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One More With Velo (is all I am asking for)

Friday, July 8th, 2016

How many clichés have you heard regarding pitching in baseball?

You can never have enough, TINSTAAP, pitching and defense wins championships…

…none of them are wrong.  However, I do take umbrage when pundits make this statement; “velocity doesn’t matter”.

It does.

Of course things like secondary pitches, command, deception, movement, are all very important…and I would admit that velocity is not as important for starting pitchers.  Yet, if I am building a bullpen I want as many guys as possible who throw 95mph plus.

Duh! (Your response right now)…everyone does! Every freaking team in baseball does! Especially since most teams are trying to follow the Royals winning blueprint from last season.  Our Cubs are no different…yet right now their bullpen has been letting them down…and some of it may be due to a lack of velocity.

In Wednesday’s game, the Cubs lead 3-1 until Tucker Barnhart hit a 3 run homer off of Trevor Cahill and just like that…the game was gone.  Cahill has done a nice job over the last calendar year for the Cubs using his sinking fastball and his deceptive movement.

According to Fangraphs Cahill is averaging 92.3 MPH on his fastball.  Compare this to a pitcher the Cubs saw routinely in the 7th inning in the Miami series…David Barraclough…who is sitting at 95.5… or David Phelps who is throwing right at about 94.  At first glance those differences may not seem significant.  92? 94? 95.5? Only a couple of ticks on a radar gun right? Well…not really.

First…my not so scientific argument…these are averages…so Trevor Cahill(hey…I like Trevor Cahill) sits between 90 and 94 on his fastball…Phelps goes 92-96 and Barraclough sits 94-98…those are considerable differences.

Now the scientific evidence…

Last night I watched the documentary Fastball directed by Jonathon Hock and narrated by Kevin Costner (if its baseball or westerns for Costner…count me in!) For a baseball nerd (like me) I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it.  Without giving away any spoilers – Who threw the hardest pitch ever? Who did Ted Williams say was the fastest pitcher he ever saw? Could Bob Feller really throw harder than a speeding locomotive?- I will use some of the science involved.  There is an entire section called “92-100” which breaks down the difference anecdotally and scientifically between these important 8 miles per hour.  First, Fastball has hitters like Bryce Harper, Brandon Phillips, and Tori Hunter(whose description of a helpless at bat off of Joel Zumaya is wonderful) explain the noticeable difference in the batter’s box.  Which, once again…duh?!

Ah…but the science of Fastball!  I will explain this as simply as I can (for the reader and myself).  A hitter has 50 more milliseconds to react to a ball thrown at 92 mph than one at 100 mph.  50 milliseconds may not sound like much…but according to these fellas who are lot smarter than me…the brain is capable of about 25 times more brain computations during those 50 milliseconds.

Example- A pitch comes in at 92 MPH…the hitter can see the release, gauge the location, and possibly adjust in the last 5 feet of the balls flight.  A pitch comes in at 100 MPH…guess and swing…and many times the hitter can’t even see it in the last 5 feet!

The solution is simple…right? The Cubs just need to get a couple of 100 mph throwers.  Well we know the scarcity of these types of pitchers…and good freakin’ luck finding one. (At least one that doesn’t have a domestic violence incident in his background)  Let’s go back to those 50 milliseconds for a moment. Let’s say a 93-97 mph split computes to a 30 millisecond difference…that will still greatly affect the hitter’s ability to make decisions.  Would Tucker Barnhart been able to catch up to a 95mph fastball?

Currently Hector Rondon (once again according to Fangraphs) is sitting at 95.9 average mph…then Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Carl Edwards Jr. are all in the 94 and change range. If you peruse most MLB bullpens you will see similar breakdowns with a handful having two or three 95 plus guys.

So Theo and Jed…that’s all I am asking for…just ONE more 95 plus guy.  That’s it…maybe he’s already in the system (Corey Black), maybe he is on another team and has recently been demoted to the bullpen (Nathan Eovaldi)…but he is out there!

…and we need him. (Preferably sooner than later)

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Why Cubs Fans Need to Stop, Pause, and Enjoy

Friday, June 17th, 2016

I think it’s rather important when the Cubs are having a season like this…stop right there! …the modern day Cubs have never had a season like this.  I started following every Cubs game in 1977.  There are only two regular seasons that come remotely close; 1984 and last year.  The Cubs were very good in 2007 and 2008, yet in my opinion, any team that relied on Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot was never really that good.

I wrote on this blog earlier in the season about enjoying the ride, and not necessarily making this a World Champs or bust season.  With this amazing start…of course we will be disappointed if they don’t win it all…but I still think it’s important to stop…pause…and enjoy the season.

Let’s consider these facts:

  • The Cubs have won 23 games by 5 runs or more…more than half of their wins are “blowouts”.
  • The Cubs currently have a 9.5 game lead over the Cardinals and 11.5 over the Pirates.  Think about that for a second.
  • Going into Wednesday’s game…the Cubs have won exactly 22 games at home, and 22 games on the road.
  • The Pythagorean Win-Loss is a projection of what a team’s record should be based on the number of runs scored and allowed…here are the National League Division leaders:

Washington Nationals     40-25 actual               41-24 Pythagorean

San Francisco Giants       40-26 actual             37-29 Pythagorean

Chicago Cubs                     44-19 actual             48-15 Pythagorean

Yes…that’s right…statistically the Cubs should have a better record.

