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.

The Cubs lost again tonight, drawing them ever closer to the first DoubleTriple in professional sports history. Rather than getting too upset about it, I will highlight this bet, instead. It was made not out of common sense, but out of hope. And yes, that hope turned out to be as fleeting as Marlon Byrd on the Cubs’ roster this year, but what else is new? There’s always Next Year, after all.

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?