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Chicago Sun-Times

April 19, 2005

Car hits 'Woo woo,' leaves him with boo-boo

April 19, 2005
BY MARK J. KONKOL Staff Reporter

If being a die-hard Cubs fan wasn't painful enough, Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers got blindsided by a car outside his beloved Wrigley Field Monday.

The unofficial -- if not at times unwanted -- Cubs mascot complained of a headache and a sore elbow after a car driven by a Hillside man backed into him.

Dressed in his trademark Cubs uniform, Wickers was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical center where doctors X-rayed his neck before releasing him. "Woo Woo" had little more than a boo-boo on his head.

"It happened so fast. He hit me, I fell back, hit my head and maybe I was out for a minute," Wickers said after leaving the hospital. "I sure got a headache."

And it's a pounding pain, Woo Woo says, worse than the emotional agony of watching the Cubs blow their shot at the World Series in 2003.

"The bump hurts more. Game 7 is history. The bump is now," said Wickers, whose game-day exuberance, even his friends say, can border on annoying.

You can catch Wickers' wailing act on game days, when he typically stalks Wrigley Field screaming his trademark "Woo" in fits-and-starts of Cubs spirit: "Cubs. Woo. Cubs. Woo."

Rather than follow the protocol of some Cubs fans and blame his pain on a goat or a guy named Bartman, Wickers said his run-in with the back end of a Ford Taurus was coincidence.

"It's not a curse, just something that happened. I'll put it behind me. It's just a bad inning," he said. "Tomorrow will be another inning."

'Was it a Sox fan?'

Sitting in the hospital waiting room, Wickers' pal Janet Tabit wanted to know: Whodunit?

"Was it a Sox fan?" she asked.

Chicago police ticketed Robert Kregas of Hillside for striking a pedestrian in the roadway. Kregas declined comment other than to say he had visited Wickers in the hospital.

Wickers, 63, said he doesn't think Kregas is a White Sox fan.

"Nah, I guess he was a baseball fan. He must have been a Cubs fan. He told me he was sorry he hit me."

Wickers insists he'll be back at Wrigley when the Cubs return Friday. "Docs told me not to get excited, but I'll be ready Friday see all the fans," he said. "I'll still 'Woo,' but not as much, though."

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Chicago Sun-Times
May 25, 2001


Take Him Out to the Ballgame

BY GREG COUCH STAFF REPORTER
For an hour before the game Thursday, he circled Wrigley Field in a shiny white limo, wearing a shiny white Cubs uniform and flashing his shiny white teeth. He was all polished up, with two guys with movie cameras recording every move for an upcoming documentary.

This was Ronnie "Woo-Woo" Wickers' big day, the day he would sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. He was swamped all day for autographs, drew big cheers when he was introduced and choked up just before singing. A man who once lived under newspapers on Lower Wacker Drive was realizing his dreams.

But he also was followed everywhere by an undercurrent of snickers and boos. And no, those weren't Woos. If image is everything, then Wickers is part hero and Wrigley Field legend, part con man and glory hound. And both parts came crashing together on Woo-Woo's big day.

"Harry Caray sang here, Frank Sinatra sang here and now Ronnie Woo-Woo," Wickers said before the game.

For the record, Sinatra never did sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley, but that really didn't matter to Wickers. What mattered was the song. And this is how he started:

"Hello, Cub fans. One, woo, two, woo, three, woo. Take me out . . ."

Down the left-field line in box seats, Don Peterson from Naperville was thrilled. He brought wife Meda and kids Matt and Kate for one reason alone.

"I saw in the paper that he was singing, and I had to come," Peterson said. "I've been a fan of Ronnie's since the mid-'80s. He's a folk hero."

Jimmy Rashaan of Chicago sat in the bleachers with a different description.

"He just yells, `Woo,' and all of a sudden he gets new teeth?" Rashaan said. "You know how hard it is to get a job with benefits? And this homeless guy just yells, `Woo,' and his teeth are fixed?"

