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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hindsight is 20/20: Out of the Blue! The Remarkable Story of the 2003 Cubs

So the other day I'm cleaning out my closet and I find this little nugget of gold:

I got this book for Christmas my freshman year of high school. It's the usual Tribune puff piece about a "remarkable season" and someone in my family felt it was the perfect gift for me. At the time I was too bitter to give it more than a passing glance and just tossed it away. Five years later, its pure comedy gold.

After a one page dedication to Jerome Holtzman that featured this amusing picture of him and Don Zimmer,:

the book opens with an introduction from, who else, Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker. Well, one page is the introduction from Dusty. The next page is a damn near life-size full page picture of his head. For a 54 year old dude, he sure had a lot of acne. The introduction, titled "This is just the beginning," contains such gems as the following:

"I always felt it was preordained for me to come to Chicago. When my mother -in-law was on her deathbed a few years ago, she predicted I would wind up in Chicago."

The next question, of course, is whether Dusty's mother-in-law predicted Neifi Perez. Also, apparently Dusty's mother in law was prescient enough in her dying moments to predict that Don Baylor would lose his job and San Fransisco would run Dusty out of town. Nice.

"I didn't expect to win a division title in the first year, to be honest."

None of the fans did either, Dusty. Nor did we expect it again any time after May 2004. Nor do we expect the 2009 NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds. I wonder why.

"We're disappointed right now because we had an opportunity to go to the World Series and it didn't happen for us. You're always disappointed when you come this close and you don't get there, but thats how life is. We'll bounce back."

Getting close and not getting there actually IS how life is when you're managed by Dusty Baker, ask the 2002 Giants, who had a 5-0 lead in the 7th inning of game six of the World Series, but managed to blow that lead and game seven. Or the 2003 Cubs, who were 5 outs away from a World Series berth. Or the 2004 Cubs, with a 1.5 game lead in the wild card, going 1-7 to sputter out of the playoff picture. But hey, if bouncing back is steadily declining from 5 outs away from the World Series to 66-96 just three short seasons later, then Nail on the Head.

After Dusty's intro, Mike Downey writes a piece that manages to talk more about Hillary Clinton than the 2003 season, including such wit as:

"For example, [Clinton] was asked, suppose there was a World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs."

"Well it's not a likely scenario," Clinton said, drawing a laugh from the upstate New York audience, "but get back to me if it it happens."

World Series championships for the New York Yankees since Clinton's election as senator in November 2000: 0

World Series championships for the Chicago Cubs since November 2000: 0. F&%k off Hillary. F&% off, upstate New York audience.

After Downey's brilliance, Rick Morrissey adds his usual...crap with a piece called "A team with a little something extra" (my shift key's not broken, apparently the Trib doesn't believe in capitalizing important words in titles), in which he praises, of all things, Dusty's f*&king pixie dust, saying:

"One morning in early September, the Cubs' manager walked around in the infield and outfield at Wrigley Field, sprinkling a gray, powdery substance. That was the day he finally got it. That was the day he understood that all the wretched history and all those long memories were bigger than he was, bigger than any motivational speech, bigger than any decision to turn to the bullpen."

Or decision not to turn to the bullpen. In game 6. With your 23 year old starting pitcher melting down. But hey, I like this. Maybe that was the moment Dusty decided pixie dust was a better option than, say, walking out to the mound in the 8th inning of game six and calming your team down. He stood no chance if he talked to them, I mean all those guys who, other than Sosa were in their first or second year with the team, were plagued by the "wretched history and long memories" of the Cubs title drought.

"Besides, no one can say for sure that the unknown substance didn't suck up all the bad vibes and render them ineffective."

I can. I can say that. Everything about the Dusty Baker Era gave me "bad vibes."

"The recipe for this team was one part talent and two parts grit, with a pinch of magic dust."

Or four parts awesome starting pitching, one part shitty bullpen, nine parts poor plate approach, and one part awful, "aw shucks," Hank Aaron fellatin' managing.

After the miserable intros, the first chapter is titled "Dusty's Road." It includes such insight into the Cubs managerial hiring process as "All along Jim's first choice was Dusty Baker. His second choice was Dusty Baker, and his third choice was Dusty Baker." Well shit, it sucks that we had to settle for his third choice. It also includes this hilarious anecdote about Dusty:

"He didn't want to hear about billy goats, curses, day games or any of the other excuses that that been put forth annually as impediments to the Cubs."

