94 years and counting

The trials and tribulations of being a Cubs fan...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Monday, September 15, 2008
On September 14, 2008, something pretty awesome happened. Enough of that. I want to tell you the story of a sober night at Wrigley Field in 1995. The day was a Monday. The date was September 25.

I remember a fairly sparse crowd. According to the box score, fewer than 19,000 folks showed up to watch a (barely) .500 team take the field. Such stars as Sammy Sosa and Mark Grace were to be joined by other present and future greats as Luis Gonzalez, Howard Johnson, and Scott Servais.

However, this night would belong to an upstart 26 year old from El Paso, TX. This night would belong to Frank Castillo.

Castillo was a 6th round draft pick in 1987. He showed a good arm and rose through the minor league system. When he debuted in 1991, his star was rising. As a 23 year old, he threw over 200 innings. He was never really the same. I don't know what happened to him in 1994, but I'm sure the strike didn't help.

There was one exception. His 1995 turned out to be an outlier on an otherwise mediocre career. He tossed 188 innings of 128 ERA+ ball. He only gave up 179 hits and had a pretty good 135/52 K/BB ratio. His 3.21 ERA and 1.23 WHIP only earned him a 11-10 record for a 73-71 Cubs team. He would never be anywhere near this good again. His last regular year in the bigs was 163 IP in 2002 for Boston.

But to go back to that cool, September night. The Cardinals were in town. They were not a good team. They would finish the year 62-81. The outfield wasn't too bad. Brain Jordan was a two-sport "star". Ray Langford was still 28 and in his prime. Bernard Gilkey was near the end of his best year with the Cardinals. The following year he'd have a breakout year for the Mets. By breakout, I mean fluke.

The rest of the lineup featured two-time All-Star Scott Cooper. I shit you not. John Mabry was putting the finishing touches on an absurdly mediocre rookie season. He finished 4th in RoY voting. I shit you not. David Bell was a 22 year old up and comer. He never did up nor come. In 1995, however, he was still seen as a future All-Star. No, I didn't type that with a straight face.

Facing this formidable lineup, Frank Castillo would bravely take the mound. The Cubs were certainly not going to win anything, and most of the 19,000 paid customers stayed home.

I was at the game with 3 friends, all of us just out of college. We were young and naive. We had no idea what we were about to see.

The game started out innocently enough. The Cardinals were mowed down in the top of the first, just a 2 out walk to Langford kept the inning from being a perfect one.

The game was really over by the end of the first. Luis Gonzalez scored on a two-out wild pitch by Alan Benes to put the Cubs up 4-0. The game never got close. Benes only lasted 3.2 innings, as the Cubs scored three more in the fourth.

I'm not sure when I first noticed what was going on. I would guess it was around the 5th inning or so. For certain, none of us were making any kind of a big deal about it.

By the middle of the 7th, it was no longer a joke. Frank Castillo was throwing a NO HITTER. Frank Castillo. No hitter. Going into the 8th inning, Castillo had already struck out 10 Cardinals. I can only assume that the two walks he gave up, to Langford in the 1st and Trip Cromer in the 7th, were on blown calls by the ump. No Cardinal had even sniffed 2nd base.

In the top of the 8th inning, Castillo was to face the Cardinals' 5-6-7 hitters. Castillo got Mabry and Bell to ground out on 7 pitches, before striking out 2-time All Star Scott Cooper for his 11th K. He would go to the ninth, looking for three outs for a no-hitter. And I am there.

The Cubs would go quietly in the bottom of the eighth. It doesn't matter. This is Frankie Castillo time, bitches.

Castillo took his warm-ups sitting at fewer than 100 pitches. He was dealing and showed no signs of letting up. He was facing the bottom of the order, plus Bernard Gilkey. Stupid Bernard Gilkey.

The first guy he faced was Terry Bradshaw. What? No, seriously. I have no idea who he is, but I assume it's not the annoying hick who was almost a Bear. Castillo made short work of the 54 year old, striking him out looking on 4 pitches. D'ur. 2 out left.

Next came Mark Sweeney. The less talented, slightly more retarded of the flying Sweeneys. Sweeney, staring history right in it face, made the Great Castillo work a bit, before feebly striking out on 6 pitches. Castillo now had 13 strikeouts. He was one out away from the first Cubs no-hitter in 23 years.