On hearing Rashaan talk, at least a half-dozen more fans joined in with opinions about Wickers, most of them unprintable. And true enough, Wickers did make a name for himself by yelling "Woo!" after nearly every word during constant chants in the bleachers. His mouth used to have a tooth here and a tooth there until a campaign among Cubs fans last year raised money for new choppers.

You might say he found a gimmick that made him a legend. Or you might not.

"Some like Ronnie Woo-Woo, some don't like Ronnie Woo-Woo," Wickers said. "But I'm still Ronnie Woo-Woo. It's just good that people are thinking of you.

"In life, some people like you and some people don't. That's the way it was with Michael Jordan. That's the way it was with Muhammad Ali. That's the way it was with Sinatra."

Sinatra again.

One fan tried to organize a boycott in the bleachers, suggesting that fans holding bleacher tickets Thursday throw them out in protest of Wickers getting to sing. In the end, the bleachers were nearly full anyway. Hand-made signs along the row near the press box, where Wickers would walk to get to the microphone, had the word "Wooing" circled with a line drawn through it.

And when Wickers was done singing, he asked a Cubs official if he could go out to the bleachers. But the Cubs weren't sure how the fans there would react to him on Woo-Woo Day. A handful of reporters tried to go out to the bleachers to talk with fans about Wickers, but security turned the media away. Even Paul Hoffman, who is doing the documentary and presented an untorn bleacher ticket, was not allowed in.

So Wickers is a legend with an asterisk. Hoffman doesn't understand the anger. In doing the documentary, which he said should be finished in October, he has gotten to know Wickers well.

Wickers, 60, is married and has two children. Wife Janet and kids Yolanda, 6, and Scott, 10, were there Thursday. A former janitor at Northwestern University, Wickers makes his living cleaning windows, washing cars, whatever is available. He usually pays for tickets but often is given freebies by adoring fans. He does the act on his own, without the blessing or discouragement of the Cubs.

"All the businesses around Wrigleyville help him out," Hoffman said. "They give him odd jobs, have him clean things.

"When he was 30, he got a job at night so he could go to day games. In the mid-'80s, he came home one day and found his girlfriend dead on the floor. She died of ulcers. And then everything changed for him. He went to live on Lower Wacker for three or four years."

He now has an apartment, goes to hospitals to cheer up sick people and goes as a chaperone every time his daughter goes on a field trip.

It is only recently that Wickers' popularity has transferred out of Wrigley. He was flown to New York last year to appear on Howard Stern's show. The Boston Globe was at Wrigley on Thursday, doing a story about his big day. And Hoffman set up a Web site, www.ronniewoowoo.com, to tell Wickers' story.

"I love Ronnie Woo-Woo," said Steve Green, 31, as he left the bleachers. "Everywhere else they have stadiums, but here they have a ballpark with heart. And part of that heart is Ronnie Woo-Woo."

If there is one complaint about Wickers that even Hoffman understands, it is this: He can be TOO LOUD! Joe Freyburger of Arlington Heights said Wickers is good in small doses. Even the players can hear him.

"When you're sitting in the dugout, yeah, you can hear him echoing down," pitcher Kyle Farnsworth said. "And when everybody starts going, `Woo,' with him, you can figure out exactly where he is.

"But I've met him a few times, and he's been nice. I'm glad they let him sing."


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Chicago Sun-Times
May 24, 2001


Like it or not, Ronnie represents Cubs spirit

BY RON RAPOPORT SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
I ran into Ronnie Wickers at the opening of a Jack Brickhouse exhibit at the Museum of Broadcast Communications a while ago and found him to be polite, pleasant and soft-spoken. While I realize this is not the persona Wickers chooses to exhibit around Wrigley Field, I am nevertheless surprised at the anger his singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the Cubs game today has created among some fans.

