True professional ball players continue playing hard even when the game means nothing. Baseball changes gears in August. The trade deadline has passed, the contenders and pretenders made moves, and the teams with no hope for the Postseason continue their march through the remaining season. The Major League season is a long, tough journey of 162 games in six months. No weekends off and few true off days with no games or travel. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people.
No matter how much a player loves the game, playing for a lost cause is difficult. Few are surprised by the losses piled up by the Marlins and Orioles, yet players continue playing hard in this long season. Imagine doing that over an entire career.
The Mariners began 2019 winning 13 of their first 15 games. Things were looking up for Seattle’s Kyle Seager. In eight seasons with Seager, the closest the Mariners have come to the Postseason was finishing second, nine games behind the Rangers and three out of the Wild Card in 2016. The October drought for Seattle and Seager appeared ready to end after the hot start this season, but it was a mirage. The Mariners are 35-69 since and are 10 games out of fourth place in the American League West. Kyle Seager continues extending his lead as the active player with the most games played without playing in the Postseason. He has played 1218 games, 200 more than second place, Jean Segura.
Kyle Seager plays hard, even though most days there is nothing to play for in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)
Kyle Seager is outpacing his contemporaries, but he is not halfway to breaking the all time record. 2,528 career regular season games played, zero Postseason games. Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, sits atop the career leader board of being a true professional. The always cheerful Banks had two brushes with the Postseason. On August 16, 1969, the Cubs led the Mets and Cardinals by nine games. Chicago then proceeded to finish the season 17-26, including an eight game losing streak. The streaking Mets raced past Chicago on their was to a World Series Championship.
In 1970, the Cubs finished five games behind the Pirates. Chicago led Pittsburgh by five games in mid-June before falling and remaining a few games behind the Pirates for the rest of the season. Banks was a part time player in 1970, retiring retire after the 1971 season. Mr. Cub never played October baseball. Luke Appling, Mickey Vernon, and Buddy Bell can relate. This quartet are the only members of the 2,400 games played without playing in the Postseason club. No one wants to join the club.
Pitchers have time to think between games, a luxury not given to position players. Even Mike Marshall and his record 106 relief appearances for the 1974 Dodgers, had days off. Zach Duke and Steve Cishek have pitched the most games among active pitchers without pitching in the Postseason. Duke has appeared in 570 games, but never a Playoff game. He was on two Postseason teams, the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Nationals. However, both were quickly eliminated before Duke pitched. While Duke has the most games pitched without pitching in a Playoff game, Steve Cishek has not even sat on the bench during the Postseason. Cishek has pitched in 556 games, but not one in the Postseason. While Duke and Cishek are due a Postseason reward, they are not alone as Felix Hernandez’s greatness was wasted in Seattle. King Felix has 411 career starts, but none in the Postseason. Seattle last made the Postseason in 2001, four seasons before Hernandez arrived. Despite Hernandez’s dominance, the Mariners have finished within 10 games of the Division winner just twice in his career, 2007 and 2016. Injuries and a rebuilding team does not give much hope for King Felix to ever pitch in the Postseason.
Even perfection on the mound could not help Felix Hernandez reach the Postseason. (Dean Rutz/ The Seattle Times)
Pitchers give their arms to baseball and Lindy McDaniel was no different. He pitched in the most Regular Season games, 987, without pitching in the Postseason. The closest McDaniel came to the Postseason was in 1966 while pitching for the Giants. San Francisco was tied for the National League lead on September 1 before losing seven of their next 10 games. The Giants never recovered, losing the Pennant to the hated Dodgers by 1.5 games. McDaniel is not alone in never tasted October baseball. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins made 594 career starts, the most ever without pitching in the Postseason. The majority of his career was with the Cubs as they sought to exercise the Curse of the Billy Goat, yet Jenkins’ closest brush with October was with another cursed team, the Red Sox. In 1977, Boston battled the Yankees and Orioles all season, but when the Red Sox lost their lead in mid-August their season was over. The Red Sox and Orioles both finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Jenkins spent a few seasons pitching for the Rangers before returning to Wrigley in the twilight of his career. Never again coming close to October baseball.
