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Who’s available in free agency at third base? Also, I’d like to know who has the best shot at starting there next year.
— Francois C., Montreal
Nice try, Franklin Correa. I dug for that one. You’re welcome.
CARRIE: The list of free agent third basemen include Wilson Betemit, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Jerry Hairston Jr., Brandon Inge, Placido Polanco, Mark Reynolds, Juan Uribe, Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young. Reynolds is the youngest at 30. Since those names probably don’t excite you, keep Mike Olt in mind. He was acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal and could win the job with a strong spring.
If you can’t get excited about Jerry Hairston Jr., then it’s no wonder you live in Canada.
Do you think Kris Bryant sticks at third base? I do. Every time I hear “corner outfielder,” he takes another 100 ground balls before batting practice.
— Gary J., Chicago
That’s a coincidence, because every time I hear “middle reliever,” Kyle Farnsworth tricks a girl into pulling his finger.
CARRIE: I’m sure a lot of people wanted to move Bryant after Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game…
Imma let you finish, but no one watched the AFL Fall Stars Game, and not just because calling them “Fall Stars” is the stupidest fucking thing since WCIU broke out the “Hyundai Night Football Post-Game Show” last night.
CARRIE: …when he made two errors at third, but as of now, he’s a third baseman. Bryant, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and the Cubs’ No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com, has heard the talk about a possible switch.
OMG HE READS THE MUSKBOX!!! HI, KRIS!
CARRIE: “I try not to read into that stuff because it really is a distraction,” Bryant said in early October. “You can’t focus on what other people have to say about you. You can only think about what you think about yourself. I believe I can play third base. If the Cubs want me to play right field, I’ll play the heck out of it.”
And if you just believe hard enough, this guy can go on living until he has a massive heart attack.
The Cubs seem to have an overload at shortstop (Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez) and possibly third base (Olt, Christian Villanueva, Luis Valbuena, Josh Vitters ). Any ideas on who might be moving to another position or another team?
— David D., Memphis
This reminds me of when Bob Davie recruited 70 quarterbacks to Notre Dame and then he had to turn them into tight ends and receivers and accountants. Except all of those quarterbacks were awful and some of these guys might turn out to be pretty good. What was I saying, again?
CARRIE: You can remove Vitters from the list because he’s…
CARRIE: …focusing on the outfield.
CARRIE: I’ve optimistically penciled in Olt for Opening Day.
She subsequently placed that pencil back into her bun, where it was lost until the end of days.
CARRIE: Valbuena could platoon at third and also be a utility player. Villanueva, who played at Double-A Tennessee last year and is playing in the Mexican Winter League, needs more time.
I hope they call Villanueva and he says, “If you’re going to pull this shit, at least you could’ve said you were from the Yankees.”
CARRIE: Alcantara split time between second and short, playing more second in the second half. Being versatile is a huge plus and it will be interesting to see if the Cubs move Baez around this spring. If he can play second or third, he might get up to the big leagues quicker. It may seem like too many infielders, but there’s a baseball cliche that these things sort themselves out. Let’s wait and see.
Totally. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. If these guys can just stay within themselves, and act like they’ve been there before, they’ll get their cups of coffee before the Cubs find themselves in any must-win games. They show a lot of heart, but even the best hitters fail 70% of the time. They just have to keep fighting and play through it.
Can you make sure that by the time people hear from Alcantara, they know how to properly pronounce his last name?
— Wally C., Orlando, Fla.
FINALLY. A question a librarian is actually equipped to answer.
CARRIE: I’ll try. It’s al-KAHN-tar-ah.
I’m guessing he probably meant Arismendy, too. Jesus, Carrie.
With Anthony Rizzo’s stats dropping, I was wondering how his 2013 stats compared with Bryan LaHair’s in ’12? Do the Cubs retain any rights to LaHair and do they have any thoughts about bringing him back? What kind of year did LaHair have in Japan?
