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.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
This is the video of the special I wrote about in the column below. Check it out, because it's accompanied by the personal stories of each fan. Included amongst the fans: the founder of the Emil Verban Society (Bruce Ladd), boxer David Diaz, Ronnie Woo Woo Wickers, Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, and my good friend Leslie Keiling's mother, Helen.
Monday, September 15, 2008
About three weeks ago I received a phone call from a friend of mine with an interesting proposition. My friend’s mother had just been filmed for an upcoming ESPN special about the Cubs. The show (and an accompanying article in ESPN Magazine) was to feature Cubs fans from every decade of their losing century. My friend’s mother was chosen to be the representative for Cubs fans in their 90s.*
(*The producers discovered her while checking out Just One Bad Century. Her name is Helen Keiling, and her daughter Leslie told her story as one of our fan of the week videos.)
While they were filming her, one of the writers of the project mentioned that they were having a difficult time finding a kid under ten years old who was articulate, comfortable in front of the camera, and devoted to the Cubs. My friend immediately thought of my son, Sean, who is all of those things. Would he be interested in representing Cubs fans under ten?
I asked Sean, and he raised his hands in the air. He screamed “YEAH!!!”
That got the ball rolling. The writer of the piece called me up and interviewed me about Sean. Was he really a die-hard Cubs fan? I asked Sean to name some of the players, and he effortlessly named half the team off the top of his head.
“But I can only do three of their batting stances,” Sean confessed.
“I think we have our boy,” the writer said.
He sent me the script that all of the fans were going to recite. The plan was to cut from one fan to another in a montage. After each fan read the script, they were going to be interviewed about their love of the team, their feelings about the hundred years since the last championship, and their chances for this year.
Sean made me practice the script with him several times a day for the next week. He had it down pat. He looked right at the camera, he smiled, and he pronounced everything perfectly. We did a few practice interviews, and Sean was charming, cute, enthusiastic and hilarious.
The writer called me to set up a filming time and location. They had it down to two choices: the local baseball field, or our backyard “field” where Sean plays every day. He said he would call me up the next day and make the final arrangements.
Sean was totally excited, and I must admit, so was I. I knew the names of the other people chosen to represent the other decades, and just being associated with this group would be something Sean would cherish for the rest of his life (once he realized who these people were–many of them were nationally known celebrities).
Then I got the call.
“Hate to be the bearer of bad news,” the writer told me, “but we found out yesterday that there’s a seven year old kid named Wrigley Field–and we’re going with him instead. Really sorry about that.”
I was disappointed, but mainly because I knew this news would crush Sean. I thought about telling him the lessons I learned during my twenty year broadcasting career, but I knew he wouldn’t understand any of that. This was just pure disappointment, and it couldn’t be dressed up as anything else or explained away with detached broadcasting industry logic.
I approached the subject with him as gingerly as possible. As I began to tell him that he wasn’t going to be used in the special after all, his eyes welled up. “But Dad, I knew the words. I knew the players…”
“I know, buddy,” I said as I comforted him with a hug, “but they found another boy that they want to use instead. They only picked him because his name is Wrigley Field.”
He looked up at me. “That’s his name?”
He broke into a big grin. “That’s the coolest name ever.”
And just like that (snap), he was over it. It must be great to be 5.
(Postscript: Just saw the show...and for the record, young Wrigley Field did a very nice job.)