25 Years Later, Elia Tape Lives On

25 Years Later, Elia Tape Lives On

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Pitchers and catchers for the Chicago Cubs are scheduled to report to Spring Traning today in Mesa, Arizona. The 2008 season marks 100 years since the last Cubs’ World Series championship. It’s also the anniversary of another remarkable moment for the team—25 years since former manager Lee Elia let a stream of expletives flow from his mouth, right into a tape recorder.

Related Web Extras:
Microphone or No Microphone? Lee Elia’s Side and Reporter Les Grobstein’s Side.

It was late April, 1983. A handful of reporters gathered in Lee Elia’s office at Wrigley Field. The Cubs just suffered a tough loss to the Dodgers, their 14th loss in the season’s first 19 games. And Elia was angry. Not at his players, at Cubs fans.

ELIA (then): What the BLEEP am I supposed to do? Go out there and let my BLEEP players get destroyed everyday and be quiet about it? For the BLEEP nickel dime people that show up? The mother BLEEP don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the BLEEP game. They ought to go out and get a BLEEP job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a BLEEP living. 85 percent of the BLEEP world’s working, and the other 15 come out here. A BLEEP playground for the BLEEP.

The version of the tape widely available on the internet continues like that for a good three minutes. Elia drops about 50 swear words, give or take.

The Cubs were expected to do well that year and some fans didn’t take the disappointment lightly. As the players walked up the third base line to what was then the entrance to the locker room…

GROBSTEIN: Fans starting throwing stuff and cussing out Keith Moreland, Larry Bowa.

That’s Les Grobstein, a sports reporter at the time for WLS Radio, who recorded the famous rant. Grobstein says when he and the other reporters starting asking Elia about the game, he went off.

GROBSTEIN: He was defending his players. He was defending his players and going to bat for them, and the players enjoyed the fact that he was backing them up. He had their back.

ELIA (now): I made some remarks that I swear to almighty God, why they came out of my mouth, I have no idea because I’ve never said them before, or since.

That’s Lee Elia, now 70 years old. He wants to make it clear he wasn’t angry at all Cubs fans, just those harassing his players.

ELIA (now): It’ll never be digested any other way than it sounds, and probably rightfully so, because I said what I said. The only thing that bothers me is I never ever would decimate the love and what the fans of Chicago are to the Chicago Cubs. That’s the thing that bothers me the most.

Elia wasn’t immediately fired after the tirade. He apologized at a press conference that night. The team actually started to play well for a while, before hitting a skid in August. That’s when Elia lost his job.

MUNSON: I am sure that if you had a gathering of Cubs fans at a banquet and you introduced Lee Elia, he would get a very warm reception, now, all these years later.

Lester Munson is a longtime Cubs fan, and Chicago-based journalist who works for ESPN. Munson says the tape’s a part of the loony history associated with the team, and baseball personalities in general.

MUNSON: You get a bunch of baseball writers together, they will play tapes of Tommy Lasorda, Lee Elia’s tirade and other various things that they carry around with them. It’s amazing to me.

But to a whole generation of web surfers, who couldn’t tell Lee Elia from Don Zimmer, the recording is just a funny addition to their MP3 collections. And to Elia, that reality, that’s crushing.

ELIA: After 49 years in baseball, and having been apart of a World Championship club and a coach in an All Star game and having managed two major league clubs and having been to post-season five times, you would think that maybe there was more to remember Lee Elia about than just one tough afternoon in Chicago.

But, he says, still has good feelings about Chicago - and good thoughts about Cubs fans.

ELIA: I mean, God knows. If there’s one pure thing in this industry, it is the fans of Chicago.

And 25 years after that day he’d rather forget, Lee Elia’s still in the game. He’s down in Arizona this week for spring training, an on-field consultant for the Seattle Mariners.