In 1999, the University of Chicago Press published a collection of Mike Royko's columns, One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko, and the response was immediate and overwhelming. Readers almost instantly began asking when the second volume of Royko columns would appear. With more than a hundred vintage Royko columns and with a foreword by Roger Ebert, For the Love of Mike is the answer.
Four by Royko
For the Love of Mike:
More of the Best of Mike Royko
March 7, 1973
How Slats Lost His Cymbals
Many people were shocked by the recent news report of the two baseball players who swapped their wives, their children—even their dogs. They see it as still another example of our new, loose morality.
That may be. But it isn't the first time such a thing has happened.
I remember a slightly similar incident involving the Grobnik family, who used to live in my old neighborhood.
The cause of it all was Slats Grobnik, the eldest son.
One day he decided to join the alderman's marching boys band, which played in his parades and rallies and also threw stones at windows displaying pictures of his opponent.
The alderman had been Slats' hero ever since his father had said the man never worked a day in his life.
Because of his peculiar ear for music, Slats was given the cymbals to play. He rushed home and immediately began practicing. He hoped that if he did well, the alderman would let him play something else, such as the horses.
Mr. Grobnik was working nights at the time, so when Slats began marching through the flat, clanging the cymbals, he came roaring out of bed.
He hit Slats on the head with one of the cymbals, causing the boy's eyes to roll even more than they usually did.
This touched off a terrible row, with Mrs. Grobnik crying that her husband should not stifle Slats' musical development.
That was when Mr. Grobnik said he would like to swap his family.
"I would trade all of you for a little peace and quiet," he shouted, hitting Mrs. Grobnik with a cymbal, too.
"Ma, you can get alimony," Slats yelled. "I will be your witness."
Mrs. Grobnik gathered her clothes and children and said she was leaving and would not return until Mr. Grobnik apologized.
At first, Mr. Grobnik could not believe they were really gone. To make sure, he changed the locks. Then he want back to bed.
Mrs. Grobnik took the children and went around the corner to stay with her friend Ruby Peak, who had a nice apartment above the war-surplus store.
"Now you are the man of the family," Mrs. Grobnik tearfully told Slats. He turned pale, thinking that meant he might have to go to work.
Word of the breakup quickly spread through the neighborhood. Naturally, some of the unattached women set their caps for Mr. Grobnik. They didn't get anywhere with him, though, because he didn't like women who wore caps.
The shapely widow who ran the corner bakery hurried over with some fresh sweet rolls for him.
And as Mr. Grobnik ate them, she leaned forward and whispered huskily in his ear:
"Is there anything else you would like?"
"Yeah," he said, "next time bring a loaf of rye."
When Slats' teacher heard of the separation, she worried that he might suffer a trauma.
The next day he came to class with tears streaming down his face.
The teacher assumed it had something to do with his home life. Actually, somebody in the school yard had told a filthy joke, and Slats had laughed until he cried.
She put her arm around him and said: "There, there."
Slats said: "Where, where?" and gave her a pinch.
She ordered him from the room, which didn't bother Slats, as he figured he had learned enough for one day.
A few days after the separation, old Mrs. Novak asked Slats what his mother was doing.
"She is going to Reno," Slats said.
He didn't know what that meant, but he had heard someone say it in a movie.
Old Mrs. Novak didn't know what it meant either. She figured it must mean Mrs. Grobnik had run off with a man named Reno.
So she went to the grocery store and told all the other ladies about it.
"I'll bet he is a no-good gigolo," one of them said.
That afternoon, they all told their husbands that Mrs. Grobnik was carrying on with Mr. Reno, a notorious gigolo.
The husbands discussed it in the tavern. One of them said: "I think I know the guy. He lives over in the Italian neighborhood."
Another said: "I know the one. He has a mustache and hangs out in the pool hall."
When Mr. Grobnik stopped for a beer, they told him his wife was in love with a notorious pool shark and fortune hunter named Reno, who had a mustache and pointy shoes.
"Everybody in the neighborhood knows about it," the bartender said. "I hear she has even sold her wedding ring to give him money."
Enraged, Mr. Grobnik went to the pool hall and punched the first man he saw wearing a mustache. He turned out to be a jukebox distributor, and three of his boys beat Mr. Grobnik with pool cues.
