Jose can you see it?

cardenal

Jose Cardenal played in many cities over the course of his big league career, and I’d be surprised if he had a special affinity for any one of them. But he was a Cub when I started following the team in the mid-1970s, and for that reason he’ll always be a Cub to me. He played six seasons in Chicago, and he also sang the seventh-inning stretch with Eddie Vedder a few days ago, so that must mean something.

Jose Cardenal is almost 73 years old, and if the Cubs are going to finally go all the way, I want him to be around to see it. The same goes for Rick Monday, Bruce Sutter, Rick Reuschel, and all the other players I’ve seen in a Cubs uniform through the years. That goes for Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Leon Durham, Jody Davis, and the list goes on….

There are Cubs fans–hopefully not including me–who won’t be here in October, if the World Series finally does come to pass. With the Pulse shooting in Orlando fresh in our memories, I’m reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, and certainly that applies to me, too.

The Cubs will be a dominant team for a long time, I hope. But I want this year’s time to be the one that finally breaks through that 108-year wall. I wanted it last year, and I’ll want it every year until my time is up. May we all live to see it finally happen.

Links to some recent posts on Wrigleyville Nation

Jim-Thome-Retirement

Actually, I’ve had a number of pieces appear there lately: a wistful piece about Jim Thome, a piece about how bad the team has been this year, a look back at baseball cards from 1975, and a tale of Bruce Sutter’s greatness. I’ll probably always have something to say about the Cubs, no matter how much they disappoint me.

 

Movember musings

Lewallyn

My participation in Movember this year means–for the first time in my life–I have a mustache. The scratchiness on my upper lip is one thing, but the feeling that I somehow resemble John Wayne Gacy is something else, entirely.

But rather than sharing my facial developments with the world, I’d rather tell a story about somebody else with a mustache. The question is where to start. Nearly all of the Cubs ballplayers I grew up with in the seventies sported a ‘stache: Dave Kingman, Bruce Sutter, Rick Reuschel, and many others I can’t think of at the moment. Instead of commenting on their facial follicles, though, I want to give some recognition to one Denny Lewallyn, My guess is that few, if any, are familiar with his story. That’s what I’m here for, I suppose.

Denny Lewallyn broke into the majors in 1975 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He appeared in two games that year, which is two more games than I and everyone else reading this will ever appear in. It must have been exciting for Lewallyn to think about what lay ahead.

Over the next four seasons, from 1976 through 1979, Lewallyn always pitched in a game or two with the Dodgers at the major league level, after spending the large bulk of the season in the minors. He pitched 17 innings in 1976, and 17 more in 1977, but in 1978 he saw just one two-inning outing for the Dodgers. If a September call-up is a “cup of coffee” in baseballspeak, this isn’t much more than smelling the coffee fumes as they float through the air. But it must have still smelled sweet, all the same.

In the late 1970s, being a marginal big leaguer–as Lewallyn clearly was–didn’t get you anything, from a baseball standpoint. If appearing on a baseball card indicates anything, Lewallyn was never afforded that opportunity with the Dodgers. He went to the Rangers for a year, where he appeared on an insert card for Keebler cookies for the 1980 baseball season..

When his first Topps card appeared in the 1982 Topps set, Lewallyn had big-league service in seven different seasons. Granted, those seven seasons totaled about the same as a six-week stretch for an established big-leaguer. But again, stepping onto a major league field in the first place is something that I can only imagine how it feels.d.

This Denny Lewallyn card is a window into another time and place, where a player had to earn his way onto a baseball card, and where thinking of these things in terms of monetary value was unheard of. I grew up in these times, and I refuse to conform to the thinking that has come into play since then.

I’m offering this early Denny Lewallyn card as an acknowledgement of his major league career (which ended not long after this card appeared in 1980), and as a testament to a time where a baseball card was nothing more than a piece of cardboard with a picture and some numbers on it.

In the spirit of Movember, this post is dedicated to all who have been afflicted–in any way–by prostate or testicular cancer. May all forms of cancer someday become even more rare than Denny Lewallyn’s baseball card.

His place in history

Paul Reuschel

A week ago, when the baseball season hadn’t yet started, and the Cubs weren’t off to their “This will be a long year, won’t it?” start of 1-4 after five games, I scanned a card highlighting long-ago Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel. Today, in the interest of equal time–and to keep me from going off on this year’s team too much–I’m going to spend some time recounting the career of Rick’s brother, Paul Reuschel.

Paul Reuschel, like Bill Plummer, just turned 65 this year. He’s two years older than his brother Rick, but made his big league debut in the 1975 season, fully three years after Rick had made his. There’s always a sibling rivalry going on, especially when one brother is in the majors and the other (older) one isn’t, but they appear to have gotten along reasonably well, if this photo is any indication.