  • The Cubs currently lead the league in walks…if you read my book you know that EVERY time in their history that the Cubs lead the league in walks…they have won 95 plus games.
  • As I was watching Pedro Strop come into Tuesday Night’s game and make Nationals hitters look silly…I thought to myself…Wow! We got this guy for Scott Feldman? What a steal! …oh, and we acquired Jake Arrieta in that deal as well.
  • The Cub’s team ERA is 2.64…a full half a run ahead of the Mets 3.16 which is second in the League. The Cub’s pitching is definitely on a “regression” watch, yet even after a bit of normalization the Cubs staff will remain among the leagues’ best statistically.
  • Among National League position player leaders in WAR…the Cubs have 3 of the top 10…Zobrist, Fowler and Bryant.
  • Ahh…but what about defense? The Cubs have made some errors lately. Well, using Defensive Efficiency which is a measure of balls in play converted into outs…the Cubs lead the league at .733, followed by the Dodgers at .721 and the Nationals at .709 respectively.  Anyone still think Jason Heyward isn’t worth all of that money? In fact, the Cubs .733 is tops in both the NL and AL.
  • Okay, okay, its fan voting…but the Cubs could have 5 position players and the starting pitcher in the All-Star game.
  • This may seem petty…but the Cubs currently have a 13 game lead over the Chicago White Sox.  Put that one on the board.
  • While this is another area that may be difficult to statistically quantify…the Cubs are probably positioned as well as any team to make trades.  Even after the “graduations” of Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Almora Jr., Baez, and Soler…they have players such as Dan Vogelbach…a lefty hitting first baseman who is still only 23 and has a slash line of .313/.434/.545 at AAA Iowa.  The Cubs have numerous assets from which to deal.  In my opinion they will be in the market for a reliever as well as another left-handed bat.
  • While Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist have regressed a bit…Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo are beginning to trend upward.  Barring injuries…the Cubs offense should improve over the last 100 games.

Wow… that’s some really good sh#t!  However, take it from this grizzled old-timer…don’t even think about the play-offs yet…just soak this in every day.  Cubs’ fans should make every game appointment TV…gaze over the stats with lovingly…and realize you are seeing something that has never happened before.  I hate to use these comparisons…but I have to:

I watched every game of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

I think I missed only 2 regular season games during the Bulls 1995-96, 72-10 title season.

…2016 has that kind of feel for our Chicago Cubs.

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Why I Won’t Be Disappointed If The Cubs Don’t Win the 2016 World Series

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

After two games, the Chicago Cubs have resembled a team worthy of being the ‘consensus’ pick to win the 2016 World Series.  The team boasts an incredibly deep, versatile and balanced line-up.  It feels surreal to objectively state the Cubs have the best line up in all of baseball…and to have that opinion shared by a majority of baseball observers.   The Cubs’ pitching staff, though not as deep, is also universally regarded as one of baseball’s best.  It feels rather bizarre…doesn’t it?

I am sure the fandoms of the 29 other MLB franchises are already tired of hearing about the Cubs.  I would imagine two in particular: 1). the attendance and attention starved, constant chip on their collective shoulders squad on the south side.  2). the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball, who hail from the mecca of racial peace and harmony that is St. Louis, Missouri.  The majority of those two groups will mutually be rooting against the Cubs every day…and will take great joy if the Cubs fail to win the 2016 World Series.   Conversely, the bulk of Cubs Nation will be despondent, dejected and communally crying out “not again!” or “why us?”

I will not be among them.

I know what you are thinking…well of course Chris… you just want to add another chapter to your critically acclaimed book Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 108 Reasons Why It’s Been 108 Years!

Nope…that’s not why. (However, if you feel like telling 10,000 of your friends to buy my book after that shameless plug…I won’t stop you.)

My actual reason is simple…historically it’s been really hard to win a World Series…really, really, really hard.  Winning a World Series is particularly difficult if you are not the Yankees, Cardinals, Giants, Red Sox, A’s or Dodgers.

Since its commencement in 1903, the World Series has been played 112 times. (RIP 1994)  An abundant amount of attention is given to the fact that the Cubs have not won a title since 1908.  I can’t argue with how ludicrous that drought seems…yet if one digs deep into World Series numbers…there are teams that are debatably as futile as the Chicago Cubs….or just one rung above them on the historically awful ladder.

The Yankees (duh) have the most titles with 27…which equal 24% of the total World Series championships.   The Cardinals (boo!) are second with 11, followed by the A’s at 9, Giants and Red Sox with 8, and the Dodgers with 6 respectively.   Thus, if you combine the top 6 teams in terms of titles won (Yankees, Cardinals, A’s Giants, Red Sox and Dodgers) they have won 69 championships…or 62%.  Consequently, in only 38% of MLB seasons has a team other than the Yankees, Cardinals, A’s, Giants, Red Sox or Dodgers won the World Series.  Therefore, according to baseball history, the odds are against you if you aren’t one of those teams.  A clearer image of the long odds of winning a World Series emerges as one delves deeper into World Series history.  Let’s take a look at the teams other than the above six… slotted into some nice little groupings:

THE ORIGINALS

These franchises have all been part of Major League Baseball since 1903.  Many of them have changed names, or relocated, but they have had 112 years of continuous opportunities to win a World Series….the results?