— Steve M., Albuquerque
And then the Cubs can move Rizzo over to third base to compete with Valbuena for the starting position!
Also, I think the Cubs sold their rights to LaHair for one laser tattoo removal session for Dale Sveum.
CARRIE: In 2012, LaHair batted .259 with 16 home runs, 17 doubles, 40 RBIs in 130 games and was replaced as the starting first baseman in the second half that season. This year, Rizzo’s batting average dropped and he batted .233, but he also hit 23 home runs, 40 doubles and totaled 80 RBIs in 160 games and was a finalist for a Gold Glove.
In Japan this year, LaHair batted .230 in 111 games with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and hit 16 home runs, 19 doubles and drove in 57 runs. LaHair turns 31 on Tuesday; Rizzo is 24. The Cubs do not have LaHair’s rights. No disrespect to LaHair, but I’ll take Rizzo.
And make a goddamn MAN out of him in the third-floor stacks.
With all the talk about Wrigley Field renovations, I have not seen any information regarding what is going to happen to the pavement bricks around the ballpark that are inscribed and paid for by Cubs fans. Are these going to be saved or are they not part of the new “Wrigley Field?”
— Doreene C., Libertyville, Ill.
I’m really sorry you were dumb enough to pay $160 for a $.39 paver, Doreene, but the Cubs can’t be held responsible for your irresponsible spending.
CARRIE: I am assured by the Cubs that the bricks will be saved.
Sure. They’ll be crushed into powder and used as diamond dry.
In your summary of prospects, you failed to include Dan Vogelbach. Only two years out of high school, he has demonstrated an exceptional talent for hitting. He not only hits with above-average power, but shows real discipline at the plate with relatively low strikeout numbers and high walk numbers. At 6-foot, 250 pounds, he’ll never be the defensive player Rizzo is, but he works hard and he may ultimately be a better hitter than Rizzo.
— Jan P.
Plus, he could kick Rizzo’s ASS in a pierogi-eating competition.
CARRIE: I focused on the players I saw in instructional league or had talked to coaches about, and did not mean to slight Vogelbach or anyone else. You can add Christian Villanueva, Wes Darvill, Gioskar Amaya, Dustin Geiger, Bijan Rademacher and Shawon Dunston Jr. to the list of names to watch, and there are more, which is a nice change from years past.
Is the Theocracy just trying to collect guys with hilarious names? Because if that’s the plan, I LIKE it.
What have you heard about Brett Jackson? Is he just taking the winter off to rest or playing somewhere? Do you think a lot of issues last year might have been thinking too much about not striking out?
— Apollo C., Estes Park, Colo.
“Hey, Apollo Creed, wanna play for the Cubs?”
CARRIE: Jackson had some nagging injuries last season, which were more annoying than the strikeouts.
Not to me. The strikeouts were WAY more annoying.
CARRIE: He’s not playing this winter and was given an offseason program to work on. In talking to some Cubs’ Minor League coaches, they were very encouraged by what they saw from Jackson at the end of the season.
“Let’s give him credit. At least he didn’t spike himself.”
I remember the Cubs having a radio broadcaster by the name of Bert Wilson back in the late ’40s or early ’50s. Am I dreaming or is that true?
— Louis B., Bloomington, Ind.
“I remember this. Do I remember this?”
Christ, someone please shoot me before I get old(er).
CARRIE: Wilson was a play-by-play broadcaster for the Cubs from 1944-55, and one of his favorite sayings was, “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s the Cubs.” He was the last announcer to call a Cubs’ World Series game in 1945.
Some other hilarious Bert-isms:
“It ain’t over until one team has outscored another team, and the other team has used up at least 27 outs.”
“Grape is a flavor. Purple is a color.”
“Yes dear. You were right. I’m sorry.”
“It ain’t rape unless she’s unwilling to have sex with you!”
Do the Cubs have any interest in Ozzie Guillen for manager?
— Dave B., Lake in the Hills, Ill.
