There Are No Goats…
In winning Game 5 of the World Series in Chicago, the Cubs staved off what had been shaping up to be one of the more one-sided upsets in Fall Classic history, a rout in which a team of potent but inexperienced hitters was overwhelmed by the veteran sangfroid and filthy stuff of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller.
Had that turned out to be the case, the 2016 World Series would have ended without a Bill Buckner, or to be Chicago-centric, a goat, a black cat, a Bartman, or even Hack Wilson losing two fly balls in the sun.
There would have been a strong sense of destiny denied, not only among Cubs fans but also outside observers who saw a 103-win team and all the accompanying assets that need not be enumerated here (it’s fair to stipulate you’ve got them memorized by now) and felt, on an emotional level, that it was time for the 108-year-old drought to end and there was a rightness in this nearly perfect team being the one to end it.
Life often lacks poetry, though, and specializes in frustrating outcomes we are certain have the stamp of Divine Providence. Had this postseason concluded on Sunday, there would have been no stab in the back, no Icarus-like act of hubris, not even a Roger Peckinpaugh case of inexplicable butterfingers, but just the cold reality that the Cubs ran into the best pitching staff in the American League (however diminished by injury).
If there are any goat’s horns to be worn in this World Series (and warning in advance, this is going to be a case of taking a manager whose postseason conduct has been exemplary and picking at it in a way that is almost unfair in light of said conduct), it results from a sequence of decisions made by Terry Francona in Games 4 and 5 involving Andrew Miller. Even then, it requires some counterfactual theorizing to make the case stick. In Saturday’s Game 4, Cleveland got six innings of one-run ball from Kluber, who was starting on only three-days’ rest. Up 4-1 going into the top of the seventh and with the pitcher set to lead off the inning, Francona was ready to make a change. Naturally, his choice of relief was Andrew Miller, who had been unhittable throughout the postseason.
There’s nothing to fault in that decision, except that Miller had also worked in Game 3 the day before and has been up more often than the sun this October; if you use him enough you’re going to find out that even he has a breaking point. Subsequently, Cleveland scored three runs in the top of the inning and led 7-1. Francona could have holstered Miller at that point and saved him for a higher-leverage situation. Instead, he opted to bring him in to keep the Cubs on the deck. Miller threw two innings and 27 pitches and allowed a run before yielding to Dan Otero.
Using Miller on Saturday might have had consequences in the bottom of the fourth inning on Sunday, when Francona might have given starting pitcher Trevor Bauer a quicker hook if he felt like he had Miller to deploy later in the game. Again, offering up this theory requires a fair amount of mind-reading (note those double “mights” in the previous sentence) as well as ignoring the fact that, aside from Kris Bryant’s home run, Bauer didn’t exactly fall apart during the frame. The sequence that opened the inning (home run, double to the wall in right field, line-drive single) was troubling, but the infield singles and bunt hits that came after don’t reflect on a pitcher’s stuff.
Joe Maddon also opened himself up to second-guessing by opting not to deploy Kyle Schwarber as a pinch-hitter in a couple of high-leverage situations. Schwarber never did get in the game, we can’t know what he might have done, and in any case, the Cubs won.
These are relatively small matters in a postseason that has been well-managed and well-played. Cubs fans might feel frustrated with Javier Baez or Jason Heyward, but many Cubs are scuffling. Cubs pitchers have a 3.27 ERA for the Series, which would have trailed only, well, themselves for the regular season major league lead. Cleveland is hitting .236/.316/.373 as a team, which is to say they’ve been Heyward-ish. By those measures, the Cubs have succeeded.
Both teams might complain that the strike zone has been about as reliable as the borders of Poland in the 1700s, but there haven’t been any Don Denkinger moments either (replay helps). There’s nothing for either team to be outraged about. There is nothing for fans to be disappointed in except the outcomes, and that was always inevitable.
