There wasn't a better pitcher on the planet in 1980 than the Baltimore Orioles' Steve Stone. The right-hander won 25 games -- the most in the major leagues -- that season, was a first-time All-Star and received the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the American League.
At last, the comparisons to Los Angeles Dodgers great Sandy Koufax rang true -- or at least somewhat defensible.
Baseball writers had, however, been quick to join Koufax's and Stone's names nearly a decade earlier, when the latter pitcher was a rookie with the San Francisco Giants. Like Koufax, Stone threw plenty hard. Like Koufax, Stone was pegged early on as an intellectual. Let's see, what else did they have in common?
Ah, of course: the Jewish thing.
"The way I describe it is there are only two Jewish Cy Young winners in history," Stone, 71, said at the start of the 2019 season. "One was great, and the other was me."
Stone was no slouch. He compiled a record of 107-93 over an 11-year career that included three seasons each with the White Sox (1973, '77, '78) and Cubs (1974, '75, '76). Combined, he won 56 games and lost 55 in Chicago. Any way you slice the math, the man comes out on the plus side of that equation.
Nowadays, Stone is far better known as a broadcaster. He called Cubs games on WGN from 1983 to 2004, save for a few seasons when he battled an illness. During an unforgettable 14-year run alongside Harry Caray, Stone earned a reputation as one of the most astute analysts in the game. Since 2008, he has been in the booth with the White Sox, working first with icon Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and more recently with play-by-play man Jason Benetti, who calls Stone "one of the best who's ever done it."
In all, Stone has lived more than 40 years as a resident of Chicago. From his home in River North, he can walk to more than one restaurant in which he has an ownership stake. It's possible he has seen more big-league baseball up close in this city than anyone else alive. Fans on both sides of town revere him, and those who favor the Cubs often seem to forget he switched sides over a decade ago.
"I love Chicago," he said. "And more than just loving Chicago, I have been fortunate to kind of have been taken into the bosom of the baseball fans of Chicago. And it doesn't matter what side they're on. People come up to me and ask, 'How are the Cubs going to do this season?' I ask them if they've been held hostage."
Stone hails from suburban Cleveland. His father changed records in juke boxes. His mother waited tables. Their son was small for an exceptional athlete, but he excelled in all sports he played. His ever-churning competitive streak was a big part of it. As he advanced in baseball -- and became known not just as a pitcher, but as a 5-foot-10 Jewish one -- his determination grew to be recognized beyond any labels.
"I was bar mitzvahed, was born and raised in the Jewish religion," he said. "I don't go to temple anymore, but I'm very proud of the fact that I'm Jewish.
"I did not look -- my whole life, I never looked -- for any antisemitism because I felt it provided an excuse for not accomplishing anything. I never had an excuse for not accomplishing something, in my own mind. I tried to eliminate any of that."
There is only one person who has played for both the White Sox and the Cubs, and broadcast in both the radio and TV booths for both teams. Understandably, Stone takes great pride in that, too.
He'll turn 72 straight out of the All-Star break, during the White Sox' first second-half series, in Oakland. How long will he continue living the grind of the baseball season?
"As a player, I told myself I'd play as long as it was fun, and that I would hope to have the good sense to leave before they ask me to do that," he said. "As a broadcaster, I hope to do it as long as it's fun and have the good sense to leave before they ask me to do that. And it's still fun."