Saturday, February 8, 2014

JOBC Cubs Alamanac--February 8

Today's Cubs Birthdays

~Steve Dillard 1951 (Cubs 1979-1981)
Dillard may have only been a backup infielder for the Cubs from 1979-1981, and he may have only hit .225 and .218 in two of those years, but Steve Dillard's mustache didn't take a back seat to anyone. He once pulled the hidden ball trick by hiding it in his mustache. Not really, but he could have. His mustache was that spectacular.

~Felix Pie 1985 (Cubs 2007-2008)
He was supposed to be the next big star in Chicago, a five tool outfielder with dazzling talent. Like Corey Patterson before him, Pie never quite put it together. They handed him in the starting center field job in 2008, but he lost it by May. The Cubs signed Jim Edmonds and sent Felix back to the minors. One thing many male Cubs fans will never forget about him is an injury he suffered during his time with the Cubs. It was called "testicular torsion" or twisted testicle. Some of us still have nightmares. The Cubs traded Felix to the Orioles in 2009.

A/V Club

Video highlights of Felix Pie's career...

Friday, February 7, 2014

RIP Ralph Kiner

Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner passed away yesterday. He was 91 years old. The New York Times has a wonderful obit.

A few teams can lay claim to the great slugger. He wears a Pirates cap in the Hall of Fame. He was the broadcaster for the New York Mets for many years.

But he was also a Cub.

He was one of the most feared sluggers in the league when he played for the Pirates, but by the time the Cubs got him (1953), he was not the same player. He led the league in home runs all seven seasons with the Pirates, and though he did have a decent power season with the Cubs in 1953 (making the all-star team), he was so slow by then, he could barely field his position.

Combined with the equally slow Hank Sauer in right, the Cubs outfield during those two seasons might have been the worst fielding outfield the Cubs ever had. Kiner joked that both he and Sauer used to scream "You got it, Frankie" every time the ball was hit in the air. Frankie Baumholtz was the centerfielder on that team.

After the 1954 season Kiner was traded to the Indians for Sam Jones, who went on to pitch a no-hitter for the Cubs in 1955.

Ralph lived a nice long life. What was the secret to his 91 years? It might have been his Wheaties...

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 7

Burt Hooton 1950 (Cubs 1971-1975)
Hooton got off to an incredible start in his big league career. He came up at the end of the 1971 season and had three tremendous starts (2-0, two complete games, one shutout, 22 Ks in 21 innings). In fact, he was so good, the Cubs felt they could afford to trade Ken Holtzman in the offseason. It sure looked good early when Hooton used his incredible knuckle-curve to pitch a no-hitter in his fourth career start. In fact, he pitched well the entire 1972 season, despite going only 11-14. (Photo: Burt Hooton 1973 Topps Baseball Card)

But Hooton slumped a bit in 1973 and 1974, and in the early part of 1975, the Cubs shipped him off to the Dodgers for Geoff Zahn and Eddie Solomon. That turned out to be a terrible trade for Chicago. Hooton was still young and only needed a little guidance, something he got in Los Angeles. He won 18 games for the Dodgers that year, went on to pitch another eleven seasons, became an All-Star, a World Series champ, and a runner-up for the Cy Young Award. Don't ask what the players the Cubs got in return for him did.

Here's a little bit of Burt Hooton Cubs trivia. On the day Elvis Presley performed at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago in 1972, Hooton pitched a shutout against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

Ted Kennedy 1865 (White Stockings 1885)
He was signed by Chicago in June of 1885 because they were down to one pitcher (John Clarkson) and Kennedy had been doing some incredible things on a team in Keokuk. He pitched nine games for Chicago (and won 7 of them), but developed an arm injury, and was released in September.

Tom Daly 1866 (White Stockings 1887-1888)
His nickname was Tido, and he was a utility man during his time in Chicago, playing every position on the field except pitcher and third base. He managed to parlay that utility role into a 17-season big league career. His brother Joe also played.

