This Cubbie Life

Credit: Kelsey Bjelland
Wrigley Field, from the best seat in the house.

He seems like an ordinary guy. He sits on the lakeshore at lunch, sometimes with a fishing pole. He mows the lawn every day at the same time, maybe every other day when it’s too hot. He also likes the Chicago Cubs, a lot. You could even say it’s his life. And when you hear that he has been to some 1,700 games, not as an attendee but as the scoreboard operator, you realize that Rick Fuhs is not your average guy, but someone quite extraordinary.

From his post atop Wrigley Field, just above the press box, Fuhs has been using the seventy-three-year-old electromagnetic scoreboard to keep track of balls, strikes, hits and errors for the Cubs since 1989. Born and raised in Chicago, Fuhs (pronounced FEWS) is a lifelong Cubs fan. He spent his childhood watching baseball games on television, cheering for his home team. At age eighteen, Fuhs became the groundskeeper at Wrigley Field, and a few years later, took on the position of scoreboard operator. Fuhs, who is fifty-one, remembers missing only two games in his career. During a game in 1991, he left in the 4th inning to see his daughter born. “I made it there just in time,” he says.

Credit: Kelsey Bjelland
Rick Fuhs doesn't play, but if he did, only two players would have been to more consecutive games: Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig.

Because he works next door to the radio station, Fuhs has met various celebrities throughout the years – Ozzy Osbourne, Kenny Chesney and Lindsey Vonn, to name a few. He once reminded Russell Crowe not to smoke in the hallway, and thinks he may have been responsible for Jeff Gordon’s big slip-up in 2005. “I met him in the hallway and said, ‘How about this stadium?’” Fuhs recalls. (Moments later, Gordon famously referred to the field as “Wrigley Stadium” and was booed by fans.) “He caught a lot of flak for that.”

Fuhs has also garnered some celebrity attention for himself. Baseball broadcaster Harry Caray, who called Fuhs “the best scoreboard operator in 50 years of baseball,” once put up a split screen during a game, with one camera pointed on the field and the other on Fuhs. He is well-known among players, too. Trevor Hoffman, relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, has a ball signed by Fuhs on his mantle. “I tried to get $20 out of it, but he wouldn’t pay me!” Fuhs says.

Not only do people know Fuhs, but Fuhs knows people. He has a “little black book” of all the umpires in the league, with pencil-scribbled notes smudged across the pages. Pointing to a photo of Tim McClelland, who umpired during Sammy Sosa’s corked bat fiasco in 2003, Fuhs describes him as the toughest guy to read. “When McClelland’s doing it, I just stay in the night before,” he jokes.

The players are used to seeing Fuhs around the field, where he works from 8 a.m. to about an hour after the game ends, sweeping out home plate, adding new clay and watering it down in preparation for the next day. It’s nearly the same thing he’s done since the team first hired him several decades ago.

In the off-season, Fuhs kills time by selling antique rugs at a shop in Evanston, Ill., a suburb north of Chicago. He spends the winter shooting the breeze with customers, selling and delivering $50,000 rugs to collectors like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and of course, awaiting the start of baseball season.

Despite keeping score for more than two decades, Fuhs has yet to experience a World Series. (The last time the Cubs made it was in 1945.) But regardless of how his team performs, there’s one thing that’s for sure: Fuhs has never gone to work a day in his life. “I would do this for nothin’,” he says with a grin.