February 2011

The Cubs left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th and in the bottom of the 8th, as a split squad of Milwaukee Brewers hung-on for a 5-3 Cactus League victory in front of a sparse crowd at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in cool & sunny Mesa, AZ, this afternoon.

The Cubs Minor League Camp officially opens at Fitch Park next Monday, although some of the minor league players have arrived early and are working-out under the supervision of the Cubs minor league managers and coaches who are not assigned as Spring Training Instructors with the MLB club.

The Oakland A's outscored the Cubs 15-3 over the final eight innings to overcome a 4-0 1st inning deficit, pounding out 18 hits while thrashing the Cubs 15-7 in what was the Cubs 2011 Cactus League opener, played in 50 degree temperatures after an all-night rain before a disappointing crowd of only 6,892 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, AZ, this afternoon.   

Mr. BojanglesToday is Ron Santo’s birthday. Seems like a good day to open the ticket windows. Before it’s through I expect to have a couple for August 10, the date for the unveiling of Santo’s statue. The radio broadcasts will take some getting used to, but I’ll manage. Keith Moreland will do a good job, a better one in important ways than his predecessor ever claimed to. But Santo’s absence will be felt on other levels by those of us old enough to have listened in when he was playing.

One of the first long pauses in life is when your favorite ballplayers start retiring. Another is when you realize that you’re older than the stars du jour. And when your boyhood heroes start biting the dust you know you’re into the late innings [not to get too maudlin, but my own birthday was yesterday].

When you’re a Cub fan folklore has to tide you over in the absence of league pennants and World Series appearances. And Santo was literally buried in it. His funeral as the occasion for bringing a prodigal pitcher back home is the sort of stuff I’ve learned to get by on.

Younger generations are more acronymic than mere AVG, ERA and RBI. But those old standards in combination with memorabilia like Santo’s black cat and Dawson’s blank check are the only baseball measuring sticks I know how to use. Hell, I can’t even remember a particular signature play of Santo’s. I remember when a busted jaw interrupted his 20+ game hitting streak. Somehow that figures. He was broken but unsinkable, a Cub fan in a nutshell. His number 10 reminds me of when I was 10. There are fewer such reminders all the time so I’m glad one of them still flutters above the statuary park formerly known as Wrigley Field.

No more flaming toupees. No more sweater & tuna smack. No more Acapulco taco pie - and a lot less amusement.

I hope the team picks him up.


It was another day of "live" BP in Mesa, with ten Cubs pitchers throwing 30 pitches each to groups of Cubs position players this morning at Fitch Park.  

"Live" BP continued at Fitch Park this morning, as Cubs position players faced Cubs pitchers.

Aramis Ramirez ripped a towering home run high over the LF fence onto 8th Street and Max Ramirez drilled a liner off the right-centerfield fence and almost took the pitcher's head off with a line drive up the middle, as James Russell was hit hard in a 25-pitch "live" BP session at Fitch Park Field #3 this morning.

12 Cubs pitchers threw "live" BP this morning at Fitch Park in Mesa. Each pitcher threw 25 pitches, and each hitter saw five or six pitches befiore rotating out of the batting cage.

- Quade has named his Opening Day starter and it won't be Zambrano's 7th straight start which would have tied Ferguson Jenkins for the Cubs record. Instead it will be Ryan Dempster, followed by Z and then Matt Garza. Z will get the road opener start against the Brewers. Presumambly the last two spots are still open with Randy Wells and Carlos Silva likely occupying them with James Russell and Andrew Cashner on the outside looking in.

The Cubs acquired RHP Robert Coello from the Boston Red Sox yesterday, in exchange for minor league 2B Tony Thomas. Coello had been Designated for Assignment by the Red Sox last Wednesday to make room on their 40-man roster after the Sox signed free-agent RHP Alfredo Aceves

Pitchers & catchers and a number of position players have reported to Cubs Spring Training Camp at Fitch Park in Mesa.

book cover

The only thing Jane Leavy didn’t share about Mickey Mantle in her fine new book The Last Boy is where and when he made his deal with the devil; the one whereby he became the best-looking [white] ballplayer in America during the decade spanning the mid 50’s & 60’s, both on and off the field; the one that eventually cost him his dignity and family, plus tax. Or maybe the deal was struck by Mickey’s father deep inside an Oklahoma zinc mine and maybe Mutt didn’t drive a hard enough bargain.  Speaking of Mickey’s first coach, there is much more Oedipal fodder in this account of Mantle’s improbable life than just the hackneyed anecdote about the confrontation between father and son in a Kansas City hotel room when a demotion to the minors could have become a demotion to those Oklahoma mines.

I opened the book with a pre-existing fascination about Mantle. His stardom paralleled my boyhood and his agonizing demise at the end of life revealed some things about him that I related to. This is not to make a case for or against him versus any other ballplayer from any era. I am not a Mantle apologist. Nor did the book disillusion me, despite that it’s built around the author’s own disillusioning encounter with her childhood hero when she was assigned to interview him for the Washington Post in 1983. I’m too old for disillusionment. Instead my fascination was deepened. His extraordinary athletic prowess both obscured and excused what an otherwise uncoordinated person he was.

Laid bare are the childhood, career and afterlife of the man whose legacy runs a long, wide gamut from the tape measure home run to organ donation. Mantle is painted here as equal parts humble and boorish; a real, live Zeus who was saved from financial ruin but not himself by a nascent memorabilia craze that followed, not coincidentally, his folklorian playing days. He capitalized on celebrity despite that it confused him. He was always a ballplayer, even after he stopped playing ball, never having learned how to be anything else that could profit him.

Leavy earned commendation for the extraordinary depths of her research into, for instance, the mammoth and legendary home run at Griffith Stadium and a later one that rattled the pigeons’ perches at Yankee Stadium. So diligent and thorough was her excavation of Mantle’s ruins that I’m almost surprised she didn’t find her way to me for an account of how I got him to sign my ticket at a pro-am golf event in Iowa City in 1974. For a sportswriter Leavy is an accomplished archaeologist.

The title of the book is just right. Still, it occurred to me that Mickey Mantle would have fit as comfortably in the ranks of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys as he did in the juvenile sanctuary of the clubhouse. Only in dying did he ever grow up.

The Mick who emerges in Leavy’s portrait is someone who was to be pitied and then perhaps briefly admired, but rarely envied. His soul was as tortured as his once remarkable but finally dilapidated body.

When he was young and still enjoyed it himself I imagine Mantle would have been a choice drinking companion. In lieu of ever having that opportunity I’ll hoist this book, poured neat, as a toast to his tragicomic memory.


Happy Groundhog day (again and again). From the heart of Snowmageddon this surgeon gets his first "Snow Day" since the big snow of 1967. So here comes an impromptu odds & ends post.

The first order of business is to remind those digging out from the Thunder-Blizzard (and to warm them up) that the CUBS PITCHERS and CATCHERS report to Mesa in 11 DAYS, officially on February 13th (per Carrie Muskat at mlb.com). Position Players report on Feb 18th and the FIRST SPRING TRAINING GAME is in 25 DAYS as the Cubs play Oakland on Feb 27th at Mesa.

Snow Angels and more, after the jump...

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