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Tag: Kerry Wood (page 1 of 8)

The Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time: SP Matt Clement

DAT BEARD.

DAT BEARD.

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.

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.

The Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time: CP Joe Borowski

I’m really not trying to hurt Joe’s feelings. This was the best picture I could find in the appropriate size.

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.

If you watched the 2003 Cubs, you would know there was no doubt that Joe Borowski would earn the closer’s role on the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time. Rod Beck gave Cubs fans heart attacks in 1998, but he had a pretty great career and wasn’t particularly good as a Cub. Sweaty Joe was the opposite. He had two magical seasons in his career, both of them in a Cub uniform, one of them the most fun season I can remember watching as a Cubs fan (I wasn’t old enough to appreciate 1984). Borowski was the most lights-out reliever to ever trade in his firefighter uniform for a Cub uniform. It was fun watching him set fires on the mound and then successfully extinguish them. Plus, he was great enough to once be traded for Pete Motherfucking Rose(‘s kid). Your bestbadcloser, Joe Borowski.

Borowski’s professional career began in 1989, when he was selected by the White Sox in the 32nd round of the draft. He didn’t see the Major Leagues in a Sox uniform, and he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Pete Rose Jr. just before the 1991 season. He pitched well in only 7.1 innings in Baltimore during the 1995 season before he was sent along with Rachaad Stewart to the Atlanta Braves for Kent Mercker. He was mediocre for the Braves before being selected off waivers by the New York Yankees, where he was terrible for 11.2 innings.

Borowski signed with the Cubs prior to the 2001 season. The Cubs, being the fucking Cubs, called Borowski up in August to make a spot start, the first (and only) start of his career. Borowski got lit up by the San Francisco Giants to the tune of 6 earned runs in 1.2 innings as the Cubs lost 9-4.

The next season, however, Borowski was an outstanding workhorse. After compiling a 5.09 ERA and 1.811 WHIP in his first 5 years in the league, he suddenly put up a 2.73 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP in 95.2 innings. His prior SO/BB ratio was a pathetic 0.77. It jumped up to 3.34. I’m not saying that Joe Borowski did steroids, but if he did, he did them right, he did them to benefit my favorite team, and I thank him for it.

He was even better in 2003 as the Cubs’ closer. He posted a 2.63 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP with 33 saves in 37 chances. And he was bad-great in the playoffs. He had a win and a save, and surrendered only one run to the Marlins, even though he let everyone but the ballboy reach base. So the Cubs gave him a 2-year, $4.3M contract. And then his rotator cuff got all ouchy, and he got terrible.

In 2004, Borowski put up an 8.02 ERA with a 1.969 WHIP, causing Dusty Baker to move LaTroy Hawkins into the closer role, where he was miserable. Borowski started off 2005 with a broken hand on a comebacker. He then posted a 6.55 ERA in 11 innings before he was released in late June because Ryan Dempster had emerged as the closer. Ugh. He was picked up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he pitched better. He finished his career with stints in Florida and Cleveland, where he led the league in saves (45) in 2007, despite his 5.07 ERA and 1.431 WHIP. His career ended ingloriously with a 10th-inning blown save to the White Sox in July of 2008. Now, he does the pre- and post-game shows for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Can you imagine how amazingly sweaty he must be in Phoenix?

But that’s not how I’m going to remember Joe. I’ll remember him in the hot 2003 sun, drenched in sweat, allowing two baserunners, and then shutting down opposing offenses. It was awesome, and he earned his place on this roster.

Also receiving bullpen consideration: Carlos Marmol, Kyle Farnsworth, Jimmy Anderson, Antonio Alfonseca, Turk Wendell, Marc Pisciotta, Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, Shawn Camp

Greatest Cub Moment: October 5, 2003. Game 5 of the NLDS. Kerry Wood was a goddamn genius, pitching 8 innings of 1-run baseball against the Braves at Turner Field. Borowski came on in the 9th to nail down a 4-run Cubs lead, and everyone in Chicago was watching with their collective breath held, wondering how the Cubs would screw up their first postseason series win in a while, guys. Borowski cut right through the heart of the Braves’ lineup. He got Chipper Jones to fly out to right on the first pitch, then struck out Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones back-to-back. It was awesome, and it allowed this idiot to awkwardly start a singalong on the streets of Chicago.

