Saturday, September 20, 2008

1908 vs. 2008: Catcher

Between now and the end of the season we're going to compare the last Cubs championship team to this year's future championship team. Next stop: Catcher


Johnny Kling is a key member of the 1908 Cubs. He is considered one of the smartest players in the league, known for his defensive prowess, his ability to call a good game (Mordecai Brown gives Kling credit for his emergence as a star pitcher), and his way of making the umpires love him. Unlike most of the players in the league, Kling is a gentleman with the umps--he never swears, and he is well known as the only member of the Cubs who doesn't smoke or drink.

Despite his boy scout image, Kling is far from an angel. He has nearly perfected the art of tripping a batter on his way out of the batter's box. He's also known for his ability to get under the hitter's skin with his subtle barbs. His teammates don't call him "Noisy" for nothing. Johnny is also a pool shark who owns his own Billiard Hall. Before the next season he will become the national billiards champion. In fact, he'll sit out the entire 1909 season defending his title.

His importance to the Cubs is not only measured by his defensive contributions. Johnny Kling is a solid hitter too, despite the fact that he hits eighth in the lineup. In 1908 he hit 4 home runs, which is the second most on the Cubs, and the ninth most in the entire National League. (It was the dead ball era).

How important is Kling to the Cubs? During the Cubs dynasty (1906-1910), the Cubs were in the World Series every single year except one; 1909, the year Kling took off to play pool.


While the 1908 Cubs were paced by a veteran 33-year-old catcher, the 2008 team has a rookie at the helm; Geovany Soto.

Soto is more than just a rookie. Last September he made the Cubs playoff roster and hit the team's only home run in the playoffs versus the Diamondbacks. They gave him the starting job in spring training, and he hasn't disappointed. In July he was voted the starting catcher for the National League in the All-Star Game; the first rookie catcher in baseball history so honored. In addition to that honor, there is a very good chance he will be named the Rookie of the Year after the season.

Why is he so respected? He's a slugger (one of the many Cubs hitters this year with more than 20 home runs), a top RBI man, a clutch hitter, and a solid defensive catcher. The mostly veteran staff has accepted him and lets him call the game--which is highly unusual for a rookie.

Soto is so important to the Cubs success of 2008, Hall of Fame baseball commentator Peter Gammons is calling for him to be named the Most Valuable Player of the league.