These are different days in the land of bruins, “big shoulders” and manual scoreboards.
If you’d been pulling a Rip Van Winkle and just awoke from your Washington Irving-like slumber you might not recognize the goings on at Wrigley Field.
Oh, the renovations at the century old structure (1914), originally Weeghman Park and home to the Federal League champion Whales, haven’t changed it a whole lot. It still retains that certain brick & steel-beam charm but with more lights, seats, eats for the adults and bells & whistles for the Xbox® set.
And they best be careful what they do with that playing surface. It’s where Cubs’ great Charlie Grimm (d. 1983) had his ashes spread (Wikipedia). Hallowed ground, indeed.
The new mood amongst the faithful isn’t so much more upbeat as Cubs fans have always been the glass-half full sort, as it is more…expectant, an air of confidence they‘ve not had at the ‘friendly confines’ for quite some time.
The hirings of wunderkind executive Theo Epstein (2011 (5y)) and then prized manager Joe Maddon (2015) were the table-setters to a hoped-for celebratory feast (WS win), marking the first major investments by the Ricketts family who purchased controlling share of World Cubs in 2009.
Ricketts tugged tight on those purse strings in early going to get team’s financial house in order in wake of Tribune’s economic plight (a prior ownership that had on occasion, like Wrigleys, made serious investments in winning) and some hefty contracts weighing on the books. But they’ve loosened those strings a bit with mind’s eye for pennants and championship banners. At least that’s the notion.
Though off-season signings of Jason Heyward (.268 (RF)) and ringholders Ben Zobrist (.265 (2d)) and moundsmen John Lackey (165-127) showed the Cubs are in a mood for winning now, the cultivation & keeping of young, homegrown (Bryant) or trade-acquired talent (Rondon / Rizzo), as opposed to free agency, seems the tack the Cubs’ braintrust favors.
The Cubs today are butt of the longest running joke on championship futility. But because subject-history has been trampled flat by current trend-setters (See; the Prez, etc.) in favor of math, science, more math (sabrmetrics), most folks have no idea about Chicago’s glory days of yore.
The name Chicago had struck fear into the hearts of foes in the 1880s (White Stockings) when Cap Anson, John Clarkson and King “Hook-Slide” Kelly were busting balls, then again in the early 20th when the greatest pitching staff ever assembled was mowing ‘em down at West Side Park (Grounds) while the fielding exploits of Steinfeldt to “Tinker to Evers to Chance” were driving New Yorkers to despair and alternatively inspiring some to pen poems (F.P. Adams) in honor of the brawny & brainy Bruins.
That’s saying something in an age when players, managers, umpires, bowler-wearing fans, even kid vendors were tough as nails. ‘Put ‘em up, panty-waist!’
Though their last World Series win (1908), 2d of the 1st back-to-back dynasty in modern history, was over a century ago, collecting pennants is no small achievement. From 1929 to 1945 the Cubs collected Senior circuit banners like nobody‘s business, appearing in 5 and taking Tigers to 7 in their last.
It’s that near 40-year period from 1946 to just before the magical year of ‘84 as Ryno, Rick, Harry & Co. finally broke the post-season drought, when seed for a weeping willow of woe was sown & cultivated by a succession of sorries.
Since that bittersweet ‘84 when Cubs were still ‘day-timers’ and Ueberroth made the money-call to gave their playoff opponents the Padres (3-2) home-field even as Chicago had the top mark, the Northsiders have made the PS six times, including the NLCS in 2003 (FL 4-3). Not exactly a source for Midwest bragging rights but a far cry from the futility the bear Cubs had suffered for what seemed an eternity. It’s been moving in the right direction, anyway.
But hold off on stocking that celebratory champagne just yet. These Cubs have a few burs in their fur that need attention.
Last season’s team BA (.244 – 13th NL (KC .269 (2d AL)) and strikeout totals (1518 – 15 (KC 973 – 1st)) are unacceptable lines for a championship caliber club. And no off-season acquisitions look likely to change that worrisome state.
