On the surface, it seems inconceivable that this blog has been in existence for the entire baseball season and I have yet to make any sort of posting about my beloved sCrUBS. Despite my previous ramblings about the NFL, in the end the sport that truly soothes my soul is baseball.
Baseball was the first sport that I played as a child and it is really the only sport that I have one true favorite team that I live (0.01% of the time) and die (99.9% of the time) with. That would be those lovable losers from the North Side of Chicago, the pathetic and wretched Cubs.
One of the purposes of this blog, so I thought, is that it would be place where I could send all of my nervousness, stress and anxiety about the Cubs. Kind of an outlet for my fandom. However, this year, they have been so abjectly horrible that they have taken up precious little of my brain or heart this season. It helped that coming into the season, I was pretty sure they were going to be horrible, so I never bothered to go “all in” with them emotionally.
So, you may be asking yourself, why stop the silence now? They are still infecting the bottom half of the NL Central with their putrid play. (Just the other day, our star player was caught not paying attention to the game. Which is fine if you are in the dugout. When you are actively out in the field, theoretically playing defense, that is a whole ‘nother matter.) They still have no shot to do anything this season and possibly the next handful of season. However, the firing of our long-time general manager seems like a time for reflecting on the team and his tenure.
Jim Hendry was probably the best general manager the team has had in recent memory, most definitely in my lifetime. The team has consistently been more relevant and definitely more intriguing for the past seasons than the other 24 seasons in my lifetime. Part of the reason why my apathy to this season is so shocking to me, is that I had almost forgot how it feels to have a team this inept. Sure we have recently had some bad seasons, but you could blame those on bad injuries to key players. The expectations going into most of the seasons of the past 10 years was that the Cubs were going to be in the mix. Until this year.
This year, my friend and fellow Cubs fan, The Bringer of Pain, both knew that the best this year was going to have to offer was mediocrity. In the back of our minds though, we were both pretty convinced that mediocrity was probably a long shot. The more likely outcome was going to be putrid baseball. And sure enough, we were right. The question then becomes, how our beloved team get here and who’s fault is it?
How the team got here is rather easy to pinpoint. After being so tantalizing close to nirvana in 2003 and trying to keep the magic alive, despite the decimation of our vaunted pitching staff (see Prior, Mark and Wood, Kerry) through the next handful of years and the ups and downs, Hendry went all in to win in 2007 and 2008 and now the bank is coming to collect the past due bill. This would be a great and worthwhile sacrifice, if we would have won the World Series either of those years. Alas, in true Cub fashion, in 2007 our manager inexplicably removes our ace pitcher in the middle of a tight Game 1 to save him for Game 4, only to never even get to said Game 4. In 2008 the kick in the teeth was even worse. Not only did management acknowledge that the team was cursed by bringing in an Orthodox Greek priest to exorcise the demons from Wrigley Field , but after taking an early lead to get the crowd energized, the Cubs gave up a grand slam a few innings later to totally deflate the crowd and eliminate any hope of winning. Sure there were more games left to play, but the series was over after that grand slam.
Injuries sapped the Cubs the next season and then before you know it, Shylock was at the door to collect his pound of flesh. In the end, the general manager has to take the fall for this descent into the cellar, but it is not all Hendry’s fault.
To some degree, he was doing the best he could to keep the winning going. While in retrospect, signing Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome to large contracts and resigning Carlos Zambrano to a similarly huge deal look to be huge mistakes, the fact is there were not a whole lot of options available to the Cubs during that time. For both Soriano (heading into the ’07 season) and Fukudome (for ’08), they were the only options on the market available to fill gaping holes in the Cubs lineup. We already had big time players at the corner infield positions (Derreck Lee and Aramis Ramirez). The only places to add power was in the outfield. This problem became exponentially worse in 2008 when with Soriano now in the fold, the only place in the lineup to add anything of significance was right field. Oh and we desperately needed someone who batted from the left side of the plate. The only person on the market that fit the bill (although this was a big “if” because he had never played outside of the Japanese league) was Kosuke. Everyone likes to pretend that these were horrible moves from the get go. But at the time, everyone was on board. They just didn’t work out.
2003 and being 5 outs away from defeating the Florida Marlins and going to the World Series seems so long ago. So much that everyone forgets how well that Hendry executed trade after trade that year for the next few years to get what we needed. Corey Patterson goes down, so we
get steal Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates. Trading that next off-season for Cub-killer Derreck Lee. Trying to spark the team in 2004 by acquiring Nomar Garciaparra. He build some very good Cubs teams that never quite reached the top, but we did reach the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in 100 years. We had more teams with winning records than I ever remember.
In the end, the only thing I really blame Hendry for is the state that our minor league system is in right now. Our player development has been virtually non-existent. Back when this run started, national publications and commentators would continually rank the Cubs as having one of the best farm systems in the league. While we had a powerful rotation with Wood, Prior, Clement and Zambrano, they had just as many if nor more live arms waiting in the wings. We were overflowing with pitchers and had some potential at other positions. Only none of those players ever materialized. Corey Patterson and his brother both flamed out. Same with Felix Pie (aka Corey Patterson 2.0) Our rotation ended up being dominated by free-agent veterans Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Sure we had a Rookie of the Year in Geo Soto, but he seems to be on his way to the land of Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. Starlin Castro could very well be a superstar in the making, but then again we said the same thing about Patterson and Pie. We are in the mess we are in now because we have had not been able to develop any young players able to come up and take the place of the veterans from 2007 and 2008. Without the well-spring of youth to replenish the team, the tree rotted from the inside starting in 2009 and it toppled onto the house in 2011. And for being such a poor steward, Hendry had to go.