A passing comment on Twitter has led to my next pet project. I’ve compiled a 25-man roster of the best bad Cubs of my time. Let me clarify a few things right off the bat. I looked at stats, but I really don’t care about your stats-based argument. This is supposed to be fun. Calm down. As you’ll see as the roster develops, personality wasn’t as big a factor as it was for the Bottom 126. However, watching a bad player play well as a Cub made generally made him pretty likeable. I’m starting with the bullpen, then I’ll do the bench, then the starting pitchers, and finally the starting eight. HERE is the roster so far.
Glendon Rusch may not be the worst overall player on this roster, but when he was signed by the Cubs prior to the 2004 season, he was certainly coming off the worst season of any of the guys on the roster so far. His 2003 season in Milwaukee was nothing short of atrocious, and Cubs fans had no reason to expect that Rusch wouldn’t be the main reason for the collapse of the 2004 season. Rusch, contrary to all of our expections, had the best year of his career in 2004. The fact that he was not an asshole on a team more full of them than r/gonewild made him even more likable. So he becomes the fourth member of the starting rotation on the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
Glendon Rusch’s professional career began in 1993 when he was taken in the 17th round of the amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. Rusch’s numbers were all over the place in the minors except for one. He was pretty damn good at avoiding the long ball. He also was pretty good at striking dudes out when he was younger. Combine those two things with not giving up many walks, and it’s no wonder that the Royals were pretty excited that they might have found a hidden gem in the 17th round.
Because it was the late ’90s and it was the Royals, Rusch made the 1997 rotation at the age of 22. At the Metrodome for his first MLB start on April 6, 1997, Rusch went eight strong innings, allowing only two unearned runs and allowing only four hits on his way to a Royals’ 12-2 win.
The rest of the season went less well for Rusch. He made 27 starts and finished 6-9 with a 5.50 ERA and 1.515 WHIP. But c’mon, guys, it’s the Royals. He was in the starting rotation again in 1998, when he was worse. He finished with a 6-15 record, 5.88 ERA, and 1.558 WHIP in 24 starts. Even the Royals had seen enough by 1999. Rusch spent the majority of the season between their AAA and Rookie league teams before a two-game stint in late July, and then a September call-up. Rusch appeared in only three games for the Royals and compiled a 15.75 ERA before they sent him to the New York Mets for Dan Murray in a VERY late-season trade on September 14, 1999. Rusch appeared in only one game for the Mets in a losing effort, though he worked a scoreless inning.
In the course of two years and an inning with the Mets, Rusch went 19-23 with a 4.30 ERA and 1.349 WHIP. If there’s one thing you could say about Rusch as a Met, it was that he always showed up to the park on time. And he had a great postseason for the 2000 Mets. He had a win in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and had a 2.25 ERA in four World Series innings against the New York Yankees. Prior to the 2002 season, the Mets were involved in a hilarious trade of turn-of-the-century players you had probably completely forgotten about. Get this:
Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the New York Mets with Lenny Harris to the Milwaukee Brewers. The New York Mets sent Benny Agbayani, Todd Zeile and cash to the Colorado Rockies. The Colorado Rockies sent Ross Gload and Craig House to the New York Mets. The Colorado Rockies sent Alex Ochoa to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Milwaukee Brewers sent Jeromy Burnitz, Lou Collier, Jeff D’Amico, Mark Sweeney and cash to the New York Mets.
Like shits passing in the night.
Rusch had more losses than anyone in the National League in 2002. Sixteen of ’em, to be exact, against ten wins. He had a 4.70 ERA and 1.438 WHIP in his 34 starts. The 2003 season was worse. Much worse. So very much worse. In nineteen starts and 123 1/3 innings pitched, Rusch finished the campaign 1-12, with a 6.42 ERA and 1.751 WHIP. So, you can imagine why Cubs fans weren’t too thrilled when the Cubs signed Rusch after he was briefly picked up and released by the Texas Rangers in the spring of 2004. The Cubs were defending the first of many NL Central pennants they’d win under Dusty Baker! They had power arms and added a wily veteran in Greg Maddux! The sky was the limit!
