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.

Bidding Popeye adieu

Zimmer

I loved Don Zimmer for being a baseball man. He played the game, coached the game, and he even looked like a baseball man should look. The fact that he played for, coached, and managed the Cubs practically guaranteed that I would have something to say about his passing, and sure enough I had two things to say.

In a piece written for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, which is geared to baseball fans across the spectrum, I pointed out that players wear helmets on their head when they hit because of a pitch that hit Don Zimmer in his head, way back in 1953. Players now wear helmets to protect themselves, because of Don Zimmer. It’s not the sort of thing that turns up in a box score or in his career statistics, but it’s important, nonetheless.

For WrigleyvilleNation, a website by and for Cubs fans, I took a different approach. I pointed out that Zimmer was on the field to congratulate Ryne Sandberg for hitting a home run (he actually hit two of them on that day) in the fabled “Sandberg game” in 1984 at Wrigley Field. That game is something of the gold standard to me–and perhaps to a few others–in the Cubs’ history. And Zimmer was there to shake the hand of the man of the hour. It will soon be the 30 year anniversary of that day, so I’m sure it will be revisited again soon. But it was a moment that only baseball could provide, so of course Don Zimmer was a part of it.

Will there be another outsize symbol of the game itself, now that Zimmer is gone? I can’t imagine there would be, but baseball has never failed to surprise me in the past. Zimmer’s long and distinguished career will likely never be seen again, though.

Thanks for the memories!

An inglorious ending

Dateline: June 7, 1968. One week before the author of this post was born. The country is reeling from the shocking assassination of New York Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy, who had died the day before.

By some strange and spectral coincidence, the Baltimore Orioles used their first pick in the amateur baseball draft that day on a high school kid named Kennedy. Junior Kennedy. And no, the Junior wasn’t an appendange to his family name, like mine is or Ken Griffey’s is or Sammy Davis’ was. This kid’s given name was Junior Ray Kennedy, and he was on his way–he hoped–to the major leagues.

He made it there at the end of the 1974 season. He had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds,  the Big Red Machine that was poised to dominate the majors for the next few seasons. But Kennedy, as a second baseman, had limited potential, as he was playing behind All-star and future Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan.

It was back to the minors for Junior Kennedy during the Reds’ glory days, and it wasn’t until 1978 that he made it back to the big leagues. And in 1980, after Morgan had left Cincinnati and signed with the Houston Astros, Junior Kennedy and Ron Oester were splitting second base duties for the Reds.  A dozen years after the Orioles had drafted him, Junior Kennedy had arrived, as much as he was ever going to.

But 1981 didn’t go so well for Kennedy. Ron Oester emerged as the Reds’ everyday second baseman, and Kennedy was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in time for the 1982 season. He shared playing time at second base with Bump Wills that season, and when Wills didn’t return to the Cubs after the 1982 season, things were looking up for Junior Kennedy.

But fate intervened, as it does so very often in life. The Cubs traded for third baseman Ron Cey, and to make room for this All-star the Cubs shifted their incumbent third baseman, a prospect named Ryne Sandberg, over to second base. Kennedy’s playing time soon dwindled to almost nothing, but one of his final appearances with the Cubs–and in the Major Leagues writ large–is interesting to me.

It was Sunday, July 10, 1983. Junior Kennedy hadn’t started a game in over a month, and he must have been thinking he couldn’t get out of Chicago fast enough. The Cubs were in San Francisco, playing a double-header against the Giants. Kennedy didn’t play the first game, but in the ninth inning of the second game, he was called upon to pinch hit for the pitcher. He had no way of knowing this would end up being his final plate appearance in organized baseball.

Kennedy saw a pitch he liked from Giants’ pitcher Atlee Hammaker, and ripped it into right field. That could have been the sort of thing he needed to get himself into the games more often. At least he got on base, like his manager had sent him into the game to do.

But the Giants’ right fielder, Jack Clark, had other ideas. The ball came to him so quickly that he fielded it cleanly and fired to first base, recording a 9-3 putout that denied Kennedy a base hit. Kennedy then had to return to the dugout, humiliated worse than if he had struck out or hit a pop-up. He had a hit, or was supposed to have a hit, but he didn’t have the speed necessary to make it to first base in time.

