A Journey of a Lifetime
The authors developed a fondness for Chicago sports and its heroes by the time they reached six years of age. They managed to forge lifelong friendships with many sport legends ranging from George Halas, founder of the National Football League and owner/ coach of the Chicago Bears for whom the twins served as clubhouse boys during their high school years of 1963 through 1967; to Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, Hockey Hall of Fame members of the Chicago Blackhawks; and to Yosh Kawano, legendary Chicago Cubs clubhouse manager. They also forged a friendship with Frank Shorter, Gold and Silver medals winner in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic marathons. These friendships led to interactions with countless celebrities in the sports, entertainment, and political arenas. Combined with a caring and supportive family, the friendships set the authors out on an unexpected journey. The authors intersperse their stories with discussions of familial, educational, and vocational experiences. They provide a narrative of an era when neighbors seemed more connected to each other and Chicago’s professional athletes seemed more connected to their fans.
Living the good life in the brave new world of America in the 1950s, gave hope to a wide spectrum of possibilities for the young post-World War II men and women of the “Great Generation”. These hard-nosed people, you must understand, had dreams to fulfill, with children to raise, that would be unthinkable in the decades to come. Television, space travel, counter-culture revolutions, and the computer world would all be ahead in the next years and century.
Like the authors’ parents, Anthony and Martha Ruzicka, my mother and father grew up in the great depression years preceding and following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. With jobs in short supply and times difficult at best, these very special kids and young adults rolled up their sleeves and worked hard at any menial job they could find while learning trades and seeking education with the promise of a better life. This was the American dream that immigrant parents sought while leaving the “old country” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With World War II now in the rearview mirror, this new rising society had the belief that any career and future dreams would be easy to accomplish after having survived their previous 20 years of life and death struggles on a daily basis. However, those dreams would mostly wait to be fulfilled by their newborn sons and daughters of the baby boomer era.
Tony and Carl Ruzicka were the recipients of the middle-class upbringing in the blue-collar mecca of a city named Cicero, an area just west of Chicago’s downtown. In the 1920s, mobster Al Capone headed up his gang in this large city. The heart and soul of Cicero was the hardcore worker and church-going resident laboring toward the American dream of a home and a good-paying job to provide for his/her family.
Twin brothers born one minute apart on May 22, 1949, the third and fourth children of the Ruzicka clan, Tony and Carl would start the next chapter of America’s history with their “new generation”. It must be noted that on the day the twins were born, in typical Chicago Cub fashion, the north siders lost a game to the Boston Braves by a score of 7 to 2. The Cubs starting pitcher, with the longest name in baseball history, Calvin Coolidge Julia Ceaser Tuskahoma McLish, would hit a home run during the loss in front of 15,113 Wrigley Field partisans. This once proud franchise, winners of a league-high 10 pennants between 1906 and 1945, would finish in the second division of the National League every season from 1947 to 1966. The Ruzicka twins were destined to cheer for this downtrodden group of players and characters who made up the Chicago National League club without much distinction for most of their youth. Time spent playing ball in the street and schoolyards of Chicagoland in the 1950s was safe haven and great fun. Loyalty, friendship, and charity were values taught by Tony and Carl’s folks. Thus, cheering for the local rag/tag group of baseball players was not difficult when you had faith that the next day, or in the Cubs’ case, the next decade could be a better one.
In this book, you will meet sports legends George Halas, Ernie Banks, Yosh Kawano, Mike Ditka, Bill Bishop, Pierre Pilote, and Chico Maki. You will find out that the most unlikely people to have friendships with the “rich and famous” may, indeed, be living in the bungalows of the neighborhood you live in now, or once did in the past. These “rich and famous” athletes may be living in similar bungalows. You will learn of their pure joy of buying and trading Topps baseball cards and of their receiving Hartland figurines of Ernie Banks, Babe Ruth, and Nellie Fox in perfect miniature molds of their likeness; of their magical experience of running home from school and seeing Frank Ernaga and Cuno Barrigan hit home runs for the Cubs in their first at-bats; of their seeing umpire Vic Delmore allow two balls in play at the same time in the wackiest moment in baseball history; and of their being on the field for the 1963 NFL Championship game between the Chicago Bears ( 14-10 winners) and the New York Giants. This experience would make the 14 year-old Ruzicka twins the most famous Cicero residents this side of former Bear tackle Bill Bishop.
The story that these two friends of mine have to offer is about living each day with a purpose; that hard work, while smiling and laughing at whatever fate would bring their way, will prevail. Both of these fine gentlemen have lived that good life from the perspective of being rich in character and being men of honor. They will show you, in this enjoyable walk through the decades, how having goals and values, while living up to those golden rules, is the true reward for a life well-lived.
Join these proud Cicero natives in reliving the coming age for America and Chicagoans. They present a fascinating life and reveal real people who became their friends and helped shape the journey they have taken for 71 years.
Find out how being aggressive and not taking “no” as an answer, led them on a magic carpet ride of historic moments with giants in the sports world. How many 13 year-olds can say NFL founder George Halas would become a focal point for their hard work and success? The Ruzicka twins can tell you they were hired by Papa Bear himself.
Tony and Carl will take you in a time machine back to when neighborhoods and neighbors were essential to learning life. Growing up in a small section of a giant metropolis like Cicero, Illinois, these two fun-loving brothers take you on “L” rides, car trips, and walks through decades of their love of Chicago sports and the people who made history around the games.
Enjoy this wonderful life journey by two of my favorite people. They will entertain you with a tour of Chicago while growing up in simpler times, during this very special post-war time of the “50s and 60s”. You will marvel at how easily they made high profile friends, while becoming successful businessmen and raising families along the way. As the anarchist Abby Hoffman one titled his autobiography, if you can’t afford it, “steal this book”!
Tony and Carl offered remuneration for this foreword. Having known them both for over 45 years, their friendship and kindness have more than paid forward this brief look into their last six decades of sport and social consciousness in Chicago, the greatest city ever created. Enjoy the indomitable Ruzicka twins’ zest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of sport happiness, despite the Cubs college of coaches and the 1-13 Bears 1969 season.
Bruce Levine-May 2020
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