Cubs look to buck the trend

ChicagoBaseball

The Crosstown classic begins tonight, and continues through until Thursday. The teams appear to be on different arcs, with the Cubs playoff-bound and the White Sox thinking about who they can trade away at the deadline coming up. But none of that matters when the two teams take the field tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

On paper, it looks like the Cubs will be able to take it to the Sox, especially since Sox ace Chris Sale is out of action. This should be a mismatch, right?

But there’s an undercurrent that Cubs fans should be aware of, and it doesn’t bode well.

This year MLB has decided to create an interleague “home and home” series for every one of its teams. There were two games played on Monday and Tuesday in one city, with the action switched to the other ballpark for Wednesday and Thursday. Four days, four games, two ballparks. Fun, right?

Some of the matchups are geographically obvious, like the Cubs and the White Sox and the Giants and A’s in the Bay Area. But others are harder to understand. Boston and Atlanta are in the same time zone, and the Atlanta Braves were once the Boston Braves, but somehow they had an interleague series against each other already this season. The Red Sox took three of the four games of the series, so that counts as a win for the American League.

You might think that 4 game series like this should split two games apiece, with neither team able to declare victory over the other. Everyone ties, and nobody loses. But in only one of the 11 series so far this season has this happened. The Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins–bound together by being located in the upper midwest, I suppose–split their four games this season. But in 10 out of 11 series played so far, a winner could be declared.

Guess how many of these ten interleague series were claimed by the National League team? Five, right? After all, that’s half of ten, and it makes sense for the two leagues would split these series in this way.

But no, it isn’t five series for the National League, and five for the American League. In fact, that’s not even close to being the case.

Well then, let’s be optimistic and say that seven series went to the NL team, and three went to the  the AL team. After all, the American League pitchers have to bat sometimes, and that must work to their teams’ disadvantage, right?

But no, that’s not the case. In fact, you’re getting further away from the correct answer. You’re getting colder, I might say.

6 series for the AL, and 4 for the NL? Warmer.

7-3? Warmer, but not there yet.

8-2? Now you’re really warm.

9 wins the AL, and 1 for the NL? Congratulations.

Yes, the breakdown goes like this:

The Miami Marlins of the National League took 3 out of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays when they played over four days back in May. And it’s all downhill from there, for the Senior Circuit.

Houston (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Detroit (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The LA Angels (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers back in May.

Seattle (AL) took 3 of 4 from the San Diego Padres.

Kansas City (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Cardinals to claim Missouri bragging rights.

Oakland (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the San Francisco Giants last month.

Toronto (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cleveland Indians (AL) outdid everyone by sweeping the Reds and claiming the Ohio Cup (or whatever it’s called).

So after 44 games of interleague play in these eleven “home and home” series, the American League has won 31 games, to just 13 wins for the National League. That’s a beatdown, no matter how anyone decides to look at it.

After the Cubs and White Sox play their series this week, there will be only the Mets and Yankees, Nationals and Orioles, and Rockies and Rangers left in this new format. I like the idea, and I hope it continues in the future.

But anyone thinking the Cubs will mop the floor with the White Sox needs to understand the odds of this happening aren’t real good.

With that said, Go Cubs!

 

 

Link to a post on ChicagoSideSports

1372440161388

It’s been a lousy summer for baseball fans here in Chicago. Of course, the Stanley Cup was won a few weeks ago, and some people around here would make that trade any day of the week. And having two sports teams doing well at the same time seems like a pipe dream, so the lack of baseball success doesn’t bother some people at all.

But I’m a baseball guy, and always will be. So when the Cubs suck–and they are doing exactly that this year–and the White Sox suck even worse than the Cubs do, somebody needs to say something. And so I did.

The piece appeared on ChicagoSideSports today, and I’ll be keeping track of how many total losses there are as the season winds down. It could be the only drama that we’ll see in this city, as far as baseball is concerned.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

JimThome

When I read that Jim Thome has signed on with the White Sox organization, I was happy for him but disappointed that it was not with the Cubs, the team that he followed as a kid growing up. Thome has no history with the Cubs organization, but I wrote about him anyway in this piece that appeared online today. It comes off as an exercise in what might have been, but was also therapeutic for me on a level that I can’t really explain.

Thome will end up managing somewhere in baseball over the coming few years, and joining the White Sox’ front office was a step in that direction. We’ll see where it goes from there.

The Cardinals and the Cubs

I grew up about a hundred miles away from St. Louis, Missouri. Chicago was 200 miles away, and seemingly in a different world. So when I came to Chicago, as people from all over the midwest do, I had an adjustment to make. I was a Cubs fan already, but I had to recalibrate my baseball animosity away from the Cardinals and onto the White Sox instead.

