By In Stuff

Wrigley Through the Clouds

Dick Fick died 13 years ago. Do you remember him? Probably not. He was a relatively minor college basketball coach; Dick was an assistant at Valpo and Creighton, head coach for a time at Morehead State. He was known, if at all, for two things, one obviously being his name. The other: His antics on the sideline. Dick would rant, rave, collapse, drop to his knees, whatever. He would lower his tie, centimeter by centimeter, throughout the game until it resembled a noose.

Once after what he viewed as a particularly egregious call in a game against Kentucky, he just fell to the court and laid flat on his back. That was the thing that inspired the late Jim Valvano to give out “The Dick Fick Award.” It got enough play that when Dick would travel around, college students would sometimes just lie down in front of him. He loved that.

Dick was a wonderful man. He was also a haunted one. I knew the first version of him. I only heard about the second version after he died, at age 50, of bleeding ulcers after a crushing and losing battle with alcoholism.

The version of Dick Fick I knew was irresistible. He was funny. He was exuberant.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he would say to me when I was writing sports columns for the Cincinnati Post. “You know what thing about Art Long hitting a horse?”

I knew. Cincinnati’s star player, Art Long, had been charged with hitting a police horse (he was later acquitted — his defense was that he had only been petting the horse).

“Yes, I heard Dick.”

“Well, well, well, I know for an absolute fact that he didn’t hit that horse.”

“How do you know that?”

‘Because he was STILL PLANTED IN THE LANE FROM WHEN WE PLAYED THEM!”

Or there was the time his Morehead State team lost to Kentucky by the somewhat lobsided score of 96-32, and Dick said it wasn’t fair because he looked out on the floor and only saw three of his own players.

“Then I realized,” he added, “that two of mine were behind (Kentucky’s center) Nazr Mohammed.”

Dick loved coaching basketball. He loved the strategy. He loved the relationships. He loved the attention. But I would say that, if possible, he loved the Chicago Cubs more. Dick was from Joliet, but he was the most Chicago guy you ever saw, some combination of Belushi and Studs Terkel, Royko and Ebert and Jeff Garlin, a big ol’ wind burst coming down the stadium stairs with a Chicago Style dog in his hand and mustard on his shirt and love in his heart.

“You rooting for the Cubs,” he shouted at the people around him — we were in Cincinnati for that one. “No? How can you root against the Cubs? Do you KNOW the last time we won the World Series? We’re talking 1908! Come on!”

As everyone around him laughed, he gave a pretend look of hurt.

“Can you pray for us at least?” he asked.

Oh, he loved those Cubs. He loved them not with the practical cynicism of an adult who has seen all those losing seasons but with the naive hope of a child, positive, optimistic, sure that this will be the year and, hey, if it isn’t this year, no bit deal, let’s all enjoy ourselves because it will be next year for sure. You must know some fans like that. These are, I must admit, some of my favorite kind of fans. I think sometimes about that line in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” — the main character’s father, a deeply religious man, is asked: “And if all of your faith is wrong … just what if?”

And the man says: “I’d still have a better life than all those that doubt.”

Dick was one of those Cubs fans incapable of doubt. He wasn’t blind. He knew when the Cubs played lousy. He wasn’t gullible. He knew when the Cubs often made lousy moves and he complained loudly about it — he never did forgive them for trading Lou Brock. But in a larger sense, he didn’t doubt that the Cubs, couldn’t doubt them. In the end, they would somehow win, he was sure of that. It was a better life that way.

In the months after Dick died in 2003, the Cubs got very close to the World Series. I thought about him often that year, thought about how much he would have loved the run and how thrilled he would have been with the Cubs six outs away from the Series and how much the ending would have kicked him in the teeth. I also know what he would have said after the Cubs lost again.

“Next year,” he would have said. “Next year for sure, buddy.”

It wasn’t next year — but it has happened now, the Cubs in the World Series. In my Dick Fick obituary column, I tried to make some sense of his life, the extreme joy, the extreme pain, the guy who seemed to have life beat and the guy who just could not outrun his own demons. I’m not a good enough writer to do it. All I could do was end it with my hope for Dick Fick, a hope that has only grows strong here in 2016.

“Dick,” I wrote, “I hope you have a good view of Wrigley Field through the clouds.”

