It Was a Badly Good Season (I Guess), So Now What?

If some Cubs fans considered the 2017 season to be disappointing, then, by comparison, 2018 was an unmitigated disaster.

It certainly feels that way mere hours after a disappointing 2-1, 13-inning loss to the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card game, but it’s not really like that. Or is it? Yes, there were plenty of injuries to deal with. Yes, there were 42 games in 43 days to close the season. Yes, they were tired. (Newsflash: All teams are tired by the end of September.) The simple fact remains that the Milwaukee Brewers caught fire in the final weeks, and the better team won the division. With the St. Louis Cardinals also having an excellent stretch run, the Cubs played like a 3rd place team in the last month, going 17-13 in their final 30 games. Although that seems decent enough with a sizable division lead like they had entering the month, each loss proved crucial with those two teams hot on the heels. Still, 95 wins and a trip to the postseason despite major issues first with the rotation, later with the bullpen, and throughout the season with the lineup, shouldn’t necessarily be something to bemoan. And yet the eye test all year was at best mercurial and at worst, awful.

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So what went wrong?

Typically, most fans wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) gripe too much about a 95-win campaign that had their team as the best in the National League for the majority of the season and make the playoffs. Unless of course, expectations are so high that anything other than a division title and deep postseason run feels like failure. Such is now the state of the Cubs and their fans. Did the players just fail to execute? Were there poor coaching decisions made? Are some of these guys just not what they were expected to be? Did the league adjust? All the above, perhaps. But while the lack of a sustained power run had the Cubs and their fans feeling stuck like a duck in a pen, the issues that led to this quick playoff exit more or less began last year.

0 for the offseason

Winning the offseason seems kind of cool when you’re slated to dominate, but it doesn’t always translate to success. Pitching was addressed last winter by Theo Epstein & Co. in a big way but the moves as a whole failed monumentally. Closer Brandon Morrow was a risk to take on given his injury history, and overuse of him in the second half by Joe Maddon compounded the chances for a problem. Sure enough, what started as elbow pain led to a season-ending shutdown. Yu Darvish was the big splash for the Cubs, but he was awful from the get-go before, aptly, a season-ending injury. Tyler Chatwood was a flier taken by the front office and despite having promising stuff, was even worse than Darvish. Although the team seemed to win games he pitched, he had an amazing inability to throw strikes with any consistency whatsoever. If Chatwood was attempting a pre-spectacles Rick Vaughn impersonation, he nailed it something fierce. The big moves made by the front office in the offseason backfired, no question. (The acquisitions of Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy later on however, were excellent. But that’s another story.)

40 games

That’s how many (39 in the regular season) games the Cubs scored 0 or 1 run. That’s just about every fourth game. That number put them second in MLB, just one behind the hapless Baltimore Orioles who had 40. Now for a team with a powerful, well-rounded and deep lineup, this simply shouldn’t happen. The Cubs still managed to finish 4th in runs scored in the NL, but the biggest dents came before the All-Star break when starting pitching was erratic. After the break, there was a noticeable downslide in production that didn’t level off when the starting pitching got dialed in. They were always fighting a level of disparity there. Nobody expected this hitting crisis though, and yet here it is. Injuries again played a part, as Kris Bryant missed significant time and Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward among others all spent time on the DL at different parts of the season as well. Hey, it happens. But that still doesn’t explain scoring just two runs in the final 22 innings of the season – at home – in crucial games. Not to mention very sporadic run production all throughout September, including splitting a key four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates when they may has well have went to the plate batless during the first two games.

What now?

Changes should at least be coming somewhere in the lineup for 2019. With the exception of a major jump from Javy Baez that put him in MVP consideration, the only consistency was found in Rizzo and 37-year old Ben Zobrist who eclipsed the .300 mark for the first time in his solid career. Heyward and Albert Almora were real good in stretches, but not sustained. Willson Conteras fell off massively in the second half. Daniel Murphy was outstanding when he first joined the club in August before going largely silent in the final couple weeks. There are plenty of adjustments to be made there. Murphy is not likely to be back in ’19, and it may very well be time to move on from some others despite their upside. The twist here is figuring out how to navigate the roster with regard to the checkbook, as entering 2018 the 25-man roster was essentially locked up for the next three years.

