Hanukah begins tonight, and I wanted to put my collection of Cubs baseball cards to work to commemorate the season. In order to do this, I have brought out a ceramic menorah that was purchased at a garage sale many years ago. If I was actually Jewish, I’d probably have a better one to use for this purpose. But you have to play the hand you’re given in life.
The first candle, the one that is used for lighting all of the others, is going to be Steve Goodman, who was not a Cubs’ player, but he did write and sing songs about the Cubs. This is one you’ve heard before:
So on the first night of this celebration, I’ll highlight (no pun intended) the late Dave Roberts. No, not the Dave Roberts who is known for “The Steal” but the journeyman pitcher who pitched for eleven different organizations in his thirteen-year career. His salad days were with the Detroit Tigers in the mid-1970s, and the Cubs purchased his contract from the Tigers at the end of July in 1977. This was also around the time that the Cubs brought Dave Giusti in from Pittsburgh, as the Cubs were hoping to stave off a second-half collapse that saw them go from 25 games above .500 to finishing 20 games out of first place. Clearly, the Roberts/Giusti combo wasn’t enough to save their season that year.
Roberts spent the next full season with the Cubs, splitting his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. The 1978 Cubs were an awful team, managed by Herman Franks, but they were enough to keep a nine-year-old boy in Springfield, Illinois occupied all summer long. I don’t have any specific recollections about anything Roberts did that summer, but I can tick off the guys that he played with: Reuschel and Sutter, Kingman and Buckner, DeJesus and Trillo. And there can’t be too many people who remember Mick Kelleher, but I’m one of them.
To give perhaps the strangest analogy you will ever hear on the subject, if my allegiance to the Cubs is concrete, it was poured in late 1975, hardened in 1976 and 1977, and by 1978 it was set for good. I couldn’t break it now if I wanted to (and believe me, there have been some times I have thought about this). Roberts is a part of my Cubs history, and so he gets the honor of leading off the Hanu-Cub festival of Jewish Cubs players, all of whom have come and gone in the past 35 years. More will follow over the next few evenings.
The 1978 Topps card for Dave Roberts showed him as clean-shaven, but I liked the 1979 version better, and I included it above. However, it was obsolete by the time it was printed, as Roberts signed with the San Francisco Giants in late February, probably in time for spring training that year. He played with two teams in 1979, two teams in 1980, and ended his career in early 1981 after a short stint with the New York Mets.
Roberts supplemented is baseball income by working as a boilermaker in the off-season, where he was exposed to materials that gave him lung cancer. He died in 2009 at the age of 64. His service, both to the Cubs and to baseball in general, is remembered here.