Greg Larson is an editor, stand-up comedian, and author of the newly released book Clubbie: A Minor League Baseball Memoir (Nebraska, 2021). He spent two years as a clubhouse attendant for Cal Ripken Jr.’s Aberdeen IronBirds, the short-season single-A affiliate for the Baltimore Orioles.
Deleted Scene: A Cub and His Cubs
Leaning against a bookshelf near Matt Merullo’s desk was an old Louisville Slugger with the name Lennie Merullo on it—not in the form of a signature engraved into the wood, like a modern bat, but instead in block print letters: LENNIE MERULLO, the name of Matt’s grandfather.
Later that year, in October of 2013, a former all-star outfielder named Andy Pafko would die at age 92. Pafko’s death would leave Lennie Merullo as the sole survivor of the 1945 Chicago Cubs team that won the National League pennant and went to the World Series. (Pafko was also immortalized as the man who stood helplessly at the fence as Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World sailed out to win the 1951 National League pennant.)
Lennie was a handsome man with thick, dark eyebrows (which sometimes creeped together into the singular unit) and a prominent nose, like a better-looking DiMaggio brother. Lennie’s baseball career bested his grandson by one year and six percentage points: seven seasons in the majors and a .240 batting average. But he had that 1945 World Series.
In Lennie’s second season, on September 13th, 1942, his wife went into labor in the middle of a game. Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley got word to Lennie that his wife had been taken into the hospital to deliver the couple’s son. After hearing the news, Lennie went on to make four errors on four consecutive plays, a major league record. In honor of the errors, the newspapers named Lennie’s son (Matt’s dad) “Boots” Merullo, a moniker that stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Lennie continued as the light-hitting shortstop for the Cubs until the 1945 World Series, which they played against the Detroit Tigers. In game four of that World Series, Dizzy Trout pitched a complete game one-hitter for the Tigers to tie up the series 2-2. John Drebinger of the New York Times wrote:
There were times when Dizzy seemed to have difficulty seeing the Cubs and he would pause in his work to wipe his spectacles. But the National Leaguers seemed unable to see Trout scarcely any of the time and, as they had no spectacles of their own to wipe, they just groped their way hopelessly to the end.
Utility infielder Roy Hughes started the first four games at shortstop for the Cubs, but Lennie got the start in game five. He struck out in the third and grounded out in the sixth before getting lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. Those would be his only two at bats in the series. The Tigers won that game five to take a 3-2 series lead.
Lennie sat on the bench for the first nine innings of game six. The day was cloudy with the temperature hovering around fifty degrees in Chicago and an almost wintery nip cut through the October air. In the top of the tenth inning, Lennie went in at shortstop for the Cubs. He manned the position until the twelfth inning when the score was still 7-7, the same as it’d been since the ninth. With two outs and the bases empty, Tigers shortstop Joe Hoover hit a single to left field. Hoover made a break for second base on a pitch to the next batter. Lennie took the throw from the catcher and put the tag on Hoover, who came in with his spikes high. The play ended the inning, but the runner’s spikes made a gash along Lennie’s elbow. He picked at that wound for days and weeks after the World Series, hoping to give himself a memento. He was successful, as he still had a thin white line of a scar on his left elbow until the day he died on May 30, 2015.
Lennie’s spot came up second in the bottom of the twelfth, but once again he was lifted for a pinch hitter, whose run scored the game-winner for the Cubs. But they lost game seven and the Detroit Tigers took the 1945 World Series. The Times’s Drebinger wrote: “A deep sorrow seems to be enveloping Chicago’s fandom tonight.” That sorrow would continue for 71 years.