#967: The Legend of Boots Merullo

August 15th, 2018

Everyone has a favorite athlete and then their “favorite.”

The “favorite” is the top athlete they like and can admit to liking. The socially acceptable one. The one you can show off to your friends and take home to momma.

But everyone has a shameful, secret, actual favorite. Like a scandal-plagued athlete who you can’t admit still inspires you most, or one who became a joke but you still can’t get out of your head. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. Pre-North Korea Dennis Rodman.

My ”favorite” is Ryne Sandberg. But my actual, secret favorite is the immortal Lennie Merullo, who had a secret darker than blood doping, the ladies or whatever the hell happened to Dennis Rodman because that dictatorship stuff just went off the rails.

Lennie Merullo, my hero, was a really lousy baseball player.

I’ve sung Lennie’s praises before, but here are some key points:

  • Played in the ‘40s, but was so bad Mike Royko made fun of him in his yearly Cubs quiz until the ‘80s. He stopped when Merullo wrote him a nice, respectful letter about his storied career as a scout.
  • Was the last surviving member of the 1945 World Series team, so for a few years was the only living human to play in a World Series as a Cub.
  • Kept picking at a scab he got during the Series so he would have a scar as souvenir.
  • Seemed to have that combination of true love for the game and being a truly nice guy that seems to appeal to people like me who don’t care if an athlete is “great” or “good” or “competent at the sport in question.”

But my love truly springs from the second game of a double header against the Boston Braves in 1942, when Lennie Merullo set a standard for terrible that stands today.

All day, he had been tired, nervous, distracted and completely off what was already his limited game. But the worst was to come. In the second inning of the second game, Merullo made four errors — four “boots,” in the baseball slang of the time. That record of four errors in a single inning has never been broken and wouldn’t even be tied until 1986.

Terrible, and I will always love Lennie Merullo for it.

The reason for Len Merullo’s terrible game was named Len Merullo Jr., born back in Chicago while his dad was at an away game in Boston. My hero had just gotten word. He botched a game for love.

The new parents never called Len Jr. anything other than “Boots.”

If there is a point to this story, it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind. I’ve told this story before, and I’m not entirely sure I got all the details right this time around. I’m tired, nervous, distracted and completely off what’s already my limited game.

As of about 4 this morning, I have a reason too.

We’re not going to call it Boots.

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You are currently reading #967: The Legend of Boots Merullo by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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