That's why he spread around magic pixie dust, said white players couldn't play as well as blacks and Latinos in the heat of day games, made constant excuses about not being able to win because he was missing his horses, and of course, bitching about day games: With more night games at home, "You get to do 'life stuff,' like go to the laundry, go to the bank, go to the car wash, go shopping," Baker said. "Things you don't get a chance to do when you're playing day games. You're always conscious here of oversleeping because you can wake up in a panic, especially if it's cloudy and dark outside, and you're like, 'Oh, man.' Or if it gets sunny real early, you're jumping out of bed at 6 o'clock."

The next chapter talks about the roster changes between 2002 and 2003 and is mostly a snooze fest other than:

"Center-fielder Corey Patterson had chafed under Don Baylor's tough love approach, but Baker's unwavering and oft-stated belief in him unlocked Patterson's vast potential."

And after spending 4 of his 7 full major league seasons with Dusty's unwavering and oft-stated belief, Patterson's unlocked potential gave him a career line that stands at .253/.291/.407. Nice "unlocking." If Dusty were the guy charged with getting the money out of the safe during a heist, he'd be caught by the police sitting at the bar stealing the toothpicks.

The next chapter, titled "STILL THE MAN" (all caps this time), focuses on Sammy Sosa's 2003 campaign and mentions how the clubhouse loved Sammy's boombox (you know, the one Kerry Wood destroyed with a bat), and the final paragraph:

"Could Dusty Baker picture the day when Sosa no longer would be the Cubs' right-fielder? The answer was simple: "No.""

Weird, because just a year later he failed to manage Sosa's prima donna attitude, despite that area supposedly being his "talent," and the man who was arguably the most popular figure in Cubs history was run out of down while Dusty sat on his ass and let the team crumble around him.

The next few chapters deal with the Yankees series and the trades for Ramirez, Lofton, and Simon and are fairly BS free compared to the rest of the book. Then we get to the chapter about Mark Prior, entitled "ACE OF CUBS," which starts:

"You could have forgiven Cubs fans if they saw a championship season flashing before their eyes on the afternoon of July 11. In fact, you could have forgiven them if they thought the next decade would be ruined as well. Mark Prior, the Cubs' best young pitcher sing Kerry Wood, had run into Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles on the basepaths, somersaulting over Giles and crashing onto his pitching shoulder. "

Well, fortunately our cautious manager pulled Prior from the game and certainly didn't run him back out to the mound to start the next inn-what? He did?? And it turned out that injury did in fact begin the gradual destruction of Prior's career? Well, this whole chapter about Mark Prior shaking off injury to pitch the Cubs into the playoffs seems a bit absurd then.

The next few chapters after that deal with Kerry Wood finally overcoming his injury problems to become a dominant starter, which just fills me with more sadness than I can bear right now, and the 5 game series against the Cardinals, which, admittedly fills me with joy to this day. Then there's a chapter titled "THE FINAL PUSH" in which it describes, without noting the many ways Dusty f*&ked up a division that should have been clinched with at least a week to go, the last month, and includes a quote from Shawn Estes:

"That's one of the major reasons I came here, because I knew Dusty would be in my corner."

Well, that, and the fact that no team not managed by the veteran enabling Dusty would have allowed your god awful 5.10 ERA and 1.581 WHIP from 2002 to guarantee you 28 starts.

The last two chapters cover the Atlanta series and, of course, the NLCS, which ends with Dusty's nonchalant:

"Is it disappointing? Yeah, it's disappointing because we wanted to go to the World Series. But life is full of disappointments sometimes, and you've got to build something for the future."

And build on that disappointment Dusty did. With disappointment, after disappointment, after heaping, flaming, catastrophic disappointment.

After the chapters, there's a nice breakdown of the playoff roster that features such hilarity as describing Kyle Farnsworth as a "dependable right-handed set-up man," saying Mike Remlinger had "dependable late-game savvy," (but even They manage to mention that Remlinger was better against righties than lefties, something Dusty Never figured out), calling Ramon Martinez a "dependable right-handed bat," and Troy O'Leary "the Cubs' most productive left-handed bat off the bench," which is only funny because, sadly, it's true (other than the days when Karros started at first, of course).

So there you go, the 2003 Cubs recapped by the Tribune. We learned that Mike Downey can write an entire piece ostensibly about the Cubs but actually about Hillary Clinton, that Rick Morrissey is a complete tool, and that Dusty Baker was a buffoon. So really, we learned nothing we didn't already know. Hope you had fun! I'm gonna go drink away five years of sorrow now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day: Ramon Martinez

Name: Ramon Martinez
Height:6'1'' Weight: 187
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 2003-2004

No, Ramon, ladies Totally love the "no hair, goatee" look.