Reds 5-112, Pirates 5-112, Tigers 4-112, Braves 3-112, Orioles 3-112, White Sox 3-112, Twins 3-112, Cubs 2-112, Phillies 2-112 and Indians 2-112.

Once again…yes the Cubs’ drought is pathetic…but these franchises are just as inept or just nominally better.  For example, I have lived through both of the Phillies titles, and all three of the Orioles…therefore prior to 1968 these teams were traditionally bad.  Seven teams have played 112 seasons and won three titles or less!  Call it rationalization, but looking at these numbers puts World Series Championships in a different perspective.  These figures are a bit depressing…a franchise such as the Detroit Tigers…with a history of Hall of Fame players and great teams…have only won four World Series titles in 112 years.

THE MIDDLE-AGE EXPANSION TEAMS

These franchises have been around approximately half as long as the “originals” and their historical records are fairly inept:

Angels 1-55, Rangers 0-55, Astros 0-54, Mets 2-54, Royals 4-47, Nationals(Expos) 0-47, Padres 0-47, Brewers 0-47

Yikes! Only three of the eight have won a World Series…and they have seven titles out of 406 combined seasons.  Perhaps I live in a Cub-centric bubble, but I don’t recall ever hearing about the Rangers or Astros going 50 plus seasons without a title?

THE MARINERS AND THE BLUE JAYS

Both of these teams joined the league in 1977, and one of them has had respectable historic success:

Blue Jays 2-39, Mariners 0-39

THE YOUNG EXPANSION TEAMS

Arriving in 1993 and ‘98 respectively, these teams have served as a source of embarrassment to Cubs’ fans as ALL four of them have at least been to a World Series.  Perhaps the arrival and relative quick success of these teams has further sullied the Cubs’ dismal past.  However, shouldn’t the Indians, Rangers or Astros be lumped in the same shame cycle?

Rockies 0-23, Marlins 2-23, Diamondbacks 1-18, Rays 0-18

The point of these statistics is not to dispute the fact that the Chicago Cubs have been traditionally proficient at losing. None of these teams above have a 108 year championship drought…and if that is the sole measuring stick, then yes, the Cubs are the suckiest sucks that ever sucked.  However these numbers display that the Chicago Cubs are not the only team that has found winning a World Series to be a daunting task.  If the Chicago Cubs do not win the World Series this year, Cubs’ fans should avoid viewing the season through a fatalistic lens.

Of course I want the Cubs to win it all this year…yet I have vowed to enjoy the season no matter what the end result.  The present and future has never appeared this bright for the Chicago Cubs…and unlike in previous sporadic winning seasons…I am confident the championship window will not be closed after 2016.

…and I really don’t want to add another reason to my book.

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THE MLB AWAKENS (Star Wars and the Majors)

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

***Warning…if you are not a baseball fan who also happens to be a Star Wars nerd, this write-up is not for you! It contains only silliness, and has no relevant rumors, news or information.

I have done this before…it just seems the timing requires I take another go at it.

I was nine years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and like most of us in our mid to upper forties…I was smitten. As the original trilogy spanned my 4th grade year until my freshman year of high school…the characters, story, and mythology had a huge impact on my cultural development. The series actually helped shape a part of who I am…and I am not embarrassed to say that. (…okay, maybe a little)

If anyone can relate to the words above…then you were most likely as disappointed as me in the “prequels”. Oh, there were some cool elements…Darth Maul, the Pod Race, Darth Maul, Emperor Palpatine, Ewan McGregor and Darth Maul…but most of it was just a big pile of Bantha crap! (…and don’t even get me started on Hayden Christensen…who makes Dave Coulier look like DeNiro!)

…but alas! A New Hope emerged when word broke that a real sequel was on the way! A new Jar-Jar, Battle Droid and midi chlorian-less version, with promise of Stormtroopers, Han and Chewie, the Falcon, Luke, Leia and the capacity to get it right! The thought of this actually happening had seemed so illogical, so remote that I have been giddy waiting for the film the last few years. I even showed incredible discipline by avoiding all trailers and spoilers…I wanted the film to be a complete surprise…and like most nerds my age-I saw it on the preview night prior to the actual release.

Expecting my thoughts on the film? I doubt you would care…everything I have stated so far is to qualify me as a Star Wars-ologist…not a film critic.

A few years ago, when Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens debuted I habitually identified it as a name straight out of the Star Wars Universe. It was just too perfect…Jair Jurrjens? It still makes me giggle…and since I am always searching for giggles, after Jair…I always look for MLB/Star Wars names.

“The Force Awakens” will soon become the highest grossing film of all time. (Take that Avatar! and by the way James Cameron…are you waiting thirty years to make a sequel to that?) The cultural relevance of Star Wars is at its zenith…therefore I present members of the current Star Wars/MLB team:

TEAM 1– Non-Force Sensitive Pilot Good-guy types – Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, CJ Cron, Kyle Kubitza, Troy Tulowitzki, Vance Worley, Zack Cozart, JA Happ, Boone Logan, Tommy Pham, Xavier Scruggs and Tanner Roark.

