Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Remembering the lives of those in Illinois who died from coronavirus
They were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Many were proud grandparents. Two were sisters from a tightknit South Side family. All were loved, relatives say, and will be forever missed. As the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 ticks upward, the Tribune is working to chronicle those who have lost their lives in the Chicago area or who have connections to our region. These are some of those victims.
Baseball fans who attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field during the last half century likely purchased food, drinks, souvenirs or a scorecard from William Griffin over the years. During the team’s recent playoff runs, including the 2016 world championship season, Griffin’s booming voice echoed through the concourse at the main gate at Clark and Addison.
“Scorecards! Programs! Lineups!” Griffin called out as fans streamed to their seats.
Griffin was one of the longest-serving vendors at Wrigley Field, where he sold everything from beer to peanuts for more than 60 years. During the Cubs’ World Series year, he primarily sold scorecards from his perch behind the kiosk inside the home plate gate. Griffin also was a fixture on the South Side, where he worked Sox games.
Griffin even made a few cameos in the 1993 movie “Rookie of the Year,” parts of which were filmed at Wrigley Field, most notably as the Cubs’ third base coach.
Griffin, 88, died May 16 at a Chicago nursing facility. The cause was complications from COVID-19 infection, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office and Benson Family Funeral Home.
In declining health for several years, Griffin last worked at Wrigley in 2017.
Several former and current Wrigley Field vendors attended Griffin’s funeral and graveside memorial service May 21 at Ridgewood Memorial Park in Des Plaines. Six of Griffin’s former ballpark co-workers, all wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, served as pallbearers, hoisting the light blue casket from the hearse to the grave site.
“You have to be an amazing guy to have casual acquaintances come to your funeral,” said Joel Levin, a vendor who worked with Griffin.
Griffin was laid to rest next to his friend, Ho Pun Padgett, another recognizable vendor to avid fans and frequent guests at Chicago’s ballparks. Padgett was especially popular among a small group of White Sox fans who referred to her as “the hot dog lady.”
A Cubs fan who read a 2015 Tribune profile of Griffin paid for Padgett’s headstone after Griffin mentioned how he mourned the death of his longtime friend but did not have money to buy a grave marker for her.
The vendors in attendance lingered after the brief ceremony, swapping stories about Griffin and his idiosyncrasies.
“He was a good man,” said Abe Rapuch, who still works as a vendor at Wrigley Field, in recent years stationed down the right field line. “He had a lot of catchphrases. He always had certain phrases for certain people.”
A small group of die-hard Cubs fans who befriended Griffin during the final years handled his medical care as his health declined, made memorial arrangements after his death and paid for funeral expenses. The day Griffin was laid to rest, the cemetery received a request from another fan, who wished to remain anonymous, offering to pay the bill for Griffin’s gravestone. Griffin is survived by a niece who was not able to attend the memorial service.
Griffin had a gruff exterior that hid a good-natured disposition and a deep desire for companionship. During interactions with fans, he often seemed grumpy, especially when fans handed him a $10 or $20 bill and wanted him to make change. He was most irritated by the constant tussle over the concession stand Cubs pencils, which cost 50 cents during the recent playoff runs and did not come with the price of a $1.50 basic scorecard.
“Every now and then someone will make a big deal out of that 50 cents, acting like it’s highway robbery,” he said in 2015. “I just wish the pencil came with it.”
But Griffin actually craved these interpersonal interactions and savored his time at the ballpark among fans and fellow vendors.
“I don’t really like going home,” he told the Tribune in 2016. “There’s no one there. I get too lonely.”
Even if he seemed dismissive or rude, the kindness broke through if you lingered long enough: the hint of a smile as he handed over a scorecard, the chuckle with a young fan, the nod that said “Enjoy the game,” the care he took to bag a program for a guest.
Away from the ballpark, Griffin’s life was anything but easy. Griffin said that when he was 2 his father, working with the Works Progress Administration, died in a well accident, and his mother struggled to make ends meet and take care of him. By the time he was 15, he was living in a youth home in Oklahoma, and his goal was to join the Marines, or maybe become a baseball player or a boxer.
“I wanted to be a good Marine, and be really good at it,” he said. “And I wanted to be proud of myself.”
With World War II over, he joined the Marines when he turned 17, thinking it would be a good way to travel the world in peacetime but said he didn’t cut it. When the Marines didn’t work out, he tried joining the Navy and ended up at Naval Station Great Lakes. But his military career fizzled there as well, the victim of spotty attendance and lack of discipline, and Griffin decided to go back to what he knew: selling concessions at the ballpark.
Griffin did not marry and had no children. For many years, he lived in a senior living tower near Devon Avenue and Sheridan Road, commuting to the ballparks by “L” or bus. He usually arrived about a halfhour before the gates opened to clock in, gather his supplies and set up shop.
In a 2015 interview with the Tribune, Griffin said he did not specifically recall his first shift at Wrigley Field but remembered selling programs and pop in the stands during his first season. Asked if he enjoyed working as a vendor or was particularly skilled at the profession, he paused, then said, “I guess so, because here I am.”