Where were you on January 2, 2003? I know where I was. I was at home, on Christmas Break, waiting for the second semester of my 8th grade year when someone told me that the Cubs had signed Ramon Martinez. I said "you mean Pedro's older brother? I mean he was pretty dominating in the 90s but he's getting up there in years. At least he'd probably beat Estes for the 5th starter job." Alas, it was not the fire-balling ace of the early 90s Dodgers that the Cubs had signed, but Ramon Martinez the light-hitting utility man. For the first two years of the Dusty Baker Era, Ramon was the go to guy off the bench as a defensive replacement anywhere on the infield. When Grudzielanek broke his hand, Ramon stepped in, when Alex Gonalez broke his arm the next year (and still didn't get awarded first base even though the ball drilled him hard enough to shatter bone), Ramon was there. Of course then Mark Grudzielanek had to get injured again and that led to the middle infield situation of 2004 that led to such fabulous players as Rey Ordonez, Damian Jackson, Jose Macias and Neifi! finding their way onto the field. But the reason Ramon is here, is because for 22 starts before the arrival of Aramis Ramirez, he was one of the last to truly be a part of the third base "hole."

I don't know why I hated Ramon Martinez so much. Perhaps it was the fact that having to watch him, Lenny Harris, and Mark Bellhorn for the first half of the season just left me with such a horrible feeling that I blamed him for a disproportionate amount of the suck. When I looked back at his stats while writing this, I realize his numbers weren't so bad. In 2003, Ramon hit .283/3/34/.333/.375 for a .708 OPS. While those numbers certainly aren't great, they really aren't bad at all for a utilityman. Even his 2004 numbers (.246/3/30/.313/.346) weren't as ANGER provoking as a Neifi Perez or a Ronny Cedeno, but Damn did I hate Ramon Martinez. Maybe it was the stupid goatee with the shaved head look, maybe it was the fact that he made me miss Alex Gonzalez, but more than likely it was his damned nonchalant attitude to striking out. I seem to remember the guy having more strikeouts looking than any player I can ever remember. Not the kind of strikeout looking where a patient hitter just doesn't get the call, but the kind of strikeout looking where he went up to the plate with a little league like mentality of "This at bat, I will swing at every pitch" or "This at bat, I will swing at nothing." It was damned infuriating.

Anyhow, Martinez was granted his free agency by the Cubs in October of 2004, as the team decided to keep Neifi! as their backup shortstop. Just. F%&king. Great. Ramon's still in the majors, having spent time with the Tigers, Phillies, Dodgers, and Mets. He's currently a free agent.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Non Roster Invitees II: The Position Players

Welington Castillo, Age 21, Catcher
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 200
Bats: Right Throws: Right

Castillo, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 (though he didn't start professional ball until 2006), is currently the best catching prospect in the Cubs farm system, and if he builds on his strong numbers at AA last year ( .298/4/24/.362/.414), as well as his defense (he threw out a respectable 30% of runners last year, he could become a valuable trade chip as long as Geovany Soto continues to make him expendable. Keep an eye on Castillo this spring, if he hits well enough to generate interest he could pay off well in the future.

Steve Clevenger, Age 22, Catcher
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 185
Bats: Left Throws: Right

Castillo's lefty hitting counterpart has hit well (.306/7/117/.371/.398) in the minors, although unlike Castillo, Clevenger struggled a bit upon promotion to AA Tennessee (.247/1/15/.314/.360). Clevenger also has less experience behind the plate, and has also played 1B and 2B in his time in the minors. As of now Castillo draws more praise for his work behind the plate and better power, but Clevenger's potential is also worth following.

Mark Johnson, Age 33, Catcher
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 200
Bats: Left Throws: Right

A failed first round draft pick of the White Sox, Johnson has a career .218/16/83/.314/.318 line in 332 major league games with the White Sox, A's, Brewes, and most recently the Cardinals, for whom he hit .294/0/2/.333./.294 in 10 games last year. He does bat left handed, however, and I suppose that makes him just as good of an option as Paul Bako.

Darwin Barney, Age 23, SS
Height: 5'10'' Weight: 175
Bats: Right Throws: Right

Barney, the 127 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, was drafted for his above average arm and range at shortstop, and few expectations were placed on his offensive output, quote "average, at best. It's tough to say he'll be an everyday player in the big leagues because of his bat." Barney's first full year in the Cubs farm system suited those expectations as he hit .262/3/51/.325/.357 (.682 OPS). Darwin projects to make the majors eventually as a utility man, so, if you're looking for the next Augie Ojeda, Darwin is a cool name.