Honestly, do YOU? Does anyone? That choice would be so bad, Kaplan would endorse it.
Best Muskbox answer ever.
Sammy Sosa ended his MLB career with 609 home runs. Rick Wilkins ended his MLB career with 81 home runs. As teammates on the 1993 Cubs, Sosa only out-homered Wilkins by three, as the two led the team. Wilkins’ 30 home runs in 1993 were more than twice the number he had any any other one year of his career. In fact, if you combine Wilkins’ home run totals in any other three years in the MLB, those totals won’t add up to 30. Rick Wilkins pulled a Brady Anderson three years before Brady Anderson did it himself. For one year, Wilkins was an elite catcher. And for his other years in a Cub uniform, he wasn’t complete crap, which is more than you can say for the rest of Wilkins’ career stops. For that reason, Wilkins handles the pitching staff for the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
Wilkins’ professional career began when the Cubs selected him in the 23rd round of the 1986 amateur draft. In the minors, Wilkins hit like you’d expect every non-1993 version of Wilkins to hit. He walked sometimes, he had a very little bit of power, and he hit for a backup catcher’s average. But the Cubs started the 1991 season cycling through Damon Berryhill, Joe Girardi, Erik Pappas, and Hector Villanueva. Shockingly, none of them had laid claim to the starting catcher’s spot. Jim Essian having the foresight that he did gave Wilkins his first MLB start on June 6, 1991 against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Wilkins went 0-4 with a strikeout, but starter Greg Maddux pitched the Cubs to a 6-2 win. Maddux also out-hit Wilkins, as he was 1-3 with a run scored. Because Greg Maddux is fucking awesome, you see. Wilkins made 54 starts that year, hitting .222/.307/.355 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
The Cubs carried three catchers going at the start of the 1992 season. And as everyone knows, if you have three starting catchers, you don’t have a starting catcher. Wilkins was part of a three-headed monster with Girardi and Villanueva. He got 274 plate appearance that year and hit a respectable, .270/.344/.414, with eight home runs and 22 more RBIs, far better numbers than any other catcher on the roster.
Because of his solid 1992 season, Wilkins entered the 1993 season as the starting catcher. He rewarded manager Jim Lefebvre with a ludicrous 1993 campaign. In exactly 500 plate appearance, Wilkins posted a .303/.376/.561 slash line with 30 home runs and 73 RBIs. He was legitimately the best hitter on the Cubs that season over Mark Grace, Sosa, Ryne Sandberg, and even STEVE BUECHELE. THERE, I SAID IT. Wilkins was so good that year, opposing pitchers walked him intentionally thirteen times. That’s right. Twenty years ago, NL pitchers were sort of afraid of Rick Wilkins. WHERE WAS THIS PRODUCTION FOR JIM ESSIAN???
After spending the first half of the 1990s with the Cubs, Wilkins was traded to the Houston Astros for Luis Gonzalez and Scott Servais. Yes, Rick Wilkins was once thought so valuable, it cost the Astros an additional player PLUS a five-time All-Star and World Series champion to land him. Or maybe something else was involved, because after Wilkins hit .218/.339/.333 for the Astros in a calendar year, they traded him to the San Francisco Giants for the unfortunately-named Kirt Manwaring.
Wilkins was a Giant…disappointment. Hey-o! In a season and a half with the Giants, he batted .239/.308/.403 with 38 walks and 105 whiffs. Wilkins was released by the Giants near the end of the 1997 season and picked up by the Seattle Mariners. He fared even worse up north, to the tune of a .208/.267/.396 slash line in 60 plate appearances with the M’s in 1997 and 1998. In May of 1998, the Mariners sent Wilkins as far away as possible, trading him to the New York Mets for some chick named Lindsay Gulin.
