For the Cubs, nothing’s been accomplished yet


On this day off between the end of the regular season–where the Cardinals played all 162 games–and the postseason–where the Cardinals will watch it on TV like the rest of us–a few thoughts are in order.

That dig at the Cardinals sounds a bit petty, but the truth is I’m glad the teams will not meet in the postseason. The Cubs finally ended the Cardinals’ three-year run on top of the NL Central in 2016, and there’s no possibility of a rematch from last season, either. So enjoy the offseason for a change, Cardinals Nation.

Winning 103.5 games in the regular season was a feat I haven’t seen before, and may not ever see again. It was wonderful seeing triple digits in the win column, because they showed up on the other end of  the spectrum back in 2012, when Theo Epstein and his crew began the Cubs’ rebuild.

Bringing them all back for the next five years feels like a move that will cement the Cub’s legitimacy on the field, for as far as the eye can see. And the construction along Clark Street, to go with upgrades inside the ballpark itself, is another sign that everything is on the upswing near Clark and Addison Streets. “Ebullient” is not too strong a word to describe where this Cubs fan is at, two and a half seasons after being disgusted with everything they stood for. After all, everything changes in life.

The new facilities and the dynamic team on the field are designed to make the turnstiles spin and the cash registers ring for years to come, and that’s a great thing. But the ultimate prize hasn’t been achieved yet.

Division titles are great, and it’s the one sure way to punch a team’s ticket into the postseason. But this is also the sixth division title that I’ve seen as a Cubs fan, and all of the previous go-rounds in October haven’t ended well.

Again, 100+ wins in the regular season is a great feat, which I’m grateful to have experienced. Not since 1910 have the Cubs won so many times. And after three and a half seasons of losing-by-design, the wins now have a sweetness that I didn’t know about before. But it’s not the end of the journey, either.

A point could be made that winning the National League pennant and getting to the World Series would represent progress from 2015, and that would technically be true. But it also means that

  • we’ll hear about 1908 incessantly, in case we haven’t already, and
  • David Ross wouldn’t go into retirement with the ring his teammates want him to have, and
  • White Sox fans can harp on 2005 for one more season, and–most importantly of all-
  • an unknowable set of Cubs fans who are with us today will go to their graves without knowing what winning a championship feels like.

With all this in mind, the time is now, and Next Year is going to arrive this year. Because until that happens, Theo and his team haven’t accomplished a thing.

Link to another ThroughTheFenceBaseball piece

I’ve written several baseball-related pieces about the Chicago Cubs since the season started last April. I’ve posted the large majority of them on, instead of on this site. I love the Cubs, even thought it’s usually difficult to do that, but putting the baseball pieces somewhere else gets my writing out to the wider world, and it leaves me free to explore some of the other topics that I also want to write about in this space.

Anyway, I’m posting a link to my latest piece, about the Cubs and their losing ways this season. A year ago I had no place else to put this but right here, but now I’m happy to provide a little content for the greater good of the game and its fans. Hope you enjoy it.

Easy money

Since casinos first began accepting bets on sporting events, they haven’t yet had to pay out for a Cubs pennant or World Series winner. And yet, year after year, Cubs fans who find themselves in Vegas plunk down something on the off chance that maybe this will finally be the long-awaited Next Year. So far, it’s been a one-way stream of money for the casinos: money coming in from sad-sack Cubs fans, but never, ever going out to pay for what every Cubs fan wants to see.

Yes, the Cubs have won a few division titles over the years. But the thrill is clearly gone in that regard. A division title means nothing, unless it’s followed up by success in the postseason. And in this post-2005 world (when that other team in town has already won a title), that means only one thing. Is that fair? Probably not. But I’ve been a Cubs fan for thirty-five years and haven’t yet seen them play in the World Series. That’s certainly not fair, either.

I bring all this up because I opened up a birthday card from my in-laws this evening. My birthday is still a few days away, and I already have an idea for what to write on that day. It will be good, I hope. Inside the card was a bet slip, for $5.00 that the Cubs would win the World Series this year. The bet was apparently made in February, when optimism ruled the day. Theo was on board, Kerry Wood had been re-signed, and somebody would want Soriano, wouldn’t they?

And now it’s four months after the money changed hands at the Mirage sports book. Wood has retired, Soriano is still around, and none of Theo’s moves have paid off very well. That $5 bet slip is now just as worthless as can be. I could almost hear it laughing at me as I opened up the envelope. It was taunting me, sending out its vibes of failure and futility. Wait until Next Year, sucker.

But the casino took the bet, and why not? They might have to pay out for an Angels win, or an Indians win, or a win by almost any other team in the majors. But the Cubs are a different story. They can set the odds as low as they want to, and it won’t deter Cubs fans from making the same bet again Next Year. Next Year is all we have, and the casinos know this better than anyone else.

Tarzan’s rookie card

I have already written about Jim Hendry’s ouster here, and I am excited that a new course for the Cubs will be charted soon. There’s no way that Mike Quade can survive, since the new GM will want to put “his people” in place. Does Quade finish out the season? Probably, but I think he better enjoy the last few weeks of this season.

The crowd at Wrigley Field today was the biggest one since Opening Day of 1978. Part of it was the Cardinals being in town, part of it was the perfect weather we had in Chicago, but part of it also had to be a catharsis for fans who had gone away in disgust. Now that Hendry’s out, let’s celebrate by–what else?–going to Wrigley to see a game. Makes sense to me. This weekend will see more huge crowds if the weather holds up.

So what happens to the #DoubleTriple countdown? I was enjoying it, and learning about baseball history in the process, but I can’t continue to root against my team. The only reason I was doing so was to force the hand of the Ricketts family in sending Hendry out the door. Now that it’s been done, and the team has improved to the point of only needing seven more wins to avoid 100 losses, I’m going to end the countdown at this time. It’s time to focus on more uplifting topics, anyway.

