Heyward Injury Another Chance For Master Mixologist Maddon

If the St. Louis Cardinals ever did write some mythical book on how to play baseball, Chapter One would be titled “How To Win With Injuries.” Cubs skipper Joe Maddon may need to take a page from that chapter, right now.

First, Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season in a horrific collision in Arizona in early April. Now, Jason Heyward suffers an injury while making an absolutely incredible catch in San Francisco. The nature of Heyward’s injury, or the time he may be out, has yet to be determined at the time of this writing.

The catch itself, was nothing short of amazing. According to StatCast, the ball hit by Denard Span traveled 385 feet with an exit velocity of 103mph. It sailed out to the deepest part of AT&T Park, nicknamed “Triple’s Alley” for good reason. Heyward somehow tracked it down before crashing, in a torso-twisting fashion, into the wall, suffering an apparent oblique/midsection injury. Very, very few players could have made that catch.

To throw salt in the wound, the kneejerk reactions were brutal. One may expect some jabs from Cardinals fans over this, but oddly enough some of the most idiotic viewpoints came from Cubs fans and even local radio personalities who ran the gamut in social media commentary from being glad he got hurt “because he wasn’t producing anyway,” to criticizing his effort on the play because it was “meaningless.” Seriously. Maybe it’s just me, but there are two principles I’ve always stuck by, in any sport, or really any situation in life itself:

  1. Never, EVER, celebrate or be glad when someone gets hurt.
  2. Never, EVER, criticize, judge, or blame someone for giving 100%.

How long Heyward may be out remains to be seen, and (most) Cubs fans are hoping for the best case scenario. For while his bat was just slowly heating up, his defense has been incendiary from day one, and proof that run prevention can be equally as important as run creation. It’s a shame that some fans forget that fact. In the meantime, this gives Crazy Joe Maddon another chance to play toy soldiers, something he loves doing. Matt Szczur coming off the DL will be a much needed element, in addition to extended outfield time for Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler. For the latter, let’s face it, his table is ready. In a perhaps ironic twist, Soler was a star in last night’s game, with two hits including a home run and several excellent defensive plays. He will need to continue that production as he has quickly gone from a useful piece to a key cog.

Read that chapter, Crazy Joe.

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Those Baseball Gods, They’re Funny Guys

Baseball is the weirdest of all games, that much we know. It also provokes intense amounts of superstition, sometimes to ridiculous levels, in players, coaches and fans alike. At times like these, or when any sort of streak is apparent, it’s difficult for some of us not to stop and wonder, “hmm…”

With the red hot starts for both the White Sox (15-6 and the best record in the AL) and the Cubs (15-5 and the best record in the NL), naturally much “what if” chatter, often of the absurd variety, has begun. But certain situations have arisen during the course of this otherwise normal business day, however, that are likely pure coincidence, but peculiar nonetheless. For me personally, those who know me understand that my superstitions and awkward OCD routines are borderline lunacy. I may reach far in connecting my illogical-logical dots, but when sequences like this happen, I skypoint to the Baseball Gods with a knowing “I hear ya, fellas!” Take today for example:

  • Several callers, texters and tweeters to AM 670 The Score this morning were posing questions like “Are these Sox for real?,” “What if the Cubs and Sox were to meet in the World Series? Would the city survive?,” “Could we have a repeat of 1906?” and so on. Nothing unusual there, but keep reading…
  • At a routine meeting, it became known that my client is the great-niece of former White Sox catcher Billy Sullivan, who played in the 1906 World Series as part of the infamous “Hitless Wonders” against the Cubs. I’ve known this client for years and never knew this amazing fact. Billy’s son, Bill Jr., also had a long MLB career and played in the 1940 World Series, becoming the first father/son duo to play in the Fall Classic. The rest of her family are Cubs fans and recently posed the question, “what if they play each other in the…” oh stop me, you get the idea.
  • At a quick glance, there are downright eerie comparisons between Sullivan’s career and that of current Cubs veteran catcher David Ross. Eerie as in, they’re virtually the same player. (More on this in an upcoming article.)
  • After my meeting, the managing editor in my office (and a huge Mets fan), asked me if I think the Sox are for real and would the city survive if there ever was a Cubs/Sox World Series? He did not pay attention to the radio station chatter that I did this morning, or knew of my meeting. It was a random conversation. By this time I was literally laughing.
  • The Cubs currently are on pace to match or exceed the 1906 Cubs .763 winning percentage, while the White Sox current team batting average is right on pace with their 1906 counterparts, hence the nickname “Hitless Wonders.” Neither of these is likely to happen, but it’s a fun comparison nonetheless.

