Archive for May, 2005

Thru Cub Eyes: Ron Santo

Friday, May 20th, 2005

Every Friday this season we are proud to bring you personal anecdotes from those who played in a Cub uniform. These reflections find their source in Carrie Muskatís fine compilation Banks to Sandberg to Grace. Look for it in your favorite outlet featuring fine Cub literature.
Next week: Steve Stone

santo

When I first went to Wrigley Field, Iíll never forget it. Iíll never forget leaving the clubhouse in the left field corner and walking with Ernie Banks. In those days when you were a rookie your teammates wouldnít talk to you, but Ernie talked to me. Weíre going out and he said ìWhatís this feel like?î I said ìErnie, I canít believe it.î

I walked on the field and there was an atmosphere. Thereís nothing like it. The stands were empty. It was so beautiful. It was like playing in my backyard. It didnít feel like ìJeez, Iím overwhelmed.î It felt like ìThis is baseball.î

Leo didnít have to kick me in the ass but, but there was one time when I was in a slump. It was June and Iím still hitting over .300and leading the club in RBI and Iím hitting fourth in the lineup. I was the captain. I would take the lineup card out to the umpires. Usually Leo would walk over and give me the card and say ìHowís so-and-so doing?î

Heíd always confide in me. He always had a comment. On this particular day, he walks over, hands me the card and walks away. I put the card in my pocket and go out to loosen up. Billy Williams came over to me. Now we never changed the lineup. Billy says ìAny changes in the lineup?î I take it out and Iím hitting seventh. I look at this and Iím pissed.

Leo used to stand behind the cage and watch hitting. Every day, arms crossed, watch hitting. And then heíd walk away. So heís back there. Itís my turn to hit and because Iím hitting seventh, Iím in the third group. And Iím pissed. I get up there and take ten swings; the next time, five swings; the next time, three, and another three. After the last turn I turned and looked right at him, and I threw the bat at the cage and I walked out of the cage.

The game starts and I go 4 for 4, two home runs and drove in five runs. What did he do? He got me on track. He won that battle. I didnít realize it. He got me out of the slump.

You donít know how tough it was to leave the Chicago Cubs. When general manager John Holland called me, my first wife was sick with salmonella poisoning. I had taken her to the hospital in the middle of the night. The next morning John calls me and says ìRon, weíve got a chance. You know weíre moving players. This is the toughest thing Iíve ever had to do. Youíre a 5 and 10 player and you have a right to turn it down, but we have a chance to get three pitchers from the California Angels and they want you bad. Theyíre willing to give you a two year deal, unbelievable money!î

I said ìJohn, you called me at a bad time. My wife is in the hospital and I donít have time to talk about it or even discuss it. Call me in a week.î I hung up the phone and I had tears. I didnít cry, I just had tears.

A week later he calls me and I said ìJohn, Iím not going to move my family to California.î I wanted to be a Cub. Then he really hurt me and said ìWhere do you want to go?î I had to hang up the phone. I bawled because I knew that was it. I called him back and said ìIím going to retire. Iím not going anywhere.î

Then I got a call from White Sox manager Chuck Tanner and I was staying in Chicago. To be honest when that happened, I lost my desire and love for the game. I hit .300 that last year for the Cubs, I had 25 home runs or whatever. But I lost my enthusiasm. Even tho I was happy to stay in Chicago, it wasnít the same.