Pat Moran 1876 (Cubs 1906-1909)
Moran was a member of the last two championship teams, the 1907 & 1908 Cubs, as their backup catcher. He later managed in the big leagues, and led the Cincinnati Reds to the World Series championship in 1919. It's not Moran's fault that the Reds' opponent, the Chicago Black Sox, threw the series.

Earl Whitehill 1899 (Cubs 1939)
Whitehill won more than 200 games in the big leagues, but only four of those came for the Cubs, in his last big league season. He holds the record for the worst ERA of any 200-game winner in history (4.36). Earl's career really spans a few different eras. Early in his career, the player/manager of his Tigers team was Ty Cobb. Ten years later, he almost ended Lou Gehrig's Iron Man streak when he beaned him on April 23, 1933, knocking him unconscious. Gehrig finished the game. By the time he joined the Cubs he was 40 years old.

Dummy Lynch 1926 (Cubs 1948)
Dummy Lynch was a war hero--a paratrooper in World War II. He only got a few at-bats on that very bad 1948 Cubs team, but in his very first big league game, he hit a homer against future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. That makes Lynch one of only 26 players since 1908 to hit a homer in his first career game, and never hit another one in his career. Despite the less than flattering nickname, Lynch was no dummy. After his baseball career, he became a practicing attorney in Texas.

Juan Pizarro 1937 (Cubs 1970-1973)
He was a two-time All-Star for the White Sox (1963-1964), and came to the Cubs from the Angels in the middle of the 1970 season. Pizarro had periods of brilliance with the Cubs, and often those happened when Tom Seaver was on the mound for the Mets. In September of 1971 he shut out the Mets in Shea Stadium 1-0, and the one run came off the bat of Juan himself, a solo homer against Seaver. But those moments didn't happen too often. Pizarro was never really more than a spot-starter for the Cubs during his time with them, and never won more than seven games in a season.

Ben Christensen 1978 (Cubs minor leaguer)
The Cubs were coming off a playoff season in 1998, and were off to a good start in 1999, when the wheels suddenly came off the bus. Is it possible that this was some sort of karmic punishment from above? Ordinarily we would say that’s ridiculous. But on June 2, 1999, with the Cubs firmly entrenched in first place, seemingly on their way to a repeat playoff run, the Cubs drafted a pitcher out of Wichita State named Ben Christensen, probably the most controversial draft pick in Cubs history. Why was it so controversial? Ben Christensen had just been suspended for the season by the NCAA for an act so egregious, that it shocked the nation. He was warming up on the mound and felt that the batter in the on-deck circle was timing his pitches. This is, for some reason, considered bad baseball etiquette. So, Ben did what anyone would have done in the same situation. He fired one of his 90-plus mile an hour fastballs directly at the head of the the on-deck circle. He hit him flush, and severely injured him. The player he hit was never able to play baseball again because of severe vision issues that arose from the incident. Now, it’s true that Ben was considered a stud pitcher at the time, and had been pegged to go at the very top of the draft. And it’s also true that the Cubs were picking low in the first round because they were coming off a playoff season. But there was a good reason every team passed on Ben. He was nitroglycerin. The Cubs received a lot more than bad publicity from the incident. The team immediately fell apart on the field, and Beanball Ben, as the fans called him, never made it to the big leagues.

Jon Leicester 1979 (Cubs 2004-2005)
He was a right-handed reliever for the Cubs for a few seasons during the Dusty Baker era. He last pitched in the big leagues in 2007 (for the Orioles).

Scott Feldman 1983 (Cubs 2013)
Feldman was one of the "flip-able" players brought in during the Epstein regime to garner prospects in return, and it worked like a charm. He was traded to the Orioles in July 2013, in exchange for pitchers Jake Arietta and Pedro Strop. Feldman has the distinction of having the most wins in a season by a Jewish pitcher (17 in 2009) since Steve Stone in 1980.