Professional baseball is a grind. The excitement of the season wanes as the summer heat punishes players marching through the Regular Season. The season’s true dog days are in August for teams with nothing left to achieve. Some players are seeking new contracts or securing jobs, while others are playing just because it is their job. Hustling down the line, making a diving catch, sacrificing your body becomes more difficult when the season is lost but there are still games on the schedule. While baseball focuses on those making a Postseason push, remember the rest of baseball are professionals and continue to play hard. They show up everyday because the game is on the schedule.
There is so much to write about the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Game 3 was a classic. The final score of a few of the games have been misleading, but overall it has been an excellent Fall Classic. I will revisit the World Series soon.
The World Series drought for the Cubs has been well documented, to the point of nausea. Over 70 years since they last played in the World Series and over 100 years since they last won it all. This background was great leading up to the World Series, but as the series has gone on I am less interested in it and more focused on the here and now.
Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd…(World Series of Dreaming)
Four years ago I had to opportunity to go to a game at Wrigley Field with Jesse. He was working in Chicago for a month and I flew over from New York to stay with him for a few days. We went to a game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Giants. We sat in the right field bleachers right behind Hunter Pence. It was a beautiful day game. Madison Bumgarner pitched for the Giants (I honestly did not remember him pitching until I looked up the game tonight). The Cubs were in the middle of rebuilding and were not very good that season. However, the Baseball Gods smiled upon us and the Cubs beat the Giants 6-4.
The most lasting memory I have, besides just being at Wrigley was singing Go Cubs Go after the final out. I am by no means a die hard Cubs fan. I grew up watching their games after I got home from school. I loved listening to Harry Caray announce the games and singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. I felt a connection to the Cubs even as they were rebuilding, so watching them win a game then singing Go Cubs Go was magical.
The end of Game 5 of the World Series was a nice reminder of my experience at Wrigley with Jesse. Joe Buck managed to stay out of the way for a few minutes and allow the Cubs fans to sing Go Cubs Go on national television. There is something about listening to an entire stadium sing a song in celebration of their beloved team. For all the heartbreak and the decades of waiting, the Game 5 victory at Wrigley Field felt like a weight was lifted off Cubs fans. In some way that victory is enough to allow Cubs fans to wait until next year. The time, money, effort, and energy that many people put into baseball out of love can seem like a one way street, but there are moments like after Game 5 where it is clear that the love is traveling in both directions.
The World Series is set; the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs. One of these teams is about to break a long championship drought. Every pitch and swing will be over analyzed because, in some way, they matter. Tension builds with every pitch and the players know one moment can define their career. Welcome to the World Series, October baseball at its finest.
The Cleveland Indians won the American League Central crown for the first time since 2007. Cleveland has some great players like Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber, but the key to their success has been team baseball. The Indians ranked 5th in MLB in Runs Scored, 4th in Stolen Bases (1st in the American League), 10th fewest strikeouts, 9th most walks, 3rd in the American League in sacrifice bunts, 2nd in sacrifices flies, 5th in team batting average, and 7th in team OBP. Offensively Cleveland wasted few opportunities to score runs. A successful season offensively means nothing if the pitching and defense cannot hold leads. Defensively Cleveland committed only 89 errors and had a .985 fielding percentage. Pitching has brought Cleveland four wins away from their first World Series victory since 1948. Indians pitchers allowed the 4th fewest hits, the 7th fewest runs, 6th fewest walks, 4th most strikeouts, and the 7th best team ERA in the Majors. All five members of the Indians rotation (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar) made at least 25 starts and won at least 11 games. Cody Allen led the team with 32 saves with Andrew Miller making a significant impact on bullpen longevity after his trade to Cleveland late in the season. Consistency from the starting pitching meant less stress and strain on the bullpen, allowing the relievers to measure their efforts through the season. Team baseball allows the Indians to recover if a player or two do not perform. While not producing the nationally recognized super stars, team oriented baseball can produce a World Series championship.