Andres Blanco, Age 24, SS
Height: 5'10'' Weight: 190
Bats: Both Throws: Right

Blanco, a former Pirate, was a non-roster invitee to last year's Spring Training, and was the Iowa Cubs starting shortstop for most of last season, where he put up a .285/1/36/.327/.336 line. In the majors he's got a career .252/0/19/.290/.314 line, though he hasn't seen any MLB action since 2006. Have fun in Des Moines, Andres.

Luis Rivas, age 29, 2B/SS
Height: 5'11'' Weight: 175
Bats: Right Throws: Right

One of the more interesting and experienced players on this list, Rivas was the starting 2nd baseman for the Twins from 2001 to 2005, and spent last year splitting time between SS and 2B for the Pirates. His career .257/34/201/.303/.377 line is pretty mediocre, but it's better than Ronny Cedeno's, who, if the rumors are true, will be headed to San Diego for Peavy. If the Cubs then sign Rich Aurilia, as other rumors say, Luis would be sitting in Iowa as an insurance policy in case of an injury to one of the infielders. Lets just say I hope both rumors are true, and also that I never see Luis in a Cub uniform after March. If he does make an appearance, though, I guess he bring some positives...his defense at second is slightly better than average, even if his range leaves a little to be desired, and he has some speed. Not as much as he used to (31 SB's in 2001), but some. Just be thankful Dusty doesn't manage this team, or Fontenot would be in Iowa while Rivas batted lead off.

Height: 6'0" Weight: 185
Bats: Both Throws: Right

There are few things one needs to know about BOBBY SCALES. 1). BOBBY SCALES teaches little kids in the offseason, because the man's a god damn philanthropist, and he has wisdom that he needs to pass on. 2). BOBBY SCALES can hit the ball, with a career .285/62/415/.371/.430 line, including a .320/15/59/.415/.499 line with Iowa last year. 3). The fact that he's never appeared in a Major League game DOESN'T MEAN SHIT. BOBBY SCALES is ready for the big time, it's the big time that's not ready for him. Only progressive cities like Des Moines, Pawtucket, and Scranton are ready for the mind-blowing abilities of BOBBY SCALES. 4). Turn on your f*&king TV this spring to watch BOBBY SCALES, or he'll use his telepathic abilities to beam that shit straight into your brain. BOBBY SCALES KNOWS WHO YOU ARE!

Doug Deeds, age 27, 1B/OF
Height: 6'2'' Weight: 195
Bats: Left Throws: Left

Not much is known about Doug Deeds. He seems to have mysteriously wandered into the Twins organization through the 9th round of the 2002 draft, played well, and then signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent, and wandered into Tennessee, where he had a .903 OPS last year. Will he ever wander into the majors? Apparently not. His name is awesome though.

Jason Dubois, age 29, OF
Height: 6'5'' Weight: 220
Bats: Right Throws: Right

Seriously? Oh well, welcome back Jason.

So Taguchi, age 39
Height: 5'10'' Weight: 163
Bats: Right Throws: Right

So Taguchi sucks. Having watching him for years as a Cardinal, Cubs fans KNOW he sucks. He had his worst year (.220/0/9/.283/.297) last year, and is nearly 40 years old. Why is he here? Apparently as yet another attempt to provide Kosuke with a buddy. God dammit. I didn't think anything could particularly make me LIKE Joey Gathright, but I love the car jumping bastard now that So's a possibility. Fortunately the Cubs have both Reed Johnson, Gathright, and Hoffpauir as extra outfielders, so the possibility of So making the team is slim, right? Right? I guess the only real advantage to this is that it makes our favorite Cardinals fan, the sociopathic Elias Coblentz, very upset. (If you don't watch that, you will regret it.)