Along came Bernard Gilkey. I hate the St Louis Cardinals. They are the sucks of suck. Here was Frank Castillo, about to no-hit these fuckers. Sometimes, it's just not to be. I don't remember, but I think Gilkey worked the count to 3-1 against Castillo. Castillo then made the only bad pitch of the night. Gilkey didn't miss the fastball, hitting the ball as far as one could without leaving the park. He didn't stop running until he made it to third. The NO-HITTER was not to be.

I have seen the Cubs play the Cardinals more than any other team. I saw Kerry Wood strikeout 9 Cardinals in a 7 inning win in his fourth start, 5 days before he struck out 20 Astros. I saw all three games of an opening weekend sweep that included two come from behind wins, including a Derek Lee grand slam in 2005, well before the wheels flew off.

And, I saw Frank Castillo throw 8.3 innings of no-hit ball.

Thank you to baseball-reference.com for filling in the blanks.

Monday, February 23, 2004
We have moved. We have decided to maintain the site as "94 Years and Counting" rather than change it to 95; a reference to the year the site was developed. Anyway, for yet another site containing insane ramblings from yet another die-hard Cub fan, click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

One week ago today, we were all reeling from the Cubs collapse in Game 6 of the NLCS vs. Florida. While the stunning turn of events were still raw, we reminded ourselves not to fret. That, had we known in March that we would be looking at Game 7 at Wrigley Field with Kerry Wood facing Mark Redman, that we would like our chances.

But deep down, I think we all knew better--even if we said otherwise. Personally, I had convinced myself that I would RATHER have Wood than Prior in a winner-take-all Game 7; I convinced myself that momentum doesn’t carry over, that this is just what we have to go through to finally get what is undeniably ours.

Deep down, however, I sort of suspected that Game 6, not unlike Game 4 in San Diego in 1984, was the game we HAD TO HAVE and, having lost it, it would haunt us.

So, even though we lived through the agony and ecstasy of Game 7; through Kerry Wood falling behind 3-0 immediately, through his awesome game-tying home run, through Moises’ go-ahead shot, through Kerry resorting to his wild ways and having the nerve to walk Brian Banks—Brian friggin’ Banks; are you kidding me?!?—and subsequently frittering the lead away for good, through the Cubs swinging at every pitch that Josh Beckett, on TWO DAYS REST, would throw up to the plate, rather than waiting him out, through Kyle “I’m-Glad-Someone-Else-Washes-My-Laundry” Farnsworth trotting out to the mound and, because he apparently felt nostalgic for the 2002 season, squatting over and crapping his pants, and, finally, for those Cub fans who haven’t seen enough of him, through one last agonizing appearance by Dave Veres…

Even though we lived through that painful night when the Florida Marlins clinched the pennant at Wrigley Field, the memory that sticks with us, and will continue to stick with us through the winter is, in actuality, not the events of Game 7, but rather the last 1 5/6 innings of Game 6.

I need to get this off my chest. Just about everywhere I’ve looked, everybody has adopted the politically-correct stance that Steve Bartman was not to blame for the Cubs’ loss.

I disagree. This pud cost us a chance to appear in our first World Series in 58 years. Period.

I understand that Mark Prior was out of gas, and that Dusty should have had Joe Borowski up in the eighth inning after Rodriguez singled to make the score 3-1 (if not after ball four to Castillo, which also went for a wild pitch).

I understand that Alex Gonzalez royally screwed up a play that had been automatic all year, that had he only concerned himself with getting ONE out, rather than trying to be a hero and getting two, that wouldn't have fumbled the ball, and ended up getting none.

I understand that the aforementioned Mr. Poopy Pants, Farnsworth, when he needed, more than at any other time during the season, a strikeout, he instead left a fastball out over the outside of the plate, and that Jeff Conine was able to hammer it deep enough to right field to score the go-ahead run.

