Friday, February 27, 2009

1981 Donruss: Steve Macko

Steve Macko is a name that would only be familiar to the most dedicated of Cubs fans. He played in a mere 25 games in 1979 and 1980 and had a very ordinary .250 batting average. There may have been more to his career if fate had not dealt Steve a cruel blow.

Steve Macko came from a baseball family. His father Joe spent years in the minor leagues. He was a "head coach" for a Cubs minor league team in 1964. He later spent years as the clubhouse manager for the Texas Rangers.

Joe Macko's bio from the Cubs 1964 Media Guide

Young Steve grew up around baseball. He spent some time as the Rangers batboy. The Cubs selected him in the 5th round of the 1977 draft. In a little more than two years, he was playing at Wrigley Field. He opened the 1980 season in AAA, but was recalled to the Cubs on July 22. He played in 6 games and was hitting .300 when he suffered a severe thigh bruise from a collision with Bill Madlock. That sidelined him for the rest of the season.

While being treated for his bruise, doctors made another, more serious discovery. Steve Macko had testicular cancer. Suddenly, a thigh bruise or even a baseball career didn't seem all that important. Treatment, recovery, and survival did.

Sadly, it was not to be. Just 14 months after the discovery of his cancer, Steve Macko was gone. He died on November 15, 1981 at the young age of 27.

While he was receiving treatment for his cancer, Macko was able to stay with the team during part of the 1981 season. This was one of the last of many generous moves by the Wrigley ownership. Remember, though, the team was sold during the 1981 season. His passing was hardly mentioned by the new regime. The 1982 Media Guide makes no mention of his death. The only place you find his name in the guide is in the transaction section, which shows him placed on the emergency 60 day disabled list in April and then being outrighted to AAA Iowa after the season in October, just 5 weeks before his death. Baseball can be a cold hearted business. The team did not wear any sort of arm band during the '82 season, either. It's like they just forgot about him and moved on.

The Steve Macko Scholarship Fund
was established in his memory. The scholarship site has other pictures of Steve. He doesn't look very happy in the Donruss card or the 1980 Topps rookie cards. Its like some weird foreshadowing of his fated future. But the pictures on the website show a much happier looking Macko, as does the 1981 Rookie card.

Topps 1980 card with the same sad look as on the Donruss card

In the Topps 1981 card he is almost smiling

The smiling Macko from the scholarship site is how I'd like to remember him, instead of the sad Donruss card. It was a life cut too short, but a life that touched many and still does today.


  1. Thank you for reminding us of the humaness of the players.

  2. Macko seemed to be on the verge of becoming a pretty good player. I actually have one of his old bats. Tying in one of your older posts, the crowds at Wrigley back then were pretty sparse. Even as late as 1983, you could easily walk up past game time and get a great seat on weekdays. They sometimes closed the upper deck. I would take the el after class and catch most games. I got to know the Cubs batboy and he gave me several bats over time. This was before the memorabilia craze really hit. Macko's bat was one of those he gave me.

  3. You're not kidding on MLB/Cubs ignoring Macko's death. I followed baseball religiously in the early '80s and I didn't hear anything about Macko at all. It wasn't until 5 or 10 years later that I read something about him and realized I had the 3 Macko cards you showed.

  4. Steve was a close friend of mine in Chicago. What is seldom mentioned is the friendship between Steve and Jim Tracy, now coach of the Colorado Rockies but a teammate of Steve's with the Cubs.
    Jim was incredibly loyal and caring about Steve. Looked after him during the year he was ill. Made sure Steve found a place to live in the same building on Sheridan Road in Chicago where Jim lived. Jim gave up a lot of "social life" just to hang with Steve, who wasn't up to doing what most young men in their 20's do for entertainment.
    Jim Tracy is a man of character and it's wonderful to see the success that has come his way. After what I witnessed in regard to their relationship, he deserves it. It was baseball's version of Brian's Song.

  5. I vividly remember the collision with Madlock while Madlock was breaking up a double play. At that time, I didn't realize it was just a good baseball play. At that time, I was angry with Madlock and thought he hurt Macko on purpose. Steve as one on my favorite players, just because we had the same first name. Shame on Dallas Green for not doing something to honor his memory.

  6. I was at the game where Steve Macko was injured, and not only that, I had my picture taken with him just before the game. I was 15 and my best friend's mother arranged, as a birthday gift to me (although my bday is in November, she fudged it so I could get a 'sweet sixteen' birthday picture.

    I had wanted one with Bill Buckner because he was my favorite, but he was getting his ankle iced or something, and couldn't come out for the picture. I ended up with Mike Vail and Steve Macko. I wasn't thrilled about Vail (although he was very nice to me, he wasn't a favorite) Steve Macko was young and cute, and I was happy to get a picture with him. I even remember him being teased to give me a kiss on the cheek. I don't know who was more embarrassed--him or me!

    The Cubs photographer at the time was the one who took the pictures. I wish I still had mine but I've moved several times. I would have happily donated it to his family. I know it must have been one of the few photos they would have had of him like this, and the fact that it was his last game would have made it special.

    When I heard he died a little over a year later, I was devastated.