So there you have it, all 21 non roster invitees. With any luck....none of them will make the team. Ever. So, that's what you want out of spring training. Should at least be fun to see Jason Dubois up there hacking again, just like in 2005. You want to remember 2005, don't you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Non Roster Invitees

God Damn I'm Ready for Baseball Season

Non Roster Invitees. Every year each team releases a list of players who'll head to spring training in hopes of making the big league club. Some are young prospects with little chance of breaking camp with the parent team who are just in to face some live major league pitching, while others are fading veterans hoping for one more chance at sticking around in the show. Some notable non-roster invitees for the Cubs over the years have been Scott McClain, the AAA and Japanese League Babe Ruth who wowed us in the spring of '04 and '05 and dominated pitching at Iowa, Marquis Grissom in 2006, who terrified us with the prospect of getting at least 300 AB's under Dusty's leadership before mercifully retiring, and Shingo Takatsu last year, who should have been an omen that the Cubs can't judge Japanese talent, and Alex Cintron, who gave us all a preview of Ronny Cedeno's future. Today the Cubs released the names of 21 of their invitees, and since we don't want you spending all spring going "who the f&%k is that guy?" here's your introduction to all 21!

The Pitchers:

Edward Campusano, Age 26
Height: 6'4'' Weight: 175
Bats: Left Throws: Left

Ed Campusano first signed with the Cubs in 2002 and has languished in the minors ever since. Ed's one chance at making the big leagues came when he was snapped up by the Tigers in the Rule V Draft in 2007, but he blew his arm out before the season and was sold back to the Cubs, where he spent the entire season on the DL. Last year Campusano split time between the Class A Daytona Cubs and the AA Tennessee Smokies, where he went 5-3 with a 4.98 ERA in 43 games, all in relief.

Esmailin Caridad, Age 25
Height: 5'10'' Weight: 195
Bats: Right Throws: Right

A prospect from the Dominican Republic who signed with the Cubs after spending a few years in developmental leagues in Japan, Esmailin impressed in his first year as a starter in American professional baseball. In 28 games (27 starts) for Daytona and Tennessee, Caridad was 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA, and a 1.11 WHIP. He bears watching this spring, mostly since our farm system is nearly devoid of talent.

Andrew Cashner, age 22
Height: 6'6'' Weight: 185
Bats: Right Throws Right

Cashner, the Cubs top pick in this year's draft, received an invite to spring training as part of his contract. The hard thrower from Texas Christian University played in 8 games last year for the Boise Hawks and Daytona Cubs and was 1-2 with a 5.85 ERA and only 19 strikeouts against 23 walks. Obviously he has a long way to go before making it to the bigs, but it'll be fun to watch him this spring.

Chad Fox, age 38
Height: 6'3'' Weight: 175 lb
Throws: Right Bats: Right

You know, I can kind of understand why 38 year old Chad Fox is reluctant to retire. Thanks to the two Tommy John surgeries, the ulnar neuritis he's suffered on multiple occasions, and Dusty Baker, he's only pitched 227.7 innings in his 9 year career, an average of 25.3 innings per year, or only 25.3 innings more than Mark Prior pitches per year. Its understandable that he still feels like he hasn't actually Played enough major league baseball to give it up. But seriously, why would this hack seriously keep attempting to make the roster? Well, probably because the Cubs keep letting him, but other than that there's no real reason for it. Even when "healthy," and that's a relative term for him, he's managed just two good seasons since the 90s, if you take a look at his ERA and WHIP every year since 2001 (he was injured all of 2000): '01- 1.89/1.200, '02- 5.79/2.357, '03-3.12/1.523, '04-6.75/1.594, '05- 6.75/2.000, '08- 5.40/1.5000. There's really nothing other than the 2001 season (the 2003 season seems to have been mostly luck, a 3.12 ERA is highly suspect with such a middling WHIP as 1.523) that suggests he's even talented enough to be a major league pitcher, let alone one who can be effective at 38 years old. If he makes the team, I may just shoot someone. But not him, the poor guy's been hurt enough.

Ken Kadokura, age 35
Height: 6-4 Weight: 200
Bats: Right Throws: Right

Where was this picture taken? Whatever you want to know about Ken Kadokura can pretty much be found here. If you don't want to read (and why would you, reading is for p*ssies), the round up is this: Ken is a righty. He sucked badly enough in Japan that he was sent down to the minors. Most major league officials consider Japanese Professional Baseball to be equivalent in talent to AAA or slightly above, so do you own math as to how the competition in Japan's minor leagues translates to MLB. The most important thing, though, is that he was once a teammate of Kosuke Fukudome, and the Cubs seem intent on giving Kosuke a Japanese "buddy" to help him deal with the rigors of big mean American baseball, and this is evidenced by the rumors about Ken Takahashi and the signing of So Taguchi. So if either of these guys (God forbid Both) make the team, then you'd better hope they provide Kosuke with this ridiculous "lift," because otherwise its just 2 (or 3) worthless Japanese players on the roster.