Junior Kennedy played, briefly, in two games the following week, and was then released by the Cubs soon after. He was unable to catch on with another team, and his professional baseball career ended, fifteen years after it had begun back in 1968.

I chose to write about Junior Kennedy because his number 15 matches my position on the mlb.com/blogs list of top fan blogs for the first half of the 2012 baseball season. I’ve done this before with other players, but they’ve all been players that a baseball fan had some reason to have heard about before. But few have heard of Junior Kennedy, nearly thirty years after he played in his last major league season. But the sense of a sad ending is really what I am after here.

Back in September of last year, I applied for inclusion on MLB’s blog list. I indicated that I wrote about baseball, because I love the game and always have, but that other topics unrelated to baseball would also appear regularly on my blog. So I never was strictly about baseball here, even though there was a time during last year’s playoffs when nothing seemed to matter, other than baseball.

But the volume of my baseball writing has really taken a nose dive over the past month or so. It’s not fair for me anymore to take up one of the limited spots on MLB’s monthly list, when baseball has stopped being the main focus of my writing. I spun one more baseball card tale, as I have done many times before in this space, but I will soon be changing my blog to use a theme other than the prescribed MLB-related one. And as a result, I won’t appear on their monthly lists any more. And no, the recent addition of ads had nothing to do with this decision, either.

I really enjoyed the monthly ritual of finding out where I landed on the list, once it had been released, and then searching for a baseball story to tell relating to my position. But I won’t be doing it anymore after this. I love baseball, but I can’t say that my blog is as baseball-centered as someone going to the MLB website might expect it to be.

So now it’s off to other things, instead. The web address here won’t change, even though my creative focus already has. My thanks to Mark Newman for running a valuable place for baseball bloggers to meet. And all my best to the seamheads out there, whose passion for the game has always been a source of inspiration to me.

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.

A journey back to 1985

image

Thanks to a recent trade with someone online, I have come into the possession of a pack of Chicago Cubs playing cards from 7-Up, with a copyright date of 1985. The cards are still in their original shrinkwrap, meaning that for the last quarter of a century, they have been in a state of limbo, waiting to be set free from the clutches of those who see them as simply an investment opportunity. In the 1980s they were practically worthless, in financial terms, but all these years later they could bring 8 to 10 dollars on eBay. But to me, that’s not what they are at all.

This afternoon, as I was looking at the Ryne Sandberg card on the top of the stack, I began thinking about 1985 in my own life. I put the plastic wrapping and the cards inside up to my forehead, and suddenly it all came flashing back to me. I could see, in my mind’s eye, my little room in the basement of my parents’ house. I saw the flimsy wood paneling and frame that was put up in some unused space, to give me a small measure of privacy and escape. I saw the American flag that I used for a curtain over my window. I saw the kitchen table that my family ate at for a decade as I and my siblings were growing up. I saw the gravel driveway that led up the hill toward my house. I saw the car that took me to school and back every day, and the streetlight in front of the house that acted as the call to come in when it started getting dark. I went on an abbreviated walk down memory lane, completely in the recesses of my own mind. And the whole thing left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

I was sad not because they were unhappy times, but because they weren’t especially joyful times, either. I wish that I had spent less time waiting for those days to pass, so that I could go away and be anywhere other than where I actually was. I also wish that I had become more emotionally invested in the people and places that surrounded me. Instead, I routinely detached myself from everything and anything I came into contact with in those days. I thought only about getting away, and in the process I missed out on things that I can never get back again. I truly regret the way that I lived my life back then. Regret changes nothing, I know, but it’s also the only thing that I can do at this point. That, and make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes again.

It’s funny that it took some old baseball cards to force a reflection on the detached teenager that I once was. I’d like to go back in time to find that guy, to shake some sense into him. I’d tell that younger me to enjoy the present more, and think about the future less. It will all arrive soon enough, I would tell him, so just remember to look around once in a while, as Ferris Bueller would suggest in a soon-to-be released movie. There is much that can be–and in my case, was–missed out on.

