Patrick McBride says he was ‘The Luckiest Boy in the World’

The retired Madison physician's as-of-yet unpublished manuscript details his real-life teenage experiences, the stuff of sports fans' dreams.
Patrick Mcbride is shown both decades ago and today, now wearing a 1971 warmup jacket from Lew Alcindor (better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Courtesy of Patrick McBride.
Patrick McBride still treasures the 1971 warmup jacket of Milwaukee Bucks star Lew Alcindor, better known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Retired Madison physician Patrick McBride’s teenage memories are the kind of real life dream in which mere sports stars are overshadowed by lifetime greats.

Consider: In April 1969, McBride, age 15, was in the dugout at Milwaukee County Stadium, a batboy for the visiting Chicago Cubs who were playing an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox.

McBride had carried the bats and batting helmets from the clubhouse to the dugout and was waiting for the Cubs players to arrive.

When the first one did, he grinned at McBride and said, “Do you want to play catch?”

It was Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub” and McBride threw the ball around.

A couple of years later, in another Milwaukee sporting venue, the Bucks — the city’s nascent professional basketball team — were occasionally short a player at practice. Coach Larry Costello would ask the team’s 17-year-old equipment manager to fill in. Which is how McBride wound up guarding Oscar Robertson and Jon McGlocklin.

McBride completed the trifecta by serving as clubhouse attendant for the Green Bay Packers when they played several home games a year at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

He had a close-up view of the inner sanctum at the highest level of three professional sports.

“I have to believe I was the only kid in America who had that opportunity,” McBride says.

McBride, who got his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and worked at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health — taking emeritus status in 2017 — has now written a book about his extraordinary teenage experiences.

Titled “The Luckiest Boy in the World,” for now it exists only in manuscript format — but it will almost certainly find a publisher.

That’s not just because of the celebrated names on the pages. There is at least a trace of irony in McBride’s title. Growing up in Wauwatosa, McBride and his six siblings had smart, loving, newspaper reporter parents who succumbed to that era of newspapering’s black lung disease: alcoholism. Martinis beginning at noon led to ugly scenes later at home.

It was McBride’s twin brother, Dennis McBride — currently the mayor of Wauwatosa — who, in helping with the manuscript, encouraged an unblinking portrayal. “He said, ‘You really need to tell the whole story,’” McBride says.

In part because being at the ballpark would be better than being at home, in the early winter months of 1969 McBride entered a 25-word essay contest for bat and ball boys for the 11 games the Chicago White Sox would play that year at County Stadium. (Bud Selig, hoping to lure a team to Milwaukee, was showcasing the enthusiasm of Wisconsin fans.)

McBride’s essay on why he wanted to be a batboy: “I would be doing a small part toward bringing baseball back to Milwaukee. I would hope that the spirit I would show would be contagious.”

He won the contest. And he hustled at the ballpark, doing clubhouse duties beyond just being a batboy. A year later, when Selig got his franchise and the Milwaukee Brewers were born, the clubhouse manager called McBride: “Do you want to be the visiting team’s batboy?” (The clubhouse staff also worked the Packers games in Milwaukee.) By then, McBride had already joined the Bucks. McBride was listening on the radio in March 1969 when the expansion Milwaukee franchise won a coin toss allowing them to draft the great UCLA Bruins center Lew Alcindor.

“I ran to the phone book,” McBride recalls, “looked up the Bucks’ number, called their office and asked how you get to be a ball boy. The woman said, ‘Your timing is amazing. We’re interviewing tomorrow. I’ll add your name to the list.”

He got the Bucks ball boy gig, worked hard, and, two years later, when the team’s equipment manager died suddenly of a heart attack, McBride was offered the position. He was 17.

“Irish,” Wayne Embry, the general manager, said, employing the nickname the team had bestowed, “we think you’re up to it.”

One thing McBride’s peek behind the curtain brought him was the realization that a star’s public image and private reality might not match. He found Alcindor — soon to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — far different from the aloof figure described by sportswriters. He was thoughtful and enjoyed playing chess and talking jazz in the locker room with teammates like Lucius Allen.

It was in a dugout at County Stadium that McBride met Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all time, then manager of the Washington Senators and notoriously ill-tempered.

“Mr. Williams, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, son, what would you like to know?”

The young McBride explained that he loved hitting from the right side of the plate, but he had poor vision in his left eye. Perhaps he would do better batting as a lefty?

“How bad is your eye?” Williams asked.

“Twenty-600.”

“Son, have you ever thought of pitching?”

When he left Milwaukee for Madison and medical school, McBride took with him a lifetime of memories and mementoes that included Alcindor’s warm-up jacket from the Bucks’ 1971 championship season. Memorabilia was not what it is now, and all the old uniforms were packed away in boxes. Embry told McBride to help himself.

Later still, in 1986, the Brewers invited McBride — by then a physician — to be batboy at an old-timer’s game at County Stadium. The team gave him number 1, though batboys always wore number 99.

During the family struggles of his teen years, McBride had often asked his dad to come see him as a batboy, or equipment manager. “Those are just jobs,” his dad said, and he never came.

Now, at the old-timers’ game, McBride’s wife and newborn son were there — and so too, at last, was his father.

“That was closure for me,” McBride says. “Forgiveness.”

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