I understand that Sammy Sosa, in what will hopefully (although unlikely) be his last selfish, grandstanding, STUPID play as a Cub, lofted one of his patented helium balloon throws to HOME, in an absurd attempt to cut down the go-ahead run rather than into the INFIELD, allowing Mike Lowell to advance to second, removing the force, and forcing Dusty to have the urine-soaked Farnsworth issue another IBB (I mean really now, how often do you see a runner tag from first on a fly out to right, especially a guy that would have trouble beating Eric Karros in a footrace? Criminal)

I understand that, with another opportunity to redeem himself, Farnsworth allowed the immortal Mike Mordecai, he of the 8 RBI during the season, to hit a two-out shot off the wall, driving in three runs.

I understand that it is the personnel on the field who should be held responsible; that Dusty, Gonzalez, Sosa and Farnsworth collectively drove the Cubs out of the game, and I understand that there was still another game to be played, even after they lost Game 6.

But let’s all the cut the crap here. I’m not looking for a scapegoat, I’m just calling it like I see it. And the truth is, Steve Bartman, in his best demonstration of modern fandom, immersed himself into the game, and allowed all of the subsequent events to be set in motion.

I’ve had people try to tell me that, if it was ME who was in that situation, that I would have done the same thing.

Between sips of his cancer-causing fat burner, the one he endorses so he’ll get a free year supply and won’t have to actually WORK his fat ass off, Sox fan Fred Huebner of the SCORE was saying so the very next morning. During the week, I would hear from various friends and family (mostly Sox fans) that THEY would have lunged for the pop up, and they knowingly claimed that I would have, also. The celebrity-obsessed puff writer Richard Roeper, also a Sox fan, said that “99 out of 100 fans” would have done the same.

Really? I didn’t I know I was part of such a small minority (1%?). As much as I’ve enjoyed ribbing White Sox fans, I’ve always considered them to be as knowledgeable as they come. Guess I was wrong. I didn’t know Sox fans would be so eager to exclaim, for all the world to hear, that they are no more enlightened than fans in San Diego, or Houston--or Miami, for that matter. I would have thought that we needed only to look at the ALCS, when fans in Boston yielded to Trot Nixon so he could take a home run away from the Yankees. But evidently, if you’re a White Sox fan, it is more important that you attempt to grab a live ball than it is for your team to be given a chance to reach the World Series. I guess after 25 years of fireworks, jumbotrons, stereo speakers, and “the best food in baseball” in their park, Sox fans are evidently not as interested in the game that is being played in front of them as much as I had previously thought.

And they say Cub fans aren’t into the game. Huh. Well there’s at least ONE Cub “fan” who’s not into the game.

It wasn’t instinct that forced Bartman to go for the ball. It wasn’t instinct that had the six other nimrods reaching for it. It was ignorance, and a complete lack of regard for the game that was being played on the field. Pure and simple.

Bartman’s friends and family claim that he is a “die-hard” Cub fan, and Bartman himself later claimed he was sick at what happened but that he got caught up in the moment and had his “eyes glued to the ball”

But that’s exactly the point here. He had his eyes glued to the ball. As far as I’m concerned, that is a damning statement. His eyes weren’t on the field, but on the ball, because—oh goody—NOW he has a chance to catch a foul ball, circumstances be damned. For those of you that sympathize with Bartman, put yourselves in his shoes. I know many of you think you have done so already but, if you consider yourself to be a die-hard fan, you would see it like this:

You’re sitting in the front row. You’re a die-hard fan so you are absolutely PUMPED that this could be the night that the Cubs clinch their first pennant since 1945. However, you’re still nervous. Mark Prior has been laboring, there’s a runner on second base and, even though the Cubs have a three-run lead, these are the CUBS, after all, and you’re not relaxing until this one’s in the bag. The batter, Luis Castillo, is battling an obviously tiring Prior. Castillo works the count full. He swings. It’s a pop up. Oh God stay fair stay fair--c’mon Moises. Oh shit, the ball’s coming right to us but, BECAUSE I’M IN THE FRONT ROW, it won’t necessarily be out of play. Moises may still have a chance to make the 23rd out of the game. Look up in to the air, ball’s coming closer. Look out toward the field, Moises is coming closer. Ball. Moises. Ball. Moises. GET BACK! GET BACK. C’mom Moises! YEAH! YEAH! FUCKING AWESOME! ATTA BOY MOISES. WOO! Four outs away, baby!!!

