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The more impressive 200: Castro or Dempster?

The following guest post was submitted by Ryan Maloney, from the Cubs MLBlog Prose and Ivy. (Photos by Stephen Green)

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK: If Ryan Dempster joins Starlin Castro in reaching a personal “200″ milestone this week, which accomplishment are you more impressed by: Dempster’s four straight seasons of 200+ innings, or Castro hitting the 200-hit mark at a younger age than any player in the history of the franchise?

Starlin Castro reached his statistical mountain top on Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals when he became the Cubs’ youngest player ever to reach 200 hits in a season. Ryan Dempster is chasing the 200-inning mark for the fourth straight season, needing just 3.1 innings pitched in his last remaining start, at San Diego.

So let’s consider what each achievement says about the two players.

Dempster reached the 200-inning plateau in 2008 (206.2), 2009 (200.0), 2010 (215.1) and three other times earlier in his career with the Florida Marlins—in 2000 (226.1), 2001 (211.1) and 2002 (209.0). The last Cubs starter to reach this milestone was Steve Trachsel (each season from 1996-99). With the way injuries and pitch counts limit even the best pitchers in the game today, reaching the 200-inning mark for a starting pitcher is proof of reliability, stamina and consistency.

Castro’s 200th hit last Friday was certainly a memorable one, as he roped the second pitch he saw from Chris Carpenter into the outfield for a single. On top of setting a franchise mark as youngest player to 200 hits, it has put him in an elite group of only four other major leaguers to reach 200 hits in one season at age 21 or younger. Castro currently sits at 203 hits on the season, with the franchise record for a right-handed hitter being set by Rogers Hornsby‘s 229 hits in 1929.

Fans can dream big with Castro. His 342 hits over his first two seasons ranks tops among the Cubs’ all-time roster, recently passing Glenn Beckert‘s 335 from 1965-66.

Their accomplishments have put a bright spot on a rough season in Chicago. Dempster’s mark will further solidify his place as a reliable, innings-eating workhorse, while Castro’s accomplishment will continue to propel the already lofty expectations for the young shortstop to new heights.

Prose and Ivy Originals – Baseball’s Never Been, Never Will Be ‘Just a Game’

The game of baseball is something I hear people complain about way too often. Not so much from those who are fans of the game, although those people have their complaints as well (strike zones, realignment, All-Star Game intricacies, instant replays, the DH, asterisks, Series throwing conspiracy theories, etc). I’m talking more so about the people who only take the game for what it is on the surface. Nine innings. Twenty seven outs. Nine players. A ball, a glove and a bat. Some dirt, some grass and unpredictable weather.

“It’s boring”.

“It takes too long”.

“Nothing ever happens”.

And on, and on.

What these people fail to recognize is what the sport is aside from the score sheets. Aside from the box scores. Aside from the record books. Beyond the greatest ballplayers of all-time, their stats and their plaques. More than Cracker Jack, peanuts, hot dogs and beer. The cold April games, the cool Fall nights and the scorching Summer afternoons.

Beyond all of that. If you look beyond all of that, you will find a game that provides great opportunity. Not only in fame and fortune to those who play it. Not only to the parents who share the joy of the game with their children. Not only the fact that the game has been there as a distraction during times of war and as a sense of normalcy after national tragic events. The game is all of that and more. The beautiful thing about the game is that you don’t know when something amazing is going to happen and the fact that the possibility exists for something incredible to happen is there all of the time. And I don’t mean simply home runs, no-hitters, walk-off victories and perfect games.

I’m talking about the game as a venue to do some good. It serves as an amazing platform to raise awareness on a number of social issues and to raise funds for organizations looking to find cures for a long list of illnesses.

I recently featured a Youtube video with Brian Wilson and Cody Ross of the San Francisco Giants teaming up with Keenan Cahill. Cahill is a favorite on Youtube and has accrued millions of views for his lip-synching videos. The Giants teamed up with him to help raise awareness for Maroteaux-Lamy disorder (the disease Cahill suffers from) and to help raise funds for Cahill’s family who face medical bills for Cahill for prescriptions that are often extremely expensive.

Another article I recently posted described what the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) accomplishes with it’s hard work year in and year out. This past May, they honored the Ricketts family and the Cubs at Wrigley Field with their highest honor, the Best of Illinois award. With Ron Santo a huge part of the Cubs’ family for decades and having suffered from diabetes his entire life, the organization and the Ricketts family have been huge proponents in raising awareness and helping raise funds to find a cure.

When people show up to the ballpark all year long, often between 2-3 million people per season per team, those fans are capable of doing much more than simply voting their favorite players into an All-Star game, willing a game-ending strike out, or singing Sweet Caroline. If given the right opportunity, they make a difference in areas that matter way more than what happens on a baseball field. They can in fact help fund organizations that are working day and night to find cures. You think seeing the Cubs win the World Series would change your life? Think about if their mere existence helped build an opportunity for complete strangers to unite and fund a cure for a disease you or a loved one has suffered from or passed away because of. Now, that would really affect your life. And you’d have more to show for it than just a commemorative SI issue and a sweatshirt to show for it.