Wilkins played in only 24 games toward the end of his career with the Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres before calling it quits after the 2001 season. When the sun set on his career, Wilkins’s Cub OPS was at least 66 points higher than it was at any other waypoint in his 11-year career. Seventy percent of his 81 career home runs came with the Cubs, and 62% of his 275 RBIs. In baseball history, Wilkins is a little blip on the radar. But in Cub lore, he had one of the greatest single seasons a catcher has ever put together.
Nowadays, there’s a thing called the Rick Wilkins Academy of Baseball, where budding baseball players will hear such lectures as “Steroids: It’s Okay if Pitchers are Doing it, Too”, “Skeletors in the Closet: Replacing Joe Girardi”, and “One Day in May: Surviving the Joe Altobelli Era.”
Greatest Cub Moment: As watchable as Wilkins was during the 1993 season, the Cubs weren’t easy on the eyes. They were 38-40 when they went to Colorado on July 5 to take on the Rockies. Wilkins was batting sixth, between Sosa and Buechele, and Mike Harkey was on the mound for the Cubs. In Wilkins’ first three at bats, he hit a single and two, two-run homers en route to a 10-1 Cubs rout. He finished the day 3-5 with four RBIs and nine total bases. Surprisingly, it was Wilkins’ only multi-homer game for the Cubs. Wait, is that surprising?
Worst Moment as a Human: June 23, 1995. Jaime Navarro was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Mike Hampton at the Astrodome and was leading 2-1 when Randy Myers blew a save in the bottom of the ninth. Wilkins pinch hit for Todd Pratt with two outs and a man on third in the top of the tenth. He struck out on four pitches. But never fear, he had a chance to redeem himself in the top of the twelfth. Wilkins was at the plate with one out and Dolan-favorite Scott Bullett on first. Bullett stole second, then took third on an errant throw by Houston catcher Scott Servais. So, Wilkins had the go-ahead run at third for the second time, this time with only one out. He struck out again. The Astros rallied for a run off Mike Walker in the bottom of the twelfth to beat the Cubs 3-2.
Oh, hey, it’s also nearly Halloween, too. I’m assuming at least one of you will go in the scariest costume imaginable: Slutty Mike Quade.
Bless you all for still sending me tips even when I’ve neglected the Roundup. As a reward for your patience, there are a shitload of videos in this installment. Many of them are terrific. If you watch only one thing this week, watch the Cardinals song video. You’ll be so filled with…something. Disgust? Rage? Nachos?
I appreciate your tips as much as Cardinals fans appreciate the grand old game of baseball.
- Hawwwwwk. (HT: Pre)
- Curt Schilling is a weird, paunchy dude.
- This study of which superhero would be best at baseball is…exhaustive. (HT: level5)
- The Cardinals are dicks. (HT: Swaz46)
- BEST FANS IN BASEBALL! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. (HT: Santo10)
- Probably a Harvard man. (HT: level5)
- Go Irish!
- You know where you are, Lana? Lana? LAAAAANAAAAAAAA!
- I’m going to assume The Walking Dead is still terrible.
- I want this to happen, and I want the guy doing the awesome Christopher Lloyd impression to do it.
- I hope bad lip-reading stays a thing for a long time.
- NIGHTMARE FUEL OF THE WEEK: Oarfish!
- SITE OF THE WEEK: As someone who does a lot of real estate, I love Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs. (HT: Santo10)
- YOUR AWESOME CLIP OF THE WEEK: Great game show answers will make you chortle.
Your tips are as appreciated as overpriced custom toothpicks, dude.
- Meanwhile in Chicago, I’m not even sure if I want Girardi anymore, but I think the Cubs are a long shot to get him. (HT: level5)
- Wondering who to root for in the playoffs? Here’s a simple flowchart for deciding. (HT: Pre)
- Stuck in an elevator and reading HJE on your mobile phone? Hopefully, you’re not stuck with these guys.
- Movie Easter eggs that give away the ending. I feel like the definition of “Easter egg” is a bit loose on these, but pretty cool nonetheless.
- Now that Breaking Bad is over (SOB), take a look back at the early roles of some of the main characters.
