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January 2012

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Scott Bakula and the Quest for the Modern Mr. Cub

Written by , Posted in General

A friend of mine once claimed that Scott Bakula was his default image for all quarterbacks. Until he actually saw a picture of, let’s say, Peyton Manning, the “Necessary Roughness” quarterback would serve as a mental placeholder, a reference point for what “quarterback” looks like. As twisted as that is, it popped into my head last week when it was announced that Kerry Wood had signed on for another year or two in Chicago and I started thinking about who the default image of  “Chicago Cub” is to today’s Cubs fan.

The obvious, and wrong, answer is Ernie Banks. Banks is Mr. Cub. He is almost universally ranked as the greatest player ever to don the red “C” cap and his “Let’s play two!” catchphrase has become an idealistic illustration of days gone by when players took the field with the joie de vivre befitting of a children’s game. The man coined the term “friendly confines of Wrigley Field”, for Pete’s sake. Here’s the problem: Mr. Cub is all he’s ever been to me, and I suspect that is true for most visitors to this website. I never had a chance to see Banks play; he retired eight years before I was born and when I picture Banks, I see an old man in a suit jacket and ball cap waving to an adoring crowd. He is the most legendary Cub player of all time, but based on the fact that he hasn’t played for over 40 years, he can’t possibly be the personification of the franchise. Not for anyone younger than 60 anyhow.

Using a healthy dose of subjectivity and loose criteria constructed purely for this exercise, I set out to determine who the personification of “Cub” is today. First, the player has to have played in the last two decades and he had to have spent a large part of his career with the Cubs. Second, he needs to have been good…if we’re creating a logo out of a modern Cubs player, Augie Ojeda can’t be our Jerry West. With those measures in mind, I have narrowed it down to five finalists for the Modern Day Mr. Cub:

Mark Grace:  Some how, Grace has managed to become simultaneously overrated and underrated as a player. However, no matter where you rank Grace in the pantheon of Cubs greats on the field, there is no doubt that he is one of the most legendary “fan favorites” of all time, due mostly to his image as a “normal guy” off the field. He smoked, he drank, he chased women and then he showed up at the ballyard, did his job and did it pretty well.

Greg Maddux: Maddux is not only the best Cubs pitcher of all-time; he is, in my mind, the best pitcher of my lifetime. Unfortunately, though he spent nine seasons with the Cubs and is one of only six players to have his number retired by the organization, he spent the majority of his career and played his best baseball for another franchise.

Ryne Sandberg: Sandberg is my favorite baseball player of all-time and almost a no-brainer to me, and it’s difficult for me not to automatically think of him as Mr. Cub v.2. Had things gone as planned, his ascension to manager of the Cubs would have cemented him in this role. However, that didn’t happen and his best playing years were now more than 20 years ago. Anyone younger than 25 never really got to see him play at all, which puts him right on the fringe of relevancy to a large portion of current fans.

Sammy Sosa: There was once a time, not so long ago really, when we couldn’t have even had this debate. Sosa’s star burned so brightly in the late 90’s and early 00’s that it would have been ridiculous to even consider calling someone else the face of the franchise. He was one of two people credited with saving the entire sport of baseball; he was bigger than the Cubs. Of course, being bigger ended up being part of the problem and Sosa is now more known as a poster child of the steroid era.

While I hold a special place in my heart for each of the players listed above (yes, even you, Sammy), none of them quite fit the role I’m looking to fill.  All were great players, but came up lacking in one area or another. At the end of the day, there is only one recent player that I can label the “quintessential Cub”, and that player is Kid-K himself.

Kerry Wood: Wood immediately captured the imagination of Cubs fans with his 20-strikeout game in 1998, and almost as quickly, he looked like he might become the next big bust when he blew out his elbow. Then 2003 came: 266 strikeouts, the NLDS, the game 7 home run…the legend was finally being realized! Ah, but then more injuries. After that there was the curious case of a baseball bat and Sammy Sosa’s boombox, then in 2008 he was a dominant closer, then the next year he was gone only to return to his rightful place in Wrigley Field two years later.

You couldn’t make up a story about a player that better personifies the roller coaster ride of being a Cubs fan through the 90’s and 00’s than Wood. He may not be Mr. Cub, but he is, without a doubt our Scott Bakula.

  • Buddy

    I like Kerry Wood, but based on expectations he’s been a bit of a disappointment: 13 seasons, 86-73 (if you care about record), 3.64 ERA, 1,371 IP, 1,576 K’s, 655 BB. Certainly not terrible, but nothing to get excited about.

  • Dustin

    I agree, Buddy but I kind of feel like that strengthens his “personification of the franchise” credentials…

  • Buddy

    That’s a fair point Dustin.