Vice President Joe Biden was in town yesterday at a CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy) event reassuring folks in Chicago who support the organization that a cure is possible. Obama advisor, David Axelrod, introduced Biden to the crowd and the Vice President went on to acknowledge Axelrod’s wife for her commitment and thanked her for starting the organization. Axelrod and his wife, Susan, have worked hard to help find a cure since their daughter started suffering from seizures at the age of seven months. The city of Chicago showed up in droves. 900 people were in attendance and over $800,000 was raised. Axelrod supports Chicago baseball following both the Cubs and the White Sox. Obama is 100% a White Sox fan although has admitted to checking all scores of the day during late night episodes of Sportscenter. You know the two of them set aside their North side/South side differences when it comes to something much more important than who wins the BP Cup this season.

The baseball community is a powerful thing. When fans work with other fans, millions of people can be focused on finding a cure for one thing and that is an incredible opportunity. A friend of mine, Alison, lost her brother, Christopher, to what is known as Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) in 2002.

Christopher Donalty/DonaltyCure.com

Christopher was a talented pitcher from Utica, NY, a star player for both the Proctor High Raiders and Utica Post’s American Legion team. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to lose him so unexpectedly and suddenly. You can read more about Christopher here and find details about the upcoming CURE fundraiser the Donalty family is arranging for this September 17th.

I know how large Cubs Nation is. It’s pretty obvious…’nation’…it’s in the name. Cubs fans are everywhere. If you happen to be a Cubs fan and read this blog and are in the Utica area, I encourage you to attend and donate if you can. Even if you’re not in Utica area, this little gadget called the Internet is like throwing us all in the same backyard anyway. You may have missed the Biden and Axelrod CURE event last night in Chicago and you may only find ballot boxes at your local ballpark for All-Star voting. However, often, MLB gets involved in making a difference outside of the scorecards and I encourage you to get involved as well. If you don’t see the opportunity to get involved with CURE at Wrigley and you or someone you know has had their life affected by the disease, take advantage of the link provided above.

Baseball fans are capable of accomplishing all sorts of feats together. Yes, much, much greater than ‘the wave’.

The next time you hear someone complain about the game of baseball, feel free to kick off your argument of how great the sport is with mentions of ‘hardest thing to do in sports is hit a 95 MPH fastball’, or ‘there is no clock, someone HAS to win’ or ‘how can you not like America’s favorite pastime’. Once those arguments fail, as they usually do, throw in the fact that baseball is another great opportunity for millions of people to have some fun, unite resources and truly do some good.

I’d like to see them argue with that.

The Crosstown Classic continues tonight. Cubs/Sox at US Cellular. Davis on the mound for the Cubs. More Cubs-specific content to come. Until then, as always, Go Cubs Go! And seriously, why not root for your team to do well, while the fans step up and do some good?

Catching Up with Drew Gagnier – Player Feature

Former Connecticut Tigers relief pitcher Drew Gagnier hasn’t always made a name for himself coming out of the bullpen. There was a point in time when Gagnier was dreaming of playing Major League Baseball while manning a spot in the outfield for Santa Cruz High School in Santa Cruz, CA.

At Santa Cruz Gagnier earned first-team all-league accolades as an outfielder while leading his team to the SCCAL championship in 2006. Once Gagnier reached college, his arm led him to another spot on the field. First at Fresno State and later at the University of Oregon, Gagnier was given the opportunity to use his skills to grab the attention of Major League scouts atop the pitcher’s mound.

Currently Gagnier is a relief pitcher with the Vermont Lake Monsters in the New York-Penn League. In five appearances, Gagnier has collected one victory for Vermont and continues to put up competitive numbers in the Oakland Athletics’ minor league system with a 3.38 ERA.

In 2010 and 2011, Gagnier pitched for the Connecticut Tigers. In his debut season with the club in 2010, he posted an ERA just under three (2.95) and collected 38 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. Gagnier was released by the Tigers on July 27, 2011 and three days later, he was signed by the Athletics to a minor league contract.

Recently, Gagnier made his return to Dodd Stadium when the Lake Monsters arrived for a three-game series against the Tigers. Gagnier took a few moments out of his pre-game routine to update fans on how things are going for the former Connecticut Tiger.

Ryan Maloney: How would you describe the experience of being drafted by a Major League baseball team and the process leading up to that day?

Drew Gagnier: When I was drafted by the Tigers, it was actually my second time being drafted. I was drafted by the A’s in 2009, but it’s always special and I was appreciative the Tigers gave me a chance to play for their organization. There were a bunch of teams interested. At the time, my older brother played in the Tigers farm system and I was having a great college season, so I had a feeling there may be some interest from the Tigers organization.

RM: Before landing with the Vermont Lake Monsters, your current team, last season you played for the Connecticut Tigers. What was that experience like, playing here at Dodd Stadium?

DG: It was good. Quality playing surface, Double-A field. I enjoyed the coaches and players in my time with the team. I thought that maybe my development may have been cut a little bit short in terms of opportunity but that just seems to be the way the Tigers run their minor league program, but I enjoyed my time here.

RM: What is the biggest difference you’ve seen so far between the Tigers farm system and the Oakland Athletics minor league system?

DG: I believe the Athletics give their players more time to develop and work more on developing their player as opposed to maybe paying them more, they put that investment into the development part of it. I think both organizations are top notch and it’s been a pleasure playing for both of them.

