Last Chicago Cub to play in World Se­ries

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - times staff and wire re­ports news.obits@la­times.com

Len­nie Merullo, the last man to play in a World Se­ries for the Chicago Cubs, has died, the team’s own­ers an­nounced. He was 98.

In the 1945 World Se­ries against Detroit, he played three games and went 0 for 2. The Cubs lost in seven games and haven’t made it back to the Se­ries since.

How­ever, the peren­ni­ally scrappy Cub­bies imag­ined they’d make it back soon enough, Merullo re­called re­cently.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “We never gave up hope.”

Merullo’s death Satur­day was an­nounced by Cubs owner Tom Rick­etts.

The Cubs’ old­est alum­nus, Merullo trav­eled from his home in Read­ing, Mass. last year to a 100th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of the Cubs’ Wrigley Field. He was 97 at the time — just three years younger than the sta­dium.

Wear­ing a Cubs jer­sey, he used a walker to get from his wheel­chair to­ward the mound and threw out the first ball be­fore the Cubs played the Mar­lins, get­ting a big cheer from the fans.

Dur­ing the sev­enth-in­ning stretch, the for­mer short­stop was cen­ter stage for an­other ball­park tra­di­tion. Belt­ing out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” over the sta­dium’s sound sys­tem, he drew an­other ova­tion.

Born in East Bos­ton, Mass., on May 5, 1917, Merullo, one of 12 chil­dren, played ball in the neigh­bor­hood be­fore be­com­ing a high school stand­out. He played for Vil­lanova Uni­ver­sity be­fore sign­ing on with the Cubs.

Merullo made his Chicago de­but in 1941 and played un­til 1947. He had a ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age of .240 and hit six home runs.

On Sept. 13, 1942, he set a Ma­jor League record by mak­ing four er­rors in one in­ning — all on back-to­back plays.

He later ex­plained that he was off his game be­cause of ex­cite­ment; he had just re­ceived news that his wife had gone into la­bor back in Bos­ton.

His old­est son Len was nick­named “Boots” be­cause of his dad’s bad night on the field. Boots Merullo went on to play mi­nor league ball. Len­nie’s grand­son Matt Merullo spent six years in the ma­jors, mostly for the Chicago White Sox.

Merullo mar­ried next-door neigh­bor Jean Cza­met­zki in 1941. They had been what a friend called “win­dow lovers,” Merullo told the Bos­ton Globe in 2010.

“I’d be look­ing out my win­dow to see if I could see her,” he said. “And if she saw me, she’d look out her win­dow. On foggy days, we’d draw S’s in the win­dow for ‘Sweet­hearts.’ ”

Merullo’s sur­vivors in­clude his wife, four sons, and a num­ber of grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren.

Af­ter his play­ing ca­reer, Merullo spent decades as a scout for the Cubs.

He also be­came a kind of run­ning gag in an­nual Cubs quizzes posed by Chicago colum­nist Mike Royko.

In 1989, Merullo re­sponded with a heart­felt protest, which Royko fea­tured in a col­umn.

“Mike, I never pro­fessed to have been a good Ma­jor League short­stop with the Cubs,” Merullo wrote. “As you have put it, I was a no-hit, very er­ratic player. I’ve had to live with that.

“How­ever, it was not from not work­ing at it. I worked at it too hard. I was not re­laxed. Too tense.... Per­haps my con­tri­bu­tion to base­ball can be de­scribed as be­ing able to un­der­stand and have a feel for the player who is hav­ing a bad day, as I have had many.”

Con­trite, Royko promised to quit mak­ing Len­nie Merullo jokes. He even scrapped his cus­tom­ary ques­tion about the er­rors, re­plac­ing it with one about a mem­o­rable brawl be­tween the Cubs and the Brook­lyn Dodgers.

“Name the Cub player who sep­a­rated Dixie Walker from his front teeth,” the new ques­tion went.

Royko’s an­swer: “The im­mor­tal Len­nie Merullo, of course. So don’t tell me you never gave us any­thing to cheer about, pal.”

Paul Can­non As­so­ci­ated Press

CUBS’ OLD­EST ALUM­NUS Chicago Cubs short­stop Len­nie Merullo fields a ball in April 1942. He made his Chicago de­but in

1941 and played un­til 1947. He had a ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age of .240 and hit six home runs.

As­so­ci­ated Press

WRIGLEY FIELD Merullo pre­pares to throw out the first ball last year at Wrigley Field’s 100th an­niver­sary.

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