  • Seymour Butts

    Dustin, you would be surprised how many of us here do have memory of seeing Banks play. I’m still very comfortable calling him Mr. Cub. And I’m not 60, though hope to be someday. You might as well confine your search to a ludicrous extreme and ask who is Mr Cub of those currently wearing the uniform. I have no issues with Wood from the above list, but I’ve met both he and Ernie (lunch, not dinner). Banks has a presence that really outshines who ever else is in the room. He’s still Mr. Cub.

    And Maddux played for some other franchise, (Sosa,Wood and Grace as well). Rhyno has the numbers, but he will likely wear a different cap on a major league bench as well, soon.

  • Buddy

    My vote for Mr. Cub goes to Chico Walker.

  • Chico Walker? That guy can’t even carry Vance Law’s jockstrap. One vote for Vance.

  • Buddy

    Vance would be an excellent choice as well. Another Cub great to consider is the one and only Derrick May. That guy could do it all: make lots of outs, not hit for power, play terrible defense, run like mud.

  • mrbaseball2usa

    I would have said Sandberg… him being manager would have only solidified it for me.

  • CubbieDude

    I’m not the least bit ashamed to say I have seen Ernie Banks play ball live and in the flesh many times in my lifetime, and that’s why I have absolutely no doubt that there is no other legitimate contender for the title of “Mr. Cub”.

    But, for the newbies who missed out on the real thing and want someone to look up to, here’s my opinion.

    The personification of “Cub” today is not a ball player at all. The Modern Mr. Cub is Theo Epstein.

  • I don’t know about you guys, but when I heard that my number one Mr. Cub pitching great signed with the Dodgers, it hit me hard. I understand that players move on, but seeing your hero in a different uniform is hard. Best of luck to Mr. Cub John Grabow…big thanks for the memories and dominance on the mound.

  • Buddy

    I hear you J. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Kind of like when Jose Guzman moved on. I cried for a week.

  • CubbieDude

    jswanson: You’re right. John Grabow and his ridiculous contract were the personification of everything bad the Chicago Cubs had become (up until a few months ago).

  • chet

    Jeff Baker….he is mr cub for me. We seem to be a team full of utility players….so he fits.

  • Come to think of it, Scott Bakula himself might be the modern Mr. Cub. Bakula’s 20 strikeout game in 1998 was lights out. Who could forget Bakula’s no-hitter against the Astros…in Miller Park of all places! Oh, and “The Bakula Game” in ’84, when Bakula took Sutter yard in the 9th for his second homer…incredible. How about when Bakula was all juiced up in 2000? He hit a ball across Waveland onto the roof of a building for christ’s sake. Mr. Cub stuff right there. Oh, and then there is the infamous Bakula incident. With Scott Bakula pitching, Scott Bakula popped a drive down the third baseline…before Scott Bakula could make the play, lifetime Cub fan Scott Bakula made contact with the batted ball. A few pitches later Scott Bakula booted a routine grounder, that would have ended the rally.

  • Czar Chasm

    And some people think I don’t have a sense of humor. Take my wife…please.

  • Buddy

    Wasn’t there a Quantum Leap episode where Scott Bakula went back in time and tried to prevent the Danny Jackson signing?

  • flyslinger2

    Im not one to usually contradict what everyone else has put forth but this is one time when you all have it wrong. Chuck Norris is the consummate Mr. Cub. For that matter, Mr. Redsox, Mr. Whitesox-heck, he could probably be all the teams simultaneously and win.
    £
    In case Norris is dropped from the list (I hope you sleep with one eye open at night) Sandberg is my second choice.

  • BLPCB

    It’s Woody for me. I am a Cubs fan bc of his 20k game. So-so would have been a lock 10 years ago, but he hasn’t been with the Cubs since 2004, and he doped. I stayed a Cubs fan bc of Sosa. I remember the first thing I would do when looking at the box score is to see if he went yard. I really need to get a Woody jersey. I got rid of most of my Cubs jerseys since Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez, and Bozo are now gone.

  • BLPCB

    P.S. I am 120 miles from Tampa, and I have decided to name my GPS stupid Flanders

  • Bakula served 20 KS. See above.

  • BLPCB

    Does Homer Simpson hate him like Ned Flanders?

  • Doc Raker

    A couple of facts about Ernie Banks- Ernie was the Cubs first black player. Kinda ironic that the guy who breaks the Cubs color barrier goes onto becoming the greatest loved Cub. When we were at camp someone asked Ernie why he was always so happy to be at the ballpark. He replied to a roomfull of 100 douche pot belly campers (me included- that’s my perception of what the big leaguers think of the campers- sorry Seymour) “Aw, well I will tell you guys cause you are my friends but I had an unhappy marriage at the time and I was just happy to get out of the house and come to the ballpark.” I believed him but who knows.
    Also Ernie hit 500 HR’s when it really meant something. Ernie Banks stands for more than just stellar baseball. A former Negro League player Banks is part of American history, not just Cubs history. I am big fans of all those other players but they can’t replace Mr. Cub.