(AP Photo/Tannen Maury, Pool)
Bold Prediction That Isn’t All That Bold…
Javier Baez will turn 24 in December. Jason Heyward turned 27 in August. Baez had a breakout season for the Cubs. Heyward had the worst offensive season by a Cubs right fielder since World War II. Nevertheless, the remainder of Heyward’s career will be far more memorable, in a positive sense, than the remainder of Baez’s.
Please hold your hostility for five to 10 years, then we’ll talk.
The Real Cubs Goat…
On October 10, 1945, the last day the Chicago Cubs were in a World Series prior to 2016, their manager Charlie Grimm made a fatal decision. Grimm is a really odd guy in Cubs history. He played over 1300 games as the team’s first baseman beginning in 1925. Even now, the leaderboard for Cubs games as a first baseman after 1900 is Mark Grace and him (Cap Anson had more games, but all in the 19th century).
Befitting a kind of lassitude that infected the Cubs for decades at a time, he got all those games in despite not being very good. Starting in 1934, they also made him manager. They’d go back to him twice more over the next 26 years.
Grimm was a mediocre player. He was a .290 career hitter, sure, but at a time when batting average was cheap, and he averaged about five home runs a year to go with it. The period in which he was a starting first baseman for the Cubs wasn’t a great one for National League first sackers; a few fluke seasons aside, there was Bill Terry with the Giants and Jim Bottomley of the Cardinals and then everyone else in a ragged heap. Grimm was part of the heap. As a manager, he wasn’t very good either, even if he was associated with three Cubs pennant-winners.
In 1932 they fired Rogers Hornsby about two-thirds of the way through the season with the team in second place, five games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Grimm took over, the Cubs went 37-18 down the stretch with the help of a 14-game winning streak, and they blew past the Pirates. The World Series against the Yankees was all anti-climax, a sweep for New York. This was the one with Babe Ruth’s called shot, but really all the Yankees were hitting at will—they outscored the Cubs 37-19; the Cubs’ ERA for the four games was 9.26.
There probably wasn’t much Jolly Cholly could have done about that.
In 1935, Grimm’s Cubs got back to the World Series after going 100-54 in the regular season. The attack was just decent overall, but the pitching staff towered over the league despite lacking anyone headed to the Hall of Fame—Lon Warneke, a three-time 20-game winner, was the closest to that level. Their opponent was the Detroit Tigers, a team that should have been strongly handicapped by losing first baseman Hank Greenberg to a broken wrist after Game 2.
It didn’t work out that way. In the sixth game, a Cubs must-win with the Tigers up three games to two, the score was tied 3-3 in the top of the ninth at Detroit. Stan Hack led off with a triple, but shortstop Billy Jurges, whom Grimm had pinch-hit for earlier in the Series, struck out. That brought starting pitcher Larry French to the plate. French hit like a pitcher. A sacrifice fly would give the Cubs the lead. Grimm had pinch-hit for French earlier in the Series. He didn’t here. French tapped back to the pitcher, who held the runner and threw to first. The next batter delivered the fly ball that had been needed, but it was too late, and Hack died on third.
The Tigers won the World Series in the bottom of the inning.
The Cubs had another World Series appearance in 1938, but they fired Grimm after 81 games, so you can’t hold that loss against him. However, they brought him back again beginning in 1944. The next year they won another pennant in a manner that anticipated the acquisition of Rick Sutcliffe nearly 40 years later. The Yankees had grown disenchanted with right-hander Hank Borowy for some reason and placed him on waivers in July despite the fact that he was really good. Sure, it was wartime baseball, but a 2.74 career ERA was what it was. The Cubs put in a claim, and ended up buying Borowy for $97,000. The Cubs were up by four games at that moment, and Borowy helped them hold off a charging (and superior) Cardinals team, going 11-2 and pitching enough innings to qualify for the NL ERA title with 2.13.
