Tag Archives: CUBS

CATCHERS MAKE THE BEST MANAGERS

Did anyone notice that three of the four Managers in the American and National League Championship Series’ were former catchers in their baseball careers? Joe Maddon of the Cubs, John Gibbons of the Blue Jays and Ned Yost of the Royals were all catchers during their playing careers. Only Terry Collins of the Mets was not. Collins was a shortstop during his playing career.

In the beginning of this year’s Playoffs, of the ten teams involved, including the Wild Card Teams, six of the ten were managed by former catchers, including all five American League teams.

In all of Major League Baseball, 13 of the 30 Managers were catchers during their playing career. Why are 60 per cent of the Post Season teams, 75 per cent of the teams in the LCS and 43 per cent of the Major League teams managed by former catchers?

After all, catcher is only one of nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43 percent of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers. What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player develop from playing at this least glamorous position that gives him the skills to be a Manager? After all, the catcher’s equipment has always been referred to as the ‘Tools of Ignorance’. One wouldn’t think that ignorance would be an asset in such a complex position.

According to Baseballreference.com, the term ‘tools of ignorance’ was ‘…meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.’

The catcher takes a position, generally more that 100 times a game, behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles an hour and arrive at a spot directly in front of the catcher at precisely the same instant. If you have never experienced the sensation when this happens, you don’t have a true understanding of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.

Until the recent rule change, the catcher was the only player on the field that it was acceptable to crash into while running at full speed into home plate. He is an advocate for the pitcher in ball and strike counts, making him a favorite target of umpires. If an opposing batter gets hit with a pitch, the catcher, who obviously must have called the bean ball, is the most logical target for the opposition pitcher’s retaliation.

Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching may be the most dangerous position on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.

While following general directions given by sign from the dugout, the catcher must consider a myriad of things while deciding, in a few seconds, which pitch he will call for next. Among the things he must consider are the ability, condition, mental attitude and performance so far that day of his pitcher, who, by the way, is only one of 11 or 12 different pitchers he will catch this week. He must also monitor the situation on the field, including the ball and strike count, the number of outs, the score, any base runners and their locations, speed and ability and, of course, the batter, including, but not limited to, his physical ability, what he has seen in his previous at bats and what he can be expected to try to accomplish in this at bat.

I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must know and anticipate in every situation. Most of us would need a computer to catalog the things we would need to consider before putting down those fingers to call for a pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.

Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. The person squatting behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch will come in at anywhere between 70 and 100 miles an hour, may go where it was supposed to go or somewhere else and may not even be the pitch the catcher thought he called for. If you have ever expected an 80 mile an hour slider and, instead, gotten a 100 mile per hour fastball, you’ll know where the term handcuffed came from.

Assuming the ball is not put into play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it, and there is no one stealing a base, the scenario starts all over again. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether is is caught by a fielder, or one of the dozens of other things that can happen, the catcher now has other responsibilities. These include backing up first base on grounders, directing throws within the infield, preparing to catch a ball for a play at the plate and on and on and on. After this play is over, his responsibilities begin all over again.

Considering their responsibilities and all they have to learn to play their position, is it surprising that catchers make good Managers? The catcher is like the football quarterback who must know the role of every player on every play.

That is why catchers make the best managers and why there is a good chance two former catchers will be managing against each other in the World Series this year just as Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost, two former catchers, did last year.

CUBS VERSUS ASTROS IN WORLD SERIES??

AZ 2014 004What could be more exciting than a Playoff Season that started out with all four of the Underdogs ahead of the Favorites two games to one after three games? So far, both American League Favorites, the Blue Jays and Royals, have come back and won Game 4 to avoid being eliminated. But both the Dodgers and Cardinals, winners of their National League Divisions, are down two games to one, to the Mets and Cubs, and facing possible elimination tonight.

What could be more exciting would be an American League Championship Series that pitted the Houston Astros, who finished in fourth place in the Western Division last year, against the Texas Rangers, who finished in last place in the Western Division last year, in an all Texas series. If you have forgotten, Houston won only 70 games while losing 92 in 2014 and finished 28 games out of first. The only thing that kept the Astros out of last place was those Texas Rangers, with a record of 67-95, 31 games back. Texas was the only team in the American League that lost more games than the Astros, who were tied for the second worst record in the League. Tomorrow night both of them have a chance to advance to the American League Championship Series.

What would be just as exciting would be a National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished in last place in the Central Division last year, facing the New York Mets, who finished in third place in the Eastern Division last year. The Cubs won 73 and lost 89 last year and finished 17 games out of first. The Mets finished with the same 73-89 record and were also 17 games out of first. The Mets are up two games to one over the Dodgers while the Cubs have the same advantage over the Cardinals. If the Mets and Cubs can each win one of the last two games against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Mets and Cubs will meet in the National League Championship Series.

The four Underdogs finished with a combined record of 295 wins and 353 losses last year while the other four teams finished with 356 wins and 292 losses. This year, the Underdogs finished with a combined 361 wins and just 287 losses compared to the Favorites record of 380-268.

