“Like so many Cub fans across the country, media personality and philanthropist Stewart McVicar first became aware of the team through the reach of television superstation WGN. However, the discovery was completely accidental. In a telephone interview, McVicar described the childhood moment that would permanently change the course of his life:
‘Whatever I was into as a kid, I was pretty passionate about it. I was a big Superman fan and loved the cartoon, which was on Channel 9 [WGN-TV] back then. I went to turn on the show one day, but it was a Cubs game instead.’
After recovering from brief disappointment, the founder of the Club 400 venue, charitable foundation and podcast found himself mesmerized by another type of superhero – one with big glasses, a microphone and a booming voice. He said:
‘All of the sudden I hear an old guy say, “There’s a drive down the line…one run is in…two runs are in, and here’s another runner coming around third…Here’s the throw…He is safe!” I wondered, “What is this guy so excited about?” Harry Caray’s passion and love for the game radiated out of the TV, and into my soul.
‘He is still my idol. When his health went downhill, it killed me. Harry loved baseball. He loved to have a good time. He was the life of the party and it changed the Cubs – and me – forever.’
“Maybe the move shouldn’t have come as a surprise given management’s recent familiarity with dubious character trades, but for a number of Chicago Cub fans (including myself) it did. Last week, and five months before he is eligible to return from a Major League Baseball-mandated suspension for violating its domestic-violence policy, the Cubs tendered a contract to shortstop Addison Russell.
Yes, baseball is a business but the Cubs of this era have built a reputation for being the good, fun-loving guys – zoo days for the players at Wrigley Field, bullpen dances, “Try not to suck,” Anthony Rizzo’s 2017 Roberto Clemente Award, “#EverybodyIn.” The Cubs care about the community, each other, their fans. Not everything is about winning and the budget, right? For many female die-hards, however, as well as members of Wrigleyville Nation who belong to the LGBTQIA community, the team’s self-propelled narrative of moral rectitude is wearing a little thin.”
“Somehow, according to MLB.com, Carl Edwards Jr.’s ERA is a mere 1.80 in his last seven appearances. This, assuredly, does not tell the story of the lanky young right hander’s recent awfulness. I’ve been playing closer attention to the reliever these last two weeks, and he’s a strong example of the sometimes misleading nature of statistics.
It is a running joke at home between my husband Bob and I that Edwards is only bad when I’m looking. My spouse, a rabid Cubs fan and huge proponent of numeric measurement, believes that a career ERA under 3.00 points to looming greatness. However, that confidence has been mightily tested over the last fortnight. Edwards has put 10 extra men on the bases in 15 games. Most egregiously, he has done so with the bags somewhat to almost full, giving the lie to that old Earned Run Average. Most of the runs that have followed from Edwards belong to the dude who came before. He’s been undependable at home vs. the Mets, in Milwaukee, and as of last night’s very disappointing loss, Washington D.C.”
“While the Cubbies search for starter and bullpen reliability remains a challenge with an improving outlook, there’s no mixed messages at the plate. Simply put, the bats are swinging, and making all kinds of contact. It’s not hard to win six games in a row when the players collaborate for 56 total runs. As of the time of this writing, the Chicago Cubs have eight regular guys hitting .280 or better. In reverse order, they are Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant (who should be coming off the DL any minute now), Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, Jason Heyward (finally looking worth that huge contract), Ben Zobrist and of course, Albert Almora Jr.
Almora, whom Joe Maddon refuses to start everyday, to the great frustration of many fans, is currently hitting .329. That’s good enough for second place in the National League, a mere two points behind Scooter Gennett. This guy should be making a trip to the All-Star Game. But I digress…”
“Nestled within my late-March outfield castigation of Kyle Schwarber was another complaint. One that remains as disappointingly active as it was during Week 1 of the 2018 MLB season. That particular column marked my first public use of the #FreeAlmora hash tag. It appears destined not to be the last. On May 23, Danielle Sauers of Locked on Cubs wrote:
‘There’s no doubt that Albert Almora Jr. is a fan favorite. If he doesn’t start for more than a few days in a row, the #FreeAlmora hash tag is bound to be out in full force. He’s young, charismatic, and has been flashing serious leather in recent games, so it’s easy to see why the fans love him. But can he continue to contribute at a high enough level to justify regular starts?’
The answer, Ms. Sauers, is in the question. Almora has continuously done more than enough to justify his regular place in the starting lineup. He’s hitting a team-leading .324, a solid 34 points ahead of 2016 MVP Kris Bryant. And compared with Ian Happ’s (forgive me) hapless fielding, my guy Almora regularly robs opposing players of extra base hits. Treat yourself to another viewing of his May 27 leap into the right center field gap at Wrigley, cheating Giants’ third-basement Evan Longoria of at least a double. Even if Almora Jr. wasn’t a terrific hitter (he is), I tend to side with the stereotyped middle-aged male crowd. Defense DOES win championships.”
“The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?
Kyle Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.
It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injury to help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.
But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field.”
“Those lucky enough to get to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs Spring Training action can expect to see lots of A-list talent on the mound. I’m hard pressed to think of a more exciting starting rotation in any Cubs era. Bruce Levine of CBS 2 Chicago wrote last week:
‘The Cubs added the best pitcher available in free agency in right-hander Yu Darvish over the weekend after signing right-hander Tyler Chatwood back in December. They’ll join left-hander Jon Lester, left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Kyle Hendricks as starters who could all produce 180 to 200 innings. Beyond them, left-hander Mike Montgomery is a valuable swingman plenty capable of filling in the rotation.’
And Jake Arrieta still hasn’t found a new home. A girl can dream…
Speaking of dreams come true, the Chicago Cubs demonstrated this week that Spring Training 2018 has much game – and heart. The local Fox affiliate in Mesa reported that four children, patients from Advocate’s Children’s Hospital here in Chicago, were treated to a special up close and personal experience.”