There’s a sign that says, “WE WIN”. I guess that sign was bound to be right. I’m assuming maybe it was a play on Harry Caray saying, “Cubs win!” and that it was a philosophical, “No, WE win, Harry.” But I’m probably giving that dope too much credit, and it was just a dumb sign. There’s also a girl that starts a cell phone conversation, “Hi. I’m at THE CUBS right now!” God damn, the Cubs have the dumbest fans.

Worst Moment as a Human: Early in the 2007 season, Borowski’s Indians were in New York taking on the Yankees. Borowski entered the bottom of the 9th inning with a 6-2 lead. After getting two quick outs, Borowski allowed a home run, single, defensive interference, a walk, two singles, a wild pitch, and a three-run walkoff homer by CLUTCH Yankee lunatic Alex Rodriguez. Borowski gave up six runs after two outs in the inning, and the Indians lost 8-6.

The Muskbox is Hungover

I urinate wherever I choose!

Friday night games won’t interfere with MY schedule.

The final Muskbox of 2012 is mercifully short. Like the Cubs’ 2012 playoff run, Bears fans’ patience, and Dale Sveum’s Book of Interesting Stories. Maybe the Muskbox celebrated a bit too hard during the holiday season. Maybe the normal Muskbox submitters all got new computers for Christmas and will spend the next month figuring out how to turn them on. Maybe there are only so many questions one can ask in the offseason about a 100-loss team that figures to be phenomenally dull in 2013. Whatever the case may be, enjoy the abbreviated Muskbox.

Do you think the Cubs dropped the ball by not signing Anibal Sanchez? He certainly would have been a great signing for the rotation going forward.
— Jason C., Aurora, Colo.

“Dropped the ball”! HILARIOUS!

CARRIE: Sanchez would’ve been a nice addition, but instead the Cubs have reportedly signed Edwin Jackson. Let’s compare their stats.

“I have to stretch this article to at least 500 words.”

CARRIE: Since Jackson joined the White Sox at the July 31, 2010, Trade Deadline…

What an arbitrary starting point.

CARRIE: …he has gone 26-22 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 74 starts (464 1/3 innings, two complete games) and averaged 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Teams have hit .264 against him. In that same span, Sanchez has gone 22-28 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 75 starts (462 2/3 innings, four complete games) and averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine for the Marlins and Tigers. Teams have hit .257 against him. Jackson turned 29; Sanchez turns 29 in February.

Very similar, right?

And Sanchez had a traveling secretary named Jackson, and Jackson had a traveling secretary named Sanchez!

CARRIE: Sanchez eventually signed with the Tigers for five years, $80 million. Jackson reportedly has agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal. It appears the Cubs did well. Jackson has played for six teams in the last five years, but he may have been a victim of circumstances. He changed agents last July, leaving Scott Boras for Legacy Sports. Perhaps teams felt he was difficult to sign.

He dumped Scott Boras? I like him already.

With Scott Baker coming off Tommy John surgery, is he expected to be ready for Opening Day? If not, who are the options to hold his spot in the rotation? A free agent? Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin? Maybe Michael Bowden, who has been starting in the winter leagues?
— Mike M., Rockville, Md.

Of all the silly questions to ask about the 2013 Cubs, asking about the rotation options is the silliest. The Cubs have 37 starting pitchers on their 40-man roster.

CARRIE: Baker says he’ll be ready, but the Cubs also have stocked up on extra arms in case he isn’t.

They still have parts of Mark Prior’s and Kerry Wood’s arms on ice.

CARRIE: Besides Jackson, the Cubs have reportedly signed free agent Carlos Villanueva, which means the list of starting pitchers would include Baker, Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Travis Wood and possibly Arodys Vizcaino.

2013 is going to be SO, SO GOOD.

What are the Cubs going to do about the starting third baseman for Opening Day? Are they going to make a trade, and if so, who will they trade for?
— Robert C., Huntington, Ind.

Alex Rodriguez.

CARRIE: The Cubs are hoping Ian Stewart is healthy after undergoing wrist surgery last July and signed him Dec. 17 to a one-year deal.

They’re the only ones hoping that.

CARRIE: He felt good enough to work on his hitting with Hall of Famer Rod Carew recently…

I think I’d take Carew right now over Stewart.

CARRIE: …and has continued his late-night Twitter conversations with fans.

Is the fact that Stewart is trolling for ass on Twitter late at night supposed to make me feel better?

Please explain why the Cubs do not play any home Friday night games when every other Major League team does. I am of the opinion this could be very helpful later in the season when the temperatures and humidity get very high.
— James S., Amboy, Ill.

