Uncle Eddie

July 18, 2011

My Aunt Elsie, my mother’s older sister, married a man named Eddie. When I was a kid, Uncle Eddie was my favorite uncle, by far, because Uncle Eddie knew what was important to me, and he made sure I had access to those things: comic books, popsicles, and Indians games.

Whenever my family would visit Aunt Elsie and Uncle Eddie, I could count on going to their freezer and pulling out an icy-cold popsicle, without fail. And because Uncle Eddie was friends with a guy who worked for the George Klein News Service, once a month I’d hear this: “Hey, Vernon Lee, I got ya some more funny books. Over there.” And he’d point his thumb to a stack of the previous month’s unsold comic books, all kinds of them, ones I would have paid my own money for (Superman, Action Comics), ones I liked but never would have bought on my own (Donald Duck, Sad Sack), and ones I pretended to scorn but read from cover to cover just the same (Richie Rich, Little Lulu).

But best of all, Uncle Eddie would take me to Indians games. And he never bought a ticket.

In 1966, I was nine years old. I remember that Uncle Eddie and I went to ten Indians games that year, the most I’ve ever seen in any one season. We’d drive to the general vicinity of Municipal Stadium, park on a side street, and walk up to Gate A. Uncle Eddie would case out the ticket-takers until he spotted one of the right ones, lagging behind or speeding up as necessary. He’d make eye contact with the man—it was always a man—and the ticket-taker would nod and let us in, no ticket offered or needed.

Of course, once you were inside, you had no ticket to show to an usher, so you had to be careful where you tried to sit—but with an average game attendance of approximately 12,000 in a stadium which seated more than 70,000, you didn’t have to be VERY careful. You’d just wait until an usher was helping someone else, and find a pair of empty seats. If anyone claimed them later on, you’d just move down the row a little bit. By the third or fourth inning, you could usually sit in the box seats if you were of the mind to, and we usually were.

At first I couldn’t figure out how Uncle Eddie was able to get us into the Stadium without tickets. Even at age nine, I knew my uncle wasn’t any kind of big shot—he was as working class as they came.

One day, though, I learned my uncle’s secret. As we got out of the car to walk to the Stadium, Uncle Eddie reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a pint bottle, the kind I’d seen often enough at his house. Four Roses, it said.

“What do you need that for?” I asked him.

“This is to thank the people who get us into the games,” he replied. And sure enough, when we got to Gate A, he took the bottle of whiskey from his jacket pocket and slipped it to the ticket-taker, who stashed it into the pocket of his uniform, neither man saying a word. Unless you were watching for it, you could have stood right next to the two men and not have noticed a thing, the transfer was that smooth.

Throughout the rest of the summer, I paid more attention to exactly what went on when we got to Gate A. It didn’t happen every time we went to a game, but every once in a while, Uncle Eddie would take a brown bottle from his jacket pocket and slip it to the ticket-taker, who would nod and let us in.

Of course, you couldn’t get away with such a thing today, and in retrospect I suppose we were stealing from the Cleveland Indians. No wonder they couldn’t afford to sign the best players!

Uncle Eddie left this world some thirty years ago, and Cleveland Municipal Stadium was torn down scarcely more than ten years after that. I don’t touch the stuff myself, but I understand that you can still get Four Roses at the liquor stores. These days I pay for my own tickets to Progressive Field. And although I never got a ticket stub to save in a scrapbook, I’ll never forget the magical summer of 1966, the year I saw ten Indians games. Here’s to you, Uncle Eddie.

4 Comments

  • SeattleStu says:

    LOVED the uncle eddie stories, almost as much as the DH sweep…go tribe!

  • Wyatt says:

    Ah, yes! The old Cleveland Municipal Stadium was a trip in itself. There were no snooty lounges where people paid a lot of money to watch a game they came to see live on a TV set, no picnic areas where you couldn’t see the game you were attending at all, no cushy, pricey seats- as a matter of fact, there were pretty much no good seats period. Somehow the architects had managed to work it so that 80,000 seats were all located behind steel and concrete pillars. And it was cold. It could be 97 degrees in the middle of a classic, Cleveland July, but the in the Stadium it was about 23.

    HOWEVER… all this meant that only REAL fans made the trek part of their summer ritual. Fans who didn’t need gourmet nachos to eat and iced something-or-the-other to drink. They were happy with a mustard-slathered hot dog that had seen better days and a cheap, warm beer- because they were actually there to watch the GAME.

    My hat is off to Uncle Eddie! He obviously knew what truly makes summertime in Middle America the memorable thing it is, and he took it upon himself to pass it onto the next generation. Ya can’t ask for much more than that.

  • TJ says:

    My Uncle Eddie was an older gal who house-sat when my parents took a trip, no relation but we called her Aunt Alice. This was in the late 1940s and early in the next decade. My sister and I loved Aunt Alice: she cooked the best burgers, she let us stay up later than usual, and she ragaled us with Cleveland baseball stories from the “Lajaway” era. (She saw Nap play dozens of times.) Her favorite all-time Indian was Addie Joss. Aunt Alice told us over and over of her attending the greatest pitched game of all time, around Oct. 1,1908, when the “Naps”, Tigers and White Sox were all within one game of each other going into the final 4 or 5 games of the season. Chicago was visiting old League Park when Addie Joss hooked up against Big Ed Walsh. Joss pitched a perfect game, Walsh gave up one hit and one unearned run, and the Tribe won 1-0. (The Naps eventually ended up 1/2 game behind Ty Cobb’s Tigers in the pennant race due to a rained out game that in those days was not made up!) For Aunt Alice, no player quite measured up to Joss and thus he also remains my favorite Cleveland player to this day. She told me that the day when Joss died so unexpectedly of an illness in April, 1911, just a wee bit over a century ago, was the saddest day in her life until Black Tuesday (there was a reason she house-sat at her advanced age). Like your Uncle Eddie, my Aunt Alice instilled in me a love of the history of the Tribe that makes me enjoy each season all the more. Here’s to you, Aunt Alice (and Addie Joss).
    R.I.P.

  • Penny Lane says:

    Funny how the ones who knew how to “make it work” are the ones we remember…
    Characters made of kindness, reality + ingenuity
    back when that didn’t mean gouging little people or pretending to be grand

    Your uncle sounds like quite the guy
    then again, so’s the man writing this
    & i don’t even know him to shake his hand!