I say "some fans" because it is hard to know how many people are as upset as one fellow--I am going to do him the favor of not mentioning his name--who has worked himself into such a state that he is asking bleachers regulars to boycott the game. Throw Your Ticket in the Trash Day, he calls it.

In a mass e-mailing, this fan complains at great length about Wickers' chants, his aggressiveness, his publicity-seeking and so forth. Wickers is "foul and vulgar," the fan says. The writer is "outraged" and "disgusted" that he should be the first fan chosen to lead other fans during the seventh-inning stretch.

It's a free country, of course--Wickers is free to yell "WOO!" and this fan is free to complain about it, although Wickers' friends insist his language is never vulgar--but if you read further into the e-mail, you find it isn't really Wickers he's upset about at all. It's Cubs fans who aren't like him.

The beach-party crowd, he calls them. The yahoos who "couldn't tell you the name of the opposing pitcher if their life depended on it." The people who--egad!--do the wave when the Cubs win. Wickers, the man says tellingly, "stands for society's lowest common denominator." I think I catch his drift.

The Cubs, it need hardly be said, see things a little differently. They know full well their box-office success depends on their appeal to the upper and lower denominators, to their ability to draw an audience of passionate baseball fans and dispassionate fun-seekers. It is that spirit they are celebrating today when they hand the mike to Wickers. It is the spirit of Wrigley Field as one of the last places in town where people who otherwise never would occupy the same space can gather in a common cause.

As for the idea that Cubs fans would throw away tickets, our angry friend can't be serious. If 50 years of lousy baseball can't keep the fans away from Wrigley Field, it's silly of him to think Ronnie Wickers will.


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Chicago Sun-Times
May 23, 2001



I remember seeing him for the first time. It was in the late 1970s. We were sitting in the left-field bleachers, south suburban, die-hard transplants for the day.

It was a weekend ritual among us. We were sheltered Catholic elementary school kids who were just getting used to the idea of integration, meeting kids with different skin colors and different names--like Travis Sam, Ulysses Brown and Chucky Thompson.

And then, one weekend, out of nowhere, he appeared, looking much like he does today: big and happy and a little bit out of focus--as though somebody had just cast some sort of crazy spell over him, telling him he'd love the Cubs until the day he died; that that was his mission in life.

Of course, it was Ronnie "Woo Woo," who I don't think was known as "Woo Woo" at the time and therefore wasn't that famous. He stood up behind us and, like some strange owl, like some sort of hybrid between a homeless man and somebody practicing voodoo, he started calling out the names of some of the players on the field.

Or, one by one, he'd pick them off in the nearby bullpen, hooting their names. But he wouldn't yell or scream or throw down hats for autographs, mind you. Instead, he elicited this high-pitched, three-syllable shrill. Sometimes, on slow afternoons, when the shadows from the grandstand pillars began to creep on to the outfield, you could even hear him on the television, and you'd think, "Hey, I know that guy!"

He'd sing, "Billy Buck, Billy Buck!" Or "De Jesus! De Jesus!" And the amazing thing was that some of the players, after hearing their names sung, would actually turn in mid-game and wave back to him--mostly to shut him up. But I can't help but think that they admired his persistence. The way he just wouldn't stop--much in the same way fans kept coming to Wrigley to watch a losing team.

Now, I understand that Ronnie plans to do the honors by singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on Thursday during the seventh-inning stretch. And, as I write this from a distant Colorado, where WGN, as always, has become my satellite savior, I'm still not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I'd like to remember Ronnie the way he was--in the same way I like to remember Wrigley Field before lights were installed.

To me, sticking Ronnie in that glass booth up high sort of perverts his very essence. It's the equivalent of putting him in a cage where he doesn't belong, like turning him into some sort of singing puppet. After all, the thing about Ronnie is that he became a celebrity on his own terms: by simply loving the Cubs.