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Cross-Town Rivalry

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

The first Cross-Town series is already upon us, and well, I just don’t care that much. First of all, it’s just too early for all this, and second, living in the Chicago area, it’s one of the most overhyped sporting events we have around here. A big part of the problem is the total media oversaturation. It’s not just the coverage, it’s that the coverage is lazy. Every newspaper, TV and radio station has a field day, essentially rehashing the same old stories they ran last year. The papers always do the same things: pick an All City Team and of course, regale us with tales from the classic matchups way back in 2002 and if we’re lucky, list out the players who have the best statistics in the series for each side. The radio coverage is even less creative. Essentially, all hosts spend the week on autopilot, taking phone calls that go like invariably like this: “I’ve been a Cubs/White Sox fan for over 20/40/200 years and I just want to say that all those Cubs/White Sox fans out there are nothing but white trash/yuppie scum/overweight meth addicts/mincing faries/idiots who only go to the park so they can get drunk/start fights/wave while talking on their cell phone/run on the field and attack various umpires and opponents. Finally, you can count on every TV station in the city to dig up every two-bit hack that ever played for both teams, to ask them about the differences between Cubs and Sox fans. It has been like that all week, and will be again in the week leading up to the 2nd series. So you will have to forgive me if I’m a little less than enthused about the whole rivalry thing.

However, I did want to take a quick look at this series, because it does have some important implications for both teams. For the Sox it’s pretty simple, they need to keep piling up wins. Despite jumping out to the best record in the majors, they aren’t running away from the Twins who are only 5 games back in the division. With a lot of games left to play between the two rivals, the White Sox need to pour it on now, as they have not fared well against Minnesota during the late season series. Also, while I think that the Sox are counting on Frank Thomas to bolster the lineup and guys like Konerko and Dye to improve their performances, their pitching is likely to slump at some point, and it’d be nice to have a cushion when that happens.

The Cubs are another story. They are trying to build some momentum after winning 5 of their last 7, but to be honest, they haven’t beaten anyone who’s very good, and they haven’t exactly looked like world beaters in those games either. So this is the weekend when we find out what this team is made of. Will they prove to be a legitimate playoff contender, just a brilliant Jim Hendry trade away from the World Series? Or will Derrek and the Dominos be knocked over by the seemingly invincible White Sox? One thing is for sure, with the pitching matchups favoring the Cubs the pressure is on Dusty Baker. If the Cubs are embarrassed at home by their in-city rivals, Baker’s job is going to be in serious jeopardy. I believe that the key for the Cubs will have to be the suddenly resurgent bullpen. They’ve been good as of late, but is this real, or is it just a death rattle before the next implosion? If the answer is the latter, then this could be Dusty Baker’s last Cross-town Series.

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Sweet (albeit improbable) Victory

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

nifty neifi Todd Hollandsworth Macias

Like one of Dr. Pavlovís proverbial dogs, Cub fans have undergone systematic conditioning this year to the extent that we have come to expect the worst. I hate that. I want to listen or watch the game with hope, anticipation and with an overall positive frame of mind. Like that girl in “50 First Dates”, I want to approach each new game with a type of amnesia as to what occurred before.

Otherwise, following this team is but an exercise in despair and real life gives us enough of that thank you very much without our recreation time being more of the same.

Surely, then, when in the 8TH & 9th innings the fate of the Cubs fall to the likes of Perez, Hollandsworth and Macias, a gnawing sense of futility begins to exponentially grow with every pitch within the pit of my stomach.

The season didnít start out that way. I have done nothing but cheer on Neifi since day one, goading my contemporaries in the process. For awhile I enjoyed a playful adversarial relationship with the Todd Hollandsworth Fan Club. And while my fellow bloggers kicked Macias around for sport, I kept silent.

And so it is with exceptional personal glee to report that each of these three performed with aplomb this afternoon as the Cubs defeated the Pirates, 3-2, coming from behind late for the second day in a row.

The drama is taut indeed throughout the game. Going into the 8th inning, the Cubs have but three hits and it seems that an excellent outing by Glendon Rusch will be wasted. With one out and runners on 1st and 3rd, Neifi strolls to the plate.

But which Neifi will we see here? The one who doubled in the 1st or the one who hit into the double play in the 3rd? Fearing the worst, I am tempted to turn the radio off. Neifi isnít as hot as he was earlier in the season as the Cub Blog Army seems to find it necessary to remind me so often in recent days. Rarely have I seen so many seize upon the obvious with such abandon.

