Mike Haley dies; original member of Left Field Bleacher Bums
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Mike Haley was part of a rowdy crew of Cub fans who carried on the time-honored baseball tradition of heaping verbal abuse on rivals. Then they refined their contempt by starting a tradition of throwing back “stinkin’ ” home run balls from opposing teams.
In other words, Mr. Haley was one of Wrigley Field’s original Left Field Bleacher Bums. The group sprang up in the 1960s when the Cubs were in the crawl space of the National League, and it evolved into a band of attention-getting pranksters complete with their own bugler.
They tried to distract MLB foes with personalized — and very personal — chants. If a player’s wife or girlfriend was rumored to be straying, “They knew the name of ‘The Other Guy’ and they had no problem with using the names,” said Ed Hartig, who writes for Vine Line, a Cubs fan magazine.
When they heard outfielder Lou Brock had musophobia — a fear of mice — a member brought white mice to Wrigley and loosed them on the field.
The Left Field Bleacher Bums chartered buses for road trips and loudly proclaimed their loyalty even when the odds were awful. When they visited Busch Stadium, “It was 40,000 Cardinal fans and 50 Cub fans,” said Mike Murphy, the group’s “Mad Bugler.”
“In 1969 the Bums went down to Atlanta, and Atlanta was just shocked,” Hartig said. “They were just abusing Chief Noc-a-Homa (the Atlanta Braves’ mascot) from morning to night. They never let up.”
The group is said to have started wearing yellow hard hats after an errant ball struck Mr. Haley.
Mr. Haley, 67, a North Sider who used to balance on a ballpark wall to lead the group in cheers, was buried in his Cubs cap and jersey after he died on Dec. 31 of complications from diabetes at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, said his sister, Deborah Data.
He was thrilled that he lived to see the Cubs win the World Series, she said.
The Left Field Bleacher Bums seemed to be a tighter group than their counterparts, the Right Field Bleacher Bums, according to Hartig. Some drank hard and gambled. “They were a society, in essence,” he said. “They were all about the same age, had the bullhorns and the bugles, the idea of ‘We don’t want other people’s home run balls’ — they were perfect for the ’60s.”
By the late 1960s, when the Cubs started winning with players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, the Left Field Bleacher Bums were “a happening,” Hartig said. “It was a place to be.”
Mr. Haley grew up in Hillside and went to St. Joseph High School in Westchester. His family often went to Cubs and White Sox games, but “Mike always preferred the Cubs,” his sister said.
“He was like a gentle giant. Funny ad-libs, jokes, everyone loved him,” Murphy said. “He was named vice president of the Bleacher Bums.”
At one time, MLB fans would never voluntarily reject a ball, even one hit by a rival team, according to Hartig.
“I can confirm that the practice of throwing back a ‘home run ball’ did originate in the bleachers of Wrigley Field,” Hartig said. “I wrote ‘a home run ball’ in quotes, as some of the Bums [were] quite creative — often throwing back a ball, but not necessarily the home run ball. The ball thrown back may have a message written on it . . . something such as ‘Get this pitcher out of the game.’ As well as much more colorful language.”
Murphy remembered one game where the LFBB tossed back a ball from Atlanta Brave Hank Aaron, the home run king. “We didn’t want the stinkin’ enemy’s home run ball,” he said. “We whipped it back and the crowd was stunned.”
Mr. Haley joined the Left Field Bleacher Bums after he returned from serving as a Marine radio specialist in the Vietnam era, his sister said. He studied at DePaul and Lewis universities and taught at Minooka Community High School, where he also coached football. Later, he worked as a food and beverage manager for Amtrak.
Services have been held.