A/V Club

Slow motion mechanics of Scott Feldman

Scott Feldman 1983

Thursday, February 6, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 6

Today's Cubs Birthdays...

~Smoky Burgess 1927 (Cubs 1949-1951)
His real name was Forrest Harrill Burgess, but no-one called him that. He was Smoky Burgess, a five-time National League All-Star. He was a very good catcher, but he became even better known as one of the best pinch hitters of his era. He retired with a record 507 pinch at-bats. Only Manny Mota has more than Burgess's 145 pinch hits. Unfortunately, none of that happened with the Cubs because they traded him after his second season in the majors (1951) for little remembered Johnny Pramesa and Bob Usher. If he had stayed with the Cubs, he could have been their starting catcher for a decade. (Pramesa played 22 games for the Cubs, Usher played 1.) Smoky always said that his most satisfying pinch hit was his home run off Cubs pitcher Sam Jones with two games left in the 1956 season. The Reds, his team at the time, were going for the record--most home runs by a team in a season. The record was 221, and when Smokey came up to bat, the Reds had 220. Reds manager Chuck Dressen ordered Burgess to pinch hit for Roy McMillan, and said, "Make it a home run - or nothin'!" The ball landed on Sheffield Avenue. Smoky ended his career as a pinch hitter for the White Sox—and played until he was 40 years old. (Photo: 1951 Bowman baseball card)

~Ronald Reagan 1911 (Cubs fan 1911-2004)
Reagan didn't just grow up a Chicago Cubs fan. He owes much of his success to the team. He became a Cubs radio broadcaster, was sent to California to cover the team, took a screen test while he was out there, and became a movie star, which led to his political career. As the president, he returned to Wrigley Field in 1988 to throw out the first pitch. Straight line...Cubs to Cubs.

~Dale Long 1926 (Cubs 1957-1959)
Dale Long had a pretty good career as a Cubs first baseman, but one game is probably remembered more than any other. On August 20, 1958, Cubs catcher Moe Thacker was in the hospital. The Cubs started that game with only two catchers on the roster; Cal Neeman and Sammy Taylor. Taylor was pinch hit for, and Neeman came in to take his place. But Neeman was ejected from the game...meaning the Cubs didn’t have a catcher in uniform to take his place. So, Cubs manager Bob Scheffing sent the ever-reliable Dale Long in to take over. When he entered the game he became the first left-handed catcher in baseball in more than 50 years. (The last before that was in 1906). He did it again a month later on September 11, 1958. There wasn't another left-handed catcher until 1980 (Mike Squires with the White Sox in a similar emergency role). Benny DiStefano of the Pittsburgh Pirates also did it in 1989. That makes it a grand total of three men in more than one hundred years of Major League baseball; and Dale Long of the Chicago Cubs is the charter member of that exclusive club.

~Walt Huntzinger 1899 (Cubs 1926)
His nickname was "Shakes" and pitched for the Cubs at the end of the 1926 season. He pitched very well out of the bullpen, but after the season was over, he went back to the minor leagues and never returned to the big leagues.

~Travis Wood 1987 (Cubs 2012-present)
The Cubs got Wood in the Sean Marshall trade, and he has become one of their most reliable starters. In 2013, he started the season with nine quality starts, becoming the first pitcher since Three Finger Mordecai Brown in 1906. His greatest day as a Cub probably came when he hit a grand slam homer against the arch-rival White Sox. He was named to his first All-Star game just a few days later.

A/V Club

Reagan visits Chicago, and WBBM News Radio covers it (1988)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 5

Cubs Birthdays

~Max Flack 1890 (Cubs 1916-1922)
Max has the distinction of playing in the very first game in Weeghman Park history as a member of the Chi-Feds, and then playing in the very first game the Cubs played in the same ballpark (as a Cub). He was their star right fielder during that time. During their pennant winning season of 1918, he led the league's outfielders in fielding percentage, put-outs, double plays, and assists. He also, unfortunately, dropped an easy fly ball in the 1918 World Series. The Cubs were leading the game 1-0 at the time, and the dropped flyball allowed the Red Sox to score two runs and win the game 2-1. Whenever someone accuses the Cubs of throwing that series (entire books have been written on the subject), this is one of those plays that is discussed. In 1922, Max was traded to the Cardinals for Cliff Heathcote in the middle of a double header. The two men just changed uniforms and dugouts.