Imagine a World Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished last in their division the past two years and the Houston Astros who finished in fourth last year and last the previous year after being moved from the National League Central to the American League, facing each other. Remember also that the Astros finished in last in the National League Central their last two years there and were the only thing that kept the fourth place Cubs out of last.

The Astros have not been in the World Series since 2005, when they lost their only appearance in the Fall Classic to the Chicago White Sox in four straight. The Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945, 70 years ago, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers four games to three. They have not won a World Series since 1908, 107 years ago, when they beat those same Tigers four games to one.

The chances of it happening are slim but don’t tell Manager Joe Maddon of the Cubs or Manager A. J. Hinch of the Astros, who, by the way, are both in their first year of managing these clubs. The fact that these four Underdogs have gotten to the point that they all have a shot at getting to the Championship Series should be excitement enough for one playoff season.

As I say every year at this time, how can anyone get excited about football, basketball or hockey when baseball is giving us its usual Fall dose of excitement and suspense?

NO MAGIC POTION FOR CUBS

What’s going on on the north side of Chicago? This past week, they brought back their former pitcher Jason Hammel, traded two young right handed pitchers for catcher Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks and then enticed the most sought after of the Free Agent pitchers, Jon Lester, to sign with them instead of returning to the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein, the former General Manager of the Red Sox, who left Boston to become President for Baseball Operations with the Chicago Cubs at the end of the Red Sox disastrous 2011 season, is entering the fourth year of a five year $18.5 million contract there. He has worked to build a strong farm system and focused on long term success. He made no promises of immediate success when he first came to Chicago but promised to work to ‘ ..get where we want to go, which is to a foundation of sustained success ‘ as he was quoted in the Cubs 2011 Spring Training Program.

There is no question the Cubs have progressed in his three years at the helm. The Cubs have been mired in fifth place in the competitive Central Division of the National League since before he arrived there. In his first year, they won just 61 games, the next year 66 and last year 73. In 2012, they finished 36 games out, in 2013, 31, and, in 2014, 17.

Epstein and his team, which includes Jed Hoyer, his General Manager, who he brought over from Boston where they built the team that won three World’s Championships this century, brought in Hammel, Lester and Montero to try to put the finishing touches on their long term plan.

Lester and Hammel will become two members of a starting rotation that will include Jake Arieta, a right hander who was 10-5 last year with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts, Travis Wood, who is a better left handed pitcher that his 8-13 record with a 5.03 ERA last year and Kyle Hendricks a 25 year old right hander who went 7-2 in 13 starts with a 2.46 ERA last year as a rookie. They also have Tsuyoshi Wada who, as a 33 year old rookie, was 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA.

Before being traded to Oakland last year, Hammel was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and Lester was 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA between Boston and Oakland. With the addition of these two, the Cubs should have a solid rotation.

Closer Hector Rondon, was successful in 29 of 33 save attempts with an ERA of 2.42. The rest of the bullpen, including Blake Parker, who has relieved 67 times in the last two years, Pedro Strop, 65 appearances and a 2.21 ERA last year, Justin Grimm, a 26 year old right hander who was in 73 games, with a 5-2 record and 3.78 ERA and Neil Ramirez, a 25 year old right hander with a 1.44 ERA in 50 games, has excellent potential.

Montero played in 136 games at Arizona last year and hit .243. The infield is not set but has Anthony Rizzo, .286, 32 homers and 78 RBI’s, at first, Javier Baez, a shortstop, who, as a rookie, played 52 games and hit only .169, will either play second or short. Starlin Castro, who despite some problems, hit .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBI’s will probably start the season at short and Luis Valbuena, who hit .249 with 16 homers and 51 RBI’s at third.

Chris Coghlan, .283 in 125 games should be in left with Jorge Soler, a rookie, who played only 24 games last year but hit .292 with 5 homers and 24 RBI’s the favorite to be in right. Arismendy Alcantara, who came up in early July and played 48 of his 70 games in center while hitting only .205 but had 10 homers may be the center fielder but could move to second depending upon what happens with Castro and Baez. Ryan Sweeney, who only played in 77 games, due to injuries, and hit .251 is available for outfield duty, too.

New manager Joe Maddon who seems to get more out of young players than most managers has a good nucleus and, if his starting rotation stays healthy, should make the Cubs competitive. Playing in the National League Central with the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers will make it difficult to make the playoffs but Epstein and Hoyer have come a long way in a short time with this team and the future looks brighter.

Lots of things are happening with the Cubs. The City of Mesa built them a brand new, state of the art, spring training complex which opened last year to replace Hohokam Field where they had been forever. Wrigley Field, which celebrated its 100th year last year is being renovated and Cubs fans are looking forward to a competitive team for the first time in a long while.

The Cubs have as good a fan base as any team in baseball, especially given their long drought. I think they’re going to like the way this team will perform for the old master Maddon but don’t look for a pennant right away.