I’ve been to over two hundred Cubs games in my life, going back to 1979. It’s not hard for me to realistically visualize what I would do if I were sitting in Bartman’s shoes, or headphones, or what have you.

But that’s not what happened, is it? No Steve Bartman, frustrated, repressed former ballplayer, little league coach (26 year old w/o kids coaching little league…’sup with that?), North Shore yuppie, Abercrombie turtleneck-wearing, arrogant Golden Domer…is he hoping, beyond hope that the ball will stay in play, and the Cubs will be four outs from the pennant? No, this asswipe has his eyes on the ball because he has a chance to catch it. Even though he’s seated in the front row, this is his chance. His ONE chance. Hey--even Bartman’s dad said that he “taught” his kids “to catch a foul ball” Way to go, pops. Even though your son didn’t have to heed your senseless advice, by doing so you’ll have to correspond with him via e-mail from now on. Not to mention that you didn’t teach him very well, dad, because your son looked like a cross between Corky Thatcher and Larry “Bud” Melman in flailing at the popup.

We all know what happened after Steve Bartman’s baseball fantasy camp moment. Prior, who was on fumes to begin with, was visibly upset, tried to lobby for an interference call (which it wasn’t, technically), and then couldn’t recover, throwing ball four in the dirt. And then Dusty, Gonzalez, Farnsworth, and Sosa put the game out of reach with their own indelible marks. But c’mon. Look at the replay. Moises had the ball pegged. He timed his jump. There’s little doubt that he would have caught the ball and, if he had, the Cubs would be winning 3-0, with one runner on base, and two outs in the eight inning. Even if Prior gave up a moonshot to Rodriguez, the tone would still be positive. If that happened, and Cabrera hits the three-hopper to Gonzalez, Gonzo doesn’t worry about starting a spectacular double play, takes his time, and guns down the slow-footed Cabrera. Assuming the Cubs then would not have scored in their half of the eighth, the Marlins would be looking at a two-run deficit in the ninth inning, with their #5, #6 and #7 hitters due up. In other words, no Pudge. Should have been a gimme. But Steve Bartman evidently didn’t see it that way. Evidently, he felt that the 3-0 lead was secure enough that he could begin taking outs away from his supposed “favorite” team.

Just because a guy says he’s a Cub fan doesn’t make him a real Cub fan. This guy not only enforced the stereotype of Cub fans as ignorant yuppies not interested in the action on the field, but he did something, because of his self-centered, fantasizing sensibility, much, much worse.

He cost the Cubs the pennant.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Many people think they understand the suffering endured by Cub fans. Sportswriters with no particular feel for both Chicago and baseball resort to churning out the supposed Billy Goat Curse which was, in reality, a public relations stunt pulled off by William "Bill" Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern and Uncle of the Billy Goat's present-day owner, Sam Sianis. People who call themselves journalists are effectively spitting on Mike Royko's grave by insisting on this tired, lazy reference, for it was Royko who long contended, and even had, as the topic in his last column before his death, that the curse was a joke and that it was PK Wrigley's inaction on signing black ballplayers that doomed the franchise beginning in the 50's, and "not some damn goat". Royko was a constant patron at Bill Sianis' bar, wrote an excellent eulogy for him when he died, and was like a brother to Bill's nephew Sam. Long after Sam took over the bar after his uncle's death, Royko and Sam Sianis were best of friends. The Greek and the Pollock.

Of course, this only proves why Royko was head and shoulders above his peers. Here was his friend, who benefited from every reference to the curse, and Royko who was, as always, operating without an agenda, refused to help his friend out. Why? Because it's a bunch of hokum. I would say shame on all writers who continue to engender this myth, but for the fact that most of them are shameless in the first place.

But here's a thought...

Even IF this Billy Goat Curse had merit, it would fail to explain a much more troubling trend, a more dubious record that extends long before 1945 and Sianis' goat.

EVEN if the CUBS, God willing, were to just win one of these next two flipping games and GET to the World Series, they will resume battle with a record that they currently share with the Dodgers.

The BROOKLYN Dodgers.

