Death of a Wrigley Field vendor

If you didn't know Bill Griffin's name, you definitely knew his face

Death of a Wrigley Field vendor

Apologies for the delay this morning! If you had Day 67 of my lockdown as the first time I’d struggle to find something interesting to write about, go to the window and collect your winnings. The good news is that I’ve been working on a few longer things for the future that I think you’ll enjoy.

For now, check out this piece that my friend Julie passed along. Beautifully written by veteran Chicago journalist Dave Hoekstra, it’s about the recent death of Wrigley Field vendor Bill Griffin at age 88.

Even if you don’t know Bill’s name, you probably know his face or his tough facade. He sold everything from beer to programs to foam claws in Chicago’s ballparks for 65 years.

Griffin’s story isn’t an intrinsically happy one. In fact, it’s almost as if he stepped straight out of the pages of an Algren novel in the ‘50s and lasted all the way to the year 2020.

Here’s what my friend Pat O’Connell wrote about Griffin in the Tribune back in 2015:

"Griffin says his life since has been a winding road of alcohol, bankruptcy, sorrow and loneliness — but also friendship. He bounced around the country, selling cotton candy and snacks at carnivals and a traveling circus. He drank away his concession wages, and moved in and out of transient hotels and apartments. He mourned the death of his longtime woman friend and remains crushed he doesn't have enough money to buy a marker for her grave."

Not exactly an uplifting story to start our day, but an important one nonetheless.

We like to think of ballparks as these happy refuges full of mustard on hot dogs and smiles for FanFotos. But for a lot of people like Bill, a ballpark is simply a refuge. A place to draw a honest paycheck and get away from life’s many other hurdles. Now that baseball isn’t being played, I worry about the people who have lost that compass and lifeline.

Still, there’s a lot of good to be found in Griffin’s story. One man’s drive to survive. The friends and neighbors who stepped up to fill his pockets when they were empty. The businessman who read about Griffin in the Trib and paid for his friend’s gravemarker.

Hoekstra also notes that Griffin died on the day the organ music returned to Wrigley Field. Many might write that off as a simple coincidence, but I like the poetry in it.

May he rest in peace.

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That’s it for today. Have a fantastic Wednesday and, as always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter!