All I can see from the bleachers is smoke
Hello all. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve been able to write. During my time of absence the Cubs got their pulse back, then lost it. The only thing saving my sanity at this point is that I was so busy with work and school that I was only able to check the box scores. I couldn’t afford to spend a lot of time thinking about the Cubs. I’m taking a lot of classes this semester and, as a man of limited intellect, I’m in a little over my head. I have a Spanish teacher, a small Peruvian gentleman with the grandiose name “Maximiliano,” who assigns two to four hours of homework per class session. I was not counting on that, and the 3rd person indicative preterit tense in Spanish has swallowed up the time I would, if left to my own devices, have spent agonizing over the tragic end of the 2004 season.
So thank you, Maximiliano, you mountain-bred generalissimo, for saving me.
With the collective body of the ’04 Cubs in the coffin and the Braves acting as undertakers, let’s head to the funeral and say nice things about the dearly departed. In a couple of days we can get back together with some booze and complain about all the things the deceased did to us. But for now, out of respect for the dead, let’s celebrate the team’s strengths.
1) Back-to-back winning seasons
For the first time since I was zero and one years old, respectively, the Cubs had back-to-back winning seasons. From ’67 to ’72 they had a run of six straight 81+-win seasons.
2) Team home run record
Despite the inconsistent play of the Cubs’ most prolific home run hitter, Mr. Samuel Peralta Sosa, the Cubs had power at every position and were able to break the team homer record. No matter what the results of the season, that’s worth commenting on.
3) Confirmation of Aramis Ramirez as the Real Thing. Let’s hope they re-sign him. He was a fairly consistent source of offensive output for the Cubs this year and down the stretch last year. He’s still just 26 and entering his prime. Pay up, Cubs. This guy should be allowed to stick around for the next 5 years.
4) Clear evidence of progress from Corey Patterson
A late-season 4-for-38, 13 K slump and a few ugly stretches during the season were the downsides of Patterson’s first bonafide major-league level full season. I was afraid that he’d be Oddibe McDowell at his worst and Devon White at his best. He’s already Devon White. He has nowhere to go but up, and has actually shown himself to be capable of learning. As he hits his prime we’ll see more good days and fewer bad days. My vendetta against Corey is officially over. Welcome to the “Good Cub” side, Mr. Patterson.
5) The Nostalgia Tour ’04
The return of Greg Maddux, a spiritually healing event, also provided a steady, efficient starting pitcher. In a year when Wood and Prior were hurt, Zambrano was suspended a few times, and Clement lost his effectiveness, Maddux’s second half was huge. He did about as good as I expected, but the context of his season increased the value of his numbers; Maddux and Zambrano became the guys in the second half that made you feel relaxed when they were on the mound. Good to have you back, Greg.
Zambrano was the Cubs’ best pitcher. It appears that Prior is returning to form, so the ’05 starting rotation looks like a strength. Zambrano is one of the league’s top five pitchers right now. He’s a goofball, but he’s a competitor who wants to be great and is willing to do what it takes to be great.
7) A catcher who can hit for the first time since…I don’t know, Rick Wilkins?
I tried to dismiss him as a stinker, but he made a believer out of me. Let’s hope his career path doesn’t follow Rick Wilkins.
8) Return of form to Mark Prior
Mark Prior had maybe 4 very good-to-great starts this year compared to about 20-25 last year. That’s the difference in the standings. The good thing is that 2 of his last three starts were great and the other one featured 5 unearned runs. So he finally looks recovered, and his final numbers looked okay as a result.
9) Pulling the plug on Rey Ordonez
The Ordonez experiment could have dragged on much longer. I guess this is the part of the funeral when the guy at the podium starts looking around uncomfortably, knowing he should have more nice things to say about his dead friend. So I guess I’ll just wave meekly, sit down, and pretend the organ music I hear is accompanying John Cusack singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch of game 3 of the World Series instead of a funeral dirge.