As for the staff, that’s another issue altogether. In addition to “Panic Joe’s” (Maddon’s questionable in-game alter-ego) strange tactical style, he also added Jim Hickey and Chili Davis during the offseason to handle the pitching and hitting duties, respectively. The latter of whom is under scrutiny after an offensive season, especially on the vital stretch run, that left a lot to be desired.

“As an offense we need to mature a little more and develop a little more,” Rizzo said. “At times we did this year as a unit. And at times, not so much.”

In the end, the players must execute. But some things are open to further inspection. The offensive struggles, even if indirectly related to Davis’ tutelage, point to another debatable move by Maddon. Coupled with his celebrity manager status and occasional disagreements with Epstein and Jed Hoyer over the usage of his bullpen (which directly led to key injuries), not all may be coming up roses in the clubhouse.

Yet the Cubs wasted little time today announcing that Maddon would return in 2019, the final year of his contract. While quelling any speculation before it got out of hand, this still sets up two subtexts for next season: If the team starts out hot and wins consistently, they’re “playing for Joe.” If they struggle early on, then “Joe must’ve lost the clubhouse. Fire him.” This may or may not affect the simple desire to just play baseball, but it’s worth noting.

In some ways, even despite arguably the best managerial job of his Cubs tenure through most of the season, Joe is further under the microscope than ever before. Should Epstein have let him go, it would not have been unprecedented: The Red Sox, Yankees and Nationals all replaced their managers after making the postseason last year. All the credit in the world can – and should – be given to Maddon for transforming the clubhouse culture and being the ideal ringleader for the new Cubs regime. But it’d be fairly easy to opine that the buck stops there with him. It might be equally easy to draw comparisons to other iconic Chicago coaches who were great with personnel but less so at actual coaching, contributing to a degree of perceived underachievement (see: Mike Ditka). Maybe the $6M on his contract for his final year matters, or maybe Epstein & Co. want to play this second window out with as much common ground as possible. Maybe both.

In any event, some things are due to change, perhaps significantly for 2019.

On a side note, the 2017 and 2018 seasons just go to show how abnormally perfect the 2016 season was for the Cubs in terms of health, production, pitching and defense. It all came together that year in a way that is rarely, if ever, seen. Perhaps that’s why the bar is raised to such a skewed level. But I digress.

Even more so than after the 2017 season, the 2018 winter should be very interesting in Cubland.

Photo credit: (Google search) https://www.thinglink.com/scene/982390609039851522

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The Day I Broke Into Shibe Park

“I figure I might be able to find it on a night like this when the moon turns everything silver, and the evergreen trees look like they’re covered in tinsel.”

W.P. Kinsella, The Valley of the Schmoon

 

October 1, 1970 was a sad night.

Not sad in a truly horrible, end-of-the-world sort of way, but in the way you feel when selling a beloved car or moving out of your childhood home. The way it reminds you of a cherished memory, happy and yet tragic at the same time.

You see, that day was the final game at Connie Mack Stadium, better known as Shibe Park to those of us who grew up nearby lovingly remember it.

Boy, that final game sure was a classic. Even though for the past 15 seasons it was no longer our beloved Athletics on the field, we still cherished every inning played at the ‘ol yard. We had all secretly hoped the game would last extra innings, just to drag out the inevitable end just a bit longer – and it did! When the 10th inning began, for just a second it felt like the game, and the stadium, might last forever. Even after Oscar Gamble’s single drove in Tim McCarver to give the Phillies a 2-1 victory, the echoes didn’t dissipate for what seemed like hours. The looting afterward was not surprising, and even with all that chaos and people running out of the park with everything they could carry – seats, bricks, buckets of dirt and grass, it was still a bit funny to us to see someone running off with…a toilet.

A beat up old toilet with green paint splashed on the tank.

