Carol Haddon, Grand Lady of Wrigley Field

No one’s going to tattle on or disrespect Carol Haddon now.

The Grand Lady of Wrigley Field has come a long way from the sandlot near Am-Echad Synagogue in the East Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

“I was a real tomboy,” Haddon said of her mid-1950s days as Carol Ann Stern. “I’d play sports with the boys. I used to play football by the temple before (Hebrew School) class. Rabbi Melvin Rush called my mom to tell her I was getting ‘too mature’ to play with the boys.”

Now any rabbi with the slightest interest in sports will bow and scrape to Haddon to sit with her at the Friendly Confines. Plenty “mature” at 75, Glencoe resident Haddon has front-and-center views as the senior Cubs season ticket holder, her perch next to the home dugout, her latest vantage point after first committing for 81 games in 1971. No other individual has held onto tickets consecutively as long as Haddon.

Her entrée to the entire season was initially viewed from a first-row seat by the visitors’ on-deck circle. Leo Durocher was still managing the Cubs, Ken Holtzman pitched the second of his two no-hitters, Ernie Banks was still an active player and Fergie Jenkins enjoyed his Cy Young Award season with 24 wins and 30 complete games in 39 starts.

Haddon’s two seats each cost $3.50 per game. On the day of a reporter’s recent visit, her ticket – lower due to “dynamic pricing” for a weekday game in April – was listed as $91.84 with tax. Haddon pays $13,000 per season each for seats 103 and 104 in Row 1 in Aisle 14.

Haddon was in a shakedown phase for her seats. The Cubs had excavated sacred Wrigley ground to dramatically increase the size of the dugout, cutting into foul territory, while moving the whole shebang further away from home plate.

Haddon’s seats for the past decade-plus had been behind the old dugout’s exit to the clubhouse. “The players all stood in front of me, so you could talk to them,” she recalled. Now her seats are re-positioned behind a camera well next to the dugout.

Haddon called to manager Joe Maddon, who nodded in acknowledgement. “Anthony, I miss you!,” she shouted at Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ disabled first baseman, who was too far away to hear. “Javy, that was a nice day,” was directed at two-home-run producer Javy Baez, who briefly appeared in the camera well. Baez did not look up.

Any tag-along time with Haddon is spent with her meeting and greeting old friends at Wrigley Field. As she entered the ballpark through the new western entrance, she hugged and shook hands with ushers, vendors and other fans. Everybody knows her.  Her near-eternal presence at Clark and Addison is the product of two disparate historical timelines.

Parents Ruth and Rudolph Stern escaped Dusseldorf, Germany before the Holocaust. Interestingly, the city tried to make amends by inviting back its exiled Jews and their descendants, including Haddon, long after World War II.

After fleeing Germany, Rudolph Stern detoured to Palestine for a short while, working as a police officer, before coming to the United States and marrying Ruth. Away from the world’s strife, the couple settled in Chatham, where Carol was one of the first girls in the neighborhood to have a bat mitzvah in 1955.

Ruth Stern passed up Comiskey Park, just seven miles north, to make the long bus-and-L journey with her daughter and a family friend to Wrigley Field to see the young, budding superstar Banks and many lesser lights among the drooping 1950s Cubs. “Day baseball at Wrigley Field,” Haddon said of the impetus of their journeys. The Wrigley ownership had long attracted female fans to the matinees via Friday’s free Ladies Days and otherwise reasonably-priced tickets.

After moving to Skokie in high school, Haddon attended the University of Illinois with eventual husband Jimmy Haddon, an attorney. The couple had two children, Todd and Julie. Todd Haddon is an Arizona podiatrist, while Julie Haddon is a second-generation sports aficionado, starting in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office and now senior vice president of marketing for NFL Media.

Carol Haddon worked as a teacher, but then shucked the workaday world to boost her Cubs. She did not buy season tickets in 1969 as attendance skyrocketed for the Durocher-led contenders. Using her social graces, Haddon got wired into the Cubs ticket office, who provided her with prime seats on a daily basis. On cold days in the early season, she’d duck into the office for a “hot toddy.”

The season-ticket base was still in the low-thousands as Phil Wrigley kept more than 22,000 seats available for day-of-game sale only.  So when making the plunge in 1971, she was able to score first-row seats. Over the years, she became friends with many visiting players, led by Pete Rose and Ozzie Smith.  

Rose might have been Haddon’s all-time No. 1 favorite if he had not held out so long admitting his gambling sins. Thus “Wizard of Oz” shortstop Smith, a member of a Hall of Fame still barred to Rose, became her No. 1 all-time favorite.

“On Ozzie’s last trip to Wrigley Field as a Cardinal, he gave me his jersey,” Haddon said.

As a season-ticket holder, Haddon endured the long slog in the Cubs’ World Series wilderness that for her exceeded Moses’ Sinai wanderings by five years. From her seat by the on-deck circle, she had a direct-on view toward Steve Bartman’s deflection of a foul ball five outs from the Fall Classic destination in 2003.

“I thought it was fan interference,” she said.

Haddon never gave up hope through the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction Cubs flops.

“I just figured it would happen,” she said. “I never believed in that jinx or curse stuff.”

Fittingly, as the Cubs were moments away from clinching the 71-years-deferred World Series berth on Oct. 22, 2016 against the Dodgers, Fox cameras focused on Haddon standing at her seat. Her eyes glistened, the sentimentality of the long journey lubricating with the joy of victory.

Everything changes, from the outrageous price on her tickets to Chicago police in battle gear patrolling a blocked-off Clark Street while cradling automatic weapons after games. But Haddon is not going anywhere, a firm reminder that history and the memory of more quaint times can never be cast aside at Wrigley Field.


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