Steve Stone sees all. That’s a bit of hyperbole, sure, but the statement fits a man with a reputation for being as astute as any baseball analyst in the broadcasting business. Those who have listened to Stone on either, or both, sides of town over the past three and a half decades know him for having a keen eye, a sharp mind, a bone-dry wit, a highly opinionated nature and — most germane to this story — a knack for predicting things before they happen. Call it an extrasensory gift.
Speaking of seeing, it somehow seemed just perfect that Stone, 71, leisurely perused a menu at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in River North after a recent White Sox game while the reporter who was his dinner companion resorted to illuminating his own menu with an iPhone flashlight. Stone doesn’t wear glasses or contacts. He hasn’t had corrective eye surgery. His vision: again, just perfect.
And by the way, no, the ever-handsome Stone — 71 hardly seems possible — hasn’t had a facelift or any other plastic surgery. He simply looks head-to-toe terrific, though perhaps not smoldering enough to pose for a second time in Playgirl magazine, as he did in 1985. Stone is complimented on his appearance often enough that he has a ready quip for such occasions.
“I appreciate the fact that people come up to me and tell me I look really good,” he said. “I always tell them they probably need to get their eyes checked or quit hanging out in these dark rooms. And then I tell them how you really maintain looking good — you never meet anybody for breakfast.”
My, how Stone cherishes having a stellar quip in his holster. (On the Playgirl shoot: “My mother wanted pictures of me out of uniform.”) He has a real thing for delivering the occasional opinion with the delicate force of a battering ram, too. “The most direct person I know,” dear friend and longtime partner in the restaurant business Rich Melman calls him. Stone’s directness has been both friend and foe in his dealings in baseball and business. In the form of on-air criticism — justified, for those scoring at home — it famously led to his breakup with the Cubs after the 2004 season.
“I have found that I can make lots of enemies just going about my day-to-day business, because I am very direct,” he said. “I honestly don’t have time to bullshit people, so what I tell them is my version of the truth. It doesn’t necessarily always mean that it’s 100 percent correct, but I’m not telling them something that I don’t believe in. They can either accept it or not. I have friends who understand: I’m very honest, I’m very direct.”
And the quick-draw quip: “I’m never going to win the Henry Kissinger diplomacy award.”
But there’s burying the lead, and then there’s whatever is happening here — because we’ve gone far enough, and then some, in this story without getting to the heart of the matter. And that is that Stone isn’t merely a guy with God-given eyesight, total confidence in what he believes and an uncanny ability to stay a step ahead of the action on the field. Indeed, there’s more to it than that.
“I’m psychic,” he said.
“I’ve been psychic my whole life. It sounds really strange, and, if I play it up, people will laugh because nobody’s always right. I know it sounds strange, but I really know what’s going to happen.”
As Stone said this, a cheer went up from servers gathered around a nearby table.
“All right! Let me hear you! It might be, it could be, it is! Happy birthday! Holy cow!”
It was an amateur-hour impression of Stone’s former broadcast partner of 14 years, truth be told. Harry’s old sidekick didn’t bat an eye.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “People love it. Besides, I know it’s coming.”
According to Stone, he’ll predict things on-air only about 10 percent of the times when he knows what’s about to happen. Many such things he’ll keep to himself because they don’t portend positive outcomes for the Sox, and why invite viewers to blame the messenger? On other such occasions, he’ll jot down his premonitions to be shared only with play-by-play man Jason Benetti.
Stone wasn’t reticent — at all — about voicing a psychic moment during his very first Sox broadcast. It was 2007, and he was to sit in for six games in the chair of color man Darrin Jackson, who was on leave for the birth of a child. The Sox were in the 13thinning of a game against the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field when Stone told WGN director Jim Angio to get him a shot of shortstop Juan Uribe in the on-deck circle.
“The game ends with the man you’re looking at,” Stone told longtime play-by-play man Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.
“Yeah? Uribe? Is that your prediction?” a dubious Harrelson replied.
“No,” Stone said. “That’s what’s going to happen.”