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When the four of us – myself and my childhood friends Charlie, Donnie and Slim – saw this shameless toilet thief, none of us said a word. We just shot a smirk at each other and then proceeded to unbolt seats of our own, the same seats we had occupied for over 40 years, since we first started going to watch the Philadelphia Athletics as kids in the late 1920’s. We were all bummed when the A’s moved to Kansas City at the end of ’54, but we continued to go to Shibe anyway. Not because we were huge fans of the hapless Phillies who’d moved in by then, but we were in love with the ballpark itself. It’s history. It’s feeling. It’s meaning. For it meant something to us, it truly did. That final night reminded me of the first time we visited, or rather broke into, Shibe.

Like most neighborhood kids, we grew up loving baseball and loyally following the A’s. If you lived just a few blocks away you were probably a Phillies fan but where we lived, it was the A’s or nobody. Connie Mack was a God and Shibe Park was his Church. No matter where we were out playing in those summers, our paths always seemed to lead us to the ballpark, like an unseen magnetic force. None of us had attended a real game there yet, but we would always be nearby anyway, soaking up the atmosphere. The iconic four-story tower behind home plate at the corner of Lehigh and 21st, where we knew Mack’s office sat at the pinnacle, was the most important landmark to every eight-year old kid in the area. Sure, we would traipse the few blocks over to the Baker Bowl to see what the Phillies were up to on rare occasion, but it didn’t compare to the vibe at Shibe whatsoever.

One of those summer days in ‘25, Slim earned his nickname, and we earned our stripes.

The A’s were on a western road trip (really the Midwest since no team existed further west of St. Louis in those days), so the neighborhood was quiet and largely empty. We were doing our usual thing, hanging around the park, when Slim, aka Mikey Donatelli, noticed that behind the wooden right field wall near where it joined to the first base grandstands, were some damaged boards. A gap. To the four of us, looking through that hole in the wall out at the empty seats and the vast sea of emerald green grass was like peering through a rip in the veil that separates the earth from heaven. As we noticed there were no security guards nearby, we desperately wanted to get inside the park. Not to mess with or take anything – of course not – but just to experience it firsthand. The problem was, the gap was just too small for us to fit through. Except of course, for Mikey.

We hatched a brilliant plan for him to wiggle through the opening and sprint, hugging the grandstands to minimize his profile, to the first base side concourse and let us in one of the locked grandstand doors. It was almost too easy, even to our youthful minds.

To our amazement, the nefarious scheme worked like a charm. As Mikey slid through the gate and made a beeline to the concourse, we decided his nickname was to be changed from “Teapot” to “Slim.” Nobody really knew where “Teapot” came from anyway, though it was suspected it was given to him by an Aunt after some sort of kitchen mishap. But that’s not important right now. When the door on the 21st street side opened to us, the feeling of euphoria was nearly too much to handle. Instead of doing what most kids would do in that situation – go on the field and run the bases, sit in the dugouts, venture down the tunnel to the clubhouse and secret passages under the stadium – we simply sat. We walked halfway up the third base line, picked four random seats and just sat. And revered. And kept quiet. We were mesmerized.

Before we knew it, nearly an hour had gone by and we didn’t feel too guilty or even apologetic when the good-natured security guard shooed us back out the very door we entered from. Nor were we surprised when our secret gap in the fence was repaired the very next day. But we had accomplished something, we felt, that not only elevated us to grand status in the neighborhood but cemented in us a pure love for a piece of architecture that wouldn’t dissipate. In fact, two years later after much begging and negotiating, all our families agreed to purchase four season tickets, in those very four specific seats. Good thing we did, then, because times got pretty tough a couple years later.

As we were being ushered toward the door, Charlie O’Toole, the quietest of our group despite being part of a boisterous Irish-Italian family was walking several paces behind the rest of us when he spied something. The door to a small storage room at the bottom of the rotunda was left open. Peeking inside, Charlie noticed among the clutter a few buckets of used baseballs in the room. Never one to miss out on a souvenir, he pocketed four of them, one for each of us, to mark the occasion. I still have mine today, and I assume the other guys do too. I often stare at it while it’s perched in its case, along with lots of other A’s memorabilia, and next to the seat I left Shibe with that night. It’s impossible to know the true story of each ball of course, but I think it’s better that way. To me, I believed my ball was once in play, right there on the majestic Shibe Park field, and used by the game’s greats. It was once, perhaps more than once, slugged by Babe Ruth. It was a would-be triple robbed by Tris Speaker. It was slung by Walter Johnson and gracefully fielded by Eddie Collins. I’ll always believe all the above are true when I look at the ball that Charlie confiscated for me. Along with the seat, holding on to pieces of Shibe allow her to exist even though she’s gone.