RM: What part of your game are they currently allowing you time to work on and develop while pitching for the Lake Monsters that you weren’t able to develop here with the Tigers?

DG: For me it’s been basically pounding the strike zone, learning how to use all my pitches and, more specifically, developing a split finger fastball. This year I’m throwing five pitches. When I was with the Tigers, I only had three. I’ve had my velocity go down a bit since college so it’s been helpful to learn how to use all my pitches to get people out.

RM: For a stretch of time, you and your brother, LJ, were both pitching in the Minor Leagues. Did you guys follow each others stats on-line, did you talk every night, what’s it like having a sibling going through the same thing you are in working to make it to The Show?

DG: It was awesome. I would look him up and talk on the phone after each outing. I’d learn from him, even growing up and all through college I learned from him. He had an opportunity to win a National Championship in college with Cal State Fullerton and had a successful pro ball career, winning Triple-A Pitcher of the Year with Toledo for the Tigers so any questions I’ve had, I just talked to him.

RM: You and your brother clearly played baseball growing up. There is a trend now where parents are practically picking one sport for their kids to focus on solely. Did you play any other sports growing up and if so, did you find it beneficial playing many sports as opposed to focusing solely on baseball?

DG: Yeah, I’m a big advocate of playing as many sports as you can for as long as you can. Especially when you’re younger, it helps with being athletic and when its time to choose, you’ll know. I played football, basketball, golf growing up. I still golf on my off days but I believe playing a number of different sports helped me get to where I am today.

RM: What is the environment like in the bullpen during a game?

DG: The bullpen (laughs). The bullpen is a lot of small talk, kind of wasting time during the game until you get your turn to pitch. A lot of guys have similar stories so you can relate. Once you do get the call, it’s time to focus.

RM: Any piece of advice you would give kids at any level looking to do what you are doing and make their own way to The Show?

DG: First, start off with your education. In high school, make sure you get the grades to play Division-I ball. If you have the talent and a great work ethic, you can definitely make it.

RM: And how is your season going overall? Anything you’re looking forward to this year?

DG: I always look forward to going to Brooklyn and Staten Island. Those are my favorite places to play in the New York-Penn League. I think we have some quality catchers on the team that can call a good game and while we lost a couple at Dodd, I think we’re really battling and staying competitive this season.

Prose and Ivy Originals – Now We’re In a Must Win ‘Sitch’

Screw it.

The MLB championship is out of our Cub reach for 2010.  Time to accept that…but who cares.  That trophy is overrated. Let’s be honest with ourselves…the Crosstown Cup is our coveted ark.  If this season were an action film it’d be Lou Piniella Jonesin’ with the Cubbies After the Lost BP Ark.  Now is the time to step up and make all of our Cub dreams come true…win the next two games in an epic fashion and tie the Chicago White Sox for the BP Crosstown Cup.

The BP Crosstown Cup awaits and we are now in a must win situation.  Dave Roberts and the Red Sox in 2004? That’s nothing compared to Lou Piniella and the Chicago Cubs of 2010.  Time to make history.  Time to go get the greatest prize in all of sports.  Get the ticker tape and the police horses ready.  There’s going to be a whole lot of thrilled Cubs fans crowding the city of Chicago come Sunday night when the whole town rejoices the Cubs claiming the BP Crosstown Cup over the Chicago White Sox in a historic comeback of epic proportions.

Never in the history of baseball has any team ever come back from being in a 3-1 deficit in a Cup clinching series with two games to play and the opportunity to tie for the Cup.  Never.  The Cubs can be the first.  Starting this weekend’s series already down 2-1, the Cubs rolled into Sox territory on Friday and lost it….and then lost it. Zambrano gave up some hits that he thought should’ve been stopped by Cub fielders.  It resulted in him serving the team with all that he had for an entire 1 inning.  After closing out the first and giving up four earned runs including one three-run bomb, he got to the Cubs dugout and immediately let loose on his teammates.  Holding nothing back in what was probably a mixture of Spanish and English, Carlos Zambrano let his battlemates know how unhappy he was with their performance and followed up his 2009 signature game with another strong outing in the dugout destroying another Gatorade machine.

This was the type of performance that will be mentioned along side some of the greatest pitching performances of all time. Schilling’s bloody sock game?  Mariano Rivera’s overall career in the post-season as an absolute shut-the-door-kinda-closer?  Good luck measuring up and reaching the number one spot when the greatest moments to ever take place in the game of baseball are discussed.  Carlos Zambrano went out and put forth an effort that left manager Lou Piniella nearly speechless in the post-game press conference.  The team, mind-blown from their ace’s outing, have no idea what to do next with their Opening Day Ace-turned bullpen stop plug-turned best option to fill a void in the rotation.  What else does he have left to achieve?  What else does Carlos Zambrano have to do to prove to people his place in the game of baseball?