Encouraging marks were the OB% (.321 – 5 (KC .322 – 7)) and favorable run production (689 – 6th (KC 724 – 6)) with Rizzo (94), Bryant (87) and Fowler (102), all mainstays who look to have nose for the plate when they manage to get on base, not made easier with that woeful whiff total.
Some stern instruction in fundamentals seems in order for Chicago’s bat-control and the glove work, another necessity if Chicago seeks a place among MLB elite. Cubs sat in bottom bracket on team fielding (.982 – 12 (KC .985 – 3)) and errors (111 – 12th (KC 88 – 6)). The signing of 3-time gold glover Heyward will help.
Jon had a disappointing first year in the Senior Circuit, posting 11-12, in opposite of the king’s ransom he’d negotiated. Lackey himself pitched alike his first half-season with the Cards (3-3 / 4.30 (‘14)) and picked-it-up in 2015 (13-10 / 2.77). All three stars gave mixed performances in their post-season outings last October.
Jake’s 2-1 record is misleading. The Missouri native pitched a gem in WC win vs PIT but averaged a hefty 6.50 ERA (1-1) and 4 runs in limited outings (4.5i) vs STL (W) and NYM (L). Jon, known for his playoff prowess from Beantown days (‘07-13) pitched pedestrian in his two starts (0-2 / 4.50) and served up 3 dingers in 13i.
Fourth starter Jason Hamel, also in his 2d decade, was 10-7 (3.74) in 2015, faltered in the PS too (2g-7h-7r (3hr)) but figures back in the rotation as Kyle Hendricks (3.95) and Adam Warren (3.29 (NYY-Castro)), may duel for the fifth.
The closer is Venezuela-born Héctor Rondón (30sv / 1.67 / 69-15). Indians signee at 16 (‘04), Cubs took Rondón in “2012 Rule 5 Draft.” He came with an injury-history, a TJS in 2010 and elbow bang the next year (Wikipedia) but has been tooling along fine for Chicago since 2014. His showing in last season’s PS was mixed as well, shutting the door on STL (NLDS) in G2 & 4 after a shaky outing in G3 and only one hit surrendered in two, non-lead closer stints vs Mets (NLCS (0-4)).
Returning for mid-relief are Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Clayton Richard & Travis Wood who in 2015 provided the bulk of innings for the Northsiders (100ip). “Sweet Trav (Overboard ’87)” was a 2013 All-Star but gave up 11 “tatters (G.Scott)” last year while Grimm posted a nifty 1.99e in just under 50i of work.
But a message to Wrigley regulars: Careful what you wish, you just might get it.
With progress comes a cost, a quid pro quo of sorts. When you gain something you also lose something. For the Cubs and their followers, if they do hoist the World Series trophy, that price may be the ‘lovable’ they’ve been serving up since 1945. Spencer Tracy (“Henry Drummond”) spoke to this yin-yang thing in Stanley Kramer’s highly acclaimed Scopes Monkey Trial movie, Inherit the Wind (‘60):
“Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. And Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”
The faithful, the Ricketts, sports media, all may’ve failed to give enough thought to exactly what it will mean to the Cozy World of Confine if the Cubs actually do get to and then win a World Series, this year or any for that matter.
The red, white & blue Bruins have built so much out of “nothing” it’s become the “cool(est) hand” in all sport. Everybody likes the Cubs. The undying love they engender in their fans nationwide is admired on par with Yankees’ prowess. The nobody’s, who cares what they think? What do titles get you anyway? A run-o-the-mill championship package from Sports Illustrated and higher ticket prices, that’s what.
And Cubbies are cool to a ♫ tune ♫ of a $1.8 billion valuation (Forbes). Near chicken-feed to what your friendly neighborhood pharmaceutical draws in a fiscal year but not too shabby for so-called ‘losers,’ eh?
