CHICAGO (AP) — As his wheelchair rolled onto the dirt, Lennie Merullo took a good look around Wrigley Field.
It’d been a while since the last living person to play in a World Series game for the Chicago Cubs had visited the old ballpark.
“It’s changed,” he said Saturday, “but it hasn’t changed a bit.”
Now 97, Merullo wore a Cubs jersey and used a walker when he threw out the first pitch before Chicago beat the Miami Marlins 5-2.
Merullo played for the Cubs in 1945 during their seven-game loss to Detroit. The Cubs haven’t been back to the World Series since then.
The former infielder went 0 for 2 in that World Series and played in three games. He said that at the time, the Cubs figured they’d be back in the Series sometime soon.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “We never gave up hope.”
Merullo lives in Massachusetts and said this was his first trip to Wrigley since the 1980s.
Merullo was honored as part of the celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. He drew a rousing ovation when, standing next to his son, he made the opening toss about 15 minutes before gametime.
“I’ll tell you, it’s a feeling that I can’t describe,” he said, smiling. “The excitement that is going through my body right now, it’s saying, ‘Lennie, do you realize you’re right in the center of Wrigley Field, the ballpark that you love?”
Merullo was anything but bitter about the result of the ‘45 Series.
“They beat us,” he said. “Somebody’s got to win. You got to have a winner and you’ve got to have a loser.”
Merullo, who also was a scout for the organization, went on the defensive when asked about the Cubs’ troubles over the last seven decades.
“I never looked at it like they were struggling,” he said. “When I think of the Cubs, I think of Wrigley Field. It’s beautiful and it’s one of the few ballparks that was always filled with the fans. They used to have to turn the fans away from the park because there was no more room for them. How many ballparks in all of baseball can you say that about?”
“Only Wrigley Field,” he said.
Merullo also fondly recalled his teammates on the ‘45 team.
“They were exceptional because we were always together,” he said. “We did things together, we won together, we lost together. We did everything together. We went out and we partied together. We did everything together, and it was a fun time.”
Merullo wore a Cubs hat and rings on the ring and pinkie fingers of his left hand. One ring was for being named Cubs scout of the year and the other was for winning the National League pennant.
“When I talk to people, I do it like this,” he said, holding his left hand against his face in a manner that flashed both pieces of jewelry.
Merullo, a shortstop, played all seven of his major league seasons with the Cubs, from 1941-47, and had modest career statistics. In 639 games, he batted .240 with a total of six home runs.
“I was behind home plate, looking out at the left-field fence and thinking, ‘Why the hell couldn’t I hit one out of this ballpark?” he said. “I hit so many balls thinking they’d go out of the ballpark and I’d fall flat on my face between first and second when they didn’t.”