Soto escorted Zambrano out of the dugout after the amazing course of events took place clearly wanting to take the great one away from the mere mortals around them.  Lee was so taken by the great pitcher’s display of effort, ability, passion and love of the game that he too started to yell along with Zambrano hoping to fire up his teammates and share in this historic moment with one of the greatest characters in the game.  Galarraga not flipping out after a perfect game was stolen from him?  Give me a break.  Carlos Zambrano knows what it takes to gain respect from his teammates, manager, coaches, GM, fans and opponents.  This is exactly the kind of attitude and effort the Cubs need this weekend to stake a shared claim to the sport’s biggest prize. They all need to look at how Zambrano presents himself as a winner, follow his lead, and dig out of this 3-1 hole to a victorious 3-3 games a piece in the Crosstown Cup series for 2010.

With two games to play the Cubs can tie and share the parade with the team on the South side of town. Piniella said repeatedly after the game that he is embarassed.  Of course he is. It’s embarassing how good we are right now and the opportunity that’s been presented to us to tie for baseball’s prized joy, the reason players play this great game.  It’s embarassing how fortunate this franchise is and has been for the past century.

Down 3-1, the Cubs are in a must win situation over the next two games in order to tie for the BP Crosstown Cup. You probably never thought the day would come.  You think the Lakers’ victory in the NBA Finals brought commotion and disorder to the streets?  Wait until Chicago has their Cubs at the top of the BP Crosstown Cup world, tied with the White Sox.  No taxi will be safe my friends.  The Cubs win the next two and history will have been made, dreams finally realized.

Prose and Ivy Originals – Statues of Limitations

The Cubs will honor one of the greatest Cubs of all-time tonight when they unveil a statue of Hall of Famer, Billy Williams.

The statue will be revealed in a ceremony at Wrigley before their game against the Astros at the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue.  Lots of folks had a problem with the way they handled the Harry Caray statue situation in replacing his long-held location at that intersection with the new Williams statue.  While I don’t really understand the decision to move Caray for Williams (why not just leave Caray and Banks, the only other player to be honored with a statue at Wrigley, where they are and put Williams else where?), it doesn’t bother me outside of not understanding the logic in doing so.

Williams already has his number retired by the club and it’s a great honor to be immortalized outside the game’s greatest stadium.  I’m currently reading about Billy Williams and it’s a fascinating story.  I’m happy for him and can’t wait to see the statue next time I visit Wrigley.  (Banks too for that matter as I’ve only seen the Caray statue in person). *I have since seen the Banks and Williams statues.

A team that is short on championships and long on failures, I’m glad the Ricketts have decided to find a way to keep moving forward while updating but not changing the old stadium and honoring greats of the past, highlighting the positives that Cubs fans can be proud of while many obsess over the losing seasons and loveable loser reputation (a little too much in my opinion).  I feel it’s hard to break out of the lovable loser/losing mentality when you are constantly embracing it and while it may be necessary in a laugh-instead of crying kind of way, it won’t ever help us win a title.  The more ways we can emphasize the positives and look to move this team forward in a way that makes a positive difference, the better.

In a way, it would be easy for the Ricketts to push the old Veeck mentality of come out and have fun at the ballpark, don’t worry so much about the winning.  This would be even easier for them than other potential owners considering they grew up with it all around them finding love in life and for their team in the bleachers of Wrigley and as die-hard fans, it would be easy to take that loveable loser mentality into the owner’s box.  Think about how horrible that would be if they took the ‘let’s have a sense of humor’ approach and commemorated some horrible moments/characters in Cubs history with statues outside of Wrigley.  My Cubs statues of limitations if you will.

A statue of Lou Piniella for instance.  Giant belly, raving lunatic face, maybe even yelling in the face of an umpire (this statue would take a while considering there’d be an ump as well).  Holding two giant stone tablets, one reading 2007, one reading 2008 and beneath him on the ground, two broken tablets: 2009 and 2010.  His left arm in the air in anger and his right arm reaching out, just short of a carved out stone version of the word “potential”.

A statue of Dusty Baker for instance.  This one would have to be practically a characature.  Big smile on his face commemorating his arrival in the Windy City.  A toothpick so large it’s nearly the size of the rest of the statue.  Carved out fans crying all around him at his feet and a little Sammy Sosa in the back of the statue doing whatever he feels like.

A statue of the Cubs batting glove Bill Buckner wore in game six of the World Series in 1986 for instance. Simply to commemorate the once a Cub, always a Cub feeling.  You may be able to take the player out of Chicago, but you can never take Chicago out of the player.

A statue of Sammy Sosa for instance. Biggest torso on a player’s statue ever created with a tiny head and two gigantic arms sitting upon two gigantic, powerful legs.  In his back pocket a syringe.  His right arm pointing up to the sky in celebration of a home run and his left hand behind his back with his fingers crossed to denote the honesty that each home run was bashed in while chasing down unattainable records.  Of course there would be no number on his back because next to him would be a very little Tyler Colvin wearing the number 21 just laughing and having a great time doing a respectable job representing Sosa’s old steroid infested number.  At Sosa’s feet, a Spanish to English dictionary ripped in two and set on fire in hopes that no one knew it ever existed in Sammy’s possession, ever.  And the bonus feature, for some reason after years and years of looking this way, the statue’s face will begin to fade until the face is so white it longer resembles anything that it used to be and fans will have to do a double take to make sure it’s who they think it is.

