Friday, April 5, 2013 — One day, in 1953, Wallop noticed his wife had left “Faust” sheet music on the family piano.
“Something just came together in my head,” he said.
Three months later the book was complete and even before it was published it was being clamored over by those wanting to buy the rights to put it on Broadway.
Mantegna’s story isn’t much different from Wallop’s. He would go to the Cubs games rather than Washington Senator games as a youth, and as a 12-year-old he might not have seen Walter Johnson pitch but he saw Glen Hobby win 16 games, and if there was no Ty Cobb there was a skinny shortstop named Ernie Banks who hit 45 home runs that year on his way to an MVP season.
He tells the story of going to the games with his father and gazing through a hole in a rickety wood wall, catching bits and pieces of the game. As the writer Joe Posnansky recently repeated the tale, “Joe would look up at his father, see the wonder in his face, hear the passion in his voice. And he would think: ‘Dad, who gives a hoot? Let’s go get a hot dog.’”
Knowing his dedication to the game of baseball, although that, too, is part of the baseball experience. However, in this case it is likely a story told in jest, for when I spoke with him the Cubs and baseball were closer to a religious experience than a sporting event and that is what led him to write his play “Bleacher Bums.” This is how I tried to explain it then.
One day, as he sat in the bleachers, a thought crossed Joe Mantegna’s mind.
“I’m sitting there and I got to thinking, ‘What’s going on here in the bleachers is more interesting than what’s going on down on the field.’ Then I thought, ‘How come there are 35,000 people here and you can’t get 2,000 into the theater?’”