Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

Astros Face Brink of History on Major Date

October 3, 2012

The Houston Colt .45s began our 51-season franchise NL history with a three-game series sweep over the Chicago Cubs in 1962. Today the Houston Astros have a chance to go out as a club leaving the NL by doing the same thing. All they need do is win today.

Sixty-One years ago, on October 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson unleashed his “Shot Heard ‘Round the World, that incredible 3-run walk-off homer to left in the 9th at the Polo Grounds that propelled the New York Giants to that magical pennant playoff game win over the Brooklyn Dodgers by a 5-4 count.

Today, October 3, 2012,  some lesser achievements are on the line for the Houston Astros as the close out the season and their 51-year National League lifespan on their way to the American League next season, but they are there to be had – and having them in the bag of local baseball history would be nifty.

(1) As Darrell Pittman noted yesterday in a comment on my column about the Cubs, an Astros sweep of the Cubs series would allow the franchise to leave the NL in the same way they entered the league back in 1962, that is, with a 3-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

(2) A shutout win over the Cubs today in their last game would allow them to finish the season as the first 100-loss club in history to finish a year with four shutout victories. – Whoa? Has any club ever finished with four shutout wins? And when was the last time a big league manager got fired after leading his team to four straight shutout wins at the end of the season?

C’mon, boys, let’s do it. – It would be nice to close the season with any kind of win to avoid a loss that would set the new record for most losses in a single year. “106” is a big enough “L” bulge. Let’s not make it any worse.

Go Astros! – Gout with guts, glory, and the symmetry of two three-game Cub Sweeps as the bookends on your history in the National League. That would, indeed, be sweet!

Astros Pull Cubs into 100-Loss Company

October 2, 2012

From Tinker to Evers to Chance,
To a belt that comes with no pants,
100 losses – and counting,
– Cubs Lose. Again. Again. And again.

With only three games left and little else to play for beyond the sweet meat infliction of pain upon others, the Houston Astros used Game # 160 of the 2012 season to induct the Chicago Cubs into their otherwise exclusive big league 100-loss club. They did it with a 3-0 whitewash win in Wrigley Field Monday night behind the tenacious 2-hit pitching of  Lucas Harrell and the powerful HR blasting of rookie left fielder Fernando Martinez.

Harrell evened his season record at 11-11, holding the Cubs to 2 hits and a walk over 6 innings while fanning 7 before yielding the final 3 stanzas to 3 relievers who gave up no runs and no hits down the stretch. Fernando Martinez launched a monster HR to the street in right in the 2nd, hi 3rd blast in 3 games, and then tacked on 2 other scores in later innings.

The win also allowed the Astros (54-106) to avoid surpassing their record loss total from 2011, but they still have to win their last 2 games to keep from getting there. The Cubs, on the other hand, even with the former boy genius Theo Epstein now at residence for a year as their GM, now close the book on their 108th year of play since their last “1908” World Series win.

I don’t know which quality is the greater marvel among Cubs fans, their patience for winning- or their mentality bout losing. They simply seem to accept losing as inevitable, but I guess that should not be so surprising. After all, they have been losing more often than not for more than a century now.

C’mon, Astros, finish up your National League life like a soul-mission. Take those two remaining games from the Cubs.

Santo Finally Makes It

December 6, 2011

Ron Santo Takes a Whack

Ron Santo and Billy Williams both played for the 1960 Houston Buffs before going on to careers as teammates with the Chicago Cubs as their teams’ defenders of the left field line at third base and left field. Now the guys are together again – in the Baseball Hall of Fame. All I wish to say is that I’m glad it finally happened and, like many others of you, I only wish it could have happened earlier than December 3, 2010, the date that the wonderful Ron Santo left this planet. Posthumous awards always ring the bell  a little too loudly on the empty side, as in “better now than never, but earlier would have been better, when Ron Santo was still here among the living to share and enjoy it with family and friends.”

Ron Santo had a wonderful power stroke on offense and the kind of rocket arm on defense that defines the rare greats of third base history. Only fourteen others have received the call to the Hall as “hot corner” specialists prior to Santo, and three of those men played exclusively in the Negro Leagues, where statistical data was often poorly kept and not well documented – and  the game itself was played under the frequently far more adverse conditions of many ragged fields and unevenly officiated games. Santo has deserved his place in this rarefied company forever and I am grateful that the Veterans Committee finally made it happen on December 5, 2011.

Over the course of his fifteen season MLB career (1960-1974), Ron Santo batted .277 with 342 home runs, and 1,331 runs batted in. He played in nine all star games and won five gold gloves over the course of his career. Ron Santo had to battle the ravages of diabetes in the latter years of his life, but he hung in there, even under the loss of both legs to the disease, doing good, positive color reporting as an analyst on the Cubs’ radio game broadcasting team.