A statue of Todd Hundley if you will for instance.  Todd Hundley’s statue would be made of the most expensive metal and yet, would deliver the least amount of entertainment value.  If fans had their way, it would probably also receive the largest amount of bird excrement.  Hundley would simply be standing there with hands in his pocket offering absolutely nothing with a giant smile on his face.  No glove as he was horrible behind the plate.  No bat as he delivered nothing compared to what was expected of him.  Next to him on the ground?  A giant bag of cash with a cartoonish $ symbol.  Hundley’s would be the only statue with a sound effect…that being, the sound of a truck backing up which would commemorate the giant contract he was given.  When the truck doesn’t arrive, fans will realize that it is commemorating how long Cubs fans waited for results out of Hundley even though all of his money was on the way.

And last but not least, a statute of Will Ohman for instance.  Quite possibly the worst Cubs relief pitcher to ever demonstrate hilarious ineffectiveness right before my eyes.  Ohman’s statue would be of him on the mound looking in for the sign.  Behind him, a brick wall covered in ivy and the famous scoreboard.  Out of the scoreboard would be a kid just waiting to flip over the visitors’ run total on the scoreboard. When Ohman pitches, the other team scores a ton of runs and it will show.  Ohman’s statue, the only one with a cool interactive feature, will allow fans to step up to the plate, literally.  You can step on a home plate and right on cue a ball with be shot out of a small cannon, flying over the outfield wall.  The run the boy running the scoreboard was counting on, delivered.

Needless to say, this would be a horrible sight to see and I’m glad the Ricketts are knowledgable enough of the past and looking to celebrate it.  We need more focusing on the positives these days as our team is falling apart beyond what I expected.  2007, 2008 were a blast.  2009 was a let down.  However this year, has simply been sad.  No playoffs.  No title.  Not even having Lou for the whole season.  The bright spots need to continue getting us through and they need to continue to be celebrated.  Williams is a bright spot from the past and we need to keep those bright spots in mind while enjoying the current bright spots of today (Quade, Castro, Colvin….and that’s been about it).

You guys have any other ideas for Cub Statues of Limitations?  Congratulations Billy, you deserve it!  Go Cubs Go!

Prose and Ivy Originals – V-5 and the Illusive Cubs Championship

Year in and year out.  Next year.  Wait. Wait. Wait.  Wait until next year.  A century plus.  Cubs fans raising Cubs fans, who raise Cubs fans.  The never ending disappointing cycle of let down generation after let down generation.

Make a move.  Make a trade.  Buy your tickets.  Get a program.  Look at the roster.  Watch the scoreboard.  Follow the off-season.  Complain about non-moves.  Relish in the potential of team additions.  Listen to sports radio.  Blog about your favorite team.  Buy a jersey.  Wear the jersey.  Wear out the jersey.  Watch name on said jersey get traded.  Buy new jersey.  Repeat.

Watch games on television.  Join the new age of sports voyeurism and subscribe to an on-line service to watch your favorite team.  Hope for the best.  Expect the Worst.  Enjoy Spring training.  Analyze spring performances and talk about this being the year for a certain youngster.  Write up your preferred roster, line-ups and rotations for the regular season.  Disagree when the big club decides otherwise.

Give too much credence to an outstanding April. Dismiss a crap start to the season and believe May is when the bats will turn themselves around.  They always do, right?  Sit in the sun and bake in the dog days of Summer.  Stand for the anthems and stretches.  Applaud your favorite celebrity and guffaw over confusing cameo selections of has-beens, never was and never will be’s.

Wait for winter meetings.  Wait for trades to be announced.  Wait for pitchers and catchers to report.  Wait for the games to count.  Wait for the pitchers to settle in and the bats to wake up.  Wait for the all-star break’s say in where you stand.  Wait for clincher.  Wait for the playoffs.  Wait to not be swept.  Wait to make the playoffs.  Wait for a shot at a World Series.  Wait and wait and wait.

Root for the veterans and hope for the rookies.  Cheer on the new hope that a new manager brings and say goodbye to their expected or promised dream results left unfulfilled.  Give new ownership the benefit of the doubt.  Attend Conventions.  Speak your mind.  Wait in line to get your autographs.  Wait until the day you no longer have to wait.

Look up in August and see that you’re almost twenty games out.  Wait to play spoiler.  Wait for consecutive wins.  Wait for series wins.  Wait for tickets to go on sale.  Wait on the wait list.  Wait in traffic on the way to a game.  Wait in line at the concession stand.  Wait for the moron running on the field to get caught by security.  Wait for the pitcher with the unbelievably slow pace.  Wait for the other team to meet at the mound.  Wait for Lou to get to the mound.  Wait for the hop to go away.  Wait for the crazy to go away.  Wait for offense and the pitching to get on track at the same time.  Wait for the Cardinals to have a bad day.  Wait for the Reds to come back to Earth.  Wait and wait and wait.

Remember that year?  That was the year.  That was going to be the year.  How many people are even still here to remember the year.  Wait, what was the year?  Wow, all those years.  Will it be this year?  No, not this year.  How many more years?

And scene.

This posting will now be played out for you in youtube form.  Cubs fans will be played by Steve Martin.  A World Series championship will be played by the rental car assigned to V-5.  The baseball gods will be played by the lady at the counter.  New Cubs ownership will be played by John Candy.  Go Cubs Go!