~Harry Smith 1856 (White Stockings 1877)
Harry got into only 24 games with Chicago in their second National League season, before moving on mid-season to play with Cincinnati. He played second base, center field, and catcher in the era before players wore gloves. Among his teammates in Chicago were Hall of Famers Al Spalding and Cap Anson. He died before the turn of the century (in 1898) at the way too young age of 42.

~Dewey Williams 1916 (Cubs 1944-1948)
He was a member of the last pennant winning Cubs team (1945) as the backup catcher, and even played in two of the 1945 World Series games. He struck out as a pinch hitter in Game 5 at Wrigley Field, and came in to catch in extra innings during Game 6, the last World Series game the Cubs won. (For more about Dewey, check out "This Week in 1945").

~Don Hoak 1928 (Cubs 1956)
He was a Marine, and a boxer before he came to baseball, so it's no wonder his teammates called him Tiger. Before he made it to the big leagues, Hoak played in Cuba for a part of a season and faced future dictator Fidel Castro in a game. He was a World Series champ with the Dodgers in 1955, and shared third base with an aging Jackie Robinson that season, so the Cubs were excited to get him (along with Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn) a few weeks after the series ended. Unfortunately, he had a terrible season in Chicago in 1956. In over 400 at bats, he hit only .215, so the Cubs got rid of him. Of course, after he left the Cubs, he immediately became an All-Star (in 1957). Then, in 1960, he finished 2nd in the MVP voting and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series championship. Hoak died of a heart attack while chasing his brother-in-law's stolen car. He was only 42 years old.

~Lee Thomas 1936 (Cubs 1966-1967)
Thomas was a backup outfielder/first baseman for the Cubs toward the end of his playing career. One of his claims to fame came in 1966 when he knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Astros. While the Cubs were playing at Wrigley Field that afternoon, John Lennon was holding a press conference at the Astor Hotel in downtown Chicago, apologizing for his famous "we're more popular than Jesus" remark. Thomas retired after the following season and went into management. He was one of the architects of the Whitey Herzog-era Cardinals in the 80s, and then became the GM of the Phillies and led them to the 1993 World Series. The ex-Cub GM watched his ex-Cub closer Mitch Williams give up the walk-off series-ending home run to the ex-Cub outfielder Joe Carter.

~Roberto Rodriguez 1941 (Cubs 1970)
The Venezuelan was one of the relievers in a very shaky Cubs bullpen in 1970. He saved two games for the Cubs, but he was routinely rocked. His final ERA for the season was 5.82. The Cubs tried to convert him into a starter in the minors the next season, and he stayed in their system for the next four years. He never made it back to the big leagues.

A/V Club

Former Cub Don Hoak in the 1960 World Series (playing for Pittsburgh)...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 4

Cubs Birthdays

~Germany Schaeffer 1876 (Orphans 1901-1902)
He was born in a town that boasted nearly 25% German heritage--Chicago, Illinois--and his parents were fresh off the boat immigrants. So naturally, he got the nickname Germany. He began his big-league career in his hometown, but really made a name for himself in Detroit. He was the starting second baseman for the Tigers in both of their World Series losses to the Cubs (1907 & 1908). Germany was known for his wackiness. He once stole second base to attempt to force a throw, allowing a teammate to score from home. When the catcher didn't fall for it, Germany stole first base on the next pitch, so he could try it again. Here's another colorful story from the Baseball Biography Project:
According to teammate Davy Jones in The Glory of Their Times, Germany announced to the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are now looking at Herman Schaefer, better known as 'Herman the Great,' acknowledged by one and all to be the greatest pinch-hitter in the world. I am now going to hit the ball into the left field bleachers. Thank you." Facing Chicago's Doc White, Schaefer proceeded to hit the first pitch into the left field bleachers for a game-winning homer. As he made his way around the diamond, Germany supposedly slid into every base, announcing his progress as if it were a horse race as he went around. "Schaefer leads at the half!" and so on. After hook-sliding into home, he popped up, doffed his cap, bowed, and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes this afternoon's performance. I thank you for your kind attention."
Germany Schaefer died way too young, from a hemorrhage at the age of 42. He had only been retired for about a year.

