“The Other Side of Losing” a Sports Novel

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series Teddy Roosevelt was president and the first radio transmission had just been sent. As another spring unfolds in the great city by the lake, there is no reason to believe that this baseball season will be any different than the hundred plus that preceded it. Although so many years of losing have brought no swagger, no champagne and no rings, they have brought togetherness among Cubs fans that winning simply can’t touch.

So it is with best friends Benny Katzman and Riley McGowan and the other fanatics who congregate to drown their sorrows at Salvatore’s, a favorite downtown haunt in the shadow of Wrigley Field. Benny, an unmarried middle-aged attorney with an office upstairs from the restaurant, has represented countless minor league baseball players always a bit short of the big leagues. Riley, a small businessman with a unique view on everything and everyone, has a worsening illness and a son, 19 year-old Richie, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. They are joined by, among others, Gabriel Wilson, a handicapped neighborhood kid whose father is one of the crime lords of the city; Liz Abeles, a stunning waitress who wants to be an actress but seems very short on talent; John Dennis, a shopping center tycoon turned dishwasher; and Sadie Kaufman, a woman who survived the Holocaust to embrace baseball.

When Benny signs Isaac Chance and Will Hardy, two aging minor leaguers from the South, he has every reason to think that they will end up the same place his other clients have—broke and back home. As the season progresses, and Riley’s health, Gabriel’s security, Richie’s prospects, and Liz’s career are all plunging, so much seems to hang in the balance. Benny proves himself the truest of friends and both Richie and Gabriel the most surprising of sons. The ending on the field is dramatic enough. But it is the ending off the field that will restore faith in the power of losers to win, of good guys to come out on top and of triumph to warm the soul.

Excerpt from The Other Side of Losing…

It seemed like I hadn’t been asleep very long before the phone interrupted a nice dream about women and tropical fruit drinks. The ringing at my bedside, particularly during the middle of the night, sounds a bit like those sirens in nineteen forties Europe. It’s not as if I programmed the damn thing. It came that way, prepackaged courtesy of General Electric. I glanced at the shimmering neon digits bedside and could see that it was 2:45.

Eh, uh, Katzman, this is Sergeant Mallory from the 23rd District. We got a guy here at Wrigley name of John Dennis give us your name and number. You better get down here right now.

Though I’d been lost in dreamland only seconds earlier, my mind was now racing. If my favorite dishwasher was giving out my phone number, he was in some sort of trouble. Atop the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River or inside one of the few remaining topless bars in Chicago holding two of the girls hostage. More likely than not, he was at his former stockbroker’s former wife’s Gold Coast house in Oak Street Beach or holding the Cubs owner Larry Kirwin at gunpoint.

“What’s he done now, officer?” I asked, yawning.
“Sergeant,” he corrected. “Sergeant Mallory.”
“Sorry.”
“He ain’t done nothing. Yet. He’s threatening to though.”
“Well, what’s he threatening to do, Sergeant?”
“What are you, a wise guy? Stop wasting time on the phone and get your ass down here, counselor.”
“Well, where are you?”
“Didn’t I just tell you that?” he responded with obvious annoyance. “We’re in fucking Wrigley Field. And he’s sitting on second base.”
“You’re kidding?” I mumbled.

He had indeed said something about Wrigley and I recalled that the 23rd headquarters were on Halsted and Addison, a block from my office. I’d been there long enough to know some of the guys from their fundraising drives but I wasn’t going to have any sway like Sal or Riley might have. In any event, I was still so groggy that I hadn’t completely discounted the possibility that the good sergeant had bullied his way into dreamland to join the women and the tropical fruit drinks.

“No, I ain’t fuckin’ kidding. And I suggest you get your ass down here, pronto.”

Poor John. Not too many years ago, six to be exact, John Dennis had been a man of considerable means who made his living building and leasing out small strip shopping centers, all the while dressed in crisp blue jeans, sport shirt and bright white sneakers and the reassuring blue cap of his beloved Cubs atop his shock of red hair. His clients were familiar banks and grocers. He had a wife, three kids, two dogs, and so many cars, motorcycles and boats that he had them stashed at various storage facilities all over the greater Chicago area.

I did some of his legal work back then, including the refinance on his none too shabby three million-dollar townhouse on Michigan Avenue. Most of the corporate stuff went out to the Mayer Brown and Kirkland & Ellis types, large law firms that seemed to bill for breathing and had endless supplies of recently-minted members of the Bar from the University of Chicago, Harvard and Yale who could work through the night and appear in the offices of ungrateful managing partners at eight the next morning with believable smiles.

The rest of the story was local legend and I was privy to too many of the painful details. The infamous K. G. Smith of Ashley Financial in The Loop had started him off easy, taking a million or so of John’s play money and turning it into five million on the wings of AMZN, BRCM, CIEN, JDSU, and a host of other four-letter words, or symbols as I think they’re called, and some other things that John believed were public companies of one sort or another.

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