Hairston steals second, taking some of the pressure off of Perez. Then Neifi reminds me why I nicknamed him ìNiftyî to begin with as he lifts a pitch far enough to score Fontenot from 3rd. The Cubs have their first run of the day.

The Pirates fail to score in their half of the 8th thanks to Michael Wuertz who gets 3 outs by pitching to two batters.

Top of the 9th. The inning starts out positively enough when Jeromy Burnitz walks on a full count. He represents the tying run and Michael Barrett is coming up. Baker puts on the hit and run but the Pirates figure it out and guns down Burnitz on a perfect pitchout.

Reaching for the Tums, I consume double the usual dosage when Barrett doubles to center. Oh the angst, there could have been two on and nobody out at the very least and the score tied 2-2 at the most!

With Patterson due up, Pittsburgh skipper Lloyd McClendon throws the book of unwritten baseball rules into his locker to keep company with that base he uprooted a year or two ago. He puts the potential go ahead run on base.

Your move, Dusty. OK, Golden Boy Jason Dubois is lifted and Hollandsworth is sent up to hit in his stead. If this backfires, Baker will be burned in effigy from Berwyn to Lake Shore Drive. Todd returns smiles to the faces of his beleaguered and misunderstood fan club by rifling a shot off of Wardís glove that bounces down the right field line. Barrett scores the tying run and Patterson hustles to third. As Pat Hughes observes, ìThe world has been lifted from Todd Hollandsworthís shoulders.î

Up comes Macias. Breathing into a paper bag, I listen tentatively as Jose connects long enough for Patterson to score on a sac fly (4 of the 5 runs in the game score via the sac fly). Cubs lead 3-2 but the Pirates have one more chance.

Ryan Dempster, the Cubs new closer, is called upon to seal the deal. Ron Santo fears a base on balls. Ryan does one better, promptly giving up a double to Redman, one of the fastest men in a Pirate uniform. I begin that groan that starts near my liver and works its way slowly, excruciatingly up through every cavity within my body. Cubkiller Mackowiak is up, representing the winning run. Shades of í04 run thru my mind when he did more than break Cub fansí hearts, he chewed them up in itsy bitsy pieces. He walks. Two on, no out. My colon is doing the Macarena.

Sanchezí bunt is too strong and is hit straight back to Dempster who wisely goes to third, outing the lead runner. An error by Jerry Hairston loads the bases with one out. I roll up into a fetal position, hoping to heaven nobody walks into my office. Jack Wilson is up. He only has 3 hits on the day. No way he will get his fourth, right? I said right??!! He hits it to Neifi. Neifi tosses it to Hairston for one, who relays it to Lee for the double play and the Cubs win. Dempster gets his second save in as many days, bringing to mind the good ol days when Mitch Williams and Lee Smith closed games for the Cubs.

Well done, gentlemen.

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Be The Tribune Co. For A Day

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

One of my favorite things about Monday Night Football as a kid was watching the “You Make The Call” commercials. In case you’re not familiar with them, here is how they worked. They would show a play to test your knowledge of the rule book. It was never an obvious play that people would know. Then, they would ask you to make the call of what should have happened. I was always terrible at guessing mainly due to the fact that I was a dumb kid that didn’t know much about the rules. Nonetheless, it was fun to get a chance to make the “decision”.

As this season slowly inches closer to the trash heap, I’d like to give you all the chance to make the call. You’re the CEO of the Tribune Company for a day. You have only 24 hours to work before the other Trib members realize that you have the real CEO tied up in the closet. You’ll have to act fast and go in with a plan. Nothing is off limits, but it has to be able to take place in the 24 hr time limit. In other words, if you fire a manager, you better have a guy in mind to take the spot. If you want to make a trade, it has to be one that makes sense and is foreseeable, because trades usually take a good amount of dealing before agreement.

Fix this team before it’s too late. Do whatever it takes to get the ship righted and back on track. Post your plan in the comment section. I’ll post my plan soon.