- This is the worst news that came out of the LucasArts shutdown.
- I can’t stop laughing at this. (HT: Brant)
- NIGHTMARE FUEL OF THE WEEK: GIANT HORNETS! (HT: EnricoPallazzo)
- YOUR AWESOME CLIP OF THE WEEK: Guillermo del Toro’s Simpsons opening sequence is terrific.
HJE pater noster TJ forwarded me an email he sent to Phil Rogers after Phil posted this piece of garbage over the weekend and wrote, “With the Pirates’ 20-year losing streak finally over, it’s time to turn our national attention to the Royals, who last went to the playoffs in 1985. Their 28-year streak without a postseason trip is the longest drought in the history of MLB and longer than any in the NFL, NBA or NHL.” Today is Phil’s last day at the Tribune, presumably because of this very article. He’s heading to MLB.com, so I guess I’m NOT going to buy MLB.tv next year. Presumably, OUR GOOD FRIEND Paul Sullivan will get Phil’s gig, which is nice, because Chicago’s national baseball coverage will no longer be hilariously inept. Anyhow, I’ll let TJ speak for himself (and us ALL):
You mentioned the Royals’ 28-season postseason drought is the longest in the history of Major League Baseball. Not true. Not even close.
**The 1995 Cleveland Indians ended a 41-year drought.
** The 1984 Chicago Cubs ended a 39-year drought.
** The 1959 White Sox ended a 40-year drought.
** The 1944 St. Louis Browns ended a 43-year drought that started when they were the Milwaukee Brewers
** In 1971, Vida Blue took the mound for Charlie Finley’s Oakland Athletics against Dave McNally’s Orioles. It was the Athletics’ first postseason game since Connie Mack wrote out a lineup card that had Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Jimmy Foxx in the middle of the lineup in Game 7 of the 1931 World Series.
** The 1950 Phillies’ World Series team was only the Phils’ second first place team in history. The first was in 1915, giving them 35 seasons between postseason appearances. The Phillies began play in 1883, so if you want to count that, that’s a 32-year gap.
** The Pirates’ 21-year streak is nothing compared with the 33 years it took for Mazeroski, Clemente and Vern Law to exact revenge on the Yankees for the 1927 World Series loss.
** The 1948 Boston Braves might have prayed for rain when it wasn’t Spahn or Sain, but they might have also thanked Spahn and Sain for not sucking like 34 years of Braves teams had after their 1914 World Series win.
** The 1965 Minnesota Twins ended a 32-year streak, started when they were the Washington Senators
** The 1981 Montreal Expos maybe should have beaten the Dodgers (Rick Monday saves America again!), and the franchise would not return to the postseason again until 2012 (I know it’s hard to jog your memory that long). That was 31 years.
** And finally, Another Washington team started another ignominious streak in 1961 when they entered the American League as an expansion team. The Washington Senators’ futility lasted from 1961 and followed them to a place probably unknown to you, Arlington, TX. Not until 1996 did the Rangers introduce postseason baseball to North Texas.
Oh, and by the way, Washington Senator/Senator/National fans went from 1934-1960, 1961-1971 and 2005-2011 without seeing playoff baseball.
I read your column this evening, and stopped the shaking of my head and laughing as I normally do when I read your columns when I got to the sentence in question, and stood up and said. “That’s not true! Cubs! Indians! White Sox! Browns! Phillies! Senators! Nats!” I then did a little research and confirmed that my first guesses were correct. And I unearthed a few more.
So, you’re a national baseball writer for the Tribune. You got so wrapped up in the fact that the Royals have not won a World Series since Otis Wilson and Richard Dent were aced out by Prince for a Grammy, that you forgot about these easy-to-overlook footnotes of history:
** The two teams that play in the city for whose largest newspaper you write.
** A team that broke a long drought last year, when you were still (unfortunately) national baseball writer.
** One of the most memorable teams of the 1990s, and one of the rivals of one of the teams that plays in the city for whose largest newspaper you write.