I also found out today that I will be getting a 1976 rookie card for “Tarzan” Joe Wallis, thanks to the Diamond Topps giveaway. I first heard about Joe Wallis when I watched a short video of him on WGN back in 1976 or 1977. There was some sort of drum music playing as Wallis went back to catch a flyball at Wrigley Field. He then ran through the outfield door and out onto Sheffield Avenue, where he made the catch. It was staged, of course, but I remembered the name Tarzan Joe Wallis forevermore.

I have two of his other cards already, but the rookie card is something I didn’t even know existed before today. Now that card collecting is a business–it definitely wasn’t when I was a kid–players don’t share their rookie cards with other players. And rookie cards are clearly labeled with an “RC” so that all collectors know that it’s valuable. I’m not a fan of the practice, since these things aren’t valuable to me in a monetary sense, but then again I don’t get to make decisions like this.

In the great scheme of things, none of the four players shown on this card amounted to very much in the majors. But at least they all made it to the majors, which is more than most people can say. And they will always be immortalized on little pieces of cardboard, for people like me to collect and write about for whoever else might be interested.

I’m reminded of the Peanuts special where Lucy declares that “Beethoven wasn’t so great.” When Schroeder challenges her on this, Lucy replies “He never got his picture on bubble gum cards, did he?” Tarzan Joe Wallis must have been great, since he did get his picture on bubble gum cards, and I will soon have at least three of them. That’s something worth writing (or reading) about, isn’t it?

#Cubs are now 30 losses from the #DoubleTriple

I know that the series was played in Houston, but come on. Losing a series to what is easily the worst team in baseball this year? And Cubs fans are supposed to be excited about the direction of this team? No thanks.

At least we can keep moving through the 1980s on the #DoubleTriple countdown. 1981 was something of a gimme, because the players went on strike in June and wiped out two months of the season.  No team lost 100 games that year, which isn’t surprising when all of the cancelled games are taken into account, but no team was even on a statistical pace to lose 100 games that year, even if all 162 games had been played.

The 1981 season started back up in August, with a sprint to the finish where every team essentially got a do-over. The teams that were in first place when the strike started were declared the first half champions, and they didn’t have quite so much to play for over the final weeks of the season. Not surprisingly, none of the first half champions also finished first in the second half of the season. Three of the four second half winners were in third place in their divisions when the strike began, and the other second-half winner, the Kansas City Royals, were in fifth place and 10 games under .500 when play was halted. They certainly made the most of their opportunity.

The big news during the players’ strike was the sale of the Cubs by the Wrigley family to the Tribune Corporation for the now-miniscule sum of $20 million. Wrigley Field was added into the sale, and the Cubs became a certified cash cow over the next two decades. The Wrigley family had owned the Cubs for 60 years, but the sale of the team was forced by estate tax bills owed by William Wrigley, who had inherited the team in 1977.

With big corporate money now behind them, the Cubs embarked on a new era in 1981. And as we now know, it didn’t go the way we hoped it would.

#Cubs are now 31 losses from the #DoubleTriple

Thanks to pitching meltdowns by two Carloses–Zambrano and Marmol–this post will be the first double shot of historic baseball mediocrity. First off, a reminder about what the #DoubleTriple is. The Cubs have decided to start winning lately, now that the games are sufficiently meaningless, and the reports are that Tom Ricketts will put his thumb in the eye of fans like me by bringing Jim Hendry back next season.

It now looks like this #DoubleTriple thing will become more than just a one-time thing for this season, since I’ll say this right now: the Cubs will lose 100 in a season before they win the Big One, so long as Jim Hendry gets to make the decisions. It gives me no great pleasure to say that, either. Onward through the losingest teams from days gone by.

And yes, I know the image above doesn’t have anything to do with losing teams, or even the major leagues in general. But the Baseball Furies scared the hell out of me, then as now. The angry, defiant look above is one that any or all of these teams probably felt at some point, anyway.

1979 Toronto Blue Jays

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 53-109

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Roy Hartsfield

Hall of Famers on roster: None, but Bobby Doerr served as a coach

100 loss seasons since: None

Pennant wins since: 1992 (World Series winner); 1993 (World Series winner)

Different year, same result for the Blue jays, who become the first franchise to pull off the TripleTriple , which is three consecutive years of 100-loss seasons. It also turned out to be the final year for manager Roy Hartsfield, who was let go at the end of the season and never managed in the majors again. He had never managed in the majors before Toronto, either, and I can’t imagine there’s ever been another manager to lose 100 or more games in every season that he managed at the big league level.

The most intriguing development for this team came in game #42, where the team beat the Indians by the score of 8-1. The truly interesting thing was the performance of their rookie second baseman, who went 3-4 with an RBI in his big league debut. The rookie, still a sophomore at BYU, went on to have a long and accomplished career–in the NBA. His name was Danny Ainge.

1979  Oakland Athletics

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 54-108

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Jim Marshall

Hall of Famers on roster: Rickey Henderson

100 loss seasons since: None

Pennant wins since: 1988; 1989; 1990

How the mighty had fallen. Earlier in the decade, the A’s were on their way to winning three straight championships, while Jim Marshall was managing the mediocre Cubs. Just five short years later, Marshall was managing a worse-than-mediocre A’s team that was stripped of Jackson, Hunter, Blue, Campaneris, and all of the other great stars, as soon as free agency had taken hold. The franchise would not reach these depths again, and a decade later they were in the midst of  a similarly-but-not-quite-as-impressive three year run of three pennants and no World Series wins. But that’s still three more pennants than I’ve seen my team win, and I’m quite jealous of that accomplishment.

1980 Seattle Mariners

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 59-103

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Darrell Johnson, Maury Wills

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1983; 2008; 2010

Pennant wins since: None

The Mariners began their second decade in existence (if you look at it the right way) by winning 7 of their first 10 games, and coming home on Memorial Day with a record two games above .500. The bottom fell out shortly thereafter, and they wound up in the loser’s circle yet again. The franchise would have to wait another eleven years before it finally had a winning record.

We’re in the 80s now, which is the decade I came of age personally, even though the 70s were the decade I came of age as a baseball fan. The Cubs will have to go 8-31 from here on out (a .205 winning percentage) to make the DoubleTriple a reality. I realize that this is very unlikely to happen, and that I may not even make it out of the 80s before the Cubs win game #63. But, as in real life, I’m going to keep on having fun for as long as I can.