I came across this card when I was digging through a box of baseball cards the other day. The pose that Reuschel is in, as with Bruce Sutter’s card from that year, is something that was common for Topps cards in that era. Sutter was about to have the breakout season that launched a Hall of Fame career, while Paul Reuschel’s pitching career wouldn’t survive into the 1980s. Same team, same pose, different career arcs. Such is life.

But the thing I wanted to say about Paul Reuschel is that his place in Major League history is secure. In the long history of professional baseball, he can say something that no other pitcher can. And it stems from a relief appearance at the end of a game during his rookie season of 1975.

On September 16, 1975, history was made at Wrigley Field in Chicago. And not the type of history a team might want to make, in their own ballpark and in front of fewer than 5,000 fans in the stands, with a few thousand more watching on cable TV. Baseball’s Game of the Week was on back then, but beyond that ballgames generally weren’t shown on TV. It was a different time.

Rick Reuschel was the starter against the Pittsburgh Pirates that day, but he was pounded in the first inning. In fact, by the time three Pirates had been retired, Rick Reuchel was done for the day, having allowed 8 runs (all of them earned) on 6 hits and a walk. Reuschel was followed by a series of Cubs pitchers, who proved to be unable to stop the Pirate juggernaut. By the end of the seventh inning, the score stood at 22-0, which was to be the most lopsided shutout of the entire 20th century. And this was being done to the home team, no less.

The outcome of the game had long been decided, but there were still two innings left to be played. How many of the 4,900 fans who attended the game remained in the ballpark at this point is anyone’s guess, but a number somewhere in the three digits wouldn’t surprise me too much. Who would stay to watch such a beatdown? Not me.

Rookie pitcher Paul Reuschel was sent in to absorb his share of abuse from Pirate hitters in the eighth. He retired the first two hitters in order, when up came Rennie Stennett, the Pirates’ leadoff hitter. Stennett had already racked up six hits on the day, and he proceeded to put the exclamation point on his day by driving the ball into right field.

As Stennett was  pulling into third base, standing up, I turned on a Cubs game for the first time in my life. I had a broken leg at the time, and would have rather been outside running around with the other neighborhood kids, but my cast and crutches made that all but impossible. A graphic was put up on the screen –a rare thing in those days–informing the viewer that Rennie Stennett had gone 7-for-7 in a nine inning game, and was the first player in big league history to accomplish this feat. The seven-year old that I was found this factoid most intriguing.

Reuschel retired the next hitter, to end the inning. He also finished the ninth without giving up a run, and became the only Cubs pitcher that day who wasn’t scored upon. You could say he had a decent outing that day, certainly a much better one than his little brother had to start the game. But Reuschel also carved his name into the history books by becoming the first, and so far the only, pitcher to give up a seventh hit to a batter in one game.

Just as Rennie Stennett made history by getting that hit, so too did Paul Reuschel make history by surrendering it. This was an otherwise meaningless game at the end of the regular season, and it’s an admittedly obscure baseball record, so nobody’s going to remember the name Rennie Stennett, much less Paul Reuschel. But, at the same time, this at-bat and its historic result was enough to reel me in as a Cubs fan, and set me on a path that has stretched out for 37 years since then.

If Paul Reuschel had retired Sennett, and made that TV graphic unnecessary, perhaps I’m not so intrigued by a baseball game on TV that afternoon. Maybe then I stay true to my Cardinals upbringing, complete with the World Series titles and an overall level of success that I can’t relate to as a Cubs fan.  Who knows for certain? But I can say that Paul Reuschel and Rennie Stennett essentially set my baseball course in motion, all those many years ago.

Welcome Back Buckner

I want to preface this by saying that I don’t think Bill Buckner will ever be a Hall of Famer, even though is career was longer and more productive than many current Hall of Famers. His .289 lifetime batting average, for instance, is higher than that of Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, and Carl Yastrzemski. But the truth is, he never won any MVP awards or World Series rings. And there’s also the matter of that ground ball in New York…

And so, with Buckner’s status as a non-Hall of Famer established, I’m going to open a hypothetical debate about which cap he would wear if he were accorded this honor. I maintain–1986 World Series or not–that Buckner would wear a Chicago Cubs cap upon his never-going-to-happen induction. On behalf of all Chicago Cubs fans, I’m claiming Bill Buckner as one of ours.