When Mr. Grobnik came to in the hospital, his wife and children were at his bedside. Mrs. Grobnik said she would come back home and make Slats give up the cymbals.
"Will you stay away from Reno?" Mr. Grobnik said.
"But Reno is in Nevada," said Mrs. Grobnik.
Mr. Grobnik smiled. "Good. I must have really taught him a lesson."
October 5, 1993
Three Ex-Cubs Assure Spurning of Atlanta
The experts have spoken. The Atlanta Braves are the best of the playoff teams. The bookies have made them the favorites to get to the World Series and win it. Some sports pundits already talk of them as one of the great teams of all time.
The experts just never learn.
As always, they ignore that strange, mysterious, and almost-always fatal malady known as the Ex-Cubs Factor.
Regular readers of this column know about the Ex-Cubs Factor. But bear with me as I explain it to newcomers.
Twelve years ago, a Chicago sports nut named Ron Berler stumbled across an amazing statistic.
Since 1946, 13 teams had entered the World Series with three or more ex-Cubs on their roster.
Twelve of these 13 teams lost.
Berler theorized that it was a virus. Three or more ex-Cubs could infect an entire team with the will to lose, no matter how skillful that team might appear.
When Berler revealed his findings, the sports experts sneered and scoffed. Stupid and meaningless, they snickered. No scientific basis, they hooted.
Then came 1990, and they were still sneering, scoffing, and making their mindless predictions.
That was the year about 99 percent of the experts declared that the Oakland A's could not possibly lose the World Series.
Even before the games began, they hailed the A's as one of the greatest teams—maybe the greatest—in the history of the game.
As the Washington Post's resident baseball genius put it: "Let's make this short and sweet. The baseball season is over. Nobody's going to beat the Oakland A's."
As Ben Bentley, the Chicago sports savant, said: "Could the Oakland Athletics be the greatest in baseball history?"
Yes, cried the experts: the greatest, a dynasty, a team of immortals. They could win while yawning.
But out there were two lonely voices: Berler and this writer.
We warned of the Ex-Cubs Factor. We pointed out that the A's had foolishly defied the terrible virus by signing a third ex-Cub. And before that World Series began, Berler publicly stated: "As good as they are, they will lose. And they can blame their own arrogance for ignoring history."
So what happened? Not only did the A's lose, it was world-class humiliation. Four straight defeats. One of sports' all-time flopperoos.
That made it 13 out of 14 teams with three or more ex-Cubs to collapse in the World Series since World War II.
The A's haven't been the same since. Once it struck, the ex-Cub virus burrowed into the fiber of the franchise. In only three years they have gone from a dynasty to limping mediocrity. Sources say their hot dogs don't even taste as good as they once did.
Have the experts learned anything? Of course not. As the late Mayor Richard J. Daley once said: "Duh experts—what do dey know?"
The sports experts are now hailing the Atlanta Braves as the super-team of this era.
On Sunday, Dave Kindred, columnist for the Sporting News, wrote: ". . . Atlanta has become baseball's best team since the Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra . . . the NL's best team since the Brooklyn Dodgers of Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Pee Wee Reese."
He may be right. They have thunderous hitters, overwhelming pitchers, and a seamless defense.
But they also have the dreaded virus. Of the four teams in the playoffs, only the Braves are afflicted by the Ex-Cubs Factor. Only the Braves have three former Cubs.
They are Greg Maddux, the superb pitcher, Damon Berryhill, the reliable catcher, and . . .
Even a bleacher creature would be hard-pressed to name the third ex-Cub.
But Berler, the virus discoverer, knows. "I have it all in my computer," he says.
A relief pitcher named Jay Howell. Although he has been in the major leagues for 14 years, he's not a big name, not a big star, no flashy stats. A solid journeyman. Probably good to his family, a nice neighbor, a patriot; and he doesn't kick little dogs.
But he is one of the three skeletons in the Atlanta closet. He has a sordid past.
For a brief time in 1981, when he was a mere lad, he was a Cub. He pitched in only 10 games, a total of 22 innings, and wasn't very good.
But as Berler says: "That is all it takes. He is a genuine, bona fide, star-crossed ex-Cub, the poor guy. He is a carrier. It always comes back to your roots. Once a Cub, always a Cub."