There’s no good reason why the White Sox should occupy a larger place in the Cubs’ fans thought processes than the Cardinals. The Cardinals are in the National League, as the Cubs are, and more often than not, the Cardinals are the team that the Cubs have to get past in order to win their division. And for every year when the Cubs can beat the Cardinals, there are several more years where they can’t.

Cubs fans like me find it much easier to hate on the White Sox, while ignoring the Cardinals. Sox fans are our neighbors, our colleagues, and the people we generally share this part of the world with. This Chicago-centric view of baseball won’t ever change, but it at least needs to be recognized.

So the world champion Cardinals are coming to town this weekend, with every game important for their playoff chances. The Cubs can only try to play the spoiler, and hope to edge closer to their goal of at least 63 wins for the season. I’m expecting to see a lot of red in Wrigley Field for the game this afternoon.

Even the throwbacks didn’t work

The Cubs have worn “throwback” uniforms–which are designed to recall earlier eras in their history–five times prior to last night’s game against the Giants in San Francisco. They won each of those games, including last summer in Fenway Park (shown above), and for the first interleague game against the White Sox back in 1997. And if there’s anybody who remembers when the other three games were, please leave a comment below and fill me in.

It’s rare for the Cubs to be perfect in anything. But five in a row, without a loss, was pretty impressive. And last night’s loss brought an end to this sort-of streak. They’re now 5-1 in throwbacks, which still isn’t bad, but the air of perfection they once had is gone now.

This is the sort of thing that really doesn’t matter to anyone, myself included. This season is down the tubes, with slightly more than 100 games left to play. It’s hard to spend six months in the offseason waiting for baseball season to return, and then be rewarded with this. But that’s the bargain I once signed onto, whether I fully realized that or not.

In plain terms, the annual progression works like this:

Summer = Baseball

Baseball = Cubs

Cubs = Losing (with a few exceptions) and Disappointment (always)

Then wait until next year, and repeat

So here we are again. Theo Epstein and his team will have a mulligan for this season, and next year we’ll see where we are. But the “wear throwback uniforms every day because we’ll never lose in them” strategy can now be tossed out the window.

It’s time for Chicago’s Civil War

Baseball and Chicago are just meant for each other. People sometimes say this is a Bears town, but in reality, there are just eight Bears games played in Chicago every year (ten if we’re really lucky). The Cubs and the White Sox, however, play that many games in a little over a week. And while 162 home games are played in this city each year, the six most important ones are the interleague ones. With apologies to the rest of MLB, these games are the ones that matter most.

The Civil War is an apt metaphor here, in the sense of North vs. South or even brother against brother. The battle lines are drawn, and anyone who claims they like both teams isn’t really a fan of either one. That’s just how it is in this city.

The White Sox hold the lead in the interleague games, and as long as they have a World Series trophy and the Cubs don’t, they have the last laugh. The weather will cooperate, and Wrigley Field will be packed with partisans on both side of the chasm that divides this city.

Only baseball forces Chicagoans into separate camps this way, but we accept these assignments willingly. We love the game, and we’ll keep coming back to it, whatever may happen on the field.  So bring it on!

Quite an achievement

Even the most hardcore Cubs fan there is could be forgiven if they forgot about Ron Hassey. He came to the Cubs in the middle of the 1984 season, part of the Rick Sutcliffe trade that sent Joe Carter and Mel Hall to the Indians, and set the Cubs on their way to the divisional playoffs for the first time in their history.

Hassey backed up Jody Davis at catcher that season, and was then traded away to the Yankees. This 1985 baseball card obviously went to press after the trade, but it survives as proof–if any was ever needed–that Ron Hassey was, in fact, a Cub at one point.

Being traded to the Yankees, and then to the White Sox, and back to the Yankees, and back to the White Sox again (I’m sure that wasn’t much fun at the time), and then spending three seasons in Oakland with the Bash Brothers made Hassey a certified American Leaguer. And this was in the days when that meant something, too.

Back then, interleague play hadn’t started yet. The two leagues used different baseballs, and different umpiring crews as well. And moving from one league to another wasn’t as common as it is today. The wall between the leagues was much higher in Hassey’s time than it is today.

In 1991, at the age of 38, Hassey signed a one year contract with the Montreal Expos. Other than his painfully limited time with the Cubs in 1984 (he appeared in just 19 games for them that year), Hassey and the National League weren’t acquainted with each other, at all.

Few big league catchers get much playing time at 38 years of age. The wear and tear of catching for 13 seasons in the majors had taken their toll, and Hassey was the third catcher on the Expos’ depth chart that season.

