Posts Tagged ‘Bryce Harper’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Son, this isn’t the land of the living. It’s the land of the dying. Get over it. Ask not for whom the bell tolls….

-Craig Branch

I’m watching what could be Chipper Jones’ final season in baseball. There’s something about the passage of a baseball career that gets me. The old guys are going away, as they always will over the course of time. Finally the generation of baseball players that I grew up with, the brightest stars of my baseball card collection, is going away. Some are still going strong, Jeter is hitting .400 for some reason, some are fading away, Giambi and Thome are finding different roles as part time players, and some may have passed into the history books abruptly, Mo Rivera might have pitched his last Major League inning. They leave the game in fine hands as the younger crop of budding stars took over. It’s turning back into a young man’s game with an emphasis on speed and defense, and that’s what baseball should be. Home Runs are only cool to a degree, but for my money a 450 ft. moon shot, while certainly valuable, will not be as entertaining as that moment when the runner tags up from third on Bryce Harper. Baseball is at it’s best when Jemile Weeks tests the arm of Ichiro, when Starlin Castro is stretching a double into a triple, when Josh Reddick absolutely guns some poor soul down at third. It hearkens back to a different time, a different brand of baseball.

Baseball is about history. It’s true that nothing will ever happen the same exact way twice, but what happens on the diamond always has roots in the past. Baseball goes through cycles, and sometimes those cycles will repeat. I think that as it stands now this iteration of baseball has the chance to look a lot like the game as it was played in the 1970’s, when you could see all sorts of things on the diamond. Starters went for 250+ innings, closers saved 30+ games, SB artists swiped 60+ bags, sluggers hit 30+ HR’s, great hitters had averages in the .330’s. It was an athletic competition that pitted outfielders against daring baserunners, great pitchers against great hitters, and it was probably the best representation of what baseball could be. Given the dearth of young talent that is already here and the talent that has yet to reach the Major League level, we could be looking at that again.

History

The last time the Cubs went 27 up, 27 down was on September 9, 1965. Sandy Koufax struck out 14 and let none reach base against the 8th place Cubs at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs have always managed to get a hit since then. It’s the longest streak of its kind in the Majors. The Yankees have the second longest official streak at 44 years, 263 days.

That fact came to me as I was watching Tommy Hanson throw a few no-hit innings at Wrigley. It got me thinking about all the history Wrigley must have seen over the years. I bring all of this up because there is a slow realization that is coming to me as I am witnessing what I think are the final years of Wrigley Field. At least the Wrigley Field as we know it. There are numerous plans to renovate Wrigley Field, most of them revolve around a Jumbotron in center field, and some even have the Cubs scrapping the old stadium all together and building up a brand new stadium. I know a lot of fans are heavily resistant to the idea of tearing Wrigley down. Over time, I’ve grown to accept that it can happen, and for the long-term success of the team, it probably should happen. The more importantly I’ve grown to accept that it’s ok.

Wrigley is currently the second oldest stadium in the Majors. Fenway is older by 2 years. Weeghman Park opened in 1914, Fenway opened in 1912. Weeghman park was the home of the Federal League Chicago Whales for 2 years before the Cubs took over the park in 1916. Since then it’s seen a lot of history, some of it good, most of it bad. Wrigley saw Babe Ruth call his shot. Gabby launch one into the gloamin’ there. It’s where Charlie Hustle equaled a legend. Whether you like it or not, Sammy made history there, creating a legend that is now a taint in Cubs history.

That’s the underlying theme with Wrigley, we’ve been a witness to heartbreak more than anything. I think the Wrigley moment that sticks out in my mind more than anything is Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, and we don’t need to rehash that moment. Wrigley has never celebrated a World Series winner. She’s never seen the Cubs seal the deal.

Ivy

Wrigley will always have a soft spot in my baseball heart. It’s canned as a dump by its detractors, and yeah, a lot of the park could use improvement. What’s lost in the troughs is what that place really means to Cubs fans. It’s the embodiment of history for most of us, and it shouldn’t be that way. Wrigley is bricks, ivy, mortar, and steel. Wrigley is not Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, nor Greg Maddux. It was the home of some legends, but at the end of the day, that only matters so much. What matters more are the memories of what they did. It’s cool to have an active museum like Wrigley, but I think it’s more important to remember that memories don’t die if the stadium does.

I was always closer to my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather (her father) and grandmother settled into a house on the lower west side of Chicago in 1968. My family essentially lived in that house until 2000. My grandfather put so much time into that place, he became that place in a sense. My youth has strong roots in that house, we were that house. The memories of my childhood center around there, as our family grew and scattered to all corners of the country, we would always gather there for Christmases, birthdays, and eventually a funeral. When my grandfather died the decision came to sell the house and have my grandmother move in with us. That was an extremely painful and sad day for the entire family as 3 generations of family gathered again to say goodbye.

My grandfather was that place, but his memory lives on. The house was important, but more important were the memories shared there. They didn’t go away, they didn’t become dull in the wake of the sale. They remain, as the memories always will. Our family is more than brick and mortar, and we Cub fans need to understand that the Cubs are more than Wrigley Field.

A large part of me will be sad to see it go, it will be torn down in my lifetime, of that I am certain. There is a great deal of charm to the ballpark, but at the end of the day what matters more to me is that the Cubs put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. If that means a Jumbotron, fine. If that means tearing down a relic and building a new park, fine. Yankee Stadium was Ruth’s house, Yankee fans don’t mind the new Yankee Stadium much. There’s an understanding that the legends in pinstripes will always be the legends in pinstripes, regardless of where the current Yankees play.