Love live the soul and spirit of Ron Santo. It bears upon its back the larger hope for an eventual Chicago Cubs redemption – and that’s no light load for any soul to carry.

Cubs Curse and The Stockholm Syndrome

March 31, 2011

This photo was taken at Minute Maid Park in 2009. Now it's 103 years and counting since the last Chicago Cubs team won a World Series in 1908 - and sixty-six years since the Cubs last played in a World Series back in 1945.

They keep on losing, but still they come. 2011 will be no different. The Chicago Cubs shall continue to take their lumps at Wrigley Field and all the other arenas of major league combat, but still their fans will come to watch and obnoxiously cheer them on, showing up in full Cubs regalia here at our place in Houston and elsewhere.

Why do they do it? What’s it all about? When they reasonably know from an experience that exceeds the lifetimes of .999999 of all Cubs fans, and we are talking about “losing” here, how do the fans of the Cubs continue to muster even the spring hope of winning? We Cubs outsiders probably never will understand it completely, if at all.

The closest condition I can point to as a fit as an explanation for Cubs fans and their ongoing support for their team in spite of all evidence to the contrary that winning is probable is the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” from psychology. So, what’s the “Stockholm Syndrome?”

in 1973, four Swedes were held captive in a Stockholm bank vault while their violent robber captors held off a siege from police with threats of violence toward their innocent hostages. Later interviews with all four hostages confirmed that each hostage had become identified with their captors during the siege, Some had even contributed to their captors later legal defenses in court. Psychologically, this reaction was viewed as a mental defense by the hostages against getting hurt by their captors during the siege. In a childlike way, the hostages had identified with their captors to try to build a bond that would keep the armed robbers from harming them under fire. They weren’t simply acting. Their minds were being taken over by a belief system that allowed them to justify their support for the bad guys.

This condition, if you will, of course, derived its name from where it was first noted in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. This “Stockholm Syndrome” has since been identified in several other subsequent situations involving hostages who survived by forming a supportive bond with their captors. Pretty crazy sounding stuff, I know, but remember: We’re talking abnormal psychology here, folks, the kind of stuff that happens to people under long-term threatening situations in which victims are held captive in ways we would all hate as a thought about it ever happening to us.

So, how does the “Stockholm Syndrome” fit as an explanation for Cubs fans? I think it works like this: After one hundred and three years of removal from their last World Series title, the whole Cubs culture is now held hostage by the reality that “losing is a way of life.” Admit it or not, Cubs fans expect to lose – and the fate of losing has now even taken on status as adorable veneration. Whether it’s a memory of the Billy Goat Curse or the Steve Bartman Reach, Cubs fans take it all in stride as integral parts of their destiny to go down in disaster in the final reel of each passing season. They may pretend to believe in winning a World Series as a possibility, but everything in their collective conscious and unconscious experience tells them that losing is always their inevitable rest stop.

Cubs fans cannot even play the card that’s available to most other fans from the original sixteen franchises, other than the St. Louis Browns. Cubs fans cannot even brag that their 90-year old great-grandfathers remember their last Cubs World Series champion. All the great-grandpa Cub fans from 1908 have been in the ground or smoked into urns for years now. And, if there is a survivor from 1908, it’s not likely that he holds on to any memories of relevant import.

“Tinker to Evers to who?”

“That’s right, Grandpa! Who’s on first!”

Yes, I think the “Stockholm Syndrome” is a cap that fits the Cubs Nation well. They are a culture totally dedicated by experience and expectation to the reality of losing as a way of life for their kind. I guess we could stop short and just call it a bad case of “1908-itits” that affects our North Chicago brethren and their WGN convert-level class, but that descriptor doesn’t carry the issue far enough.

“Itis” is a medical suffix that usually gets attached to any condition arising from acute irritation. And that doesn’t fit the affliction that blankets the Cubs den. Their condition is chronic. And it stopped being merely irritating about a thousand baseball blood baths ago. Cubs fans had to either die from losing or start adoring its inevitability. Like the people who got vault-stuffed in Stockholm, Cubs fans chose the latter – to start adoring their captor – and their’s was named “Loser.”


Hippo Vaughn’s Disappointing Game.

February 4, 2010

Hippo Vaughn lost a no-hitter in 10th after he and rival Fred Toney each gave up no hits in 9.

James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn of Weatherford, Texas did allright for himself over 13 seasons as a left handed big league pitcher for the New York Yankees (1908, 1910-12), Washington Senators (1912), and Chicago Cubs (1913-21).  He won 20 games or more five times in his eight seasons as a Cub, finishing with a career record of 178 wins, 137 losses, and an outstanding ERA of 2.49. At 6″4″ and 215 pounds, he was one of the really big men of his early 20th century period and he carried his weight and size with the kind of plodding walk that over time earned him the “Hippo” nickname that all but obliterated all public memory of his given first name of James.

