Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

May 31st, 1949

Charley Lupica Ascends Flagpole


This is one of those stories that everyone sort-of knows, but almost no one really knows. "Oh yeah, the nut who climbed up a flagpole and promised to stay there until the Indians won the pennant," that kind of thing. That's right and it’s wrong. Charley Lupica--no relation, so far as I know, to Mike--did indeed climb a flagpole and promise to sit there until the Indians won the pennant, but he wasn't really a nut anymore than I am for refusing to watch the first hour of Yankee playoff games (it brings them good luck, you see); he just did his nuttiness on a grander scale.

In 1948, the Indians had won the World Series (they've not won it since, as I'm sure you know) but were struggling a bit in 1949. On the morning of May 31st, as Charley ascended his post, the Indians were in seventh place, just 17-18 and seven games behind the first place Yankees.

Before we go any farther, however, a brief diversion into how Charley ended up there anyway. While the story may be apocryphal, legend has it that Lupica was sitting in a bar on May 30th when he heard another group of patrons knocking the Indians. Lupica went over to confront them and discovered they were Yankee fans. After some banter, Lupica finally got frustrated with Yankee fans in "his" town and challenged them: "if you hate the Indians so much, and love the Yankees, why don't you move to
New York?" The Yankee fans considered this for a moment and retorted: "if you love the Indians so much, why don't you sit on a flagpole until they're in first place?" From such humble beginnings are great ideas born, or at least crazy ones.

Lupica accepted the challenge and a sixteen foot pole was constructed with a little booth thing on top for Charley to sit in. Unfortunately for Charley, while the Indians did turn their season around, they would go 72-47 the rest of the way; it wasn't enough as both the Yankees and BoSox performed better, with the Yankees stealing the pennant from
Boston on the season's final weekend. All said, Lupica stayed in his perch for 117 days, missing (among other things) haircuts, doctor's appointments and the birth of his son (Mrs. Lupica must've loved that). Finally, on the season's last day the Indians paid to have Lupica strapped into his little booth and taken by truck to the "Mistake by the Lake," Municipal Stadium, where he descended from his perch in front of the home crowd.

Lupica would live until 2003, meaning he did get to enjoy the Indians 1954 111-win season (although I imagine he was less fond of the 0-4 defeat in the World Series) but then had to suffer through their forty year drought, plus the humiliation of being mocked in Major League. However, he get to see the Indians make the playoffs six times in the last eight years of his life, including two pennants, 1995 and 1997 although the latter ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Tribe. I like to think Charley Lupica is still rooting for the Indians to finally win him another World Series, and one can only assume he's doing it from a place more comfortable than the top of a flagpole.





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