We Could Use a Hero

On the day after Anthony Rizzo's first HR (and 2nd game winning hit) as well as the first day of the month that Ron Santo finally gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame...

John Grisham was at Wrigley Field earlier this season while on his book tour promoting his first baseball novel,  "Calico Joe". The famed author of Legal Thrillers like "The Firm" decided to take on America's favorite pastime. Born in Arkansas and educated in Mississippi, Grisham weaves a historical fiction in the tale of Joe Castle, the greatest rookie ballplayer ever. It's ultimate Cubbery rivaling the reality of the last 104 years including Brock for Broglio, Lee Smith's 8th inning pitch to Steve Garvey and Moises Alou's tirade against Steve Bartman.

The baseball season is 1973, a year the Cubs were not expected to compete for the pennant (so what else is new?). This team resembled the trailing embers of the infamous 1969 Cubs.

The actual Cub roster in 1973 included a pitching staff of veterans Fergie Jenkins and Milt Pappas, 2nd year starters Rick Reuschel and Burt Hooton,  and still younger pitchers Bill Bonham and Ray Burris. The infield seems familiar but aging: Jim Hickman, Joe Pepitone, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo and Randy Hundley. The outfield was solid with 35 year old Billy Williams plus Rick Monday and Jose Cardenal. Theo Epstein would have given his eye-tooth to have had a starting point this good. Just add one awesome rookie and presto! To make the baseball story seem more realistic, Grisham accessed his Arkansas/Mississippi roots via Don Kessinger as his main baseball consultant.

The story is told by Paul Tracey, the 11 year old son of 34 year old journeyman pitcher and known headhunter, Warren Tracey. Tracey is still hanging on in the back end of the Mets rotation with Seaver, Koosman and Matlack.

There are two timelines, 1973 and 2003.

Fortunately, Grisham doesn't beat us up with the Cubbery of the 2003 baseball season in his story, such as Alex S. Gonzalez in the 8th inning. Albeit, a missed opportunity to rub salt into that wound. Very kind of Mr. Grisham.

The 2003 season finds former Met pitcher, Warren Tracy completely disengaged from his 1973 family, distanced by four subsequent wives and newly diagnosed Pancreatic cancer at age 64. Tracey was a piece of work in 1973 as well, with all night drinking sessions, extramarital carousing and a marriage and family clearly on the rocks. As we are about to learn, the adult son, Paul Tracey had overcome most of the obstacles that his father in his playing days had  set before him. As an 11 year old, Paul was pitching with some success in little league and more importantly loved everything baseball. Paul Tracey made scrapbooks of his hero's and a new and fantastic hero was about to come on the scene.

1973 in fact and in fiction was a year that most of the teams in the NL East were hovering around .500 in early July.  Two injuries, including a back injury from Jim Hickman and a pulled hammy by the AAA Wichita first baseman, lead to a callup of AA Midland's hottest prospect, Joe Castle. At the time, Castle was hitting .395 with 20 HR, 50 RBI, 40 SB and only one fielding error at first base. Castle was from a small Arkansas town, Calico Rock and gets some pregame encouragement from outfielder Rick Monday (originally from nearby Batesville, AR) and of course the other Arkansas native (Forrest City, AR), SS Don Kessinger. Did I mention that I'm a sucker for historical fiction?

Then all the Cub fun begins.

July 12th, 1973 versus the Phillies. Calico Joe became the 11th major leaguer to hit a HR on the first pitch he saw. Calico Joe's 2nd at-bat in the 5th hits the LF foul pole and became only the 2nd player to hit HR's in his first two at-bats. Statistically correct, the other is Bob Nieman of the St. Louis Browns on 9-14-51 at Fenway.  Eleven year old Paul, listening on the radio from NY to the Phillies broadcast by Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner is struck by baseball lightening and his newest ballplayer-hero has arrived.

As a side note, yesterday, Padres rookie catcher Yas Grandal hits HR's in his first two mlb at bats, one from each side of the plate. So now there are really two players to achieve career starting back-to-back HR's.

In the 7th, Castle precedes Tuffy Rhodes 1994 opening day history with you know what and of course, no rookie has ever hit 3 HR's in their first three at-bats. Same game, top of the 9th, 2 outs and the score tied 6-6. Don Kessinger on third. You know what's coming. No you don't. Calico Joe lays down a perfect bunt (OMG, he's the ultimate team player).

"The crowd sat in stunned silence. Players from both teams looked on in disbelief. With a chance to hit four HR's in a game--a feat baseball had seen only nine times in a hundred years--the kid chose instead to lay down a perfect drag bunt to score the go-ahead run."

Cubs win 7-6. To quote the Budweiser commercial, "Here We Go."

Calico Joe starts his mlb career going 15 for 15 before he finally makes an out.  Additional magic includes a 19 game hitting streak to start his career,  first rookie to steal a base in 9 consecutive games plus 2nd and 3rd in seven consecutive games.

August 6th, Joe Castle makes the cover of Sports Illustrated, Calico Joe - The Phenom. We all know what ominous premonition that gives us.

Speaking of premonition (but not to ruin the story, so i'll be vague). August 11th, journeyman lefty for the Braves, Dutch Patton buzzes Joe's head. The Cubs dugout is going berserk. Castle digs in and as the lefty gets ready to release the next pitch:

"Joe dropped his bat and sprinted toward the mound...Patton managed to swing his glove at Joe, who ducked and shot a right cross into Patton's mouth. A left hook to the nose knocked him down and , like a jackhammer, Joe pummeled him with five more shots to the face, each one drawing blood."

Johnny Oates finally pulls Joe off the pitcher and the brawl lasts 10 minutes. Patton leaves on a stretcher and is out for a month. Calico Joe gets a 5 game suspension and the Cubs lose all five of those games.

Castle's first game back from his suspension is August 17th. I must admit I love his description of in-game action. Calico Joe's already had a single, double and triple. Naturally, the Cubs needed a HR to win the game vs the Dodgers. Castle comes up with Ron Santo on 2nd:

"...he poked a blooper down the right field line, and as it rolled slowly to the wall, the race was on. Ron Santo scored easily from second with the tying run, and when Joe sprinted to third, he ignored the coach's signal to stop. He never slowed down. The shortstop took the relay, looked at third, where Joe would have had an easy triple, then hesitated at the sight of him streaking home. The throw was perfect, and the catcher, Joe Ferguson, snatched it and blocked the plate. Fergusion was six feet two, 200 pounds. Joe was six feet two, 185 pounds. In a split-second decision, neither chose to yield an inch. Joe lowered his head, left his feet, and crashed into Fergusion. The collision was thuderous and spun both players in violent circles in the dirt. Jose would've been out by three feet, but the ball was loose and rolling in the grass." (an inside the park-HR and an in-sequence hitting-for-the-cycle, to win the game)

The woven timeline is the key to the story Gresham is telling and I'm not going to ruin it for you other than to say something ugly looms ahead. I just wanted to highlight some of the baseball sequences. Needless to say, it's the fiction that mirrors ultimate Cubbery, not the fact. Or did I get that backwards?



video link on Hoyer being interviewed after the Soler official announcement yesterday.

video link on the press interviewing Rizzo in the locker room after yesterday's game.

Three baseball movies are in the pipeline after the success of "Moneyball.'' A documentary, "Knuckleball,'' received good reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival, a Jackie Robinson movie starring Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey is scheduled for release in April and Casey Affleck has tackled a project focusing on Josh Hamilton.

from Phil Rodgers baseball whispers.

Didn't they recently announce a Hank Aaron movie as well?

That's why he's called Wrongway Phil.

The director of "The Natural" (Barry Levinson) is in on the Aaron film project.


I bet everyone here hates the Natural but I spit out of my eyes every time I see it. And the scene where Redford just matter of factly says to Glenn Close, "God I love baseball" is to me the essence of this sport.