J.R. Mathes, age 27
Height: 6'3'' Weight: 205
Bats: Left Throws: Left

Mathes, a former Boise State standout, was drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round of the 2004 draft, and has been a workhorse in the minors ever since, making at least 24 starts every year from 2005-2008. Last year Mathes represented the Iowa Cubs in the AAA All Star Game, and finished the season 9-5 with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. While he doesn't draw much attention as a future major leaguer (I've seen him in person, his stuff's not overwhelming, I'll just say that), he is an innings eater and will probably make a few starts this spring, and is, sadly, a candidate should enough injuries eat at our starting rotation.

Rocky Roquet, Age 26
Height: 6'2'' Weight: 215
Bats: Right Throws Right

Now somewhere in the back hills of Tennessee there lived a young boy named Rocky Roquet....who hit 97 on the gun, had a 2:1 K's to BB ration last year, and might be a guy worth watching.

Matt Smith, age 29
Height: 6'4'' Weight: 215
Bats: Left Throws: Left

The good: Matt Smith is a former Yankee and Phillie with a career 2.55 ERA in 35 games.
The bad: He's only pitched 24.2 innings, none since 2007, when he had an 11.75 ERA. Also, he has a god awful strike out to walk ratio of 0.96 to 1 (22 K's, 23 BB's)
The good: Could he really be worse than Neal Cotts?

Mike Stanton, age 41
Height: 6'1'' Weight: 215
Bats: Left Throws: Left

Yikes, the left handed Chad Fox is 41 years old, didn't pitch in the majors in 2008, and blew (5.93 ERA, 1.61 WHIP) in his 69 games for Cinncinnati in 2007. But hey, he's still not Neal Cotts.

Jason Waddell, age 27
Height: 6'2'' Weight: 200
Bats: Right Throws: Left

Waddell, a southpaw, spent the last 8 seasons in the Giants farm system, going 18-18 with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, mostly out of the bullpen. This place said he had a "Mike Stanton build," so, there's something they can talk about.

Bill White, age 30
Height: 6'3'' Weight: 225
Bats: Left Throws: Left

A product of the Diamondbacks organization who's seen some action for the Rangers the last two years, White has a 9.45 ERA and a 2.48 WHIP in 17 major league games. In the minors, he's 17-20 with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Nothing to see here, folks.

Tomorrow: The position players (are you ready for So Taguchi?)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day: The 1978 Edition!

How many mediocre third basemen does it take to go 79-83?

Seven! Seven Crappy Third Basemen! Ah Ha Ha Ha!

The 1978 season was the 6th straight non-winning season for the Cubs since Leo Durocher's departure after the 1972 season (the streak would reach 11). At third base, the Cubs third base position, which had been relatively stable in the hands of Bill Madlock from 1974-1976, had been turned over to Steve Ontiveros, who had his best season in 1977 as the Cubs posted their only .500 season of the streak, going 81-81. Hopes were high for Ontiveros and the Cubs going into '78.

Name: Steven Robert Ontiveros
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 185 lb
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1977-1980

Steve Ontiveros came to the Cubs from the Giants before the 1977 in a trade that sent his predecessor, Bill Madlock, to the bay. Ontiveros had his greatest season that year, with an outstanding line of .299/10/68/.390/.423. As usually happens to Cubs players after career years, Ontiveros started the 1978 season poorly in 82 games before suffering a season ending injury in mid July. The injury led to six different starting third basemen, all of whom struggled mightily on offense. Ontiveros would rebound somewhat for the 1979 season with a .285/4/57/.362/.370 line in 152 games, but struggled to a .208/1/3/.330/.286 start in 31 games in 1980, and was released in favor Len Randle. He went on to a 5 year career in Japan before retiring.

Name: Rodney Darrell Scott
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 160 lb.
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1978

The Cubs first choice to replace the injured Ontiveros made 49 starts at the position and was one of the better offensive options of the seven third sackers used that year, with a .282/0/15/.403/.313 line to go along with 27 stolen bases. But, hitting is only half the game and on defense Scott was pathetic, committing 11 errors in his 49 starts at third, adding up to a .929 fielding % (league average that year = .952) and a mediocre 2.44 range factor (league average=2.53). Thus the Cubs were forced to try other options like...

