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Through The Rear View

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I was tempted to do this piece earlier in the year, but it still didn’t feel right to me. As I considered the subject matter for this latest installment of Through The Rear View, I was still thinking of the upcoming world series and the drama that it took to get a team like the Rockies to the fall classic. How it seemed, that down the stretch, there was a strange sense of destiny for the Rockies to get where they are now. Every hit that they needed, and every out that they had to have somehow seemed to fall the way of the Rockies. I remember that I felt the same way in 2003 when I felt that the Cubs were riding the same sort of mystical wave into the playoffs and beyond. All they way up until those fateful nights in October, versus the Marlins. My look back on those days will always include certain players and certain events. One of those players is Samuel Sosa Peralta. Sammy Sosa. Slammin’ Sammy.

Sammy represents the paradox of my Cubs fandom. My love for the Cubs blinded me for a while with Sammy. It was hard to look past his incredible late life growth spurt, but I did it. It was hard to not cheer for the guy who seemed to always be smiling and enjoying his time at the ball park. The guy that tried his hardest to steal the home run race away from the Goliath, never mind that it was another extension of the Cubs-Cards rivalry. I was admittedly caught up in it.

Little by little though, it grew harder to not look past his antics, corked bats, and everything else. I became aware that I had become one of those fans. One of those fans who conveniently looks past the problems at home to complain about guys like Barry Bonds and other alleged cheaters. These revelations and realizations are part of the reason that I am (kind of) against the potential sale of the Cubs to one Mark Cuban. I just don’t want to become THAT organization to the rest of the world, if Cuban becomes the owner and the Cubs suddenly win a championship. I don’t want anything to taint the organization more than history already has. I honestly don’t know what would be worse. The scenario that I laid out above, or the Cubs becoming the Washington Redskins of baseball. People giggling, while the organization and owner spends boatloads of money and still can’t build a winner. I almost can’t help to think that it would be door number two, if I had to choose. While Dan Snyder’s prowess as a shrewd businessman may not have translated into success with the Redskins, he does at least dress and act the part, while maintaining some dignity and respect. In a way it’s a catch-22.

Yet, I digress…

I’m not going to get into the whole statistical analysis of Sammy’s 17 year career or his rise to the professional ranks. There are half a dozen statistical web pages that will do that for you. I am simply going to wonder aloud about what might be next for Sammy Sosa. I genuinely hope retirement.

Seriously. Because of the love I once shared for Sammy with the majority of the Cubs Nation, I hope the man retires. Despite all that has transpired with his relationship with the CUbs he is still an indelible part of our history.

Think about it. His walk away now, would be a pretty storybook ending to a colorful and not always storybook career. Look at it. Sammy comes back after a mysterious year off to cleanse his…soul. He comes back to the team where it all started for him. Then he battles back from the minor leagues to get another shot at the big leagues. Showing the talent and ability that he always had, a smaller Sammy comes back to post pretty decent numbers
(AVG .252 | HR 21 | RBI 92 | OBP .311 | SLG .468)

Not a statistical bonanza by any means, but definitely a victory for the sake of his legacy. A milestone year in which he became the first player to hit a home run off of every team in the league. A feat he reached in conjunction with becoming only the fifth player in baseball history to hit 600 home runs. His 600thoff of the team he had built his legend with and doing it while batting against the pitcher wearing his former number. There is something strangely poetic, ironic, and almost scripted about all of that. Isn’t there?

So, why not put the whole thing to bed and retire. While I doubt that Sammy will do it, I wish that he would. There were certainly enough times in Sammy’s life that he did what I wished him to do, why not this?

As we drive on, that’s my View Through The Rear View.

Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an E-mail.

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View Through The Rear View #5

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

I cannot tell all of you how much I enjoy writing this column. Every week is an adventure and it has been so much fun. I do not pretend to remember all of these events, or players from the top of my head. I do quite a bit of research for these columns and it ends up being a lot of fun. I see names or particular events that recall vivid memories of baseball, or just life in general. That is my sickness in being a Cubs fan. In terms of baseball, it is all I have ever known. Because of that, there are players and events that tie themselves together with my life. So every week, when I begin a new column I get to take little trips down memory lane. I find myself enjoying memories and being reminded of things that have long since slipped my mind. That is why, not every player that I have profiled has been a particular fan favorite, or even favorites of mine. Mostly they are just guys who occupy a place in time for me personally. I have been a Cubs fan for most of my life, so there is a certain nostalgia involved when I see or hear a particular name that sparks a particular memory for me. This week’s column is no different.

