Saturday, August 20, 2016

Next Year in Wrigleyville

The Chicago Cubs are visiting the Rockies for their annual trip to Denver. They still have two weekend games to play, but the Rockies took the first game at about 1am this morning, following a two-hour rain delay and an 11-inning nail biter. The Rockies rallied to tie it in the 8th by winning a challenge. They couldn't plate a winning run in either the 9th or the 10th against a pair of Cubs rookie pitchers, allowing the Cubs to take the lead in the bottom of the 11th, despite some impressive defense by Gerardo Parra.

The Cubs brought on their shiny new closer, Aroldis Chapman. The Rockies got a baserunner on, who scored on a double by Ryan Raburn. Raburn ended up scoring the winning run on that same play after being awarded home plate when an errant throw ended up in the Cubs dugout. The rules say that all runners get two bases when a ball is thrown out of bounds, making it twice as bad as a balk, especially at the end of a game.

Regardless of how this weekend goes, the Cubs have the biggest division lead of any team in the Majors right now, and have a real shot at doing well in the playoffs this year, perhaps even a chance to Reverse the Curse, something the Red Sox did in 2004 after their own lengthy drought.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #115 Ernie Banks
Many excellent players have gone through Chicago since 1908, the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Even casual fans who might not know the exact year are still aware that, well, it's been a while. "Next Year" has become almost a religious mantra among Cubs fans, a bit like the "Next Year in Jerusalem" phrase that's recited at the end of a Passover Seder.

The Cubs' last World Series appearance predates the creation of Israel, and their last overall victory came before Charles Lindbergh, World War I, and the construction of the Titanic. The "Next Year in Jerusalem" phrase, at least from a geopolitical standpoint, has become more of a tradition than a prayer.

But the Cubs are still waiting.

With Ernie Banks' passing last year, as well as the plot of Back to the Future 2, there was a real buzz in 2015, when the Cubs got to the NLCS. But they couldn't win it for Mr. Cub, who appears on Panini's Cooperstown set from 2012. I got that, as well as a lot of other cards at a show quite some time ago, which I'm just now starting to write about. More to come on that card show haul.

2013 Topps Archives #48 Ryne Sandberg
Ryne Sandberg, one rookie season short of being a lifetime Cub, ended his career without a ring, and he hasn't had much success as a manager either. With 30 teams, a World Series victory is hard to come by, and isn't necessarily the measure of a stellar career. Ryno has quite the resume, from a raft of Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, to an MVP award and a plaque in Cooperstown.

Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Carlton Fisk, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb are all members of that list, indicating that a World Series win is truly a team achievement, and even the best in history can't do it all by themselves.

Those guys all probably have Topps Archives cards too. Sandberg looks good on a 1972 Topps design. I'll go ahead and guess that this photo was taken on the road, seeing as how Wrigley Field didn't even have lights for the earlier part of Sandberg's career. That happened in August 1988, a whopping eighty years since their last championship.

108 years is a long, long time.

2014 Topps Archives #152 Anthony Rizzo
They have a solid group of players now, and Anthony Rizzo is one of the best. 1989 Topps is a familiar design for all of us, and I feel like this photo is period-correct. There were a lot of unexciting posed shots to be found in Topps before that epic 1991 40th-Anniversary set full of Sports Illustrated photos, but 1988 through 1990 left a bit to be desired, opening the door for Upper Deck to shake things up.

2013 Bowman Gold #181 Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler, who was once a Rockie, now patrols the outfield at The Friendly Confines. He hit the third pitch of yesterday's game for a home run, finishing the game 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a walk. Thanks to that shot, the Rockies never actually led the game, only winning after the walkoff error. Fowler was a fan favorite during his six seasons with the Rockies, and his speed was a great asset in the outfield and on the basepaths, as pictured on this Gold parallel Bowman card from...2014? No, 2013. I'm getting better at at least narrowing these Bowman cards down to the right era.

His speed trailed off a bit after this, but the card mentions his four straight seasons with double-digit triples, a stat in which he led the league in 2010. Topps also threw a million-dollar word on here, referring to Fowler as an ebullient personality.

If 2016 turns out to be the year, Fowler is sure to be a reason for it.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #33 Joe Tinker
Joe Tinker, long ago shortstop of the Cubs, was part of the inspiration for the most poetic 6-4-3 double play combination in history. The poem, mentioned on this card, and penned from the perspective of a sorrowful Giants fan, recalls the most recent time when the Cubs were consistently a threat to win the World Series. The Giants were their main rival at the time, and Christy Mathewson never relished having to pitch to Joe Tinker.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #34 Johnny Evers
Johnny Evers, the second man in that historic infield, had extraordinary plate discipline. The tidbits offered on the back of this Panini card tell us that Evers retired with three times as many walks as strikeouts. Even a century-plus ago, and despite all the changes that have occurred since the end of the dead-ball era, being a good hitter still requires not wildly flailing at pitches.

He was also a smart defender, and was the fielder who helped cement the Cubs' 1908 pennant after catching Fred Merkle in a forceout at second to end the first game Merkle ever started for the New York Giants. The Cubs won a make-up game after that disputed game ended in a tie, and in the tight 1908 NL Pennant race, ended up costing the Giants dearly.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #35 Frank Chance
Frank Chance, the player-manager first baseman, still holds the Cubs' career record for stolen bases. That's not something you'd expect from a first baseman, perhaps the least speed-sensitive position on the diamond. It's where they stick you when your knees have been acting up. So that part of the game has clearly changed. If he played today, he might have a different spot in that double play trio, all part of the Hall of Fame class of 1946.

Russell to Baez to Rizzo doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Tinker to Evers to Chance, but the Giants are still (barely) leading the NL West and it's an even-numbered year. It's entirely possible that the Cubs and Giants will be renewing their rivalry a century later.


  1. I enjoy watching the Cubs. It would be cool to see Theo as a GM win it all with them just as he did with the Bosox

  2. FYI. The photo in the Sandberg card was taken in San Francisco at Candlestick Park.

  3. This was an excellent read. I especially love those Cooperstown singles of T2E2C; you just don't see Deadball action shots on baseball cards very often! Here's to an exciting series the rest of the way.

  4. Someday I'm hoping to change my blog's name. I'm still waiting . . . patiently!