This Time … It Was Almost Fatal
By Lyle R. Hill
It was a quiet morning. Too quiet, I thought, as I stood
looking out through the opened overhead dock doors of the warehouse. Large,
puffy cumulus clouds floated across the bright morning sky heading northward.
It was a peaceful moment in a place that typically has very few. Perhaps
it was providential … that I was there at this particular moment … that
the normal noise and hubbub of this particular place had briefly abated
… that I would be there for this particular old friend in his moment of
The serenity was first interrupted by the sound of tumbling boxes, then
the unmistakable sound of a man choking. I turned to look in the direction
of the commotion and watched in startled disbelief as the choking man
grabbed at his chest as he stumbled backwards. I bolted in his direction
knowing he would most likely hit the hard concrete floor before I could
reach him. A large roll of soft, spongy ethafoam rod stock was just to
the left of me so I grabbed it and threw it in his direction hoping it
might cushion the fall.
Steve Saltzman is a tough guy … both physically and emotionally. We have
been teammates and, on an occasion or two, we’ve been opponents. If given
my choice, I’d rather be on his side than against him no matter the setting.
On a basketball court or baseball diamond, Saltzman always added to whatever
talent he may have lacked by sheer force of will and character. In many
sports, at many levels, he was a winner and highly respected by those
who knew him. And at the bargaining table … as the shop union steward
… his reputation for tenacity and perseverance were likewise highly regarded
and, in many cases, unequaled. But there he was, this rock solid man among
men, clutching at his chest, now coughing violently, and falling toward
the hard and unforgiving concrete floor.
I thought I had correctly anticipated the direction of his fall, but just
as the roll of soft spongy material arrived at where I had assumed he
was going to land, Saltzman spun himself around hoping to soften his landing
by falling into a pile of semi-neatly stacked tarps and drop clothes that
had arrived earlier that morning. Both of us miscalculated. His head hit
the floor with a dull thud.
Like many a young man, Saltzman once dreamed of playing professional baseball.
But as the dream faded, he instead became an avid professional baseball
fan. As time passed, his fascination, his passion, his purpose and reason
to live became the Chicago Cubs. He moved to within walking distance of
Wrigley Field and became a season ticket holder. As a bleacher seat regular
his picture had appeared a number of times in the newspaper and even late
night TV sports highlight tapes—often in the middle of a struggle to capture
a home run ball or, on some occasions, in the middle of a bleacher bums
brawl. Saltzman is … and unless you live in Chicago you can’t fully appreciate
the meaning of it … a diehard Cubs fan. Such a thing is not for the faint
of heart or weak of knee.
To my amazement, the fall didn’t seem to faze him. He stopped choking
and while rubbing his head with his left hand, pointed with the other
toward the partially opened pallet of cardboard boxes upon which he had
been working. The look in his eyes frightened me and I couldn’t help but
wonder what it was that had so shocked him. I turned and slowly made my
way toward the boxes.
While there are a number of reasons, or perhaps excuses is a better word,
as to why the Chicago Cubs have failed to win a World Series title in
more than 100 years, the fact of the matter is that Cubs fans are probably
the most loyal and committed fans in all of sports. Now my parents came
from downstate Illinois. Alto Pass … Cobden … West Frankfort … these are
the little downstate hamlets of my forefathers and I spent many a summer
in those environs as a kid. Growing up, that part of the country was always
referred to as down home. And down home is St. Louis Cardinals territory.
In fact, on the mantle over the fireplace of my childhood home, a plastic
statue of Stan “The Man” Musial in full uniform stood proudly next to
pictures of ancestors from the old country. My dad talked regularly of
Dizzy Dean and the old Gas House Gang. Neither I nor my younger brother
were allowed to wear any baseball hat with a major league team emblem
on it except for the one with those silly little red birds. Our faces
and foreheads spent most of their summers sunburned.
I slowly made my way to the boxes and peered inside and there it was …
a greeting card that included a picture of St. Louis all-star outfielder
Matt Holliday and a simple little note with a smiley face that read GO
CARDS. Underneath the picture was a business card from Vicki Crump (Customer
Service) of Reed Rubber, St. Louis, Missouri.
The St. Louis Cardinals are the Cubs arch enemies … or at least the team’s
fans are. The Cubs have the third highest payroll in all of baseball,
once again proving that it’s not how much you pay a person … it’s what
you get for your money that matters. And, as usual, neither the Cubs nor
their fans are getting their money’s worth. The Cardinals, on the other
hand, continue to be perennial contenders and continue to strike fear
and trepidation into the hearts of all of Cubdom.
Now Vicki Crump is a fine lady working for a fine company. I’ve been doing
business with Reed for three decades and they are truly a trusted, dependable
and high-quality supplier and Vicki is one of the reasons they enjoy such
a fine reputation. But Vicki, in the name of all things decent and dear
… please don’t ever do anything like that again. Not to a die-hard Cub
fan. Not in the middle of the season. Certainly not in the name of customer
service. You could have killed the poor man!!!
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago.
Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this
© Copyright 2010 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.