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36 Responses to Wrigley Through the Clouds

  1. chris says:

    I may be the only Morehead State alum who reads this article. I didn’t know Dick Fick, nor did I ever see him in person. It was sure fun to see him on the sideline, though. Some people are just larger than life, and for a guy who coached at a little eastern Kentucky university, he sure did make a name for himself.

    • David Patrick says:

      I’m a Motehead State alum too. I was a student when Dick was here. Good article. Dick certainly had his demons. Some of his players loved him. Some despised him. I know them personally. He did bring attention to himself and MSU. A life lived fully, but yet wasted by an addiction. Certainly gone too soon.

      • chris says:

        Awesome! Go Eagles! 🙂

      • Jeff Fick says:

        We really appreciate all the great comments that have been shared here and on Facebook…I would however like to address David Patrick I don’t know you and honestly never heard of you. If you know players that dispised him I would love to know tnames and I would be happy to share what I know about them. One comment you made was extremely false my Dads life was not wasted and unless you have ever been addicted I would venture to say you shouldn’t comment on those that have. My father through the good times and bad tought me so much about life and people, he raised two kids that have gone on to have families and successful and productive lives raising families of there own… It’s people like you that usually makes me stay away from blogs or articles about my DAD as often time people like you make comments with little or no actual facts.

        • Wendy Zapach says:

          I’m not one to leave a comment but remarkable people deserve others to make sure they are remembered accurately. My husband coached with Dick Fick in 90’s and learned a lot from him- being a dad, coach, man and overall good person. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet his wife and children, all similarly remarkable people and fully believe that coincidence wasn’t at work here. You don’t just get an amazing wife, intelligent son and loyal daughter, there are too many variables to guarantee that in anyway today- hopefully you don’t believe differently. That’s a different conversation.
          The Fick’s define what is right with America and I hope every bone in my body that this article and my little wing of support will allow Dick’s memory to remain alive. He made an impression. Don’t listen to the detractors. He was a funny, bright spot who loved basketball, life and people. That’s a lot to love. I hope my remarks quell nerves and bring focus to everything positive about Dick Fick- hopefully the cubbies win one tomorrow. #dickfick #morehtanjustagame #thankyoucoach

  2. Michael says:

    Touching blog. Crazy baseball love and booze and lives too short as so very many are now. Should be a fun series b

    • SDG says:

      I wonder how it feels to be a Cleveland fan, knowing that if you win the entire baseball fandom outside your city limits is going to be deeply, deeply, annoyed.

      • Brent says:

        Oh, I don’t know about that. I am sure that Cardinal Nation isn’t rooting for the Cubs. I suspect that Brew Crew Fans aren’t rooting for the Cubs. There are definitely some SouthSox Fans here in Chicago who would rather their city fall into Lake Michigan rather than see the Cubs win.

        As a non-Cubs fan who lives in Chicago, I can say that while it would be really nice for those families who have waited 108 years for a WS title to get one, there is a large minority of Cubs fans who are Cubs fans not by birth or inheritance but because they happen to live within a few blocks of the field. These are mostly 20-somethings who grew up in the Detroit or Cleveland burbs or Johnson County, Kansas and have their first job in Chicago. And knowing that their suffering is about as real as Donald Trump’s hair has me leaning toward Believeland for the World Series.

      • invitro says:

        The Cubs have already beaten their mammoth streak just by making the World Series. The Injuns have a massive streak too, for not winning one. Baseball fans everywhere should still be disappointed that the great 1990’s Injuns didn’t win one, especially to that satanic Marlins team in 1997. So let’s root on the Indians, that way toppling two fifty-plus-year streaks in one playoffs!

        • MikeN says:

          Crazy to think the Indians streak is almost as long as the Red Sox when they won.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          I agree; to me, the more remarkable thing about the Cubs is not going 108 years without winning a World Series, but going 71 years without even being in one. You would have thought they would blunder into one in that team.

          I’m disappointed the Indians didn’t win in 1997, but as a Braves fan, I was not disappointed they did not win in 1995.

          • invitro says:

            Thanks for the reply. I was a Braves fan then too, but in kind of a casual period (between two very fervent periods), so I didn’t get much out of it. Well, I was partying in college and doing a lot of dating so baseball took a back seat. I don’t know why I’m replying, I have nothing to add.

          • Kuz says:

            There is no such thing as an Atlanta Braves fan.