The storage room, Charlie said, also served as a small bathroom. As he pocketed the baseballs, the splashes of green paint he noticed all over the toilet wouldn’t seem significant to us for another 45 years.

 

The Mays Malaise

Coincidences happen, of course. But on occasion, some situations can foretell what’s to come. Baseball analysts and sabermetricians have been on the hunt for the Holy Grail metric; that figure which can predict what a player will, or at least very likely do, for years. Where Carl Mays was concerned, predictability was nearly impossible. Actually, it was scary.

The submariner had something of a tumultuous career, and a personality that wasn’t quite favorable among players and coaches in the majors. Moreover, he was a spitballer, and combined with his unique delivery and blazing fastball it made him a formidable, if not dangerous pitcher.

This stigma was strengthened in 1915 during a fiery encounter with Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. Mays, pitching for the Red Sox, repeatedly threw at Cobb each at-bat during a game, prompting Cobb to throw his bat at Mays in the eighth inning. Once things calmed down, Mays responded by plunking Cobb on the wrist (1). For whatever malice he may or may not have pitched with, he appeared to have no fear or shame.

Still with the Red Sox in 1918, Mays and his team were enjoying a fantastic season, one that would end with a World Series Championship over the Chicago Cubs. Mays was the ace of the staff that season, going 21-13 with a 2.21 ERA, tossing 30 complete games and tacking on eight shutouts over 293 innings pitched. Earlier in the season on May 20, an incident occurred which, unbeknownst at the time, would portend an eerie and deadly second act. In the third inning of an 11-1 rout of the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park, Mays let loose a pitch that drilled the great Tris Speaker right on the head. The extreme nature of this beaning only firmed up the already deplorable M.O. that Mays garnered. Nobody could’ve seen what would happen two years later.

In keeping pace with the high-high’s and low-low’s of his career, later in the 1918 season on August 30, Mays became the only pitcher in Red Sox history to throw two complete game wins in the same day. Both wins were integral in keeping the Red Sox atop the pennant hunt.

The frightening beanball Mays laid on Speaker’s noggin was, in hindsight at least, notoriously prophetic. In 1920, Mays, then pitching for the Yankees, would be the instigator of tragedy. In one of the most infamous moments in baseball history, Mays hit Indians’ shortstop Ray Chapman on the skull, killing him. Mays always vehemently denied throwing at Chapman intentionally, and even went so far as to attempt blame on Chapman for crowding the plate. Two years, two Indians players hit on the head, and one sparkling young player killed. This incident would haunt Mays for the rest of his life.

Chapman’s death ignited a series of rules changes that are still in use today. Beginning shortly after the tragedy, umpires began to insert new baseballs into the game when the one in play became scuffed or too dirty. The spitball and other doctored-up pitches were outlawed, and although it took over thirty years to be fully integrated, batting helmets began to be used.

Mays’s career continued with success, despite a permanently damaged reputation after the Chapman beaning. In 1921, Mays had the best season of his career when he led the league with 27 wins and 336 innings pitched. He helped lead the Yankees into the World Series against the New York Giants but his sterling season was marred amid accusations that he was offered a bribe from gamblers to throw Game 4 of the World Series. As the alleged story goes, Mays’ wife Marjorie signaled her husband that she had received the bribe money and the pitcher was now in the bag. Mays, who had been dominant up until then, started crossing up his pitch signals and became lackadaisical, allowing the Giants to clobber him and take a lead they would not relinquish (2.) The Giants went on to win that game and eventually the best-of-nine-series, five games to three. Though cleared of any wrongdoing, the rumors of conspiring with gamblers felt like salt in the wound of baseball, with the Black Sox scandal of 1919 being so fresh in everyone’s minds.