~Doc Miller 1883 (Cubs 1910)
The Canadian-born Miller got exactly one bat for the pennant-bound Cubs on May 4, 1910. He couldn't crack the Cubs lineup, and they needed pitching, so they traded him eight days later to Boston for pitcher Lew Ritchie. It turned out to be a good trade for both teams. Miller became the starting right fielder for Boston. He led the league in hits the following year and batted .333. Meanwhile Ritchie won 42 games over the next three seasons for the Cubs.

~Pat Perry 1959 (Cubs 1988-1989)
The Cubs got Perry in the trade that sent Leon Durham to the Reds. He was a member of the division champion 1989 Cubs team, but he was used sparingly out of the bullpen (19 appearances), and didn't make the post-season roster. They released him in December of that year. He did manage to win two games and save two games during his tenure with the Cubs.

~Dan Plesac 1962 (Cubs 1993-1994)
Plesac was a very effective reliever with the Brewers (a three-time all-star), and he was a workhorse out of the bullpen during his two seasons in his hometown of Chicago (he's actually from Crown Point, Indiana). After his career ended he moved into broadcasting. For a few years (2005-2008) he was the studio analyst for Comcast in Chicago, but he has been with the MLB network since 2009.

A/V Club

Dan Plesac was a very good reliever, but he also gave up over 100 homers in his career. This one by Cecil Fielder was probably hit the furthest...

Monday, February 3, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 3

Cubs Birthdays

~Norman Rockwell 1893 (Cubs cover 1948)
How bad were the Cubs in 1948? They finished in last place, 27 ½ games out of first place. Their hitting was atrocious (fewest home runs, fewest walks), their pitching staff was brutal (fewest shutouts, second most walks), their speed was non-existent (fewest stolen bases), and their fielding was embarrassing (second worst in the league). It must have been tough to watch, even for cheerful Jolly Cholly Grimm, the team's manager that year. That must have been what inspired this cover from artist Norman Rockwell on the September 4, 1948 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The Cubs manager, the one in the middle who looks like his wife just left him, bears a remarkable likeness to Charlie Grimm.

~Newt Randall 1890 (Cubs 1907)
Newt had a very good minor league career, but didn't get his shot at the big leagues until 1907. He earned a shot by having a great spring training in New Orleans that year, and came north with the defending National League champs. He was the only rookie on the team. On June 20th of that year, he was traded to Boston in a pretty unusual way. The two managers decided to trade their right fielders as they exchanged lineup cards at home plate. Newt was sent to the Boston dugout, and Del Howard came over to the Cubs. Newt finished the season in Boston, his only season in the big leagues.

~Don "Tiger" Kaiser 1935 (Cubs 1955-1957).
His real first name was Clyde, he went by Don, and everyone called him Tiger. Unlike another well-known Tiger today, Chicago's Tiger was not controversial. Don Kaiser was a bonus baby pitcher the Cubs signed in 1955 with high hopes. That ’55 Cubs team was as bad as any of Chicago’s incredibly woeful 1950s bunch, so they brought Tiger right up to the bigs and put him in the bullpen. He performed well enough to get a shot at the starting rotation the next year, and the big tall (6’5”) right hander from Oklahoma was 6-15 as a member of the Cubs rotation in '56 and '57. He was dealt to the Braves after the ’57 season. Tiger couldn’t crack that loaded NL champion team squad the next spring, however, and never made it back to the big leagues again.