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Baseball Digest - Lee Mazzilli Article

In July of 1979, Lee Mazzilli was in Seattle, starring in the MLB All-Star Game as the lone representative of the New York Mets. I was just under four years old, living in Manchester, Connecticut at the time.

For someone to say my knowledge of New York City was ‘next to nothing’ would be inaccurate. It was absolutely nothing.  While I have the luxury of enjoying a quick glimpse of random celebrities walking down a Manhattan street nowadays, I really have no idea what it was like to see Lee Mazzilli walking around the city in 1979.

That being said, when I try to picture what it would have been like to see the Brooklyn native, who ranks fifth on the New York Mets’ all-time base stealers list, playing professional baseball and becoming famous in his home city, one image comes to mind.  The famous, final scene of Staying Alive.

In fact, hypothetically speaking, if one were to shoot a film to honor a ballplayer such as Mazzilli, who posted a 40 stolen base season with ease in his prime, you could easily commit to an homage opening sequence. Tight shot of Mazzilli’s feet running from first base to second on his way to yet another stolen base - the catcher yet again failing to throw him out, all set to the appropriate tune of the Bee Gees’ ‘Staying Alive’.

Born in 1955, Mazzilli would find speed playing a major role throughout his life. Speed bags, speed skates, speed on the base paths.

Early on in Mazzilli’s playing years, he set a minor league record while playing in the California League by stealing seven bases in one game for the Mets’ minor league affiliate, Visalia. Well known throughout Brooklyn for not only his athleticism but also his good looks, Mazzilli had the privilege of  entertaining fans across the country, as well as in front of his hometown crowd playing home games for the Mets at Shea Stadium and the Yankees later on at old Yankee Stadium.  How many baseball players in Brooklyn would love to be associated with the Mets or the Yankees, let alone both. His career included stints with both of his city’s beloved teams: the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. The former as a player and the latter as a coach.

Born the son of a boxer, Mazzilli inherited the ability to strike from the left and right side from his father. Unlike most switch hitters who are naturally gifted on one side of the plate, and then must learn how to hit from the other, Mazzilli was a natural switch hitter.

While his father worked to excel in the ring, Mazzilli excelled on the diamond. A star on his high school baseball team in Coney Island, Mazzilli lived the dream every young baseball player imagines: being drafted by your home team’s professional baseball club.  In Mazzilli’s case, it was the team in Flushing, not the Bronx.

He was drafted by the Mets in the first round of the 1973 MLB draft, straight out of Lincoln High School. Three years later he received the call to the bigs and began to make a name for himself on the major league level.

Mazzilli took advantage of the opportunity and showed flashes of brilliance on the grandest of stages. One example in particular that stands out for me: the 1979 MLB All-Star game.

In 1979, Mazzilli was the lone All-Star for the New York Mets. There, displaying his talents along side the best in the game, Mazzilli hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth inning and then drew a bases loaded walk in the ninth to bring in the winning run as the National League claimed victory over the American League, 7-6.

Baseball Digest highlighted Mazzilli’s exciting 1979 All-Star campaign for the New York Mets in an article by Phil Elderkin. Check it out by clicking here.

In 1980, Mazzilli further established himself as the poster boy of the New York Mets, setting the bar for his teammates with his performance on the field by posting an impressive stat line of 162 hits, 31 doubles, 16 home runs, 76 RBI, 82 runs and 41 stolen bases.

The fact that Mazzilli was able to finish his career in fifth place on the Mets’ all-time steals list may attest to his earlier athletic accomplishments in life.  While you may have expected Mazzilli to choose boxing as his sport of choice due to his father’s participation, the sport Mazzilli chose to excel in before focusing solely on baseball was speed skating. As a junior competitor, Mazzilli won eight national speed skating championships.  If those speed skating titles had been Mets’ World Series titles, I’m sure the name ‘Lee Mazzilli’ would have graced the New York Mets’ promotional schedule more than a couple times since.

While he may not have landed the New York Metropolitans eight World Series titles, he certainly did help reel in one. Even if it was in a round about way.

In 1981, the Mets traded Mazzilli to the Texas Rangers. As a fan favorite, the trade was right up there with other unpopular moves such as Dykstra/McDowell for Juan Samuel and Mookie Wilson to the Blue Jays for Jeff Musselman and Mike Brady. As much as the fanbase voiced displeasure with the move at the time, it was this particular move by the Mets that brought back Ron Darling, a key piece of their 1986 championship season rotation.  The trade also brought in Walt Terrell. While you won’t find any specific Walt Terrell highlights in any Mets ‘Best of’ reels, you will find that without the Mets having Walt Terrell to trade to the Detroit Tigers after the 1984 season, the Mets more than likely do not acquire another key piece to that 1986 championship season: infielder, Howard Johnson.

While Shea Stadium was rocking back in Mazzilli’s home town throughout the 1986 season early on, in a season that would feature the Mets clinching the East by 21.5 games, Mazzilli was playing ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets inquired about a trade with Pittsburgh, offering to send Ray Knight to Pittsburgh in exchange for the return of Mazzilli. The Pirates balked at the offer but then released Mazzilli in July of that same year. With a reunion possibility in sight, Mazzilli and the Mets took advantage. The Mets re-signed him nearly a month later and as a result Mazzilli was able to share in the thrill his home town experienced in 1986. Right in the center of it all, celebrating after their Game 7, World Series clincher at Shea Stadium, was Mazzilli taking it all in alongside teammates Johnson, Darling and Knight.