Which team will raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2016? (Jamie Squire/ Getty Images)
The Chicago Cubs won the National League Central by 17.5 games with 103 wins. The Cubs were clearly the best team in regular season baseball. Offensively the Cubs scored the 3rd most runs, drew the most walks, were 2nd in OBP, and hit into the 5th fewest double plays. A lineup that includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Ben Zobrist intimidates any opposing pitching staff. Defensively, Chicago allowed the fewest runs per game, which is also a reflection upon their pitching staff. The Northsiders had the lowest ERA and WHIP, allowed the fewest hits, the fewest runs, the 6th fewest home runs, and had the 3rd most strikeouts. When your team is out scoring most of the league and allowing the fewest runs that is a recipe for success. If one side falters the other side can keep the team rolling. Every member of the Cubs starting rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel) made at least 29 starts, collected 11 wins, pitched 166 innings, with an ERA below 3.85. Combined the starting rotation averaged over six innings per start, which late in the season meant the bullpen had just two innings to pitch before turning the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. Less work for the bullpen means fresher arms in high pressure situations and in the playoffs. The Cubs are easily recognizable for their play on the field, yet their super stars still play team baseball. Every team needs at least one player to elevate their game if they want to win it all, and the Cubs have plenty of players capable of doing so.
Saying it has been a while since the Indians or Cubs have won a World Series is an understatement. The Communist Party rose to power in China a year after the last Indians’ World Series victory. Since then, segregation was declared unconstitutional, man went into space and to the moon, AIDS emerged, the internet was invented, and the Indians have played over 10,000 games. Wrigley Field opened six years after the last Cubs World Series victory. It was followed by the United States participating in seven wars, the election of 16 Presidents, 11 Amendments being added to the Constitution, four states joining the United States, and the Cubs playing over 15,000 games. It has been a while for both teams.
Regardless who wins the World Series, 1948 and 1908 were a long time ago and another World Series victory is within reach for one of these two teams. The teams on the field are playing each other as much as the history of their own team. The attributable curses that have held these teams back for decades may finally be broken. Let us hope that the 2016 World Series has been worth the wait.
The Chicago Cubs have finally clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field. Let that sink in for a moment. It only took the Northside faithful 99 years to see their beloved Cubs clinch a series at the Friendly Confines. None of that matters right now though. Chicago’s youth movement powered them past the best regular season team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams fought through the toughest division in baseball and survived to make the playoffs and we pitted against one another in the NLDS. Every baseball fan knows the lore of the Cubs. Wait until next year (the eternal optimist). The curse of the Billy Goat (very much real). Steve Bartman (the scapegoat for a team that fell apart after a fan did what any fan would do, try to catch a foul ball). Wrigley Field has kept the Cubs relevant even when the team was just plain awful. No matter how terrible the team was the bleachers were usually full even during mid-week day games. Wrigley Field was a destination for any and every baseball fan, including this one who sat in the right field bleachers three years ago during a Cubs victory against the Giants.
Some may call the Cubs, or some other team, a team of destiny. Others will say it is time to break all the curses and bring a World Series championship to Wrigley. Whatever you call them the Cubs are fun to watch. They are playing far beyond their years and appear to have the ability to make a run at winning it all. They are playing hard and with a style all their own. Manager Joe Maddon is managing the team the way he wants. He seems relaxed yet focused, which is rubbing off on his youth squad. They have escaped the Wild Card game, which was a bridge too far for the Pirates and Yankees. Undoubtedly, the Cubs have avoided the injury bug, which may have doomed the Cardinals. They have avoided the decisive Game 5, unlike the other remaining six team, where any and everything can happen, good and bad.