Adios, Carlos

I went away for the weekend, and didn’t follow the Cubs game on Friday night because I was in transit. The next morning, I picked up a couple of things at Target and the cashier noticed the Cubs hat I had on. He asked me “What happened with the Cubs last night?” and I admitted I hadn’t been following them since the losing was so prevalent this year. He made some remark about how things need to change, and I agreed with him and was on my way.

Later in the day, my brother asked me if I had heard about Zambrano. I told him I hadn’t, and he proceeded to fill me in on the bad outing, and the ejection, and the retirement talk, and everything I had missed from the night before.  It became clear to me that the Target cashier was trying to ask me about that, too, but I missed it because I was momentarily out of the loop (literally as well as figuratively).

I still need to write a #DoubleTriple piece about that loss, but for now I’m more intrigued about the Zambrano situation. I literally have gone around the block about him a couple of times over the years, and that isn’t a good thing with the pitcher who’s supposed to be the ace of the staff. If your ace is mentally unstable, that’s not good. But if your ace is actually Ryan Dempster, that’s even worse.

In 2007, the Cubs started out really badly in Lou Piniella’s first season, but seemed to turn it around after Carlos went out and slugged Michael Barrett. It was the first time I had heard about teammates coming to blows–but I’m sure it happens more than I know about–and the fact that it was a pitcher and a catcher going at it made it even stranger than it might otherwise be. But the team started to play better after Barrett was traded, so it was all for the best, as I saw it.

But last year’s meltdown at the Cell pushed me into the “dump Zambrano” camp. Bad enough to go after one of your teammates during a game, but even worse to do it in the White Sox’s ballpark. They ate that up on the South side, as well they should have. I went to a game in St. Louis last summer, on a miserably hot August day, and it seemed that, even though Carlos had been reinstated with the team, nobody on the team wanted anything to do with him during pregame warmups. I thought the Cubs were going to trade him immediately and cut the cord, but this turned out not to be the case. Instead, he pitched really well and pronounced himself cured of the issues he was dealing with, so by the start of this year he was back in the fold, in my mind.

Then I went so far as to have Carlos’s back after his “we stinks” comment earlier this year, when Marmol blew a win and Zambrano accused the Cubs of being a Triple-A team. It was the truth, wasn’t it? You can’t trade somebody just for telling the truth, no matter how unpleasant it was. I even sent out a tweet to the effect that I would consider a move against Carlos as an affront to me as a longstanding Cubs fan. I realize that this had no bearing on anything, but I was supporting Carlos the only way that I knew how (since there was no BlueBattingHelmet in those dark days).

But now, in the wake of acting like a turd once again, I am now done with Carlos Zambrano. Yes, the team has him under contact for this year and next, and they owe him a lot of money. I realize that. I also know that he can be a dominating pitcher, and will put all he can into beating the Cubs whenever he gets the chance in the future. But enough is enough. He’s had way too many strikes by now, and now it’s time to go to the bench for good. And by that I mean someone else’s bench.

#Cubs are now 33 losses from a historic #DoubleTriple

Soriano batting, bottom of the ninth, game on the line. Was there ever any doubt? Sadly, no. The Cubs drop one to the Washington Nationals at home, and so the journey forward through baseball’s losingest teams continues.

1978 Toronto Blue Jays

Expansion team: Technically, no

Overall record: 59-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Six

Manager(s): Roy Hartsfield

Hall of Famers on roster: None, but Bobby Doerr served as a coach

100 loss seasons since: 1979

Pennant wins since: 1992 (World Series winner); 1993 (World Series winner)

The 1978 Blue Jays were one year removed from being an expansion team, and they did improve by a couple of games from the previous year. This team had a fighting chance to avoid the 100 loss plateau, too. For the final home game of the season, the team sat at 59-96 and had a 6-4 lead over Boston going into the 9th inning. But then Willie Upshaw made a costly error, two runs came in, and the Blue Jays lost the game in 14 innings. This seemed to take the fight out of them, as they went on the road and lost the final six games of the season.

1978 Seattle Mariners

Expansion team: Technically, no

Overall record: 56-104

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Darrell Johnson

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1980; 1983; 2008; 2010

Pennant wins since: None

In year two of their existence, the Mariners reached 100 losses for the first time with a painful 1-13 finish. The problem was, they were playing the Texas Rangers, who were trying to catch the division-leading KC Royals, and the Royals, who were trying to stay ahead of the Rangers and the California Angels. So the two teams took turns beating up the hapless Mariners, landing them in the loser’s circle for the first time. We’ve not seen the last of them, however.

The 1978 season came down to an epic one-game playoff in the American League East. Red Sox vs. Yankees, at Fenway Park. The best thing, though, was that the game was played in the afternoon. Baseball was still like that in those days. Today it would be in prime time, under the lights, in order to maximize television ratings and ad sales. But the image of the transistor radios, with the headphones on the sly, was never more true than it was on that day. The rest of the season seemed almost like an afterthought, unless you were a Yankees fan.

The next Cubs loss will close out the 1970s. The Cubs only need to win 14 games to render this exercise moot, but I’ll keep going with it as long as I can. Believe it or not, this is fun for me.

#Cubs are now 34 losses away from the historic #DoubleTriple

The Cubs gave me a week off from doing this by winning seven games in a row, which gave me time to reflect on more important things than losing baseball teams. It may have also saved Jim Hendry’s job for next season. We shall see. But with the loss today, I’m back to the journey through baseball in the 1970s.

1977 Toronto Blue Jays

Expansion team: Yes

Overall record: 55-107

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Roy Hartsfield

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1978, 1979

Pennant wins since: 1992 (World Series winner); 1993 (World Series winner)

The 1977 Blue Jays were an expansion team, and that year’s other expansion team, the Seattle Mariners, managed to avoid the 100 loss mark by only losing 98 games. But they are also the first of the expansion teams since 1966 to win a World Series, which took them 16 seasons to accomplish. Not too shabby. The team also set an expansion record by drawing 1.7 million fans in their first season, which is all the more remarkable because their stadium did not serve beer. And the team was owned by the Labatt Brewing Company, too. Go figure.