Update: – It appears that the Cubs are in fact moving backwards. They have signed the backup infielder they talked about. His name? Enrique Wilson!!! I love what Rotoworld had to say: “Wilson, Neifi Perez and Jose Macias all on the same team. This should be good. Wilson better not have any fantasy value as a backup for Perez at shortstop.” At least we’re not the only ones that question moves. They also had to move Ronny “Bones” Cedeno down to AAA to make room. Rotoworld had this to say about Bones: “Cedeno went 5-for-16 with a home run while with the Cubs. He still should be the club’s choice to take over at shortstop should Neifi Perez ever join Nomar Garciaparra on the injured list” Ah, the frustrations that come with being a Cub fan.

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I Spy

Monday, May 16th, 2005

I spy doppelgangers: Clint Barmes and Craig Counsell.

I spy Hee Seop Choi.

I spy Peter Gammons stating the obvious.

I spy Joe Morgan writing a book for himself.

I spy the improbable.

I spy my favorite blog.

I spy the universe righting itself.

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Cubs News and Notes – Lost Weekend

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

After an ugly 3 game series with the Washington Regionals the Cubs season is coming more into focus. Don Zimmer said that after 40 games, you pretty much know what your team is. Well as it stands now, the Cubs can be no better than 20-20 after their first 40 games. They’re sitting in 4th place in the NL Central 7.5 games behind St. Louis, with the Brewers(!) and Pirates(!!!) in front of them. Here’s what I learned during the Washington series:

The Turning Point:
For most teams, this comes on the field. A big game, or a big series the outcome of which dictates the flow of the rest of the season for a team. In 2003 that point came when the Cubs and Cardinals squared off in a 5 game series, with the Cubs taking 4, sending the Cardinals into a tailspin, and riding that momentum to a division title. In 2004, it came in the August series with Houston, where the Astros took 3 out of 4 and then went on to their best finish in franchise history taking the Wild Card as the Cubs collapsed in the final week. This year’s turning point may not come on the field at all. Because right now the fate of the Cubs season depends on the outcome of the MRI that will be performed on Carlos Zambrano’s right elbow on Monday. Make no mistake, if Zambrano’s arm is badly hurt, there’s going to be hell to pay. The finger is going to pointed at everyone from Larry Rothschild for not getting Zambrano to economize pitches, to Dusty Baker for the 136 pitch complete game to Jim Hendry whose failure to upgrade the bullpen meant that Baker had no real choice but to leave Zambrano in. And mark my words, without Carlos Zambrano this Cubs team will be lucky to finish 4th.

Jerry Hairston is getting the Mark Bellhorn treatment from Dusty
When you think about it, Bellhorn and Hairston aren’t that different. They’re slightly below average hitters with an aptitude for taking walks. Bellhorn has more power, and Hairston’s a little better defensively, but that’s about it. Oh, and both managed to play themselves into Dusty Baker’s doghouse in record time for veteran players. Hairston has to know it’s bad when Aramis Ramirez gets the day off, and Baker elects to go with Macias, Perez and Cedeno in his infield. I don’t expect Hairston to be long for this team (actually, at the start of the season, I advocated trying to trade him for bullpen help before all the injuries to the middle infield), because face it, when Baker suddenly starts a rookie over a vet, that’s something. Do I think Baker is wrong in playing Cedeno over Hairston? No(although I have a bad feeling that we may see Jose Macias at 2nd when Ramirez comes back). But it definitely shows an inconsistency (and some would say favoritism) in Dusty’s management style. I mean, if Todd Hollandsworth was hitting .255 with a .360 OPB, do you think Jason DuBois would be playing?

LaTroy Hawkins is ruined
I was worried that keeping Hawkins in the closer’s spot too long might affect him mentally. If Hawkins wasn’t mentally tough enough to pitch the 9th inning, what would make us think that he’s mentally tough enough to bounce back from that failure and subsequent demotion. LaTroy may eventually bounce back, but for now he’s the most expensive long reliever in the league.