The early 90′s were tough for me, they were for most Cub fans, but I think I took them particularly hard. I spent the late summer of 1989 in basic training. I was thrilled about the Cubs all season long, only to spend the whole post season locked away from baseball. Stolen glimpses of sports pages told me that things weren’t going well for the Cubs and their eventual demise was a huge let down. Yet, there I was playing the eternal optimist and building pretty high hopes for Cubs baseball in the 90′s. I would spend the first half of the decade living in St. Louis and dealing with the fact that despite the hopeful beginnings to the decade, the Cubs could finish no better than 4th in the NL East from 1990-1993. Losing guys like Dawson and Maddux was tough enough, but then came 1994. The baseball strike and Sandberg’s retirement was testing my love for the Cubs, and baseball in general.

During the spring of 1995 a friend of mine, a Kansas City Royals fan no less, would end up getting me excited about baseball all over again. I remember the day perfectly because this friend, Kevin, who was a huge Royals fan ran into me at a bar. We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, it was usually baseball that we talked about. When he asked me about the Cubs, my indifference was obvious. Kevin could not believe how down I was on the Cubs, and how little I knew about the upcoming season. Being a good guy, he could tell that I needed a little lift. He talked rabidly about the Cubs talented young outfield, in particular, the addition of the Royal’s Brian McRae. I knew who Brian McRae was, it was hard not to. Over the last few years a lot had been made about Brian playing for his managing father, Hal McRae, in Kansas City.

Fulfilling a family legacy, Brian McRae was drafted by the Royals in 1985. The same year that his father was helping them win a world series. Brian would make his eventual major league debut in August of 1990. One year after Brian’s debut, his father would become the manager of the Royals in 1991. Brian would end up playing three full seasons for his father in Kansas City before being trade to the Cubs for Geno Morones and Derek Wallace in 1995. Despite McRae never really becoming a star, the Cubs really got one over on KC.

To tell you the truth, there isn’t too much glamour to McRae’s short Cubs career. There really isn’t too much glamour to his entire career. McRae was, by definition, a journeyman. He was durable, a decent hitter, and good base stealer. What makes me mention Brian McRae is his attitude and demeanor.

Early in the 1995 season when the Cubs came to St. Louis, Kevin bought some bleacher seat tickets and treated me to a game. Kevin wore a McRae Royals jersey and I wore an old Sandberg jersey. We went early and hung around during BP. McRae was shagging fly balls and we were hanging over the wall enjoying some of the give and take you don’t see so much anymore. McRae noticed Kevin’s jersey and talked with us quite a bit. He was super nice and personable. Even to the Cardinals fans who were giving him a hard time. We were BS-ing with McRae and when he went in to hit we jokingly told him to try and hit a couple to us. McRae knocked a couple around the park and then very obviously began trying to hit balls our way. Not known for his power we weren’t sure if we would get a chance. Before long one particularly good crack of the bat sent a ball right at us. Leaning into flower bed that used to separate the bleachers and the outfield wall at Busch II, I strained against 5 or 6 other people to reach for the home run. I stretched to catch the ball and ‘WHAM!’ it hit the padding just out of our reach and went bouncing back in to the outfield. So close! We laughed it off and settled in to keep our first row bleacher seats for the game. When the Cubs took the field in the bottom of the first McRae ran out early, came straight to our section of the bleachers and tossed us each a ball. I still have mine to this day. The Cubs won and some of my faith was restored in baseball, and baseball players that day. I met McRae one other time a few years later, and I brought up that day to him. He laughed as if he remembered and signed an autograph for me. I don’t know if he really remembered it or not, but he acted as if he did and was just as friendly as that first day. McRae went on to be traded to the Mets, then to the Rockies, and eventually to the Blue Jays where he would end his 10 year career. He would also go on become an analyst for ESPN and currently works as a radio host for MLB.com.

So while Brian McRae didn’t offer a whole lot to the baseball world, or to the Cubs. He did occupy a place in time in my life. When I needed a little pick me up from baseball, McRae gave it to me. Never mind the fact that he might have been hopped up on “greenies” while doing it. It was insignificant and fairly trivial, but it was something that I needed. Another peice of my life tied to the Cubs that I’ll never forget it.

As we drive on, that’s my View Through The Rear View.

Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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Through The Rear View #4

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

This week, my look back on former Cub players, is going to be my first foray into the world of historical Cubs. In other words, Cub players who are no longer playing. Up to this point I had only profiled former Cub players who are still playing professional baseball. This week that all changes. I have avoided this for the first few weeks for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that I often feel like I may not do justice to some of these guys. I grew up watching a lot of the 70s and 80s Cubs and there is a bit of reticence on my part to write about some of the guys that I deified as a kid. I also wanted to avoid what I felt would be some obvious choices that have probably been done in articles like these hundreds of times over.

So my first adventure for a former non-playing Cub is none other than Bobby Keith Moreland (your welcome Matt!).

