Woo Woo News
- Post-Tribune

'Post-Tribune-Northwest Indiana
Friday, March 11, 2005

One of a Kind

By Carolina Procter / Post-Tribune staff writer

If Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, then Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers is Mr. Cub Fan.

If you've been to a Chicago Cubs game, you've probably seen him - or at least heard him. He's the guy wearing a full Cub uniform and wandering about the bleachers, bellowing some variation of his trademark chant: "Cubs. WOO! Cubs. WOO! Cubs. WOO!"

Wickers, 63, has attended more than 3,000 Cubs games. Fans, players and team executives know him. He's appeared in commercials, in countless Chicago newspapers and broadcasts and on national programs like ESPN, the Howard Stern show and The Late Show with David Letterman.

In 2001 he became the first fan to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field - an invitation usually reserved for celebrities.

Wickers is a celebrity in Wrigleyville, and like all celebrities, he has a story that most people don't know.

Paul Hoffman decided to tell that story in a new documentary called "WooLife."

Hoffman grew up in St. John and lives in Chicago. He owns a software company and frequently goes to Cubs games.

"As the years rolled by, I really didn't know too much about (Wickers) other than he was a Cub fan," Hoffman said.

Then Hoffman learned about Wickers' past - how he came from an abusive home; how he slept in a box under Wacker Drive for seven years; how fans, players and even ticket brokers make sure he always has a ticket to the game.

"Everybody knows who Ronnie is but nobody knows what he's been through," said Hoffman, who produced, filmed and directed "WooLife." "He has no material possessions, and all he does is devote his life to the Cubs. That became his sanctuary. I thought, there's a story here."

Wickers grew up on Chicago's south side. He was born premature and struggled with disabilities as a child. In an interview with Hoffman, Wickers' sister said their mother physically abused Ronnie.

Wickers' grandmother tried to protect him. She took him to many Cubs games, including one in 1947 against Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers.

By the 1960s Wickers worked as a janitor at Northwestern University and used his paycheck to buy Cubs tickets. By the '80s he became a Cubs icon: "WooLife" includes footage of a local TV news reporter interviewing Wickers amid the pandemonium of the Cubs' 1984 division championship.

Wickers lived with his girlfriend, and when she died later that year, Wickers stopped attending Cubs games. People noticed. The Chicago Reader published a story in 1985 proclaiming, "Cubs 'woo' man vanishes; Misses first games in 17 years amid murder rumor."

Woo Woo wasn't dead. He was living in a cardboard box below Wacker Drive. He found a job delivering pizzas and used the money to return to Wrigley.

Janet Tabit, a guidance counselor at Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, met Wickers at the 1990 Cubs Convention. She learned he was not only working at the pizza place - he was sleeping there. Tabit helped Wickers manage his money so he could rent a room.

Now Tabit serves as Wickers' agent. She prints him business cards and arranges for him to appear at parties, weddings and other events.

"He's blessed because not everyone could do what he did," Tabit said. "He continued to go to the ballpark every day even when he was homeless and he managed to get into games. It's not about 'Oh, let's pity this person.' It's about his personality, his charisma, his passion and loyalty to a team. He's one of a kind."

"WooLife" shows that most people like Wickers. In one scene, a Wrigleyville ticket broker offers Wickers a free bleacher ticket - something the broker could normally charge hundreds of dollars for.

Cubs greats Andre Dawson and Fergie Jenkins recall giving Wickers meal money and blue uniform shoes. Actor and Chicago native Joe Mantegna, radio personality Mancow Mueller, Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander and baseball legend Buck O'Neil also speak in favor of Wickers.

Still, many people dislike Wickers. Footage shows fans taunting him, talking down to him and rolling their eyes during his chants. Rage fills the eyes of a Wrigleyville tavern owner when Wickers tries to enter: "I told you never to come in here!" the owner screams as he pushes Wickers out the door.

Hoffman believes the Cubs organization doesn't want Wickers' image associated with the team. The documentary suggests that Cubs marketing executive John McDonough nixed a deal that would feature Wickers on a Wrigley billboard. "WooLife" also suggests Cubs brass would let Wickers sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" only if he fixed his teeth. (Wickers lost most of his teeth, and Chicago media led a fund-raising campaign to pay for his dentures). When Cubs officials invited him to sing, they told him to minimize the wooing, and they didn't invite him to the usual post-song interview with the game announcers.

Joe Rios, the Cubs' manager of entertainment, said the organization treated Wickers like other non-celebrities who sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

"We have state champion high school teams come out, and we never have the coach stay (for the interview with game announcers). We have Illinois teachers of the year, and they don't stay. Unless you are a celebrity that fans want to stay tuned for, like Donald Trump, we don't ask you to stay," Rios said.

Rios said the billboard and denture stories aren't true. However, he said, the documentary correctly pointed out that the Cubs don't want Wickers as their mascot.

"His place with the Cubs is to be a fan," Rios said. "We love him as a fan, and he's a great supporter."

Wickers doesn't seem offended by any of the finger-pointing. Instead, he appreciates whatever chances he can get to express his love for the Cubs, Hoffman said.

"It's the human spirit on display," Hoffman said.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is happy to make Wickers its poster child. The CCH helped Hoffman fund the documentary and asked Wickers to join its speakers bureau.

"Ronnie's is a story of hope, about how one person can turn his life around," said executive director Ed Shurna. "His story is unique in terms of how he did it, but it reminds me of a lot of other homeless people who at some point have to figure out ways to overcome it. We're happy to be part of this whole effort to tell his story."

Contact Carolina Procter at 648-3086 or cprocter@post-trib.com

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