The Hall of Fame hasn’t been good to the Cubs over the past few years. I’m leaving Ron Santo’s lifetime snub out of this, but it will be a bittersweet day for all Cubs fans when Santo finally gets his due next summer. The induction of Bruce Sutter in 2006 was the first slap at Cubs fans, since he pitched more seasons, won more games, and recorded more saves with the Cubs than he did with the Cardinals. He won the World Series with the Cardinals in 1982, but he won his only Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 1979. The two cancel each other out, in my mind. It’s still hard to accept that a Cubs star like Sutter could be enshrined in Cooperstown wearing a Cardinals cap.

But Andre Dawson’s induction in 2010 hurt even worse. Dawson played more seasons in Montreal than he did in Chicago, but he also prolonged his career in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Cubs, and would not have made the Hall of Fame without the six seasons he played on the North side. And Cubs fans, myself included, revered Dawson like no other player. The Expos franchise had folded up and gone away by 2010, so the handful of Expos fans who cared to notice his induction was dwarfed by the large contingent of Cubs fans who were insulted by the Hall of Fame’s decision to show “the Hawk” wearing an Expos hat.

Which brings us to Bill Buckner. He played more seasons in Chicago than in Boston. He played as many seasons with the Cubs as with the LA Dodgers (eight in both cases) and he had more hits with the Cubs than any other team. He also won his only batting title with the Cubs in 1981. It’s a combination of that one terrible moment in the World Series, and the usual overbearing Boston behavior, that has made Buckner a Red Sox player in the public’s mind. In truth–by any measurement someone might wish to put forward–he’s a Cub more than anything else.

I can almost hear Boston fans, among others, saying “OK. You can have Buckner. Why are you fighting for him, anyway?” The reason is that he’s just been hired as a hitting instructor in the minor leagues by the Cubs organization. Even if he’s not a face of the franchise, like Ernie Banks or Billy Williams, it’s still a homecoming of sorts. I wish that he hadn’t been traded away at the start of the 1984 season, to clear the way for Leon Durham and his costly error during the playoffs against the Padres. But Durham was younger, and hit for more power than Buckner did, and the decision looked like a good one all season long, until Tim Flannery hit the ground ball that opened up the floodgates for San Diego.

So welcome back, Billy Buck. Teach young Trevor Gretzky, and young Shawon Dunston, Jr. and all the other prospects who are coming under your tutelage. Show them how to hit a curve ball, how to work the count, how to get on base and help the team. The organization was smart to bring you back into the fold after all these years.

Hanu-Cubs, Night 1

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.

Changing the rules, because I can

When I was a kid first getting into baseball and the Cubs, my favorite player was Bruce Sutter. Yes, he did leave for the Cardinals and then the Atlanta Braves, but he’ll always be a Cub in my mind. That hat he’s wearing on his Cooperstown plaque is just some sort of engraver’s error, I think.

Back in the summer of 2001, the Topps company was partnering with the Cubs to give away reprints of some of the Cubs of old when you went to a game at Wrigley. These cards (I got one of Sutter’s old cards and one of Fergie Jenkins’ that summer) reminded me of how much I enjoyed card collecting as a kid, and later on in the summer I picked up a big box of cards on Ebay, and away we go. Picking up hundreds of baseball cards for a couple of bucks was great, until I realized that shipping them would set be back another ten bucks. Live and learn, I suppose.

When I went into the ballpark and got a Sutter card (I wasn’t there for the card, but they offered it to me and I didn’t turn it down), the woman in front of me exclaimed to her friend ‘Lookit! Bruce Sut-ter” (it rhymed with Putter, as she said it). I shook my head, since the correct pronunciation is SOO-ter (it rhymes with computer if you say it the right way).  So if you were wondering about how to say it, you know it now. Glad I could help.

One of the cards in the big box I bought on eBay was the Kellogg’s 3D card shown above. Either I had this when I was a kid and it vanished, or I never had it to begin with. Either way, I was happy to get the card. But when I turned it over and read the back, I learned that Sutter had been traded to the cardinals in the offseason, so he wasn’t a Cub anymore. Nevertheless, I reasoned that since he had the Chicago jersey on–especially the light blue one with the white pinstripes–he had to be considered a Cub. Besides, he was Bruce Sutter, for crying out loud. There was no way was I getting rid of this card.

Flash forward a decade or so. I had acquired another big box of cards through a bulk trade with somebody else who collects cards. This wasn’t a box of all Cubs players, but a mix of all teams involved. So I was sorting through and I came upon the Jason Marquis card shown above. This was the Sutter situation in reverse, since Marquis is wearing a Cardinals uniform, but is listed as being a Cubs player. So, if I followed the previous set of rules, this card wouldn’t count as being a Cubs player. It’s all about the jersey, right.