And when Jeff Samardzija gets very high.

CARRIE: Wrigleyville residents have said no to Friday night games because of the potential traffic and parking conflict between Cubs fans and people returning to the neighborhood from work.

I thought people who live in Wrigleyville don’t work.

CARRIE The heat and humidity aren’t the problem, it’s lack of sleep when the players arrive in Chicago late Thursday from a road trip and have an early start Friday for a day game. In looking at the 2013 schedule, it appears that was taken into consideration.

It only took them 25 years to figure that out.

CARRIE: The only time it could be a problem is when the Cubs play in Oakland on July 4, then at Wrigley Field on July 5 vs. the Pirates.

Plus, Starlin Castro wants to stay up late to watch the fireworks.

The Muskbox Might as Well Try Marmol at Catcher, at This Point

“Do you think they should bun-vert Marmol to a starter?”

There are a few recurring themes in the Muskbox. The most prevalent is to swap all of the players around despite their success or lack thereof to make room for them in the lineup. Generally, they’re not trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic to get more at-bats for the closer. That’s why I’m here. To think outside the Muskbox.
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The World Series of Muskbox Has Questions About Lendy Castillo

There can be only bun.

The Muskbox is a weird creature. No matter what the happenings are in and around Major League Baseball, the Muskbox occupies its own space. It’s a space where people are still interested in Ian Stewart and Michael Bowden. A space where fall baseball is played exclusively in Arizona. A place where Tony Campana draws comparisons to Devin Hester.

Seriously.

BEYOND HERE THERE BE NONSENSE.
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The Muskbox Puts the “Blah” in Blog

I can’t really run. Nor can I hide.

When the Muskbox pops up on my feed reader, if I don’t have time to get to it right then, I generally just head to the electronic graffiti that is Cubs.com to find it. If it’s not still on the front page, it’s generally buried in the “News” section behind the ten stories a day that Carrie writes about how, as a fanbase, we undervalue Tony Campana. This week, I couldn’t find the Muskbox. Despite my emphatic CTRL-F’ing. Despite the fact that I was only one day behind its publishing. It was a mystery. So, I went back to my feed reader to search for Old Musky’s gold, and found it hidden within her blog. Mind you, this is not the first time that Carrie has tried to pull the old switcheroo on me, and it certainly won’t be the last. But it makes me wonder. Is she moving the Muskbox around intentionally, or does she just forget where she posts it from week to week? The formatting is different when she does it on Cubs.com versus her own blog, so I suspect she switches it intentionally. But why? AND WHY THE HELL AM I ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT THIS?

No matter. Wherever it’s posted, questions about Bryan LaHair winning NL ROY will be asked and answered. Read on!
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A Farewell to an Arm

That woman. She's going to eat you.

When I was growing up, baseball was my love. I couldn’t wait for summer, when my “baseball friends” would replace my “school friends” and we’d sweat out long, hot Chicago afternoons in our Riverside Yankees uniforms, taking on the surrounding towns like LaGrange Park, Brookfield, Berwyn, and our arch-rivals from South Cicero. We’d take our place in our third-base dugout, not because the Cubs did it, but because the first-base dugout backed up against the forest preserve, which backed up against the Brookfield Zoo, which made it a paradise for swarms of mosquitoes. Our dugouts had no roofs. They weren’t dug out of anything. They were, more or less (usually less), an aluminum bench that got blisteringly hot in the sun.

I’d like to think that somewhere down in the southern part of this country, a young fireballer named Kerry Wood was having a similar experience. Maybe in an Astros or a Rangers jersey or, if his coach didn’t spring for fancy uniforms like ours did, an Ace Hardware jersey. I hope that some of Kerry’s best memories of summers past were riding in the back of his coach’s pickup truck making up ridiculous rap songs with his twelve teammates. That he, too, experienced that nervous flutter in his stomach every time he stepped to bat. That it got worse when he faced an 0-2 count. That he thought having a sign indicator was a stroke of genius, and that having an anti-indicator that erased all previous signs BLEW HIS MIND.

I hope somewhere in Texas, Kerry was perched on his own stove-hot aluminum bench, laughing with his teammates as he tried to hock a gob of spit so that it perfectly bisected the diamond formed by the links of the chain fence in front of him. In his junior high years, I imagine Kerry thought he was the pinnacle of cool when he graduated from Big League Chew to sunflower seeds. And, oh, how impressive it must have been when he was able to spit those tiny shells through those same chain link diamonds.