Hippo Vaughn also found himself involved in one of the most frustrating losses in baseball history. It happened on May 2, 1917 at Weeghman Park in Chicago in the days before that venerable venue came to be much better known for its “friendly confines” as Wrigley Field. Vaughn drew the starting assignment for the home town Chicago Cubs that day. Right-handed Fred Toney got the pitching nod for the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

The game turned out to be one of the classic pitching duels of all time. For nine innings, neither pitcher gave up a single hit. Both men also hung around to take a double no-hitter duel into the 10th inning. In those days, pitchers arms didn’t fall off after 100 pitches and the macho code of the times stated expectations straight and strong: If you can still do it, stay in there and get the job done.

Both Vaughn and Toney would take the mound for their clubs in the 10th. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do.

Gus Getz, third baseman, was the first batter up for the Reds in the top of the 10th. Getz was a short-time role player in his brief big league career and, even though he batted in the two-hole this day, he only had 14 t bats for the Reds in the 1917 season. The right hand hitting Getz popped a high fly in front of the plate that Cubs  catcher Art Wilson captured easily for the first out of the inning.

Then it happened.

Batting right, the switch-hitting shortstop Larry Kopf laced a Vaughn pitch into right center for the first hit of the game. Vaughn sighed visibly in disappointment, but then quickly settled back into the important business of trying to win the game. With a man on first now and only one out, he had work to do.

Reds center fielder Greasy Neale, a lefty hitter, then lifted a can-of-corn fly ball to Cy Williams in center for the second out of the inning. Hope was floating good, even if the no-no had been lost from the Hippo bandwagon.

Then the wheels started to come off, as they sometimes do, even in the best played baseball games.

Lefty Hal Chase of the Reds followed Neale with a fly ball of his own to Williams in center, but this time, Cy dropped the ball. He got two hands on it. Then he just dropped it. What should have been the safe end of the inning for Vaughn did not happen due to the Williams error. Any runs that scored from here would be unearned, but they would be just as deadly as any earned ones. Kopf advanced from first to third on Williams’ drop of the fly ball by Chase. Prince Hal Chase held at first after the miscue, but he quickly stole second during the next Reds hitter’s time at bat. Now the Reds had runners at second and third with two outs.

The next Reds hitter was a fellow named Jim Thorpe. The great Native American Olympic champion and professional football player was now trying his skills at baseball as a right handed hitting right fielder.

Hippo Vaughn respected Thorpe’s speed and athleticism. He knew he had to bear down on Thorpe. In spite of this awareness, no one could protect Hippo and the Cubs from the damage that’s always possible from a swinging bunt. And a swinging bunt down the third base line is what Thorpe unleashed inadvertently – a high bouncer that Vaughn knew immediately would be good enough for an infield scratch hit for the speedy Thorpe.

Vaughn was the Cubs’ only hope for a play at the plate on Kopf. He raced over to get the ball and he fielded it cleanly and threw it to catcher Wilson, not realizing that Kopf was right behind him on the base path for an easy tag, had Hippo only known to turn around. Instead, Kopf stopped in the baseline and he and Hippo both stared in disbelief at what they saw happening with catcher Wilson and the ball.

The throw from Hippo bounced off catcher Wilson’s chest protector and fell to the ground. Wilson just stood there, frozen from action. Seeing that, Kopf raced in to score as Wilson just continued standing there in a state of mental paralysis.

Noting it all, Chase came tearing around third in an attempt to also score from second on Wilson’s brain freeze. Hippo screamed at Wilson in frustration: “Are you going to let him score too?”

Wilson suddenly  recovered in time to pick up the ball and tag Chase for the third out, but the damage had been done. Toney retired the Cubs with no further damage in the bottom of the 10th to preserve his own 10-inning no-hitter as Hippo Vaughn lost a heartbreaking 1-0 final score, as he recorded a one-hit losing game effort against the Reds.

The Cubs clubhouse was an atmosphere of bitter frustration after the game. Catcher Wilson broke down in tears apologizing to Hippo for his brain lock on the critical play at home. Meanwhile, Hippo bounced back and forth between his own frustration while impossibly trying to console his game-pressure-stupified catcher. Cubs owner Charlie Weeghman didn’t help matters much either by sticking his head into the Cubs clubhouse long enough to yell to the whole team, “You’re all a bunch of asses!”

Sometimes life’s not fair. And sometimes unfairness comes with an extra little twist of the knife. Hippo Vaughn found out about both these truths on May 2, 1917.