And yet, in late July of that year, Hassey was behind the plate when Dennis Martinez pitched just the 13th perfect game in the history of the major leagues. Catching a perfect game is probably just as much of a thrill as pitching one, I would imagine. Doing what only a handful of  big league catchers had ever done before was an exclamation point on Hassey’s career in the major leagues.

But Hassey accomplished something even more astounding on that day. He actually became the first, and will almost certainly remain as the only, catcher to be behind the plate for two perfect games. He had also caught a perfect game pitched by Len Barker for the Cleveland Indians back in 1981. What makes this all the more amazing is that he caught a perfect game in both the National and the American Leagues.

When the book was closed on Ron Hassey’s career, at the end of the 1991 season, 94 % of the games he played in were in the American League. 96% of his at-bats, 96% of his hits, and a full 100% of his post-season appearances had come in an American League uniform. It seems hard to imagine that he could ever accomplish anything of significance in both leagues equally. And yet Hassey did this by catching two perfect games, one in each league.

With the recent wave of perfect games, by Phil Humber of the White Sox and three others (and add Armando Galarraga in there, too), we might forget how rare an accomplishment it really is. But I’m sure that Ron Hassey knows it all too well.  And if any of the active catchers who already have a perfect game to their credit should ever catch another one, it will have to be in the opposite league in order to match Hassey’s feat. And that just isn’t going to happen.

So congratulations to Ron Hassey, for achieving something that no other catcher is likely to duplicate, and no one will ever be able to surpass.

Someday we’ll go all the way

Being a Cubs fan is very hard. No, baseball is not life and death, and so I won’t pretend that people don’t have it a lot worse than I do. I’m fortunate, in many ways, with how my life has turned out. And yet….

Imagine waiting for something your whole life. Then imagine the sense of dread and disappointment that comes up whenever you have to confront the reminders of that thing you’ve been so patiently waiting for:

Cardinals win the World Series, again? That could be us, somehow.

Red Sox win and break their so-called “Curse of the Bambino”? I can’t wait see that for my team!

White Sox win, and then their fans can’t stop talking about it?  I’d do the same thing if I was in their shoes, but of course I’m not.

And it goes on from there. And I won’t even try to explain what it’s like to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks win a World Series.

That’s what makes this trailer for MLB 12 The Show so oddly spellbinding. It takes the one moment that I, and millions of others, have been waiting our whole lives for, and shows us how we’ll react when it happens. There will undoubtedly be shouting, fireworks, tears, and a whole lot of things that we haven’t yet been allowed to experience. “Crying and covered in beer” is how Eddie Vedder once put it. And the thought of it actually happening is enough to make the guy playing the video game in the commercial cry. And I can’t say that I blame him.

Will I live to see it happen? I sure hope so, but until it does this video game trailer will just have to do. And a month from now, the games on the field will count. It can’t come soon enough for me.

Waiting for the call

It’s late, and I should be in bed getting some sleep. But I have an idea to share, and so that’s what I’ll do instead. There’s always coffee in the morning.

I wrote a while ago that Johnny Damon would make sense for the Cubs, since they currently don’t have any veteran leaders who have won the World Series before. But for some reason, nobody has made Damon an offer for this season, and now he and some other big names–Vlad Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, and Magglio Ordonez, to name a few–are on the outside looking in. Spring training camps are underway, exhibition games begin this weekend, but for these guys, they’re probably a bit on edge at the moment. And I can’t fault them for that.

The card above was printed for the 1994 season, and it plainly says on the back that George Bell was cut from the White Sox after 1993. So rather than not creating a George Bell card, since he was still only 33 at the time, the Score company decided to put him in their set as a White Sox player, and let the signing by another team sort itself out before opening day. But his phone never rang, and thus George Bell never played in the big leagues again. This is a pretty good-looking card, but I’m sure Bell would have traded it in for a chance to keep playing. However, this wasn’t meant to be.

I hope that Damon and a few others can catch on somewhere before the season starts. But the waiting must indeed be a hard thing for them right now.

And with that, I’m off to bed.

Making the old man proud

There is a promotional campaign for the Chicago Public Library that offers tips on how to be a “true” Chicagoan. The first of these steps is to pick a side between the Cubs and the White Sox. Other steps include forswearing ketchup on hot dogs, embracing deep dish pizza, and so forth. But step #1, to live in this city, is to get your baseball preferences in order.

I grew up a Cubs fan, but not in Chicago or its surrounding suburbs. My choice had to do with Cubs games being shown on TV every day, my preference for National League ball over the American League variety, and as a rebellion against all of the Cardinals fans in Central Illinois. I had my reasons, but the other team in Chicago really didn’t enter into the equation at all.

Now flash forward a few decades in time. I have lived in Chicago for twenty-plus years, and am well-acquainted with the lay of the land, sporting and otherwise. And my children are being raised with a Chicago worldview that I did not have at their age. Which is a key component of the events of a couple days ago.

We were driving south on the Dan Ryan Expressway, which is also known as Interstate 94. I have no idea who Dan Ryan was, but he apparently will live on as long as there is a highway named for him. As we came upon U.S. Cellular Field, on our right as we headed southbound, my children began booing. And I have to admit that it brought a smile to my face.

While I’ve never actively told my children to display hostility toward the other team in town, I was happy at this display of emotion. It was clear that they had picked their side, just as Chicagoans always have, and that their side and mine were in accordance with each other. For lack of a better word, it was a proud moment for me as a parent.

I know many White Sox fans personally, so I have to point out that I have nothing against them at all. I envy the World Series title that they experienced in 2005, and hope to know what that feels like before I die. But just like you can only marry one person, you can only give yourself over to one baseball team. Part of that process, at least in Chicago, is expressing hostility toward the other team in a general, abstract sense.

Booing the physical symbol of the other team in town is about as far as I would want them to take their antipathy for the White Sox. The stadium can’t take it personally, and as the big banner facing the highway reminds them and any others who pass by, they have a recent World Series win and we Cubs fans don’t.

The incident reminded me that during the offseason–when football talk fills the air and basketball and hockey are also doing their thing– baseball never really disappears from our consciousness. And as long as that happens, the game will continue to survive and flourish.

Tells me all I need to know

About a year and a half ago, I went on a tour of the Louisville Slugger bat factory in (where else?) Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve written about it briefly here, but it’s well worth a visit if you find yourself anywhere near Louisville. Consider that before the company came along, batters would hold things like table legs when they went up to bat. I think we can all agree this company is an important part of baseball’s history. In fact, Rawlings might be the only competition they really have in this area.

As you might expect, the bat factory has a gift shop, where hats, shirts, and all other manner of items with the Louisville Slugger logo are available for purchase. Everyone who takes the tour gets a minibat with the museum’s logo on it, but if you want to get one with your team’s logo, fortunately they’re available, too. The company uses the term minibat as one word, without a hyphen, so I’ll adopt their usage here as well.

Or at least, they’re supposed to be available. Maybe this one visit was an anomaly, and it just happened to be on the day that things were this way. But since I’ve never gone there before this day, and may not ever get there again in my lifetime, I’m taking this experience to be representative of the way things generally are. For whatever that’s worth.

Every team in the major leagues has a bin with its name above it at the Louisville Slugger gift shop. And in those bins, there’s enough room for approximately 50 minibats, each one bearing that team’s logo. So if you’re visiting from Tampa, and you want to pick up five or six of these things to pass around the office when you get back, they’ll take care of you. For five bucks apiece, that is.

I didn’t really need that many minibats, and one would have been fine for me. So I look for the Cubs bin, and…empty. Every other team in the majors were filled to overflowing, and there wasn’t a single Cubs minibat to be had. The Louisville Slugger Museum minibat I already had was going to have to be enough for me.

Could it be that the Cubs’ souvenir shop called in with a special order? I suppose so. And is it possible that someone scooped up all the Cubs minibats for their buddies back in Chicago? It seems like a long shot, but I suppose that could happen, too.

Or is a more likely explanation that the Cubs have a large fan base that is willing to shell out five bucks for something like this? I think that’s entirely possible. Louisville Slugger wants to sell the goods that they make, and an empty bin for them means they’ve already had a significant level of sales for that team. And it also means they’ll need to make more in order to keep up with the demand.

Don’t Yankees fans, and Red Sox fans, and Cardinals fans, and all the other teams’ fans want one of these team minibats, too? I can’t imagine that it’s only Cubs fans who would want something like this. And yet they were the only team that was sold out, or anything close to it, on the day that I was there in the gift shop.

While I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a minibat with a Cubs logo that day, I was also heartened that the Cubs appeared to be in such great demand. It’s definitely the sort of glass-half-full approach that a Cubs fan needs to have in order to survive.

Mascot musings

Today was a much nicer day here than it could have been for mid-November, and my eight-year old was at Toyota Park in the suburbs for the annual Girls on the Run event. It’s a nice field, and I’m sure the soccer team (or is it a club?) likes that it doesn’t have to share space with an American football team. The 5K run began outside the stadium but ended up at the finish line inside the stadium. All in all, it was a very well-run event.

After the race began, I went inside to find a spot near the finish line. There was some downtime as the runners were out on the course, and the antics of the White Sox mascot (his name is Southpaw, apparently) and the Chicago Fire’s mascot (I think his name was Sparky) kept the crowd amused. They were also there at the finish line to high-five the runners as they finished the race, just in case being on the Jumbotron at the finish line wasn’t enough of a thrill.

My thoughts are never very far from baseball and the Cubs, so I got to thinking about their mascot-free status. The Cubs are more bound to their tradition than any team I can think of, and this probably extends to mascots as much as–maybe even more than–anything else. Some cute, little Cub E. Bear, or whatever they would end up calling it, just isn’t going to happen. And I’m not saying that I want it to.

And yet…

What a great outreach tool Southpaw is for the White Sox. It’s the offseason now, and baseball might be far from a lot of people’s minds, but there’s some guy inside the costume, getting paid a few bucks to ham it up, pose for pictures with little kids, and generally give the impression the White Sox are trying to spread their recognition to the next generation of fans. It also makes the Cubs look more disconnected from the general population, at least some of whom are bound to be baseball fans.

The lady sitting a few rows behind me yelled out to the mascot “Is that what Ozzie’s new job is?” but heckling a mascot seemed like a petty thing to do. And I realize that the Cubs have issues that extend far beyond mascots. But it was a bit strange to see the White Sox getting all of the attention, while the Cubs seem to be content with just sitting it out in this arena.

The Topps Opening Day baseball card set this year contained an insert card for each of the teams that have a mascot, and most big league teams do already have one. This, again, is not to argue that one should be created, just for the sake of keeping up with the White Sox or anyone else. But it is also something that I would not have considered before today.

Would I like for the Cubs to roll out a macot? Probably not. Is it anywhere close to being as important to me as winning a World Series? No way. But is it something that could help to bring the Cubs into the hearts and minds of the next generation of fans who, let’s face it, don’t have either a winning tradition or a Jack Brickhouse-type of an announcer to draw them in? It could be.

The Cubs have been marketed masterfully over the years, with Beanie Baby giveaways and Barbie Doll giveaways and lots of others that I can’t think of right now. They were far ahead of the MLB curve in this respect. But the guy responsible for that is with the Blackhawks now, and putting up new statues outside of Wrigley Field every year is already getting old. Is Ronnie Woo-Woo next?

If the team wants to move toward a more family-oriented experience at the ballpark, like the South Side already has, and many other Major League teams already offer, as well as minor-league teams out in the suburbs, they could do a lot worse than paying attention to what’s out there already. Or they can just win the World Series instead.

Taking another chance on Robin Ventura

I am not a White Sox fan. I’ve written about how much I like their park, but it’s always been Plan B when it comes to baseball for me. Actually, it’s more like Plan C, since going to games in ballparks I haven’t seen before is Plan B. But it is still baseball, and I respect that far ahead of football or other such sporting events.

The White Sox introduced Robin Ventura as their manager yesterday. He and Ozzie Guillen were teammates back in the 90s, and I guess that the White Sox prefer having their old players act as manager instead of baseball guys who didn’t play on the South side. And I must preface this with an acknowledgement that hiring Ozzie led to the kind of results that I’m still patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for on the North side of Chicago.

Looking at this, what has to be Robin Ventura’s rookie card, it reveals a rather unusual path to the big leagues. I say that because much is being made of the fact that Ventura hasn’t been a coach in the minors before taking a big league job. Ryne Sandberg has been paying his dues in the minor leagues for a few years now, waiting for a big league job to open up for him (and it will, very soon, hopefully as the Cubs’ manager). Every big league manager started off coaching or managing at a level below the majors. That’s just the way it’s done.

But like Bruce Hornsby said, don’t you believe them. The White Sox drafted Ventura out of Oklahoma State in 1988, and he played one year at Birmingham, the White Sox double-A affiliate that Michael Jordan would play for a few years later. He then played 16 games for the White Sox that season, and from then on he was a major leaguer.

Ventura missed out on the usual minor league experience of moving from town to town, organization to organization, hoping to receive the call to the majors that every minor leaguer wants. He put in one year and that was it. I can imagine how others may have thought he jumped the line, and in reality that’s what he did. But as long as he produced in the majors, how he got there really doesn’t matter.

The same is true of the manger’s position. The White Sox took a chance on Ventura as a player, and it worked out very well for them, and so now they’re taking another chance on him as a manager. History is on their side in this.

Is he a ballplayer or a candy striper?

I got the card you see above in a trade with Josh Wilker of cardboardgods.net. It’s really a great blog, and on some level he inspired me to start writing this blog. I enjoy baseball cards, because they connect me to both the game I love and to my long-gone youth, but I wouldn’t have considered them to be a source of inspiration until I read Josh’s blog. If you haven’t read it before, please check it out. You’ll end up in 1970s baseball card heaven, if that’s a destination you’re trying to find.