Did Kerry leave his eyeblack on just a little bit longer to impress the girls who swung by the field after spending the day at the pool? Did he refuse to let his mom wash his uniform as long as his hitting streak kept up? Did he hold up a similar big orange Gatorade jug as his teammates lined up for drinks in between games of a Saturday doubleheader? Did he talk his parents into getting him contacts instead of glasses because glasses fog up in the summer and it’s harder to see a baserunner out of the corner of your eye when you’re wearing glasses? I hope so.

I grew up watching larger-than-life adults on WGN and at Wrigley Field playing baseball. I could never imagine that I would someday be the same age as those guys who got paid to play a kids’ game. And then, Kerry Wood came along. At twenty, while I was preparing for a dreaded organic chemistry final, Kerry Wood was preparing for the dreaded Houston Astros lineup. About mid-way through the game, one of my dorm mates demanded I put down the books and watch Kerry’s mastery of the Astros. Wood fared better against Bagwell and Biggio than I did against carbon and hydrogen, but I didn’t regret my choice to watch Kid K become legend.

As I watched Kerry toy with one of the best lineups in baseball, I tried, foolishly, to imagine facing him. Our old rival, and probably the best pitcher I faced growing up, was Thurman Hendrix. He was practically unhittable. He was bigger, stronger, and a hell of a lot more intimidating than any of the other kids on the field. I remember getting drilled in the ankle by him and thinking I would never walk again. He played a little professional ball, even. But he was no Kerry Wood.

Watching Kerry try to will the Cubs past the Braves during the 1998 NLDS was like watching one of my old Riverside Yankee teammates do it. But his baby face belied his decades-old arm, and 1998 was not meant to be. I thought there was a lot of pressure on me to finish school, get a diploma, get a job. I was expected to be average. A normal guy in a tie. Kerry Wood was expected to be a legend. A savior in pinstripes.

In 2003, I was back in law school. Because Cubs playoff tickets at Wrigley Field were near-impossible to get, I found two complete strangers who were heading down to Atlanta to attend Game Two of the NLDS. We bought tickets, divvied up driving duties, and decided to make a road trip of it. We left right after classes on Tuesday, September 30, and stopped in Indianapolis along the way. We had to watch Kerry Wood pitch Game One. Everyone, of course, remembers Wood’s home run in the 2003 NLCS. But fewer make mention of the go-ahead, game-winning, 2-run double Wood hit in Game One of the NLDS. In Little League, there were no free outs in the lineup. Our best pitchers were often our best hitters. Kerry was both that night, finishing 2-4 with a double, 2 RBIs, and, on the other side of the ball, 11 strikeouts. I could practically feel the heat from the aluminum radiating through my polyester uniform pants as I watched him be the best athlete on the field.

Like all of yours, my heart went out to Kerry in 2003, when the kid who loved the game had to become the man who accepted defeat. Fifteen years prior, a double scoop of Gold Medal Ribbon and Pink Bubblegum in a sugar cone might have staved off Kerry’s tears. Not that night. He wept like the thousands of Cubs fans around the world were weeping. Like a kid might weep. And we loved him for it.

Kerry Wood will always be Kid K. The kid who never outgrew his love of the game, and who, despite the unstoppable march of my own years, never let me forget mine. Thanks for the memories, Kerry.

The Muskbox is Not Quite Dead Yet

I long for the days when the Muskbox was timely.

Despite appearances, I’m not letting HJE die a slow death. In fact, I’m working on another facelift for the old girl, which will probably take longer than the T79. Also, there may be a return of a beloved feature on the horizon. No, not the Shoutbox. I haven’t gotten around to that yet. In this latest episode of Muskbox, the fans lament Bryan LaHair’s lack of at-bats (DAFUQ?) and wonder what might have been for the Peoria Chiefs if Albert Pujols were still playing there. Yup. It’s gonna be THAT kind of Muskbox.

Why isn’t Bryan LaHair starting every day?

Because he basically…is? He’s started 75% of their games to this point.

He has a .300 average…

.381, but it’s pretty refreshing to see a Cubs fan UNDERvalue a player.

…he’s hitting home runs, and this is supposed to be his opportunity to show his abilities.

The True Value Cubs Caravan Circus Freak Show is finally in town!

It doesn’t make sense.
— Dean S., Goshen, Ind.

Agreed.

CARRIE: This spring, LaHair was 3-for-18 against left-handed pitchers, while hitting .349 against right-handers.