** Definitely the most colorful (literally and figuratively) team of the 1970s, whose owner hails from the metropolitan area for whose largest newspaper you write. (The front end of that drought was only managed by Connie Mack; maybe Brad Biggs can call Neill Armstrong the winningest coach in Bears history, and omit Lovie, Jauron, Ditka and a easily forgotten George Halas).. Oh, and it was another &^%!#&!^* Kansas City baseball team!
** A team that plays in your hometown. Was it a big deal when the Rangers went to the playoffs? Oh, that’s right. It was Cowboys season.
** Five other franchises.
So yes, the Royals’ drought places them barely in the top 40 percentile of the league. And their streak just surpassed the Red Sox 1918-1946 streak. The Royals don’t have the longest drought post-division play, whether you measure it as the drought continuing into division play or starting only after the beginning of division play. In case you were wondering, I am here to help:
Longest postseason drought by franchise since formation of AL in 1901:
1. Milwaukee Brewers I/St. Louis Browns: 43 (1901-1944)
2. Cleveland Indians: 41 (1954-1995)
3(tie) Chicago White Sox: 40 (1919-1959)**
3(tie) Philadelphia/K.C./Oakland A’s: 40 (1931-1971)
5. Chicago Cubs: 39 (1945-1984)
6(tie) Philadelphia Phillies: 35 (1915-1980)
6(tie) Washington Senators II/Texas Rangers: 35 (1961-1996)
8. Boston Braves: 34 (1914-1948)
9. Pittsburgh Pirates: 33 (1927-1960)
10. Washington Senators I/Minnesota Twins: 32 (1933-1965)
11. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: 31 (1981-2012)
12. Kansas City Royals: 28 (and counting) (1985- )
13. Boston Red Sox: 28 (1918-1946)
14. Milwaukee Brewers II: 26 (1982-2008)
15. St. Louis Cardinals: 25 (1901-1926)
16. Detroit Tigers: 23 (1945-1968)
17(tie). Cincinnati Reds: 21 (1940-1961)
17(tie). Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers: 21 (1901-1922)
19. Toronto Blue Jays: 20 and counting (1993-)
20. Baltimore Orioles I/N.Y. Highlanders/Yankees: 20 (1901-1921)
21(tie) Los Angeles/California Angels: 18 (1961-1979)
21(tie) Seattle Mariners: 18 (1977-1995)
21(tie). Houston Colt .45s/Astros: 18 (1962-1980)
24. San Franciso Giants: 16 (1971-1987)
25. San Diego Padres: 15 (1969-1984)
26. New York Mets: 13 (1973-1986)
27. Colorado Rockies: 12 (1995-2007)
28. Florida/Miami Marlins: 10 and counting (2003-)
29. Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays: 10 (1998-2008)
30. Arizona Diamondbacks: 5 (2002-2007)
** The drought could be considered 42 years between postseasons in which said participant was trying to win rather than permanently shame the game of baseball.
Phil, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate the importance of double checking your facts. Who told you it was the longest postseason drought? Were there any qualifiers? Did you stop and say, “Gee, the Cubs went from World War II to 1984 without making it to the World Series, and I even wrote a book about Ernie Banks and his 19 years with the Cubs without going to the World Series, and maybe I should, you know, look it up?”
LOOK IT UP, CHECK IT OUT, VERIFY are the things reporters do. It’s sort of like running out a ground ball or a pop up. Scratch that. It’s sort of like touching every base upon hitting a home run. You do it, or people wonder how the hell you made it to the Big Leagues if you cannot even be bothered to do that.
I think I just hired you as my Hire Jim Essian campaign manager, TJ.
Your tips are as appreciated as cutting the cord!
- Speaking of the stupid wild card addition, good bye and good riddance, Crypt Keeper.