          • invitro says:

            There used to be.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            I was a nutty Braves fan back then-my wife was wondering what she got into. We got married during the 1991 World Series-no one expected the Braves to be in the World Series for god’s sake-and I spent the night of the 7th game in our hotel room in San Francisco watching the game while my wife went to a play with her cousin. My daughter had the courtesy to be born on the off-day in 1995 before the sixth game when the Braves beat the Indians to win the Series. My passion for the Braves has cooled considerably since then-partly because I live in DC and have the Nats-but there was a time.

          • invitro says:

            1991 is my favorite sports year ever. I started the year as a long-suffering Duke basketball fan (since 1985), and a mild Cubs fan. Duke won and I went crazy. I got an internship in the Research Triangle Park, lived at Duke, fell in love with it and Durham. I went to about eight Durham Bulls games, which were almost as fun as you’d think, and where I saw a pile of future Braves regulars. The Braves started getting attention that summer and I hopped on the bandwagon. When I returned to college everyone was on the wagon. They beat the Pirates and I went crazy again. I suffered a little due to Lonnie Smith and Jack Morris but it was all still unbelievable. I don’t know if people thought the Braves had just begun a long dynasty, but I know I was buying and selling Avery, Smoltz, Lemke, and Justice cards all over town.

  3. TS says:

    Dick Fick was an assistant at Creighton while Tony Barone was head coach. Always thought that was humorous.

  4. Chardon says:

    I live and love in Cleveland. Can I continue? Yeez. Thank you! I was introduced to tou column after your daughter saw Hamilton the Musical. I subscribed immediately and read ever column since. You write beautifully. You are correct. I have never heard of Coach Dick Fick but through you I feel as if I do. I can at least see him laying on the floor. You write so well. Ok so those Cubs and their fans are headed this way to do what? Win a game? Oh. Ok. A game. One game. I can see that. For Coach Fick. That’s fine. Because of Joe’s beautiful description of a man who was bigger than life and hopeful to the end we can afford to gift you one game. Congratulations.

  5. Chas Warkomski says:

    Didn’t know Dick sick but new the (Temple) Owl without a vowel, Bill Mlkvy

  6. Jeff Fixk says:

    Thank you for this….Much has been written about my dad both true and in true. I and my family appreciate that you captured the essence of who he was. Full of hope kindness and compassion not to mention ridiculous funny. I think about him everyday and how he would be calling me every minute saying Cubs are in the frickin World Series! I know that he is sitting with his buddies watching the game with a big grin on his face one that you would have had to see to understand….Thanks

    Jeff Fick ( PS he wanted to name me BOZO to make me tough) thank god for my MOM!

    • Nick Boggs says:

      I will join my brother-in-law in saying thanks for writiing this Joe! I’m pretty sure you have made a couple big guys shed at least a few tears today. I do know the words that will come out of Dick’s mouth as the Ump yells “play ball” tonight.
      “Are you f%#*ing s&%>ing me!!!”

      • Rebecca Fick says:

        Thank you very much for writing this article. I never had the honor of meeting my father-in-law. However I can say with much pride that his hope and spirit live in his four beautiful grandchildren….the older two in their amazing athletic ability…the younger two who know every word to Go Cubs Go at 7 and 4.

    • Ryan Kling says:

      This is nice article about your Dad. Hope all is well.

  7. Ryan Kling says:

    I was the Head Athletic Trainer at Morehead while Coach Fick was there in early 90’s so had the pleasure of working with him. Was on the bench for the Kentucky incident. I was an athletic trainer at Division 1 Universities for over 20 years. Coach Fick was undoubtedly one of the most colorful coaches I was with. I agree with your well written article; he did love his Chicago teams. I’m a Bears fan and we had many talks of the early Bears years on those long Ohio Valley bus trips. He was one of the most compassionate coaches I worked with. While he did enjoy the notoriety of the Fick award, etc. he told me many times he would rather have the players and team get the attention and not him. He had a great sense of humor and would always look out for his players and staff. I got to know his wife and children, even while Jeff was on the team. Thanks for writing this…. Brings back lot of good memories about Caoch, who was always full of life and eager to share a laugh. I’m sure he does have a good view of Wrigley through the clouds.

