For Steve Stone, White Sox baseball isn’t the only thing missing from the usual menu
The longtime TV analyst has ownership stakes in over 30 restaurants — all of which remain, as the coronavirus pandemic persists, closed to diners. Stone worries: Will thousands of employees be OK?
A phone call this week found White Sox TV color analyst Steve Stone in a location familiar to all Chicagoland residents: a Portillo’s drive-thru.
Only this one was in Arizona, where Stone is lying low these days at his offseason abode. The Phoenix area is home to three restaurants in the hotdog chain.
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter: There were two sandwiches — a Big Beef (plain and dry) and a Broiled Chicken (plain, with mayo on the side) — involved, to say nothing of the large Coke with which he presumably would wash it all down.
This was exciting stuff.
“Your total is $17.36,” the order-taker dutifully imparted.
Stone, 72, answered in the only manner a man who never isn’t funny could.
“Oh, yes, 1736 — that was a very good year.”
Who’s better than this guy?
Put another round of laughs on the board for Stone, who has been broadcasting Sox games since 2008 after a 22-season run as a voice of the Cubs. But the restaurant game hasn’t been kind of late to Stone, who has ownership stakes in over 30 restaurants — all of which remain, as the coronavirus pandemic persists, closed to diners.
Coupled with baseball being on hold, that’s a pretty big double-whammy. But Stone’s concern is for others.
“I think of all the people who work for us,” he said. “What are those people going to do?”
In 1973, Stone, then a newcomer to the Sox as a pitcher, popped into R.J. Grunts in Lincoln Park and asked proprietor Rich Melman to teach him the business. The pair began working together not long after that, in the dawn of an enormous Lettuce Entertain You success story.
Stone estimates there are at least 2,500 employees in his restaurants.
“What’s going on doesn’t affect my lifestyle,” he said, “but I feel for all the people who have been so loyal to us over the years. We have a lot of employees. Many are not in good financial shape. They work very hard, but when you’re not making tips?”
That’s a game changer. Melman, whom Stone calls “one of the most caring human beings I’ve ever seen,” has poured money into an account in an effort to keep employees afloat. But these are tenuous times for all involved.
“I think it’s inevitable that we’ll have to close some of the restaurants,” Stone said. “But it’s just one of those things you do. Our main goal is when the restaurants come back, they come back healthy.”
Baseball would be nice, too.
“I miss it like crazy,” he said.
Don’t we all?
Adam Amin, come on down?
Consider Amin, 33, who has been calling games in a variety of sports for ESPN since he was only 24, a strong possibility to replace Neil Funk as the lead play-by-play announcer on Bulls telecasts.
Jason Benetti, Lisa Byington and Amin, among others, have subbed for Funk, 73, as the Bulls voice of 29 years neared retirement. Amin — who also has called some Bears preseason games — was born and raised in Addison, lives downtown and would be a terrific hire.
• A serious tip of the helmet to former Illinois running back Kameno Bell, who is making a world of difference on the front lines of the coronavirus battle as an emergency physician at New Jersey’s Hackensack University Medical Center.
Bell, 51, starred at Whitney Young and was a preferred walk-on at Illinois, where he worked his way up to team MVP in 1991. That season, he led the Illini with 664 yards and eight touchdowns as a runner and added 503 yards as a receiver. He was a 12th-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1992 but ended up going to med school — a mighty fine choice.
Full disclosure: I was a year behind him at Whitney Young, where I attended seventh and eighth grades in the school’s Academic Center, and we had a couple of classes together. If only I’d have known then, I could’ve thanked him in advance for all the good he’s doing.
• Is it June 14 yet?
“Long Gone Summer” will air on ESPN that night, and I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to the documentary chronicling the cartoonish home-run race between the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire in 1998.
Bring your own galoshes in case the BS runs extra-deep.
• Another documentary is in the works featuring the national-champion Loyola basketball team of 1963 and the Final Four Ramblers of 2018. Now that’s a winning idea. Filmmakers Christine O’Malley and Patrick Creadon, both Chicago natives, are behind the project. Details on distribution and release date are coming soon.
• According to my scorecard, Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance” beat the daylights out of Episodes 1 and 2, which were far better than Episodes 5 and 6. I guess what I’m saying is last Sunday’s two hours lowered the bar for the hugely popular 1990s Bulls documentary series.
Like I have anything better to do than to continue obsessively watching.
• Perhaps you’ve heard, but ESPN is now in the KBO business — as in, televising Korean Baseball Organization games. Not surprisingly, many of my colleagues in the sports media are responding publicly with giddy declarations of their intentions to voraciously follow the goings-on in Seoul, Busan, Daegu and so on.
How many of them will actually sit through an entire game, let alone a bunch of them? I wonder.
Just wake me from my Netflix reverie when it’s over.