TEAM 2– Friend and Foe Non-Force Sensitive Alien Types- Nori Aoki, Didi Gregorius, Arismendy Alacantara, Tuffy Gosewich, Dan Uggla, Coco Crisp, Yan Gomes, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Reid Brignac, Jumbo Diaz, and Ivan Nova.

TEAM 3– Jedi (both alien and human)- Chase Utley, Brock Holt, Kole Calhoun, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Nola, Starlin Castro, Lucas Duda, Koji Uehara and Kolten Wong. (Kris Bryant may seem force sensitive…but sorry…)

TEAM 4– Sith Lords- Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Xander Bogaerts, Yasiel Puig, Ubaldo Jimenez, Slade Heathcott, Noah Syndergaard, Radhames Liz, Jung Ho Kang, Mike Matheny and any other member of the Cardinals organization not previously mentioned.

If you registered at least one giggle I am satisfied…and if you are a combo MLB/Star Wars nerd like me…I implore you to search the galaxy for future team members.

…and on a final note…my mention of the Cardinals organization was not just a spiteful jab at the Birds…picture the following scene:

Cardinals’ General Manager Admiral Mozeliak addresses his subordinates…beneath the Admiral lay sheets and sheets of information stolen from the Houston Astros’ database…

“…many Bothans died to bring us this information”

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What To Get The Cubs Fan Who Has Everything This Holiday Season

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

I imagine many Cubs’ fans were asking for a David Price as a holiday gift.  The price (no pun intended…really) tag for that gift was too steep for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer; pseudo parents buying gifts for all us Cubs’ fans.  Theo/Jed quickly altered their buying strategy…going with quantity…three gifts instead of just one.

We must have been pretty good this year.

Last year we received a Jon Lester, which was way more than I was expecting…especially after years and years of getting nothing…or a gift that didn’t work too well…like an Edwin Jackson.  Ben Zobrist and John Lackey are pretty solid gifts…but odds are they won’t last too long.  But getting a Jason Heyward…a prime gift…was totally unexpected.  Heyward is like the gift that’s on your list…yet you know it’s something your parents can’t afford.  Then all of a sudden…BOOM!

Now…how about a nice stocking stuffer under $20? This is the perfect gift for the Cubs’ fan that you have no idea what to get-mom, dad, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle or maybe a 1,000 of your other friends.  I am shamelessly once again promoting my all-new, 2015 including, revised edition of Beyond Bartman Curses and Goats: 108 Reasons It’s Been 108 Years.

Check it out on Amazon now.

Thanks again for listening to this unabashed self-promotion/begging for money…hope to see some of you at the convention in January!

Happy Holidays and All the Best,

Chris

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Making Sense of the Cubs and the “Hot Stove”

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

I love this time of year. No, no…not the “holiday season”, or the run-up to Christmas Winter Break… (For us lazy shift-less teachers) the MLB offseason! I love this time of the year… it’s when rumors are flying like courier pigeons carrying unsubstantiated messages from one team to another. (I was going to use ravens instead of pigeons…not sure if everybody watches Game of Thrones)

Since the late 1970’s, (when I was a young pup and most of you were at least a decade from being born) I have fanatically followed baseball’s winter meetings…grasping for any crumbs of info I could scarf down. If you are under thirty…you have no idea how hard this was pre-internet…and pre-sports radio. I would call this thing called “Sports Phone” for like .75 cents a pop…and David Schuster (among others) would give updates from the meetings. Regrettably, searching for Winter Meetings info (and action) was usually a fruitless endeavor.

Yet here I am almost 40 years later…and I can’t wait for next week’s meetings in Nashville. Last year the meetings were in San Diego…Orlando the year before that…why do baseball execs never convene in Cleveland or Rockford? One of my life goals (I loathe the term “bucket list”) is to attend the meetings someday. Not exactly sure what I think I am going to do there? Dress up as room service and gain access to Theo and Jed’s rooms? Hang around the lobby like the dorkiest groupie other than a Trekkie? (Sorry…I prefer Star Wars) Make trades for my fantasy team?

The term “Hot Stove” comes from the idea of people huddled around the wood burning mechanism…discussing rumors and thoughts regarding their favorite teams. The term originated in the 1940’s, yet is still used today. My friend Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation coined and uses the term “luke-warm stove” to describe offseason trade talk…an accurate analysis of the tepid action that typically takes place. I would go a step further than Brett…the hot stove usually resembles a rapidly cooling skillet.

Yet…despite years and years of little to no team movement at the winter meetings…I get sucked in every year. I am Charlie Brown…and the winter meetings are Lucy Van Pelt holding the football…I will fall for it every time. I am back again…hoping the 2015 meetings will be a wheeling and dealing trade-a-thon! (not bloody likely)

In the age of constant and plentiful information, the hot stove/luke-warm stove/rapidly cooling skillet is more chaotic than ever. Let’s examine just what we have heard/read/been told so far regarding our favorite baseball club, along with my thoughts:

DAVID PRICE

The Cubs are Prices’ first choice…he wants to be reunited with Maddon, this was confirmed by a couple of anonymous baseball execs. Actually he really likes Toronto and wants to stay there…and Toronto is ready to write him a big check. The Blue Jays signed some replacements, and apparently don’t have the money. The Red Sox are making Price their number one priority…but wait, he really wants to come to the NL so he can hit. The Cubs are now balking at the asking price (no pun intended). This is just a smattering of info that’s been out there on Price…I just don’t see the Cubs adding another 25-30 million per year pitcher who will be aging along with Lester.