In all, Mazzilli played 14 seasons in the majors finishing with a career average of .259. He would go on to coach in New York with the Yankees and win his second championship ring. This second ring came at the Mets expense as the Yankees defeated their crosstown rivals in the 2000 Subway Series. From 2004-2005 he served as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, his one and only managerial position with a major league ballclub.

Mazzilli has no rings to show for his time in Pittsburgh, Texas, Baltimore or Toronto where he finished his career. However, with eight speed skating national championships, two World Series rings, a resume that includes SNY television credits and off-Broadway stage experience playing Tony in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, he certainly has plenty to celebrate.

In the spirit of adding one more item to his list of things to celebrate, how about another birthday? Lee Mazzilli turns 56, today.

Also Born Today:

Tom Glavine turns 45 today. Drafted in the second round of the 1984 amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves, Glavine would go on to have a great career with the team posting five seasons of 20 wins or more.  Glavine had a .600 win/loss percentage over his 22 year career. While he made an All-Star appearance as a member of the Mets in 2006, he is remembered for his time with the Braves where he won two Cy Young awards.

Travis Fryman turns 42 today. A five time all-star, this infielder played for the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. Fryman won his sole Golden Glove Award in 2000 as a member of the Indians and is currently the manager of the Indians’ Class A New York-Penn league team, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

Ryan Maloney is a Staff Writer for BaseballDigest.com, the author of popular Chicago Cubs blog Prose and Ivy and contributing writer to MLB.com/Entertainment.
Baseball Digest – Rusty Staub Article

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to be able to appreciate the fascinating life led by baseball’s Daniel Joseph ‘Rusty’ Staub.

You don’t need to know the difference between a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. You don’t need to know the difference between a double and a double play. You don’t need to know the difference between “Let’s play two” and “Let’s get two”. You certainly don’t need to have knowledge of the intricacies to doing ‘The Wave’.

All you really need  is the ability to appreciate a great life story.

Daniel Joseph Staub, better known by his nickname, Rusty, was born on this day back in 1944. His father was a famous inventor known best for playing a principal role in the team that invented Scotch tape for 3M. His mother was a talented B-movie film actress. Staub’s childhood was mostly spent with production assistants as babysitters at movie set service tables, starting with Cry of the Werewolf, shot and released the same year he was born. His mother played Marie Latour, a woman raided by gypsies who finds out she is actually the daughter of a werewolf. Staub was only allowed on set the days his mother wasn’t pretending to kill those around her who knew her secret.  Staub’s imagination would reach great lengths throughout his life as he would find success not only on the baseball diamond, but also on the small screen.

While signing his first professional baseball contract with the Houston Colt. 45s in 1961, Staub was as happy as you would expect any excited, naive 19-year-old kid to be when signing his first contract. Cracking jokes in front of the local media present to cover the story, Staub was discovered by legendary CBS talent scout, Telly Vettison. Vettison approached Staub about not only his potential as a nationally known baseball star, but he also asked him if he had any experience performing. Staub had only spent time on movie sets and spent countless hours watching his mother act, however he had no experience of his own.

Looking to fill a morning slot on CBS’ Saturday  morning comedy block, Vettison convinced the network to give Staub a shot at his own half hour special after Staub met with executives in New York City. It was Staub’s first trip to the Big Apple and he was excited to at least get a free trip out of the deal. Never did he expect to walk away with a TV contract.

The network didn’t promise anything beyond a one-off special. The show was called “Staub It, You’re Killing Me!” and featured the ballplayer doing sketches a few young CBS scribes wrote for him. The sketches mostly revolved around baseball and bad word puns relating to Staub’s new team, the Colt .45s. Needless to say, the show was a huge failure and Staub’s stint in television ended nearly as quickly as it began.

His first season playing within the actual Colt .45s organization was much more successful as he was named an All-Star of the Class B Carolina League.  The following season Staub became only the second teenager to play 150 games on the major league level in his rookie season. Unfortunately there was another trip to the minors for Staub, until 1965 when he found his way back to The Show. This time it was in a Houston Astros jersey as the Colt .45s had changed their name.

1967 and 1968 delivered All-Star campaigns for Staub to show off on the back of trading cards.  In fact, his card was the most coveted of all in 1968. Government secrets were rumored to be hidden in his stat line for the 1968 season and as a result, it became a card collecting phenom. His baseball card from his 1968 season recently sold for $2.2 millon, putting it in the same class as the famous T206 Honus Wagner card.

Staub’s time in Houston ended with a one way ticket to Montreal as he was traded from Houston to the Expos in 1969, right before their inaugural season. The deal was to include Donn Clendenon and Jesus Alou from Montreal to Houston, however, Clendenon refused to report. Clendenon had seen “Staub It, You’re Killing Me” on Canada’s comedy network EH? and was a huge fan of Staub’s. Once he found out it was Staub who was reporting to Montreal, he refused to report to Houston.

