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.