Home of the Cubs conjures up very sweet memories

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

In recent weeks, an acquaintance from long ago was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, highlighting a sports broadcasting career that has spanned nearly four decades and has included stops at WJR in Detroit, WGN in the Windy City, and radio station CJCL in Toronto.

Chuck Swirsky was among the Hall of Fame inductees September 7, and WJR listeners in the mid-1990s will remember him as the voice of University of Michigan basketball during the post-Fab Five era for the Wolverines.

Now the radio voice for the Chicago Bulls, Swirsky is a topflight play-by-play man, and has a knack for storytelling that adds richness and flavor to his NBA duties. When we first met in Ann Arbor more than 20 years ago, Swirsky enjoyed telling the tale of how he came to Detroit.

The journey, ironically enough, began at venerable Wrigley Field on a sun-swept July afternoon, the kind long worshipped by the “Bleacher Bums” of Chicago’s north side.

Perched in the P.A. booth behind home plate was Swirsky, a 41-year-old fan turned sports broadcaster, who over the past decade had carved his own niche with mega-station WGN in Chicago.

Swirsky, a 1976 grad of Ohio University, was WGN’s voice for DePaul basketball, a storied program that has sent its share of players on to NBA glory. He also handled the pre-game, halftime, and post-game reports for the Chicago Bears’ broadcasts on WGN. And in the spring of 1994, he was selected to handle the P.A. duties for the Cubs, a National League club that despite suffering through a prolonged World Series drought still manages to captivate diehard fans from across the country.

It was now the second inning of the Cubs-Padres encounter that summer day, a game between two Senior Circuit losers that in a month would become even more meaningless when the players and owners put their own twist on the baseball term “strike.”

“The phone rang in the booth and it was Ernie Harwell, a good friend of mine,” said Swirsky of the legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers. “He wondered if I would be interested in coming to work for WJR in Detroit and that part of the package would be broadcasting Michigan basketball. When he said that, I asked, ‘Where do I send my tapes?’”

A month later, Swirsky was chosen to succeed Larry Henry on the WJR sports team with the principal assignment of handling the play-by-play duties for the high-profile Wolverine basketball team coached by Steve Fisher.

Swirsky grew up in Seattle and was awarded a scholarship to attend Ohio U, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and sociology. He joined WGN following graduation and quickly became acclimated to the busy Windy City sports scene.

Bulls. Blackhawks. Sox. Cubs. Bears. Blue Demons. All – at various times – became part of his sports beat, a work pattern that was mirrored when he arrived in the Motor City with its cast of professional and college teams.

But for now in the Swirsky journey, let’s return to Wrigley Field, this time on an otherwise glum day in 1990.

“It was March 10th and I took my girlfriend, Judy, down to the field,” Swirsky recalled. “It was late in the afternoon and there was still snow on the field, but I walked her over to home plate, got down on my knees and told her that a lot of momentous things had happened at home plate over the years. Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run there. Babe Ruth called his home run shot in the World Series . . . And then, right there at home plate, I asked for her hand in marriage.

“Fortunately, she said, ‘Yes.’”