At last, a place in Chicago that pays attention to sports!
Not buying it? A little overwhelmed at times — especially during the playoffs — by all the city's sports chatter? Tired of the seemingly unceasing hum that forces even the most bookish among us to discuss the Bulls' lack of offense or the Blackhawks' lack of discipline?
It's a fair point. City finances are a disaster, economic inequality rages on, yet the higher proportion of the populace seems much more worked up about the ups and downs of our men in athletic uniforms.
Still, for all the jockiness — jockularity? — that Chicago insists on, there hasn't been a place yet quite like the new Chicago Sports Museum, an engaging curio collection in a shopping mall. It's located a few stories directly above the Water Tower Place's Adidas store, just around the corner from The Finish Line, yet also sports its own gift shop.
The museum is the realized dream of Grant DePorter, CEO of the Harry Caray's restaurant chain and a man who will tell you with pride that he's been featured as an "ultimate memorabilia collector" on "60 Minutes Sports," which is either a series on Showtime or what "60 Minutes" would have been if it had been based in Chicago.
DePorter, you may recall, is the guy who bought — and blew up — the infamous "Bartman ball," the one that fan Steve Bartman touched from the stands during the 2003 baseball playoffs, preventing Cubs left fielder Moises Alou from catching a foul ball for an out and somehow also stopping shortstop Alex Gonzalez from fielding a double-play ball two batters later that would have ended the inning.
A big fan of the sports lore that involves curses and jinxes, DePorter then cooked fragments of that ball into a spaghetti sauce that was supposed to lift the curse that hangs over the North Side baseball franchise. It is, perhaps, a slow-acting sauce. It is also a reminder that ordering spaghetti at Harry Caray's might not be the best idea.
In any event, DePorter now has his Chicago Sports Museum, an 8,000-square-foot space adjacent to the new Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch restaurant on the seventh floor of the vertical mall. Restaurant patrons get in free. Others pay $6.
What they'll see is an interesting combination of sports-themed interactive activities, Chicago sports uniforms and other memorabilia, and some of the curiosities DePorter has collected, including, no kidding, stitches, bought on eBay, that Blackhawks winger Andrew Shaw had put in his face during a Hawks playoff game.
Built out where Lord & Taylor and California Pizza Kitchen used to be, at a cost of "between $12 million and $14 million, not counting the memorabilia," DePorter said.
The project adds another tourist attraction to North Michigan Avenue and gives Water Tower a little variety. Man cannot live by Melman and Hollister alone.
More important to the Caray's chain, the museum and the new restaurant, also stuffed with mementos, make a home for some of the best of the thousands of items DePorter said the company has collected since the first restaurant opened in 1987.
Much of it has been filling up spare space in the original Caray's building on Kinzie Street, but it has also spilled over into DePorter's home, he said.
Other highlights include Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa's infamous corked bat and enough game-used uniforms to stock a gift shop. Name a Chicago sports hero, from the Bears' Walter Payton to the Fire's Mike Magee, and there's probably something of his in here.
Wait, what? Oh. Mike Magee. Plays for the Chicago Fire. Reigning MLS league MVP. Yes, the 'S' in 'MLS' stands for "soccer."
The museum is organized into five zones. My favorite is the first of them, called Measure Up and meant to demonstrate the special gifts pro athletes have.
Using sliding poles on a wall, you can test your wingspan, the distance from tip of left middle finger to tip of right, against that of Scottie Pippen, Bulls' superstar. Pippen's is anomalous 7-feet, 3-inches, compared to a body height of 6-7. Mine was what humans more typically have, about the same as my 6-foot height.
Buttons at half-foot intervals on a wall let you see how high your vertical leap is compared with that of Bulls legend Michael Jordan, who does not have former Cubs and White Sox announcer Caray on a wall at his Michigan Avenue restaurant. In street clothes, I could only reach the 9-foot button. That's more than a foot lower than I could jump in high school, which suggests to me that gravity is growing more powerful.
The museum's other sections are Sports Forensics, which includes analyses of corked bats and baseball insides through the years; Fan Zone, where visitors can play Chicago sports trivia or try out their Harry Caray impersonations; and Curses & Superstitions, which runs through some of the lore of Chicago sports voodoo.
In the last section, Hall of Legends, giant video games challenge you to shoot hoops like Pippen or hockey pucks like the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. While fine to amuse undiscriminating kids, the games struck me as more basic than Xbox's body-motion-controlled Kinect system.
But the real heart of this attraction is in the apparel and other collectibles, including lots of authentically used pro gear such as the cleats former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster wore in an All-Star Game.
If that is your thing — or if you're just looking to kill an hour or two while your tweens are on the Water Tower Place floor-from-Hades containing Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Aeropostale — then Chicago Sports Museum could be your place.
Chicago Sports Museum
When: Daily, from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (M.-Th.), 9 p.m. (Fri., Sat.) or 8 p.m. (Sun.)
Where: Water Tower Place, Level 7, 835 N. Michigan Ave.
Tickets: $6, $3 seniors, free to children 3 and under and diners in adjacent 7th Inning Stretch restaurant. More information at 312-202-0500, chicagosportsmuseum.comCopyright © 2015, CT Now