Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Koufax’

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.

After all, My erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was no love,
Just because it perished?

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

America had a love affair with baseball. It was a slow burning love that lasted generations, a constant companion during hard times. Baseball was there everyday, during the depression, during WWII, during the communist scare, baseball was always there, giving you living legends. Williams, DiMaggio, The Holy Trinity, Koufax, Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx, Rose, Aaron, the list goes on and on.

Of recent vintage, the love affair has cooled as a sleeker, much faster sport has taking it’s place as sports king of America. Football reigns supreme and that’s fine. It’s the hot one. Football gives you collisions and car crashes, but with human bodies. Football gives you the cheap quick entertainment that the twitter generation enjoys so much. It’s the most popular sport in the US by a mile, nothing else really comes close to it.

We’ve forgotten about baseball, and it’s because it strayed away from the one thing that made it personable. We loved baseball, but we loved its players even more. They weren’t steroid infested freaks in the past. The bodies weren’t cartoonish. Ted Williams looked like a butcher at the corner store.

Yep, greatest hitter of all time.

For years you could imagine yourself playing baseball and it wouldn’t look clownshoes ridiculous. You can still kinda do it now, but this was especially true in an era before off-season training and, well, steroids.

I understand the drive to become the greatest player you can be, the drive to make the most money, I really do. While I don’t despise roided up players, I do not like them for the negative contributions they’ve made to a game I adore. The relationship between baseball and it’s fans is fractured. An entire generation of fans is growing up not knowing if their favorite player is a cheater or not. See, this doesn’t matter in football. Those guys are just things in helmets that run into each other for our personal enjoyment. They’re like NASCAR vehicles to us. Their personal health matters little because if it did, we’d outlaw the sport.

Baseball on the other hand is a game that is married to history and context. It’s the only game where you can compare players now to players of a generation ago. George Mikan would get destroyed in the modern NBA. Red Grange would be knocked out on his first snap in the NFL. Babe Ruth would still mash in the modern MLB.

History and relatable stars are the main draws with baseball. The true legends of today are awe inspiring because of the legends that they walk with. Greg Maddux is a living legend, a giant in the historical baseball world. The man has amassed 355 wins, he can hang his hat with legends like Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), Christy Matthewson (373), and Pete Alexander (373). When you think about Maddux, it’ll be in the context of Greatest Players of All Time. His name is intertwined with players from the aughts, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and the fifties and sixties. What other sport does that?

In a roundabout way, that brings me to Ryan Braun.

He did indeed test positive for performance enhancing drugs. He did indeed get off on a technicality. He did not, however, exonerate himself whatsoever from being a steroid cheat. The thing with urine is that it doesn’t magically grow testosterone when it’s refrigerated.

Crazy, I know.

Ryan Braun had a 20:1 ratio, which means whatever it means to you. It was high, but it wasn’t the highest in history as he’ll have you believe. There have been 70:1 positive results in the past. The sample was not tampered with, the seals were intact, and while they did sit in the collector’s fridge over the weekend, the alternative was to have them sit at Fed-Ex for the same amount of time. Again, I have yet to hear of the case where testosterone grew in urine because it was cold.

The crime Ryan Braun committed doesn’t just taint his legacy. The continued use of performance enhancing drugs has driven away fans. Baseball is slowly recovering from the steroids scandal, and it finds itself in an odd place. It is trying very hard to actively eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs, but the athletes themselves are finding exotic ways to cover up the use.

Ryan Braun, baseball is partially at fault for the “Guilty until proven innocent,” stance that the general public has taken in past years. More to blame are the players, however, like yourself and Rafael Palmiero, that use and deny so fervently. Baseball has lost a lot of fan credibility, and that’s unfortunate. Living legends are more difficult to identify, I have no idea who’s clean now. I can make my assumptions, but the last round of “damn he’s juicing too?” was too damn painful to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Yeah, everyone in baseball is guilty until proven innocent. It’s not really safe to point at anyone and say “He’s completely clean.” It’s not the era we live in.

That still doesn’t give players an excuse to use. You’re hurting my game man, and I’d appreciate it if you cut that shit out.