1977 Atlanta Braves

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 61-101

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Seven

Manager(s): Dave Bristol, Ted Turner, Vern Benson, Dave Bristol

Hall of Famers on roster: Phil Niekro

100 loss seasons since: 1988

Pennant wins since: 1991; 1992; 1995 (World Series winner); 1996; 1999

The 1977 Braves were owned by Ted Turner, who was ahead of his time in many ways. He bought the team and signed Andy Messersmith to the first million dollar contract, thinking that he could give Messersmith the nickname “Channel” and the number 17 (guess which channel Turner’s WTBS was on?) MLB shot that idea down, along with Turner’s attempt to manage his own team.

After an 8-21 start, Turner fired manager Dave Bristol and took over the team himself. He lost the only game he managed, and after a one-game tenure by Bristol’s assistant Vern Benson, Turner hired Bristol back for the remainder of the season. But the season had pretty much already been lost by then.

Turner marketed his team as “America’s team” and, with a run of five pennants in the 1990s, it’s hard to argue with him. But Turner Field (a/k/a “The Ted”) was still a long way from being built back in 1977.

The next stop will be 1978, and another epic season in baseball history.

#Cubs #DoubleTriple is now just 35 losses away

The Cubs were blown out in St. Louis again today, bringing the historic and unprecedented #DoubleTriple ever closer to becoming a reality. And losing to the Cardinals tomorrow will put the Cubs on pace, percentage-wise, to make this happen. And so we forge ahead deeper into the 1970s. For an explanation of why I’m doing this, click here.

1976 Montreal Expos

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 55-107

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Karl Kuehl, Charlie Fox

Hall of Famers on roster: Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Larry Doby (as coach)

100 loss seasons since: 2008; 2009 (both as the Washington Nationals)

Pennant wins since: None

In 1976, baseball changed forever. It’s always changing and evolving to some degree, but two pitchers–Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally–had played the 1975 season without a contract, and afterwards they went to an arbitrator and claimed that they were not beholden to the long-standing reserve clause, which bound a player to one team for as long as that team wanted. The arbitrator agreed with them, and Messersmith became baseball’s first millionaire, signing for three years with the Atlanta Braves. It’s just one more sign of how different things are now in baseball–and in all of professional sports–than what they were back then.

The Montreal Expos, in their final year of playing in Jarry Park, were the only team to hit the magic number in losses in 1976. Since it was the summer of Bruce Jenner, Nadia Comaneci, and the other Summer Olympians in Montreal, I don’t think the locals noticed it very much. But after the season was over, Les Expos moved into Olympic Stadium, which eventually ruined Andre Dawson’s knees. And, for all of the problems they had with the ballpark and with lousy attendance toward the end of their time in Montreal, they never again lost 100 games in Montreal. So that’s a good thing, right?

Although it has nothing to do with 100 losses, the most enduring image of baseball in 1976 was Rick Monday saving the American flag in the outfield of Dodger Stadium on April 25. A man and his son ran onto the field, and were intending to burn the flag as an act of protest. But they fumbled with their matches and lighter fluid, and in the meantime Monday ran over and snatched the flag away from them. The picture of the event above has been colorized, but the event rightly made Monday a hero. As much as I pound on the Cubs sometimes, I was definitely proud of my team at that moment. And with the Bicentennial just two months away, all Americans were inspired by Monday’s action. Has anything ever gone together so well as America and baseball?

#Cubs now 36 losses away from the historic #DoubleTriple

The Cubs lost again tonight, but Albert Pujols got his 2,000th hit. I hope he picks up another 1,500 or so in a Cubs uniform in the years ahead. I can dream, can’t I?

1975 Detroit Tigers

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 57-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Three

Manager(s): Ralph Houk

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1989; 1996; 2002; 2003

Pennant wins since: 1984 (World Series winner); 2006

1975 was the year I will always point to as the year I became a baseball fan. I bought my first baseball cards that year, and the 1975 Topps design is still my personal favorite, with the two toned color scheme, and the team name in another color on the top. Classic. I had the Hank Aaron card pictured above, but I wouldn’t learn about what made Aaron so important until several years later. I love the abbreviation inside of the baseball, too. The idea of a DH is too ingrained to make that necessary anymore.

1975 was also the year of my first baseball game. My dad took me to a Cardinals-Mets doubleheader in St. Louis, where I saw Tom Seaver pitch, and Lou Brock steal a base. The fans all started yelling “Lou!” but they sounded like boos to my seven year-old ears. There was some sort of a fashion show between games, where this retractable runway popped up from the playing surface. It seemed a little weird, but whatever. I loved it just the same.

One afternoon in late September, I was changing the channels after school (which was done manually in those days) and I saw a baseball player pulling into third base after hitting a triple. I remember the announcer saying that it was the first time in history that someone had gone 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game. The player was Rennie Stennett of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final score of the game was 22-0. And the venue was Wrigley Field in Chicago. Life was never again the same for me after that. Jack Brickhouse, and afternoon games at Wrigley Field, and WGN broadcasts all began to cast their spell on me, and all these years later, here I am. Emotionally scarred, yes, but just as dogged as ever in my loyalty to my team, to the game, and to the city I now call my home.

The 1975 World Series was about as good as it gets. But this blog is about losing, and there was one team in 1975 that hit this magic number. But, a mere nine years later, the Tigers were as dominating a team as I’ve ever seen. So turnarounds do happen.

The Tigers ended the first month of the 1975 season in first place. But they took a 17-3 pounding on May 1, and that began a painful five month stretch to end the season. They won nine games in a row at some point, but they also lost 19 in a row. Even this year’s Mariners team can’t relate to that. The Mariners themselves were still a few years away, but another round of expansion was already being discussed.

This trip through the 70s will undoubtedly continue as the weekend in St. Louis drags on.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple at 37 losses

The Cubs lost again today, and dealt away Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians. Let the dismantling begin. And let the tour through the 1970s continue. How time flies when the Cubs are losing.

