Few people have rooted for the Chicago Cubs as ardently, and for as long, as Justice John Paul Stevens. As a young boy he listened to the radio broadcasts of games at his family's home in Chicago and their summer place in Michigan. Asked why a South Sider would cheer for the North Side club, he says, "The Cubs were the winning team at the time. They were a really strong team. I listened to many, many games and knew the Cubs inside and out."
Stevens experienced the frustrations of Cub fans early when, at age 9, he went to his first game — Game 1 of the 1929 World Series, played at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics. "An elderly relief pitcher [the A's Howard Ehmke] was brought in to start that game, and he struck out 13 Cubs," Stevens recalls. "And that was my first game, a tragic game for a young boy to go to and see in person!"
Things didn't get much better on his second trip to Wrigley on Oct. 1, 1932, when he sat with his father watching Game 3 of the World Series between the Cubs and the New York Yankees. In the fifth inning he witnessed what has come to be known as "the called shot," when the legendary Babe Ruth is said to have gestured toward center field and hit the next pitch into the bleachers. The Yankees went on to win the game and sweep the series.
When Stevens was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge, he and a fellow clerk shared their passion for baseball. That clerk had kept score during the 1932 World Series game as he listened to the radio broadcast. Years later, when he learned Stevens had been at the game, he gave the scorecard to him, and it hangs in a frame on the wall in Stevens' office along with other Cub memorabilia, including a Mark Prior jersey, an autographed photo of Ernie Banks and a painting of Ruth swinging at "the called shot."
What Stevens calls "the highlight of my career" took place at Wrigley in fall 2005 when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Cubs game. He had practiced in a Washington, D.C., park with his daughter and in the gym at the Supreme Court with some of his clerks. "I threw it as hard as I could, and it was high and outside," he says with a laugh. "I had several grandchildren there and my kids, and I was a hero that day," he says. "That was a much more important event for them than my writing a lot of opinions."
Speaking of the Cubs' swift and unexpected exit from the 2008 playoffs, Stevens says, "My heart was broken. I watched a lot of baseball last summer and thought the Cubs were going to do it. Seems to me they should have. I still think they had the best team. The pitching deserted them in the playoffs." — T.S.