Rusch was destined to be the “swing man” for the 2004 Cubs. You know that guy. He’s not good enough to see batters three times a game, but his stuff isn’t good enough to see batters only one time a game. So he’s stuck in bullpen purgatory, where he was actually pretty amazing for the Cubs. When everyone was hurt all the time, Rusch went 4-2 in sixteen starts with a 3.50 ERA. And then when Joe Borowski and LaTroy Hawkins were utter crap at closing games and Dusty was too stupid to find anyone to do it (EVERY single member of that bullpen finished at least one game in 2004. Even Andy Pratt!), Rusch filled that role, collecting two saves in five games finished. Rusch was willing to go wherever the team needed him. Unfortunately, they needed him to pitch the 7th-9th EVERY game, and not even he could do that.
Rusch finished the year with a 6-2 record, a 3.47 ERA, and a 1.234 WHIP, the latter two being career highs. His ERA+ of 127 was the best of his career, and he was stingier with home runs (0.7 HR/9) than he had ever been or ever would be. Most refreshingly, though, he just shut the fuck up. When he was getting bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, he didn’t say a peep. When Steve Stone and Chip Caray were being their terrible selves, he didn’t throw a hissy-fit about it. He was a professional on a team full of children and Greg Maddux.
I wish I could tell you that Glendon fought the good fight, and the National League hitters let him be. I wish I could tell you that. But the MLB is no fairy-tale world. He never said who did it, but we all knew. The Cardinals. The Brewers. The Reds. Things went on like that for two more years. Baseball consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, Glendon would show up with fresh runs on his score sheet. The NL Central kept at him. Sometimes he was able to strike ’em out. Sometimes not. And that’s how it went for Glendon. That was his routine. I do believe those last two years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, Chicago would have got the best of him.
Fortunately, the Cubs released him after the 2006 season, and he signed a year later with the San Diego Padres and then the Colorado Rockies. But he was never the pitcher he was in 2004. Something inside Glendon died at the end of that 2004 season. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. When I picture Glendon heading west in his own car with the top down, it always makes me laugh.
Rusch made his last MLB appearance on May 13, 2009 in relief of Jason Marquis as the Houston Astros came into Colorado. It had gone poorly for Marquis, as he surrendered nine earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Rusch gave up another six in 2 2/3 as the Astros pounded the Rockies 15-11.
These days, I have no idea where Glendon Rusch is. Glendon, please check in if you’re reading this. We’re all worried about you.
Greatest Cub Moment: The White Sox are stupid and everyone hates them. But a 2004 Fourth of July matchup of Mark Buehrle and Glendon Rusch at Wrigley Field did not favor the Cubs. Buehrle was predictably awesome against the Cubs, giving up a lone earned run on a solo home run by Derrek Lee in the second of his seven innings pitched. Rusch was better. He threw a five-hit shutout through eight innings with six strikeouts and no walks. The Cubs led 1-0 into the top of the ninth. LaTroy Hawkins changed that, blowing the save on a solo home run to Cub killer Carlos Lee. Fortunately, the Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth against Shingo Takatsu and eventually won on an appropriate Todd Walker walk-off walk.
Worst Moment as a Human: It was clear that Rusch’s Cub career was over on April 29, 2006. The Brewers were in Wrigley Field, and Rusch was on the mound. Not for long, unfortunately. Rusch lasted only 2 2/3 innings after allowing seven earned runs on six hits (FOUR of them home runs, including a leadoff homer by Rickie Weeks) striking out no one, and walking four. He labored through 81 pitches in getting those eight outs. The Cubs lost a laugher 16-2 as Rusch dropped to 1-4 on the season with an 8.46 ERA.