On 11/1/11, I wanted to take a look at a player who wore the number 1 for the Cubs for the past few seasons, Kosuke Fukudome. He’s possibly the best example I can think of for how the way something starts can be different from how it ends up. And I mean completely, totally, 180 degrees different.
Fukudome’s Cubs career began with the home opener in March of 2008. The Cubs seem to open on the road more often than not, since April in Chicago isn’t always the best of conditions for a baseball game. And late March is even worse. But in 2008, the Cubs got an early start at Wrigley Field. There was no “home opener” that year, because it was an actual “Opening Day” instead.
At the time, my wife and I were both working in downtown Chicago, and we would usually drive into the office in the morning. We would valet park our car in a garage downtown. To get the car at the end of the day, we would have to go to a window and let the attendants know we were leaving, and then someone would go to retrieve the car. But there was typically a logjam late in the day, and a waiting area with a TV was available for helping to pass the time.
On Opening Day in 2008, the TV had the Cubs game on. The Cubs were behind in the ninth inning, and the Brewers–their opponents that day–had Eric Gagne in to close the game out. Gagne had some troubles after leaving Los Angeles, but for a three-year stretch he was as dominating as could be in the closer’s role. Remember how they used play “Welcome to the Jungle” at Dodger Stadium when he came on in the ninth inning?
The Gagne of 2008 was five years removed from winning the Cy Young award in 2003. He was trying to assert himself as the closer in Milwaukee, and he was still a name you remembered back then. The Cubs were in a three-run hole, since Kerry Wood’s first outing as the Cubs’ closer had not gone well. But Gagne’s season didn’t start out so well, either, and a single and a walk had brought Fukudome to the plate.
When Fukudome hit the three run homer to tie the game, Wrigley Field went nuts. The little waiting area at my parking garage went nuts, too. Fukudome took a curtain call, as depicted on the card above, and a hero had been born. But it was all downhill from there.
Fukudome couldn’t tie the game with a three-run homer every time. Nobody expected him to do that. But what was expected was more than a .260-ish hitter, which was all he turned out to be. By the end of the four year contract he signed with the Cubs, he was basically given away to the Cleveland Indians.
In September of this season, I went to a White Sox game against the Cleveland Indians. I saw Fukudome, wearing number 1 again, but this time with Chief Wahoo on his cap instaed of the Cubs “C” that I was used to. I didn’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other, but my ambivalence was telling, in its own way.
The 2008 Cubs won the division title, and were supposed to be a better team than the 2007 team that won the division title, only to get swept out of the playoffs in the first round. Fukudome was supposed to be one of the upgrades to the team. In Game one of the first playoff series, he batted second behind Alfonso Soriano, and their combined 0-9 at the top of the order tells you all you need to know about how that first game turned out. Fukudome was dropped down in the order in Game Two, and didn’t even start in Game three at all. His 1-10 performance for the series, with 4 strikeouts, wasn’t what the Cubs needed in order to get over the hump. He wasn’t the only reason they lost in another sweep, but he wasn’t the upgrade we were looking for, either.
Fukudome’s eligible for arbitration now, and we’ll see what his future in the game holds. But he won’t be back in Chicago, which is just as well because his best game was his first one. Things just happen that way sometimes.