Robert Vanderberg ’70
Bob Vanderberg was known for many things during nearly 37 years at the Chicago Tribune. A kind, generous and funny colleague who could light up a room despite his soft-spoken demeanor. A talented writer and strong, well-organized editor. A spot-on Harry Caray impersonator. A high school sports expert. And a Chicago White Sox fan and historian.
Vanderberg died Oct. 27 of Parkinson’s disease while in hospice care in Denver. He was 74. “He was such a great guy to work with and so much fun,” said George Knue, who was hired at the Suburban Trib a few weeks after Vanderberg in September 1972 and worked with him on and off for 30 years. “He loved sports. A sports writing job or a job involved with sports, that was what Bob was made for, and if it involved the White Sox, even better because nobody knew the White Sox better than he did.”
Vanderberg, known as “Vandy” to friends and co-workers, wrote three books on the Sox and five overall, including ” ’59: Summer of the Sox: The Year the World Series Came to Chicago,” which chronicles the team’s American League pennant-winning season, and “100 Things White Sox Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.” The team appreciated his knowledge of and love for the franchise. “Bob was a terrific Sox fan, whose impact showed in his books about the team’s history and his connections to teams and players from the past,” the White Sox said in a statement. “You often found him down in the seats enjoying a Sox game with family or friends. He truly was a walking encyclopedia of Sox history.
“Bob was so connected to Sox alumni that we often learned of news through him, and fans could see his passion for the team and former players in the heartfelt obituaries he sometimes wrote for the Tribune’s sports pages. We will be sure to remember Bob and his love for the team on Opening Day next year.”
Born and raised in Oak Park, Vanderberg lived in suburban Chicago for most of his life before he and his wife, Pat, and son, Brad ’05, moved to Castle Rock, Colo., in 2019. He attended Oak Park-River Forest High School for two years before his family relocated to Glen Ellyn and he graduated from Glenbard West in 1966. Vanderberg earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Hope College in Holland, Mich., in 1970, then was drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., for 18 months, Pat said. After starting his professional career at the City News Bureau of Chicago, Vanderberg joined the Suburban Trib – a subsidiary of the Tribune focused on coverage of the suburbs.
A few years later, he moved to the Chicago Tribune and worked there until April 2009, primarily as an editor and writer in the sports department. Vanderberg contributed dozens of articles on the White Sox and obituaries of former personnel, from little-known players to superstars. Among the Sox he memorialized were managers Al Lopez and Don Gutteridge, pitching coach Ray Berres, outfielders Johnny Callison, Tommie Agee and Pat Kelly, catcher Earl Battey, shortstop Chico Carrasquel and pitchers Johnny Buzhardt and Gerry Staley, who induced the double-play grounder to Luis Aparicio that ended the pennant-clinching game in Cleveland in 1959, sending the Sox to the World Series for the first time in 40 years.
In 2004, Vanderberg selected a 25-man All-Time White Sox roster for a Tribune story, and as the Sox and Cubs prepared for their first interleague matchup in 1997, he wrote a brief history of the 1906 World Series between the teams. He also was on a first-name basis with many members of the 1959 team through his reporting over the years. Vanderberg’s book ” ’59: Summer of the Sox” is regarded as the definitive history of that season. Vanderberg’s specialty was finding humorous anecdotes, such as the one Lopez told him about Sox vice president John Rigney bringing two Catholic priests to Comiskey Park for Game 1 of the 1959 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “He said, ‘Hey, Al, we’ve got some help here,’ ” Lopez recalled in Vanderberg’s book. “I said, ‘Thanks, John, we need all the help we can get.’ About 20 minutes later, over on the first-base side, (Dodgers owner) Walter O’Malley walks in with four priests. And I looked over at John and said, ‘John, we’re outnumbered over there.’ ” Vanderberg dedicated the book to the memory of Sox second baseman Nellie Fox and his ’59 teammates and also to his father, who he wrote “taught me to laugh at the Cubs, hate the Yankees and love God, writing and the White Sox.”
Tribune sports copy desk where Vanderberg worked during the 1980s and ’90s was full of colorful characters, including many Chicago-area natives who also were die-hard fans of the local teams, some of which they had covered as beat writers before moving to the desk. Vanderberg often was seated on the sports rim next to crusty old-timer Dan Moulton, who allegedly once threw his typewriter out of the press box after a Blackhawks loss. When the score of a tough Sox loss would pop up on the sports wire on deadline, Vanderberg would make sure to announce it just to watch Moulton’s volcanic reaction. “They were both White Sox fans, but Vandy would play the straight man,” said NBC Sports Chicago Bulls reporter K.C. Johnson, then a 22-year-old working on the Tribune sports copy desk. “He had that mischievous twinkle in his eye always, and he would purposely rile up Dan – ‘What do you think about the White Sox loss?’ It was such a great education watching these guys on the sports rim.” Vanderberg’s expertise often was helpful to the Tribune’s Sox beat writers, from Andrew Bagnato to Mark Gonzales. “He was basically our White Sox Google,” said Tribune “In the Wake of the News” sports columnist and baseball writer Paul Sullivan, who covered the Sox in the mid-1990s and from 2000-02. “Whenever any of us had a question about Sox history, we’d just call the copy desk and Vandy would know the answer without looking it up.” Vanderberg was an especially valuable resource for the Tribune’s coverage of the Sox’s run to the 2005 World Series title, their first since 1917. “I remember him being on the radio (for Sox trivia), and nobody could stump him,” Pat said. “We planned our vacations around people he wanted to interview for his books.”
In his later years at the Tribune, Vanderberg was the assistant high school sports editor, helping coordinate coverage and assigning and overseeing freelance reporters to cover games – as many as two dozen or more every week. “He touched a whole lot of people who ended up going into the journalism field,” Knue said. Vanderberg had many interests outside of sports. He spoke Spanish and had a passion for American Flyer trains, Pat said. He loved Epcot and milkshakes and hamburgers. But for most of his adult life, if he wasn’t at home or Sox Park, he was at the Tribune. “The core of guys he was with they all worked together very well,” Pat said. “They all had respect for each other. Bob was barely fact-checked because they knew he knew his material so well.” And it went beyond work. “We went to their weddings, we went to their children’s weddings,” Pat said. “They got together outside of work. It was just a nice group.” Besides his wife and son, Vanderberg is survived by his brother, Bruce (Gail) Vanderberg; sisters Susan (Jim) Scherbenske and Sharon (Jeff) Park; and seven nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his brother Roger in 1978. The family is holding a memorial service and luncheon at 11 a.m. March 25 at The Lodge at Katherine Legge Memorial Park, 5901 S. County Line Road in Hinsdale.