Berler, who is a free-lance writer and teacher, recently interviewed Maddux, who chose to become an Atlanta Brave multimillionaire, rather than a Chicago Cubs multimillionaire, because he wanted to play on a winning team.
"I told him: 'You think you're leaving a loser? Ha! You are a loser. And you're going to infect your 24 teammates.'"
He explained the Ex-Cubs Factor to Maddux. And the star pitcher responded by shouting: "I don't believe it, I don't believe it, I don't believe it!"
So if the Braves defeat the Phillies and make it to the World Series, bet on the Braves at your own peril.
But this puts a Chicagoan such as myself—a devout Cubs fan—in a difficult position.
Those who are true fans of the White Sox or Cubs loathe the other team. This crosstown rivalry takes precedent over city pride. So if the Sox play the Braves, I must root for the Braves. It is the only decent thing a Cubs fan can do. Sox fans, being dedicated haters, will understand.
It will be the first time I will be cheering for a virus.
[Editors' note: The Philadelphia Phillies and the virus beat the Braves, four games to two, in the playoffs.]
February 16, 1973
What's Behind Daley's Words?
Several theories have arisen as to what Mayor Daley really meant a few days ago when he said:
"If they don't like it, they can kiss my ass."
On the surface, it appeared that the mayor was merely admonishing those who would dare question the royal favors he has bestowed upon his sons, Prince Curly, Prince Larry, and Prince Moe.
But it can be a mistake to accept the superficial meaning of anything the mayor says.
The mayor can be a subtle man. And as Earl Bush, his press secretary, once put it after the mayor was quoted correctly:
"Don't print what he said. Print what he meant."
So many observers believe the true meaning of the mayor's remarkable kissing invitation may be more than skin deep.
One theory is that he would like to become sort of the Blarney Stone of Chicago.
As the stone's legend goes, if a person kisses Ireland's famous Blarney Stone, which actually exists, he will be endowed with the gift of oratory.
And City Hall insiders have long known that the kind of kiss Daley suggested can result in the gift of wealth.
People from all over the world visit Blarney Castle so they can kiss the chunk of old limestone and thus become glib, convincing talkers.
So, too, might people flock to Chicago in hopes that kissing "The Daley" might bring them unearned wealth. Daley, or at least his bottom, might become one of the great tourist attractions of the nation.
The Blarney Stone has become part of the living language in such everyday phrases as "You're giving me a lot of blarney."
That could happen here, too. People who make easy money might someday be described as "really having the gift of the Daley bottom."
That is one theory. Another, equally interesting, goes this way:
Throughout history, the loyal subjects of kings and other monarchs have usually shown their respect with a physical gesture of some sort.
In some places, it was merely a deep bow or a curtsy when the ruler showed up or departed.
Others, who were even more demanding, required that the subjects kneel or even crawl on all fours. (A few Chicago aldermen engage in this practice.)
In some kingdoms, those who approached the big man were expected to kiss his ring or the hem of his royal clothing.
Daley has already ruled Chicago for longer than most kings reigned in their countries.
At this point, many of his loyal subjects view him as more a monarch than an elected official. It seems obvious that he intends to pass the entire city on to his sons, which is a gesture worthy of a king.
So it would be only natural that he might feel the time has come when he is entitled to a gesture of respect and reverence that befits his royal position.
And what he suggested would be simply a variation of kissing a ring or a hand. Instead of kissing the royal hem, we would kiss the royal ham.
Although I have not read of any king expecting a kiss in precisely the area the mayor described, why not? One of the hallmarks of Chicago is that we do so many things in an original manner.
What other city has made a river flow backwards? What other city makes traffic flow backwards?
And it would be quite original if we had a leader who greeted us backwards.
Where else would a leader turn his back on his people and be cheered for it?
History also tells us that in some ancient kingdoms, a person who had some terrible illness thought he would be cured if he kissed the feet of the king.
Could it be that the mayor is launching a low-cost, and low-slung, health program for us?
I am sure there will be some people who won't want to show their affection for the mayor this way. As one man put it, when he heard what the mayor had said:
"If Daley wants me to do that, then he sure has a lot of cheek."
