Oldest living Cubs fans relish World Series berth after decades
Styrlund, 105, stayed up past bedtime to hear club clinch NL pennant
By Mark Newman
Raymond Styrlund goes to sleep around 9 o'clock each night, but Saturday was different.
One of the oldest living Cubs fans, born in 1911 and now 105 and as sharp as a Javier Baez liner, Styrlund listened to all of the radio broadcast of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. He sat up in his bed at his assisted living center in East Moline, Ill., restless energy coursing through his veins as Anthony Rizzo caught that baseball three hours east in Chicago to secure the first Cubs World Series berth since 1945.
Styrlund remembered all of those years, flickers of light in the memory banks. The 1938 pennant season, Gabby Hartnett's "Homer in the Gloamin'," working at night and walking over to Wrigley Field from his nearby California Terrace apartment to see Dizzy Dean and an occasional day game. Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse were the soundtrack of his life. Santo to Beckert to Banks. Flying the W and dealing with the setbacks.
"It was too exciting to go to sleep," Styrlund said on Sunday after a sumptuous celebration repast of eggs, toast, donut and fruit. "I'd kind of given up hope the way it was going over the years. That's why I stayed up. I had to find out if they could do this. I've been waiting a long time. I couldn't believe it.
"Then I was here all by myself, so I tried to go to sleep, but it took quite a while after going through all of that. It had to sink in."
The 112th World Series is the Longest Wait Series, with Chicago hoping to win it all for the first time since 1908 and Cleveland hoping to do so for the first time since '48. Many people are thinking not only of their own endurance as loyal fans, but also of loved ones who passed the game on to them and did not live to see this Fall Classic. Many people want to know what centenarians know.
"They're gonna win this time," Styrlund promises. "They'd better, because I can't wait another 100 years."
Neither can Mavis Bell, 107, of DeKalb, Ill. She has lived the last 22 years at the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, flying a "W" flag on the door of her room, wearing Cub socks and her trademark home Cubs jersey with the No. 107 on the back.
Like Styrlund, she is soaking in the moment with friends and family. Bell was born in 1909, the year after the Cubs won their last World Series title, and she is the oldest known Cubs fan, according to her grandson, who notified MLB.com on Sunday night.
"It seems like the whole place is for the Cubs now," Bell told the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. "I've waited my whole life for them to win."
Styrlund was born in Viking, Minn., a wide spot in the road near the Canada and North Dakota border. It was one week before President William Howard Taft allowed Arizona and New Mexico to join the 46-state union, and a week after Lucille Ball was born. At that point, the Cubs had just appeared in four of the last five World Series, the first dynasty in modern Major League Baseball.
There was no Cubs blood in Styrlund yet, though, but baseball came early.
"They talk about waiting for a Cubs World Series. A lot of it is luck, you know," Styrlund said. "When they swing that bat, you don't know. You might hit it. I played a lot of baseball, so I know. You swing at it, you hit it or you don't.
"I lived in a small town, and we had a team that played different towns. There were no leagues. It was just competition. I was average. I played first base a lot. Back then, they didn't have the funds to do anything, to go anywhere. You're in the Depression. The towns around there, smaller cities, they all had a team, and we just compete against each other."
In 1937, Styrlund moved to Chicago with his wife, who had gone to nursing school there and had just taken a job. He started working in the evenings at Railway Express, handling freight.
"I was working in the evenings, and back then, they didn't have any lights at Wrigley, you know, so it was all day games," Styrlund said. "So I'd go over there in the daytime to see the game and go to work in the evening. I wasn't too far from it."
There are no scorecards and only blurry memories from that '38 season, when the Cubs were swept by the vaunted Yankees in the World Series. Styrlund remembers getting to watch Dean on one of those trips to the Friendly Confines. Perhaps because that is how normal it was to have a World Series played at Wrigley Field back then; nothing like right now.
A few years later, Styrlund moved back to Minnesota. That was his only window of life as a Wrigley neighbor and visitor. He witnessed the invention of radio and television, and then relied on both of those media as his link to the Cubs, right up until the final double play on Saturday.
"I was working at a gas station up there in Minnesota, and I had a brother-in-law who was down here in Moline, and he called me and said, 'I know where you can get a gas station down here,'" Styrlund recalled. "So I came down and looked at it and took it, so I had a gas station in the Quad Cities [region]. Then the war came, and I went to the shop down there and ended up there. Reynolds Engineering in Rock Island, that's where I retired."
Styrlund retired 40 years ago.
At the age of 65.
"I've been very healthy all my life," Styrlund said. "My mother was 100 when she passed away, and she had a brother who was 104, and my dad had a sister who was 100, so there were long livers on both sides. We had one fellow here in Rock Island, he died at 115. I'm shooting for 115."
Seven years ago, Styrlund lost his beloved wife of so many years. They had been at the same assisted living center, and now he gets around there pretty well by himself and his helpers. With macular degeneration, he sees little, just enough of objects to move around. He hears just fine. He is not big on people "fussing" about him, but he does like to talk about the Cubs.
"I'm not so steady anymore, my legs give out," Styrlund said. "Sometimes I use my walker, and I also have a wheelchair. I like to use the walker more because I want to keep my legs going. My eyes have gotten so bad that I can't read anything. I see enough to take care of myself and get around, but I don't dare to go out. You'll find out when you get to 105."
Styrlund got there on Aug. 14. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts received a note from Ron Bjork, Styrlund's son-in-law, a diehard Cardinals fan in Moline, where there has always been community conflict over the vaunted Cubs-Cards rivalry. In this case, blood and baseball are what matters. Bjork told the Cubs about Raymond's birthday, on the day of a Cubs-Cards game no less, and said it would be nice if the Cubs could wish Raymond a happy 105th.
Ricketts' office passed along the note to the Cubs' broadcasting team. During the fourth inning of that day's WSCR radio broadcast, longtime radio play-by-play broadcaster Pat Hughes said, "There is a great Cub fan by the name of Raymond Styrlund, who is 105 years old today. ... I know nothing would make Raymond happier than a Cubs win here tonight against the Cardinals."
The Cubs lost that day, but they finished 17 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals to win the NL Central, eliminated the Giants in four in the NL Division Series, then were tested but able to finally clinch the NL pennant in six against Los Angeles.
"His wish was to see the Cubs in the World Series," Bjork said. "He never said they had to win it."
But make no mistake. Styrlund picks the Cubs in seven.
"You never know, we'll see how it goes," Styrlund said. "There was always next year. But if they win the World Series, they're gonna go wild in Chicago. And, well, then I have accomplished all I want."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.