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.

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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.

A Monday to remember

Monday

There are some things I’ll never understand, and one of them regards the 1976 Cubs. This was my first full season as a fan, and I hadn’t learned anything about the team and its history yet. As far as I was concerned, they were just a team that wore blue and played their games in the afternoon.

I didn’t know anything about the All-Star game just yet. And the National League All-Star team, such as it was in 1976, was also known as the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine was in full effect, and just about all of their “Great Eight” position players started in the All-Star Game in Philadelphia that summer. Sparky Anderson chose the rest of the team, and so having so many Reds on the team meant that many other teams were represented by a single player.

When it came time to choose the Cubs’ player for the team, Anderson somehow chose Steve Swisher. This makes no sense at all, because another Cubs player, Rick Monday, had a much better season in 1976 than Swisher did. Monday hit 32 home runs, as opposed to five for Swisher. Monday drove in 77 runs, while Swisher had 42. And Monday hit .272 that season, while Swisher hit just .236. I can’t imagine too many .236 hitters have ever been able to say they made the all-star team that year.

Monday had a decent year statistically–certainly better than Swisher did–but there was more to it than that. Early in the season, on April 25 (which was 32 years ago today, if you’re wondering), Rick Monday snatched an American flag away from two men who were attempting to burn it in the outfield at Dodger Stadium.

Even in the pre-ESPN, pre-YouTube days of yore, Monday’s act received a lot of attention during the bicentennial celebrations that were going on. The All-Star game was played in Philadelphia that year, and the location was not an accident. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was the star of the American league team that year, and if one player could have overshadowed Rose, and Bench, and Foster, and the rest of the Reds lineup, it could have been the flag’s savior, Rick Monday. But it was not to be.

Sparky Anderson isn’t with us anymore, and I don’t know whether he ever really explained the reason for his decision. There was something I read about too many outfielders and the need for a catcher, but frankly that doesn’t wash with me. If Monday was wanted, he would have been named to the team, as he was in 1978 when he played for the Dodgers. But the chance to honor Monday for what he did earlier that year was definitely missed.

If you’re wondering, Steve Swisher didn’t play in the All-Star game that year. It was also the only time that he was ever named to an all-star team. His name may sound familiar to modern fans, though, because he is the father of Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees.

A video of the event is here, along with some interview footage of Rick Monday. What he did on that day will still be worth talking in another 32 years, if not longer.

Hanu-Cubs, Night 3

As with the previous two nights, we’ll begin with some music by Steve Goodman. I find that by clicking on the video, and then listening to the music while reading the text below, it helps to enhance the experience somehow. This one seems to be from 1978, based on some of the lyrical references.

On the first night, Dave Roberts was profiled. And last night, it was Sam Fuld’s turn to shine. Tonight we take a look at the winningest Jewish pitcher in big league history, Ken “No-hit” Holtzman. According to jewishmajorleaguers.org (where I also found the list of players that I’m working off of here), Holtzman won 174 games in his big league career, while Koufax won 165.  A few others on this list (Dave Roberts included) either have already appeared in this space, or will do so before the final night of the holiday next week.

I previously wrote a piece about the Yom Kippur-related pitching matchup between Holtzman and Koufax that took place in Wrigley Field in 1965. I used Holtzman’s 1979 Topps card in that post, because I like the way the ivy at Wrigley Field is used as a backdrop. It’s as if the photographer had Holtzman stand on the warning track, and then get into his set position to pitch. But the card doesn’t reflect Wrigley Field reality in any way. If you don’t want to click on the link to that post, here’s the card itself, with Koufax alongside:

Holtzman pitched for the Cubs from 1965 to 1971. He threw a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves in 1969, and another one against the Reds in Cincinnati in 1971, earning him the nickname “No-hit” Holtzman. He was traded to the Oakland A’s for Rick Monday in late 1971, and he pitched for the three-time champions in 1972, 1973, and 1974. In 1975, with the A’s dynasty about to be torn asunder by free agency, they won their division again, and were swept in the playoffs by Fred Lynn and the Boston Red Sox.

Holzman was traded to Baltimore, and then made his way to the New York Yankees for the “Bronx Zoo” teams of the late 1970s. He was traded in 1978 back to the Cubs, and started six games for them that year. On June 24, he started against the Phillies in Philadelphia, the day after Dave Roberts had started against them in the first game of a doubleheader (Dennis Lamp started the second game that day). I don’t know if there’s ever been another team that threw two Jewish starters at another team on consecutive days before, but it seems like it would be a pretty rare feat. And that’s the sort of thing that I’m always willing to write about here.

Holtzman pitched for the Cubs in 1979, and was released by the team at the end of the season, which makes the 1980 Ken Holtzman card seem to be inexplicable. Perhaps Topps wanted to have a Ken Holtzman card in their set that year, regardless of who he eventually played for, and they put him in as a Cub because nobody else had signed him yet. A card like this has the player’s entire career statistics on the back, which is something that doesn’t always happen with players during their careers.  The statistics are usually a snapshot of what they’ve already accomplished, with any future performance yet to be determined. But in this case, what you see on the back is all there is to see. And it was a pretty impressive career that he had, to be sure.

Another Jewish Cubs player from the past will be discussed here tomorrow night. And here’s the full Holtzman card:

One game, two historic acts

In the final games of every major league season, batting titles are won and lost. Playoff berths can be decided. And, as Doug Glanville has pointed out, many playing careers will come to an end. And, every so often, history is made. Such was the case on the final day of the 1977 season.