The Cubs were stripped down to the bones and rebuilt after a couple lackluster seasons following back to back seasons of playoff disappointments. Credit is due to General Manager Jed Hoyer and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for their masterful job in getting quality returns on their trades and through the draft. Both Hoyer and Epstein understood the task ahead of them and have seen the fruits of their labor. The Cubs might win the World Series this year, or they might not. Regardless how their season ends, the Cubs are relevant again. Go to any Cubs away game and it has the feel that you are at a Cubs home game. This can be annoying, but it speaks to the love and passion of the long-suffering fan base. The Northside faithful are hoping for a World Series championship. It is too soon to know if it is finally next year for the Cubs. However, regardless of what happens during the rest of the playoffs, the Cubs are moving on to the NLCS. This is good for these young players, for the Northside faithful, and for baseball. The game is better when every team has a legitimate chance to win it all every so often, and it is time for the Cubs to get their shot.
Ernie Banks is a legend in Chicago. He has not stepped onto the field since 1971, but he is still immensely popular. A person does no receive the nickname of Mr. Cub unless he is truly deserving of such an honor. Ernie Banks was such a man.
Ernie Banks build a Hall of Fame career during his 19 seasons playing in the Friendly Confines. He hit 512 career home runs with 1,636 RBI, has a career .274 batting average, .330 On-Base Percentage (OBP), .500 Slugging Percentage (SLG), and a .986 Fielding Percentage (.994 at fist base). Bank won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1958 and 1959. He played in 14 All Star Games. Twice he led the National League in home runs (1958 and 1960) and RBI (1958 and 1959). In 1960, Banks won the National League Gold Glove at shortstop. In 1977, Banks was elected on the first ballot into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cubs gave Ernie Banks the honor of being the first Cubs player to have his number retired in team history in 1982. He was also selected as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Not bad for a man which at one point in his life had to be paid to play catch with his dad.
Unquestionably 1958 and 1959 were the best seasons of Banks’s career. Entering his fifth full season, Banks found his stride. In 1958, Banks played 154 games, hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI, 23 doubles, 11 triples, scored 119 runs, walked 52 times against 87 strikeouts, hit .313, .366 OBP, .614 SLG, .980 OPS, was elected to the All Star Game, posted a WAR of 9.4 (oWAR of 8.6 and dWAR 1.9). Banks won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 98 votes over Willie Mays. In 1959, Banks followed up his terrific 1958 season with a season, which may have been even better. He played 155 games, hit 45 home runs with 143 RBI, with 25 doubles, 6 triples, and scored 97 runs. Banks increased his walk total to 64 and reduced his strikeout total to 72. He hit .304, .374 OBP, .596 SLG, .970 OPS, and was elected to the All Star Game. Banks committed only 12 errors in 802 chances for a .985 Fielding Percentage at shortstop. Banks posted a WAR of 10.2 (oWAR of 7.8 and dWAR of 3.5). He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 43 votes over Eddie Mathews. Banks was a dominating force on Cubs teams that went 72-82 and 74-80 during his MVP seasons respectively.
Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. Mr. Sunshine played on only six teams that finished above .500 during his 19-season career. The first winning team was in 1963, Banks’ 11th season, when the Cubs went 82-80. Only the 1969 Cubs won more than 90 games during Banks’ career. That is a lot of losing to go through and still maintain one’s joy and passion for the game.
Ernie Banks loved life and love people. He was a military veteran, serving in the army during the Korean War. He was loyal to people. After the Cubs bought Banks he was hesitant to report until he was essentially ordered by Buck O’Neil to go to Chicago. Leaving his teammates with the Kansas City Monarchs was incredibly difficult for Banks. He went to the Cubs and joined the team as its first African-American player. Banks chose to let his play talk for him instead of his words. He earned the respect and admiration of people, whether or not they were connected to the Cubs.
“an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub. Ernie Banks was Mr. Sunshine. Ernie Banks was and forever will be a role model for how we all should live our lives. He loved his job and the people he worked with. In spite of the personal and professional struggles he faced, Ernie Banks never let these difficult challenges deprive him of his joy and passion for the game of baseball, and most importantly, life. Everyone who saw the joy with which you lived your life will miss you. Thank you Ernie Banks.