Yes, you read that right everybody. The guy that you may have known only as Keith Moreland, is really Bobby Keith Moreland. Not Robert Keith, but Bobby Keith. After all, Moreland was a born and bred Texan and where else can you find nicknames like Bo, Red, and Bubba on actual birth certificates. Not to mention the whole dual first name theme of the South. Because of his Texas roots Bobby Keith’s attending UT was probably a pretty natural progression for an athlete of his talents. Back in those days, not a lot of players ventured far from their state schools, and especially not in Texas. Moreland would do more than just play at the University of Texas. He would star there, and fast. His Longhorns were national champs. I say “His Longhorns”, because he was the co-captain of that 56-6 championship team, as a freshman in 1973. As a stud third baseman for the Longhorns Moreland would post a career collegiate batting average of .388 and hit .410 in his final year with the Longhorns in 1975. Later that same year he was drafted in the 7thround of the amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Moreland’s rise through the Phillies farm system was slow and steady, his offensive skills were good but he was never known for his defense. A fact that was later immortalized in song by the late Steve Goodman. I don’t know if playing third base in an organization that had a young Mike Schmidt prompted Moreland’s position change, but he switched from 3rd base to catcher sometime in 1977. Although playing behind Bob Boone and Tim McCarver didn’t make things much easier for Moreland’s progress into the big leagues. In 1978, Moreland did make his major league debut, replacing 3rdstring catcher Bob Foote for 4 innings in the final game of the regular season. Not only was it a short-lived trip up, it was also uneventful. Moreland would spend another season playing a majority of his ball in AAA during 1979. Moreland would finally break through 1980 as the primary backup catcher after the Phillies released the aging McCarver. He went on to be the primary backup catcher and helped the Phillies win the world series that year. After one more season as a part-timer with the defending champion Phillies, Moreland would come over to the Cubs by way of a trade for the 1982 season.

Not coincidentally new Cubs GM and former Phillies manager, Dallas Green, made the trade that brought Moreland over to the Cubs. The plan was to make Keith Moreland the Cub’s new starting catcher. I had really started to like Jody Davis during that time, and I wasn’t too sure I liked Moreland as his possible replacement. As luck would have it, Moreland was even worse defensively than Davis himself, yet much like Davis his offense warranted playing time. Eventually Davis would win the battle for the starting catchers job and the Cubs found a place for Moreland in the outfielder Moreland would then spend his next six years as a Cub playing as an occasional utility type backup player, with a majority of his games played in the outfield. Which was great for me, because I may never have grown to like Moreland as much as I did if he had beat out Davis at the catcher position. As it was, I grew to like them both pretty equally. Because they seemed cut from the same cloth. They were both tough and gritty ball players, who played the game in the older style of hard, fast, and dirty. I mean that in terms of always being willing to get dirty, versus playing dirty, but Moreland was also willing to rough it up a bit too. He was, after all from Texas, where football is more religion than sport and Moreland played a year of football during his time at Texas. His fiery disposition matched that flaming red hair (and beard) and he was not to be taken lightly when trying to turn a double play against him or deciding to plunk someone. Moreland stood his ground and played with Cubbie pride.

I specifically remember Moreland as a workhorse. His 150 game per-season average with the Cubs stands as proof of his durability and being from that bygone sporting era that knew the difference between being hurt and being injured. All in all, Moreland was a guy who was simply seemed to love being a baseball player. Not a star, or a big shot. Just a guy who went out and did whatever the team asked of him. To play wherever he had to, to bat wherever he was penciled in, and do the best he could. I really remember Moreland as one of the ultimate team players that I have ever witnessed play for the Cubs. A guy who ended his career without gold gloves, all-star game appearances, and all of the other awards and individual accolades that many players play for these days. Moreland never appeared to be one of those individualistic guys. He simply played the game of baseball, the way that it is supposed to be played. I will always remember him as a key cog in the 1984 year that almost was, and as one of a very bright spots in the ’85 season that followed. The 1985 season was the only one in Moreland’s career where he actually received some notoriety outside of Wrigley, when he finished 17th in MVP voting.

Even though Moreland won his championship with the Phillies, and would eventually move on to end his career outside the Cubs organization, I can only think that we Cubs fans were lucky. We got the best of the baseball that Keith Moreland had to offer, and he gave it to us with everything he had.

As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

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Game 115 – So Far, So good.

Saturday, August 11th, 2007


August 9th, 2007

Teams

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
Chicago 0 0 3 1 0 1 0 0 1   6 12 2
Colorado 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0   2 7 1
W – J. Marquis (9-7)  L  - A. Cook (8-7) S – R. Dempster (18)
Homeruns: J. Jones (3); M. Murton (4)

Box Score

Sometimes a win is just that, a win. Nothing more and nothing less. Tonight was one of those nights. An exciting win for Cubs fans, but with 4 of the 8 runs scored tonight being unearned it wasn’t a game for the baseball purists. It was a little sloppy from both sides. Luckily more sloppy (at costlier moments) for them than us. It would have been a lot more of an exciting evening had the Brewers not pulled off the win in extras versus the Astros, but the Cubs held pace and did what they needed to do. Staying a half game back on the Brewers and 2 out of the wild card is still great considering the recent events and run of tough luck that the Cubs have had. With the first two in the bag from Coors, it makes for a chance at an exciting weekend. You have to like the chance for a series win and a sweep isn’t totally out of the question either.