Uribe — who had never hit a walk-off home run as a major leaguer — stepped up to the plate and drove a fastball from reliever Aaron Fultz over the wall in left-center.
A more current example came in the third game of this season, a 6-3 Sox victory in Kansas City in which starting pitcher Lucas Giolito entered the seventh inning with a no-hitter. With the Royals’ Alex Gordon on deck, Stone grabbed a scrap of paper, wrote “no-hitter over with Gordon” on it and placed it between himself and Benetti.
“Now, I can’t predict Alex Gordon is going to break it up on my air, because then everybody’s going to hate me because I’m going to be responsible for Lucas Giolito giving up a hit,” Stone said. “Giolito gets the first guy out, Gordon comes up, the count is 2-2, he fouls off I don’t know how many pitches and then singles to center field.
“So I showed [the paper] to Jason. He just knows.”
With some reservation, Benetti, Stone’s TV partner since 2016, confirms this.
“I am not a huge believer in the extra-sensory,” Benetti said. “However, at points it is difficult for me not to be, because there are times when Steve will, before something happens, take a piece of paper and write down what’s going to happen. I see him do it. After the play, he will flip it over and it will be what happened. I’m a skeptic about a lot of things like that, but it’s hard not to get a little bit of a tingle down your arm when somebody does something like that as frequently as he does.”
How often has this sort of exchange taken place? Buckle up, non-believers.
“It’s not a couple of times in three seasons-plus,” Benetti said. “It’s a couple dozen times. I have no idea what haunts his soul, lives in his brain. Somebody in Hollywood has missed out on optioning a film about this. I’m hard to convince about this, but I’ve seen it enough that I can believe that he sees things.”
Benetti called Stone “Shaman Steve” in a recent video posted to Twitter. Incredibly — believably? — he claims Stone has yet to be wrong with one of his paper tricks, and that he’d have spotted any botched prediction in this regard because the space between them in the booth is a matter of inches, not feet.
“He’s got a lot of occult in him,” Benetti said. “I’m weirded out by it, but I also kind of adore it. Of all the people I’ve met, I would say he’s the most likely to be psychic.”
Stone has some rebel in him, too. The big leagues got its first taste of it during spring training in 1971, when Stone was competing for a spot on the Giants roster and some guy by the name of Willie Mays thought a 5-foot-10 nobody should chill a little with his mid-90s fastballs during batting practice. Stone had the unmitigated gall to tell Mays to get the hell out of the cage if he didn’t like it. He became the team’s No. 3 starter, behind future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, as a rookie.
Those who know Stone well have heard all the stories about his rebelliousness. As a pitcher, he split from the Cubs over a heated contract dispute and a strong disagreement about a shoulder injury. As an aspiring restauranteur, he traded ultimatums with Melman before being brought into the fold of what has become a massive Lettuce Entertain You success story. As a broadcaster, he ticked off then-Cubs manager Dusty Baker, general manager Jim Hendry and assorted players (again, justifiably) to his own detriment. As an aspiring baseball executive, he has scrapped for jobs and — though he someday may fight again — come up on the short end.
A pair of marriages have gone south, too, but that’s neither here nor there.
“I’m a very gregarious person who really enjoys being alone,” Stone said.
But Stone always has been a step ahead of the action on and off the field. He was an unrecognizable Sox newcomer in 1973 when he dropped into Melman’s first restaurant — R.J. Grunts in Lincoln Park — and requested the simple favor of being taught the business. Melman shooed him away. Naturally, Stone went to work for a competitor. By the time he again darkened Melman’s office door, a 45-year relationship, which includes 29 restaurants in which Stone has an ownership stake, was about to begin.
For some reason, Stone — the son of working-class parents in suburban Cleveland — saw steaks, pasta and dollar signs in his future as surely as he would believe in the healing ability of his body when the Cubs tried to convince him to undergo shoulder surgery during the 1976 season. Call it a psychic intervention, but Stone refused the knife then, putting his career in seeming peril.
