Chicago Baseball History
Bruce Sutter and Dick Ellsworth were united in death recently with not else much in common other than a couple of salient facts.
The pair were practically the stingiest pitchers in modern Cubs history in one season — both counseled by crafty pitching coach Fred Martin — who got scant recognition for their feats at Wrigley Field and team events after their careers.
Hall of Famer Sutter died too young at 69. Ellsworth lived to a riper old age at 82. But if you looked around at Cubs Conventions and other alumni gatherings from the mid-1980s, they were not around, given despite their status in Cubs annals for two of the best pitching seasons ever. More about that in a little while.
Master of the most deceptive pitch this side of the knuckleball, split-finger fastball master Sutter was the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, in 1979, as a Cub, a feat that unfortunately speeded his departure out of town. Ellsworth, at his best the epitome of a “stylish left-hander,” was the last Cubs southpaw to win 20 games, in 1963. No, two-no-hitters Ken Holtzman and World Series champion mentor Jon Lester never got to 20 wins as Cubs.
When “stingy” is broken down further, no other Cubs pitcher with the exception of Jake Arrieta can compare with Sutter’s and Ellsworth’s one-season accomplishments.
Sutter was taught the forkball-type splitter by Martin in 1973 in Quincy, Ill., the Cubs Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. The savvy pitching tutor had been banished to the Cubs minor-league system over an apparent personal issue after serving as Ellsworth’s ’63 big-league pitching coach. Martin has never gotten the credit he deserves for being connected to two of the Cubs’ best pitching seasons in franchise history.
Owner Bill Veeck hired Martin to be White Sox pitching coach in 1979 at the recommendation of new player-manager Don Kessinger. who knew how Martin had positively impacted pitchers from his Cubs shortstop days. Unfortunately, Martin died of cancer in June 1979, “(He) had the unusual faculty of being able to teach,” said Veeck after Martin’s death “The extremely sad point of it is he helped our young pitchers so much and won’t be able to see the fruition of his teaching.”
After learning this new pitch from Martin, Sutter was called up to the Cubs almost out of desperation a month into the 1976 season. The Cubs pitching staff had endured a number of fearsome bombardments, including Mike Schmidt’s four-homer game on April 17. Late-inning relievers like Mike Garman, Oscar Zamora and Darold Knowles had been found wanting.
Timing and politics are intertwined in baseball, just like peanuts and Cracker Jack once were.
Thus Katie Krall has picked just the right moment to learn and thrive as a uniformed female pro baseball coach. Supplementing her own merit and drive is a game-wide commitment to diversity that not only promotes women working in baseball operations in the front office, but also in the dugout.
The very presence of a woman in uniform might have been unthinkable two decades ago, let alone a half-century back, when Leo Durocher ordered Chicago Today sportswriter Linda Morstadt off the field at Wrigley Field as a supposed distraction to his Cubs players. Move the clock forward 17 years, and Chuck Tanner, best-known for his unorthodox handling of Dick Allen with the White Sox, harangued and harassed Robin Monsky, his Braves media relations director, until she was driven out of the organization.
Now, the hiring of Park Ridge, Ill. native Krall as the second female coach in the Red Sox farm system, soon after the Yankees hired a female manager, results in a series of stories temporarily distracting from baseball’s labor problems. But the news was hardly earth-shaking in the manner of Jackie Robinson’s and Frank Robinson’s breaking the color line as a player and manager, respectively, in 1947 and 1975. Baseball seemed to be organically moving this way, anyway.
“I definitely feel appreciative,” Krall said amid the warmth of southwest Florida. “I am the beneficiary of my time, and of all the women that came before me. I hope I can move the needle more. (more…)
Baseball Under Glass
Thom Ross makes his point – very sharply – about the Black Sox via his art in the most publicized exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of sports’ biggest scandal.
All of Ross’ drawings of the celebrities, sanctimonious arbiters and shadowy characters involved in the attempting throwing of the 1919 World Series have angular, almost severe lines. He did not sketch rounded, softer edges. The style makes everyone seem taller.
In fact, Ross’ depiction of Kenesaw Mountain Landis required a rectangular display case. The judge who threw the book – and then some – at the Black Sox almost seems to grow out of his confines with the artist making him long, lean and spare.
A lot of the motivations of the 1919 White Sox who took gamblers money and those who judged them are still up for debate. But not Ross’ MO in his sketching style. He has put it all together in an exhibit, “The Black Sox – A Century Later,” running through July at the Beverly Arts Center on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and 111th Street in Chicago. Commuters from nearby I-57 on 111th go up a sudden incline at Longwood Drive to Chicago’s highest point to gain a special perspective into baseball’s lowest moment that has been made into books, movies and endless recrimination.
“It’s just who I am,” Ross said, appropriately dressed in 1919 garb, complete with straw skimmer, for the opening of the exhibit. “My theory is things like mythology and legend are inspired by historical stories and truth. But it gets warped (over the decades). That’s why these figures (with sharp edges) don’t look like photographs. In that mythic world, you appear like you do in a dream. (more…)
Some kind of middle ground in apparel must exist between Andre Dawson‘s funeral suit for his family business and the T-shirt and trunks for the youth swimming program that bears his Hall of Fame name in west suburban Lombard.
Like a Cubs uniform?
In an under-publicized manner, Dawson has indeed worn the Cubs uniform officially for the first time in 26 years in spring training, and hopes to do so again sometime this season for Cubs minor leaguers. Add in more brightly-colored business casual wear for meeting fans and sponsors in other duties as a new team ambassador, and you have the perfect balance in the life of one of the most respected Cubs in history.
“Let’s say I’m all over the place,” Dawson, tracked down in Chicago the other day, said of his 2018 schedule. His base is hometown Miami, but much of his heart is in the city that he claims vaulted him into Cooperstown via six memorable Cubs seasons from 1987 to 1992. Mention that he’d spend even more time in Chicago if the temperature did not drop below 50 and he’d not have to wear anything heavier than a windbreaker, and Dawson breaks into a knowing laugh.
He was cast aside in the off-season, along with fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez, as a Miami Marlins special assistant by budget-slashing Fish boss Derek Jeter. Regrets are few because Dawson can now work for the Cubs — a longtime goal — while still tending to the funeral home he operates with wife Vanessa and two uncles, earning him national profiles such as respected baseball scribe Bob Nightengale in USA Today: