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?

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 40 losses

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

1971 Cleveland Indians

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 60-102

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Eight

Manager(s): Alvin Dark, Johnny Lipon

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1985; 1987; 1991

Pennant wins since: 1995; 1997

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

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

1971 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 61-100

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Preston Gomez

Hall of Famers on roster: None

100 loss seasons since: 1973; 1974; 1993

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

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

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

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 41 losses

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

1970 Chicago White Sox

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 56-106

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Three

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

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

100 loss seasons since: None

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 42 losses

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

1969 Montreal Expos

Expansion team: Yes

Overall record: 52-110

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: 2

Manager(s): Gene Mauch

Hall of Famers on roster: None

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

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

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

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

1969 San Diego Padres

Expansion team: Yes

Overall record: 52-110

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: 6

Manager(s): Preston Gomez

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

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

Pennant wins since: 1984; 1998

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

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

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

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

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 43 losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to #Cubs #DoubleTriple now at 44 losses

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

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 61-101

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Four

Manager(s): Wes Westrum, Salty Parker

Hall of Famers on roster: Tom Seaver

100 loss seasons since: 1993

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

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

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

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

Countdown to the #DoubleTriple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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