- Jim Essian. RISK-TAKER. (HT: Brian)
- Hey, at least the Cubs didn’t make you watch a bunch of extra bad baseball.
- If you’re even watching.
- I think it’s safe to say Lost would have been pretty different if Beetlejuice had played Jack.
- Are you guys proud of me? I still haven’t picked up GTA V.
- Yes, it’s an ad for a storage unit, but it’s a pretty damn cool ad for a storage unit.
- Breaking Bad is brilliant for many reasons.
- Speaking of Breaking Bad, this is awesome.
- Don’t fuck this up, J.J. Abrams.
- This post is Breaking Bad-centric. Whatever. Deal with it. The Walt Jr. impression is spot-on.
- SITE OF THE WEEK: Bootleg Bart Simpson t-shirts for all. Tiny American flags for others.
With the goateed Matt Clement, we reach the end of the starting rotation of the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time. And how. For while Matt Clement initially got a bad reputation after the 2003 playoffs when rumors abounded that he refused to go to the bullpen in the NLCS, we all know that Dusty Baker was the mismanaging nitwit behind that decision. And here’s the thing. Without Clement, the Cubs wouldn’t have been in the 2003 playoffs at all. Not a bad contribution for a player who was a gamble in the Antonio Alfonseca trade. So Matt Clement rounds out the starting rotation of the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
Matt Clement’s professional baseball career began two decades ago, when he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the 1993 amateur draft. Clement was a lanky religious kid from Pennsylvania who WASN’T Amish. Who’d have thought? Clement had crazy-good stuff, but was wilder than a cat with a sparkler tied to its tail. Which is something Amish people do for fun. In his second season in the minors, Clement struck out 98 guys in 138 1/3 innings, but also walked 91, hit eighteen batters, and threw 31 wild pitches.
Nevertheless, Clement had a big arm and a lot of potential if he would ever find his control. So the Padres brought him up for a cup of coffee in September of 1998. Clement made his MLB debut on September 6, 1998 at every pitcher’s nightmare park, Coors Field. The Padres were in the midst of getting blown out by the Colorado Rockies 9-0 when Clement took the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning. Clement didn’t help. He surrendered three runs on four hits, including a two-run double to Angel Echevarria. Can that possibly be right? YES.
Clement appeared in four games for the 1998 Padres, made two starts, and went 2-0 with a 4.61 ERA and lofty 1.610 WHIP. He struck out thirteen hitters in 13 2/3 innings, but again he walked seven. Still, Clement showed enough to make the Padres’ starting rotation in 1999. He gave the Padres exactly what they should have expected from his minor-league numbers. He went 10-12 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.528 WHIP while striking out 135 and walking 86 in 180 2/3 innings.
His control got remarkably worse in 2000, when he posted a 5.14 ERA and led the league in walks (125) and wild pitches (23) in 205 innings. He was averaging 5.5 BB/9 on his way to a 13-17 record. Just before the start of the 2001 season, the Padres sent Clement along with Omar Ortiz and Eric Owens to the Florida Marlins for Cesar Crespo and Mark Kotsay. Clement made 31 starts for the Marlins, going 9-10 with a 5.05 ERA and another league-leading wild pitch count (15) in 169 1/3 innings. Clement was still striking out guys at a decent clip (134), but he was also still walking too many (85).
Right before the start of the 2002 season, incumbent Cub closer Tom Gordon’s shoulder exploded. The Cubs desperately needed a closer. Preferably one who killed Mandy Patinkin’s father. So they went fishing and landed Antonio Alfonseca along with Clement in exchange for Jose Cueto, Ryan Jorgensen, Julian Tavarez and Dontrelle Willis. The four-letter site was up in arms about letting Willis go, but the Cubs were desperate for a closer. You see, they thought they actually had a chance to compete after finding themselves unexpectedly in a pennant race late into the 2001 season. THAT’S ADORABLE.