If “Cubs win” in the WS they become just like all the other champs today: Fairly forgettable. Pop Quiz: Who won the Series in 2014? Yeah, “winning is the only thing.” Balderdash.
Fenway faithful understand of what I write, how winning changes things.
Finally breaking the drought (’04 (1918 (v Cubs))) to take a World title again can be cathartic for those who still hold the pain from those good chances that got away (‘67, ‘75, ‘86).
And that’s hyperbole. A ticker-tape parade down Michigan Avenue in late October, so thick with confetti “The Fugitive” could elude the coppers for days would be a beautiful sight. Even the lordly Cardinals’ fans, those who love the game, might nod in grudging appreciation, as long as it‘s not the Cubs who again bump ‘em from the PS (See; 2015 DS) on their way to the Series. Ouch.
Ready to rain on those parade preparations are other ball-clubs with their own aspirations.
For starters, there’s the reigning champ Royals, newer version of Miami’s “No-name” NFL bunch back in the 70s. Joe got the loot but Ned Yost got the hoot (ring). These guys just might want a dynasty for the KC-side of Missouri.
Then there’s the Giants, winners of three Series the past six seasons, staggered every even-numbered year which means they’re due in 2016.
Add in the usual contenders like the Cards, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, new-comers in the Pirates, Astros, Blue Jays and last year’s NL pennant takers the Mets and there are Seven Ways from Sundown (‘60) that could keep the Cubs frustrated.
Progress, like time, marches on. Can’t be denied. If Cubs don’t win the Series sometime soon it’s just proof the Sporting Gods are stark, raving lunatics, or they simply know best. That’s why they’re deities.
A man who knew a thing or two about progress was at the Allied controls when the spring Cubs were about to embark on a season that’d take them to what was to be their last fall classic (‘45), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – April 12, 1945 (Warm Springs, GA)):
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much (Yankees & Cardinals), but whether we provide enough for those who have too little (Royals (2015) and Cubs (?)).”
Hooray for progress! Play ball!
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: Cubs, wc-cca, 1957-78, Sportslogo; WhatIf, wc, mary originals, 5.4.14; T.Epstein, wc, 9.8.10, S.Slingsby; J.Maddon, 4.14.14, wc, K.Allison, MD; Chance, wc, ATC, 1909, LoC; K.Bryant, 4.27.15, MBD, wc, Chicago; J.Arrieta, wc, DSCN0048, 6.24.14, Wrigley, wc, Jblesage, 5.28.08; InherittheWind, S.Tracy, UA, 1960, wc; CubsLogo, wc, Wjmummert, 1914; Chicago-sign-MI-Ave, wc, 4.9.11, L.Fuss; FDR, wc, E.Goldensky, 1933; Canned-corn.
Posted: 2.18.16 @ 8:39pm; edit 2.19 @ 1:02pm Eastern Standard Time; Copyright © 2016
Stat / bio sources: Baseball-reference, Rotoworld & Wikipedia
Filed under: MLB
Tagged with: 1984, Anthony Rizzo, baseball, bur in the fur, can o' corn, Cap Anson, Carl Sandburg, Charlie Grimm, Chicago Cubs, Chin Music, City of big shoulders, Cool Hand Luke, dynasty, FDR, Federal League Whales, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Franklin Pierce Adams, friendly confines, Harry Caray, Harry Steinfeldt, Inherit the Wind, ivy, Jake Arrieta, Joe Maddon, John Clarkson, John Lackey, Jon Lester, King Kelly, Kris Bryant, lovable losers, mainstay, MLB 2016, Overboard, Pete Ueberroth, progress, quid pro quo, Ricketts family, Rip Van Winkle, Seven Ways from Sundown, Spencer Tracy, Sporting Gods, St. Louis Cardinals, tatter, The Fugitive, Theo Epstein, Tinkers to Evers to Chance, Washington Irving, Weeghman Park, West Side Park, White Stockings, Wrigley Field