There were definitely some positives and overall I thought that the Cubs looked good. They got the game off to a good start by getting hits in the first four innings and got the score in Jason Marquis’ favor quickly. The Rockies commentators were crying about the strike zone by the fourth inning it did seem a like it moved around a little, but it seemed consistently bad for both teams. Cook simply couldn’t get outs when he needed to and the Cubs made him work for everything. His pitch count was in the 70′s by the 4th inning.

I had stated earlier in the day that I didn’t have much “love” for Jacque Jones and he made me eat that tonight. Once again, I will stand behind my statement and say that I don’t feel comfortable relying on his resurgence, but I give credit where credit is due. Jacque Jones has been The Man with the bat, as of late. Now if he could figure out what the hell is going on while running the bases I would be ecstatic. Twice tonight, he looked a little confused.

Marquis was solid in earning his first road victory in 3 months. The Rockies announcers on XM mentioned that fact, and I had to look it up to believe it. It is true, so I say: “Good for you Jason Marquis”. He helped himself with a timely double and he got some tough outs when he needed to. I’m not sure if Marquis was as frazzled as Lou thought he was, after nailing Baker in the noggin, but it’s fair to assume that that Lou made the right /safe call there. Let’s all hope that Jeff Baker is okay. In the end Marmol continued to do what he does and came in to clean up the mess.

I have to admit that I did have a little bit of a deja vu there when the Rockies opened the 8th with some junk hits that chased Marmol and brought in Howry. Especially when Tulowtizki came to the plate with the bases juiced. I had visions of his 3-run jack in Chicago haunting me. Howry hung in though, and he got out of the inning without too much damage. All things considered, another quality outing by the bullpen. I found it especially nice to see a 1-2-3 (sorta) finish for Dempster. Tip of the cap to Ronnie C. for playing heads up at the end there. An out is an out, and a win is a win.

Some game notes:

  • Mattie Murton must like hitting in Denver. That home run he had tonight did not look like a ball headed to the seats.
  • Apparently Jason Kendall likes playing in Coors Field too. His career numbers at Colorado are outstanding and his career numbers against the Rockies are good period. His career batting average vs. the Rockies is .389 and his OBP and Slugging percentages are each right around .500. He should play every game this series unless he simply can not stand it.
  • Pie looked a little rough tonight. His approach at the plate seems impatient and results in him being behind early a lot. Then he is forced to battle with 2 strikes. Which seems to happen to him a lot. Six men LOB for him tonight.
  • I always try to throw in a little something positive about the other team. I remember seeing a Rockies game in spring training and liking Taveras. He fits well with the Rockies big outfield and I still like him. In my preseason guesses…err I mean highly scientific predictions, Tulowitzki was in my top three for NL rookie of the year candidates. I would love to say that I picked him, but I didn’t. I think I should have, he’s tough.
  • DeRo and Theriot have both been so good this year that I can hardly say a bad thing about them. All good players have an off night every now and again. Now that they have gotten theirs out of the way, I expect better tomorrow. ‘Nuff said.

    STARS OF THE GAME – All based on WPA

  • First Star – Jason Marquis (23.1%)
  • Second Star – Jason Kendall (20.7%)
  • Third Star – Bob Howry (19.2%)
  • Turd of the Game – Aaron Cook (-21.%))

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  • Through The Rear View #3

    Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

    Last week I mentioned having a “short list” of players who I would like to profile here in my little corner of VFTB. Let me tell you that the list is no longer very short. Thanks to many of the staff and comments left by the readers that list is growing more and more every week. So much so, that choosing just one person to write about on a weekly basis, is hard. Yet, every week a name seems to magically pop out from the field as being “the one”. What I have found is that the current events of the Cubs, and baseball in general, usually helps guide me along my way. Either it is something in the news, or something that is mentioned during a game, or even simply just hearing a name I haven’t heard in a while can lead me to my choice. This week was no different. After watching the Cubs play the Mets over the weekend, and then seeing our left fielder come up lame between the bags, I couldn’t get one name out of my head.

    Moises Rojas Alou comes from baseball stock. Not just any baseball stock either. His Dominican lineage is more of a legacy. Not only does he have several uncles and cousins who played baseball professionally, his father Felipe is noted as the first Dominican born player to have played regularly in major league baseball. Felipe Alou would spend 17 seasons playing pro baseball and another 14 managing. With that proud heritage it is no wonder that Moises would enter pro baseball in 1986 and still be playing today.

