Chubbs grew up back in the days when guys were known by their nicknames. If he wasn’t being inducted into the 16″ Softball Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t have found out his real name is Rich Polfus. The retired trader tends bar at McGaffer’s, a neighborhood joint that’s a hotbed of 16″ softball. He will be honored at the Drury Lane, on April 26, for his four decades in the game, many of them as a highly successful player-manager.
As many tournaments that Chubb’s teams won over the years, it’s a loss that stands out as his career highlight. It was 1981 and his team the Takers was the last to qualify for the 32-team Forest Park tournament. Their first opponent was Otto’s – a powerhouse led by legendary pitcher Mike Tallo.
The teams took the field at 9:15 on a Friday. The Park was packed. Chubbs and his young upstarts led 7-6 going into the last inning. They lost in heart-breaking fashion, 8-7, on a two-run homer. Otto’s went on to slaughter every other team they faced on their way to taking the championship. After the loss, Chubbs felt like his team had, “Gone the distance with Ali.”
The Takers were from Chubb’s Oak Park neighborhood, with roots going back to 1973. It was a combination of players from Chubb’s parish, St. Catherine Siena and kids from Hawthorne School. They went on to take the CYO championship and win numerous high school titles.
During their college years, the Takers became legendary, winning championships at parks all over the northwest side of Chicago. Chubbs was first-basemen/manager throughout his career. He wasn’t a power hitter. His specialty was cutting the ball and dumping liners onto the outfield grass.
When his squad was later sponsored by the Louisville Slugger bat company, Chubbs helped design a Chicago-style 16″ softball bat. His team, now known as the Louisville Sluggers, competed at the national level. Their line-up featured three future Hall of Fame players. In fact, the Sluggers were inducted into the Hall as a team in 2007.
For fifteen years straight, they competed in the Forest Park tournament. Chubbs played on one championship team in 1995. By that time, though, 16″ softball had changed dramatically. Many of the neighborhood teams were gone, along with the neighborhood dives that had sponsored them.
Gone were the summer nights when hundreds would flock to a Chicago park to take in a game. Neighborhoods changed and the newcomers preferred other sports. A game that had been played by generations of fathers and sons fell into sharp decline. However, one element remained. From the very beginning, softball players supported charities like “Dollars for Diabetics.” This tradition continues: McGaffer’s annual “Christmas with a Cause” nets $10-$20,000 for the Loyola Burn Unit, Shriner’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. The tavern also supports the V.A. program for the blind and welcomes its patients to stop in for a beer.
Chubbs is the friendly presence they can find behind the bar. If anyone would like to hear him thank his old teammates and sponsors at the induction ceremony, they can call (630) 544-5049 for tickets. You can also see the Hall of Famer in action at Clyde Park in Cicero. He plays for a 50-and-over team. They haven’t lost in more than 50 games.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.