Oops. He just signed with the Red Sox…

ALEX GORDON

Peter Gammons was one of the first to make this connection…Gammons is buddies with Theo…he must know…right? The rumor popped up again last week on MLB Trade Rumors. Unless Schwarber is going to be traded (no flippin’ way) or Gordon can play center…this makes absolutely no sense to me.

JEFF SAMARDZJIA

“More likely than not” was how a Samardzija reunion was termed last week by Bruce Levine. Apparently Theo and Jeff S. had a dinner date to discuss the possibility…done deal…gotta be! Just yesterday Patrick Mooney reported that if Samardzija comes back it won’t be on a one year prove it deal…he speculates a 4 year 75 million dollar floor. Floor? No thanks…I am still not happy that Jeff took shots at Cubs’ fans on the way out…not to mention that his performance last year was…let me think…craptastic! I would rather have the draft pick that it will cost to sign him…especially since it will go to the White Sox.

STARLIN CASTRO FOR BRETT GARDNER

This “rumor” was out there recently and the Yankees shot it down quickly…saying it would take much more than Castro for Gardner. Please…this was entirely Yankee or agent driven…Gardner is 32, plays left-field and will make 13.5 million next year. This makes absolutely no sense and should have never been “reported”.

JOHN LACKEY

This makes some sense, so I will forego my attempt at a humorous intro. Lackey is friends with Lester and Ross…and has stated a preference for the NL. I would bet he ends up back with the Cards…or is a Giant, Cub or Dodger. I actually like this better than Samardzija. Lackey is much older (37 to 29), but would most likely require only a two-year commitment. Sorry, I am going to get all Hawk Harrelson-y on you here…but the guy knows how to win. Jeff S? I am not so sure.

BAEZ/SOLER FOR (FILL IN THE BLANK) YOUNG/CONTROLLABLE PITCHER

I would not trade either of these guys. We may already be seeing their “floors” and I think we would just be trading upside. I know Soler looks disinterested in going after fly balls…but how did he hit in the play-offs? The last time I saw a performance like that by a youngster in the post season was Miguel Cabrera against our beloved in the 2003 NLCS. Ask yourself this question; if the Cubs would have been talking about trading Mark Prior to the Marlins for Cabrera after the 2003 season…what would you have said? I would have said “Hell No!”…and I am guessing we would have both been wrong. Personally I have seen enough flashes from Javy (cough…three run bomb in NLDS clincher) to hang on to him as well. I like the idea of getting a controllable pitcher…but the plethora of names mentioned makes it futile to guess what a deal would even look like. In no particular order; Shelby Miller, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Julio Teheran, James Shields, Carlos Carrasco…a couple of these names make me drool(Ross, Carrasco)…the rest? I would take them in a deal that involves lower level prospects…the type of deals those teams won’t make.

Now that Price has signed (as I was finishing this piece), perhaps the stage is set for an eventful couple of weeks. My gut tells me the Cubs will solve CF with either Denard Span or the return of Dexter Fowler, land either Lackey or Samardzija…and add one more pitcher via trade. I will go out on a limb and say Andrew Cashner comes back to the Cubs for a couple of low level prospects. Those are my foolish thoughts on the upcoming winter meetings…what are yours?

…wait…I just read the Braves REALLY want Soler for…Shelby Miller? No way!

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The Chicago Cubs All-Time Home Run Team

Friday, July 17th, 2015

I must admit I watched little of Tuesday’s All-Star Game.  I feel the game lost its zeal long ago…about the time inner league play began.  In my humble opinion, the elimination of inner league play would help restore interest (at least mine) in the former “mid-summer classic”. Instead, the importance of the game is propped up by manufactured value…the winner receiving home field advantage during the World Series.  Do you know anyone who endorses this home-field lunacy? (Other than Bud Selig)

While I once again had no interest in the actual All-Star game this year…my attentiveness to the home run derby was up one thousand percent.  Obviously this was due to the inclusion of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.  Unfortunately their performances could be classified as “Cub-like”.  Rizzo, the guinea pig in the new format, came out swinging like Rocky Balboa in his first fight against Clubber Lang in Rocky III-which didn’t turn out too well.  Bryant, who admirably found it more important to have his father throw to him than to win, received about as many hittable pitches as he does from opposing pitchers. (Incidentally…did anyone else notice how upset Prince Fielder looked when he realized he was eliminated? He looked like Clubber Lang after the second fight in Rocky III)

All-Star games, Home-Run derbies and Rocky films aside…the derby made my mind wonder into Cubs history…specifically home-run hitters.  I started to ponder the best Cubs’ homerun hitters at each position, that I have seen play and then form them into a mythical line-up. So without further ado (and anymore Rocky movie references) here is my all-time Cubs’ home run hitter line-up:

Leading off and playing centerfield, 1976 Rick Monday with 32 homeruns.  Monday had a .346 on-base percentage and his sweet lefty swing is perfect at the top of my fictional line-up.  The second slot will be manned by (duh) 1990 Ryne Sandberg.  Not only does our team gain Ryno’s 40 homers and 100 RBI’s, we get a gold glover at second base.