Andy McPhail is still annoying
You’ve all seen this quote from McPhail in Joe’s post:

”Like everybody else, I am not wowed by the won-loss record,” MacPhail told the Chicago Tribune. ”But the blame game is something that seems to be more prevalent today in our sports media than it was 10 or 15 years ago. What we are really focused on is trying to fix the problem, not assigning blame. You know, assigning blame is kind of a waste of energy.”

I’m not sure exactly what Andy’s point is here. That the media is playing the blame game? The media’s job is to report on, analyze and yes, criticize the team. As for McPhail, he hasn’t done anything productive since he hired Jim Hendry. Maybe he doesn’t think “assigning the blame” is a good use of time, but last time I checked most people are judged upon results in their jobs, so blame certainly can be constructive in determining who might need to be fired or retained. But then unlike most people, Andy got a high profile job in baseball because his daddy had one, so I guess I shouldn’t presume to know as much as he does.

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Looks Like I Had That One

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

Maybe I was right about this. The good ole Boston Globe is rumoring what I had suggested a few weeks ago.

Dusty’s trail
There is already speculation in Chicago that Grady Little, a special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, is in line for the managing job if the team decides to make a move with the embattled Dusty Baker, who has watched his bullpen implode on a daily basis. The coup de grace came 10 days ago when LaTroy Hawkins gave up the tying and winning runs when he tried to double up Jose Offerman on a liner back to the box, and his throw struck Offerman in the helmet and bounced into the stands. Baker, who has a year left on his deal and was hailed as a savior when he left the Giants in 2003, received a vote of confidence from team president Andy MacPhail last week. ”Like everybody else, I am not wowed by the won-loss record,” MacPhail told the Chicago Tribune. ”But the blame game is something that seems to be more prevalent today in our sports media than it was 10 or 15 years ago. What we are really focused on is trying to fix the problem, not assigning blame. You know, assigning blame is kind of a waste of energy.”

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Thru Cub Eyes: Ferguson Jenkins

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Over at CubTracker I started a Friday series that looked at life and baseball and the Cubs from those who have actually played for the team. Thus far I have highlighted Ernie Banks, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams and Randy Hundley. Fergie is my first player spotlight for the VFTB. These excerpts are from Carrie Muskat’s superb compilation, Banks to Sandberg to Grace, a recommended read from your humble correspondent. You will find it at your favorite outlet for fine Cub literature. Next week: Ron Santo.

Ferguson Jenkins

These youngsters today, they donít know how to pitch. You learn how to pitch in the minor leagues. You canít do anything about the weather, you canít do anything about the wind. The No. 1 thing you can do is you have to know what to do when youíre out there, and the composure of learning how to pitch should have been taught to you in the minor leagues.

In my estimation, you have to make the hitters swing at pitches. If you throw seven or eight pitches to each hitter, pretty soon the pitch count is going to be astronomical. I used to make guys swing at first or second pitches. I used to have five -, six ñ pitch innings. You donít have to strike people out to make them swing at the ball.

I enjoyed pitching at Wrigley Field. It was fun. I played in a small ballpark, and I learned how to pitch in a small ballpark. Itís a psychological thing, too. If you have a fear of mountains, you canít be a mountain climber. If you have a fear of pitching in small ballparks, you are not going to do well. I didnít fear Wrigley Field. I enjoyed pitching there.

In í69 we were close-knit. I donít think anyone was bitter about this guyís ability or that guyís ability. And by far we didnít make any money, so nobody was jealous of our salaries. We didnít make squat back in those days. It was terrible. I would rather have a million dollar contract than $65,000. I think everybody understood we were trying to win a championship for the Cubs and for the city. We got close but it just didnít happen.

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1st Annual Cubs Bullpen Telethon

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

Scene: WGN Television studio. The set is the same as that of the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Pat Hughes and Andy McPhail stand on stage in the foreground, while Dusty Baker, Mike Remlinger, Todd Hollandsworth and Jose Macias man a bank of telephones with a giant electronic total board reading $0.00 behind them.