Am I suggesting that the stars are aligned, that “this is the year” (a battle cry that this Cubs fan has grown to completely despise), or that both teams are destined for a 1906 rematch in the 2016 World Series? Of course not. It’s only April after all. But in the here and now, both teams are playing strong, inspired baseball and winning, at the same time, and at a pace not seen in decades.

Granted, these little situations are hardly connected, except for their coincidental nature amid much excitement for both teams. But with my acknowledgement of the sheer bizarre, and belief that some driving, external, ethereal force contributes to the strangeness of our pastime, I wonder, a little bit, if the Baseball Powers-That-Be are smirking.

Just a little.

MLB’s Noble Efforts Stretch Far Back In Time

New York City, Sunday, April 17, 1912.

In what was an unscheduled exhibition, and a rare Sunday game, The New York Giants and New York Highlanders (before they were officially named the Yankees) played a game at the Polo Grounds to raise money for survivors of the HMS Titanic, which sank just a few days earlier. This was also the very first Sunday game between Major League teams at the legendary ballpark.

A huge crowd turned out to the old ballfield on Coogan’s Bluff to see the Giants wallop the visiting Yanks, 11-2. Over $9,000 (then a very large sum of money), was raised in the effort from fans buying a special game program in lieu of a ticket.

104 years later, Major League Baseball’s various philanthropic and community efforts continue, though it’s interesting to trace such endeavors back over a century in the past.

Source: http://www.nationalpastime.com

A Wrong That Needs Righting (preview)

“Though they are hopeless and heartless, the White Sox have a hero. He is George Weaver, who plays and fights at third base. Day after day Weaver has done his work and smiled. In spite of the certain fate that closed about the hopes of the Sox, Weaver smiled and scrapped. One by one his mates gave up. Weaver continued to grin and fought harder….Weaver’s smile never faded. His spirit never waned….The Reds have beaten the spirit out of the Sox all but Weaver. Buck’s spirit is untouched. He was ready to die fighting. Buck is Chicago’s one big hero; long may he fight and smile.

Ross Tenney, Cincinnati Post, October 10, 1919

For nearly 100 years, the story of the infamous Black Sox has been an integral, and extremely sad element of baseball lore. Among the eight banned players, much hype and endless support has been proclaimed for the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson, a Hall of Fame-worthy player who was banned as part of the fix. But one other accused player really took it on the teeth, forever removed from the game for no other reason than to serve as a scapegoat for a precedent which theretofore did not exist.

If anyone among the eight has served his time and deserves reinstatement, it’s not Joe Jackson. It’s Buck Weaver.

To be continued…

Fowler Creates More Options, Added Flexbility For Maddon

It was a confusing sequence of events on Thursday, Febuart 25th, 2016.

Kicking it off was the announcement of outfielder Chris Coghlan being traded to Oakland for RHP Aaron Brooks, a seemingly odd move given Coghlan’s value and Brooks’ small career sample size of just 15 games, with unimpressive numbers. This was a head scratcher. Why would the Cubs ship out a key depth guy for an unproven arm they don’t really need? An astute coworker of mine raised an eyebrow at the situation, claiming there had to be more to this deal.

There was. Ten minutes later, it was announced that Dexter Fowler was back.

Now this was a heretofore unfathomable situation that has unfolded. Many Cubs fans, writers and insiders, myself included, had speculated that Jorge Soler could be traded, likely to Cleveland or Tampa Bay, and that maybe Fowler would come back since he had yet to sign elsewhere after rejecting the initial qualifying offer back in November. An entire offseason later and Soler was still a Cub, plus Fowler finally had a multi-year deal on the table in Baltimore. No scenario was possible to have both Fowler and Soler on the same roster again, especially after picking up Jason Heyward, right? Wrong. With Coghlan moved to Oakland, and the Fowler deal with the Orioles incomplete, Theo Epstein, the puzzlemaster extraordinaire that he is, inked Fowler and opened up a world of possibilities for manager Joe Maddon.