    Drafted in 1986 as the second overall pick in the January amateur draft, Moises Alou became a Pittsburgh Pirate. He would spend a good part of his minor league time bouncing between A and AA ball. Despite Alou’s solid numbers at those levels, the Pirates had a pretty decent outfield and names like Van Slyke, Bonds, Reynolds, and Bonilla blocked the way. Finally in 1990 he would make his major league debut. He played just two games with the Pirates, before being used as the ‘player to be named later’ in a trade with the Montreal Expos.

    With the Expos playing in the old N.L. Eastern Division, older Cubs fans may remember the young Moises Alou tearing ass through the division in 1992. He would finish second in the Rookie of The Year voting. I got to see Alou play a few times that year, mostly on television but also a couple of times in person too. I remember that he looked like a hell of a ball player. He could hit for power and average, and he was fast too. Late in 1993, September 14th to be exact, I was thrilled when I got the chance to meet Moises Alou. He was having a pretty good sophomore season and he had just missed hitting for the cycle that night. I was disappointed to find that he was an ass and very rude to everyone around him. Regardless, I remember the day very well because I would also be at the game two days later, when he would catch a cleat on the turf at Busch Stadium and suffer an ankle injury that would alter his career. Alou recovered from the injury but never quite had the speed he once did. In 1994 Alou would put together a mammoth season, only to suffer more bad luck. He would be a silver slugger, third in MVP voting, and a first time all-star. Sadly, it was all for naught. Moises and the very talented Expos finished with the league best 74-40 record in the strike-shortened season. The work stoppage would cancel the entire post-season and prevent the Montreal Expos from finding out what could have been for a young and talented team. Sadly enough the very next year the team began releasing and trading their young stars. After the 1996 season Alou was granted free agency and left for the Florida Marlins.

    Alou would spend one season with the Marlins. He would be an all-star again and finish tenth in the MVP voting. He would be a key component in the Marlins winning the world series. Despite all the success, both individually and with the team, he was once again on a young and talented team that would be dismantled. The Marlins traded Alou the very next off-season to the Houston Astros. Once again though, Alou would become a thorn in the side of Cubs fans. In all three of his seasons with the Astros Alou would receive MVP consideration, and not coincidentally he would be an all star in both of the seasons that Houston made post-season play during his tenure. Maybe that is why the Cubs signed him as a free agent in between the 2001 and 2002 seasons. In his mid-thirties Alou was playing some of the best baseball of his career.

    Unfortunately for Cubs fans Alou’s 2002 season with the Cubs would not yield the same success his previous changes in scenery had offered. During that season Alou wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t the same Moises Alou that played in Houston the year before. Then came 2003. At 36 years old Alou remained a tough out, a solid hitter, and a decent outfielder. He would be a key component to the Cubs division title and his post-season play was fantastic. Not only because of the quality of Alou’s play, but also because of that one key moment in time that will forever link Moises Alou in the indelible history of futility that the Chicago Cubs share with the rest of the sporting world. Enough said! In 2004 Alou would hit 39 HRs and have over 100 RBIs. He would return to the all-star game and he would once again receive MVP consideration, all at the age of 37 years old. Despite Alou’s resurgence and no heir apparent in the Cubs organization, the Cubs would let Alou go in free agency in 2005.

    Although his home run and RBIS numbers have never quite returned to what they were in Chicago, Alou continues to enjoy baseball success at the age of 41. In the last two years, Alou’s age, durability, and lack of playing time have diminished his production. Alou has continued to hit, with a .300+ batting average since leaving the Cubs.

    This past weekend, when I saw Alou playing for the Mets, I had almost forgotten that he signed with them in the off-season. He’s only appeared in 40 of their games this year and he was on the disabled list for a while. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. Yet, when I saw him play this weekend I remember thinking that he is still a good hitter. Urine toughened pee hands and all. I believe that the Mets are a team to be dealt with in any NL team’s playoff aspirations. I also believe that Alou can be a big part of that for them. My only hope is that the Cubs can get one more chance to prove me wrong.

    As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

    Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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    Through The Rear View #2

    Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

    Okay, I realize this might be a little early, but I still felt like doing it. My look back today is on the very recent former Cub, Michael Barrett. Why, so fast? Because I like him and I know that a lot of other Cubs fans do, or did, too. Plus, I sort of feel bad for the guy. Seriously. I realize that saying that may draw some heat, but I can take it. Regardless, I’ll get back to that stuff in a minute or two.