Batting third and playing shortstopis 1958 Ernie Banks. Now I am stretching a bit here…but I did actually see Banks play as a very, very young boy.  His 47 homers and 129 knocked in from one of his MVP seasons had to be in the lineup.  So I reached a bit here…but it’s worth it. (Not to mention the Cubs haven’t had a plethora of power hitting shortstops)

Sorry millennials, but playingright field and batting fourth, is 1987 Andre Dawsonnot Sammy Sosa. Setting aside “cork” jokes and enhancement talk…I just enjoyed Andre more as a player.  Andre hit 49 homers in 1987 with 137 RBI’s, had a cannon for an arm, and no “hop”.   Had Andre played his career injury free, I am confident he would be considered one of the top players ever.

Batting fifth I put 2014 Anthony Rizzo at first base.  Even though Rizzo’s 32 homers pales in comparison to Derek Lee’s 46 in 2005, I am trying to balance out the line-up a bit…and Rizzo is already one of the better left-handed sluggers in Cubs’ history.(there hasn’t been many).  If my fictional team plays with a DH, then 2005 D-Lee will be a nice addition to the line-up.

In the sixth slot, and in left field,is 1979 Dave KingmanI encourage you young bucks out there to YouTube some of Kingman’s 1979 homers.  You will be amazed at some of the 48bombs that were launched onto Waveland that summer. Sure he struck out a lot (before it was cool), and once sent a rat to a reporter as a joke, but for one season Kingman was a prodigious slugger.  Many of his shots today would be hitting the giant video board.

Here is one for the youngsters…I have 2006 Aramis Ramirez playing third base and batting seventh.  Aramis hit 38 homers in 2006, and upon further reflection I believe Aramis will go down as one of the best in Cubs’ history. Ramirez was a key offensive piece for three Cubs’ play-off teams. (Quick…name someone else you can say that about!)

Catching and batting eighth is the absolute epitome of a one year wonder…1993 Rick Wilkins.   Wilkins hit 30 homers in 1993…and never came remotely close to that achievement again.  However for the purposes of our team, his lefty stick will add to that balance I mentioned earlier.  So what if he only did it once?

I might be adding a bit of “crazy” to the line-up in the ninth slot; but the best hitting Cubs’ pitcher I have ever seen is Carlos Zambrano.  The switch-hitting, Gatorade cooler bashing, catcher fighting Zambrano hit 6 in 2006,  and will give the line-up its fourth lefty when facing a tough right hander.  So a quick review, with homerun totals:

CF       1976 RICK MONDAY                    32

2B       1990 RYNE SANDBERG               40

SS        1958 ERNIE BANKS                       47

RF       1987 ANDRE DAWSON               49

1B       2014 ANTHONY RIZZO                32

LF        1979 DAVE KINGMAN                 48

3B       2006 ARAMIS RAMIREZ             38

C          1993 RICK WILKINS                      30

P          2006 CARLOS ZAMBRANO        6

This line-up produces a nice 322 homers, and averages 39.5 round trippers per each position player.  The line-up features Hall of Famers in the 2, 3 and 4 slots in the order…so who cares if we have a one-hit wonder (Wilkins), a malcontent (Kingman) and a pitcher (Zambrano) who looks like he could just might be crazy enough to kill?

So feel free to point out admissions…I like my line-up! I would just have two wishes if this team did actually take the field…

I hope the wind is blowing out…and I don’t want to play the Yankees all-time homer team. (Yikes! Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Nettles, Reggie and on and on)

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Yes…but you live in St. Louis

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

…this has been my standard response to any Cubs/Cardinals guff I recieve.  This retort may upset Missouri Cubs’ fans (not bloody likely that there is any), nonetheless I am happy I’ve lived my life in the Chicagoland area…and not St. Louis.  I’d rather never win a World Series than to trade geographical locations.  St. Louis is a fine city; it’s just not Chicago. However the Cardinals are a great organization…and I have a confession to make; I didn’t always “hate” them.

I grew up in a time where there was a great distinction between the American and National Leagues.  The idea of inter-league play would have been blasphemous during my childhood…and the players actually tried in the All-Star game. (Without meaningless home field gimmicks)Therefore when World Series time rolled around (always with the Cubs nowhere in sight) I always rooted for the National League team.  This was a practice I repeated well into my early 20’s until it didn’t matter as much to me.

Therefore in October in 1977-78 I was a huge Dodger fan.  I was singing “We Are Family” with the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates…a World Series that also secured my first win of a wager with a childhood chum.  I rooted for the Phillies in 1980, even though I couldn’t stand (and still can’t) Pete Rose…and the Dodgers were my choice again (Fernando!) in 1981.

…and yes I rooted for the Cardinals in 1982, 1985 and 1987.  I sat out 1984…sigh.

I hate to admit it…but I actually liked those Cardinals teams.  I was a fan of their manager Whitey Herzog…the “White Rat”.  Herzog played the prototypical brand of National League baseball at the time…based on speed, speed, and a little more speed on top of that.  The Cards of the 80s’ usually had one power hitter at first base…George Hendrick, Jack Clark…but the rest of their line-up was filled with guys that could steal 20 plus bases every year.  Players like Lonnie Smith, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, a young and thin Terry Pendleton, Tommy Herr, and Vince Coleman.