Mays would pitch until 1929, ending a 15-year career and all told, his numbers were excellent. He compiled a record of 206-127, with 29 shutouts and a 2.92 ERA. He won 20-plus games five times. Still, he has been left out of the Hall of Fame, despite having career statistics that would make him worthy of the accolade. His ugly reputation, combined with suspicion of throwing a World Series game and Chapman’s death are the likely scapegoats of Mays not being enshrined.

Sources

(1) http://www.thedeadballera.com/prelude.html

(2) “1921: The Yankess, The Giants, & the Battle For Baseball Supremacy In New York:, Lyle Sptatz and Steve Steinberg

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS191805200.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BOS/1918.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1921_WS.shtml

http://nationalpastime.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Mays

This 75th is a Real Peach! (Preview)

The state of Illinois celebrates its bicentennial in 2018, and subsequently, another milestone celebration is to take place: The 75th anniversary of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Why is the 75th of the AAGPBL significant where Illinois is concerned you may ask? The answer is because Illinois’ own Rockford Peaches were one of the original four teams in the league.

Image result for Rockford Peaches 1943
Rockford Peaches, 1943

In recognition of both the state’s 200th and the Peaches’ 75th, a feature story is set to appear in Celebrate Illinois: A Bicentennial Retrospective, a special edition of Shaw Media’s own Neighborhood Tourist magazine this June. The following are nonlinear excerpts from the piece:

Heading into 1943, baseball was in jeopardy amid the throes of World War II. With resources being shifted to the war effort and pro teams’ rosters depleted due to military induction, the professional game was in danger of being stopped. It was during this uncertain time that Major League Baseball executives stepped in to pursue a creative way to help keep America’s pastime continuing. Chewing gum magnate and then-owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip K. Wrigley, along with Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey among others, hatched their solution: The AAGPBL. Four Midwestern teams made up the original league: The Racine Belles, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets, and Rockford Peaches.

The Peaches played their home games at venerable Beyer Stadium, located at 245 15th Avenue in Rockford. They were one of only two teams to play in every season of the AAGPBL’s 12-year history (South Bend Blue Sox) and were also one of the most successful, having won championships in 1945, 1948, 1949 and 1950. During that time the Peaches regularly drew large crowds to Beyer and became both a local and national sensation. With their team name derived from their unique peach-colored uniforms (actual peaches were used in the dye to make them), fans were joyed to watch them play the game – in its best, hardnosed form – but with some extra on-field theatrics where applicable. When asked about the latter, Peaches player Eileen Burmeister shrugged, and with a thick layer of self-deprecation, said “If God meant for us to play baseball, he would’ve made us any good at it.” The league became so popular in fact, that the original plans to end it in conjunction with the war’s completion in 1945 were shelved and the AAGPBL continued until 1954.

In the ensuing decades after the league’s end, much of its appreciation had sadly waned. That is, until Hollywood stepped up. While it was largely a work of fiction, Penny Marshall’s wonderful 1992 movie A League of Their Own reminded the masses what the Peaches and the AAGPBL meant to baseball and America. The influence this pop culture parallel of an important historical time had on people like Laura Daniels, a high school English teacher from Joliet and aficionado of the Peaches, was palpable. “After seeing the movie, I began to learn more about the real-life teams in the league. As a baseball fan, I found their backstories fascinating.” Daniels said. The movie ignited nationwide renewed interest in the league and the genuine respect found therein by people like Daniels was common. “As a curious little girl at the time, I found confidence and began to have genuine admiration of these women. We should be so lucky to have had that much historical impact literally built in our own backyards.” The movie was a smash, and it reminded folks that nearly 50 years earlier, the real Peaches were just getting started.

Wrought with the fright of the war, a part of America’s greatest generation answered the call in a different, remarkable way. Though the scale of the cultural impact these women had on the game of baseball as well as the nation itself wouldn’t be fully realized until years later, the Rockford Peaches and every other team in the AAGPBL showed everyone how America’s game is truly more than just a game.

Happy 75th, Peaches!

… full story coming June 2018.

 

Sources: http://www.rrstar.com/article/20140525/SPECIAL/140529678

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockford_Peaches

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-American_Girls_Professional_Baseball_League

Photo Credit: http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/teams/1943/rockford-peaches/2

Angry Attack: Cubs’ visit to Rivals Park in 1920 marred by stabbing

The following is non-edited, curated content from a story I wrote that appeared in the Joliet Herald-News on March 21, 2018. 