  8. Joe Hartlaub says:

    Great story! I was blessed to be on Coach Fick’s first two teams he coached at Aurora Centrl Catholic in Illinois. In his 2nd year we got 2nd in the Illinois Class A tourney! This began a 30+ year relationship with a man who loved sports especially Chicago sports! He will be looking down on all of us these next few weeks knowing his Cubbies will bring it home, this year! He is missed and forever loved!

  9. Pete June says:

    Dick Fick was a friend, a teammate, and yes, a drinking buddy. I knew Dick from 4th grade on. I offered him a job as a high school basketball coach in his later days and he said,”Yes Pete, that will be great”. He knew, but I did not, that he was in his final seconds of the final period of the game. And yes, as another said, he had a funny look. That’s because he had an 8 sided head. ……You had to be there. Thankfully, I was.

  10. invitro says:

    I have a trivia question for the Cubs fans. I’m sure you know that their 103-58-1 record this year is the best in the NL since the 2004 Cardinals. But the Pythagorean record of the 2016 Cubs is better than that of the 2004 Cards, and of all teams since them.

    Here’s the question: Who was the last team to have a better Pythagorean record than the 2016 Cubs? I do not believe anyone could get this right unless they happened to look it up earlier. (FWIW, many people, including me, think the Pyth record is a better judge of how good a team was than its actual record.)

    • invitro says:

      You’re not going to get this question right, so here’s a hint. The Dodgers had their best ever Pythagorean record two years before the team who is the answer to the question. But they didn’t reach the World Series. The team that did has something in common with the team who is the answer to the question.

    • invitro says:

      I totally screwed it up :(. I meant the best *NL* team. Oops.

    • PhilM says:

      1944 Cardinals, who were one of the best teams ever vs. their competition: run differential of +282, and the opposition were all bunched up, far behind. The #2 Pirates were a full 200 runs back, at +82. Not including WWII, in the NL you have go back to the 1909 Pirates . . . and Cubbies!

  11. Casie Castle says:

    I remember Dick Fick. I remember when they introduced him as MSU’s new basketball coach as I was an undergrad at the time. He was certainly a colorful character.

  12. Brian Milam says:

    I took my baseball recruiting visit to Morehead State in mid-November 1991 and as I was touring Johnson Arena, during practice mind you, I heard this loud and boisterous voice. “Coach Spaniol (MSU baseball coach) who ya got there?” Coach Fick stopped practice and walked up the stairs to where Spaniol, my dad, and I was standing. “I’m Dick Fick and you are?” I was in shock, first by his name, but also by the sheer joy he had on his face. The four of us started talking baseball for the next 15 minutes. He told me how he had been the winning pitcher on two JUCO national championship teams and how much he loved the game. Fast forward three years later and I am working a summer job at the Holiday Inn South in Louisville by the airport. It was around 2pm and I walked through the lobby and there stands Coach Fick. He was on a recruiting trip to Louisville to watch a 3-on-3 tournament which was a big deal back then. He stopped me and said, “Hey shortstop what are you doing here?!?” He didn’t remember my name, nor should he have” but I was excited he recongnized me and he knew I played shortstop. About 45 minutes later (2:45-ish) I saw him at the hotel bar, sitting by himself watching tv. It was dimly lit and I purposely walked up to him because he looked kinda sad. He asked me if I wanted a drink, he was having a beer, and I politely declined. We talked for about five minutes and I left to carry on my cleanup duties. An hour later he was still there and an hour after that and again around 5:30pm when I was ready to leave. I sat down next to him and we talked for about 30 minutes or so and I left. It was the last time I ever really spoke to him. I would see him at games, of course, but those were two extra special moments with one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, we know how the story ends, but he made me feel like a million bucks on those two days.

  13. Jason Falls says:

    I was a student assistant in the sports information department at Morehead State during Coach Fick’s run there. I got to travel with him a bit and have always cherished the time I had with him. Thank you for such a real and touching portrait of someone I consider a great man not realized by nearly enough. I loathe the Cubs, but if they win it all, I’ll be happy for Coach.

  14. MK says:

    I was an athlete while Coach Fick was there and he was really fun to watch and did bring fun attention to MSU! I will cheer for him!

  15. Christi Thomas says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a good man that loved his family, the Cubs and the game! He was a funny man! Those memories still make me smile. This brought back some good MSU memories. Go Cubs!

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