By Mark Rhoads -
On Aug. 29 this year, I went to Wrigley Field with my family to see the Cubs defeat the Pirates in 13 innings. Two days later, I boarded a flight from O'Hare to Washington, DC and I was surprised to see retired U.S Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and his daughter one row in front of my sister and me on the same plane, so we had a chance for a short conversation.
Stevens grew up in Hyde Park and his father built the Stevens Hotel at 725 S. Michigan Avenue that is now the Chicago Hilton Hotel - and Justice Stevens was there the day Babe Ruth called and then hit a home run in Wrigley Field.
Stevens earned his BA degree at the University of Chicago and his law degree at Northwestern University School of Law. I first met Stevens 42 years ago when he lived near me in Burr Ridge, Illinois and was not yet on the Court. He was famous then as a law professor who worked with legal researcher Sherman Skulnick to expose the corruption of two justices on the Illinois Supreme Court. I also met him several times in more recent years to interview him for a book I wrote on Illinois history.
Although he was appointed to the Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975, his opinions were usually aligned with the liberal wing. But my interest in Stevens did not have to do with his record on the Court but rather with his role in Illinois history.
The first story he told me was about his youth is timely this week because of the location. Stevens told me that when he was 12 years old in 1932, he attended Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. He actually saw Babe Ruth call his shot in that game. The Cubs bench had heckled Ruth and Ruth got mad at Cubs pitcher Charlie Root on the mound.
Stevens said he saw Ruth point his bat just above Root to the Center Field bleachers and his next hit was a home run. The Cubs lost that Series to the Yankees.
During World War II, Stevens served as an intelligence officer in the Navy and his unit broke the Japanese code that enabled U.S. planes to shoot down the plane of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stevens is now 96 years old and he looked in very good health when I saw him on August 31.
Just two weeks ago I sent him a copy of my book and his daughter tells me he is still rooting for the Cubs in this World Series, 84 years after the one where he saw Babe Ruth play.
The tragic footnote is that also in the box seats over the Cubs dugout that same day were Mayor Anton Cermak and New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt who was running for President. The next February Cermak was shaking hands with FDR at Bayfront Park in Miami when Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate the president-elect with a gun but missed FDR and mortally wounded Cermak instead.
Cermak's daughter married Otto Kerner, Jr. who served as governor of Illinois from 1961 to 1968.