I plan to open these cards one day, since they’ve already put me through the emotional wringer. I’m thinking about it as a liberation of sorts. And I’ll be sure to provide a report when it happens. Until then, I think I’ll just look around for a little while. I hope that you’ll do the same.

A contrarian’s view on Kerry Wood

The annual Cubs Convention started today in Chicago, and the team made a big splash by signing (re-upping, really) Kerry Wood for a one year, $3 million deal for 2012. There’s a club option for another year, not a player option like the kind Ryan Dempster was given, so at least that’s progress. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a large part of the club option depends on whether he goes on the DL at some point during the season. I certainly don’t want this to happen, but his track record (I think he averages more than one trip to the DL a season) suggests it should be anticipated in some way.

From what I gathered on Twitter, the Wood signing set off waves of cheering at the convention. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why. I am as emotionally attached to Kerry Wood as any other Cubs fan, and I want to see him along for the ride when the Cubs finally do go all the way. But there’s no evidence to suggest that will happen.

Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game, an amazing feat that will be talked about for decades to come. But it happened in 1998, more than a dozen seasons ago. And in the intervening years, Wood has piled up both strikeouts and wear and tear on his arm. With more than a dozen trips to the DL under his belt, it seems prudent to assume that these ways will continue into 2012. My rosy-colored glasses, such as they are, can’t imagine Kerry Wood going a full season without some time being missed.

And, more importantly than that, the Cubs have been talking at length about their new way–the “Cubs Way”– going forward as a franchise. It’s what allowed Dale Sveum to get the manager’s job over long-time Cub favorite Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg’s going to be managing against the Cubs someday, all because of the prevailing sense of a new way of doing things as a franchise.

The Wood signing departs from this new feeling in a big way. It’s like busting out the old REM albums on vinyl, just to see if they’ll still sound as good as they once did. It feels good to do it–it feels comfortable more than anything else–but it ultimately doesn’t get you to where you need to go. Where you’re dying to go, even.

Theo Epstein has said that the Cubs will be paying for future performance, rather than for past performance as they have done over the past few years. So is $3 million for a middle reliever/set-up man worth it? I guess that will determine whether or not the club option is picked up next year.

Lastly, I know it’s painful to bring this up, but Wood’s postseason performances have been spotty over the years. He was great for the Yankees in 2010, so perhaps we’ll get that again. But the 2003 NLCS saw Kerry Wood lose the decisive Game seven, and nearly lose Game three in that series as well. Many years ago, to be sure, but all there is to go on, as well.

I’ve said before that the veteran leadership on a team–which Wood will certainly be called on to provide–needs to have past World Series champions somewhere in the mix. The Cubs didn’t have any such players before re-signing Wood, and they still don’t have any now. I hope this won’t be an issue, but the answer won’t be known for a few months, at least.

First, last, and always, I want the Cubs to succeed. But I’m honestly having a hard time seeing how this signing fits into it. It feels good on an emotional level, but that needs to be translated into results on the field, as well.

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.

You’ve gotta put the ball in play

When I was a kid, I played organized baseball for a total of six years. For the large majority of these years, I sat on the bench and watched the other kids play. The reason was simple enough: I couldn’t put the bat on the ball with any regularity. To put it bluntly, striking out never helps your team. There’s a reason why “striking out” has entered into our lexicon in a negative sense: Nobody wants to come up empty in a given situation. But it happens.

About ten years ago, I went to a baseball fantasy camp in Vero Beach, Florida. After decades without playing baseball, I was going to play several games over the course of three days. So I bought some cleats and a batting glove, and tried to remember some of the finer points of the game. And I made a solemn vow to myself that striking out was not an option. I realized that it killed my enjoyment of the game as a kid, and it would do the same to this fleeting shot at redemption if I let it.

In the five games that were played, I came to the plate a total of 17 times. And yes, I did count, because baseball is all about statistics, isn’t it? In all of those at-bats, I only struck out once. I wanted, above all else, to just put the ball in play and–with that one exception–that’s what I did. All of the frustrations I felt as a kid were washed away, and it felt better than going to Confession ever did.

