Monday, Monday

MONDAY_FLAG

After eight years in the broadcast booth for the Chicago Cubs, Bob Brenly has announced that he will not be returning in 2013. I liked Bob Brenly, but life is about change and he decided to move on. That’s fine, but it has raised the inevitable question of who will replace him. And even though I haven’t heard this name mentioned, I think I know the perfect candidate: Robert James Monday, Jr., better known as Rick Monday.

There are other names floating about, including Rick Sutcliffe, Gary Matthews, and Mark grace. Those are all ex-Cubs players, and I think that the importance of that cannot be overstated. Using Ron Santo, and now Keith Moreland, as exemplars from the radio booth for WGN, it’s clear to me that a name from Cubs’ past is important. Monday fits this bill, although Cubs fans under 40 won’t think of him as a Cub.

Monday’s was a name that Jack Brickhouse once called out, and that’s important, too. I’ve written about Jack Brickhouse before, and he embodied the Wrigley family era of ownership of the Cubs. The Tribune Company bought the team in the early 1980s, and they replaced Brickhouse with Harry Caray. I loved Harry as much as anyone, but Brickhouse and the players from that pre-Tribune era like Monday, Rick Reuschel, Jose Cardenal, and Bruce Sutter will always hold a special place in my heart.

So maybe you aren’t sold on the “link to the past” argument. Fair enough, then let’s look at the issue of experience. Rick Monday started working in the broadcast booth in 1985, for the Los Angeles Dodgers. By comparison, Rick Sutcliffe and Gary Matthews were still playing in that season, and Mark Grace was drafted by the Cubs that year out of San Diego State. If you’re the type of person who values on-the-job experience, as I do, then Monday certainly has that to offer.

But maybe Monday’s experience doesn’t convince you, either. Let’s turn it around and say he’s an older guy who the modern fan probably won’t relate to. OK. Your standards are obviously different from mine, but there’s still one more item on Monday’s  resume that, in my mind, is the trump card that nobody else can beat.

If you aren’t aware of what Rick Monday did in Dodger Stadium, while wearing a Cubs uniform in April of 1976, here’s a link to something I wrote about that incident. In a nutshell, two men ran onto the field in Dodger Stadium during a Cubs-Dodgers game, and attempted to set fire to an American Flag in the outfield grass. Monday smelled the lighter fluid, realized what was going on, and ran over to snatch the flag away from the men. He still has that flag, and it crystallized, in the year of America’s bicentennial, the connection that exists between baseball and the U.S. of A.

Monday was a veteran of the Marine Corps reserves during the Vietnam era, and it was the memory of this service that set him into motion that day in the Dodger Stadium outfield. For a nation that’s now been at war for over a decade, and one that thanks our service members at every juncture for the sacrifices they’ve made, Monday means a lot to them. And he means a lot to anyone who would have been horrified to learn that an American flag was burned in the outfield of a baseball stadium.

Monday’s hero status, together with his experience as a broadcaster and his status as a former Cubs player, are more than enough to warrant his hiring for the Cubs as their color analyst, for as long as he wants the job. He’ll be 67 this season, and could conceivably do the job for several years before he retires from the booth. I, for one, would like to see his name enter the conversation, to find out if he’s interested in the job on any level. It’s an opportunity that I hope this franchise will understand and appreciate.

Thanks, Kid K

The news that Kerry Wood is retiring from baseball today comes as quite a shock. He’s been a part of my Cubs’ experience for so many years that it will be hard to imagine not seeing his familiar number 34 in the dugout. Life goes on, of course, but it’s still a startling turn of events.

I’ve been hard on Kerry Wood in this space, as recently as a week ago. It wasn’t because I’m not attached to him on an emotional level, because clearly I am. It was because I saw his performance out of the bullpen as weighing the team down. He apparently saw that too, or else he’s still be out there, regardless of the results we’ve been seeing lately. I applaud him for hanging them up, and giving the team a chance to fill his roster spot this season. That’s certainly more selfless than I would have been.

Much will be made of his 20 strikeout game back in 1998, and rightfully so. The only hit he gave up that day was a judgment call by the official scorer in the third inning, and one that went against the rookie in favor of veteran Ricky Gutierrez. That was it. He walked no one, hit Craig Biggio in the sixth inning (who, incidentally, is second on the all-time list in that category), and shut down the Astros like nobody ever has before, or likely ever will again. Derek Bell, who suffered stikeout number 20 to end the game, is quoted as saying to Mark Grace “This is unfair” between innings of that game.

I remember listening to a recap of the game on my way home from my teaching job that day. Teaching seems like a lifetime ago to me now, and yet that’s what I was doing on that day. Just before the final strikeout was recorded, Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes commented that it felt like a World Series game at Wrigley Field. The late Ron Santo’s reply was a memorable one: “If he keeps pitching like this, there’s gonna be a World Series here.”

Of course, he didn’t keep pitching like that. He missed most of 1998 with an injury, which became a recurring theme throughout his career. His first game back from that injury, he hit a home run and the cheers were so loud at Wrigley Field that I could hear them from my back porch, which literally was a mile away from the park. Woody had returned in a big way, and the fans loved it.

I have no doubt that Harry Caray would have loved Kerry Wood. Sadly, Harry passed away just a few weeks before Wood made his debut. But over the years, he brought Cubs fans like me a lot of happiness, and for that he will always be fondly remembered. Godspeed to you, Kerry Wood.

F/U/S/G

Of all the many seasons I’ve been a Cubs fan, 1984 ranks as my favorite one. The year 1984, all by itself, was an important year in my life. It was the year that I learned how to drive a car and, when my birthday came around, I got my license to drive. And whoever you are, life changes in a big way once that happens.

1984 was also when I got my first “real” job, as a grocery bagger in a local supermarket. I kept the job throughout high school, mostly because I was only scheduled to work on the weekends, so as not to interfere with my studies. I settled into a “study during the week, work and go carousing on the weekend, and then start all over again on Monday” cycle that I wouldn’t break out of for many years afterward.

And 1984 also had some great music. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Prince’s Purple Rain were probably the best 1-2 album punch of my lifetime. The phrase “I want my MTV” had relevance because it hadn’t yet come to the local cable provider, but music videos like “What’s Love Got to Do with it” and “Missing You” were showing that the genre had lots of possibilities. Give me any song from 1984 on the radio over any of the junk that gets played on “hit radio” today.

And against this backdrop of change and possibility, the Cubs decided to start winning. There was the “Daily Double” of Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg at the top of the batting order, along with Harry Caray, who gave them their name and gushed about baseball in a way that I han’t seen before. There was Gary ‘Sarge” Matthews in left field, Ron “Penguin” Cey at third Base, and Leon “Bull” Durham at first base. There were no lights anywhere to be seen at Wrigley Field, Rick Sutcliffe was unbeatable on the mound, and the Cubs had a leggy “ballgirl” named Marla Collins. The 1984 Cubs were a rocking good time, all summer long. It was as good a summer as I’ve ever had in my life.

The Cubs wrapped up their first division title in Pittsburgh, with Rick Sutcliffe going the distance. So one itch had been scratched, but a bigger prize lay over the horizon. And it seemed inevitable after the Cubs won the first two playoff games at Wrigley Field. Sutcliffe–the pitcher!–even went deep in the Cubs’ first playoff win. He was nearly superhuman by that point.

And then the team went out west. And Steve Garvey, who is the easily most reviled player I can think of for Cubs fans my age, hit a home run off of Lee Smith. He circled the bases with his fist raised in the air, and burned his way into my baseball memories. I wish I could evict him from the place that he occupies, but I can’t do it. Nothing better has come along in the deades since then.

But Garvey’s home run only sent the series to Game five. And that’s where Rick Sutcliffe ran out of gas. That’s where Leon Durham turned into Bill Buckner, two years before Bill Buckner did. and that’s where the good times came to a crashing halt. I said it was too good to be true, and it turned out that it was.

Steve Garvey, having been unsuccessful in his bid to buy the Dodgers franchise, now wants to buy the Padres instead. I’m hopeful he doesn’t succeed in this, but I think that he might just do it. Either way, the image of him running the bases, with a fist raised in triumph, will linger until further notice. I want to believe that this can be exorcised by making it to the World Series some day, but until then it looks like I’m stuck with it. I can certainly tell you that it’s no way to live.

NOTE:   The styling of the title for this post is an hommage to Prince’s D/M/S/R from his 1999 album.

Trying something new

Budweiser was my gateway into alcohol in general. Over time, I developed a preference for Corona with a lime wedge, but Bud was like an old friend to me. I could dabble in other beers, or harder drinks on occasion, but Bud was always there to welcome me back. And I never strayed too far from the self-proclaimed “King of Beers.”

And then one day, I decided I had had enough. After a quarter century, and who knows how many thousands of dollars spent chasing the next buzz, I decided that I could live without it. I didn’t need rehab or detox, just a resolution that the way things had always been wasn’t going to work anymore.

The presence of a Budweiser ad in the background of Tony Campana’s rookie card seems odd to me. The strained look on Campana’s face is unusual enough, but he seems to be almost engulfed in the red and white signage behind him. If it’s not product placement for Budweiser– right down to the circled R symbol appearing to the right of the Cubs’ logo–it sure looks pretty strange.

But Tony Campana represents something, too. His speed–as evidenced by his 22 thefts in limited action in the majors last season–is something I’ve never seen on the Cubs before. He’s a stolen base threat every time he reaches base. I think about this as “game-changing” speed, since a pitcher will be distracted whenever he’s on the basepaths. You can try to think of a comparable player in Cubs’ history, but you won’t be able to do it.

The closest I can remember was Bob Dernier in 1984. He was the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, and Ryne Sandberg hitting behind him comprised what Harry Caray dubbed the “Daily Double.” Dernier stole 45 bases that year, which is a lot by Cubs’ standards but was only eighth-most in the National League that year. He also set the table for Sandberg (who won an MVP that season), Gary Matthews, Jody Davis, and all of the others on that team.

The presence of a tablesetter at the top of the lineup is something that the Cubs have done without for much too long. And a resolution to make a change is all it would take to make this a reality, for this season and beyond.

Hanu-Cubs, Night 5

We begin, as always, with Steve Goodman’s music. Every Cubs fan needs to know about this song:

The first night was devoted to Dave Roberts, the second night to Sam Fuld, the third night to Ken Holtzman, and last night was for Jason Marquis. Tonight the candlelight shines on another pitcher, Steve Stone. Stoney, as we fans call him, is well known on both sides of Chicago, as he has played for the White Sox (1973 and 1977-78) and the Cubs (1974-1976).

I don’t remember him that well as a player, but after his playing days were over (which included a Cy Young award with the Baltimore Orioles in 1980), he was in the broadcast booth with the late Harry Caray for 13 seasons on WGN. He has also worked on White Sox broadcasts with “Hawk” Harrelson in recent years. From this fan’s perspective, he knows the game as well as anyone else, and better than most. Thanks for all the memories over the years!

Tomorrow night will be another position player, and perhaps the most compelling personal story of all. I hope you’ll come back to read it. And the Stone card appears below:

Jody! Jody! Jody!

At the dawn of the 1980s, I was an eleven-year old kid living in Springfield, Illinois. And at the end of the 1980s, I was a 21-year old who wanted to live as far away as possible. You might say I passed through the crucible of youth that decade, going from 7th grader to college senior in the bat of an eye. And my oldest is getting ready to do the same in this decade. Life goes on.

I didn’t have access to major league games in 1980, but the Triple-A Springfield Redbirds were close enough. These were guys on the verge of making it to the majors, and some of them even had long careers: Tom Herr, Ken Oberkfell, Leon Durham, and a few others whose names you may or may not know. I even got to see Mark Fidrych pitch as he was trying to get back to the majors in 1980. It was an exciting time for a young kid.

At the tail end of the 1979 season, the Cardinals organization traded for a young catcher named Jody Davis, who I saw play in a game at the end of the 1980 season. The Cardinals apparently gave up on him, but by 1981 he had surfaced with the Cubs on their major league roster, replacing Barry Foote as the everyday catcher. His popularity grew with Cubs fans, especially when Harry Caray became the Cubs announcer and took to serenading him on the air (to the tune of the Davy Crockett theme)

Joe-Dee, Jody Davis! King of the home run ball!

Davis was one of the Cubs’ main stars on the 1984 team that won the first division title in franchise history. He was also  was the Cubs’ everyday catcher through most of the 1980s, but the shelf life of a catcher is usually shorter than for other position players, because of all the abuse they take behind the plate. By the end of the 1988 season, Davis was traded away to the Atlanta Braves. It was hard to see such a well-loved player go, but that’s how it is in pro sports.

But there’s a postscript to this story. During the 1989 season, my brother–who was itching to get out of the house for a weekend, I’m sure–came to visit me on campus, and we ended up at Wrigley Field (where else were we going to go?). We were outside the ballpark on Addison near Sheffield, when a cab pulled up and out came Jody Davis. The two of us nearly flipped out, and our first instinct was to get a picture with him.

My brother went up and stood next to him, while I did the honors with the camera. He was off in a flash (no pun intended) to go inside the clubhouse, but we felt like whatever happened at the game itself, it had already been a success because of the Jody Davis sighting.

Like Jim Morrison in the 1970s, Jody Davis’ baseball career in the 1990s didn’t last for very long. He’s now managing in the Cubs’ minor league system, and he’s a nostalgic figure for all Cubs fans from that decade. And if the 1989 me could travel back in time to tell the 1980 Jody Davis how it would all turn out, I have to believe that he’d be pretty pleased.