24 in 24 Has Been a Rough Ride

Beginning back on June 17, the Cubs entered a brutal stretch of 24 games in 24 days, with the bulk of those on the road. With six games remaining in that block, it’s been a far from enjoyable marathon.

The 24-game batch got off to a roaring start with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. But then St. Louis rolled into town on June 20, sweeping the Cubs in three, and triggering the first four-game losing streak for the Northsiders, capped off by a loss at Miami. After dropping two out of three to the Marlins, the Cubs rebounded with a road sweep of the hapless Reds, only to then be decimated in four straight by the Mets. The Reds came into Wrigley and extracted a little revenge, grabbing two out of three, bringing us up to the current date, a day after the Atlanta Braves steal a win at Wrigley in a makeup game from April.

In all, the Cubs have managed just a 5-13 record in their last 18 games, including two separate four-game losing streaks. What is happening here?

In short, they look tired. It’s no excuse, but over the last few weeks, certain things are very noticeable. First and foremost, the starting pitching, which has been the bread and butter all season, is not nearly as sharp. One through five in the rotation have become prone to ineffectiveness, high pitch counts, walks, and giving up home runs. A lot of home runs in fact. In various times during this stretch the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Mets have all bashed Cubs pitchers to 7+ runs in a game. Much of the defense hasn’t looked as sleek-footed either, adding to the struggles. Part of this conundrum can be traced to who’s behind the plate. While rookie phenom Willson Contreras has performed very well in his limited time, it’s a still a small sample size to this point. Miguel Montero has struggled mightily all season both in the field and behind the plate, and with a long stint on the DL one may wonder if he’s been really hurt all season. That leaves 39-year-old David Ross, who has been highly touted this year, and for good reason. The simple fact is the best version of this Cubs team, at least defensively, is when Ross is on the field. The snag there is you just can’t play Ross daily, and now he’s on the 7-day DL for concussion protocol. With a history of concussions in his career, there’s no telling how another bell-ringing could affect ‘ol Gramps.

Offensively there has been a lot of inconsistency as well. Whether that’s partially due to injuries (Dexter Fowler’s absence has been extremely impactful) or virtually a new lineup every day,  it’s hard to tell. There have been some bright spots: Rookies Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras have begun their MLB careers with distinction, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to slug well.

The good news: The Cubs still hold an 8 game lead in the NL Central, and are 19 games over .500 for the season. As we’re seeing, it’s great they got off to such a roaring start and built that cushion, because things change faster than people think in the game of baseball. More good news: All the above is correctable. Players will get healthy, pitching and defense can get sharper, and the bats can find consistency. It’s not a question of if.

There’s a whole half of baseball left to be played. Besides, I’m sure most Cubs fans would rather they struggle in June-July than September-October, right?

Yet Another Historical Parallel for the 2016 Cubs

It’s been a rather magical start to the 2016 season for the Chicago Cubs, with many eerie historical parallels that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Tonight, another notch in the history gunbelt was created, as the Cubs now have the best run differential since the 1905 New York Giants.

2005-06-29-moonlight

Why is this particularly significant? Well, one of the players on that Giants team was none other than Archibald “Moonight” Graham, of Field of Dreams fame. In the movie, it was stated Graham played for the Giants in 1922, when in reality, he played in one game, minus an at-bat, in 1905.

History in the making continues…

 

Baseball’s Sacrificial Lamb Deserves Resurrection

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first Commissioner of Baseball, 1921

So goes the decree that banned eight ballplayers from the Chicago White Sox for their involvement in conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. But upon close examination of the statement, the last line draws special attention, as it was written for, and directed toward, one player: George “Buck” Weaver.

Much has been written about and endlessly speculated over the Black Sox, as they (perhaps erroneously, since they were called this before 1919 as a joke about their always dirty uniforms) are forever known, but therein lies the problem: Nobody really knew what was happening. Not then, and certainly not nearly a century later. It was for this uncertainty that players like Weaver kept their mouth shut during the Series. It was clear that there was some sort of problem on the field, but nobody was certain who was participating and who was playing honest. To make matters worse, virtually everyone within the White Sox organization had knowledge of it, but one man was crucified to take the fall. Let’s examine why.