A little side story about Vince Coleman…

Vince Coleman was brought in this spring to work with the Chicago White Sox on base-running.  This made me chuckle as I saw Vince Coleman do something on a baseball field that I have only seen twice…once by one of my freshman baseball teammates, and once by Vince.  Vince was on second base and there was a ball hit to the outfield alley.  As Vince sped around third base the ball was unexpectedly (at least by Vince) caught by the left fielder.  Instead of retracing his route and retouching third base, Vince cut through the middle of the infield, ran over the pitcher’s mound, and slid back into second base. Seeing this big leaguer run through the middle of the infield was one of the funniest damn things I have ever seen on a baseball field.  He is now a base-running coach.

Along with the team speed, Whitey always had the Cards equipped with solid starting pitching (Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor) and a closer.  A real closer…a guy that would come in and pitch 2-3 innings, not this 1 inning baloney of today! A closer like former-Cub Bruce Sutter, who helped them defeat the Brewers 4 games to 3 in 1982.  The Cards lost in both 1985(bad call at first base) and 1987…but yes, this die-hard Cubs’ fan was rooting for them all three times.  Yet the late 1980’s and early 1990’s would see my feelings about the Cardinals change dramatically.

In the fall of 1986 I began attending Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois…which is about 90 miles south of where I am currently sitting. (About 40 miles southwest of the city of Chicago)  Prior to my college enrollment, I had spent most my baseball fandom engaging in verbal spats with White Sox fans.  The Cubs/White Sox arguments are inevitable in a two baseball city like Chicago.  Upon arriving in Normal, I found that it was also a “two-team” town-the Cubs and the Cardinals. I was shocked!  It was my first experience with Cardinals’ fans in mass…I was amazed at the number of Cardinals fans in Illinois…it was a whole new world. (At least it was a world with very few White Sox fans)

At least during my tenure In Normal I only had to endure one Cardinal’s World Series appearance…and I got a bit of payback in 1989!  The Cubs and Cardinals were in direct competition that September and the Cubs won the division! My buddies and I shouted out our apartment window “The Cubs are division champs!” We pounced on this rare opportunity to gloat during this “rivalry”. (I put rivalry in quotes because I really don’t consider it a rivalry when one side usually wins…sorry, this may upset many of you…this is just my semantic view of the term rivalry)

During the decade of the 1990’s my distaste for our “rivals” was enhanced by one man-Tony LaRussa. I have never been a LaRussa fan (I think it’s the dark glasses). He may indeed be an outstanding manager, but I have two major problems with Captain Blue-blocker. (You may be too young to remember the cheesy commercials for Blue-blocker sunglasses) If you read my book you know I attribute much of LaRussa’s success to his pitching coach Dave Duncan. In Oakland and St. Louis Duncan was consistently able to take reclamation projects (Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Woody Williams, Bob Tewksbury, etc.) and make them successful. My other problem with LaRussa is that he had a pretty consistent history of having “enhanced” hitters. I am sure that Tony had absolutely no idea any of his hitters could possibly be breaking the rules. (Where is that sarcasm font?)

Now in the post LaRussa era…my anger has shifted more to the attitude of the fans.  They really do think they are smarter than us…or at least smarter fans.  I swear some of them wear their Cardinals gear like it’s a Harvard diploma. If arrogance left a smell, those red StL caps would be drenched in it. I consider myself a fairly evolved human, and I embarrassed to admit that my feelings have regressed in this area.  Maybe it was the video I saw last fall of the “greatest fans in baseball” taunting the Ferguson protestors with racist comments.  I know that was a small segment of fans, and I am sure most Cardinal fans are not racist…but most Cubs’ fans are not unknowledgeable beer-swilling baseball novices-yet we get labeled that by the “greatest fans in baseball”.

Thirty years later I choose my World Series team based on a variety of factors-players I like, the cities in general, managers…long gone is my blind allegiance to the National League.  I could only see myself rooting for the Cardinals again if they are playing ISIS or a team full of Nazi’s.  I think I would root for a Russian team instead of the Cardinals.  I like and respect the Packers more than the Cardinals!  Nevertheless I will give them their due, right now they are a superior baseball team. They continue to win no matter what…constantly plugging guys in to a machine that just keeps on winning. The Cardinals truly are one of the elite franchises in all of baseball, and their fans have had much more baseball joy than us.

…but we don’t live in St. Louis.

Notice I did not make any jokes about the ongoing FBI investigation…please feel free to insert your own in the comments section.

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Back In Time to 2015

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

I apologize upfront…I am going to sound a bit like an ogre…or at least an angry old man in this post.  This column may also seem irreverent to those of you looking for the usual nuggets of Cubs’ history that I typically write about…but this week I am hopping on a (very sarcastic) soap box.