    I grew up in the Rockford, Illinois area. From 1988-1993 Rockford had a single-A team in the Midwest League called the Rockford Expos and they were a Montreal affiliate. During that time in my life I worked for a man who was a big sponsor, so I was around the ball park a lot and got the pleasure of meeting several up and coming ball players. Because of that, I followed the Expos fairly close for the following five or six years. I was always curious about the fate of some of the guys that I knew. So with a little extended Expos knowledge, I ended up knowing a little bit about Michael Barrett long before he was a Cub. The little that I remembered was that he could hit and that the Expos regarded him as a pretty good all-around athlete. When the Cubs acquired Barrett back in ’03 I remember being fairly positive about it and telling some friends that he might bring a little offense to the bottom of the order.

    The Expos thought very highly of the young Michael Barrett. They drafted him as a shortstop in the 1st round of the 1995 amateur draft, straight out of high school. Barrett had led Pace Academy to three straight Georgia class A high school championships in 1993-1995. His short stint in the minor leagues lasted only about three and half years and his debut was on September 19th, 1998 as a third baseman. After just eight games in the big leagues, Barrett was sent back to AA Harrisburg. That year, he would go on to post gaudy hitting numbers and claim the Montreal Expos Minor Leaguer Player of The Year Award. Playing most of that time as a catcher. Along with his award, he earned a roster spot for the 1999 Expos opening day roster. He would battle ups and downs in his hitting and defense, and for the remainder of his Expos tenure Barrett tried to find a permanent position. After trying him at catcher, shortstop, third base, and even first base the Expos finally decided he was their permanent catcher in 2003. Further inconsistency and eventually injuries, would finally lead to Montreal trading Barrett in the off-season of 2003. He was first traded to the Oakland Athletics, and then traded again the next day to the Cubs for Damian Miller and cash considerations.

    His history with the Cubs is still recent enough that I won’t bother bringing up numbers and stats. Let’s just say that overall, his numbers as a Cub were pretty good. In the past his offensive numbers had been good enough to cover some up some of his other deficiencies. Not this year though. Along with the rest of the Cubs, Barrett started this season in a funk. Barrett became an early target for blame as his lack of defense became glaring. Barrett also showed an unusual lack of focus that led to miscues both behind the plate and on the base paths. All of those factors, along with a sudden ineptitude in handling the pitching staff made it tough to watch Barrett fail over and over. It seemed to be grinding on everyone, including Barrett himself. Then, it came to a boil. I still laugh every time I see the replay that shows Barrett pointing to the 13 hits on the scoreboard as Big Z goes from mad, to raging in less than one-tenth of a second. Zambrano is a hot head and Barrett is too, but to see Barrett stand up to the mighty Venezuelan was both honorable and stupid all at once.

    I, like many, liked Barrett for just those reasons though. Because outside of his numbers he was tough and had a little chip on his shoulder. It made him an instant hit with the Wrigley Field faithful when he took on Roy Oswalt in 2004. Then Barrett cemented his legacy when he punched AJ Pierzynski in his fat head in 2006. While I didn’t quite agree with Michael’s explanation/rationalization of the ‘Pandemonium at the Plate’ incident, I did thoroughly enjoy it. It seemed to be pure retribution and frustration rather than the feeble self defense that Barrett claimed it to be. Either way, I am sure that Barrett received anonymous Thank-You cards from all over the league for that one. All in all, I liked Michael Barrett because he played hard, even if not always well. He did always appear to be trying and giving it his all. How can you say anything else about a guy who played through an intrascrotal hematoma for his team!? For those not versed in medical jargon, that injury is also know as a busted nutsack. His public comments and perception made it well known that Barrett respected and enjoyed being a Cub. Because of that, I think that Cubs fans respected and enjoyed Michael Barrett too. From all accounts he was highly regarded in the community and the clubhouse. His involvement in numerous charitable events, children’s baseball programs, and Derrick Lee’s Project 3000 all point to Barrett being a decent human being outside of baseball.

    That is partly why I stated that I feel bad for him at the beginning of this post. It seems unfair that the focus of the Cubs early troubles, and the subsequent “turning point” was initially pointed towards the significance of Michael Barrett leaving. The Chicago media did what they do. They weren’t very complimentary upon Barrett’s departure and he became a bit of a scapegoat. Then the Cubs began to turn around their season. Coincidence? It’s hard to say. Maybe partly, but now the focus of the turnaround has been shifted to Uncle Lou’s tirade. Funny how something like that can go from being called a meltdown to magical. I’m just glad that Barrett got out from under that stigma.

    Barrett’s year continues in San Diego just as it was in Chicago. His offensive numbers have dropped a little, but his defense has tightened up a bit. Barring any contract extension, Barrett will be a 30 year old free agent at the end of this season. He has made comments that he would like to stay on in San Diego. That may just be lip service. What the Padres intend to do with him will probably be directly dependent on how they finish this season. Personally, I think Barrett would be a great fit for an AL club. I think he would make a pretty good DH and part time catcher/first baseman. We will never know when we might see Michael Barrett at Wrigley Field again. October versus the Padres? You never know. Whenever that time comes, I hope that the Cubs nation will give the man a deserved ovation for three tough seasons of gutty determination and entertainment. He deserves at least that much.