But then I realized something. In the modern day, the players come and they go, and sometimes they wear your team’s uniform, but most of the time they wear somebody else’s uniform. I haven’t followed any player the way I’ve followed the Cubs. Marquis in a Cardinals jersey, and Sutter in a Cubs jersey, didn’t make a difference, as long as I was setting the rules.

So the Marquis card entered into the Cubs card collection, alongside Sutter and all of the others. Different cards, different rules, but the same person administering the whole thing (namely, me). Marquis has since left the Cubs, as Sutter did before, and I wish him well wherever he is, but I have no interest in any of his cards in his new location.

Some card collectors follow a player for all of the different teams that the player has played for. Albert Pujols is phenomenally popular, but since he’s only played for the cardinals before, it’s been pretty easy for them. If he leaves to sign with another team after this season (I can’t see how he wouldn’t, but anything’s possible), these collectors will still keep collecting Pujols cards, and they may not ever own a Cardinals card ever again. That’s fine, but I come at this from a different perspective than that.

I can’t stand Alfonso Soriano, and the time when he leaves the Cubs can’t come soon enough for me. But as long as he’s with the Cubs, any of his cards will be the ones that I look for. Not that this is any better or worse than anyone else’s approach. But that’s just how it is for me.

Madlock took it away

1976 was the first full year that I considered myself a Cubs fan. Watching the games on WGN every afternoon was something of an elixir for the eight-year old that I was at the time. The games were always in the sunshine at Wrigley Field, and the away games must have happened, but they were never quite the same. Baseball looked better in the daytime, then and now.

The emergence of Bruce Sutter as a go-to reliever was the biggest surprise of the season. The pitch he threw, the split-fingered fastball, looked like a magic trick the way it dropped out of sight. Sutter learned to throw it after having surgery on his arm to revive a flagging minor league career, and I suppose you could say that it worked. 1977 was the best it ever got with him, as far as I was concerned, but the end of 1976 showed what was in store for the future.

The best storyline of the season, though, unfolded on the very last day. Some of this I remember, and some of this is computer-aided. The value of using the internet to assist with personal memories is discussed here. It was a Sunday at Wrigley Field, the Bears were playing the Redskins at Soldier Field, and fewer than 10,000 fans had come out to watch two baseball teams who were collectively 64 games under .500.

The reigning National League batting champion, Bill Madlock of the Cubs, trailed Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey (Sr.) in the league batting race. To make matters worse, Griffey planned to sit out his team’s last two games against the Braves. The Reds were defending world champions, and their playoff date with the Phillies was already set. If Madlock wanted another batting title, he was going to have to earn it.

On the mound for the Expos that day was the late Woodie Fryman. Madlock’s first at bat was a bunt to third base, which he beat out for a hit. Madlock came up again in the third, and beat out an infield hit to key a 5-run Cubs rally. Madlock wasn’t going down without a fight.

Madlock came up again in the fourth, and became one of the last batters to face Expos reliever Chip Lang, who at age 23 might have believed a long big-league career awaited him. Madlock singled in Tarzan Joe Wallis (I love that name) from third base, and things got even more interesting in the batting race. Madlock now stood at .3372, which was just an eyelash behind Griffey at.3375. I remember hearing Madlock’s average articulated out to four decimal places, and thought it was strange, but I understand it now. Madlock still needed another hit.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Madlock came up against the Expos’ Dale Murray. He would pitch in other big-league games, if you’re wondering. Madlock lined a single to right on the first pitch he saw, lifting his average to .3385. Madlock had taken the lead in the batting race away from Griffey. The fans at the game that day will probably never forget what they saw.

But everything wasn’t over yet. Madlock’s turn in the order came up again in the bottom of the eighth. A hit would have raised his average even higher, but an out would have dropped him back behind Griffey. So Madlock “pulled a Griffey” when Rob Sperring, a utility player with one more big-league season ahead of him, took the at-bat instead. Madlock’s work was done for day.

When word of the events in Chicago spread to Cincinnati, Griffey interrupted his planned weekend off to try and counter Madlock. He pinch hit in the bottom of the seventh, and again in the eighth, but struck out both times, effectively handing the batting title to Madlock. It was the first time a Cubs’ player had repeated as the league’s hitting leader.

Madlock would try for a third hitting crown the next season, but in someone else’s uniform. Cubs ownership balked at paying a two-time batting champion what he was worth, and so they traded him to San Francisco for Bobby Murcer (more on him later). In the years since, Bill Buckner and Derrick Lee have won batting titles for the Cubs, but neither one in such dramatic fashion. And the young kid that I once was–who was watching the game on WGN–had another reason to follow his new favorite team.