Name: Michael (Mick) Dennis Kelleher
Height: 5'9'' Weight: 176 lb
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1976-1980

Mick Kelleher spent 5 seasons on the north side as a 1970s Augie Ojeda, a tiny, light hitting, solid fielding middle infielder. For 12 starts in 1978, however, he was yet another miserable addition to the revolving door at third base. Kelleher actually had one of his better offensive seasons in 1978 (trust me, for a guy who hit .213 with ZERO homeruns and only 65 RBIs in 11 seasons, that ain't sayin much), going .253/0/6/.304/.263 that year. On the defensive side, Kelleher actually had a 1.000 fielding % in 37 games at third base that year, albeit with very poor range (1.41 range factor). Kelleher left the Cubs after the 1980 season and played with the Tigers and Angels before retiring in 1982, but we're concerned with 1978 here, and his weak bat led to 12 starts for...

Name: David (Davey) Allen Johnson
Height: 6'1'' Weight: 180 lb
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1978

The future manager of the Mets, Reds, Orioles, and Dodgers played the last 24 games of his career in a Cub uniform in 1978 after an August trade brought him over from the Phillies. Johnson posted outstanding numbers for the Cubs (.306/2/6/.393/.490) after a horrible start in Philadelphia (.191/2/14/.284/.281). The 35 year old veteran showed his age in the field, however, making 5 errors in those 12 games and posting an awful .839 fielding %. Johnson retired after the season and started his managerial career with the Mets in 1984, where his team's effective use of motivational tools led to a World Series Championship in 1986. But wait! There's more third basemen to come! Like...

Name: Hector Louis (Dillan) Cruz (Heity)
Height: 5'11'' Weight: 170 lb
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1978, 1981-1982

Cruz started the season as the Cubs 4th outfielder, but also made 7 early season starts at third base. After Cruz went just .237/2/9/.266/.382 in 30 games for the Cubs, he was shipped to the Giants in June. He came back in time for the 1981 and 1982, hitting just .229/7/15/.331/.468 and .211/0/0/.286/.263 before retiring. Had enough yet? No? Well how about our next third baseman, a first round bust...

Name: Eddy William Putnam
Height: 6'1'' Weight: 190 lb
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1976, 1978

The Cubs first round draft pick in the 1975 draft appeared in just 43 games in his career, 22 of them with the Cubs. Putnam made five starts at third in 1978, making 1 error (.950 fielding %) and hitting .200/0/3/.310/.200 in 17 total games. Putnam was traded to the Tigers in 1979 and appeared in 21 games that season. He never appeared in the majors again. Now, last and least...

Name:Rudolph Bartholomew Meoli
Height: 5'9'' Weight: 165 lb
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1978

A little used reserve shortstop, Meoli made 2 starts at third base for the '78 Cubs. In his 47 games that year Meoli hit .103/0/2/.257/.172. For some reason the Phillies signed him for the 1979 season, Meoli's last in the majors.

1978 represented the first year that the 3rd base situation really became problematic for the Cubs, as it would remain until 2003. The seven players used at the position that year combined for a .247/2/40/.338/.312 line with a meager .651 OPS. While Ontiveros returned healthy for the 1979 season, by 1980 things had truly detoriated, leading to Ken Reitz in 1981.

1978: God, that sucked.

MacPhail Reunited With Yet Another MacPhailure

"Yeah. They look pretty messed up to me." "I don't remember asking you to take a look, but thanks."

Corey Patterson, Jason Dubois, Freddy Bynum, Luis Montanez, Scott Moore, and now Felix Pie have all now found their way to Baltimore to be reacquainted with the engineer of their downfalls, Andy MacFail. Pie was traded yesterday for LHP Garrett Olsen and minor league RHP Henry Williamson. Olsen went 9-10 with a 6.65 ERA and a not so great 1.73 WHIP in 26 starts last year, but has the minor league numbers and talent to make him attractive to a team looking for a young starting pitching prospect to replace a departing starter, possibly one whose name rhymes with Bake Cheavy. Williamson has an excellent 5-1 strikeout to walk ratio in two minor league seasons and has held opponents to batting averages of .228 and .221 in that time. The sad part, of course, is that this mean's Felix has officially made this team's roster. Good bye Felix, and no hard feelings, wouldn't want you to get your testes all in a bunch or anything. Ba dum bum pssh!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day: Luis Salazar

Name: Luis Ernesto (Garcia) Salazar
Height: 5'9'' Weight: 180 lb.
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1989-1992