During the 1921 criminal trial of the eight players, sparked after sportswriter Hugh Fullerton and others exposed the scandal, testimony from some of the gamblers as well as scorecards of the games generated enough evidence of foul play to indicate that something wasn’t right. Questionable plays in each game showed the Series was not on the level, and this was backed up by the aforementioned testimonies. However, the trial itself quickly became a bigger scandal than the Series. Signed confessions to the Grand Jury by three of the accused players mysteriously disappeared. (The accepted theory is that Charles Comiskey, along with perhaps some gambling bigwigs, paid to have them stolen in order to make the trial a wash and thus protect the business of baseball.) This lack of official admission led to the eventual aquittal of the players in court. However, behind the scenes, American League President Ban Johnson, and National League President John Heydler along with several owners, appointed Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, as baseball’s first Commissioner. The very first ruling he made in this role was to ban the eight players forever, a decision he was within his right to make, as he was given absolute ruling power over the game of baseball.

Individually, there was little question about the involvement of six of the eight players. The other two, the gritty and ever-smiling Weaver and the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, have generated decades of sympathy and pleas for reinstatement, largely due to the sparking performance each turned in during the ’19 Series. Jackson hit .375 and the Series’ only home run, while Weaver hit .324 and played flawless defense. Jackson however, despite having Hall of Fame-worthy career statistics, has one red thumb: He accepted money for his participation in the fix. Even though he did nothing on the field to indicate he was not playing on the level, he was illegally paid. That, sadly, is enough to keep him out. Weaver on the other hand, did not take a dime, and had no participation other than simply being aware that the nefarious plan was hatched. But by Game 3 of the Series, it was completely unclear who was trying and who wasn’t. Buck tried to tell manager Kid Gleason and others, but it fell on deaf ears. Moreover, he didn’t know who to rat out or what to say! Had he made what was considered a false accusation, he could’ve implicated himself in a serious matter, so he was literally unable to resolve the situation! Landis’ statement had a special section at the end for Weaver. Why? He needed to set a precedent.

There simply was no rule in place at the time about punishing those with guilty knowledge of something, so he made one. The problem was, Weaver was by far not the only one who knew of the fix. The rest of the team, manager Kid Gleason, even owner Charles Comiskey himself had caught wind of the fix before the Series even began. But knowing Weaver was part of the “in” crowd on the clique-ridden Sox, the likes of which had orchestrated the fix to begin with, he declared Weaver guilty by association and banned him with the others. Precedent set. ‘Ol Buck was the fall guy.

Weaver’s sacrifice has not been in vain however, as through the years many gambling incidents were avoided or saved by Buck’s banishment. It became a well-known and understood fact that you could indeed face banishment for knowledge of throwing games, and thus, in an indirect and perhaps ironic way, Weaver has helped preserve the game’s integrity. All things considered, that could and should weigh heavily in his favor and be more than a bullet point in his case for reinstatement.

What happens now? For nearly a century, there has been an outpouring of support for both Jackson and Weaver’s reinstatement. This will likely never happen for Jackson, as although he had a stellar career, he did accept money for the ’19 Series. Intangibly speaking, to reinstate Shoeless Joe would be the equivalent of removing a huge chunk of baseball folklore from the world and giving a new identity to one of the games most tragic heroes. Baseball likely will not do this. Weaver by comparison, was nothing more than a bystander who was made an example of. He was ripped away from the game he adored during the prime of his career. The only third baseman that Ty Cobb would never bunt against, was cast out unjustly for the sake of establishing a rule. Now that that precedent has been set, I’d say his punishment is long, long over. It’s now up to Commissioner Rob Manfred, or any future commissioners to soften their hearts a bit, and right a wrong.

Let the Ginger Kid smile again.