We completed a trade of sorts recently, where I gave him a few cards I had pulled out of a large box I bought at a flea market, followed up by a few more from a large set of Cubs cards I had received in the mail, and topped off (no pun intended) by a Dave Roberts card from the end of his playing career. Josh indicated that he needed Roberts’ steely resolve to help him through the tenuous final days of the Red Sox’ season. My earlier post about Dave Roberts is here, if you’re interested.

A couple of days ago, Josh brought me a few of the doubles he had in his collection. They were vintage Topps cards from the 1970s, when Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck and the other brands that came along later were hardly a thought in anybody’s mind. The only alternatives to Topps cards back then were Hostess boxes, Kellogg’s cereal, and any other sort of regional promo sets you could find. But I was glad to get them, and we spent a few minutes looking them over and pointing out some things. I didn’t know it right away, but one of the cards he gave me was hugely important, and my thoughts about that card are here. But the visuals of this card were also interesting to me.

By posting a scan of an old baseball card and then ruminating about it a bit, I feel like I’m setting myself up to be the Scott Stapp to Josh’s Eddie Vedder. But at the same time, a rhyme from the latest Beastie Boys release has motivated many of the posts that have already appeared here: “If you’ve got something on your mind, let it out.” So here we go, and Josh, if you were ever thinking about writing about Terry Forster, go right ahead. There’s probably much more to say about him after I’m finished.

I recently completed a baseball cards trade with Jeff at My Sports Obsession. I found his blog, and noticed he was a White Sox fan. I sent him an email, told him I appreciated his blog, and asked if he wanted to trade his Cubs cards for my Sox cards. He was fine with that, so before I packed up my Sox cards to send out to him, I sorted through the stack one last time. None of the players meant anything to me personally, but it was still fun to do.

What struck me were some of the crazy White Sox uniforms over the years. My favorite ones were the early 80s Greg Luzinski/Ron Kittle look, with the word “SOX” in rounded, space age-type lettering. I thought nothing could top that for being a distinctively bad look for a baseball team to wear for nine innings at a time. But then I found a look that was even more inexplicable on the Terry Forster card above.

The red hats were the first thing I noticed. The Sox logo itself is the one that they’ve since rebranded against a black background. But why the red? There is already another team called the Sox, and they even have “Red” in their team name. You can forgive me for finding it strange that a team named the White Sox would choose to wear red uniforms. Did they ever play against the Red Sox wearing those hats? It might have been a bit awkward if they did.

But to add to this confusion, the white uniform with red pinstripes just looks ridiculous. And the red sleeves underneath the jersey are the icing on this peppermint morass. I hope that this look was confined to baseball card poses, and never made it onto the actual field of play.

“Candy stripers” are volunteers–usually girls, but not always–who spend time in hospitals, in the hope of gaining some exposure to the medical industry. The practice began in the 1940s, and was once more common than it is today. Candy stripers got their name because of the distinctive red-and-white striped vests they wore while on duty. It looked like–you guessed it–a big candy cane.

Someone in the White Sox organization must have been in the hospital at some point, where a candy striper helped him out by reading the mail or delivering a telegram or whatever else it was that they did. That’s the only explanation I can think of for for why professional baseball players once suited up in the togs that Terry Forster is sporting here.

Thanks for coming along on this sweetly sentimental look at a baseball uniform we’ll hopefully never see again.

UPDATE: The White Sox did pull the candy-striping look out today, on a Sunday Throwback day on August 12, 2012. Robin Ventura and his team looked about the same as Terry Forster did. I’ll leave it at that.

Whatever it takes

I read an article online today about an interesting possibility that I had not considered. The article is here, but basically the idea is that if the Cubs hired Walt Jocketty, the former General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, he would in turn hire Tony LaRussa, who would convince Albert Pujols to sign as a free agent. The possibilities briefly sent my mind spinning, but now I’ve had a few moments to digest it.

I don’t think this will happen. I know that Pujols will be the free agent prize of a generation this offseason, and the Cubs would need to commit lots of cash to bring him in. We’re talking nine digits worth, with the first of those digits being a 3. If I could command that type of money, I would do it. And in all likelihood, so would you. Albert Pujols will be able to command that type of money, if not from the Cubs than certainly from someplace else.

But putting Pujols aside for a moment, the prospect of Tony LaRussa managing the Cubs is intriguing. He started off here in Chicago, on the South side, as the manager for the White Sox at the tail end of the 1970s. Yes, he has been doing it for that long. He’s been Manager of the Year in both leagues, has won multiple pennants in both leagues, and–most importantly–has won the World Series in both leagues. The man’s a winner, pure and simple. He’s exactly what the Cubs need.

Yes, he’s been the Cardinals manager for a long time, which has earned him a place of disdain in my heart, and those of many other Cubs fans, too. The epic five-game series in Chicago, at the start of September 2003, was but one example of LaRussa being a schmuck. When the Cubs won 4 of those 5 games, though, everything seemed to fall into place that year. LaRussa’s team was the hurdle, and for once the Cubs were able to overcome it.

I love the Cubs, and have since I was a little kid, but the one thing I want more than anything else in baseball is to see the them winning the World Series. Not only getting to the World Series, but winning it. LaRussa has already done that, and  if he’s the guy to do it for the Cubs, I’ll gladly go along with it.

I wanted to title this post “I’d cheer for the devil himself” and insert a picture of LaRussa. That would send a bad message, like LaRussa is the devil himself, so I went another direction with the title. But the feeling is sincere. If Sarah Palin could manage the Cubs to a World Series win, I’d even pull for her. But she doesn’t have LaRussa’s resume of baseball success.  She’d probably quit halfway through the season, anyway.

Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker had some managing success before coming to the Cubs, but both of them were beaten down and run out of town without so much as a single World Series appearance. And I can’t imagine that this would happen to LaRussa. So I say to the Cubs, spend the money for Pujols and LaRussa, and Jocketty too. Nothing matters but a World Series title, in my mind at least. And if it all happens this way, I’ll be the loudest person at the victory parade.

Serious title envy

I mentioned in my last post that I went to a White Sox game last night. I briefly discussed the Cubs/Sox fissure in this town here, but I must say that the game last night was thoroughly enjoyable. Great seats right near the visiting team’s dugout, weather that held off on raining too much, two little girls excited to be at a ballgame instead of doing their homework, and seeing lots of good baseball plays and players made for a very fun night.

But there’s one thing that gnawed at me a little bit. It started on our way into the stadium, where the White Sox have put up a wall/sculpture thing along 35th Street near the ticket windows. Incorporated into it is a replica of the World Series trophy that they won back in 2005. It made me even more aware than I already was that the White Sox have won their championship already.

I was  reminded of something that the assistant principal/disciplinarian at the school I once taught at would tell the students: “I have my education already. Go get yours!” The White Sox don’t so much care if the Cubs ever win a championship themselves, and I’m sure that their fans enjoy having those bragging rights. But the sculpture/monument makes it clear to all who see it that the Sox have, in fact, actually won a championship.

There is also a “2005 World Champions” banner hanging up high beyond the left field fence, again with the trophy’s image emblazoned  upon it. It’s above and to the left the “Stanley” sign above, on the light stanchion.  Another reminder of the success they’ve had had, which is completely understandable. The players wear the rings, the fans wear the shirts and hats and whatever else they can buy, and the team puts some proof of their success up high for everyone to see. But for a Cubs fan in the Sox’ park, it’s that much harder to look at.

I felt a bit like Pee Wee Herman in the scene from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” where his bike has just been stolen and everyone going past him is on a bike of some kind or another. It only heightened his awareness that his bike was gone, just like the reminders of the White Sox World Series title made me that much more aware of the Cubs’ shortcomings.

I’m just hoping that the Cubs hire a good General manager, and that one day I won’t have to get worked up about this. But there is only one way to put this feeling to rest, and I hope that I’ll get to see it someday.

Milestones

In a stats-driven game like baseball, there are some particular numbers that everyone pays attention to. For a single season, 60 (and later 61) home runs was the magic number, and probably still is, although the juicers (McGwire, et al.) exceeded  that number several times. There’s also 20 wins for pitchers, 200 hits for batters, and so on.

But in my view, career numbers are much more significant, because they demonstrate achievement sustained over many years. We all know Derek Jeter will be a Hall of Famer someday, but his 3,000th career hit this season seemed to certify this fact. 3,000 hits, like 500 home runs, is a number that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

I’ve not been so fortunate as to see anyone’s 3000th hit in person, and I don’t expect that I ever will be, either. But at tonight’s White Sox-Indians game, I was lucky enough to see Juan Pierre get his 2,000th career hit. The game stopped for a minute or two as his feat was announced, and he received a sustained ovation from everyone in attendance. At 34 years of age, he’ll need to play another 6 or 7 seasons to have a shot at 3,000 hits. We’ll see if he makes it that far. As a onetime Cub, I’ll certainly root for him to get there.

I cannot imagine how difficult is must be to even set foot on a major league field, to say nothing of connecting for a hit–of any description–off of a major league pitcher. I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling to get to the majors in the first place, but to then play in enough games, and get enough at-bats where 2,000 hits are even possible in the first place, must be beyond all comprehension. In all of major league history, only 268 players have achieved what Juan Pierre did. And he’s a long way from being finished, too.