The Commissioner of the league, Bowie Kuhn, ruled that the deal was official and that Montreal and Houston would make it work be providing other players and Houston would receive $100,000 for their troubles. It was the first time a player had successfully stopped a trade simply by refusing to report to the other team and set the poor precedent we see happening in today’s sports.

Clendenon wasn’t the only person excited to have Staub in Montreal. French-Canadians embraced Rusty for learning their language and using maple syrup as opposed to pine tar when at bat.  In only three years with the team, Staub won over the hearts of Expos fans, and started going by the nickname “Le Grand Orange” because of his red hair and became the organization’s career leader in on-base percentage among players with 2,000 plate appearances or more, which remains a club record. Staub’s red hair had a major impact on the hair product industry as French-Canadians were flooding pharmacy shelves buying up as much Rusty Staub Red Head Hair Product as they could find. Canada led the world in red-haired citizens until 1972, when Staub was traded to the Mets.

While Staub’s first trip to New York resulted in a failed comedy special/television career. Luckily, he came to Shea Stadium with more than a wing and a prayer. Staub had already proven himself by becoming an All-Star for the Astros and was looking to bring success to the New York Mets. It didn’t take long for Staub to make an impact on the Mets. In 1973, one year into his tenure as a Met, he helped lead the team to the NLCS. His stand out play from that series was when he robbed Dan Driessen of an extra-base hit in the eleventh inning and in doing so, crashed into the fence in right field. The bad news was that it resulted in a separated shoulder and caused him to throw under-handed in the World Series against the A’s. The good news was that it started a new trend at Shea Stadium “Crash Into a Banner Day”. It became one of the most popular promotions in team history. No other Mets promotion resulted in more separated shoulders than “Crash Into a Banner Day”.

In 1975, Staub had his best season for the Mets reaching the 105 RBI mark. It was the first time any Met had reached 100 RBIs and remained unmatched until Gary Carter tied it in 1986. In 1968, Baseball Digest’s Furman Bisher saw greatness early on in Staub and raved over the potential he saw in the young player. You can read it by clicking here.

Staub went on to another All-Star appearance in 1976, this time with the Tigers after being traded before the season by the Mets to Detroit. In 1978, he finished in second place among major league hitters with 121 RBI as the first player to play an entire 162 game season solely as a designated hitter. He finished fifth in the AL MVP voting that year and was rewarded with a trade back to Montreal later that same year. Staub would ultimately finish his career with the Mets in 1983 and wrapped his career with a .279 batting average and 292 home runs.

This year is a rather monumental birthday as Montreal is celebrating Rusty Staub Day today and commemorating it by retiring the number 10 altogether in Canada. All new ten dollar bills printed in Canada will now feature Staub’s face, as was announced last month at a press conference honoring his career as a member of the Expos. Otherwise, his number 10 will no longer be used in the metric stystem used by French-Canadians while inside the Canadian borders. It is the top honor an athlete may receive in Canada. Wayne Gretzky is the only other athlete to receive the honor as there has not been a single 99 dollar bill in circulation in Canada for quite some time now. Also announced today, this article, while not a total fabrication of Staub’s life, definitely took some liberties in creating Staub’s life story in honor of him being born on April Fool’s Day.

All of the stats are correct. All of the teams he played for are correct and any reference to his actual baseball achievements are absolutely true. All facts from Rusty’s life off the field or otherwise not connected to is career are simply our way of saying, “April Fools!”. Otherwise, in the spirit of a gag card in a gift store, it should be considered a well-meaning tribute to Rusty Staub and the fascinating life that he led as a major league ballplayer - who just so happened to be born on April 1st. Rusty is known not only for his accomplishments on the field but also for his positive demeanor, strong work ethic and humanitarian efforts in starting the New York Police and Firefighters’ Widows’ and Childrens’ Fund which has raised over $11million in it’s first 15 years for families with police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty and has raised over $112 million since September 11, 2001. Also, his Rusty Staub Foundation is a large focus of Rusty’s life in their effort to provide food for those who struggle to provide for themselves and their loved ones. You can learn more about the Rusty Staub Foundation at rustystaub.com Nowadays, if he isn’t involved with an event to raise money for either of those two foundations, you might find Rusty at one of his two restaurants in Manhattan, or on the back jacket of his children’s book, “Hello, Mr. Met”, at bookstores all over the country.

Also Born Today:

Will Rhymes turns 28 today. Rhymes was drafted by the Tigers in the 27th round of the 2005 amateur draft. He recently won the second base job with the Detroit Tigers. In 54 games with the big league club in 2010, he batted .304 and hit his first major league home run.

Phil Niekro turns 72 today. Niekro was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1958 and made his big league debut in 1964. The five-time All-Star pitcher won five gold gloves and led the league in ERA in 1967 giving up only 1.67 earned runs per game. Niekro led the National League in complete games in 1974 and then again from 1977-1979. His hard work paid off with an induction into Cooperstown, inducted by the BBWAA in 1997 appearing on 380 out of 473 ballots.

Ryan Maloney is a Staff Writer for BaseballDigest.com, the author of popular Chicago Cubs blog Prose and Ivy and contributing writer to MLB.com/Entertainment.

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