1974 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 60-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Six

Manager(s): John McNamara

Hall of Famers on roster: Willie McCovey, Dave Winfield

100 loss seasons since: 1993

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

The Padres are the closest thing to a regular in these pages, since they are already being highlighted for the fourth time here, in only six years of existence as a franchise. Doing this countdown has made me realize how hard it was for the Padres to get established in the Majors.

I now realize that this team–which suffered so much back in the 1970s– has since made it to the World Series, twice. They haven’t yet won it, but that’s still two more times than I’ve ever seen, and my hat is off to them for the accomplishment. The Cubs’ ongoing failures are magnified when they are put next to the Padres and some other franchises that are still decades away at this point in time.

I spoke of Dave Winfield in the last post here, and the team also featured Willie McCovey, who was 36 and on the downside of his career. The team had a fighting chance to avoid 100 losses, if not for two teams in their own division. The Padres went 2-16 against the Dodgers, and 1-17 against the Atlanta Braves, for a combined winning percentage of  .083. A team would have to tear up the rest of the league to overcome that, and the Padres couldn’t do it.

On the bright side,  the San Diego Chicken did make its debut this season, and the team would also win the National League pennant only ten years later. I’ve written about that here if you’re interested.

The 1970s are half over now, and the next Cubs loss will bring us to the epochal year of 1975. The year it all changed for me, personally. Should be fun to write about when the time comes.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple at 38 losses

Now that the Cubs have gone back to playing decent teams after the sweep of Houston, the losses have begun piling up again. And here’s a fun fact: Seattle just lost 17 games in a row  and they are still two games better than the Cubs right now. But the tour of baseball in the 1970s keeps moving forward.

1973 Texas Rangers

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 57-105

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Three

Manager(s): Whitey Herzog, Del Wilber, Billy Martin

Hall of Famers on roster: Herzog, but no players

100 loss seasons since: None

Pennant wins since: 2010

If you ever need to ask someone a really good trivia question, think about Delbert Quentin Wilber (who went by “Babe” for some reason). In the 1973 season, he managed exactly one game in the majors, won it, and then never managed another game again. He served as a place holder between Whitey Herzog, who lasted less than one full season with the Rangers, and Billy Martin, who was hired after being fired by Detroit earlier in the season. Herzog and Martin lost 105 games combined that season, but Wilber secured his place as the manager with the highest winning percentage in history. No one can ever beat it.

1973 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 60-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Six

Manager(s): Don Zimmer

Hall of Famers on roster: Dave Winfield

100 loss seasons since: 1974; 1993

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

The Padres are here in the 100 loss club for the third time in their short existence as a franchise. But the most remarkable thing I can think to say about this team is that they had the foresight to draft Dave Winfield.

In addition to being drafted by the Padres as a pitcher, Winfield was also drafted by teams in the NBA, ABA, and NFL. Clearly, he was a talented athlete. And in the 1970s, such an athlete would still choose to play baseball. But today, he would be in the NFL of the NBA, and wouldn’t give baseball a second look, most likely. He was promoted by the Padres directly to the major leagues after being drafted out of college, and converted into an outfielder so that he could hit more regularly. I think that was also done with some guy named Ruth. It turned out pretty well for both of these guys, actually.

There isn’t much else that can be said about the 1973 Padres, except that they were very nearly moved to Washington, DC after the season ended. Instead, the team was sold to McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc, and the team has remained in San Diego ever since.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple at 39 losses

The Cubs finally put together a three game win streak by sweeping the Astros at home last weekend. The conditions were right, and the Cubs took advantage. But all good things come to an end, and tonight’s loss brings us to the epic 1972 season, where only one team in the majors made it to the 100 loss plateau.

1972 Texas Rangers

Expansion team: Not exactly (previously the Washington Senators)

Overall record: 62-10o

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Ted Williams

Hall of Famers on roster: No players, but Nellie Fox served as a coach, along with Williams

100 loss seasons since: 1973

Pennant wins since: 2010

1972 was a watershed year for baseball: The first players’ strike in the modern era wiped out the first week and a half of the season. The Oakland A’s began a three-year championship run, becoming the only team not named the Yankees to accomplish this feat. Jackie Robinson died, just days after throwing out the first pitch in Game Two of the World Series.  Roberto Clemente reached 3,000 hits, and then lost his life in a plane crash on New Year’s eve. And The American League voted to adopt the Designated Pinch Hitter (DPH) on a three year experimental basis. We know how that one turned out. But the focus here is on losing, and the new Texas Rangers franchise made their way into the loser’s circle.

The Washington Senators had suffered several 100 loss seasons in the 1960s, but Ted Williams had guided the team to their first (and only) winning season in 1969. They fell back below .500 after that, but the move to Texas was more than Williams could tolerate, and he resigned at the end of this season.

To reach 100 losses, the Rangers suffered through an almost unbearable September, where they went 3-23 for a winning percentage of .115  There may have been worse months in big league history, but there can’t be too many of them. The team’s  100th loss came on the last day of the season, in the final game played in Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.

The next Cubs loss will usher in the Designated Hitter era. Should be interesting.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 40 losses

The Cubs lost again today, and had to survive blast furnace conditions at Wrigley Field to do it. And if today’s announced attendance of 38,000+ souls are really foolish enough to go to the ballpark in these conditions, humanity is in bigger trouble than I thought. But at least the journey through baseball in the 1970s can resume. Today’s focus is on 1971, when two teams hit the century mark in losses.

1971 Cleveland Indians

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 60-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Eight

Manager(s): Alvin Dark, Johnny Lipon

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1985; 1987; 1991

Pennant wins since: 1995; 1997

Cubs fans do indeed have it bad when it comes to losing. But at least we aren’t as starved for a championship as those poor souls in Cleveland. Their baseball drought of 62 years is the second-longest active streak, but add to that the Browns (who have never won a Super Bowl) and the Cavs (who have never won an NBA title), and you’ve really got some serious misery going on.