~Joe Coleman 1947 (Cubs 1976)
He pitched in the big leagues for 15 seasons and won 142 games, but only 2 of those came for the Cubs. His father (also named Joe) pitched ten years in the big leagues too, and his son Casey made it to the show as well (with the Cubs).

A/V Club

Going inside the studio of Norman Rockwell, and around the world with him (for Pan Am Airlines)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--February 2

Cubs Birthdays

~George Halas 1895 (Cubs fan 1900-1983)
Growing up in Chicago during the Cubs championship era (the first decade of last century), George Halas was a die-hard Cubs fan. When he was a boy, he and his friends used to hang around the player's entrance at West Side Grounds and wait for Frank Chance to show up. When he arrived, the boys would beg the Peerless Leader to let them into the games for free. Chance obliged them on several occasions, something George Halas never forgot. Halas later became a baseball player himself. A month after World War 1 ended, he signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees. He eventually made it to the show for part of the 1919 season, but an injury ended his career after only 22 at bats.

The next year the Yankees had another right fielder; a little known fella with the last name of Ruth.

Halas obviously also excelled at football, and was one of the founders of the National Football League. He patterned the team colors after his college team (the University of Illinois), but he named them "The Bears" as a tribute to his favorite baseball team: The Chicago Cubs. Halas' Bears even shared Wrigley Field with the Cubs for nearly 50 years. George Halas is a member of Pro Football's Hall of Fame, and Chicago Bears fans will always revere him for his incredible success. But never forget, George Halas was a Cubs fan even longer.

~Orval Overall 1881 (Cubs 1905-1913)
He was a key member of the Cubs dynasty of 1906-1910. He was a two-time 20-game winner, and led the league in shutouts (twice) and strikeouts. He also remains the last pitcher in Cubs history to win a World Series-clinching game. He won the deciding game of the 1908 World Series.

~Ted Tappe 1931 (Cubs 1955)
He was part of the ill-fated Johnny Klippstein trade with the Reds. Tappe played the first few months of the 1955 season before being sent down to the minors by the Cubs. He never returned. His Cubs career consisted of 50 at bats.

~Warren Brusstar 1952 (Cubs 1983-85)
Warren pitched out of the bullpen for the Cubs for three seasons. His first two were excellent, and his third one was so bad it became the last season of his big league career.

~Pat Tabler 1958 (Cubs 1981-1982)
He was involved in the same trade that brought Warren Brusstar to the Cubs, though neither of them were the main bargaining chips. The Cubs acquired Steve Trout in that trade, and the White Sox got Dick Tidrow. Tabler ended up playing in the big leagues for 12 seasons, and won a ring with the 1992 Blue Jays. His nickname was Mr. Clutch.

~Paul Kilgus 1962 (Cubs 1989)
He was part of the trade that brought Mitch Williams to the Cubs (at great cost--Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer went to the Rangers). Kilgus and Williams both contributed during the Cubs division winning season of 1989. Kilgus threw three shutout innings in the series against the Giants, one of the few Cubs pitchers who pitched well. Even Greg Maddux was lit up by the white-hot Will Clark.

~Ronny Cedeno 1983 (Cubs 2005-2008)
Ronny filled in nicely for Nomar Garciaparra when he was called up as a rookie, and got the starting job the following season, but he couldn't get on base. He managed only 17 walks in over 500 at bats in 2006, the worst ratio in the entire league. He has managed to stay in the big leagues thanks to his glove, however.

~Scott Maine 1985 (Cubs 2010-2012)
He was a very effective closer in Iowa, but big league hitters were not fooled. In 2011 he gave up four homers in only seven innings pitched.

A/V Club

The 1963 NFL Championship game, the last championship in Wrigley Field history. George Halas is the Bears coach...