“He sucked against lefties.”
“That’s bad.”
“But that was in the spring, so the stats didn’t count.”
“That’s good!”
“But he only has one hit against lefties so far this year.”
“That’s bad.”
“But the hit was a home run.”
“That’s good!”
“The home run was cursed.”

CARRIE: If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because a lefty is starting and the Cubs want to get Jeff Baker in the mix.

Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? I mean, nothing against him personally, but Jeff Baker sucks and has absolutely no future with this team nor any trade value, no?

CARRIE: Baker has a career .309 average against left-handers, while LaHair is 1-for-7 this year, and 6-for-41 in his career against lefties. He’d like more chances against them.

He’ll show you lefties. He’ll show ALL of you lefties!

CARRIE: “I’m not afraid of left-handers,” LaHair said.

“Just spiders, dying alone, and Blake DeWitt.”

CARRIE: “I feel any time I come to the plate, I can do something, whether it’s a lefty or righty.

“I can either strike out or hit a home run, respectively!”

CARRIE: I’m on board [with sharing first], and I have a role, and I’ve accepted it.”

“I didn’t ask.”
-Dale Sveum

CARRIE: Cubs manager Dale Sveum isn’t using a strict platoon. Sveum did not lift LaHair for a pinch-hitter on Tuesday against Cardinals lefty Marc Rzepczynski…

That’s bad.

CARRIE: …and LaHair delivered a home run.

That’s good!

CARRIE: That was his first hit this season off a left-hander.

Can I go now?

“You do want to give him at-bats against lefties, you don’t want to straight platoon,” Sveum said of LaHair. “The bottom line is, Baker swings the heck out of the bat against left-handed pitching, and you have to give him at-bats, and sometimes without jeopardizing our defense in other areas, that’s the one spot Baker is going to play.”

Baker is .250/.364/.375 against lefties this year. Jeff Baker’s “swings the heck out of” is everyone else’s “tolerable.”

I was wondering if Bryan LaHair or Anthony Rizzo are serviceable at any position but first base. It seems to me that Rizzo is just wasting his time Triple-A Iowa and needs more big league at-bats. Any way to get both of them in the lineup?
— John B., Ketchikan, Alaska

Do you have any idea how many closer options you have for cheering on a baseball team than the Chicago Cubs? You are over 2,600 miles from Wrigley Field. You should just root for Russian bandy instead.

CARRIE: LaHair can play the outfield corners if necessary, but he did not play any outfield this spring.

No success against lefties, no outfield in the spring. What a sad turn of events for Bryan LaHair.

CARRIE: And to those who have suggested LaHair move to third base, that’s not going to happen.

Although there’s a way better chance of that move happening than putting Rizzo there, as previous Muskboxers suggested.

With all the talk about LaHair and Rizzo at first base, it got me thinking: How many first basemen have played for the Cubs since Mark Grace went to Arizona?
— Kevin M., Racine, Wis.

Oh, God. Oh, God, WHY WOULD YOU ASK THIS QUESTION???

CARRIE: Grace’s last season with the Cubs was in 2000. Since then, there have been 36 players who have taken a turn at first base. The list includes: Matt Stairs, Fred McGriff, Julio Zuleta, Ron Coomer, Delino DeShields, Michael Tucker, Mark Bellhorn, Hee-Seop Choi, Angel Echevarria, Robert Machado, Lenny Harris, Eric Karros, Ramon Martinez, Randall Simon, Jason Dubois, Todd Hollandsworth, Derrek Lee, Todd Walker, Scott McClain, Enrique Wilson, Henry Blanco, Jerry Hairston Jr., John Mabry, Scott Moore, Mark DeRosa, Jake Fox, Daryle Ward, Micah Hoffpauir, Baker, Xavier Nady, Tyler Colvin, LaHair, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Pena, Steve Clevenger and Joe Mather.

And not a one of them could measure up to the cool confidence and slick fielding of Lenny Harris. Except the ACTUAL Lenny Harris, I suppose.

I saw in Parade magazine…

Though I appreciate a submitter providing more detail than, “I read somewhere,” this is probably the best example of when “I read somewhere,” would be the safest way to avoid getting your ass kicked.

…that Albert Pujols was listed as playing for the Peoria Chiefs. Is there another Peoria team not affiliated with the Cubs, or was he in the Cubs’ Minor League system? If so, how did he get there (it seems the Cubs would’ve drafted him) and why did he leave?
— John R., Pinckneyville, Ill.

So, so much is wrong here. I’ll start.