As you may recall, Alfonseca was an absolute turd, as fat closers north of 30 years old tend to be. Had the Cubs not also landed Clement in the deal, the trade truly would have been a disaster. Clement, however, had something click for him in Chicago. His BB/9 dropped to 3.7. Not great, but the lowest total of his career. Meanwhile, he topped 200 strikeouts for the first time ever, whiffing 215 in 205 innings. His 9.4 SO/9 was two strikeouts higher than it had been in any previous full season. Clement tied Kerry Wood for the team lead with twelve wins, and finished only two strikeouts behind him. Remember how we all hated Larry Rothschild until he was gone, and then we realized that the problem wasn’t Larry, but that no one listened to him?
In 2003, Clement was the fourth starter in a monster rotation. Because of the way things ended, it’s tough to appreciate it, but all four of Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Clement threw 200+ innings, won 13+ games, and struck out at least seven hitters per nine innings. They were nothing short of filthy. Clement, as that rotation’s fourth starter had a 106 ERA+ and a 1.230 WHIP. No wonder they got away with sending Shawn Estes out there 28 times.
Despite having a bad start in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Clement was great against the Marlins. HE HAD A THIRD OF THEIR WINS IN THAT SERIES, GUYS. In Game Four of the NLCS, Clement outdueled former trade partner Dontrelle Willis, going 7 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs in an 8-3 Cub win. And, to be fair, Kyle Farnsworth gave up the one runner he inherited from Clement, because Farnsworth decided to let ALL of his inherited runners score during the NLCS.
Clement followed up his 2003 performance with an even better 2004, though he ended up 9-13 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.282 WHIP. Unfortunately, Clement, Zambrano, and new addition Greg Maddux couldn’t overcome all of the starts lost to injury from Wood and Prior. BUT THAT ALSO OPENED THE DOOR FOR GLENDON RUSCH.
Clement was granted free agency after the 2004 season, and the Boston Red Sox signed him to a three-year deal. In the first half of 2005, Clement made the Cubs look bad for not re-signing him. He went 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.265 WHIP, earning himself a spot on the AL All-Star team. And then, on July 26, 2005, this happened.
I remember hearing about this happening, seeing the replay, and feeling terrible for Clement. For a guy who was frequently knocked for pitching scared and always looking over his shoulder to the bullpen, this was about the worst thing that could have happened. I had a feeling Clement would never be the same, and he wasn’t.
Clement’s second half was brutal, as he went 3-4 with a 5.72 ERA and 1.514 WHIP.
The next season, Clement made only twelve starts for the Red Sox, finishing 5-5 with a 6.61 ERA and 1.760 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings. At the end of the season, he had shoulder surgery which finished his career. Though he finished up his contract with the Red Sox in 2007, he didn’t see MLB action and wasn’t part of that World Series team. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2009 season, but was never called up. A shame, because he would have had the classiest facial hair in all of St. Louis.
Nowadays, Clement coaches basketball for his old high school and presumably makes high-quality wooden furniture. Go read that article, just so you can see how geeky Clement looks as a basketball coach.
Greatest Cub Moment: Duh. September 27, 2003. With a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates on the penultimate day of the 2003 season, the Cubs would win their first NL Central pennant. Prior did his job in game one, striking out ten Pirates and allowing only two earned runs in a 4-2 Cub win. Clement took the mound for game two, and was even better. He went 7 2/3, allowing one earned run on seven hits as the Cubs won the nightcap 7-2, and the whole of Chicago went apocalyptic.
Worst Moment as a Human: Clement giveth, and Clement taketh away. September 20, 2004. On nearly the anniversary of Clement’s great doubleheader win came this stinker. The Cubs were hanging in the Wild Card race by the skin of their teeth. Just like the year before, Prior had won game one of the doubleheader, this time against the Marlins. Clement was awful in game two, lasting only 2 1/3 innings and allowing five earned runs on three walks and three hits. The bullpen was surprisingly brilliant, but the five runs were all the Marlins needed as they beat the Cubs 5-2.