As of that moment, Grimm seemed to forget he had any other pitchers. His use of Borowy in the World Series against the Tigers is that of a manager on a quest to find diminishing returns. Borowy started Game 1 and pitched a shutout. He came back on three days’ rest for Game 5 and got thwacked, giving up five runs in five innings. Undaunted, Grimm pulled him out of the bullpen the very next day and got four scoreless innings of relief as the Cubs won in 12 on a walk-off hit by Hack .
Game 7 was rained out. That gave Grimm an excuse to go to Borowy again. He started against Hal Newhouser, failed to retire a batter in the first inning, and the Cubs lost the game 9-3. Chicago pitched 65 innings in that World Series. Borowy pitched about 30 percent of them.
If, reading this, you feel inclined to conclude that the Cubs’ curse was really just an advanced case of Charlie Grimm, that seems fair. He was representative of a different kind of curse, that of not looking too closely at who’s running things.
CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER, 1932. A group of National League champion Chicago Cubs pause from preparing for the upcoming World Series, and pose for a photo in Wrigley Field in October of 1932. First baseman and manager Charlie Grimm is in the center. (The Rucker Archive/Icon Sportswire)
Should have been in the Hall of Fame 50 years ago. That is all. You are free to move about the cabin.
To the Mats With Reader Comments…
In response to last week’s column on Cleveland’s mascot, Chief Insensitivity:
Sounds good, let’s scrap the Fighting Irish mascots… Offensive to me, being Irish. Contrary to the cartoons, we don’t wear green outfits and prance about with our fists raised. My Scandinavian friends would appreciate the forthright removal of all Vikings mascots, not a fair remembrance of their culture, true or not. Shall we draw the line at human mascots, or go poke around the animal lover’s circle and see if Wildcats, Lions, and the rest offend anyone there too? I’ve got it! Get the torches out and burn it all down. Although, that offends me because I’ve lost my home to a fire in the past. Can someone point out a spot where I can step? There’s so much broken glass, mummy…
A false equivalency is the pabulum that soothes small minds. There’s a big difference between the depiction of a defiant leprechaun and the leering, defanged take that adorns Cleveland’s uniforms. Indeed, the University of Notre Dame actually resisted the Fighting Irish appellation until it felt certain that it was free from any negative connotations associated with anti-Irish bigotry in this country and was instead evocative of the great accomplishments the Irish had had in this country, not least heroic efforts in the military beginning with the Civil War.
Vikings, as with all peoples, including the Native Americans, did some things that are troubling to modern minds (their trademark raiding, with all that entails) but also were great explorers, facilitated the development of trade and the spread of culture. In short, their story is as complicated as anyone’s, but that’s not as important here as the fact that the Irish have long since assimilated and the Vikings were never an oppressed race in the United States. Appropriating their iconography may not be our most tasteful act, but there’s also a huge amount of distance between us and the 11th century. Like Roman soldiers and the pirates of the Caribbean, time has dulled the crime and left the style and mythology standing.
The Native Americans were and are an oppressed group, and there’s no distance between us and what was done to them at all, especially since they’re still suffering the consequences. If you want to see that lack of distance in action, how they have not been subject to the River Lethe of time, think about the approbation that greeted Johnny Depp playing a pirate (safe, neutered) versus the universal discomfort expressed when he donned a dead bird and trying to play Tonto. You can’t claim to be outside a story that is still ongoing.
The mascot signals nothing of the strength suggested either by pugilistic sprites or helmeted seafaring warriors. The team names itself after a people, the Indians, as surely as it had named itself the African Americans or the Ecuadorians or the Tuvans. It then does nothing to characterize that name except adorn itself with a racist’s grimacing cartoon. The Chief does not fight, he does not protest, he does not repel, he just smiles submissively.
The rest of your comment, such as it is, is an example of reductio ad absurdum argumentation and not worthy of a response. However, I do thank you for reading and making a game effort to defend the indefensible.
The post Column To Be Named Later: In this World Series, there are no goats appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.