As Pat Hughes will say later today, “Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air!” Weather permitting, of course. Has this not been the longest offseason ever? I’m with Jed Hoyer, I can’t wait for the season to start.
We've got a baseball game today! pic.twitter.com/4jVEI4CSXj
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 23, 2019
Whenever the exhibition games start, I always get in a Glen Campbell kinda mood. Campbell was one of my dad’s favorites, so the connection is easy to follow. Dad worked for the Cubs in the 1960’s and ’70’s, and spring training was always a big deal for him because he was so busy. So, I think about him a lot this time of year, and dad’s music is always kind of a staple in my household each February and March.
My father looked exactly like Robert Redford, and my mother had a bit of a Liz Taylor air about her (I’m not sure what happened to me, before you ask). Anyway, my parents were by no means a power couple, and in fact, they separated in the spring of 1971. I was seven years old at the time, and my father had just returned from his annual spring fishing trip when he laid the news on my siblings and me. My parents were separating and they were getting a divorce. Explaining divorce to children is never easy. I remember thinking a divorce was a new car. Boy, was I wrong.
Anyway, Dad hadn’t really gone fishing this time. He had actually moved in with his new roommate, this straight out of Three’s Company bachelor pad that his pal Tony Muser was renting near 159th & Central in Bremen Township. Tony played for the White Sox at the time and probably made the league minimum which I think was about $14,000 ($68,000 in today’s dollars) that year. That’s about $185,000 less than Manny Machado will make per game for the next 10 seasons.
Dad and Tony (my sister and I called him Uncle Tony) were great friends and after moving in together, my father, inspired by Muser, grew a Fu Manchu mustache, which was apparently quite popular at the time. Yup, newly single with a Fu Manchu. Oh, the humanity. Thanks for that, John Lennon.
Muser wore an awful lot of turtlenecks and velour pullovers, which is kind of a mock crushed velvet if you are unfamiliar, and both he and my dad sported those patchwork bell-bottom jeans a great deal. I spent every other weekend for about a year hanging with both of them, and sometimes Joey Pepitone would pop over. “Uncle Joey” was a client of my father’s and also a good friend. The three of them would head down to Jilly’s on Rush Street quite often, and they’d leave me with Carol the babysitter, who liked to play all my dad’s Chicago albums and sneak a Schlitz or two from the fridge.
To think about Pepitone, Muser, and the senior Canter all hanging out is one of my fondest memories. Eventually Uncle Tony got traded to Baltimore, Uncle Joey was traded to the Braves, and by 1975 my dad’s last athlete client was Randy Hundley, then with Padres. By the next year my father was out of baseball and selling life insurance for Prudential. Free agency meant players needed personal agents, which meant guys like my father — who handled player benefits and investments, insurance policies, and finding players offseason jobs — were no longer needed.
In March of 1974, my father and I were in Islamorada, FL when Ken Rudolph was traded by the Cubs to the Giants. Ken was a client, so we had to end our vacation early and head home. I loved Islamorada because it was the only place I had been where the sun rises and sets over water. To say it is stunning wouldn’t do it the justice it deserves. My dad and his friend Denny had just purchased a restaurant called The Lazy Dolphin and to me it was heaven. Key Lime Pie? Fuggetaboutit.
But business called and we jumped in the car and started driving back to Chicago, and I remember the song Wichita Lineman came on the radio. That was my dad’s favorite Glen Campbell song and I listened as he spoke over the music about how if he had to do it all over again, he would have been a state trooper.
Such great memories. Glen Campbell and spring training will forever be connected in my heart.
Cubs News & Notes
- Ben Zobrist has finally made it to camp. The 37-year-old utility man said all is well after he missed the first part of spring training with an excused absence for personal reasons.
- Zobrist was on the verge of quitting baseball in 2000 until a $50 tryout convinced him to give it one more try.
- The front office has made a number of changes at the minor league level in order to promote better player development.
- Joe Maddon has yet to name his Opening Day starter and was playfully coy when asked.
- Mike Montgomery has come to terms with his role as a a swingman, and intends to be ready if he is flexed into the rotation or if called on to close.
- Kyle Hendricks is hoping to parlay his strong finish last season to his best season yet.
- Which Cubs player has truly arrived in Mesa in the best shape of his life? Kye Schwarber took the honors last spring, and I’m betting on Yu Darvish this season, though David Bote looks awfully good, too.
- If the Cubs are to post another 90-win season, Darvish will need to be healthy and effective.
- The entire spring training staff and players will attend a Saturday morning session on domestic violence prevention. Every team employee must attend classes.
- PECOTA forecasts Drew Smyly to have a similar season to what Cole Hamels put up for the Rangers last year. I’ll be happy when that projection system is nothing but a laughable memory and I’ll go on record as saying the Cubs will start Game 145 with their 79th win of the season in the books.
- Hamels is teaming with Jon Lester to provide clubhouse leadership.
- The San Diego Tribune was kind enough to publish a Chicago Cubs progress report yesterday.
- The Cubs have provided an all-expense-paid trip for children dealing with life-threatening illnesses to meet Cubs players and coaches.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 22, 2019
- I believe Tony Barnette may be better coiffed than a certain free agent right fielder who is looking for baseball’s highest contract ever.
- All the offseason storylines may serve to put a bigger chip on the shoulders of this year’s team.
- Cubs players weighed in on the slow free agent market. Anthony Rizzo is trying to do his part. “So this is what happened,” Rizzo said. “I offered [Harper] half of my 12 [million] that I’m making this year. But he turned it down. Put that report out.”
- The latest simulations at Scout.com have the Cubs winning 92 games with a 14.8 percent chance of reaching the World Series.
- The horizontal movement on Carl Edwards Jr.’s fastball is filthy.
- If you are wondering what the bullpen will look like until Brandon Morrow returns, remember the Cubs had five saves by five different pitches over a 10-day span after Pedro Strop went down with a hamstring injury.
- Maddon is embracing his new persona.
- Hendricks has an impressive array of pitches that he relies on to compensate for his less-than-elite fastball, including two variations of his changeup.
- Reliever James Norwood was consistently good across three levels of the Cubs system last year, which included a couple stints with the big league club.
- MLB Pipeline revealed their Top 30 Cubs prospects.
This Week’s Baseball Read
Third Base for Life: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons, and Baseball by Joshua L. Berkowitz. The true story of 12 bungling and inept fourth grade boys from a small Jewish day school in Newton, Massachusetts who band together to challenge the top 10-year-old baseball talent in the country at Cooperstown Dreams Park, one of the nation’s most prestigious youth tournaments.
A Flick to Pick
61* – If you have HBO, you can stream this wonderful movie on-demand. Billy Crystal’s love affair with the 1961 Yankees and the pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record is a pleasure. Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper are great as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and Michael Anthony Hall does well as staff ace and Mantle babysitter Whitey Ford. 61* is an endearing ode to a time when the press was the enemy of the everyday ballplayer, when salaries were in check, and breaking records with bat and glove took on Ruthian proportions. Mantle’s one-handed home run is an incredible cinematic moment.
Saturday Walk Up Song
Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell.