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.

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.

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.