    As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

    Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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    Through The Rear View

    Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

    Today is the first in a weekly column that I am going to write in a “Where are they now?” sort of format. The column is devoted to former Cub players. In the process of deciding who would lead off my column, I stumbled across this tidbit and my choice became easy.

    “After a successful, but frustrating, five-inning outing Sunday, sources said Olsen scuffled with fellow starter Sergio Mitre in a tunnel behind the Florida dugout during the bottom of the fifth.”

    That news was in regards to Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen, fighting with former Cub Sergio Mitre. News of former Cubs always catches my eye, but this had the makings of something a little more interesting. There were several versions of the story, but from most accounts it appears that Olsen (emerging candidate for MLB Bonehead of The Year) was being an ass his usual self. His frustration boiled over to berating a clubhouse attendant for a loose button on his uniform shirt. Supposedly Mitre admonished Olsen for his behavior and that is when all hell broke loose. Olsen ended up getting a two game suspension for insubordination. I really liked the sound of Mitre being the good guy. Put that together with the fact that he is having a decent season, and it made profiling Sergio an easy choice for me.

    A little history: The Cubs selected Sergio Mitre in the 7th round of the 2001 amateur draft. His rise through the Cubs lower farm system was pretty quick, spending just a year each at Boise and Lansing. His steady improvements at the minor league levels made him a candidate for a call up when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood began to have health problems. Mitre made the jump from AA West Tennessee for his big league debut in July of 2003. In a spot start for an injured Mark Prior, Mitre drew a tough first assignment. He went up against Greg Maddux and the Braves at Turner Field. It proved to be more than the 22 year-old Mitre was ready for. In 3 and 2/3 innings he gave up 8 earned runs on 10 hits and three walks. He went on to take the loss and was sent back down to West Tenn the very next day. Despite his unmemorable major league experience, Mitre enjoyed reasonable success that year in AA ball. All totaled Mitre struck out 128 in 145 innings of work at West Tenn and continued to show promise. All of that promise, along with Prior being hurt AGAIN, led to a 2004 opening day roster spot for Mitre. He would go on to start nine times for the injured Prior, but with fairly unremarkable results. Mitre would spend most of 2004 and 2005 bouncing between Iowa and Chicago. Yet in 2005, he would end up enjoying his longest and most successful run with the big league club. He appeared in a total of 21 games and pitched 60.1 innings as both a starter and reliever that year. The highlight of which, was a complete game shutout against the Florida Marlins. Which may have ended up being an audition of sorts, because in December of 2005 the Cubs shipped Mitre to Florida as part of the Juan Pierre trade.

    Now in his second season with the Marlins, the 26 year-old Mitre appears to have finally found his stride. After an injury plagued 2006 campaign, Mitre came back strong for the start of 2007. He had a very good spring for the Marlins and earned himself a spot in the rotation. Since then he has gone on to start 18 games and pitch 105 innings. While his record of 4-5 may not look especially great, he is playing pretty well. The Marlins team is not real good and the bullpen has let Mitre down several times resulting in quite a few no decisions after quality outings. At the time that I started writing this column Mitre was sporting a 2.82 ERA, which was sixth best in all of baseball. However, perfect timing led to Mitre starting last night against the Diamondbacks, and he had a rough night. His ERA is now 3.34, still good enough to be ninth best in the National League. Despite not being a big strikeout guy, Mitre has individual numbers similar to Ben Sheets and Josh Beckett. He simply gets far less help, offensively and defensively. His control is better this year (BB/9 1.89), as well as his efficiency (P/IP 14.30). Unfortunately for Mitre, he is a ground ball pitcher on a team that ranks second to last in fielding percentage and tied for second in team fielding errors. In his return to Wrigley earlier this year, Mitre showed just how much he has grown since leaving the Cubs organization. He allowed just 3 hits, one walk and struck out 7 in just 4 innings of work. He left that game with a hamstring injury, but he looked good.

    Personally, my memories of Sergio Mitre have always been tied to the disappointments of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. It probably isn’t fair to lump him into that situation, it’s just hard not to. Mitre spent the early part of his career being shuffled around, based upon the health of those two guys. If the Cubs could have been more patient with Mitre he may have paid dividends for them. He was doing what all teams hope for out of a young prospect by improving every year at every level. Bad timing simply forced the Cubs to put him on a faster development schedule than he was capable of. Consequently, the team struggled to find his identity and pitching role. Now he appears settled as a starter for the Marlins.

    I don’t usually end up rooting for a lot of former Cub players to be successful. Yet, I always kind of liked Mitre and only hope for his continued success. Unless of course, his spot in the rotation comes up on September 25th, 26th, or 27th.

