WGN-TV has nailed chats with all-time home-run king Henry Aaron and other Hall of Famers among some 70 completed interviews for a two-hour documentary on Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary to air next spring.
Aaron and fellow Cooperstown enshrinee Frank Robinson were taped by WGN production chief Bob Vorwald at the recent Civil Rights Game luncheon at the Michigan Ave. Marriott Hotel. They join all living Cubs Hall of Famers, like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg, in the lineup of guests.
Aaron, 79, was a prime “get.” The man who broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home-run record on a Monday night NBC telecast in 1974, doesn’t do many interviews. But he was cordial to reporters at the Marriott.
Aaron, who played as a visitor at Wrigley Field from 1954 to 1974, gave Vorwald a revelation about a home-run-that-wasn’t at the Friendly Confines in 1969.
On Aug. 19 of that season, Aaron blasted a long drive to left in the seventh inning off Cubs lefty Ken Holtzman, working on a no-hitter. WGN play-by-play man Jack Brickhouse announced the action as if the ball left the park. Witnesses say the ball actually passed over several rows of left-field bleachers.
Aaron drive hit wall of wind
However, Aaron’s drive hit a wall of in-blowing wind, seemingly took a left turn, and settled into left-fielder Williams’ glove as he leaned into the ivy.
“The thing I remember the most about playing at Wrigley Field is hitting probably the hardest ball I’ve ever hit in my life off Kenny Holtzman when he pitched a no-hitter,” Aaron said. “I thought for sure I hit a home run. Sure enough, the wind blew it back to Billy Williams.
“It was out of the ballpark. I don’t know how it stayed in the ballpark. Somehow it came back and ran in that little trough where Billy ended up catching the ball.”
Vorwald thus has a memorable potential voiceover for the iconic WGN tape of the thwarted homer.
Maddux, Dawson, Bears interviewees
Also in the can are interviews with 353-game-winner Greg Maddux, a Cubs player from 1986 to 1992 and 2004 to 2006; Andre Dawson, the 1987 National League Most Valuable Player as a Cub; 20-strikeout achiever Kerry Wood; ex-catcher and Harry Caray favorite Jody Davis, and former Cubs outfielders Keith Moreland, Rick Monday and Jose Cardenal.
Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who slugged four homers in a game at Wrigley in 1976, leads a parade of visiting players on tape.
In a segment on the Bears, who called Wrigley Field home from 1921 to 1970, are interviews with Bears chairman George McCaskey and NFL Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Gale Sayers, who scored six touchdowns in one game in 1965.
No airdate set for the special, plending the 2014 baseball telecast schedule on WGN, entering the final year of its Cubs’ contract.
George Castle is a longtime Chicago sportswriter, author and sports historian.