Congratulations to Mr. Pierre for having a stellar career, and for reaching  an impressive career milestone on a misty night in Chicago that I’ll always get to say I was a part of.

UPDATE: I sent my ticket stub from that night’s game to Mr. Pierre in care of the White Sox, along with a copy of this post and a humble request that he sign the ticket stub as a souvenir of the game. It came in today’s mail, signed as requested. A big thank you is certainly in order!

It’s about time!

I’ve been saying for years that Jim Hendry was not the right person to be making decisions for the Chicago Cubs. Three division titles notwithstanding, the bar has been raised higher than that, and Jim Hendry’s handiwork seems as far away from clearing that bar as it ever has been. I’m practically giddy at the news that he’s out as the Cubs’ GM. And one unsourced tweet does count as news, when it’s the news that you’ve been waiting for.

Besides all of the Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome moves, and the Jim Thome non-move I wrote about this morning, there were two things that sealed Jim Hendry’s fate, in my mind. The first is that the 100-year mark in the championship drought was reached. That’s why dollar stores exist, or gas that’s $3.49 a gallon is more popular than gas that’s $3.50 a gallon. Once that threshhold is crossed, people start thinking in different ways. Winning in year 99 or even year 100 would have been OK, but the difference between 103 years and 135 years is actually less than the difference between 103 years and 99 years. It’s all in people’s heads, mine included.

And secondly, 2005 changed everything on both sides of town. As long as the White Sox didn’t have a World Series title in anyone’s memory, the Cubs’ lack of one was more tolerable. The Red Sox were the same, but on a different level, since I don’t have to see “Red Sox World Champions” gear as I walk around town. I don’t have Red Sox fans living in my neighborhood, so far as I know. And every season that has passed since then, my own sense of coveting the goofy-looking trophy above, and the bragging rights that go with it, has gotten stronger and stronger. And today those feelings swept Jim Hendry away.

I have no personal ill feelings toward the man, and I hope he’s happy with whatever comes next in life. But I’m absolutely glad that this era is behind us Cubs fans now.

My blue hat’s off to Jim Thome

This won’t be a pleasant topic to address. There isn’t any physical pain or suffering involved, only mental anguish on my part. And of course it has to do with being a Cubs fan. What a great life I might have if baseball didn’t matter to me, or I was a fan of a team that actually won on occasion. But that’s not the world I live in.

First off, hitting 600 home runs in the major leagues is an awesome achievement. It’s averaging 30 home runs over a 20 season period, which is almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around. A few have done it before, but you could count them on both hands. And that by itself says a lot.

I’ve seen Jim Thome play in person, and I’ve seen him hit home runs. The ones I saw, like most of the ones he hit, didn’t just barely clear the fence. Rather, they seemed to disappear from sight. I saw him hit a homer (on TV) that went all the way out of Jacobs Field in Cleveland. So the total distance on all those home runs would be a staggering number, if anyone has bothered to calculate it.

A long career like his should be celebrated, especially in this terrible era of steroids in the majors. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and so many other “sluggers” have been revealed as frauds and cheaters. If Thome went anywhere near PEDs or HGH or any of the stuff that helped those other guys, I haven’t heard about it. Today, as I write this, Thome is known to be clean. And that’s worth noting.

After Thome’s talents had outgrown Cleveland’s ability to pay him, Thome was a free agent back in late 2002 and early 2003. I made the case, as emphatically as I could on the Cubs.com bulletin boards, that he should be signed by the Cubs. Whatever the contract terms might be, it would be worth it because of what he would bring. Home runs, yes, but also clubhouse leadership. A counterweight against the player that was being referred to as SamMee. And having a Thome jersey in blue would have been completely badass.

But the Cubs were sold on a young (read: cheap) prospect named Hee Seop Choi. They thought he might blossom into the kind of power hitter that Thome already was. So they stood pat and told Thome to look elsewhere. So he signed with Philadelphia and hit 47 home runs in 2003. I will always think of that year as the year that might have been it, not because of Steve Bartman, but because of Jim Thome.

Hee Seop Choi fizzled out, and the Cubs had other players taking turns at first base throughout the playoffs. But with a rock like Thome in the lineup everyday, they could have gone places where they didn’t end up going. It’s all hindsight now, but I look at Thome and can’t help thinking about what could have been with him in blue.

Instead, I have him shown here in black. White Sox wear. Completely unacceptable, in my eyes. He hit his 500th homer in a Sox uniform, and I’m sure he’ll have fond memories of playing in Chicago. It’s just on the wrong side of town, from my perspective.

All that aside, I congratulate him for having a brilliant career, and doing it in a way that has restored my faith in baseball and its superstar players.