The Cubs are NOT going to win the World Series in 2015.  I hope I am wrong, yet at this moment in “time”…I just don’t see it.  This team is light years ahead of the 2011-2014 versions …and extremely fun to watch.  The Cubs are an exciting young team with much promise. However they also possess a shaky defense, a very strikeout-y offense, and they are looking up at a Cardinals team that might win 130 games (unless they are all in white-collar cyber-criminal prisons by September).  I think the Cubs have a better than average shot of getting in as a wild card… I just can’t see them getting past the Nationals, the Giants, or the Dodgers. The “future” is bright however…yet part of me will actually be relieved when they don’t win in 2015.

Why? Why would a life-long Cubs’ fan say something so blasphemous…I shall explain:

I am a child of the 70’s and 80’s…so I love pop culture of that era.  Consequently, I am a fan of the “Back to the Future” films. (Well…at least the first two)  I may be one of the rare individuals who favor the second installment in the series. I love the “alternate” Biff Tannen 1985, where Biff is this rich American icon who amassed his empire through gambling…using Grays’ Sports Almanac…a book that has the score of every sporting event ever from 1955-2000! (Yet is remarkably thin)  He stole Marty’s idea for wealth and fame…and where did Marty get this idea?

Marty sees a hologram which congratulates the Cubs on winning the 2015 World Series over Miami…and a bystander says “if only you could go back in time and put some money on the Cubbies” and Marty’s scheme is hatched.

Now here in the actual 2015 I am tired of hearing about this silly connection. Apparently some have taken this as some sort of a prophecy (I realize some of it is tongue in cheek) but I have read dozens and dozens of posts, blogs and articles about this.  I also constantly hear “the Cubs are gonna win…Back to the Future said so” …comments from friends and co-workers.  Enough….please stop…it may have been kind of cute or funny the first 33 times I heard it, but now I find it annoying.  So here is my attempt to put this “prophecy” to bed- I will now point out what Back to the Future 2 also predicted about 2015:

-that the Cubs will play Miami in the World Series…yes I know there wasn’t a Miami franchise at the time, so the film did predict that correctly…but guessing that Miami would eventually have a baseball team does not qualify one as Nostradamus.

-Flying Cars?!….boy they were way off on this one…not only do we not have flying cars in 2015, we basically have the same cars we had in 1985.  Sure the designs are sleeker, mini-vans replaced station wagons, and we get about .1 more miles to the gallon…but no flying ability.  Rich people and the Military (they always get stuff 20 years before us) don’t even have flying cars in the real 2015…yet Doc Brown was stuck in bad aerial traffic in Back to the Future 2.

-Hydrating a Pizza? The McFly family hydrates a Pizza in seconds for dinner in their hydrating machine that looks suspiciously like a microwave. The movie did correctly predict that Pizza Hut would still be in existence in 2015. (I am guessing that a hydrated version would taste better than actual 2015 Pizza Hut does.)

-Marty’s Nikes…they were kind of close on this one…there have been advances in footwear in the last 30 years that have lessened the need for shoelaces. Frankly, I am surprised that shoelaces have made it this long…I can only attribute it to the historically strong aglet** lobby.

-the prevalence of Fax machines…I really can’t help but to burst out laughing at this one! A joke in the film has Marty’s boss say “Read My Fax!”…and it’s even on that old time computer spool paper! This might have worked had they traveled to 1995…but not 2015.

-Hover Boards…I actually did see an episode of Pawn Stars where they purchased one of these…so they get some credit here…but what I watched Chum Lee try to navigate was not anywhere near what Marty was flying around on.

-A “Café 80’s”…I want one of these in my town now!  I would frequent the place all of the time…in many ways I am stuck in the decade anyway….however I would want Pac Man, Tempest and Donkey Kong video games and not the lame, plot-foreshadowing, made-up “Wild Gunman” game that Marty plays.

– 2 ties as a fashion for men-I don’t fault them for this miscalculation…I still think it’s a very funny concept.

-Clothes that dry themselves-I do think I saw an infomercial about some kind of jacket that did this (maybe I was dreaming?)…just not to the extent that Marty’s clothes do.

-Using your hand-print to open the door-I am pretty sure this technology exists (I bet the military has it)…it’s just not readily available in all 2015 homes like say…fax machines! (giggle, giggle)

Even if the Chicago Cubs do happen to win the 2015 World Series(doubtful)…it will have nothing to do with BTF2 predicting it.  Like most conspiracies, prophecies, and oddities…my guess is there is a perfectly logical explanation for the Cubs’ inclusion in the 1989 film.  Let me ask you this-what other team could the filmmakers have used that would have gotten more of a reaction/laugh than the Cubs? Maybe the Red Sox because they were also still stuck in their own historical streak at the time…but they are not seen as “losers” as much as our beloved team is.  The White Sox could have been used as well…but no one cares about the White Sox.  I can’t think of any team that would have gotten the same reaction…it was a good choice by the filmmakers. It’s just not as sexy of an explanation as if they were really predicting this…sorry.

So back in our real 2015 where the Cubs are an improved bunch, cars don’t fly, and my lack of scientific knowledge prevents me from knowing if “hydrating” is even a thing, let’s put to bed the whole Cubs/Back to the Future connection.  If by some miracle the Cubs do win their first title in 107 years it will be just a fun, silly coincidence…and if they do win…the Hover Boards are on me!

** an aglet is that little plastic tip at the end of your shoelace…which has a lifespan of about a month after the purchase your shoes.

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