A baseball sage once said that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Wrigley Field is a legendary stadium, in my opinion. It’ll never really die, the ivy will always live on in Cub fan hearts and memories. It’s time to grow up in a sense, we’re in the baseball business now. Nobody is more romantic about baseball and history than I am, but part of history is progress, and I’m perfectly fine with the Cubs progressing.

Cherish the memories, they are important. Think about the long-term success of the team, that is more important.

Even when he does cool shit Bryce Harper still looks like a douchebag.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“In American Society our ways of teaching about baseball are better than our ways of teaching about anything else. No matter how your mind works, baseball reaches out to you.”

Bill James

I

At my heart I’m a historian. My mind is stimulated by the pastoral, by history, by personal stories, by real emotions, my mind is stimulated by what was and how it can affect what will be. I had a rare opportunity at the All Star game in 2006 to sit down with Buck O’Neil and listen to him tell old war stories for 15 minutes. It’s a vivid memory that really won’t ever fade into my memory, and I’m glad I got to talk to him before his passing 4 months later.

The reason I’m so excited about this baseball season has very little to do with the local talent. Sure, Chris Sale looks like an absolute lefty monster on the South Side. Starlin Castro is a tremendous young shortstop that oozes potential and could become whatever he wants to become at this point. There’s some talent on both farms that warrant watching, but that’s not why I was so eager to start the 2012 baseball year. It really has nothing to do with Chicago, really.

II

The Washington Nationals (15-9) have never finished higher than 4th in the NL East until last year. After a surprise 81-81 inaugural season in Washington (they were originally the Montreal Expos), the franchise found itself stuck in the mud. They wouldn’t top 75 wins until 2011, and their winning percentages were pretty abysmal. They lost a combined 205 games in 2008 and 2009.

The fortunes of a franchise can change for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes they sign a few big name free agents, get the right coach, and go riding off into the sunset with a ring. Other times they get career years from everybody at the right time en route to a championship. And then there are the Nats who managed to be so bad that they got two potentially generational players in back to back years.

Stephen Strausburg  and Bryce Harper are extremes. Stories of their feats are the stuff fables are made of. “He throws 100 with plus command and has 2 wicked off-speed pitches. The other guy hits 500 foot homeruns and he’s only 17.”

That’s not made up, that’s the reality of the situation that the Nationals are in. They have 2 great talents on a roster that might just be good enough to win the pennant this year. Strausburg will have an innings cap, and Harper, for all of his physical tools, might not be ready to hit major league pitching just quite yet, but this Nationals team is for real everywhere else.

That’s ridiculous. Edwin Jackson is has the highest SP ERA at 3.69. For context, the current NL ERA is 3.72. He’s better than average this year but he’s about 2 runs worse than any other starter on the Nationals.

III

The Dodgers (17-8) have experienced some recent success, most recently reaching the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 before falling into a curious funk that some blame on the tumultuous McCourt divorce. Their ascension is linked directly to the maturation of two budding superstars, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Kemp missed out on being a 40/40 guy by a single homerun last year. This was following an awful 2010 where he OPS’d .760 and was 19-34 on stolen base attempts. He cratered production-wise and decided to tinker with his batting motion. Kemp eliminated the stride that he took before he swung his hips and went with a no-stride approach. It resulted in a .226 jump in OPS and a 2nd place finish in the MVP voting. To start the 2012 year he’s just destroying everything.

Kershaw is 24 years old and has a Cy Young under his belt. He’s a legit Ace and just might be the best pitcher in baseball. His WHIP sits at 0.92, he strikes out 9 per 9, and last year he slashed his walk rate by 1 BB/9. What we’re watching with Kershaw is the evolution from a thrower to a pitcher. Not everyone gets it. Wood was a great thrower, but he never learned how to pitch. He never learned how to dial back the RPM’s and save the hard and good stuff for need situations (see Verlander, Justin). Jake Peavy looks like he’s just now starting to learn how to pitch, but he’s also 31 and past his prime stuff wise. Carlos Marmol never learned how to pitch and tried to make a career out of one pitch. Clayton Kershaw can pitch now.

That’s a dip in walks and hits allowed, and an increase in IP and K-BB ratio. The question on Kershaw was always whether he’d mature from a thrower to a pitcher and it looks like he’s supplying the answer. An ace in the truest sense of the word has no flaws. He’s durable, he has a plus-plus pitch, an arsenal of plus pitches, great command, great makeup, and he proves it, year after year. It’s a show me tag and Kershaw is in the process of showing us.

IV

Pennant chases make baseball. I wasn’t around for any of the good ones really. I didn’t get to see the Giants win the pennant, I missed out on Bucky Fucking Dent, I lost the most famous Cubs homer in the Gloamin, and I completely whiffed with the Gas House Gang comebacks. The true pennant chases are gone, and what we have left are division races and wild card finishes. The most recent amazing comeback was excellent and it brought me to a very happy baseball place where I threw my hands up in celebration as Dan Johnson hit a homerun that meant absolutely nothing to me in terms of rooting interest, but was probably the source of my highest high as a baseball fan. My heart broke with Uggla and Linebrink as the Braves melted, and I kinda dislike the Braves. Pennant chases bring out the best in baseball, and the Dodgers-Nationals thing has great potential to be an amazing cross-country rivalry.

Young superstars, one of them is a heritage franchise, the other is building up a fan base revolving around youth, it should be thrilling to watch. They gave us great theater during their first series match up this past April, Harper debuted, Kershaw was dominant, and Kemp won it in the 10th. It was a well played baseball game, it had drama for all the right reasons, and the star power was there. In time people should remember those matchups, when Scully called Kershaw vs. Strausburg, when Harper reached the bigs, when the Nationals and Dodgers played against each other in meaningful games. I hope more moments like that happen for Octobers to come.

Well, at least until the Cubs are good, in which case, fuck both of them.