The Indians fired manager Alvin Dark in late July, hoping that a team that was nearly 20 games under .500 could be resurrected with some new blood in the dugout. It didn’t work, though, as Dark’s replacement, Johnny Lipon, suffered through an 18-41 finish. Alvin Dark later won two World Series managing the Oakland A’s, but Lipon never managed in the majors again. The Indians will now take some time off from the 100 loss club, but they’ll be back a few more times before we’re finished with this exercise.

1971 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 61-100

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Preston Gomez

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1973; 1974; 1993

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

I’ve been through the whole 1984 thing with the Padres elsewhere, so there’s no need to rehash it here. The Padres were no longer an expansion team per se in 1971, but they weren’t yet established as a winning franchise, either. Preston Gomez finished out this season as the Padres’ manager, but was fired just 11 games into the 1972 season. Three full seasons of 99 or more losses will do that for a manager, even with a new franchise. We have now seen the last of him in these posts, but he turned up in a few other big league jobs, including a stint managing the Cubs during the 1980 season.

Note: The image above is of Satchel Paige, who did not play on either of these teams, but did play for the Cleveland Indians in the late 1940s, and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 41 losses

The Cubs gave me the night off last night when they beat the Phillies, and it looked like I’d have another night off tonight, so I started playing around with the idea of writing about my useless library card. Perhaps that will be some other post in the future. But instead, Sean Marshall made sure that I would get back to counting down to the #DoubleTriple tonight.

1970 Chicago White Sox

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 56-106

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Three

Manager(s): Don Gutteridge, Bill Adair, and Chuck Tanner

Hall of Famers on roster: Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling (served as first base coach)

100 loss seasons since: None

Pennant wins since: Don’t make me say this…2005 (and I really don’t want to add this part…(World Series winner) I need to go lie down now.

Ah, the White Sox. It takes a Chicagoan to appreciate how divided this city is when it comes to baseball. Every other professional sport has but one team, and everybody rallies behind them when they win. But baseball is an entirely different thing altogether.

It’s like the sheep and the goats with my team and that other team across town. So I will enjoy writing this, since I won’t get another chance to chronicle their misfortunes like this. It’s comforting to know that they have done something more recently than the Cubs (besides that whole World Series thing).

Cubs fans have this thing about attendance figures. A few years ago, crowds of 39,000+ were the norm at Wrigley, and crowds of 22,000 were the norm at that ballpark that I will always think of as the New Comiskey. With that wide disparity in fan support, obviously it means the Cubs have better fans than the White Sox. Right? 

I’m obviously not trying to make that point here. But it was pretty hard to ignore the fact that Wrigley Field was routinely packed, while the White Sox–even in good years–had greater struggles with filling seats. But when I started to research the 1970 White Sox, I had to turn away from what I found.

On Opening day of the 1970 season, the White Sox lost 12-0 to the Twins. In hindsight, it was a harbinger of things to come. But still, it was Opening Day, the day you look forward to when you’re freezing in February. Six months of pent-up demand for baseball, and finally comes the time to scratch that baseball itch. It surely was a powerful incentive to the 11,473 fans who showed up at the real Comiskey Park that day.

April baseball is certainly a dicey proposition in Chicago. So when all the hoopla surrounding Opening Day is over, attendance falls off immediately. And so it was for the White Sox that year. The next game they played drew nearly 1,500 fans, and the game after that drew barely more than a thousand. It’s hard to imagine what those numbers would look like in in a ballpark designed for 52,000 fans.

By late September, the team had fallen to 43 games under .500, and was well on their way to 100 losses, when they came home for the final homestand of the season. It was late September, and kids were back in school, and football season had started, and the baseball interest was up North, where the Cubs were trying to catch the Pirates in their division. So why would anyone want to go to a Sox game? It turns out that very few people did. 672 people showed up for a doubleheader one day, and 693 came out a few days later. Put a bad team on the field, and that’s what happens. Unless you play at Clark and Addison.

The White Sox did begin to improve the next year, but the South Side Hitmen days of the late 70s were still a few years off. And, as I have grudgingly acknowledged before, they have since done what I can only dream about as far as the World Series goes.

With the next Cubs loss, I’ll forge ahead deeper into the 1970s. Should be fun.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 42 losses

The Cubs lost again today, triggering the last year of the 1960s along our road to the historic #DoubleTriple (100 losses in a season, during a 100 year championship drought). A short narrative will follow about the two teams that lost 100+ games in 1969.

1969 Montreal Expos

Expansion team: Yes

Overall record: 52-110

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: 2

Manager(s): Gene Mauch

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1976; 2008 (as Washington Nationals); 2009 (as Washington Nationals)

Pennant wins since: None, but an agonizing near miss in 1981

The Montreal Expos made history, just by bringing America’s game onto foreign soil. And sadly, they now are history, since they were taken over by MLB and moved to Washington DC after the 2004 season.

Things started off rather well for les Expos. In just their ninth game as a franchise, Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies. But things quickly went downhill from there. After an 11-17 start–which, honestly, is much better than an expansion franchise should ever start off– the Expos endured a twenty game losing streak. By streak’s end, they were 23 games out of first place, and were playing out the string from early June on.

1969 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: Yes

Overall record: 52-110

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: 6

Manager(s): Preston Gomez

Hall of Famers on roster: No players, but Sparky Anderson served as third base coach

100 loss seasons since: 1971, 1973, 1974; 1993

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

Ah yes, the franchise that broke my heart in 1984. But first they had to suffer through an expansion year beatdown, and then they struggled for several years to get on their feet as a franchise. And yet, since then they’ve been to the World Series twice, and the Cubs, well…..

The Padres actually won the first three games they played as a franchise. They went downhill from there, of course, but they had to get that first season under their belt, and that’s what they did. Expansion teams are supposed to lose lots of games that first season, aren’t they?

Sparky Anderson’s tenure with the Padres didn’t last beyond the first year of their existence. He became the Reds’ manager the next year, and the Big Red Machine took flight thereafter. And, in the battle of the new expansion teams, the Padres took 8 of 12 from the Montreal Expos. So at least they had that going for them.

