Former Chicago Athletes: Where Are They Now?

What do star athletes do after their playing days are over? We tracked down a onetime Bears cornerback who’s now a practicing dentist and a missionary; a former Blackhawks star who copilots jetliners; an ex-Cub who became a jazz trumpeter; and more

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RON KITTLE

THEN Slugger, Chicago White Sox (1982–86, 1989–91)
NOW Craftsman, motivational speaker, Sox ambassador

“If they had Ritalin when I was kid,” says Ron Kittle, “I would have needed three doses a day. I used to keep going until I dropped.”

Doesn’t sound like things have changed much. Out of baseball for 20 years, Kitty (as he was known) rises most mornings at 4 a.m., walks Harley, his soft-coated wheaten terrier, for an hour or so while brainstorming, and then embarks on one—or all—of the many activities to which he devotes his time: maybe some woodworking or ironworking, a little charity fundraising, or writing the follow-up to his 2005 book, Ron Kittle’s Tales from the White Sox Dugout. “I’m the only guy who ever wrote a book who never read a book,” he says.

No surprise that, as an artisan, Kittle—whose 35 home runs in 1983 won him rookie of the year honors—loves to manipulate baseball bats. His handmade benches (pictured below), including models called the Southside and the Northside, incorporate more than a dozen bats in their design, and he is at work on a bed whose headboard will showcase the tool of his former trade. He makes granite and steel ashtrays that look like home plates, as well as cigar humidors—White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recently presented a custom-made Spanish cedar model to Bobby Cox, his former counterpart at the Atlanta Braves—and he markets a line of baseball-themed note cards. “I grew up as an ironworker,” says the Gary native (he still lives in Indiana), “and I always had an inclination to make things.”

In memory of his father, who died of cancer in 1994, Kittle, 53, donates the profits from his creations to hospitals and other organizations battling the disease. Cancer-related causes are also the chief beneficiaries of his Indiana Sports Charities, which holds its 22nd–annual celebrity golf outing on May 23rd at the Briar Ridge Country Club in Schererville, Indiana. (For more about the event and Kittle’s charities and wares, go to ronkittle.com.)

Plagued by the aftereffects of injuries from his baseball days—a broken neck after a catcher fell on him in the minor leagues and the bad back that ended his career—Kittle, the father of two, still puts 5,000 to 10,000 miles on his motorcycle each year. And his triumph over physical adversity makes a good backdrop for the dozens of motivational speeches he delivers annually. “I lived a life [in baseball] when I was told I couldn’t have one,” he says. “I battled back from challenges all the time. And though I knew I was good, I also knew I could always get better. That’s the key to building most people’s confidence level.”

 

Photography: (Kittle, then) Paul Gero/Chicago Tribune; (Kittle, now) courtesy of Ron Kittle

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3 years ago
Posted by Thane Of Cawdor

You'd think this guy growing up in Gary, Indiana and playing for the White Sox and he appeared as being a small town guy who found suucess and that he would be a decent guy but from all the accounts I've heard this guy is a total a**hole! Jerk!!!

3 years ago
Posted by OneTimeBlue

It's interesting that I came across this article, because it had recently crossed my mind as to what had become of some college athletes. In particular, Mark Aguirre, Teddy Grubbs and Terry Cummings from DePaul's NCAA glory days. Maybe you could do a follow-up story on these guys and other college and high school phenoms that did not complete a pro career, but were still a part of Chicago's sports history. As for this article, I am very impressed and pleased at the way you have taken several excellent role models for young athletes and shown them in a positive light. Please continue the good work.

3 years ago
Posted by left out

What about Tom O'Hara, the first native of the U.S. state of Illinois to break the four-minute barrier for the mile run. He accomplished this feat in 1963 when he ran the mile in 3:59.4.

He also held the world record for fastest mile in indoor track, which was set when he ran the mile in 3:56.6 on February 13, 1964. He later beat that record on March 6 of the same year with a time of 3:56.4, a world record that stood for fourteen years.

3 years ago
Posted by kjbsawb

THANE OF CAWDOR: you are a buffoon. An individual as uneducated (look at your grammar) and uninformed (White Sox?) should not be permitted to post comments to any blog. Carmen was a fan favorite and player's player because of his generosity and fiery competitiveness, among many other great qualities. It is obvious you have some personal ax to grind, and I doubt you you have ever held as much as a minimum wage job. Carmen was the ultimate in class as Cub, and he is certainly all of that as a human-being. Several friends of mine and I know this from personal experience.

3 years ago
Posted by HOME RUN BANGKOK

@THANE OF CAWDOR...u must be talking about a different Steve Trout...the one I know who pitched for the Cubs/White Sox/Yankees and Seattle,is a classy gentleman and one of the nicest guys I have ever met. One I am proud to call a friend!

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