  • Doc Raker

    Fergie Jenkins may take exception to the opinion of “Maddux is not only the best Cubs pitcher of all-time”. Fergie had five 20 win seasons with the Cubs. One 20 game win season he lost 5 games 1-0. Jenkins is the best Cub pitcher of all time in my opinion.

  • CubbieDude

    Doc Raker: My dad (“The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan”) agrees with you about Fergie Jenkins being “the best pitcher we ever had”.

  • Dustin

    @Seymour and CubbieDude: i probably generalized a bit in talking about the demographics of people reading this site, but I’m not surprised at all that there would be a good deal of people on here that saw Banks play. However I’d venture to guess that a majority don’t fall into that category (or at least weren’t old enough to be able to put him into historic perspective at the time). I wish I had seen him play, and I’ve seen him in person as well and agree there is an energy about him that few can match. Indeed, despite having never seen him play, I would list him as the greatest Cub of all time. He IS Mr. Cub, and I wouldn’t mean to insinuate otherwise…but the fact remains that for anyone born in the last four decades his image is simply that of a legend, not a player. None of the players I mentioned hold a candle to him in terms of importance to the franchise or the sport historically, but I can tangibly relate my Cubs fandom to each of them to some degree, which I cannot say about Mr. Cub.

  • CubbieDude

    Dustin:
    I enjoyed reading your article. Well done.
    Everyone of the 5 players you singled out played during the years when I wasn’t following the Cubs closely. I don’t think I ever saw any of them playing live, and if I did, I wasn’t paying attention. My bad.

  • Buddy

    Where does Mordecai Brown fall on your list of best pitchers?

  • carpcasey

    It has to be Kerry who is and always will be my favorite player. That being said some of my fondest memories as youth are Vance Law smacking himself on the top of his helmet in the on-deck circle. MR Cub = Lester Lancaster.

  • Between Scott Bakula and Danny Jackson.

  • I’m 56 and I watched Banks for years (at first base, I just missed him at short). There was Santo, Williams, Jenkins and more, but Banks just stood out as Mr. Cub.

    The only player since who has come close to filling that role is Sandberg.

    I’m hoping Castro is the next Mr. Cub (I’m assuming he is not guilty).

    Of course, with the way players move around anymore, it is a difficult role to fill.

  • Dustin

    @Buddy: easily #1 amongst pitchers with fewer than 5 fingers on his pitching hand.

    @CubbieDude: Thanks! I love that baseball lends itself so well to debate about players that played decades apart…and for anything the cant be settled with words, there is always Strat-o-Matic.

    Also, my apologies to Earl Cunningham or the omission. Now that is a name that personifies the Cubs level of success over much of the past 30 years.

  • Buddy

    Just for fun, here are some of Mordecai Brown’s career numbers: 14 seasons, 239-130, 2.06 ERA, 3,172.1 IP, 1,375 K’s, 673 BB, 1.06 WHIP, 271 CG, 55 shutouts, 49 saves, 43 home runs allowed. In 1909, he allowed one homer in 342 IP.

  • Eddie Von White

    I, too saw Ernie play in person at first base. I also remember his Ford commercials on TV. He owned a Ford dealership if my memory serves me correctly. I do not believe you can take the “Mr. Cub” title and give it to another person. There can only be one Mr. Cub. Those other guys mentioned are worthy of something, but you will have to come up with a different title. None of them can compare to Ernie’s loyalty and love of the game. That’s like saying you liked your first child so much you’re going to give your second one the same name.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Modern Day Mr.Cub is probably Ryne Sandberg yeah?
    A front office exec should never be considered….seriously.

    Or we go with Neifi Perez.

  • Doc Raker

    Cubbiedude- The Worlds Greatest Living Cubs Fan is a genius.

  • Jedi

    It has to be either Manny Trillo, Jerry Mumphrey, or Jeff Pico.

  • CubbieDude

    Doc Raker: It runs in the family!

  • Dusty Baylor

    Wait a minute…how could we have missed this..
    DAVE KINGMAN!!!

  • Seymour Butts

    Jose Cardinal.
    Only Cub player to acknowledge and give an autograph to an adolescent Eddie Vedder. And great Fro, That makes him Mr. Cub.

  • Buddy

    Mel Hall would make a fine Mr. Cub.

  • Jedi

    What about Mark Prior? He seems to capture the modern Cubs better than anyone. So much promise, an impossibly short period of dominance, followed by utter disappointment and failure.

  • Just noticed you mentioned Manny Trillo, Jedi. I think that was the name of one of Buddy’s bands in college

  • Buddy

    Yes. The Manny Trillo Experience. We rocked.

  • Acceptable answers would have included:
    ~ The Manny Trillo
    ~ Manny Trio
    ~ Manly Trillo
    ~ Many Tree, Yo

  • Buddy

    We almost went with “Barry’s Foote,” but I got out voted.

  • I fold. You lost me there bud…

  • Buddy