Monday, April 12, 2010

#23 - Carmen Fanzone

This picture on this card from 1973 was taken in 1972, which was the first season the Cubs wore pullover jerseys. Their road uniform had a unique feature; the number was centered on the chest. I believe this is the only time any MLB team wore centered numbers on the front of a jersey. The next season the numbers were moved to the left side. They are still there today.

Utility infielder Carmen Fanzone had a four year run in #23, from 1971 - 1974. He is the first player I remember with that number. You may have never heard of Carmen Fanzone, but I have a very special memory of him that I'll share a little later.

First, a bit about the player. Fanzone was drafted by the Red Sox in 1964, and finally got a brief shot at the majors in 1970. After the season he was traded to the Cubs for another utility infielder, Phil Gagliano. Fanzone spent most of 1971 in AAA, but had a short 12 game stint with the big club. He spent the next three seasons as the Cubs main utility infielder, averaging about 70 games per season. He was on the team for his glove, not his bat, as his career .224 average would indicate. He slumped to a minuscule .190 in 1974 and he was released after the season.

Fanzone was also known for his trumpet playing ability. In the off-season he was a professional musician, and after his baseball career was over, he pursued music full time playing jazz. While with the Cubs he performed the national anthem.. You could say that Fanzone could hit the high notes but not a curveball!

It looks like this photo was taken during the same photo shoot as the picture used on the 1973 card. In the '74, the uniform he's wearing the uniform that the Cubs wore only in 1972. The red and blue stripes on the sleeves and neck were only on the 1972 uniforms.

This Topps 1975 card gives us a good look at the #23 painted on his helmet inside the C.

Now, my Carmen Fanzone story:

I grew up in Oak Lawn, a suburb just southwest of Chicago. I was the lone Cubs fan in a Sox family deep inside Sox country. My opportunities to go to Wrigley Field were few!

But I got one in 1972. The Certified Grocery Stores were having a contest, giving away free Cubs tickets. All you had to do was write your name and address on the back of a store receipt and put it in a box. The local Certified by us was Freshline Foods, on 95th Street (its still there today and I bet Steve at White Sox Cards knows exactly where it is) and my mom shopped there pretty regularly. I saved as many receipts as I could get from her and I even scrounged around the ground outside the store for others. I put my name on all of them, and in the great Chicago voting tradition, I stuffed the ballot box.

I'd like to think that it was a combination of my box stuffing and a lack of south side Cubs fans, because I won two free box seats! I was one thrilled ten-year-old. The tickets were for Sunday, July 30, against the Cardinals. And even better, it was a doubleheader. I don't think my Sox fan dad was too thrilled about it, but after church, we got dropped off at 63rd and Ashland and hopped the L to Wrigley.

The Cubs won game one behind the pitching of a rookie named Rick Reuschel. But it was in between games that I got my thrill. Our seats were boxes on the third base side, the Cubs dugout side. There were some players hanging around the wall signing autographs, so I made my way down there. When I got to the wall I just stuck my scorecard out and hoped someone would take it.

The scorecard and my pencil were grabbed by none other than Carmen Fanzone, who signed the front of the card! I had my very first Cubs autograph! I think I floated back to my seat and spent all of game two staring at the card. The Cubs won the second game too, but sweeping the Cardinals took a back seat to my Carmen Fanzone autograph!

The autograph has faded over the years, but it's still visible inside that white box I added to the card a few years after I got the autograph.

You can pick up a Carmen Fanzone autograph on ebay for less that $10, but I wouldn't let this one go for all the money in the world!


  1. Excellent stuff! What a great story to tell.

  2. I am a personal Friend of Carmen's and sent him this article. He would like to contact you. can you send we an email where you can be contacted

  3. Click on the "View my complete profile" link under "About Me" on the right hand column. That will take you to a link for my email address.