    As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

    Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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    Small Pieces To A Big Puzzle

    Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

    In my random and relatively small sampling of Cub fans, I have found a mixed reaction to the Kendall deal. The reaction has been mostly positive, but not by all. There are Cub fans out there that wanted to see what Geovany Soto could do. To those people I say, be patient. If Soto is that good, he’ll be back, maybe even by the end of the season. Joe warned that Hank White’s herniated disk may be a season ender, and I cant help but think that this move might be related to the fact that Blanco’s rehab was just delayed due to “unrelated” shoulder pain.

    There are others who have the attitude that you “don’t fix, what ain’t broke”. With the Cubs playing well, why would anyone mess with the chemistry of the team? To them I say: Despite how well we play against the Nats, Astros, Rockies, and White Sox, none of those teams will be in the playoffs. There are others who think that we gave away a good prospect on an old rent-a-player. To those people I say: You gotta break a few eggs to make a cake.

    Personally, here is how I feel about the Kendall move. Adding a role player with a great work ethic and a team first attitude can only be good for the Cubs. It is a move that I think will have an immediate positive impact. This is not a blockbuster earth-shattering move by any means, but it adds another piece to the puzzle for the Cubs. They are obviously pretty good RIGHT NOW. Does adding guys that will show up every day with hard hat and lunch pail in hand, make them better? Most definitely, and Kendall is that type of guy. A Chicago type of guy.

    It was obvious that whatever change the Cubs made at catcher, all they needed for an upgrade was someone who could bat .220+ and provide a decent backstop to the pitching staff. They have done so much better than that. Kendall is more than just an improvement. He is a good catcher, a great handler of the pitching staff, and a pretty good defender. This is a guy that you know who is not only solid, but has the potential to be really good at times. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes for a guy to feel rejuvenated. A stretch run with a contender may put a little fire back in his belly. All reports say that Kendall is enthusiastic about the deal and excited to be in Chicago. From his early days as a Pirate, Kendall was tough, gritty, and dependable. We all know that he is on the downward side of his 12-year career, but he still carries a good fielding percentage, decent batting average, and fair on-base percentage. Also, don’t forget that he has been to the post season before and gives the Cubs a little veteran leadership. Which was something that the Cubs were supposedly missing at the beginning of the season.

    Think big picture people. Kendall is just a small piece of the puzzle that is slowly but surely coming together.

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    Friday’s Rumors and Rumblings

    Friday, July 13th, 2007

    Seems that the Cubs are a hot topic all over the place right now. Lots of interest from a lot of different ‘news’ sources. I wanted to highlight a couple of things and comment on them.

  • The Impending Sale. It is official: A sign that the apocalypse is truly upon us. I have publicly stated it and I’ll say it again. If Mark Cuban happens to buy the Cubs, it will be the biggest test of my Cubs loyalty ever! I don’t like the Tribune ownership and I don’t doubt that some new blood is needed to place the emphasis back on on winning. HOWEVER, if the Cubs nation sells their soul to Mark Cuban for a championship, not even Daniel Friggin’ Webster will be able to save our collective butts. The only Cuban I want running the Cubs is Fidel Castro. He would accept nothing less than victory, and a Havana ‘farm team’ certainly couldn’t hurt.
  • Ken Griffey. There are published reports out of Ohio that say that Griffey himself has limited his trade opportunities to just Atlanta and Chicago. Many so called experts and analysts seem to think that it would be big for the Cubs. I’m not so sure. Let’s see, we’ve got a crowded outfield and we need to be concerned with payroll. Unless Griffey has begun pitching, why on Earth would adding Griffey help? He’s expensive and fragile. I’d rather have Dunn.
  • Contracts, Cash, and Confidence. Here’s an interesting piece of reading that is just one of a few different sources, that state that the league had nothing to do with the squashed JJ to the Marlins deal. Which is a relief. At least to me. It makes me feel like the Cubs may not be as financially handcuffed as I thought that they were because of the impending sale. I think that Hendry did the right thing not just letting JJ go for peanuts. I know that he is a salary dump, but that’s a double edged sword for Hendry. If JJ moves to a new city and picks up a hot stick, while the prospect that we get in exchange does absolutely nothing. Well then, it will just be additional fodder for all of the “I can do better” arm chair GMs. There are quiet a few decent pitchers out there being named as trade bait. I’m a firm believer that the Cubs just aren’t being creative enough to put together a good package that would land someone who can contribute now. With several teams very nearly going into fire sale mode, there are a lot of possibilities. I personally think that Houston is ripe for the picking and hope that Big Jim is feeling them out while they are in town. I don’t know what it would take to get Oswalt, but supposedly he’s being dangled. I know we probably need long to middle relief, but I really like Oswalt. Hill or Marshall could always move to the ‘pen if needed,Anyway, I am excited that we’re finally getting back to the baseball that REALLY matters. Go Cubs!
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