After researching Luis Salazar just one day after Ken Reitz, I've come to the conclusion that the Cubs of the 1980s may or may not have ever actually looked at the stats of the third baseman they wished to acquire. If they had, they might have noticed that Luis Salazar was really Not a good third baseman. At all. Luis, a former Padre, White Sock, and Tiger, came to the Cubs in late in the Cubs 1989 run to the NL East Championship. The Cubs were in need of a new third baseman after incumbent starter Vance Law came down with a bad case of suck and needed to have his .651 OPS removed. Salazar was acquired along with Marvell Wyne from the Padres and got most of the starts at third down the stretch, and actually had the best month of his career, putting up a .325/1/12/.357/.425 line as the Cubs wrapped up their 93-69 regular season and headed into the NLCS against the Giants. Though the Cubs lost the series 4-1, Salazar was one of the few Cubs (other than Mark Grace's insane .647/1/6/.682/1.118! tear) to show up in the series, posting a .368/1/2/.368/.632 line. After the success of the 1989 season, the Cubs had no qualms about heading into 1990 with Salazar as their established third baseman.

The 1990 season, however, was mediocre for both Salazar and the Cubs. As the team fell to 77-85, Salazar posted a .254/12/47/.293/.388 season, one much more in line with his career numbers than the aberration of his 1989 numbers with the Cubs. Refusing to be discouraged by the evidence before their eyes that the 35 year old veteran wasn't very good, the Cubs brought Salazar back for the 1991 season, albeit with the intention of using him to back up super rookie Gary Scott. Scott floundered, leaving Salazar as the starter, and Salazar posted a similar line of .258/14/38/.292/.432 as the Cubs posted an identical number of wins, going 77-83 despite the inspired leadership of Jim Essian. The Cubs remained convinced apparently that Salazar was the glue that held the team together, as they brought him back once more to start the 1992 season. Scott once again began the season as the starter, floundered once more, and opened the door for 98 more games of Salazar at a splendid .208/5/25/.237/.310 clip. Fortunately the Cubs were finally persuaded that Salazar wasn't the long term answer, and brought in Steve Buechele.

The Cubs granted Salazar free agency in November of 1992, and he promptly retired. Salazar is now the hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns, the AA affiliate of the Florida Marlins. I'm assuming plate discipline isn't his forte.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day: Ken Reitz

Name: Kenneth John Reitz
Height: 6'0'' Weight: 185 lb.
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1981

Is it just me or does that hat look like its made of leather? Goes great with the mustache.

Ken Reitz had two things that doomed him in the memories of Chicago Cubs fans. 1) He spent the majority of his career as a St. Louis Cardinal, and 2) he absolutely sucked as a Cub.Reitz was acquired along with Leon Durham (who, you know, Didn't suck) from the Cardinals in the trade that sent all star closer Bruce Sutter down to St. Louis. Reitz came to the Cubs before the 1981 season bring with him a reputation as a great defensive third baseman, nicknamed Zamboni for his ability to scoop up ground balls, with a weak bat and little plate discipline. Reitz had even been an all star in 1980, one of his best all-around seasons (a .300 OBP and a .379 slug. % for a whopping .679 OPS somehow got him an All Star spot?). Reitz brought his glove with him to Chicago, and posted a .977 fielding % (league average that year was .948), and made just 5 errors in 81 games at the hot corner.

His weak stick, however, was downright impotent in the Chicago lineup. Reitz, a career .260 hitter, hit just .215 as a Cub, with only 2 home runs and 28 RBIs, a paltry .261 OBP (not actually much of an aberration, as his career OBP is a Korey Patterson-esque .290), and a pathetic .281 slugging %. In 260 at-bats, Reitz had just 11 extra base hits. With such stars as Reitz (.215/2/28/.261/.281), Ivan DeJesus (.194/0/13/.276/.233-in 403 at bats!), and Pat Tabler (.188/1/5/.281/.267) in the everyday lineup, is it any surprise the Cubs scored only 370 runs (11th of 12th in the NL that year) and went just 39-64 in the strike shortened '81 season?

The 1981 Cubs were significant in that their utter ineptitude at all things baseball related led the complacent Cubs ownership to begin the "fuckin' multifold" changes in the organization that eventually constructed the 96 win 1984 NL East champions. One of those changes included jettisoning Ken Reitz, who was released in April of 1982. Reitz played just 7 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1982 before retiring.

I couldn't find what Reitz is up to today, but I did find this awesome quote by his former manager, Whitey Herzog: "
I used to shave before games. And once Reitz was up at the plate, and he hit the ball, and by the time he got to first base I had to shave again. That’s when I told him he wasn’t going to play." Awesome.

Ken Reitz: 1981's failure at third base.