In short, he's a walk-on celebrity who came up with his own schtick. Out of his vocal cords, he fashioned a pitch that was a lot like Bruce Sutter's split-fingered fastball at the time: famous and effective. Ronnie never needed a microphone. Now, we're going to give him one and listen to him croon. There's something sour about it and yet soothing: sour because he's being turned into a sideshow; soothing because he's just another crazy Cub fan whose time in the sun has come.

So, in that regard, I'm happy. I just hope he sings baseball's theme song to his own tune.

Go-od Lu-ck, Ron-nie! Go-od Lu-ck, Ron-nie!
Tom Ragan, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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Chicago Sun-Times
March 1, 2001


Wickers' life coming to theater near Woo

BY RON RAPOPORT SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Paul Hoffman's documentary film about Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers has everything except the ending he's looking for. Which is the most visible and voluble fan in all of Cubdom singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch this summer at Wrigley Field. "I've had some talks with the Cubs," said Hoffman, who owns a software company and whose documentary on Wickers is his first film. "They told me they'll think about it." Well, I've had a talk with Cubs marketing and broadcasting vice president John McDonough, and the Cubs are thinking about it. Favorably. "Put it under the possibility category," McDonough said. "It would be kind of a fun experience. Ronnie's as ardent a fan as we have, and he's ubiquitous. For those of us at Wrigley Field, he's the soundtrack of our lives. All day, every day." In a way, Hoffman was not exactly the perfect candidate to make a film about Wickers. Before meeting him 10 years ago, he thought Wickers, who haunts Wrigley Field in uniform and shouts "Woo! Woo!" at the drop of a pop-up, was a loud, obnoxious fellow. But when he got to know Wickers and heard the whole story, he was hooked. "He's a warm individual, and he's been through a lot," Hoffman said. "He had an abusive mom, and his grandmother would take him to Cubs games. He felt he had a home there. "He took us to where he used to live under Wacker Drive, and we've been over to his house near Wrigley Field, where he lives with his girlfriend and his 6-year-old daughter. And we've found out how many Cubs fans really do love him. He signed as many autographs as some of the players at the Cubs Convention this month." Hoffman, who expects to have his documentary finished by Christmas and plans to enter it in some film festivals, has interviewed a number of present and former Cubs about Wickers. Now he's off to spring training to round up some more. McDonough will be there, too, as it happens. I wouldn't be surprised if they find something to talk about.


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Chicago Sun-Times
August 30, 2000


TOOTH BE TOLD: WOO NEEDS SOME CHOPPERS

By Rick Telander

It's a din like no other.

It's like an endlessly playing 33-rpm record with a big scratch right where Judy Garland hits the high note.

It's like a howling cat with hiccups.

It's like a harmonica player with a tongue twitch.

It's Ronnie "Woo" Wickers, the veteran Wrigley Field bleacher creature, blathering endlessly in his fevered, stuttering chant that starts with a player's name, a word, anything, then is punctuated ad infinitum-ad nauseam?- by the high-pitched cry, "woo!" followed by more names and woos, etc.

I asked him if he could demonstrate the technique using my name.

Ronnie Woo looked at me.

"My names Rick," I said

It was an hour before the Cubs-Padres game Tuesday night.

We were at Sluggers bar just a half-block down Clark Street from the ballpark, a place the non-drinking Woo visits before virtually every Cubs game.

"Rick-woo!" he began. "Rick-woo!" Rick-woo! Rick-woo! Cubs-woo! World-woo! Series-woo! Cubs-woo!

I motioned for him to stop.

How long could he do this? I asked

"I can do it, oh, six hours," Ronnie Woo replied. "You never get tired. It's mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

As usual on game day, Ronnie Woo was wearing his full Cubs uniform.

Jersey, pants, blue stirrup socks, cap name of "Woo-Woo" stitched on the back. Two white batting gloves.

In his leathered-covered hands, he had a petition he would be taking into the bleachers to be signed by as many fans as possible, a petition asking Cubs management to let him sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh inning of a game.

