Between his laid-back demeanor, hippy sensibilities, and knack for balancing several powerful and disparate personalities, Joe Maddon is no stranger to Phil Jackson comparisons. And even though they don’t figure to be running the triangle offense at Wrigley anytime soon, it’s entirely possible that new third base coach Brian Butterfield will be Maddon’s Tex Winter.
“In the words of [Butterfield], we’re going to use the Jordan-to-Pippen bounce,” Lester admitted after Sunday’s loss that saw him skip a throw past Efren Navarro at first. “I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care if it bounces 72 times over there, an out’s an out. An out’s an out. It goes down as a 1-3 or a 1-6 or a 1-4.”
While it was probably the furthest thing from intentional, Lester’s use of the number 72 has echoes across two of Chicago’s most beloved teams. Not only is it the former record number of wins Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls posted in the 1995-96 season, it’s also the jersey number worn by the household appliance who recorded a rushing touchdown in the Bears’ Super Bowl win a decade earlier.
But if we’re really going to make an accurate comp for Lester’s throws, I think the best options would be Dennis Rodman’s free throw shooting or Steve McMichael’s couth. There’s probably a joke here in which I relate Lester’s bouncing balls to Gary Fencik being interviewed for an ’85 Bears documentary while wearing spandex shorts that left nothing to the imagination, but that’s really not the type of thing I want to get into.
And just as those former Chicago greats embraced their obvious foibles, or how their shorts embraced them, Lester doesn’t shy away from his much-publicized problems.
“I’ve never run from [the throwing issues],” Lester said. “I feel like I’ve been upfront with everything. I feel like I’ve worked my butt off to get better at things.”
The key, as the grizzled southpaw puts it, is simply to work with Butterfield — or Butter, as he’s known in baseball parlance — to just try not to suck. Okay, Lester didn’t really put it that way, but it’s really just a matter of getting to the point where he isn’t outright avoiding a play for fear of hosing up the throw to first. Which means using any means necessary to get the ball there before the runner.
That didn’t really work so well Sunday, when Lester tried to feed Navarro in the post after fielding a David Peralta comebacker. Though he didn’t field the ball cleanly, Lester recovered deftly before making a move reminiscent of a child skipping a rock across a calm pond. Given the lack of familiarity with the stand-in first baseman, the results were less than great.
“I feel bad for the guy today,” Lester . “He had no idea what’s going on. He’s never been a part of it. With Rizz, probably the surprise wouldn’t have been there.”
So is this something to worry about? Well, if I may borrow from the great Seth Gecko, it’s not a big deal until you make it a big deal. And making any of Lester’s issues with throwing the ball over to first a big deal at this point would be a mistake. Right, Tommy Pham?
When it comes to the Opening Day starter and hurling the ball in the direction of any base that doesn’t have five sides, it’s probably best for him to keep his catcher’s command on a constant loop.
”Hey, mother———, throw the ——— ball to first!”