But there also are the loyal followers, typified by radio disc jockey Howard Miller, who declared over the airwaves that the mayor has "more brains in his bottom" than his critics have in their heads.
While I might disagree with Miller on the quantity of cerebral matter, I won't quarrel with the location.
In any case, we will maintain our efforts to find out what the mayor really meant.
We hope to get to the bottom of this story. Or should I say, to the story of this bottom.
November 21, 1995
Even a U.S. Senator Can Botch a Recipe for Success
This simple little quiz is directed at those who love hot dogs. Not any hot dog, but the true, classic Chicago hot dog. The finest hot dog known to man.
Look at the following recipe and see if something is wrong. If so, what?
Chicago hot dog: Vienna beef hot dog, poppy seed bun, dill pickle, jalapeños, relish, mustard, ketchup. Place dog in bun. Cover with jalapeños, relish, mustard, and ketchup. Serve with dill pickle.
The flaws are so obvious that by now those with civilized, discriminating Chicago taste buds are snorting and sneering and flinging this shameful recipe to the floor and spitting on it.
It deserves nothing less.
But not merely because it includes ketchup and omits sliced tomatoes, chopped onions, and that miraculous dash of celery salt.
No, I won't condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right.
It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog.
Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.
The crime is in referring to the above abomination as a "Chicago hot dog."
And who did it?
Brace yourselves for a real shocker.
Some time ago, a hot dog recipe book was put together by the American Meat Institute, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, and other groups that promote the eating of dead animal flesh.
They got their recipes by calling the offices of United States senators. Being publicity freaks, most of the senators responded.
Most of the recipes are ridiculous, since most senators are ridiculous.
And this shameful recipe was contributed by Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.
Yes, Senator Moseley-Braun, who claims to be a Chicagoan, actually told them that a Chicago hot dog includes ketchup. And that it doesn't require chopped onion or sliced tomatoes or celery salt.
I don't know what could have possessed her to do such a thing. She is a liberal Democrat, so I can understand her deep yearning to seize our money and throw it hither and yon like so much political confetti. That's part of the natural order of Washington creatures.
But to publicly state that you put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog? And overlook celery salt? It is said that power corrupts. I didn't know that it brings on utter madness.
Apparently Senator Moseley-Braun pays little or no attention to my efforts to maintain standards in those things that are unique to Chicago.
If she did, she would have noted a column that appeared here in July of 1993. In it, various hot dog experts commented on ketchup.
Maurie Berman, who owns Superdawg on the Northwest Side, where I've been eating classic hot dogs for about 40 years: "I see more and more desecrations of the Chicago hot dog. Yes, we provide ketchup, but we have the customer defile it himself.
"We say, 'Sir, the ketchup bottle is on the side. We'll ask you to squirt that yourself.'"
John Miyares, who serves hot dogs at Irving's near the Loyola University campus, says: "No ketchup, no kraut. That's the law. But when you're younger and your mom lets you put ketchup on the hot dog, you get used to it, I guess. The people about 35 and over, they get upset if you mention ketchup, especially if they're born and raised here. And even more if they're South Siders.
"But we get a lot of students from out of town, and they all want ketchup. Except if they're from New York. They want steamed sauerkraut."
Pat Carso, manager of Demon Dogs on the Mid-North Side, said: "You have to ask for it. And more people are asking. I don't know why. Maybe parents think it is better for their kids. But we choose not to put it on. Even if they say 'everything.' In here, that does not include ketchup. We don't even keep ketchup up front. We have a little bottle in the back if people ask for it."
These men are keepers of the flame. They are cultural and culinary descendants of the short Greeks who used to take their pushcarts into every Chicago neighborhood and would have thumbed the eyeballs of anyone who dared ask for ketchup.
But here we have a United States senator, allegedly representing Chicago and the rest of Illinois—even the Downstate yokels—and she shames herself and the rest of us by displaying her ignorance of what makes a hot dog a true Chicago hot dog.
I'm sure Senator Moseley-Braun has the usual excuse: Someone on her staff did it.
Well, forget it. That only proves that senators hire boobs.
No, the buck and the hot dog stops here.
There is time for Senator Moseley-Braun to mend her ways. But if the election were held today, I'd have to vote for just about anyone running against Senator Moseley-Braun.