by Kent Sterling
It sucks that Major League Baseball mandated that the Cubs opened the 2013 season on the road because Cubs fans will not get to see a .500 team at Wrigley Field for another entire year.
The Cubs are terrible, and they know it. There are three potentially dynamic players on their roster in Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro, although my assessment of Castro is different. The rest of the roster is a historically awful conglomeration of middling-and-worse one or two tool players.
This roster has no chance at all to win more than they lose. The starting rotation is the strength of the team, but ranks no better than third in the National League Central. The Cardinals and Reds, if they stay healthy, have outstanding talent. Even if the Cardinals lose one or two guys, they can plug in Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly to fill the holes. The Reds have a weakness in the five hole in Mike Leake, but other that that are very solid, if not spectacular.
Cubs president Theo Epstein knows the score, and on ESPN’s Mike and Mike this morning isolated Samardzija, Castro, and Rizzo as cornerstones of the rebuilding project that may make the construction of the Taj Mahal look quick.
There is something a little more humane in this methodology in that even on Opening Day, there is no hope. The Cubs have been occasionally cruel in building hope, and then crushing fans with a dizzying collapse.
The first year I can remember as a Cubs fan was 1968, and at the end of May, they climbed to within a game-and-a-half. I can still remember seeing the Cubs listed first in the May 31st edition of the Sun-Times. I jumped up and down look a loon. That was that. They went 10-18 in June. 1969 is well known among even passive sports fans for the Cubs collapse. The nosedive in 1977 is less memorable, but stunning. The Cubs were 47-22 on June 28th, and I can still hear broadcaster Lou Boudreau say, “Once you hit 25 games over .500, it’s impossible to fall below even money.” My response was that the comment reflected a cynicism I didn’t much care for.
The Cubs were up 8 1/2 games on that beautiful June 28th on the northside of Chicago. They lost eight of their last nine that year to drop to an even money 81-81, good for fourth place in the NL East, 20 games back of the Phillies.
There were other celebrated messes in 1984, 1989, 1998, and of course the Bartman debacle of 2003 that started a still active nine-game postseason losing streak.
There will be no collapse to mark the tenth anniversary of the Bartman incident. It will pass with the Cubs losing early and often on their way to an equally dour 2014 before the hoped for renaissance of 2015 when the minor league system Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are creating finally sends talent to Wrigley.
For now, the marquee outside Wrigley Field is dressed with giant photos of 12 current cubs – Matt Garza (on the DL since July, 2012 and not expected back until May at the earliest), Castro, Samardzija, James Russell (hey, he was 7-1 last year), Darwin Barney (his fielding is so good and bat so bad, he should hit with his glove too – also on the DL), Scott Feldman (sports a 5+ ERA in four of the last six seasons), Rizzo (born of the first anniversary of the first game played at Wrigley under the lights), firestarter Carlos Marmol (who has yielded a WHIP of 4.8 in 1 2/3 innings – including six hits, two home runs, two walks, one hit batsman, and five earned runs), $18-million per year mess Alfonso Soriano, reliever Kyuji Fujikawa (sporting a wonderful 11.57 ERA), professional inning eater Edwin Jackson (overpaid by $16-million with his four year, $52 million contract), and David DeJesus, who despite his current batting average of .111, I like as a ballplayer.
Above the marquee is a picture of fans cheering, and the word “COMMITTED” to its right. That about sums it up. Paying the ticket prices the Ricketts Family believes are fair to watch a team that was assembled with the express purpose – the admitted purpose – of not competing is insane.
The world is more fun for Cubs fans when they have a sporting chance to be competitive, but that won’t be the case for multiple seasons – by Epstein’s own admission.
The Ricketts and their resident “genius” Crane Kenney will continue to whore out the only class act in the organization – the building that houses this miserable excuse for a team, and fans will pay to visit what has become a mausoleum of memories. It’s shameful.
My hope for the Cubs in 2013 is that they have to write some gigantic checks to alderman to be allowed to erect video screens in left and right field. Make them pay an unfair tariff so they know what the fans feel like.