So what did he do instead? Shut down as his injured rotator cuff healed, Stone rebelled. He played outfield on Melman’s 12-inch softball team at Crown Park in Evanston. He played fastpitch at Melman’s grammar school in Logan Square, firing a rubber ball at a square strike zone spray-painted onto the schoolyard wall. He even threw pitches off a makeshift mound in what would become the dining room of the swanky Pump Room.
“We lost our ass the first year of the Pump Room,” Melman said. “But I’ll never forget laughing watching Steve pitch in there.”
Stone had one of the most loyal friends in his life in Melman, whom he likens to Sox boss Jerry Reinsdorf on the loyalty-o-meter. He also had a premonition: His finest hour in the big leagues was yet to come. He would win 27 games in 1977 and ’78 in his second tour with the Sox before a 40-21 stint — including a 25-7 Cy Young season in 1980 — with the Orioles.
“It took me until later in my career to understand that I couldn’t get any bigger, couldn’t get any stronger, couldn’t throw any harder, couldn’t really throw any better,” Stone said. “So what I had to do was figure something out, and that was the mental approach to the game. I didn’t think I was going to win. I knew I was going to win.”
Stone is dead serious about this whole psychic thing.
“Let me give you a life philosophy of mine,” he said. “I believe there was a time in our history, in our development as human beings, when everyone had a psychic sense, but it was before we developed language skills. Let’s say you and I as cavemen, or primitives, we come across a sabertooth tiger. I don’t know you, you don’t know me. I’ve got to decide instantly: If we kill this tiger, can we split it down the middle and take it back to our families? Or will I help you kill the tiger, then you kill me and you take the whole thing back to your family? I’ve got to figure out if you have a black hat or a white hat, and I’ve got to figure it out immediately. I try to listen to the inner voice.”
As Stone wrapped up this analogy, he eyed an approaching couple. They were Cubs fans from Madison, Wis., by way of northern Illinois and hoped for a hello, a handshake and maybe even a quick photo. Stone kindly and charmingly obliged on all counts.
“What are you in town for?” he asked.
To see “Hamilton,” was the answer.
“It’s about Josh Hamilton, isn’t it?” Stone quipped. “The center fielder?”
The husband told Stone he’d grown up watching him call Cubs games on WGN and still considered him the best there is. He asked Stone how the 2019 Cubs, off to a slow start, will fare. Stone drolly pointed out that he covers that other team in town, but then suddenly stopped kidding around.
“The Cubs are going to be good,” he said. “They’re going to win a lot of games. They’re going to be the best third-place — maybe second-place — team in baseball.”
How much longer will Stone keep doing the job he has done for essentially his entire post-playing career? The answer to this is one thing he doesn’t see coming. His contract will be over at season’s end.
“I really don’t know at this point,” he said. “I love baseball. I love broadcasting. I like the baseball life. I’ve always liked it. Traveling is not easy, but we travel the best way you can possibly travel, which is by charter. We stay at nice hotels, and that part of it is good. I will have to make a determination on what I would like to do, and see if it coincides with what [the Sox] would like to do.
“When I was a player, I told myself that I would play as long as it was fun and that I would hope I had the good sense to leave before they would ask me. And that’s how I feel about broadcasting.”
A few years back, Stone dropped from about 200 pounds into the low 170s, a change that did wonders for what long had been an achy back. He hasn’t had alcohol in nearly 20 years. He didn’t do these things because he wanted to look good. He did them because he wanted to be good at whatever he enjoyed doing for as long as possible.
Whenever that ends? Just about anything could await him. And by anything, we mean anything.
“I’ve always been a believer in reincarnation,” he said. “It seems to be the only thing that makes sense to me.”
Reincarnation, too? That’s quite another abstract topic to chew on.
“The extrasensory stuff, I was going to write a book about that, about all my experiences, because they’ve been unusual,” he said. “But I didn’t want to do it because I know I’m a rational, sane person, but if I would explain everything that has happened to me, I have a feeling there would be some people who would doubt my rationality or my sanity.”
Maybe the right time will come around. When it does, chances are Stone already will have begun writing.