Now that the world's most celebrated unindicted coconspirator has passed from this vale of schemes, the truth can finally be told. Perhaps the most insidious and effective of Richard M. Nixon's capers has lasted for more than a quarter of a century; in fact it is still an operative plan, one that has demeaned an institution that defines the heart of America.
Each year since the autumn of his presidential election, Nixon and his cabal of moles and thugs have conspired to keep the Chicago Cubs out of the World Series. The plan has been so fabulously successful that in recent years some participants have been bold enough to flaunt their ties to the disgraced president. On his desk in the home skipper's office at Wrigley Field, deposed manager Tom Trebelhorn kept an autographed photo of RMN. The Cubs' new general manager, Ed Lynch, openly brags about the first time he met Nixon at the White House.
The trail of the conspiracy can be found in the public record. Nixon himself admitted on countless occasions his passion for sports. He was notorious during the early years of his administration for suggesting plays to his friends, football coaches George Allen and Don Shula. Reporters from the Washington Post and the New York Times regularly bandied about knowledge of Nixon's sports connections in print. In 1971 Nixon attempted to tamper publicly with the democratic election process when he offered his own All-Star baseball team to reporters. It is impossible to estimate how severely fan balloting was affected.
But Nixon focused special attention on Chicago, a city he never forgave for what he considered the theft of the 1960 presidential election. It is well-known that Nixon visited the Chicago area several times during the 1968 campaign. Nor can it be denied that the Cubs that fall were poised at the brink of success; by obtaining just a few key players in the off-season, they could ensure their first World Series appearance since World War II. But the team did not obtain those players for the 1969 season. Manager Leo Durocher, a known associate of underworld figures at least since the 1940s, certainly had enormous influence over the team's off-season planning. Could Nixon, through his own crime-syndicate ties, have gotten to Durocher? Was this the beginning of the Chicago Plan?
The ill-fated season of 1969, a season that lives in infamy in the hearts of Cubs fans, was filled with suspicious incidents. In July, the upstart New York Mets came to Wrigley Field and took two out of three games, the weak-hitting Al Weis smashing a rare home run to win one of them. Nixon, according to reliable witnesses, was seen at O'Hare Airport prior to the series! In August, rookie center fielder Don Young misplayed two fly balls, handing a victory to the Mets in Shea Stadium. Witnesses place Nixon at LaGuardia Airport that very day! Cubs third baseman Ron Santo verbally tore into the discouraged Young, thereby destroying his confidence. Santo was a known diabetic, and it is common knowledge that a diabetic who ingests excess sugar loses control of his actions. That evening, the wife of CIA operative E. Howard Hunt was involved in an automobile accident. Police, who retrieved her purse, thrown from the car on impact, found it stuffed with Snickers wrappers!
When the Mets improbably won the World Series that year, Nixon placed a call to the victorious locker room to speak with Gil Hodges. This is how the New York Times reported the unprecedented communication:
"Manager Gil Hodges leaned over his desk, took the phone and said, 'Yes sir,
thank you, sir.' Most of the time he listened, made a few assenting remarks, and signed off with a 'thank you and God bless you.'"
Clearly Hodges was expressing his gratitude for the chief executive's covert contribution to the Mets' victory. Rather than arousing suspicion, the presidential phone call to the victor's locker room has become a time-honored tradition.
The next spring, Nixon invited baseball's most powerful officials to the White House. Here is the official government report of that meeting, as published in the New York Times:
March 31, 1970
Activities. The President sent to Congress the report of the National Endowment for the Arts for the fiscal year 1969. Mr. Nixon met with the baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the American League president Joe Cronin, and the National League president Charles Feeney. Later in the afternoon the President met with Dr. Arthur F. Burns, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board...
Like the infamous 186 minute gap in the Watergate tapes, the omission of information is astounding here. What did Nixon discuss with Kuhn, Cronin, and Feeney? Based on the evidence we have we can only conclude he was discussing the Chicago Plan.
For the next four years, the Cubs, possessing at least four future Hall of Famers, were unable to finish higher than second place.
In the fall of 1973, when the Watergate affair was threatening to unravel the presidency, Nixon undertook two bold actions. One, the Saturday Night Massacre, is well known. The other, the November Housecleaning, is not. The Cubs that month traded Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Glenn Beckert, and Randy Hundley in exchange for a passel of underachievers. Phone records show at least two dozen calls made from the White House to Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley's mansion in Lake Geneva!
The Cubs would not have a winning season for the next ten years.
In the years following his resignation, Nixon labored to resurrect his image and to keep the Chicago Plan operational. By 1984, the American public had forgotten much of Nixon's treachery. He sold an interview on world affairs to CBS News. He wrote a book entitled No More Vietnams. And newspapers and magazines hailed his reemergence as an "elder statesman." He felt powerful enough to make a bold impact on baseball affairs as well. The Cubs had achieved a berth in the National League Championship Series that October. They took a two games to none lead over the underdog San Diego Padres. But, thanks primarily to the heroics of Padre first baseman Steve Garvey, San Diego eliminated the Cubs. Garvey, nicknamed "the Senator," was known to have political ambitions. Was a deal cut between Nixon and Garvey? Nixon was seen that weekend at the San Diego airport!
The next year the Cubs' starting pitching staff was stricken with unexpected injuries, ruining the team's chances. Ostensibly the injuries were caused on the field. But that September former White House plumber G. Gordon Liddy was observed inebriated in a lounge boasting of his prowess with blackjack and brass knuckles. When a skeptic challenged him, Liddy replied, "You don't believe me? Just ask Sutcliffe, Sanderson, and Trout!"
Nixon continued to pull strings within the Cubs organization as well. Since 1983 the team has unloaded such future MVPs and Cy Young Award winners as Guillermo Hernandez, Dennis Eckersley, and Greg Maddux. They also discarded stars like Joe Carter, Rick Reuschel, Lee Smith, and Billy Hatcher. Would any but the most dim-witted baseball executives freely part with such talent unless they were under the direct control of a nefarious force?
Since being purchased by the Tribune Company in 1981, the Cubs have spent money foolishly and have hired and fired managers and general managers indiscriminately. Nixon reportedly was cozy with Tribune high executives Stanton R. Cook and Charles Brumbach. A former Tribune mailroom employee once secreted from the company headquarters a Christmas card from Nixon to Cook. The card was inscribed with the cryptic message "Thanks--for everything!"
In 1989, the Cubs again found themselves in the National League Championship Series. They'd finished in first place that year thanks to a run of startlingly fortuitous decisions by their manager, Don Zimmer. In the playoff against the San Francisco Giants, Zimmer suddenly began making moves that can only be described as bonehead. During his playing career Zimmer had been the victim of a gruesome beaning, resulting in the surgical implantation of a metal plate in his skull. Is it unreasonable to suspect that Nixon, through his access to high-technology communication equipment, manipulated Zimmer's thought processes utilizing the receiving capabilities of that metal plate?
The Cubs have not come within a light year of first place since.
And now an acknowledged Nixon partisan has been named the Cubs' general manager. Will Nixon continue to direct his nefarious scheme from beyond the grave? Or does his death mean deliverance at last for Chicago baseball fans? There's only one way to find out:
Wait till next year!
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Konstantin Valov.