I love "the natural"

Me too...

cool! Sheesh I even like the ridiculous home run scene at the end.

Still a great movie.

IKR? But I'm not slamming the ending. I loved it. And the bat boy for the cubs Iowa team reminds me a bit of the batboy in the movie.

Love everything about that movie.

So as often happens, I'm wrong. Love getting old.

Baseball fans loved the movie.

I think a movie on Hamilton would be great but his story isn't over yet and it only works if he ends up ok

plus he spent most of his early in-NC rehab days cheating on his rehab while telling the world he's not...but that's not uncommon in early "rehab."

he's got a hell of a wife...she's a lot stronger than sheet rock and car parts, anyway.

Ya, that's a good point. But like you say, it's part of the process. I hope things turn out well for him.

Trib article on the day Grisham was at Wrigley Field in April.


"This summer I'll go to a Washington Nationals game or two. The stadium's not far from me. I'll probably watch the Rangers play. Nolan and Ruth Ryan are friends. I'll probably make it to Fenway. I'll get out to 10 games this summer hopefully. I'll go to St. Louis at least once. Growing up in the South, it was all Cardinals. My father, my grandfather, Cardinals fans. I didn't growing up hating the Cubs like most Cardinals fans. I had a baseball card of every major leaguer as a kid. I was a serious collector. I had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, who is a buddy of mine. I had their cards when I was 10. That's why I set the book here."

Nick Cafardo's latest Sunday Baseball Notes...


Apropos of nothing

1. Former Red Sox farmhand Anthony Rizzo had 163 RBIs in 163 games between Tucson in 2011 and Iowa this season. He is now the Cubs’ regular first baseman.

Updates on nine

2. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros — Yankees GM Brian Cashman would love to find starters to replace CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte from within, but if that’s not possible, he’ll look outside. One National League GM said that while Rodriguez would be a good fit for the Yankees, he doesn’t believe he is their cup of tea. They would likely gravitate more toward Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and even Zack Greinke. The Yankees have the young chips to satisfy any team.

miles and muskat tweeting that Cub 2nd rounder rhp Duane Underwood is throwing in Wrigley bullpen this am. implies his contract is signed. He's posing for pics with his family.

Lineup vs Wandy:

Johnson, Castro, Rizzo, Baker, Soto, Mather, Barney, Valbuena, TWood

Cubs win 4 of the last 5 in June to finish the month 10-17.

Last two times the Cubs have gone for the sweep, they've lost by a combined score of 24-1.

All-stars being announced, I presume Castro will be the only Cub.

KHILL could have made the team! Damn!

Castro it is....and LaHair.


High OPS and sentimental. A "good story" for lovers of underdogs.

Does anyone know when the players did their vote for the ASG?

I believe they were due about a week or two ago.

In the process of building a team that is capable of making history for its suckiness, I believe they have done a good job on a nucleus. I've posted my middle line ups in other threads so you know who they are (I'm referring, of course, to the 2 or 3 people who pay attention to my posts)

Rizzo seems to me almost Pujols-like. He doesn't have the same command of the strike zone or eye, as he showed the other day when he flailed on that one at bat after his HR. On outside curveballs, buddy, welcome to the show.

But he is built like a truck, fields very well, etc.

We have a non TheoCorp entity in Castro.

We have Garza, whose fielding antics are silly and is still a good pitcher, and young. He won't be traded unless it's an amazing deal.

We even have Demptster the comdiian (what has he ever said that if funny, btw?) who could get traded and simply return to the Cubbies.

We have, yes, Darwin Barney, and I know my comment will l ignite Theriot type arguments, but is a player I really like a lot.

We may not have LaHair, who I sort of took on as a personal karma project. He isn't a very good fielder and he is getting overmatched, as I see it. But gawld darn I still root for him.

So, this is no longer a team I hate watching.

And, maybe Swaimy isn't so bad. the coaching looks good, too, when I watch.

