I wish time travel worked in real life to go back to a favorite Cubs home opener.
I’d beam back to 1978 Omaha and invite the teen-age Tom Ricketts to cut high school and fly to Chicago for one day to attend a Cubs home opener.
Tom Ricketts (right) would have had a different perspective on the mob scene at Wrigley Field had he been old enough to attend SRO games played by (from left) Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley and Rich Nye — and the record-busting 1978 home opener.
Ricketts would understand the Cubs’ fan mentality even better, get at its roots, than on his 21st century daily excursions all around Wrigley Field to chat with paying (a lot) customers dressed in team garb, enjoying their once- or twice-annual outing as if it were a rock concert.
Where is Bill Veeck when you need him to complain about media-coverage cuts?
If the longtime Baseball Barnum was alive and still ran the White Sox, he’d be pounding his peg leg on his desk, dialing up Chicago Tribune editors with his cigarette dangling from his mouth and would rant and rave—sans any cuss words– far unlike his more genteel Hinsdale upbringing.
Bill Veeck was the type who’d be screaming bloody murder if the largest newspaper in town did not cover the Sox.
Although Veeck grew up in the Cubs organization, for which his father William, Sr. served as all-powerful President, he created a lot of noise in his two tours heading up the Sox ownership group. One loud tactic was measuring newspaper column inches of Cubs and Sox coverage to show the former team had a huge advantage.
What would Veeck think now that the Chicago Tribune, overstaffed back in his time, laid off Chris Kuc, its Sox beat writer, leaving the team temporarily uncovered near the end of spring training?
The 2018 MLB season is about to start and all the pundits come out with their predictions. Here are my thoughts for the new season. It’s hard to pick against the Cubs to win the National League Central.
And how many years have any of us had that experience of knowing the Cubs were odds-on favorites? It’s still unchartered territory and takes getting used to.
The days of having to contort mentally, if not physically, into finding a way to justify a prognostication of a Cubs division title are still too close for comfort. And maybe in the baseball, by far the most unpredictable sport of all, it’s best to never be comfortable in forecasting.
But at this juncture, the Cubs would have to fritter away an NL Central title, while the White Sox are still in a place-holding juncture for expected waves of prime prospects to build a contender in future seasons.
Even an average power and RBI output from Jason Heyward would be welcome after two mediocre seasons at the plate.
Both outcomes are satisfactory to their respective fan bases. And when has that ever been the mindset going into a new season?
Embarrassed by a sub-par 2017, the Cubs well-compensated lefty wants to pitch 200 or more innings and spare his bullpen overwork this season.
Why it’s even an issue of Lester reaching a traditionally modest innings-pitched mark for starter shows the problems of 21st century baseball.
Sabermetrics and new-age front offices believe perils are courted if a starter goes through a lineup a third time. “Five and fly” or “five and dive” are no longer epithets against no-endurance starters, but new standards of performance. Bullpens are bloated to eight arms with a 13-man pitching staff overall. An extra starter is added for a doubleheader.
OK, where is the corresponding expansion of rosters to, say, 27?
Say a team inflates to 14 pitchers. That means eight position players are augmented by just three backups, one by necessity a catcher. If you’re in the National League, that gives a manager limited pinch-hitting and double-switching options. We’ve seen managers run out of players with a six-man bench, so a three or four backups — figuring the reserve catcher must be held back as long as possible — won’t serve the game situation’s needs well.
If Theo Epstein backs Joe Maddon’s mid-game hooks of starters, then he must advocate expanded rosters, to 27.
Theo Epstein was branded the greatest leader in the world and a future Hall of Famer. But I’d like to see Theo use his stature in the game to balance out the sabermetrics of his front-office posse and Joe Maddon’s itchy fingers for his bullpen with an advocacy of enough players to accommodate the quick hooks for starters. Epstein would have to defy cost-cutting owners. If no starters go seven innings consistently with some pulled before five innings, and also relievers cannot go more than one inning apiece, then teams need 15-man pitching staffs.
Any team takes a big risk with a long-term free-agent pitcher signing.
In the Cubs’ mind, Yu Darvish is a decrease in risk than, say, bringing back Jake Arietta.
With sabermetrics and hyper-analysis overwhelming baseball, the wild spending that used to predominate in free-agent starters is gone. That’s the big reason why the market moved so slowly going into spring training. The realization that pitching has a high mortality rate and being on the hook for three, four years of dead money after an arm has gone south keeps most big-league wallets locked with agents demanding as many as seven years.
Fortunately, fate has been kinder to the Cubs in the majority of their free-agent starter signings — much more so than for their closer acquisitions. So if you use as an omen and portent, Darvish won’t blow up in the face of Theo Epstein, who has one big misjudgment on his Cubs record for free-agent pitchers that has been more than canceled out by Jon Lester’s 2016 performance.
Looking back, we asked Al Yellon, managing editor of the popular BleedCubbieBlue.com blog, to rate all the major free-agent signings of Cubs pitchers in history. Amazingly, Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins was the Cubs’ first such acquisition in his return to Chicago in Dec. 1981 after an eight-season absence, as Dallas Green sought to remake the somnolent franchise from the Wrigley family regime.
Odds are with Yu Darvish in coming through on his free-agent deal with the Cubs.
“I had a lot of firsts with the ballclub,” said Jenkins, who is the only Cub to ever win 20 games six years in a row and led the NL in strikeouts with 273 in 1969. He added one more whiff to his total in 1970 to hold the team’s season strikeout record
You can root as hard as possible for outfielder Peter Bourjos, possessing firm Chicago roots coursing through his veins, to make the Cubs in spring training.
Problem is, you can’t wish away the logjam of competition in front of him. And the likelihood of Bourjos continuing his wandering ways after being cast out of Angels (Los Angeles type) paradise remains.
A year after the White Sox seemed poised to bring Bourjos back to his family’s roots as at least a backup center fielder, the personable speedster signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs. At first glance, you’d figure Bourjos is a commodity the Cubs don’t have in abundance — a swift man on the basepaths who can come in for defense in the late innings.
Peter Bourjos has another, albeit iffy, chance to play in his family’s hometown.
Check the latter. The Cubs already have an under-utilized gifted gloveman in center in Albert Almora, patiently waiting his turn to claim a regular’s job while Joe Maddon experiments with others in the outfield.
Here’s Bourjos’ dilemma: the Cubs already need to thin the herd a bit in the outfield. Maddon is already five deep there.
Ballyhooed top prospect promoted prematurely vs. rent-a-free-agent.
Close-cropped hair in a conservative organization vs. baseball’s most luxuriant Afro playing for original rebel Bill Veeck.
Perceived speed demon center fielder vs. locked-in designated hitter.
Oscar Gamble belts home run for ’77 South Side Hit Men Sox team. Leo Bauby collection
Over a span of eight years, Oscar Gamble dramatically changed how he was presented to the public as a raw rookie Cub and veteran White Sox. The 18th player from the fabled 1969 Cubs and surprisingly the second middle-of-the-lineup staple (after Jim Spencer) of the equally storied 1977 South Side Hit Men to pass away, Gamble made news for the final time the other day with his death at 68.
For two franchises just eight miles apart but stereotyped as being light years distant in so many other ways, the Cubs and Sox have shared almost too many players to list here. Gamble is on that last, and impressive compared to most others. His even 200 homers, including a team-leading 31 for the ’77 Sox, prove some of the initial overheated evaluations as a teen-age Cub were correct. Gamble was yet another talented player snared by the keen scouting eye of the legendary Cubs scout and Negro League icon Buck O’Neil.