The liberals had a party at the Fine Arts Theatre the other night, and almost all of them were there.

They had come to see the world premiere of Eight Men Out, John Sayles’s latest movie, and all the proceeds were going to the Crossroads Fund, which awards money to groups and causes too apparently hopeless, controversial, or obscure for mainstream foundations.

The outer lobby of the theater was filled with young, old, mostly white lawyers, labor organizers, community activists, lifelong radicals–allies, most of them, from countless campaigns.

Mostly, they seemed happy. Maybe they felt the other side’s hypocrisies had never seemed so clear.

“What do you get when you cross a chicken and a hawk?” someone in the balcony asked.

“I don’t know.”

“A quail.”

Anyway, the crowd cheered as Sarah Bradley, the chair of Crossroads’ board, introduced Studs Terkel, who plays newspaperman Hugh Fullerton in the movie.

It’s his first movie role, Terkel said, though he used to do a lot of radio dramas, and he’s really excited. He stood just below the screen at the front of the theater in his red checkered shirt and blue sport jacket, his white hair ruffled and his complexion ruddy.

“We got a double-play combination,” he said.

“Louder,” they yelled from the balcony. “We can’t hear you.”

“Can you hear me now?” Terkel bellowed into the microphone. “I said we have a double-play combination tonight. Crossroads and Eight Men Out represent the same impulse to make even a crooked playing field.”

The movie, Terkel explained, tells the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox (or Black Sox), a team so underpaid and unappreciated by Charles Comiskey, the cheap and greedy bastard who owned it, that they felt compelled to “fix” the World Series.

Then, in his best rendition of a ringside announcer, Terkel barked out the names of the cast members on hand: John Cusack, whom he called “a Chicago kid”; D.B. Sweeney, “who was himself a ball player”; Eliot Asinof, who wrote the book on which the film’s based, and who “has a role in the movie but not as big as mine”; John Mahoney, “the best character actor in America”; and director-screenwriter Sayles, “who’s got the guts to take risks, not only aesthetically, but in other ways.”

One by one they stood and waved.

“I want to thank you all for coming here tonight,” said Sayles. “This is where the story happened. Where the fix happened. Where, I’m sure, a lot of fixes happened.”

The crowd laughed.

Sayles is tall and lanky, and was casually dressed in a blue short-sleeved shirt and tan slacks. He has directed about six movies, including The Brother From Another Planet and Return of the Secaucus Seven, but he seemed a little anxious.

“I hope you like the movie,” he concluded. “If you do, tell your friends. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut.”

The crowd laughed, and as the credits rolled, they cheered the names Cusack, Terkel, and Sayles. They hissed when Comiskey denied pitcher Eddie Cicotte the raise he deserved. They laughed at Terkel’s lines.

It was hard to figure how good the movie is, since the Fine Arts’ lousy sound system garbled half the lines. Cusack is pretty good as Buck Weaver, the third baseman who was banned from baseball even though he never took a dime in bribes. Michael Rooker is great as Chick Gandil, the hard-nosed first baseman who helped arrange the fix. Terkel looks swell exchanging wisecracks with Sayles, who does a good job as Ring Lardner.

When the movie ended, the crowd applauded and headed next door for hot dogs, beer, peanuts, and champagne.

Out in the lobby Eddie Einhorn, co-owner of the White Sox, stood alongside state senator Billy Marovitz. Einhorn is a small man with a boyish face, and he looked a little awkward even though the White Sox did their bit by donating some programs for the evening. Hostility toward the Sox owners is strong these days.

A guy with shaggy brown hair approached Einhorn and put out his hand. “Mr. Einhorn,” he said, “I’m a season-ticket holder. I love the White Sox. But I also love the old stadium. Couldn’t you keep the old stadium?”

“No,” said Einhorn, “we couldn’t.” His voice was soft; he looked down.

“Did you like the movie, Mr. Einhorn?” I asked.

He looked relieved. “Yeah, sure. Nice.”

“Did they film it at Comiskey Park?”

“No, they didn’t. They might have,” he said, and cracked a smile. “It’s old enough.”

“What about Buck Weaver? Do you think he got a bum deal?”

Einhorn paused. “Well, you know, it’s like seeing a murder. If you see it, and don’t report it, you’ve got to be held accountable. Weaver knew what was happening, but he didnt report it.”

Then Marovitz and Einhorn slipped through the crowd and headed outdoors.

Only a few people were loitering on the sidewalk, but people were marching in the street. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, in town for their annual convention, were having a parade.

Watching from the sidewalk outside the theater was Herb Funk, a short, wiry fellow who’s a Navy man from Oregon and a veteran of World War II. He used to work for the phone company; now he and his son mine for gold.

“Why are they having a parade at night?” a woman asked him.

“That’s when the police let us,” Herb said.

“It seems like such a sad time to have a parade. No one knows about their parade. There’s no one here to watch.”

Herb shrugged. “This is nothing. Last year in Oregon, the police chief of Portland wouldn’t even let us have a march. We brought all the flags, but we had to keep them stored away.”

The woman shook her head. Men from VFW posts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Tennessee passed by. Each time a color guard passed, Herb snapped to attention and saluted the flag.

“We got regiments here from all over the country,” he said. “This is the first convention I’ve seen where every single state is represented.”

A group of women wearing stiff blue dresses, blue caps, and black heels paraded by.

“Ladies’ auxiliary,” Herb said. “They either had a husband or son who served. So they march, too.”

He had to shout to be heard above the thumping tubas and pounding drums of a band from Texas. Down the street three women passionately cheered the regiments as they passed.

The marchers seemed pleased by the cheers. Some smiled. A tan limousine with Connecticut plates passed, its window rolled down just enough to allow an arm to hang out and wave.

“Must be a state commander in there,” said Herb.

“This is the saddest, loneliest parade I’ve ever seen,” the woman murmured.

“I served for three years,” said Herb. “The Navy put me on a ship and sailed me all over the Pacific.” He stopped talking momentarily to salute a passing flag. “I never got seasick. But put me in a car and give me a book to read, and I get carsick. Isn’t that something?”

“What’s the bug on your patch for?” the woman asked.

“It’s a cootie. I’m the former grand chairman of the Oregon post of the Military Order of the Cootie. That’s where I’m from. Oregon. The Cooties have been an honored guard of the VFW since World War I. That’s where we got our name. During World War I, the soldiers ran into a bug in France that was worse than any other bedbug in the world. They couldn’t get rid of it. So that’s what we are–the Cooties. We got posts all over the country, only instead of posts, we call them pup tents.”

His pup tent passed, and he quickly fell into line, marching proudly, his head high.

I stood on the comer for a few more minutes, watching the march trickle by, and then headed over to the party.

Most of the action had wound down. Leigh Harris was singing a bluesy number. A few stars were left: Terkel, Sayles, Cusack, and Sweeney. Cusack’s black hair was slicked back, and he was horsing around with Sweeney. They’re too young to remember a war, though Sweeney once played a deranged Vietnam vet in a movie. They giggled and laughed.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.