 

Joliet was a happening place nearly a century ago.

With burgeoning local businesses and a strong sense of civic pride, plus the bonus of being a just short train ride to Chicago, “J-Town” was the place to be in a growing suburbia.

Social pastimes were also wildly popular as the roaring twenties began, in which baseball featured prominently. As it still is today, Joliet and the surrounding areas were a hotbed of baseball talent.

The Joliet Rivals Club, founded in 1907, were no strangers to baseball, having fielded local teams dating back to their early years. Even the Chicago Cubs paid a visit in the fall of 1920 to play against the Joliet Rivals, a semi-pro team named after the very park they played at. Sources also refer to the team by their former name, the Rivneas, a combined name of the Rivals and Northeastern A.C.’s of Joliet, who’s World War I-era roster was comprised of several former major and minor leaguers.

That the Rivals-Cubs game itself was played was not surprising, as in those days most major league clubs scheduled exhibitions against local semi-pro or college teams on their days off. These unofficial games were a means for the team to have real game action instead of a practice, and to give local teams and their fans a chance to see big league stars in action up close.

One such contest took place here in Joliet, on Thursday, September 30, 1920. The circumstances that surrounded this game however, have made it a rather infamous, if forgotten, episode of Joliet folklore.

With the Cubs en route, the buildup to the game was strongly publicized, with multiple articles appearing the week of the game in the Joliet Evening Herald News. An overflow crowd of more than 5,000 paid spectators (roughly 13% of Joliet’s population at the time), turned out on game day, more than twice filling the 2,000-seat capacity of Rivals Park (formerly Theiler’s Park before the Rivals Club purchased the property in 1919), on the corner of Broadway and Russell streets. Hundreds more crowded along the streets beyond the outfield, battling for the slightest vantage point. A parade to the ballpark from the downtown Elks Club where the Cubs were staying got the festivities underway, and once at the park fans shelled out 25 cents for a grandstand ticket, while the big spenders handed over a whopping $1 for a reserved box seat. Joliet mayor William Barber added to the fanfare by tossing the ceremonial first pitch on that autumn afternoon.

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Rivals Park in Joliet, IL circa 1920.

Joliet native Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbreads” Bailey took the mound for the Cubs in what was one of his only six career starts. Bailey, primarily a relief pitcher in his three-year major league career, held a 4 to 1 lead in the fifth inning when the Rivneas mounted a furious comeback that the Cubs couldn’t answer. Much to the delight of the overflow crowd, the Joliet club emerged victorious by a final score of 5-4. This of course was a tremendous triumph for the hometown team to knock off the Cubs, exhibition game or not. But the excitement didn’t end there.

Immediately following the game, as the Cubs players walked to waiting cabs to be taken back to their hotel, a fan emerged from the grandstand and waylaid Cubs third baseman Buck Herzog, igniting a fierce fight. During the scuffle, a friend of the instigating Jolietan brandished a knife and slashed Herzog across the hand and leg. Seeing the brawl unfold, two Joliet players, Frank Murphy and Nick Carter stepped in to subdue the attackers, ending the melee. Herzog returned to his hotel, no worse for wear except for what was later called a “slight scratch” on his hand.

As the story goes, the fan accused Herzog of being “…one of those crooked Chicago ballplayers” before launching his assault. This is significant when considering the motive behind the attack. It’s a longshot, but there is the possibility that the fan, if only a casual one, got his Chicago teams confused and was mistakenly referring to Buck Herzog as Buck Weaver, who just that very week was suspended along with seven of his teammates by Charles Comiskey amid accusations of throwing the 1919 World Series. This misidentified burst of violence then would be doubly ignorant if so, since Weaver’s banishment was highly unjust itself (though that’s another story altogether). But in an era long before the internet or even player names and numbers on their jerseys, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the attacker assumed this third basemen nicknamed “Buck” from Chicago was in fact the other third baseman nicknamed “Buck” from Chicago.