See you in the 1970s, after the Cubs lose again.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 43 losses

No big league baseball team lost 100 games in 1968. The closest any team came was the Washington Senators, who lost 96 games that year. But I still feel the need to riff on 1968 for a bit, anyway. So here goes:

A lot has been written about all of the things that happened in 1968. I can’t add too much to that, except to say that it was also the year I was born. So if I find a penny on the sidewalk, I always pick it up for good luck (I’m superstitious that way). And if it’s a 1968 penny, well, good things will follow me all day long. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?

In baseball, 1968 is known as the “year of the pitcher” because Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, Denny McLain won 31 games, and Carl Yastrzemski won a batting title by hitting .301. We may never see any of those things happen again, because the pitcher’s mound was subsequently lowered to give the batters a better chance at hitting the ball. But before that, the Cubs also had one terribly bad week, which happened to coincide with the moment of my birth.

Some personal background is needed first. I was born on Friday, June 14, 1968 at a few minutes past 12 noon. My weight and length are not important to this story.  According to, the Cubs welcomed me into the world with a 2-1 victory in Atlanta. So far, so good.  The team I would one day call mine was undefeated, so far as I was concerned.

The next day, while still in Atlanta, an outfielder named Lou Johnson drove in 2 runs in the second inning, and the Cubs got out to an early 2-o lead. And then, things suddenly took a turn. It was about as bad a turn as could be imagined, as if a group of grown men got together and decided to prove to all fans–both present and future–just how hard it is to follow the Chicago Cubs. Brace yourselves for what comes next.

The Cubs didn’t score again that day, and lost 3-2 in 10 innings. That’s how it goes, c’est la vie, you can’t win ’em all, etc. You can imagine the cliches that were being used at the time. One loss is nothing to get too excited about.

For the final game of the Series in Atlanta, the Cubs’ ace, Fergie Jenkins, was pitching against Phil Niekro for the Braves. Jenkins pitched 10 innings (yes, 10) of shutout ball, but took the loss after Joe Torre singled home Hank Aaron in the 11th inning. A hard luck loss, of both the game and the series, but the worst was still to come.

After an off day for traveling, the Cubs opened up a three game series in St. Louis. Had I been able to understand, it could have been explained to me that baseball teams don’t stay in one place very long, and they have to move around from one place to another in order to play games. But I would have just  stared blankly at you, or maybe soiled my diaper, so it would have been a waste of both of our times.

The Cubs began the next series with another 1-0 loss. They had now gone 28 innings without scoring a run, which isn’t good but certainly wasn’t cause for alarm. But the next day they faced a young lefty (and future Hall of Famer) named Steve Carlton. Carlton allowed a 4th inning single, hit a batter, and had one of his fielders make a harmless error. And that was it. The scoreless streak now stood at 37 innings, and counting.

The Cubs had only one real chance to tally a run before leaving St. Louis the next day. Bob Gibson was on his game for the Cardinals, and the Cubs had only one runner reach 3rd base, and couldn’t get him in. So the Cubs left town oh-for-St. Louis, in wins and in runs scored.  I’m certain that the next series in Cincinnati couldn’t come quickly enough.

By now, 46 innings had come and gone without any runs scored by the Cubs. I was not yet a week old, and the Cubs were on the verge of setting a record for offensive futility. The record, by the way, dated back to what was called the dead ball era in baseball. It appears the Cubs were doing their part to usher in a new dead ball era of their own.

The next game, on the first full Friday of my days here on earth, the Cubs broke through with a run in the third inning. The Reds’ pitcher walked the bases loaded, and Billy Williams hit a flyball deep enough to score a run. The record had merely been tied, at 48 consecutive scoreless innings. And no big league team has come close to matching that feat since.

The Cubs went on to win that game, 3-2. They finished the season at 84-78, and were poised to make the next season, 1969, into something special. People still talk about it to this day in Chicago. But no one ever mentions the 1968 season, and particularly that one bad week in the middle of June. And if I hadn’t been born during it,  I would try to ignore it, too.

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 44 losses

The Cubs imploded in the 9th inning tonight and so, as promised, here is a recap of the 1967 New York Mets. I will follow the same basic format for each entry, followed by a short narrative.

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 61-101

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Wes Westrum, Salty Parker

Hall of Famers on roster: Tom Seaver

100 loss seasons since: 1993

Pennant wins since: 1969 (World Series winner); 1973; 1986 (World Series winner); 2000

I wasn’t yet born in 1967, but I was conceived in that year. I like to think the Doors’ Light My Fire was playing in the background at the time, but I don’t really want to know for sure. The 1967 Mets didn’t light anybody’s fire, either. This was the fifth time in the team’s six-year history that it reached 100 losses. But, remarkably, the team managed to win the World Series just two years later. As their nickname will attest, that truly was an Amazin’ feat.

A couple of things about this team intrigued me. First, they had a coach who went by the name of Sheriff Robinson. Talk about a cool nickname. Baseball has lots of them over the years, but “Sheriff” will get anybody’s attention. The second is that the team’s first manager, Wes Westrum, resigned with 11 games left in the season. His replacement, Salty Parker (there’s another good nickname) took over a team that was 37 games under .500 and in tenth place. Divisional play came along in two years’ time, making it impossible for any team to finish in tenth place ever again. But really, did the players have any motivation to play for old Salty? Not really.

The turnaround for this team came quickly, and it gives me hope that it can be replicated with the Cubs. It had better be, because we’re all running out of years to see the Cubs finally break on through to the other side.

Countdown to the #DoubleTriple

The second part of the baseball season begins tonight. Many teams, perhaps even most teams, still have something to play for, whether it’s a division title or a chance at a wild card berth. My team, the Chicago Cubs, isn’t so lucky. They ended the first part of the season at 18 games below the breakeven point (and since it’s a bit more than the 81 games that makes up a “half” of the schedule, I’m just calling them “parts” instead). With 70 games left, the Cubs find themselves 45 losses away from 100 on the season.