He also clutched his new CD, "Me and You and Ronnie Woo," which he said was a compilation of his cheers, player interviews and "other things".

"Clever. Like 'Me and You and a Dog named Boo,' I said.

"What?" he asked.

In a moment he started again:

"Santo-woo! Banks-woo! Beckert-woo! Kessinger-woo! Joe-woo! Pepi-tone-woo! Trillo-woo! Rosello-woo! Pete-woo! LaCock-woo!"

I stopped him. Whew.

"The 1973 Cubs?" I said.

He grinned.

And there was the darned problem. Ronnie Woo, the Cubs' soon -to-be 60-year-old "unofficial troubadour" (according to his CD liner notes), has a mouthful of teeth that are somewhere else.

"From the back he looks like Ernie Banks," said Jimmy Rittenberg, owner of Mother Hubbard's bar and an acquaintance of Ronnie's for 30 years. "From the front he looks like Leon Spinks."

And now Rittenberg and Steve Schwartz, the owner of Sluggers, have decided new teeth are all Wickers really needs to step into the big time and be that Wrigley Field legend he should be.

They have found a Cubs-fan dentist, Marshall Olech, who will do the approximately $2,000 worth of repair for free. All that is needed is the $3,000 to $4,000 in lab costs to actually build the bridge or dentures or whatever it takes to fill out Ronnie Woo's jack-o'-lantern smile.

"He never loses his temper. He's a gentleman," Rittenberg said. "He gets a lot of ridicule, but he doesn't get mad. You know how the White Sox had Andy the Clown at Comiskey? He ran around when Bill Veeck was there. Andy had a place to change, he got in the park free, maybe Veeck gave him $20 bucks a game. An unofficial mascot. Everybody needs one."

Ronnie Woo, who has attended more than 1,000 Cub home games since his first in "1956-1957, somewhere in there," still pays to get in and has no official blessing from the Cubs.

But, Rittenberg said that all could change with bright pearlies.

"John McDonough (the team's marketing vice president) said, "If you ever get your teeth fixed, come and see me,'" Ronnie Woo said.

The sound of Ronnie Woo is not for everyone, true.

His cheering could be compared to sounds of a dump truck backing up for nine innings.

But, as Rittenburg noted, "This is a cheerful, cheerful guy. A happy man. He doesn't swear. He loves the Cubs. There's no downside."

Ronnie Woo was arrested only once that we know of -in a suburb last year. For "wooing" after hours. Honest.

And he loves the idea of being a real Cubs ambassador.

"I would like to say it would be nice for fans all over the universe," said Ronnie Woo, who was briefly homeless a few years back and now does odd jobs in his Montrose neighborhood. "I bring people to the park with no teeth. I'd do it even more with teeth."

So what happened to those vanished and assorted incisors and bicuspids?

"I don't know," Ronnie said. "I ate a lot of candy. Chewed gum. Some fell out, some came back."

Whatever. With new teeth, Wickers will look as sharp as Keith Richards or Bob Probert or Mr. Ed.

So did promotions guy John McDonough really tell Ronnie to come see him after getting prettied up?

"I never, ever said that in my life!" said McDonough, exploding into laughter with the thought.

Never thought of putting Ronnie on the staff?

"In what capacity?" said McDonough, still howling. "I guarantee you he's worn the Cubs uniform more hours for more days than any human ever. Heck, he's kind of the our mascot already. That sound. That woo-ing. After my 17 years here, it's it's.embedded in my soul. Like being near the airport. My god."

So what a about a statue of Ronnie on Addison, maybe alongside Harry Caray, the man who was told Wickers, "Ronnie, by golly, you make a lot of people happy"?

"Why not?" McDonough said. "But he's not dead."

Then the boss collected himself, stopped howling.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I never noticed Ronnie's teeth. I never noticed anything but his vocal chords."

Woo!


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