  1. assumes that minor league teams never change affiliation with the Major League club
  2. supposes if there were two minor league baseball teams in Peoria that they’d BOTH be named the Chiefs
  3. ignores the fact that if Albert Pujols had ever been in the Cubs’ minor league system, Phil Rogers would be bitching about it EVERY SINGLE DAY
  4. doesn’t understand the amateur draft
  5. can’t fathom a minor league player having basically no control over his career path

Did I miss anything?

CARRIE: The Peoria Chiefs were a Cardinals Minor League team from 1996-2004, which is when Pujols played for them. The Chiefs were affiliated with the Cubs from 1985-95, and again from 2005 to the present.

I feel like this transfer is the result of Jim Hendry having no idea how a trade for Pujols would actually work.

With Kerry Wood going down on the disabled list again this year, I feel he may not be around in the Major Leagues much longer.

Impossible. His career path trends toward him pitching well into his 40s.

Can you see Kerry staying with the Cubs as a coach after his career? I would love to see him stay in Cubbie blue.
— Nick A., Valparaiso, Ind.

Then get Ryne Sandberg to manage, bring Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe back as co-pitching coaches, bring Andre Dawson and Mark Grace back as co-hitting coaches, and bring Bob Brenly in as bench coach, just to shut him the fuck up about sunglasses!

CARRIE: Wood, 34, has three young children who may want him to be their coach once his playing days are over. Right now, the focus is on this season.

Is she suggesting that Theo Epstein draft Kerry Wood’s three young children? Because, if so, BRILLIANT.

I was watching one of the Cubs-Brewers games, and the announcers were talking about a Cardinals pitcher (I’m not sure when this happened)…

“Or, really, IF it happened. Or where I am. Or why we’re all here.”

…but he left the game at Wrigley, found a trench coat and they spotted him in his uniform across the street on a rooftop cheering with fans. Can you tell me who this was?
— Jeannine W., Ashland, Wis.

But if he was wearing a trench coat, HOW DID THEY SPOT THE UNIFORM? No, no. Nothing about this story adds up at all.

CARRIE: The only pitcher I know who did that was Tom Browning, who was with the Reds. In July 1993, he snuck out of Wrigley Field and was spotted on one of the rooftops on Sheffield Avenue in uniform. He was fined $500 by Cincinnati manager Davey Johnson for the prank.

Browning had access to one of the best seats in Wrigley Field, yet he chose to go sit 450 feet from home plate instead. Only a total idiot would ever choose to do that.

What’s become of Derrek Lee? Is he still a free agent and not signed?
— Dan M., Hillside, Ill.

He’ll never work in this town again!

CARRIE: He is still a free agent and not signed — that’s correct.

Also, “Yes.”

Do the Cubs have a good shortstop at Triple-A? They have to move Starlin Castro to center field. He is not a shortstop at all, and enough is enough with the errors.
— Rick V., Woodridge, Ill.

God dammit, you suck. There is absolutely no reason not to give Starlin plenty of time right now to prove whether or not he can handle shortstop at the Major League level. If he can, awesome. If he can’t, he’s almost certainly not going to end up in center field. Incidentally, Starlin Castro can RAKE. No, that’s not a typo. That is all.

CARRIE: The Cubs’ best shortstop prospect is Junior Lake, but I think you’re writing Castro off too soon. When he was called up in May 2010, he was 20 years old and had less than 1,000 at-bats in the Minor Leagues. He may be ready offensively, but he is still learning on defense. I’m not saying Castro is a Hall of Famer…

“…because I never say anything of substance or make any real predictions in this column.”

CARRIE: …but Robin Yount made 44 errors at shortstop in his second season in 1975, and 31 more in ’76. Sveum is working with him, but there will be growing pains.

“I’m not saying Starlin Castro is A Hall of Famer, I’m saying he’s THE Hall of Famer, Robin Yount!”

Commit to Sucking Now

Does this team even HAVE a "blow" switch?

Is sixteen games into the season too early to take stock? Marlon Byrd and his .070 batting average are no longer Cubs. Ryan Dempster, the (shudder) longest-continuous-tenured Cub, and Kerry Wood, the longest-tenured Cub who everyone doesn’t hate are both shelved with injuries. Alfonso Soriano has eleven hits so far, and not a one of them went for extra bases. David DeJesus and Matt Garza are wondering just what the fuck they’re doing in Cubs uniforms. The best hitter on the team is Bryan LaHair. The recently-exonerated Starlin Castro is already setting pace to prove that, yes, he can actually hit. He’s third in the NL with 23 hits so far, he’s fifth in batting average at .365, and under the aggressive Dale Sveum, he’s already nabbed seven bases. He stole 22 all last year.