Pat: And we’re back here, live at the 1st annual Chicago Cubs telethon, the proceeds of which go to help in the prevention and cure of Sudden Cubs Bullpen Syndrome. Andy, maybe you could help us out by explaining what this is all about.

McPhail: Well Pat, every year, the Chicago Cubs do their best to put together a top notch pen. And every year, despite one of the highest payrolls in the National League, we fail. Sometimes it’s because of age, sometimes it’s injury, and sometimes it’s just plain insanity. Whichever the case, no lead is safe and our crack medical staff has lumped it all in to one easy diagnosis Sudden Cubs Bullpen Syndrome or SCBS.

Pat: That’s right Andy, and we’re here today to try and raise some money for the Chicago Cubs, in order to help cure the pitchers we have, and maybe splurge on a guy from another team.

Andy: Yes, and I’d first of all like to thank all our great volunteers for manning the phones today. Let’s give them a big hand (McPhail looks back at the volunteers and seems confused), hey, where are Weurtz and Wellemeyer at?

Dusty: Dude, I let Weurtz handle one call, but then brought in Remlinger to take the rest.

McPhail: And Wellemeyer?

Dusty: Dude, who is this Wellemeyer I keep hearing about? If you mean that blond kid, I sent him out to wash my car.

Pat: Well that’s fine, because we’ve got somebody else to man the phones, a man who spends all day on the phone, please welcome Cubs GM Jim Hendry!

Hendry walks on stage, he’s wearing an untucked Polo shirt and his hair isn’t combed

McPhail: As you can see from Jim, this it’s been a grueling day for all of us here, but we’re trying to pull through.

Hendry: Actually, I just got here 5 minutes ago. I’m not tired at all.

McPhail: Then for godssake take a shower and then get back there and man the phones. Anyway, I’d like now to bring a very special guest, someone who has supported us for a long time, and who has some very special young men with him. Please welcome Dr. James Andrews, and Jimmy’s Kids!

Andrews enters, followed by Chad Fox, Scott Williamson, Ryan Dempster and Joe Borowski

Andrews: As you can see, all of these men have been inflicted with SCBS at one time or another, and with the help of everyone out there, they are heading down the path towards recovery.

Andrews pats Chad Fox on the back. Fox’s right arm falls off and clatters to the ground.

Fox: WHY DOES THAT KEEP HAPPENING?!?

Andrews: Don’t worry about it Chad, the 3rd surgery is free.

Borowski suddenly embraces McPhail

Borowski: Mr. McPhail, I just want to thank you so much for all you’ve done to help us!

McPhail recoils from Joe, he’s now drenched in sweat

McPhail: Good Lord Joe! It’s 65 degrees in this studio, what is wrong with you?

Borowski: Sorry, I sweat when I’m nervous, or tired, or hungry or…

McPhail: Well our time is almost up here, and we haven’t hit our goal, so I guess it’s time for my big heartfelt speech.

Suddenly, LaTroy Hawkins bursts on stage. He’s bug eyed as usual, and wearing a sweater vest

Hawkins: Get lost McPhail, you can’t do my job, but I sure as hell can do yours. People out there, I want to take a look at this pathetic waste of bullpen and dig down deep. And not just for us, but for the Mark Prior’s and Greg Maddux’s and Carlos Zambrano’s, who will each lose several wins a year due to our complete suckitude.

A phone rings, Jim Hendry grabs it

Hendry: Hello? Would you like to donate to help stop SCBS? Please, for the love of god, don’t hang up!

Derrek Lee: Hi, it’s Derrek Lee, I’d like to make a pledge of 5 million dollars to the cause.

Hendry: 5 million dollars?!? Derrek Lee, YOU HAVE JUST SAVED THE CUBS BULLPEN!

Lee: Wouldn’t be the first time.

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