On Sunday, October 2, 1977, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a home game against the Houston Astros. After two straight seasons of playing second fiddle to Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, the Dodgers had broken through and captured the National League West title. They had already clinched the division title, and knew their playoff opponent would be the Philadelphia Phillies. They had very little to play for on that day.

The Astros, however, were at the other end of the baseball spectrum. A win that day would get them to .500, but they had long since been eliminated from the postseason. Still, they sent the ace of their staff, J.R. Richard, out to face the division champions. The Astros would win the NL West title three years later, but their time had not yet come.

Tommy Lasorda, in his first year of managing the Dodgers, gave most of his starters the day off. Reggie Smith, Ron Cey, and Davey Lopes did not play, and others, such as Steve Yeager and Bill Russell, made only token appearances. But one of the Dodger regulars, leftfielder Dusty Baker, did have something to play for.

Baker was sitting at 29 homers for the year, which was good enough for a top ten finish in the National League. Three of his teammates—Smith, Cey and Steve Garvey—had already hit 30 home runs, and if Baker could also get there, it would be the first time that four teammates had accomplished this feat in the same season. 46,000 fans were waiting to see if the Dodgers could make history on that day.

In order to give him an extra at bat if needed, Lasorda put Baker third in the lineup that day. Reggie Smith was the Dodgers’ usual number 3 hitter, and Baker typically hit sixth or seventh in the order. But Smith was out, and history was on the line, so Baker got moved up in the batting order.

Baker’s first at bat against Richard resulted in a base hit. It was better than an out, but not what the fans were waiting to see.  Baker came up again in the fourth inning and struck out. He still had at least one chance, and possibly two, to take Richard deep, but it wasn’t looking good so far.

When the bottom of the sixth inning came around, Manny Mota led off with a pinch hit home run. That ensured Baker would get another chance that inning. Two outs later, history was made when Baker homered to center. It was the first and only time in his career that Dusty Baker hit 30 homers in a single season.

As he was heading toward home, basking in the Dodger fans’ applause, Baker came upon the on-deck hitter, a young outfielder named Glenn Burke. Burke had gone in for Rick Monday the inning before, and was hitting in the cleanup spot in the order. Burke had a hand raised up over his head. Baker crossed home plate, raised his hand to meet Burke’s, and went back into the dugout. His day was over, as he was taken out of the game the next inning. But he had put his team in the record books, in his last at bat of the regular season.

Inspired by Baker’s feat, Burke then proceeded to hit a homer of his own. It was his first in the majors, and one of only two that he would ever hit. But at the time, it had lifted the Dodgers into the lead and gave the fans who had stayed around something else to cheer about. The Dodgers had taken the lead, and three home runs in the same inning against J.R. Richard didn’t happen very often.

The Astros came back to score 4 runs in the top of the seventh, and Richard went the distance, striking out 14 along the way. The Dodgers won the National League pennant, but lost the World Series to the Yankees in six games, capped off by Reggie Jackson’s dramatic three home run game in Yankee Stadium.

While Baker’s home run that day will be recorded in the annals of the game for all time, Burke’s response to it lives on, as well. Two and a half years later, when the Louisville Cardinals basketball team made their run to the NCAA championship, the act of “high-fiving” someone entered into the sporting and cultural mainstream. And yet Glenn Burke–whose name you likely had not heard before you read this–was the one who pioneered this gesture of affirmation thirty-four years ago.

Here’s hoping for an exciting and memorable playoff season in the weeks ahead.

#Cubs #DoubleTriple is now just 35 losses away

The Cubs were blown out in St. Louis again today, bringing the historic and unprecedented #DoubleTriple ever closer to becoming a reality. And losing to the Cardinals tomorrow will put the Cubs on pace, percentage-wise, to make this happen. And so we forge ahead deeper into the 1970s. For an explanation of why I’m doing this, click here.

1976 Montreal Expos

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 55-107

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Karl Kuehl, Charlie Fox

Hall of Famers on roster: Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Larry Doby (as coach)

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

Pennant wins since: None

In 1976, baseball changed forever. It’s always changing and evolving to some degree, but two pitchers–Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally–had played the 1975 season without a contract, and afterwards they went to an arbitrator and claimed that they were not beholden to the long-standing reserve clause, which bound a player to one team for as long as that team wanted. The arbitrator agreed with them, and Messersmith became baseball’s first millionaire, signing for three years with the Atlanta Braves. It’s just one more sign of how different things are now in baseball–and in all of professional sports–than what they were back then.

The Montreal Expos, in their final year of playing in Jarry Park, were the only team to hit the magic number in losses in 1976. Since it was the summer of Bruce Jenner, Nadia Comaneci, and the other Summer Olympians in Montreal, I don’t think the locals noticed it very much. But after the season was over, Les Expos moved into Olympic Stadium, which eventually ruined Andre Dawson’s knees. And, for all of the problems they had with the ballpark and with lousy attendance toward the end of their time in Montreal, they never again lost 100 games in Montreal. So that’s a good thing, right?

Although it has nothing to do with 100 losses, the most enduring image of baseball in 1976 was Rick Monday saving the American flag in the outfield of Dodger Stadium on April 25. A man and his son ran onto the field, and were intending to burn the flag as an act of protest. But they fumbled with their matches and lighter fluid, and in the meantime Monday ran over and snatched the flag away from them. The picture of the event above has been colorized, but the event rightly made Monday a hero. As much as I pound on the Cubs sometimes, I was definitely proud of my team at that moment. And with the Bicentennial just two months away, all Americans were inspired by Monday’s action. Has anything ever gone together so well as America and baseball?