Whenever there is some actual, bona fide talent waiting in the Minor Leagues, the argument against bringing them to the Major Leagues is that they can’t be rushed. I absolutely hate that argument, but for now I’ll concede the point that these fully-grown men who have been under a microscope since they were twelve years old are so fragile that they will wilt under the MLB media and forget everything they’ve ever learned about baseball if they get off to a start as bad as, oh, say, Marlon Byrd’s. But what if there’s absolutely no rush at the Major League level?

This 2012 Cubs team is bad. They have a legitimate chance to be one of the worst Cub teams in my lifetime. Less than a tenth of the way into the season, and this team is already making my 76-86 prediction look hilarious. They are already SEVEN games behind the NL-Central-leading Cardinals. If the Cubs don’t lose a game for the rest of April, and the Cardinals don’t win a game for the rest of April, the Cubs will only tie them for first place. The odds of that happening are slim, as the Cubs have to play the Cardinals and Phillies in those seven games. What I’m saying is that there is absolutely no one in the Cub organization who reasonably thinks this team can compete this year. Even Ronnie Woo-Woo is thinking about scalping some of his free tickets and, oh, say, getting a fucking job and contributing something to society like actual human beings do.

So, if the expectations are literally and honestly zero from everyone in the Cub organization. If Theo’s Think TankTM will be transparent with the fans and admit that, yes, this is a total rebuilding of the clusterfuck of an organization that Jim Hendry left behind. If the fans would be willing to watch a couple of sub-.400 winning percentage seasons. If Soriano really is toast, Geovany Soto is bad again, LaHair isn’t worse in left field than Soriano is, and DeJesus is as pointless as a Phil Rogers column. Why CAN’T Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Welington Castillo play this year? No, not this year. I’m sure most of them will be playing this year. Like, right now.

We all know you’re committed to fixing this thing, Theo. Just admit that you’re committed to sucking until it’s fixed.

The 2012 Nut-Punch Ends in…FIVE MONTHS AND TEN DAYS? God dammit.

The Top 79 Cub Killers of My Time #7: “You Can Call Me” A. “Or You Can Call Me” J. Pierzynski

Michael Barrett lives the American dream.

Before you didn’t watch A.J. Pierzynski cheat the White Sox into the 2005 World Series, there was probably already something in your gut that made you hate him. Your gut was absolutely right. The nicest thing that fellow asshole Ozzie Guillen could say about Pierzynski is, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.” For one thing, I didn’t know assholes could smell their own. For a second thing, there is no way Ozzie Guillen said that as eloquently as that quote is written. For yet another thing, when even OZZIE GUILLEN thinks you’re an asshole, it’s time to take some serious stock of your life. Though Pierzynski’s numbers against the Cubs have dropped in the last few years, I have no qualms about placing the infuriating mullet of A.J. Pierzynski at #7 of the Top 79 Cub Killers of My Time.

Anthony John Pierzynski grew up in Orlando and played high school baseball on a presumably-loaded team that included Johnny Damon. We had a pretty decent team when I played high school baseball, and it was still a huge deal when college scouts showed up at games. It was an even bigger deal if our guys went on to play at big schools. It was a massive deal if they got scouted by pros. And people went absolutely catatonic if those guys got signed to pro contracts. So I’m always amazed when two eventual Major League players play on the same high school team. I suspect Pierzynski was as insufferable as a 17-year-old as he is in life, but that’s beside the point.

After Pierzynski graduated high school, he had the option to play baseball at the University of Tennessee, where his mullet would not only be accepted, but openly celebrated. There would be parades of Mustangs as far as the eye can see, a terrible Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, and a commissioned van mural in his mullet’s honor. Sadly for both the Cubs and for mullet junkies everywhere, Pierzynski chose instead to sign with the Minnesota Twins on June 9, 1994.

Pierzynski was that rare combination of catcher, lefty hitter, and unapologetic asshole that the Twins needed. Pierzynski hit enough for a catcher, and, early in his career, he wasn’t so awful at throwing out baserunners. So, the Twins made him a September call-up at the age of 22, and he made his MLB debut on September 9, 1998. Pierzynski replaced Twins starter Terry Steinbach behind the plate in the bottom of the 5th inning. Pierzynski grounded out in his first MLB at-bat in the 6th, but in the top of the 8th, Angels reliever Trevor Wilson began what SHOULD have been a popular trend, drilling Pierzynski with his second pitch.