Such possibilities include the ability to have Fowler, valuable as a switch-hitting leadoff man with power, start in CF, thus moving Jason Heyward to right, his natural position. Soler, in turn, can platoon in LF with Kyle Schwarber. The genius of that move, is that none of the big bats are sacrificed in the lineup, and there will always be one or more power guys to come off the bench. This also takes some defensive pressure off of Schwarber, and gives Maddon a myriad of lineup options against either left or right-handed opposing starting pitchers. In short, it’s a perfect scenario. On paper, anyway.

As we get the 2016 season underway, this is the most versatile, deep, talented, and potent roster the Cubs have had in many, many years. With division foes St. Louis and Pittsburgh to contend with, a bloodbath in the NL Central will surely ensue. But one thing is for sure: There can be no more excuses for the Cubs. Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s vision is right now.

Connecting the Final Cubs’ Dots

All good things come to an end. Except in this case…

One good (or bad, depending on your preference) thing will be ending soon. As the offseason winds down, so does the once-enormous number of quality free agents available, as well as some long-rumored trade deals that are on the hook for the Cubs.

It’s been a weakly kept secret that the Cubs are looking for another arm in the rotation, while several teams are interested in one of the Cubs’ hot young bats. Many have been the times where IF Javy Baez and/or OF Jorge Soler have been mentioned in potential deals with teams, notably Cleveland and Tampa Bay, both of whom are in love with the young player(s). Among those free agents still available, is CF Dexter Fowler. There is one scenario where resigning Fowler, who initially rejected the Cubs’ qualifying offer in November, would make perfect sense.

Cleveland has been highly interested in Soler for some time, and a deal involving P Carlos Carrasco would be a nice fit. Should the Cubs trade Jorge Soler, the very next move would ideally be to sign Fowler, or vice versa. It’s a simple matter of connecting the dots. With Soler out of RF, the Cubs can move newly acquired Jason Heyward over to right, his natural position, and have Fowler patrol center. In addition, this would effectively load the Cubs lineup (even more than it already is), for with Fowler you have a table setter who scores runs and also has some added power.

Other potential suitors for Soler include Tampa Bay, who have been in pretty regular talks of late, for a deal for P Jake Odorizzi. Should the Cubs not want to move Soler or Baez, there are plenty of big prospect bats available that would be attractive for any number of teams.

In all, these are good problems to have. I for one, believe the Soler-Heyward-Fowler carousel, as long as they’re adding a strong SP in the process, would be the best scenario for the Cubs.

But then, how often do we get to have our cake and eat it too?

The Jason Heyward Deal

As the dust settles from the recent Jason Heyward transaction, here’s a few random thoughts:

1. Is 184mil a lot? Yes, but not as much as what other teams, including STL were offering. With huge revenue streams coming in, and looking at his AAV, it’s almost a bargain in this market.

2. I fully understand some (not all) Cardinals fans being salty about the deal but the ones wishing he gets injured, dies, or Wrigley Field burns down, that’s overboard. But hey, Cubs fans would say stuff like that too if the situation were reversed and we all know it. Both fanbases are passionate about their teams—lets all agree on that. We all know the division race will be intense and if some extra jabs among fans tosses a little fuel on the fire, I’m all for that. And it’s GREAT for baseball!

3. Cubs have spent a lot in FA this year, because well, they can. Hopefully it pays off.

4. As a Cubs fan, I’d be lying if I said I don’t somewhat fear another 2004 (not in terms of the team, obviously, but the season). There is legit hype now and the target is on the Cubs’ back. Just play. Don’t pressure it any more. Crazy Joe, this is where you do your thing.

5. It’s awfully nice to have legit baseball banter in December.

6. The recent moves, combined with how last season ended, will fuel the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry tenfold. The games will be extra intense this year.

7. Is it Spring yet? Hurry up February!