitball. But Addie Joss pitched a no-hitter. The Sox lost 1-0.”
Lindberg sighs. He is silent a moment, then adds: “So many memories.” –Michael G. Glab
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Richard Lindberg photo by Peter Barreras.