Pierzynski had brief call-ups in 1999 and 2000 before finally lasting a full season on the Twins’ roster in 2001. On June 17 of that year, the first-place Twins came to Wrigley Field to take on Kerry Wood and the first-place Cubs. Pierzynski started at catcher and hit 7th in a lineup that included eventual Cubs Jacque Jones and Matt Lawton (and Corey Koskie, to an extent). Pierzynski was delightfully awful, popping out to shortstop and later getting drilled by Kerry Wood before being retired in his last two at-bats on strikeouts by Courtney Duncan and Kyle Farnsworth. The Cubs won 5-4, and it is my sincere hope that Kerry Wood was brought back this year solely to drill A.J. Pierzynski one final time.

In 2002, Pierzynski compiled a .300/.334/.439 line for the Twins and was named to the All-Star Team. He had an even better year in 2003, but he was still A.J. Pierzynski. Rather than soiling Golden Boy Joe Mauer by having him learn under Pierzynski, the Twins sent Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants in an astonishingly lopsided trade. The Twins got back Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan. The best part of the deal for the Giants was that Pierzynski was only around for a year before they released him. He certainly made his impression felt during that time, particularly if you were the testicles of Giants’ trainer Stan Conte. Pierzynski denies the incident ever happened, but the Giants gave up an awful lot of talent for a guy they only kept around for a year, only to release him for nothing.

Since Ozzie Guillen had already castrated the training staff of the Chicago White Sox, they signed Pierzynski prior to the start of the 2005 season. That’s where Pierzynski has done most of his Cub-killing in the course of his 14-season career. In 181 plate appearances against the Cubs, the normally light-hitting catcher has compiled a .304/.376/.447 line with six home runs and 30 RBIs. During the forgettable 2006 season, Pierzynski went 9-19 against the Cubs with two homers, five RBIs, and an absurd .474./.565/.789 line.

The most notable moment of Pierzynski’s career for a Cubs fan is, of course, the events of May 20, 2006. In a moment that would epitomize the meatball nature of the Crosstown Series for years, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett punched A.J. Pierzynski in his stupid face. Barrett took offense to the way Pierzynski plowed him over and then slapped his hand onto home plate, which sent the poorly-washed crowd at U.S. Cellular Field into a frenzy. Pierzynski didn’t really deserve to be punched in the face, as it was a clean play. However, Pierzynski deserved to be punched in the face. Period. I could never muster up the ire for Michael Barrett that many Cubs fans had toward him after his altercation with Carlos Zambrano in 2007. That’s because Barrett lived out all of our fantasies by planting a clenched fist on A.J. Pierzynski’s asshole jaw.

Why You Should Hate Him: I don’t feel like this really needs an explanation, but it’s very clearly July 1, 2006. The Cubs had followed an agonizing ending to the 2004 season with an unwatchable 2005 season. They started the 2006 season right where they left off, only this time with Juan Pierre! If you were still watching by July 1, you might remember this infuriating little game. Greg Maddux started for the Cubs at Wrigley Field and pitched well enough, giving up four earned runs in six innings. He left a 5-4 Cubs lead to the bullpen. A bullpen that included the likes of Scott Eyre and Ryan Dempster. Pierzynski was already 2-3 off Maddux with a pair of singles, but things would get worse. Well, better for him. Worse for humanity. In the top of the 7th, Dusty Baker inexplicably failed to leave Maddux in the game to face Paul Konerko, opting instead to go to Scott Eyre. Eyre worked a full count to Konerko before giving up a game-tying solo home run. The Cubs got the lead back on a Jacque Jones solo shot in the bottom of the 7th, and they led 6-5 into the top of the 9th. Dempster came on to close out the game and got two quick outs. Then, Dempster gave up a slow grounder to Ross Gload for a base hit. Then, Dempster walked Jermaine Dye. Then, Dempster served up a three-run homer to A.J. Pierzynski. How any Cubs fan can ever enjoy watching Ryan Dempster pitch is absolutely beyond me. The Cubs went down meekly in the 9th inning against the human tarp that was Bobby Jenks, and the Sox won 8-6.

Did You Know? If Bob Barker needed money this badly, I would have loaned him some.

Also, the ONE TIME A.J.’s mullet would have fit in perfectly, and he didn’t wear it? Lame.