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.

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2011 in review

The year is coming to a close, and everyplace you can think of seems to take this opportunity to do a retrospective on the year gone by. I’ll join the crowd for this one time, and look at what happened in 2011 for the subject that I write about the most: Cubs baseball.

The biggest developments of 2011–as far as I’m concerned– were the birth of this blog (back on June 11) and the dismissal of Jim Hendry in July (although we weren’t informed of it until August). Trailing behind that was the hire of Theo Epstein, which indicated to me (and others, I’m sure) that the Ricketts family was serious about winning the World Series. That has become the white whale of Cub fandom, especially over the last decade. The teams that we either empathized with for losing (Boston, San Francisco) or just plain don’t like (St. Louis, that other team across town) has won their championship, and here we are, forced to watch Catching Buckner on ESPN, and blowing a late September game in St. Louis so the Cardinals can make the playoffs and go all the way to the title. Theo and his team have just one goal (sorry, Chicago Blackhawks, but it fits for us, too). And we all know what that is.

As far as the team itself, I did a year end report card piece for Baseball Digest, and I wasn’t very kind at all. Other than Starlin Castro, what did we really have last year? Sean Marshall pitched well, but he’s gone now. There was Carlos Zambrano’s meltdown, Matt Garza unable to break .500, Carlos Pena’s underperformance, a starting rotation in shambles, and Marlon Byrd writhing in pain at home plate in Fenway Park. The Fenway experience was neat, but the only victory in that series was the throwback game on Saturday, and it only happened because the Red Sox gave the game away. If I missed anything positive, please let me know. And yes, Ron Santo did finally make it into the Hall of Fame. But it’s sad when the most notable player on your team hasn’t set foot on the field in over 30 years.

The bottom line for 2011, like every year in my lifetime, and my father’s lifetime as well, was that the season ended without the Cubs being victorious. My maternal grandfather was born in 1909, and he lived his whole life without seeing it, too. I don’t think that he was actually a Cubs fan, though. My paternal grandfather was born in Chicago in 1894, so he would have been a teenager when the Cubs were in their heyday. There were no tales from the west side to tell me about (the team didn’t move to the Northside until 1916), because he died several years before I was born. So I, like most other Cubs fans, have nothing to go on. And that really sucks.

I have dreamed of the day when the white W flag is raised at Wrigley Field after a World Series game. No one has ever seen that, as far as I know, and it will be great once it happens. But until then, everything else is just noise.

Happy Next Year, Cubs fans!

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.