I explained a couple of posts ago why that’s significant. For as much as people have identified the Cubs with losing in recent years (ever since 1945, really), they haven’t lost 100 games in a season since 1966. I was born a couple of years after that, meaning that I have not seen the Cubs lose 100 games in a season before. And, even though it means rooting for losses over the second part of the season, I’m willing to do that because the other alternative–a playoff berth–is not going to happen. A team that cannot win four straight games has no business believing that playoffs are in their future. Time to face facts about that.

I wanted to find a way to commemorate the Cubs’ march toward infamy. True, other teams have lost 100 games in a season before, and more franchises have suffered this ignomity over the past 44 years than have avoided it. I won’t say that this team will set any historic loss records for the rest of this season. The 120 losses that the Mets suffered in their expansion year is probably safe for this year. At least from the Cubs, it is. I’m not sure about Houston, though.

What I am saying is that none of the 100 loss seasons ever happened to a team that had also gone 100 years or more without a World Series title. Let’s face it, if any other team gets to that point, I–and anyone who can read this blog–will not be around to see it.

So, since the Cubs are already halfway home to what I am calling the #DoubleTriple, I’m going to call attention to losses that pull the team closer to the second half of this unprecedented feat. And here’s how I’ll do it:

I am going to start in 1967, which is the first season after the Cubs’ last 100 loss season (but keep in mind their championship drought was a mere 61 years at that time). The next Cubs loss will trigger an examination of the team that lost 100 or more games that season. Some years had zero teams with that many losses, while one season had four teams hit that level of futility. Each of the teams from that year will be looked at in some way or another. And if there weren’t any teams, I reserve the right to blather on about any baseball and losing-related topic that comes to mind. And trust me, I can be really creative on that front.

So as the losses mount up, the present day will get closer and closer. With loss #40, for example, 100-loss teams (there were two of them) from 2006 will be profiled. One has since gotten better, and one really has not. That’s what will make this interesting, for myself and anyone who wants to read this.

With loss #45, the year 2011 will kick in, and the Cubs will likely find themselves sharing a column with the Houston Astros, who are (and probably will remain) the only team worse than the Cubs this year. They have never lost 100 games before, and certainly not in the timeframe I’ll be discussing. Some franchises make multiple appearances, and some won’t appear at all. But I’ll keep going until the 100 threshhold is reached. What happens if the losses keep coming after that? I’m sure I can think of something.

Understand that I’m not a Cubs hater, wishing bad things on the team I’ve followed since I was seven years old. On the contrary, I love this team. The front office suits want to promote the Cubs as a “brand,” but I have danced when this team has won, and I have sat dumbstruck when they have lost. And I’ll keep coming back as long as I’m on this earth, because I love Chicago and I love baseball and I love the National League style of play. Where else am I gonna go?

But, having said all of that, I’m not going to shy away from what may end up as a historic season within an already historic championship drought. I truly want to see that, rather than playing .500 ball and having Jim Hendry back to cause even greater damage next year.  I don’t want Mike Quade back either, but until the Cubs remove Jim Hendry as General Manager, this team will continue on a downward spiral. I’m quite confident that his lack of results speak for themselves in this regard. How many World Series wins have come during Hendry’s tenure? Zero. And that’s all that really matters to this fan.

So first up, with the next Cubs’ loss, will be 1967. I reserve the right to write about topics other than the Cubs as inspiration strikes, but I’m certain this will dominate the postings from here until the season ends on September 28. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Here’s how the Cubs can make baseball history in 2012

Who knows losing better than the Cubs? Ask anybody to play word association between a baseball franchise and the word “losers” and at least 90% will say Cubs. And the 10% who wouldn’t just don’t know anything about baseball.

And yet, for all that mediocrity, the gold standard of ineptitude–the 100-loss season–has eluded the Cubs throughout my entire lifetime. So, even though I know losing as well as anybody else, I kind of want to know what that feels like.

The Cubs have only lost 100 games or more in 2 seasons: 1962 and 1966. Both of these happened before the Cubs passed the century mark in years without a World Series win back in 2008. So, with the century mark for a single season now within reach, this could be the first time that a professional sports team with a 100 year championship drought could also lose that many games. It could only happen in baseball, and only to the Cubs. So why not revel in it?

I’m calling this the “double triple” because it turns the basketball term of a “triple double” on its head. Rather than one player having a really good game, this achievement would mark the low water point for a team in the history of professional sports. And who could be afraid of that?

All of the “good” Cubs fans would probably shake their heads in disgust at the idea of wanting their team to lose. Words to the effect of “Let’s let the young kids develop and not get their egos bruised by losing so much.” But you know what? These are professional athletes. They cash those paychecks whether they win or lose. Shed no tears for them.

“But where’s your team pride?” others might say. Let it be said that being a Cubs fan is not about being proud. The first Cubs game that I ever watched on TV, back in 1975, was a 22-0 loss at home. And the very week that I was born, in June of 1968, the Cubs didn’t score a single run for 48 straight innings, which no other team has even come close to since then. So please don’t talk to me about pride.

I can think of three things that I have not seen from the Cubs in my lifetime: being no-hit by another team (which happened to them twice back in 1965), playing in the World Series, and losing 100 games in a single season.

The World Series won’t happen this year. The no-hitter could happen at any time, and A.J. Burnett recently came very, very close. When it does happen, it will just confirm the level of ineptitude of this year’s team, or whichever year’s team it finally happens to. That’s only 27 outs over the course of a few hours, though. But losing a hundred games? That’s about to happen. It would take something remarkable to prevent it, at this point.

If the Cubs win at least one game in Arizona this weekend, and then sweep an otherwise meaningless series with the Astros next week in Wrigley Field, they’ll narrowly avoid 100 losses on the season. Anything less than that, and the Double Triple is a reality. If the losing is going to come, then let’s have those losses at least count toward something.

As Aerosmith says, you’ve got to lose to know how to win. And if that’s true, the Cubs should have some serious winning in their future. But for now, this year’s team could set a futility mark that we’ll all laugh about someday. So Cubs fans like myself will just have to Dream On beginning–as always–with next year.