I can finally watch this team again.

Oh, and Sori is the most underrated player in the league. Discuss.

There is no sarcasm color for my last comment so don't get too harsh. Unless you expect harshness back. Remember, I'm clever.

I root for LaHair as trade bait/injury replacement type in hopes we get a LHRP in return. Also, I hope we keep Campana for a couple of years as a ninth inning threat since we are mostly playing small ball.

And, in general, the minor league system is really looking better, what with AZP's recommendations, the Dominican Academy and Cubans defecting. (Imagine that, they are still defecting...)

Haha imagine that indeed. Eventually Cuba will be a little economic oasis in the Caribbean, but I think Raul feels he needs the old man to kick before he really kicks the tires on capitalism.

2:15 pm cst start...tarp still on but grounds crew hovering

Tarp coming off field

Bloopers down the line don't roll to the wall & become inside-the-parkers...

t.wood hitting 93+mph again...2nd game in a row (may be longer, not tracking closely).

what's got into him? ...or the stadium gun...

If you are platooned w Jeff baker , you are not an Allstar .

If you're platooning an Allstar with Jeff Baker, you are not an Allstar manager.

tony larussa vs the CIN reds snub of b.phillips + j.cueto = excellent.

also, cueto's got some great theories...

“I see that I have great numbers,” he said. “I thought the way I pitched this year, I’d have a chance to go to the All-Star Game. I don’t know what happened. I don’t if know the manager of All-Star Game is pissed at me because I went out with one of his girlfriends.”



18.2ip by t.wood (7.2ip today) without a run scored...nice.

cubs sweep...HOU.

whatever...sweep is a sweep etc etc

Perhaps the Cubs, Astros, and the Padres could have their own Division?

4-1 with Rizzo, 25-48 without. Clearly, the Cubs would be 62-17 if Rizzo had started the year with the club.

stats don't lie.

also, lol @rizzo's gary sheffield-lite timing mechanism at the plate.

IDK, tem99.

I think the team could possibly be undefeated now, with Rizzo.

It is sad, we could be 15+ games in 1st!

Goddamn it!

I blame Michael Barrett.

Undefeated? See that's just silly. Obviously they'd lose a game or two out of bad luck. 77-2.

Not if Randy Wells doesn't start and they put some drone in front of Garza to field shit.

ATL signs ben sheets to a minor league deal...should report to AA. ha.

jay bruce just made the most "wtf error" in the bottom of the 9th for the CIN loss...plenty of time to catch a popup for the 3rd out (tie game, 2 on)...totally misjudged...didn't even klank the glove...wow.

ruled a double, but very much one of the worst "errors" bruce has made in a game.

I don't know how I missed this, but Rob's comment on the opening of a previous thread was spectacular:

Game 74 Thread - Wells vs. Gee
Tue, 06/26/2012 - 4:11pm — Rob G.
It was nice of the Cubs to start Wells to temper any real expectations we may have had for tonight's game.

Why does Rizzo catch throws so close to his body instead of stretching out a bit? I was at the game, and noticed this early in the game. The infield hit in the 8th should have been a routine out, but Rizzo waited for the ball to get to him before catching it -- looked like the ump was trying to teach Rizzo a lesson on how to play first base by making an emphatic "safe" call. If Rizzo had stretched even a little bit, it would have been a clear out.

Great day for the new "Woody" - the kid swings a mean bat. Interesting Moneyball approach today -- no bunts in traditional bunting situations.

radio guys also commented about rizzo not stretching

And what would a decent blog be without picking out the finest points in a guy's play. Seriously? Overall he is a good fielder and you're calling him out on this? As Tony Bruno would say, this is an outrage.

he's not perfect, only you are above criticism

/love the whammer

I've been told that all my life, jacos :-)

EDIT: But I shouldn't really talk about my sex life here (re:love the whammer)

This is pretty accurate. I meant the guy was clearly out, but a little stretch, and it's a no brainer call.