The player above, Jared Sandberg, also had a problem with striking out (and yes, he was the nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg). He made his way up through the ranks of the minor leagues, and played in the majors for parts of three seasons. In 2001, after spending most of the season at Triple A Durham, he came to the majors in August and hit .206 for the season. He also struck out once in every three plate appearances, giving the Devil Rays (as they were known at the time) nothing to get very excited about.

Sandberg spent the first month of 2002 back at Triple A, but was recalled to the majors in May. His strikeout total for the season ranked him fifth in the American League, even though each of the players above him had far more plate appearances than he did. He did hit 18 home runs, but a .229 batting average is not a ticket to job security in the major leagues.

Sandberg had one final chance in 2003. Again, he failed to put the ball in play on a regular basis, striking out once in every three plate appearances. He spent all of 2004 at Triple A Durham, and continued to play in the minors until the 2007 season. Since then, he has served as a manager in the Rays minor league system. Whether he will move up the ranks the way his uncle has still remains to be seen.

Perhaps there were other reasons that Jared Sandberg didn’t catch on in the majors. But, as I said, striking out never helps the team. It ends an inning, or it takes the steam out of a rally, or it burns an out and makes it harder for the other hitters to put runs on the board. Putting the ball into play leads to unpredictable results. But the result of regularly failing to do so is far more predictable.

Quade out, and Sandberg too

It was an interesting day on the Cubs front. Who didn’t see Quade being fired, as soon as the news about Jim Hendry’s ouster was announced? The Quade hiring shows how much Hendry was in over his head.  But at least it’s been corrected now. Farewell, QBall.

The list of qualifications for the new manager, taken from Theo Epstein’s statement today, apparently knocks Ryne Sandberg out as the next manager, since “Major league coaching or managing experience” is a requirement. That’s fair enough, I suppose, but Sandberg must feel like a recent college graduate at this point. You need experience to get hired, but how do you get that if nobody will give you a shot? It seems like St. Louis might do just that, though. That would be a hard sight to see. It makes me shudder to think about it, actually.

Theo’s got his old band back together in Chicago, sort of, and now they need to make a better choice for manager than Hendry did. Tony LaRussa is apparently out, but maybe Bob Brenly has a chance. That’s an intriguing thought. There’s more to come, I’m sure.

A memory of Sandberg (and Sundberg)

The first of my mini blue helmets goes to reader Chris, who indicated that he wanted to hear a story about Ryne Sandberg. He didn’t say that in so many words, actually. He just gave me Sandberg’s name, and I’m taking it from there.

You might think that there’s not a lot that can be written about Ryne Sandberg that hasn’t already been said–he’s a Hall of Famer, with his name and number on a flag hanging from a foul pole at Wrigley Field, and soon to be the Cubs’ new manager (I hope, I hope). I’ll let better writers than I am go on about those. But here’s a story that has never, ever been told about Ryne Sandberg, and will never be told again. So get comfortable as I take you back in time for a little bit.

It was the spring of 1988. Wrigley Field was still the only ballpark that didn’t have lights (but that would change in a couple of months). I was a sophomore at Northwestern, and my class schedule had been carefully chosen so that my afternoons were free and clear. I think the content of a class, or the professor who taught it, was secondary in those days to when the class actually met. If only we could always pick the schedule that we want.

The el that was a block or two from the campus, and was always ready to take me into the city of Chicago. It’s a large, vibrant, and diverse city, and one day it would become my home. But at that time in my life, the city for me consisted of the general vicinity of the corner of Sheffield and Waveland Avenues on the North side. And that’s where I was headed on a sunny Friday afternoon.

I usually sat in the bleachers, because the tickets cost less than 10 dollars, but on this day I was sitting on the first base side of the grandstand. I went with some people from my dorm who hadn’t been to Wrigley Field before, and I was showing them how easy it was to get there. I was being a tour guide, of sorts. Taking them to attend services at an urban cathedral! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

What I remember the most about this game was that it was the first time I ever noticed Wrigley Field doesn’t have a jumbotron. It didn’t have one then, and it doesn’t have one now. I’d like to see that change, but the matter isn’t really up to me, either.

