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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Farewell Chico
by Hal Vickery

May 26, 2005 was a sad day for White Sox fans my age or older. One of our links to the Go-Go Sox era of the 1950s, Chico Carrasquel, passed away.

Chico was the first in a line of Venezuelan shortstops who found a home with the Sox over the years, most notably Hall-of-Famer Luis Aparicio and current Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

I really have to admit, I don’t remember a whole lot about Carrasquel as a day-to-day player. I was only five years old when he was traded to the Indians so the Sox could bring up Aparicio. Those who saw Carrasquel in his prime, and who were older than five years old at the time of the trade, tell me that he might have been every bit as good a glove man as Little Looie.

I really have only one memory of Carrasquel during that less than one season I saw him with the Sox that stands out in my mind. It was a home run that he hit on a sunny day in 1955. I couldn’t tell you the date or the inning, but I can still see it in my mind as vividly as if it happened yesterday.

As I said, I was five years old. I was out in the back yard playing and decided that I would go visit my maternal grandparents who lived just two doors away. To do that, I had to cut across Paul LaGesse’s back yard.

Apparently up until that time I had been completely oblivious to the game called baseball. Otherwise I would have known that my grandfather had been a White Sox fan for over fifty years at that time and that Paul LaGesse was such a diehard fan that his family didn’t dare speak to him if the Sox lost because he would be in such a foul mood.

As I ran across LaGesse’s back yard, little did I know that in the time it took to get to my grandpa’s living room, my life would be forever changed. Two people would be responsible for that change: Carrasquel and Jack Brickhouse.

I opened the back door, cut through the kitchen and saw my grandpa sitting in his favorite chair. The TV was on. I glanced at it, and just then I saw a man swinging a bat, and the camera pan to the far reaches of what I would soon find out was left field at old Comiskey Park.

I heard the voice I would later find out belonged to Jack Brickhouse shouting at the top of his lungs, “Attaboy Chico! Carrasquel hits a home run!”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew that for a grown man to get so excited, it had to be pretty good. I asked my grandpa a few quick questions: Who was the batter? What is a home run? What’s going on?

I found out that Carrasquel played for a team called the Sox, that a home run was a very good thing when the Sox hit one, and that this was baseball.

I had only one more question: “What channel is it on?”

He replied, “Channel 9.”

I told him I’d be back later, but I wanted to see it on my set and let my parents know this great thing that happened. I went out the front door this time, and ran into my house shouting, “Carousel hit a home run!”

I turned on the TV, a blonde 17-inch Sylvania with a “halo light,” and watched the rest of the game. I can’t remember to this day if my dad was at home or at work, or if anyone else watched the game with me. I don’t remember the outcome of the game. All I remember is that home run call by Jack Brickhouse of a home run hit by Chico Carrasquel.

I was hooked. I was now a White Sox fan. In a twisted turn of events, I found out that the Sox weren’t always at Comiskey Park. When they were away, another team played, and Brickhouse called the play-by-play for them. They were a team called the “Cubs,” and they had guys named Hank Sauer, Ernie Banks, Bob Rush, and Sam Jones.

I soon found out that the Sox, managed by Marty Marion, who sometime later I found out had been a pretty fair shortstop himself, were a far better team than the Cubs, who were managed by their third base coach, Stan Hack.

So the Sox became my favorite, but I rooted for the Cubs, too—just not as hard. I somehow managed to keep up this dual allegiance until about ten years ago when sanity finally set in and I dumped the Cubs.

My real heroes that first summer of baseball were named Minoso, who soon became my favorite; Fox, who took that role when Minoso was traded, like Carrasquel to Cleveland; Pierce, Donovan, Harshman, Northey, Philley, and a host of others. Somehow that guy named Banks slipped into my pantheon, too.

I can’t think of a time when I ever lost interest in baseball, although sometime around 1968 it got very hard to root for the Sox for a few years. Over the next few years I acquired, through my parents, Sox caps, a Sox jacket, and a Nellie Fox glove.

Just out of college I’d leave my job in Gary, IN, drive to Comiskey Park, and watch the Dick Allen-led Sox. I took my fiancé to a few Sox games, but she never did get interested. I married her anyway. Her dad was a Sox fan.

When Jeff was old enough we’d go to Comiskey Park, and (I have to admit) Wrigley Field. Jeff showed more sense than I did. He decided he preferred the Sox and never did care all that much for the Cubs.

Then fifteen years ago, I stopped with Jeff at the ChiSox Club booth at the ball park and joined. Five years later, while on the executive board of that club, I joined a group that split off and formed the Windy City Sox Fans. A few years after that, my wife’s cousin, George Bova, asked me if I’d like to contribute some articles for this web site.

Now a good portion of my life is centered on the White Sox. It is taken up with writing this column, attending WCSF board meetings, helping at our luncheons featuring Sox players, etc. I’ve met some of my childhood heroes, Billy Pierce, Al Smith, Minnie Minoso, Ken McBride (don’t ask), and Jim Landis at SoxFest or WCSF events.

I’ve met and become friends with Nancy Faust. Gene Honda says hi when I see him at the ball park since I interviewed him ten years ago for the WCSF’s first newsletter. I’m on a first-name basis with Dave Wills due to his association with the WCSF.

I’m not saying this to brag or drop names. It’s just that much of my spare time now revolves around the Sox.

And all of this is the result of a five-year-old kid from Bradley, IL, who lived a good sixty miles from Comiskey Park, seeing a home run hit by Chico Carrasquel, and hearing the excitement it caused for Jack Brickhouse.

At one of the first Cubs Conventions, Jack Brickhouse was signing autographs. (I was still clinging precariously to my Cubs fandom at the time). I didn’t have time to say much, but I did get a chance to tell him, “You’re one of the biggest reasons I’m a baseball fan.” (Notice even then I didn’t say Cubs fan.) He thanked me and told me it was gratifying to hear people tell him that.

I don’t know if it meant as much to him as it did to me, but I felt a need to tell him just how much he meant to me as a five-year-old that he showed me the wonders of the game I love so much.

Not long after that, at one of the early SoxFests, Carrasquel was signing autographs. The line wasn’t as long as it was for Brickhouse, so I had time to tell him a short version of the story I told here. I started by saying, “You’re the reason I’m a Sox fan.”

When I was finished, Chico asked, “What year was that?”

“1955?” I replied.

He gave a wistful look and repeated, “1955….”

Fifty years later, Chico Carrasquel has passed away, following Jack Brickhouse who died in 1998. Both links to that long-ago day when I became a Sox fan are now gone.

I didn’t know Chico Carrasquel. I met him briefly that one day at SoxFest, and that was all. But his passing saddens me. But along with Jack Brickhouse, Chico changed my entire life, and the only thing he did was swing a bat. But he swung it and hit the ball at just the right moment for me.

Had I been younger, I might not have understood what was going on. Had I been older, I may not have cared. His home run was my introduction to one of the three passions in my life, and I’ve been grateful to him ever since.

I don’t know if where Chico is now that he can sense my thoughts. But if he can, I’d like him to know how much he has meant to me. Rest in peace, Chico.

And thank you!


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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