Patrick McBride always came home with stories, each one better than the next.
It wasn’t just that he was rubbing elbows with the likes of Ernie Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ted Williams and other professional athletes. He actually was getting to know some of them.
Some anecdotes were funny, others tugged at the heart strings. “But they were all the things you’d want to read,” Dennis McBride said.
It was about 50 years ago that Dennis encouraged his twin brother to write a book. The timing never was right — Patrick was a busy guy — but the COVID-19 pandemic gave the retired Madison physician a chance to sit down and dive into the project.
The result, “The Luckiest Boy in the World,” chronicles McBride’s time working various jobs with the three major professional sports teams in the state before he began a career in medicine. The manuscript has been sent to Vervante, a self-publishing company based in Utah and, according to McBride, is due to be released in August.
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McBride has plenty of tales to tell after spending time in locker rooms over the course of seven years.
The Wauwatosa native was 15 when he won a newspaper essay contest for bat and ball boys who would work the exhibition games the Chicago White Sox played at County Stadium during the 1969 season. It was there where McBride, minding his business in the visiting dugout one day, came face to face with a Cubs legend.
Banks asked McBride if he wanted to play catch. McBride quickly accepted and was floating on air while tossing the ball back and forth.
When the Milwaukee Brewers debuted the following season, owner Bud Selig asked McBride to be the visiting batboy. McBride did such a good job in his role with the Brewers that he was asked to be a locker room attendant when the Green Bay Packers hosted games at County Stadium.
McBride completed a hat trick of sorts in 1969 when he became a ball boy for the Milwaukee Bucks.
That move came about when the Bucks won a lottery for the No. 1 pick in that year’s NBA draft, sure to be Lew Alcindor (later Abdul-Jabbar). McBride rushed to his phone after hearing that news on the radio and asked if the team needed any ball boys; he was told that tryouts were the next day, and McBride showed up and earned the job.
When Bucks equipment manager Ed Goodwin died unexpectedly following their NBA championship season in 1971, McBride was distraught and called team officials to offer his condolences. They told him they already had a candidate in mind for the job: And that was how McBride, still a senior in high school at the time, became the equipment manager for an NBA team at age 18.
McBride can drop names for days and quickly learned that some athletes were far different than how they were portrayed in the media. He says the two most misunderstood sports figures he encountered were Williams and Abdul-Jabbar, and McBride became particularly close with the latter during their time together with the Bucks.
Spending so much time in the visiting locker room at County Stadium allowed McBride to meet people he’d grown up idolizing. His favorite team that came through was the Minnesota Twins, with stars such as Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Jim Kaat who were as kind off the field as they were good on it.
One time, McBride ventured into the locker room and saw Joe DiMaggio, then a hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics, sitting alone at a picnic table. He built up the nerve to initiate a conversation that had nothing to do with baseball: McBride asked DiMaggio if it was true that he’d arranged for a dozen red roses to be left at Marilyn Monroe’s gravesite every day. DiMaggio was taken aback by the question at first, but he confirmed to McBride it was true.
McBride had learned the art of asking direct questions from his parents, who were both journalists. Raymond and Marian “Toni” McBride, who were inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame posthumously in 2002, also were alcoholics.
Any time spent at County Stadium or the Milwaukee Arena meant an escape from a dysfunctional home life for McBride, who had six siblings. It’s also a critical part of his story and one his twin brother — Dennis arrived into the world five minutes after Patrick — insisted be part of the book.
“He said, ‘You should tell the whole story,’ and I think he was right,’” Patrick McBride said. “It’s really important to let people know where I came from and how I got through it and who are the people that really helped pull me through it.”
People like Wayne Embry and Larry Costello, the Bucks’ general manager and coach at the time. They helped instill in McBride the importance of order and organization.
People like Jim Ksicinski, who ran the visiting clubhouse at County Stadium and was a big brother of sorts to McBride. When McBride would get carried away in the locker rooms, taking on some of the bad traits of the ballplayers around him, Ksicinski would tell him to change his ways or find another job.
“He helped me grow up,” McBride said.
People like Arnie Garber, the athletic trainer for the Bucks. McBride said he’d been referred to as the “dumb twin” at times by teachers in Wauwatosa, but Garber helped build Patrick’s self-esteem. Any chance of McBride ending up in a sports organization after college was discouraged by Garber, who handed him a medical bag and told him there were more important things for him to do.
So after graduating from UW-Milwaukee in 1976, McBride headed off to UW-Madison for medical school. Bucks players voted to give him a share of their playoff earnings to help him pay tuition, while Ksicinski gathered a collection around the visiting clubhouse to help out as well.
Thus began a career in medicine that lasted more than three decades. McBride became a professor in cardiovascular medicine and retired in 2017 as the associate dean at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Dennis McBride, now the mayor of Wauwatosa, helped write and edit the book. His one quibble is the title.
“The book is called, ‘The Luckiest Boy in the World,’ but Pat was probably the hardest-working boy in the world,” Dennis said. “He made his own luck.”
Best of the beat: Take a look back at 5 of Jim Polzin's favorite stories from his sports reporting career
I was helping out on the UW football beat late in the summer of 2010 when our Packers writer left for another job. Most of training camp was done, the season opener was a couple weeks away, and I had a 4-year-old and 7-month-old at home.
But who turns down the chance to cover the Packers? I had no idea at the time that the season would stretch into February, but a wild ride ended with Aaron Rodgers and Co. beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. That night, including writing this game story, is a blur.
BO RYAN'S TOUGH LOVE
It was hard to choose a story from a magical stretch that included back-to-back trips to the Final Four for the UW men’s basketball program. I did plenty of stories on Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and others during that stretch, but this one on that group’s leader stood out because it gave some insight into Bo Ryan’s coaching style.
This story ruffled some feathers inside the program, though that wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to give readers a look at how Ryan went about getting the best out of his players.
I wrote a lot about Nigel Hayes over his four seasons with the Badgers because he was such a fascinating guy on and off the court. For one story his junior season, I spent a morning with him, talking over breakfast and sitting through one of his business classes.
This one was about his relationship with his stepfather, Albert Davis Sr. I don’t even remember what made me think of doing this story or how I pitched it to him, but I do remember sitting in folding chairs in a hallway at the Kohl Center and being amazed at how much he was willing to share. It turned out to be a fun story to tell.
HAPP'S HARD WORK
Ethan Happ’s name is all over the UW men’s basketball record book. He scored a lot of points, grabbed a lot of rebounds, dished out a lot of assists, made a lot of steals and blocked a lot of shots. He also missed a lot of free throws.
I got a ton of messages, either via email or social media, asking why Happ didn’t spend more time working on his shot. I knew his work ethic wasn’t the issue because I spent a lot of time waiting to interview him after practices as he worked on shooting with coaches or teammates or student-managers. Still, I had no idea just how much time he spent working on his shot away from practice until I began the process of reporting this story.
GARD ERA BEGINS
One moment I’ll never forget is when Bo Ryan walked into the Kohl Center media room late on the night of Dec. 15, 2015, and the person moderating his postgame news conference said Ryan would open with a statement.
Ryan never opened with a statement, always choosing to go straight to questions. In that split-second before Ryan started talking, I knew: He was retiring. And so began a crazy night and crazy week that included wrapping up Ryan’s time at UW and moving on to the Greg Gard era.
Fans certainly knew who Gard was at that point because he’d been Ryan’s longtime assistant. But I wanted to talk to as many people as I could for a thorough story on the guy taking over the program after his legendary mentor’s departure.
Contact Jim Polzin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6473.