Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Checking in with the Cubs: Castro to Barney to Pena

While my Orioles are floundering of late, the Cubs have been on a tear. Not only have they won three of the four games I've watched over the past week but if they beat the Astros today, they'll have won five consecutive series. Not bad at all for a team that looked like it was packing it in for the season in late July.

Castro photo via Bleacher Nation

My good friend Mock, a learned man, commented on my last Cubs post with a very famous poem:
Baseball's Sad Lexicon by Franklin Pierce Adams

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance all played for what was the most recent Cubs dynasty, the last North Side team to win the World Series, in both 1907 and 1908. Probably thanks in large part to the poem, all three men are in the Hall of Fame. As an interesting historical note, these three players forever immortalized in tandem couldn't stand each other personally.

How famous is this poem? I first learned of it from my grandmother. Like most of my family, my grandma found my fascination with sports baffling. She was, however, an Illinois native and a lover of words. One day as I was surely prattling on endlessly about baseball, she gave me a playful look and said simply "Tinker to Evers to Chance" and told me about the poem.

The current Cubs infield boasts my recently-discovered favorite Cub: rookie Darwin Barney. I love a scrappy second baseman and I love a scrappy #2 hitter. Barney is both. Do the Cubs have their own Dustin Pedroia in training? Sure, why not? I don't know if I have a favorite Oriole. Forced to choose, I guess I'd go with center fielder Adam Jones.

Barney photo via

Watching pitchers attempt bunts pretty much every time they come up with a runner on, I couldn't help wondering about the sabermetric considerations. One of the central tenants of sabermetric philosophy is that sacrifices aren't sensible - an out for a base is not a worthy trade for the offense. But with a weak-hitting pitcher at the plate, shouldn't the team get something for the out he's likely to produce? Predictably, there's plenty of healthy debate on this very subject on the Web. Even many of the most devoted sabermetricians seem willing to concede that bunts are occasionally okay and pitcher bunts are likely to fit that category.

Baseball's a funny game to watch as a fan. It's a team game but more than with other sports, I find myself occasionally pulling for an individual player on the opposing squad. For instance, it's hard to root against a hitting streak like the one Dan Uggla (2B, Braves) recently had going. It finally came to an end against the Cubs on Sunday at 33 consecutive games. Of course, as the contest was heading into the late innings with the streak hanging in the balance, I did hope that Uggla's hit would come as a single with no one on base.

It's also difficult not to pull for a career minor-leaguer suddenly lighting up the Majors, as is the case for current Braves' left fielder Jose Constanza. Or Braves closer Craig Kimbrel whose help I really could have used in fantasy baseball on Sunday. Or Astros pinch hitter Brian Bogusevic who, with just his second Major League homer, crushed a walk-off grand slam against the Cubs last night. Of course, it's easier to be charitable when the Cubs are playing well.

Pena photo via The Ballad of Brian Wilson

I leave you with a sad story - a tale of cruelty, betrayal and woe. On Saturday, we got a lovely note from DirecTV, thanking us for being loyal customers and rewarding us with three free months of their Sports Pack. I actually laughed maniacally in the car as I pondered being able to watch the rest of the Orioles' season at my leisure. But alas, no! Out of market games are blacked out! It makes sense, I realize. They don't want you to circumvent the need to buy the MLB Extra Innings package on top of the Sports Pack. Still, it was brutally disappointing. Oh well, I was concerned that it would cut into my reading time - a worthy exchange, mind you!

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