If you need any proof that Cubs baseball is nearly here, Jon Lester threw 87 pitches across six innings in a minor league game yesterday, striking out seven Rockies batters while allowing two runs on five hits with two free passes. The Opening Day starter will make his final spring start on Saturday night against the Rockies again.
Because it was an off day for all of the other regulars, Joe Maddon took the time to wax poetic via his idioms dictionary and a stunning black t-shirt. If nothing else, Maddon is a digital marketing addict, which I’m sure made coming to Chicago an easy choice because of the Cubs’ worldwide fan base.
Level 5 ALL I WANT TO DO IS WIN
Level 4 I Want to Make as Much Money as Possible
Level 3 I Belong Here I Can Do This
Level 2 Survival
Level 1 Happy to Be Here
— Joe Maddon (@CubsJoeMadd) March 18, 2019
If I had made a t-shirt of definitive media tips I simply would have quoted Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins from Bull Durham.
- Level 5: “I love winning. It’s, like, better than losing.”
- Level 4: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that.”
- Level 3: “I just wanna give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.”
- Level 2: “I’m just happy to be here, hope I can help the club.”
- Level 1: “We’ve gotta play ’em one game at a time.”
Maddon is not the type to get complacent and he’s always pretty open to change. But he’s forward-thinking in the way a beloved grandfather is. Most of his t-shirt wisdom is a lot the same stuff presented in different ways, which sort of allows his brand to constantly repurpose itself. If Phil Jackson was Chicago’s Zen Master, Maddon is the city’s P.T. Barnum.
It’s hard to define the Cubs skipper. In large doses he’s an acquired taste, which is like saying you won’t dig on sushi until you’ve eaten a whole hell of a lot of it. He’s a players’ manager, a fan-friendly quote machine, and his liberal use of t-shirt motivation floods the apparel stores in and around Wrigley Field.
But his methods tend to work. The Cubs are winning at a .598 clip since Papa Joe arrived with a World Series title and three berths in the NLCS across four seasons. This could be Maddon’s last season with the team. One wonders what the Cubs would look like with someone else at the helm.
Cubs News & Notes
- Maddon would like to see the Cubs add a little more variety to their offense this summer.
- What Kris Bryant is to the Chicago Cubs offense, Yu Darvish is to their starting staff.
- For most of the last six months, it looked like Addison Russell had played his last game as a Cub. With the season starting in just over a week, he is 18 games shy of resuming his duties as the team’s starting shortstop.
- Brandon Morrow felt great after throwing his first bullpen session the other day.
- Pedro Strop has started throwing off of a mound and is scheduled to pitch at least two bullpen sessions with more intensity as he tries to convince the staff he will be ready for the season opener.
- In Strop’s absence, and with Morrow just starting to throw, Brandon Kintzler will be one of Maddon’s go-to options in high-leverage situations.
- Brian Duensing is struggling a great deal. For a pitcher who regressed noticeably last year, his 8.10 ERA and 1.35 WHP in Cactus League play is plenty alarming.
- Victor Caratini was given a rare chance to catch Lester in Monday’s game and was praised for his work by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. Lester was happy, too.
- Snopes offers a fascinating look at the 1908 Cubs that includes the “Merkle’s Boner” game and a lawsuit by a Pirates’ fan that could have changed the entire finish to the season and given that year’s NL pennant to Pittsburgh.
- Mark Grace was a beloved member of some very good and very bad Cubs teams in the 1980’s and ’90’s. Here’s eight facts you may not have known about the former Cubs first baseman.
- Grace was very good, but until Anthony Rizzo arrived, Bill Buckner was my favorite Cubs first baseman.
In 6 full years w @Dodgers Bill Buckner hit .292.
In his best year, 1974 he batted .314 w 30 doubles.
— 1970s Baseball (@70sBaseball) March 19, 2019
Spring Training Notes
The era of baseball announcers that are true homers is sadly nearing its end.
MLB has more than bad weather to blame for its recent drop in attendance.
Dakota Hudson, whose 26 appearances last year all came in relief, has been named fifth starter by the Cardinals. Hudson pitched just an inning and a third against the Cubs last year, striking out three batters.
White Sox prospect Dane Dunning needs Tommy John surgery and will miss all of the 2019 season.
Sox VP Kenny Williams believes fan criticism for failing to sign a major free agent is unwarranted. “It’s a shame if it’s being portrayed that we were on the cheap on this thing. That’s really interesting because, holy s—-, that’s a quarter of a billion dollars we offered [presumably to Manny Machado] with a chance to be higher than what he’s getting.’’
If you are a fantasy baseball player, there are no less than eight ongoing battles for closer among MLB teams.
Just a random thought, but with baseball mandating that September 1 rosters be limited to 28 players starting next season, it appears to me that service time for minor league players might not be affected as much as older players. That could affect playoff races. Aging veterans in the final year of their contracts could be released to provide opportunities to younger players. It won’t save money because most of those contracts are guaranteed, but it would be nothing more than a minor sunk cost at that point. No doubt they would be picked up by contending teams at virtually no cost.
This Weeks New Spins
- Gaucho by Steely Dan – there was a time when this yacht-rock band was known as dorm music, as nearly every male college student owned a few of the duo’s long players. Later Steely Dan albums, including this one, featured Michael McDonald of the Doobie Bros. on backing vocals, prompting Donald Fagen to enter the studio to do some solo work. There is no true standout song on this album, but if you are okay with McDonald’s whiny upper register, Time Out of Mind is a great song that features Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits on guitar.
- Radio K.A.O.S. by Roger Waters – This concept album doesn’t have a bad song and proved that Waters could be at least mildly successful in his career outside of post-1985 Pink Floyd. The album follows Billy, a mentally and physically disabled man from Wales, and is based upon key topical subjects of the late ’80’s, including monetarism and its effect on citizens, popular culture of the time, and the events and consequences of the Cold War.
- Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan – This is my favorite Dylan LP, and an album that also resides in my Top 20 releases of all time. The album is linked to tensions in Dylan’s personal life at the time, including estrangement from his then-wife Sara. Jakob Dylan, his son and lead singer of The Wallflowers, has described the songs as basically “my parents talking.” It doesn’t get any better for Dylan fans than Tangled Up in Blue or Meet Me in the Morning, but my go-to single on this disc is most definitely Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts. The song is genuinely worthy of its own dissertation.
Tuesday Walk Up Song
Going Home: Theme from Local Hero by Mark Knopfler. This beautiful instrumental exudes joy and peacefulness and Knopfler’s guitar is astounding. It’s a great and underrated movie to boot.