At 87 years old, Bob Newhart admits he’s running out of time to see his beloved Chicago Cubs win a World Series title, but as the Cubs await their NLCS opponent, the legendary comedian and actor says he’s optimistic that this could be the year.
On Tuesday, Newhart, a Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan, posted a picture to Twitter celebrating Chicago’s comeback win to eliminate the San Francisco Giants from the NLDS. Less than 24 hours later, Newhart expressed surprise that his triumphant tweet had gone viral overnight.
“I never expected it to have the impact that it’s had,” Newhart told FOX Sports in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s been in the papers, but my wife and I, she just said, ‘Let me take a picture of you by the TV.’ Then I came up with the caption, and it’s caught on all over the place.”
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While Newhart’s fandom is only now catching on with the younger generation of Cubs supporters, his appreciation for the North Siders dates back to his formative years.
“My dad was a White Sox fan but the White Sox were just boring,” Newhart said of his introduction to baseball as a kid. “The Cubs, you never knew — the pitcher might hit a home run or (Bill) Nicholson could end a game. But with the White Sox it was always Luis Aparicio bunting (a runner over), then they’d steal third and hit a fly ball to score.
“It was very boring, so I just gravitated to the Cubs,” Newhart continued, “because, to me, they were the more exciting team.”
Newhart said he first visited Wrigley Field when he was six or seven years old and grew up going to games with his mother. And when the Cubs won their most recent National League pennant in 1945, a 16-year-old Newhart was among the fans celebrating during the team’s victory parade.
“They had this big motorcade down LaSalle Street, and I was there in the crowd, cheering the victorious Cubs — that’s before they had divisions and all that — before they played the Detroit Tigers,” Newhart said. “So I was there and I’m cheering, yelling to Phil Cavarretta and Stan Hack and Nicholson, Andy Pafko in center field. And they’re all waving back. It was great.”
Newhart later married his wife, Ginny, in January 1963, and has been going to games with her ever since.
“My wife and I went to Wrigley Field years and years ago and it looked like the game was over, so we were going to leave a little early,” Newhart said of another game. “So we’re walking down Addison and we hear the fans go crazy inside. I say, ‘What happened?’ and someone told me the pitcher just hit a home run to win the game.”
(According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Cubs have had three pitchers hit walk-off homers at Wrigley Field since 1930. The only one since the start of the 1963 season came off the bat of Lindy McDaniel — against the Giants, no less — in June of ‘63, although that home run came in extra innings.)
A friend of both the Ricketts family, which bought the team in 2009, and the Wrigley family, which owned the club from 1921-81, Newhart has also run into several familiar faces at the park over the years — even if he didn’t know it at the time.
“I was doing 'The Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson, and Richard Pryor was also doing his show,” Newhart recalled. “So John Belushi was on the Richard Pryor show and I was in the dressing room to do 'The Tonight Show,' and there’s a knock at the door and it’s John. And he says, ‘Hi, Bob, I’m John Belushi,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I know who you are, John, I’m a great fan of your work.’
“So he says, ‘Do you remember being at the Cubs’ park, you and your wife, and between innings kids would run up and ask for your autograph?’” he continued. “And I said, ‘Oh yes, I remember that.’ And then he says, ‘Well, I was one of those kids.’”
Unfortunately, not all Newhart’s memories of the Cubs and Wrigley are happy — as 108 years without a World Series title might suggest.
“I used to say in my standup — and I still do — that being a Cubs fan kind of prepares you for life,” Newhart said with a laugh. “Because you know you’re ahead, but somehow you’re going to blow it. It’s one of those lessons you learn from following the Cubs.
“I remember one year when (Leo) Durocher was the manager, and the Cubs were leading by eight games and they blew it,” Newhart continued of the 1969 season, which saw the Cubs blow a nine-game lead over the final 43 games of the season and finish eight games back of the Mets in the old NL East.
“So as a Cubs fan you just never got your hopes up, you know?” he added. “I can laugh at it now, but I couldn’t at the time.”
Fortunately, happier times have returned to Wrigleyville with the Cubs atop the NL once again. And while a long-awaited end to the curse is no guarantee, Newhart remains cautiously optimistic that this will be the year things finally work out.
“It looks like it’s going to happen, if not this year then next year,” Newhart said. “But boy, the way they do it — I’m 87 years old, and I can’t take this anymore. Would it be too much to just rout the other team so I wouldn’t have to go through this every game?
“But it’s been a joy,” he continued. “And you know, how much more time do I have left? So if they blow it this time –”
“But I don’t think they will,” he said, picking his thought back up.”They just look too good. So go Cubs, go.”
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