My point was that it's hardly a big deal that can't get pretty easily remedied. It's not like he is out there getting clunked on the head and stuff.

Recent comments

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  • AZ Phil, has Nathan showed up in Mesa yet? Thanks.

    Hagsag 18 min 1 sec ago view
  • Eickhoff looks like a good young pitcher. Lets steal him!

    Hagsag 19 min 2 sec ago view
  • Manny Rondon faced 13 batters ... and got 10 to K. Not a bad day's work.

    Eric S 10 hours 13 sec ago view
  • With several other Cubs hitters bailing out on curves today I think overall it wasn't being seen well. It for sure looked silly but a good breaking pitch coming at you and then breaking down isn't the easiest thing to see and has made many hitters look silly. Also Soler should have more walks this year but for quite a few called strikes that were actual balls and even the called strike he bailed on was borderline.

    johann 12 hours 58 min ago view
  • it's not like we're talking about a guy who's never had issues with pitch selection and seeing the ball over here. we're talking about a guy who has some rather legendary swing-and-misses at breaking stuff who's been exploited low. going forward it's worth paying attention to seeing if he can be exploited inside, too. he seriously bailed out of the box on a called strike. sure it was a good curve, but he obviously didn't see that well at all.

    crunch 13 hours 10 min ago view
  • It would seem like he is figuring it out now and it's really coming together. Really happy for him. Joe was really protecting him from the 3rd time through the order, but as you allude to, he is earning trust to go deeper.

    Wondering if has potential to become a #3 pitcher? His current stats certainly support it.

    The E-Man 13 hours 19 min ago view
  • That doesn't count b/c CRUNCH didn't see it on his 60" HDTV 5 times in replay.

    I have seen many players "bail out" when the ball looked like it was gonna hit them.

    Especially with the advent of the splitter and pitchers that can really get the ball to dance. Marmol, Sutter, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Smoltz, Arrietta...

    These guys have made the best bail out only for the ball to come over the plate and be called a strike.

    No shame in that. The same way players whiff hard enough to cause them to drill a hole in the ground from spinning.

    The E-Man 13 hours 24 min ago view
  • a 60" TV with slow-motion replay and multiple looks on that replay helps...a lot...

    it's one thing to shy away like he did the 2nd time, it's another to bail out of the box on a called strike. that happened in the 1st one he pulled away from. he misjudged that one by a foot or so...

    crunch 13 hours 43 min ago view
  • Good Hendricks sure is fun to watch. He was hitting all his corners today and the Phillies couldn't do anything with his changeup.

    johann 14 hours 19 min ago view
  • Bryant and I believe Zobrist both did that too.

    johann 14 hours 36 min ago view
  • Soler BB acumen and plate awareness is excellent. Not unusual for even the best players to react as if they were about to hit them, "even though they weren't that close" from your vantage point sitting on your deck, or wherever.

    The E-Man 14 hours 38 min ago view
  • soler vs inside breaking balls is scary.

    he's had 2 inside curve balls today where he reacted as if they were about to hit him even though they weren't that close...one he bailed out of the box on, it was a called strike.

    crunch 14 hours 56 min ago view
  • j.urias optioned back to AAA...guess we wont be seeing him in the LAD series.

    crunch 15 hours 3 min ago view
  • so is him actually getting 2 hits in a game (2 doubles!)...first time he's even been on base 2 times in a game since 9 games ago on his 3/4, 1bb day.

    im ready for him to at least look like a 2-slot hitter since he's gonna be slotted there no matter what he does.

    crunch 15 hours 59 min ago view
  • That Heyward move to avoid Bryant's ball hit at him was a thing of beauty too.

    johann 16 hours 17 min ago view
  • 9 pitches in and this game already rules.

    HR, double...bryant's turn (who came out to a Kris Kross song for some horrible, horrible reason).

    ...2 run inning...zoobrest hitting streak at 14.

    crunch 16 hours 21 min ago view