At some point during the game, I went to get some hot dogs or whatever else there was at the concession stand (I wasn’t yet 21, and didn’t feel confident enough to try getting beers at the concession stand. They card hard, you know). As I was walking up the stairs to my seat, I heard a  loud roar. I came up the steps in time to see Ryne Sandberg crossing home plate.

I sat down in my seat, distributed whatever food I had acquired, and lamented the fact that there was no replay at the ballpark. If you miss something, well, that’s just too bad.  Pay closer attention next time. A lesson learned, I thought to myself.

The next inning, I was engaged in a conversation with somebody about something when I heard a loud crack of the bat. We all got to our feet and watched the ball disappear into the bleachers, and I had missed my second home run of the game. Again, no replay for me or anybody else who wasn’t watching. But at least the runs still counted.

The player who hit the second home run was a catcher named Jim Sundberg. I found it interesting that their last names were just one letter apart from each other. Sandberg and Sundberg. It sounded like a law firm or something. But they both hit homers for the Cubs, and that was enough to make me happy.

It wasn’t until I googled Jim Sundberg, in preparation for writing this, that I learned just how different these two players were:

  • Sandberg was a long-time Cub who got all but one of his career hits with the team, while Sundberg played just a handful of games over a season and a half with the Cubs.
  • Sandberg was a National Leaguer for his entire career, while Sundberg played all but 85 games (in a career that lasted nearly 2000 games) in the American League.
  • Sandberg won an MVP award in 1984, but not a World Series title, while Sundberg never won an MVP award but did win a World Series with Kansas City in 1985.
These players have also taken different paths since their playing days ended. Ryne Sandberg has positioned himself as a future major league manager (hopefully for the Cubs), while Jim Sundberg works in the front office of the Texas Rangers, where he spent most of his career.
Although the two players had similar last names, they didn’t have too much else in common with each other, save for the fact that they both homered in a game at Wrigley Field in 1988, and I managed to miss out on seeing both of them. But at least I got a story to tell out of it. And I would suggest that’s better than seeing two home runs, anyway.

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.

Bring Ryno back

The Cubs have already righted one of their wrongs by letting Jim Hendry go, but they need to go further than that. And repairing the damage done to their relationship with Ryne Sandberg is the next step they need to take.

Sandberg was a great player, no question about it. From the first game I ever went to in 1987 (and for years before that, even), until he retired for good in 1997, he was a fixture in the middle of the infield. He won in an age when the Cubs didn’t know how to win. There’s certainly something to be said for that.

And there’s even more to be said about what he’s done since he retired from playing. He’s made his money, and could be forgiven if he spent his days on the golf course or buying an island or whatever it is that athletes do when they retire. Instead, he went back to the lowest rungs on the minor league food chain and paid his dues, riding around on buses and playing nursemaid to teenagers with big league ambitions and/or big league talent.

And he’s won wherever he’s been. He hasn’t won World Series titles like LaRussa or Francona or Girardi, but he hasn’t yet been in that position, either. I saw him manage–while coaching third base at the same time–in a single-A game at Wrigley Field in 2008. He wanted to manage then, and he surely wants to manage now. I think he’s earned a shot to manage at the big league level.

I know that the General Manager search hasn’t been resolved yet, and hiring Sandberg might conflict with whoever wants to bring “his guy” in as manager. But I’m going to suggest that whoever does take the GM position should be able to work with a Hall of Famer and a proven competitor in the dugout.

It’s often said that whoever does finally win here in Chicago will be remembered forever, not that it automatically confers any job security (have fun in Florida, Ozzie Guillen).  I want to see Sandberg scratch his championship itch with the Cubs, and he’ll probably get the kind of slack from the fans (at least from me) that would have never been afforded to Mike Quade.

Sandberg is employed by the Phillies organization, and they are still in the playoffs for another two weeks or more. I could understand it if the Sandberg issue were tabled on their end until the season ends. But I also think that it made sense to hire him last year, and it will still make sense to hire him now for next season Go ahead and take the plunge, you Cubs powers that be.