On the contrary, it is much more likely that the attacker was in fact referring to the well-known, open accusations Buck Herzog received just a few weeks earlier for conspiring to throw a game on August 31st against the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

“I’m sorry it occurred,” Herzog said, “but I couldn’t resist punching that fellow when he called me a crook.”

Although gambling on, and even throwing games had been occurring for decades, the breaking news of the Black Sox scandal forced the game of baseball at all levels to take a long, hard look at itself as it faced an uncertain future. If an outside force such as gambling could infiltrate baseball, heralded as the cleanest of games, then anyone accused of conspiring against the game was met with a multitude of harsh reactions. We will likely never know the full truth of the reason behind the attack on Herzog at Rivals Park that day, but it is interesting to speculate on both possibilities nonetheless.

Baseball continued as usual at Rivals Park until 1934, when the ballpark was redesigned to accommodate professional softball and later Little League baseball on the site. In doing so, Joliet’s first illuminated softball diamond was conceived. In recent decades, the Rivals Club has shifted focus away from organized sports, and now shares the lot with Haunted Trails amusement park. Yet the historic club remains an important, active participant in an ever-changing, but still baseball-rich Joliet, much as it did in 1907.

And certainly as it did when the Cubs came to town.

Special thanks and photo credit to Richard Rivera, Joliet Rivals Club President.

 

 

Sources:

Joliet Rivals Club, A Centennial Celebration: 1907-2007 by Marianne Wolf

Joliet Evening Herald News, September 26-Oct 1, 1920, microfilm at the Joliet Public Library

Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 1, 1920

365 Oddball Days in Chicago Cubs History by John Snyder

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=MT19201001.2.25

 

 

A Lucky Bounce (or Three): Washington’s Wild World Series Win.

Seven games, four decided by one run, and two going to extra innings. When all was said and done, the 1924 World Series was an absolute classic.

And maybe one of the strangest, too. Particularly Game 7.

John McGraw led his powerhouse New York Giants into Griffith Stadium on the 10th of October, hoping to steal the series from the hometown Washington Senators and secure his third world championship in four years. The Senators’ player-manager Bucky Harris, along with ace and Hall of Famer Walter Johnson – and perhaps a bit of divine intervention – had other plans, however.

To this point, the series was a seesaw battle, with each team winning alternate games, sometimes in sloppy fashion. Odder still, was that the great Walter Johnson had pitched far below his potential and had taken losses in Games 1 and 5. Running out of arms, options and luck, Harris was in need of a little help if his Washington club was going to get their rings.

Washington starter Curly Ogden took the hill but was pulled after facing just two batters and retiring one, as he gave way to George Mogridge. Apparently, Harris started the righty Ogden so that McGraw would be forced to load his lineup with left-handed hitters who would then have to face the lefty Mogridge unprepared. The ploy worked, as Mogridge would be solid over the next 4 2/3, allowing one earned run and scattering four hits. Firpo Marberry came on in relief in the sixth, but after two unearned runs swiftly crossed the plate the Senators found themselves in a 3-1 deficit entering the late innings. Marberry shut down the Giants in the seventh and eighth, all while the Giants starting pitcher Virgil Barnes was cruising, only allowing one run on a Bucky Harris homer in the fourth.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Harris inserted pinch hitter Nemo Liebold, who had previously appeared in both the 1917 and 1919 World Series’ with the White Sox. Liebold lashed a double, followed by a single by catcher Muddy Ruel. Bennie Tate came in to pinch hit for Marberry, his job done for the day, and walked to load the bases. Suddenly Barnes’ sterling efforts were coming to a screeching halt. Harris stepped to the plate and got the extra help he sorely needed, as a seemingly routine grounder to third basemen Freddie Lindstrom took a wild hop over his head, plating two runs and tying the game. The 31,667 at Griffith Stadium tore in to a frenzy, with new life late in the contest.

