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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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When Your Team Starts Losing or Not Winning Series

I’ve been saying on this blog since August that if the Orioles won every series until the end of the regular season on Sunday October 2 they’d win the American League East for the second time in three years.

That desired outcome took a hit this past weekend when the Orioles could only split at home a four-game series with the last place Tampa Bay Rays while the Red Sox swept four from the arch-rival Yankees at Fenway.

The Bosox have now won the first two games of their series in Baltimore by identical 5-2 scores. The losses to Boston were not really as close as the final score indicated. The Bosox took the lead in the third inning of both games and never were headed.

They lead the O’s by 5 games with 11 games to play. Realistically AL East titledom and avoidance of the wild card game are no longer realistic goals for the Birds. Yet as Buck Showalter constantly advises, players don't live in the long run. They live through daily play and a pitch or a bad bounce can change fortunes in a twinkling.

It must be said though that there are some impressive Killer B’s in the Boston lineup – Mookie Betts an excellent right fielder and leader for MVP consideration, Zander Bogaerts from Aruba a slick shortstop, Jackie Bradley Jr who covers a lot of ground in center, and now rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi has been added to the B brigade.

As a great believer in scouting and player development, I cannot complain when Boston has signed and nurtured all of these Killer B's. Ditto to the Yankees for waiting for years for catcher Gary Sanchez to become a possible rookie of the year based on some outstanding play on both sides of the ball since early August.

Sanchez has provided a lift to the Yankees comparable to what Manny Machado brought to the Orioles late in the 2012 season. Loving baseball is a lot about loving youth and the fresh legs and lively spirit that prospects bring to the game.

Back to the formidable Bosox for a moment, I haven’t even mentioned old Boston standbys Dustin Pedroia, who has been hitting over .400 since being moved to leadoff hitter, and DH David Ortiz in what is presumably his last year. He’s setting all-time records for productivity over the age of 40.

As always that winning feeling has been fueled by the improved Boston pitching led by 21-game winner Rick Porcello the Seton Hall Prep New Jersey product. He dispatched the O’s with complete game ease on Monday night.

The $217 million southpaw David Price has also rounded into form and the bullpen has also improved. With Price and Porcello and Pedroia the Red Sox have Potent P's to go with the Killer B's.

I’m not saying that other AL division winners Cleveland and Texas won’t have something to say come October. Don’t rule out the possible wild card contestants Toronto and Detroit or Houston and maybe even the Orioles if somehow they score more than two runs a game. Seattle and the Yankees are fading now but they’ve had impressive winning streaks lately so can’t be totally counted out.

Right now though Boston has put it all together at the right time of the year, late September. Meanwhile in the NL there is a three-way fight for the wild card among three flawed but occasional potent teams, the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets. The big bad Cubs are lurking in post-season along with the Nationals and Dodgers.

Notable Recent Highlights:
**Baseball scout John Hagemann’s plaque now occupies a honored place in the Scouts Wall of Fame at the Hudson Valley Renegades Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, NY.

One of the highlights of Hagemann’s distinguished career as a scout for the Expos, Orioles, Braves, and now the Phillies, was his recommendation in 1987 that the Braves obtain Class A minor league pitcher John Smoltz in the trade with the Tigers for veteran hurler Doyle Alexander.

Alexander helped the Tigers to the playoffs but Smoltz became a Hall of Famer.

Hagemann also signed out of their native Staten Island pitcher Jason Marquis.
His major league career now probably over, Marquis will pitch for Israel in the World Baseball Classic elimination tournament Sept. 21-24 at the Brooklyn Cyclones MCU home field on Coney Island. So likely will former Red Sox southpaw Craig Breslow and former Met infielders Ike Davis and Josh Satin.

More on that fascinating tourney matching Israel, Brazil, Great Britain, and Pakistan in the next installment of this blog.

For now as always: Take it easy but take it!
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