Da Bums. The group from New York who lost in '16, 20', '41, '47, '49, '52 and '53...seven consecutive Series losses until they broke it in '55 (and went on to win 5 more in LA). It's so f%$#ked up that the Dodgers actually had to catch up to the CUBS to tie the record! The Cubs lost in '10, '18, '29, '32, '35, '38, and '45. It was the Cubs' record, and Brooklyn tied it. Think about that for a moment. The team that only exists on paper, and in many long-suffering Brooklynites' memories, the stumbling, bumbling, fumbling, Bums from Brooklyn, as legendary as they were, would be relieved of one last ignominy if the Cubs, were they--again, God willing--able to get in to the World Series, and then lose the Series. Were the Cubs to get there and lose, they will add a chapter to their mostly miserable history--most consecutive World Series losses (EIGHT).

So shove that Billy Goat where the sun doesn't shine. If the Cubs win tonight or tomorrow, I'll be interested in seeing what tired, lazy substitutes for true analysis will stand in for the Goat when these hacks realize that the Cubs will be in a position to break a 50-year old tie of dubious distinction.

Monday, October 13, 2003
In watching Pedro Martinez "OLE!" a bullrushing, 72-year old Don Zimmer and drop him on his bulbous, metal encased head, I flashed back to that warm May afternoon in 1984 when the 53-year old Zimmer, then coaching third base for Jim Frey's NL Central Division Winning Cubs, was dropped to the Wrigley Field turf by an enraged Mario Soto of Cincinnati, causing Zim to swallow his chew and practically ralph.

Anybody remember that?

What is it with this guy (Zimmer) and hot-tempered Latin pitchers? It makes me wonder about the ethnicity of the pitcher, whoever he was, who beaned Zim as a young player, leaving him in a coma for a while and subsequently requiring him to wear the aforementioned metal in his head?

Hmmm. Don't know about you, but I'm just more than a little freaked out that both instances happened in seasons where the Cubs would go on to be one game from the pennant with three games to go. Gulp.

Saturday, October 04, 2003
My favorite quote from this article...

In the sixth inning, for his chef's special, Wood even struck out Chipper Jones on a split-fingered changeup he almost never throws -- but "he's been working on that," said catcher Paul Bako. Which was news that will no doubt thrill hitters across the globe.

The Curse of Coming Close...

The Cubs are up two games to one on the Braves. Matt Clement will be trying to go pitch for pitch with Wood and Prior, because, well, we'll kick Russ Ortiz's ass...

But here's what I really want to talk about...the Boston Red Sox.

Being a Cubs fan, I'm almost guilted into having some sort of sympathy for the Boston Red Sox. Screw the Boston Red Sox.

HBO's Real Sports just did a piece on what would happen if the Red Sox were to win the World Series. All these people were talking about how great it would be, but...what would happen the next day? They think that somehow the mystique of the Red Sox would be worn off. Some would have nothing to root for. What would happen next? Screw that...

Since 1945, the Red Sox have won 4 pennants and 2 division titles. 2003 is their 3rd wild card appearance. Everyone knows about 1975 and 1986...Somehow, I'm supposed to feel sorry for a bunch of chumps who have come within a few mere outs of winning the World Series? Screw them.

If I taste the World Series, I want the whole damn thing...lovable losers tag be damned. The Red Sox fans have no perspective. I'd trade the rest of Sammy Sosa's career for a World Series. I'd trade the Bulls 6 championships for a World Series. I'd trade Wrigley Field for a World Series.

Screw the Red Sox. They can keep feeling sorry for themselves, I'll be celebrating the World Series on the northside for about 3 1/2 months...till pitchers and catchers report again...and then, we'll do it again.

Go Cubs!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I'm listening to the game right now (2-0 Cubs vs. Mets, third inning, Cubs 1.5 GB Houston), and Pat Hughes just announced the matchups this weekend for Pittsburgh.

Cruz/Zambrano vs. Fogg/Torres
Clement vs. Vogelsong

I swear, I would have beamed had I heard, say, Randy Johnson or, since this is the Pirates, Rick Rhoden 1984...I would have scoffed, chortled, wheezed, coughed etc....but OLIVER PEREZ. THAT freaks me out. Sumpin' give mojo weird, bad feeling. Didn't this freak shut out BOTH Chicago teams, including your beloved earlier this year?

I tell you what--this is how a common Cubs fan can think. I'm worried because Prior's going up against Oliver Freaking Perez?!?

Shoot me dead now.