With few choices on remaining arms, Harris called upon Johnson to step to the bump in the ninth. Despite his lackluster performances earlier in the series, “The Big Train” began to completely shut the Giants down from the jump. After failing to score in the bottom frame, Game 7 was headed to extras, and Johnson continued to dismantle Giants’ batsmen in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings as well. It was then in the bottom of the 12th, where a little more assistance from the ether was made available. With one out, Giants pitcher Jack Bentley got Ruel to loop a foul pop to catcher Hank Gowdy, who unfortunately stumbled over his own discarded mask and was unable to make the play. On the next pitch, Ruel ripped a double to left, bringing up Johnson. The Big Train rapped a grounder to Lindstrom’s left, where he was unable to handle another bad hop, putting runners on first and second with one out. Center fielder Earl McNeely stepped to the box and the standing room only crowd at the ‘Griff was hoping for one more miraculous bounce. Their prayers were answered, as McNeely found a hole on the left side by way of yet another unlucky hop, plating Ruel for the series’ winning run. Sometimes, you just need the ball to bounce your way a time or two…or three. After the game, losing pitcher Bentley summed up the bizarre afternoon:

“That was one of the strangest games I ever played in. With one out, Hank Gowdy did a sun dance on Ruel’s pop foul and stepped into his mask and dropped the ball. Ruel doubled and then there was an error at short, then McNeely hit that grounder. That was a helluva way to lose a World Series.”

The championship was the first and only one for the Senators in Washington. Decades later, the franchise would move to Minnesota, where the Twins would grab World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. The Senators would win the American League pennant again the following year in 1925, but would lose to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yet for that one magical day in ’24,  Harris, Johnson, and a few wild bounces would ensure that Washington would reach baseball’s pinnacle.

‘Tis a weird game, folks.

Checkout some amazing video highlights of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2AN9IDDLqg

Sources: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1386103-washington-nationals-remembering-the-1924-world-series

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192410100.shtml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curly_Ogden

Yu essentially have three years

Ok, so while that headline is just one of countless puns associated with new Cubs ace Yu Darvish’s first name, it’s more or less true: The Cubs have an extremely encouraging three-year window that begins now.

Call it the second three-year window of Theo’s plan, if you will.

The first such pane was a rousing success from 2015-2017, with three straight trips to the NLCS bracketing that oh-so-sweet World Series title in ’16. With pitchers and catchers commencing their first workout of the 2018 season later this week, Phase 2 of the plan has begun with a bang, with the signing of Darvish to a 6 year/$126 million (possibly $150 with incentives) contract. While seemingly a lot of cash, this deal puts Darvish’s AAV at $21 million and even with that hit, the Cubs are still well-under the luxury tax limit which means if Theo & Co. need to add a piece at the break, they’ll be in a very comfortable position to do so.

On the roster side, assuming that any opt outs don’t occur for at least three seasons (which very well could be by design as you’ll see), this Cubs rotation as it looks right now is solidified for at least that long. Jon Lester has three years left on his original deal, Kyle Hendricks won’t be in the arbitration camp for another year, Jose Quintana should stay put for another three years if the Cubs pick up his options, and another new Cub, Tyler Chatwood, inked a three year deal too.

Breaking the rotation down in terms of rollout, though it’s anyone’s guess as to how skipper Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey will adjust it, the rotation could look like this: Darvish – Lester – Quintana – Hendricks – Chatwood, with Mike Montgomery in the very valuable long relief/spot-starting role. I’d think most Cubs fans would feel pretty confident in such a staff, and rightfully so, as it’s one of the best in baseball.

Factor in the big paydays that are coming in the not too distant future for several of the superstar position players, and you have a pretty enviable situation with at least two and likely three years with excellent chances for more deep playoff runs with this roster effectively locked up. And that’s just the immediate future.

Of course, the Cubs expect to be good for many more years after these next three and there are a couple of huge factors to facilitate that long-term success of the club. First, there are some very lucrative revenue streams that are either just starting to flow in or have yet to be tapped, highlighted by a mega TV deal after the 2019 season. Secondly, behind the scenes of all these big club goings-on, is that this steadiness allows proper time and resources to replenish and restock the farm system with the best talent the front office can find. History shows they have a pretty good track record of such a thing.

Once again, the Cubs front office has made moves that show they’re not only going for it right now, but they have orchestrated it with a tremendous business savvy that will serve the organization well for many years. Buckle up, Cubs fans. Yu (ok, sorry!) won’t want to miss this.