Mel Pearl, a player of remarkable character and endurance, went deep into extra innings until July 6, 2022, when he was finally taken from the game, though in a unique twist on America’s pastime, no pitcher could possibly follow up his performance.
Fresh from law school at Northwestern, Pearl was originally a utility player for the IRS, followed by a cup of coffee at a small Chicago Law firm before pulling off a remarkable feat unique to the game, calling himself up to the Bigs. With a group of friends, he founded Katten, Muchin, Gitles, Zavis, Pearl and Galler in 1974, putting together a team that went from the comparative obscurity – though not the futility – of his once beloved Chicago Cubs to a standing as dominating as the New York Yankees teams of the late 1990s.
However, to make such a comparison was to do so at one’s own peril once Pearl was brought in to invest in the Chicago White Sox, returning to the heights of career form with his former law school compatriot, Jerry Reinsdorf, a man with whom he shared loves of baseball and basketball, and most importantly, the same birth date and year.
However this transition to American League baseball was not without its own set of complications, launching a faux war between him and his eldest son Steven, who screamed “betrayal” as Mel moved his game from the Northside to the Southside, leading Pearl to use the phrase that will no doubt accompany him to a unanimous first ballot hall of fame entry as he would remind his Cub fan son at every opportunity, “You talk like a sausage”.
It would be such smack talk that stoked their fires to epic proportions in 2005 when the Boys in Black traveled to Houston to win game six of the World Series, only to be rekindled in 2016 when his eldest forced him to attend game three of the Fall Classic. Yelling “Go Sox” to the Cubs center fielder throughout game proved to clearly be instrumental in leaving the Northsiders on the wrong side of a 1-0 score, his son wildly despondent, and yet unbelievably proud to be in attendance with the man who taught him so much about his love of baseball, people, sportsmanship, and life.
For Pearl, there were more fields of play where he succeeded in extraordinary ways. In Hollywood, where he produced dozens of films and pressed the flesh with the likes of Nick Nolte, Andy Garcia, and the legendary Bobby DeNiro, Pearl and his omnipresent cigar were stars in their own right. But his stardom never shined brighter than with family.
There was the pride he felt in his younger son who traveled far afield from line up cards and games of baseball pepper, to prove to be the apple who fell closest to the tree. Bob, or Bobo as he is lovingly known by all, had put together his own rather impressive stats, building a real estate empire where none thought possible, while bringing three promising All-Stars into the fold whom Mel forever raved about; El, Lilah and Joey, with his wife Amy, a woman who was like a daughter to him and undoubtedly destined to win Manager of the Year.
And then there was the shining star in Mel’s eyes, and this reporter does mean that beyond metaphor, his youngest Julie. She proved to be the not-so-secret sauce that could both quell and launch arguments that would make Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner humbly blush, proving that Pearl passion comes in all forms and deliveries. Forever surprising and impressing Mel with her acting talents, the pride in his “Baby Girl” was unabashed and overwhelming. And together with stalwart helmer and husband Ian, they have raised two children, Graham and Riley, in the image of the man who saw all his grandchildren as players too big for even Major League Baseball.
But his mythic ascent would not have been possible if not for the steady hand of his wife Lynn, the woman both his left and right hand, a partner and coach, ambidextrous in everything she did, challenging opposition and teammates alike to be the very best in who they are. This marriage of 62 years to a former University of Wisconsin Badger Beauty would leave teammates, cherished friends and fraternity brothers infield-grass green with envy and be an undeniable part of what gave him the lifetime of career achievements and successes he so enjoyed. And man, did he enjoy them.
Pearl’s career stats include his younger brother Kenny and spouse Susan, and his sister Myrna and her partner on the diamond Gordy, who was called into his own retirement in 2018. There are his nieces and nephews; Mark, Cari, Patti, David, Melissa, Maggie, and Nicole who were more than just supporting players, but the best and most admiring fans of the man who played with selflessness, strength and a sense of humor that effortlessly invited family, friends, and all those whom he affectionately referred to as “Pally Boy” into his orbit.
Mel Pearl, his legacy undeniable, will be terribly missed in the corridors of Katten, the owners’ box at the once-named Comiskey, the golf courses of Bryn Mawr, Briarwood and La Cumbre and myriad places too many to name. Though he will never be seen again on the freshly cut grass of life’s outfields, or the fine sand, silt and clay of infields where he traveled miles and touched bases others could only dream of, he will be forever the captain of team Pearl, a man most remarkable for hitting the cycle of joy, love, humor, and compassion that would often lead him to remark, “I am the luckiest person in the world.”
Not true, Mel Pearl. We are.
Donations can be made in Mel’s memory to his favorite causes: