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

(page 9 of 17)

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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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