Steve Zalusky: Ruzicka twins tied by love of Cubs, all things sports
Part 1 of 2
If you grew up a Chicago baseball fan in the 1950s or 1960s, or a Chicago sports fan in general, Tony and Carl Ruzicka's story will have a familiar ring.
Perhaps you traded baseball cards on the steps of your home, played ball at schoolyards, and raced home from school to catch the waning innings of Cubs games and hear Jack Brickhouse deliver the happy or unhappy totals, or waited for autographs in a Wrigley Field parking lot.
It was a time when a kid could take the "L" to Clark and Addison, buy a ticket for 60 cents and watch the home team take batting practice and hear the players banter without the talk being drowned out by piped-in music.
The authors of "The Twins: A Journey of a Lifetime: Twin Brothers' Journey Through Chicago Sports History and Their Recollections of a Bygone Era" took their obsession to a "whole 'nother level."
Speaking over Zoom, they related their journey, which saw these identical twins from Cicero forge friendships with famous Chicago athletes, become Bears clubhouse boys during the 1963 NFL championship season, eventually run track at Yale on the same squad as Olympic legend Frank Shorter, and help organize the Chicago Marathon.
They also talked about their special connection to their beloved Chicago Cubs.
Carl said the journey began in 1960 when the 11-year-olds found Bears tackle Bill Bishop was also a Cicero resident. From that relationship developed the twins' network of Chicago sports connections.
That network included members of the Blackhawks. The local connection was player and Berwyn resident Chico Maki, who would drive the twins to Hawks games.
Carl, a South Loop resident, who, as an accountant, would later audit his favorite baseball team, said, "We weren't timid. We realized early on that being twins was a factor that sort of got us in the door, because at that time being an identical twin was relatively unique. We weren't intimidated to ring a doorbell."
Tony Ruzicka, who lives in Glencoe, where he served as a trustee and village president, said, "We got to be friendly with them, because they knew that we cared about them. They knew that we weren't going to be abrupt with them or make fun of them. We cared about them as human beings. We wanted them to succeed. We got involved with their families. And we just had a friendly relationship."
Even before they developed these ties, they avidly attending Cubs games.
They had a seat at some memorable games, including Dale Long's appearance as a left-handed catcher in 1958 and Don Cardwell's no-hitter in 1960.
The love of Cubs baseball was imbued by brother Tom, who would bring home yearbooks, and Brickhouse's effusions over such relatively insignificant players like Solly Drake, Jackie Collum and Eddie Miksis.
Their favorite player was Ernie Banks. No surprise there. Tony said after a friend lost a Banks baseball card, the friend, on the advice of his mother, wrote Mr. Cub and received an autographed postcard. The twins then wrote Banks on the same pretext and received an autographed photo.
They were supremely successful at collecting autographs and memorabilia. At Tony's home, the collection of signed baseballs and bats bears witness to their success.
Their pursuit was relentless. They tracked down Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline at the Old Prague restaurant in Cicero, and Mickey Mantle and other Yankees at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago.
Carl remembered "one terrific day with the Pirates" at Wrigley, yielding signatures from "Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, Bill Mazeroski, Don Hoak, Frank Thomas, Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Elroy Face. And Danny Kravitz. Every once in a while we'll look at those autographs and go, 'We got Kravitz.' "
The twins were also accomplished artists and sent drawings to players. When the Cardinals' Red Schoendienst was sidelined by tuberculosis, he received a get-well drawing. He sent a return letter, writing, "Do you really think I looked that good?"
Tony remembered the graciousness of Chicago's great athletes. "Ernie Banks. Bobby Hull, probably the two most revered players of any sport at that time. And they were tremendously gracious all the time, signing autographs for people."
Part 2: Brushes with Cubs greatness