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Extolling Cubs' Feel-Good Triumph Despite Trump's Feel-Bad Triumph

The Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years of futility started the month of November like a feel-good story for the ages.

The young Cubs were essentially a very likable team. The youthful veterans at the corners, third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, were both productive and amazingly poised for relatively inexperienced players.

They were both home-grown and lived through the bad years to further appreciate the surge to the top. I will never forget Hall of Fame southpaw Tom Glavine making the same point to me years ago.

He said that the secret to the Atlanta Braves’ great playoff run of the 1990s and early 2000s was that they learned to lose together before they were able to win together. Glavine and fellow Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz and under-appreciated double play combination Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke all came through the Atlanta farm system.

Though the everyday core of the Cubs’ promising future also came from astute amateur scouting, the key pitchers on the new World Champions were either trade or free agent acquisitions. Jon Lester, a leading contender for the National League Cy Young award, and John Lackey were both free agent signings though Cubs president Theo Epstein knew them both from their work in Boston.

Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta were obtained in savvy trades. Hendricks, the Dartmouth economics grad inevitably nicknamed “The Professor,” was still a minor leaguer when obtained from the Rangers for fading pitcher Ryan Dempster. (Dempster has become a broadcaster who does a good imitation of the late legendary voice of the Cubs and previously the Cardinals, Harry Caray).

As we Oriole fans never forget, Arrieta came from the Birds along with valuable reliever Pedro Strop. The Orioles received journeyman pitcher Scott Feldman - who finished 2016 with the Blue Jays - and minor league catcher Steve Clevenger.
(The latter will probably be best remembered for his thinly veiled racist-misogynist tweet that caused his release late last season by the Seattle Mariners.)

No mention of the Cubs triumph would be complete without an homage to backup catcher David Ross. Nicknamed “Grandpa Rossy” by Anthony Rizzo, Ross announced his retirement before 2016 started.

As Jon Lester’s special catcher, Ross was summoned into World Series Game 7 in the bottom of the 5th along with the star southpaw. (Why manager Joe Maddon yanked effective starter Hendricks after a controversial walk is still a mystery. My guess is that once Lester warmed up and was ready to pitch, Maddon decided he had to use him.)

Ross’s throwing error on a tough roller and a wild pitch that he couldn’t corral turned a comfortable 5-1 lead into a 5-3 nail-biter.

YET BASEBALL IS ALWAYS ABOUT REDEMPTION!

Though Hollywood might have turned down the story of the last AB of Ross’s career, in the very next half-inning, the top of the 6th, Ross homered to dead center off Cleveland’s usually unhittable reliever Andrew Miller. The dinger provided a crucial insurance run. So when Rajai Davis homered in the bottom of the 8th it only tied the game.

And now for something completely different . . .

The 2016 World Series was both an artistic and financial triumph. 40 million people evidently watched Game 7 and the Sunday night Game 5 easily outdrew Sunday night football.

And then Election Day happened.

In hindsight, we should have known it would be close, especially in a year that
was volatile all over the world. None of the “experts” thought Great Britain would leave the European Union, but “Br-exit” forces won.

In baseball terms, I felt all along that the Clinton, Inc. organization reminded me of the worst aspect of Yankee entitlement. They virtually bragged about having the most money and supposedly the best “ground game” to get out the vote on Election Day.

Well, it turned out this election might be summed up as The Revolt of the Deplorables. Hillary’s unfortunate description of the worst Trump supporters was a tasty morsel served to the opposition.

A disappointed friend of mine offered this analogy: “Hillary was like the pitcher given a six-run lead who couldn't finish or win the game.” Given the rightward drift of the country and the uneasiness of so many people who feel left behind, that judgment might be a bit harsh.

Yet I certainly don’t look forward to what these next four years might bring politically. But as always baseball serves as a huge consolation for those who understand it. Swinging for the fences works now and then, but hitting up the middle and controlled slashing down the lines remains the best weapons for success. That's how Series MVP Zobrist got the big hits in both the NL Championship and World Series.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Thoughts On The Eve of A Dream Cubs-Indians World Series

There was no drama this past Saturday night in the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. Kyle Hendricks, who has emerged as the number two starter on the 103-game-winning Cubs, shut down the Dodgers on two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, from the very first inning Chicago bats pecked away at LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He yielded five runs in five innings as the Cubs rolled to a convincing 5-0 victory that propelled the Windy City Nationals into their first World Series since 1945.

For Dartmouth alums who had to be forlorn when my alma mater Columbia earlier in the day beat the Big Green, 9-7 - for its first Homecoming football win since 2000 - Hendricks’ performance provided a great consolation. The onetime Texas Rangers farmhand became a Cub a few years ago in a trade for the now-retired right-hander Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks has been a revelation in 2016, moving into the second spot in the rotation behind southpaw ace Jon Lester and ahead of last year’s Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. With the experienced John Lackey in the fourth slot, you can see why the Cubs ran away with the NL Central this year. The trade deadline addition of Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman has also shored up the back end of the Chicago bullpen.

I haven’t even mentioned the Cubs’ versatile offense that was occasionally shut down by both the Giants and the Dodgers in the playoffs but not for very long. Second baseman Javier Baez is emerging as a star - he was co-MVP with Lester in the NLCS. He can play anywhere on the field, a trait that manager Joe Maddon finds especially useful.

Baez is too much of a hot dog for many people including me but if he delivers he will play and get plenty of airtime. But let’s not just yet crown the Cubs as World Series champions for the first time since 1908.

Cleveland has endured a drought almost as long as the North Side Chicagoans. The Tribe hasn't won a World Series since 1948. They came very close in the 1990s losing two close Series in that decade - to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997.

They have looked very sharp in the post-season, sweeping the favored Red Sox in three games and beating the Blue Jays in five in a very close and gripping ALCS. They have the American League reigning Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber looking very much like an ace. He attended Stetson University in Deland, Florida, as did Jacob DeGrom, the Mets star pitcher who appeared in last year’s World Series.

A major story in the Indians’ rise centers on the left arm of Andrew Miller, a tireless reliever who has appeared this post-season as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth in a save situation. I cannot recall a pitcher of this magnitude who has been traded so often.

A top draft pick of the Tigers about 10 years ago, Miller didn’t develop as a starter fast enough to suit Detroit. He was traded to the Marlins, then to the Red Sox where Bobby Valentine in 2013 during his one stormy year as Boston skipper converted him to a reliever.

He was traded to the Orioles at the 2014 deadline and helped my Birds to reach the ALCS where they swept away by the Royals. Miller then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that obviously did not have a no-trade clause.

So late this July he wound up in Cleveland for four prospects, two of whom are considered future stars - outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield. It is a deal that the Indians are very happy with.

There are many likable players on both teams. Smiling Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor is a delight to watch on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season in response to the controversy surrounding Cleveland's longtime Chief Wahoo logo, he said, "I don't know much about it but he is smiling and I like to smile."

When asked after the Cubs' clinching 5-0 victory on Saturday what he planned to do with the double play ball that ended the game, first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled it out of his pocket and said, "I'm gonna sleep with it."

It will be cold in Cleveland this week but hopefully not too wintry. I hope the elements remain playable when the Series shifts to Chicago for the weekend. Some fan base will be extremely happy come early November. Congrats to all of them in both cities and to the players and the management for getting this far.

I hope for a seven game series that Cleveland with the home field advantage just might win. But I don't know and neither do the know-it-all analytic people. That's why they play the games - to find out who is best.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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