Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ Category

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Frank Castillo

March 21, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Chicago Cubs

I’ve lived in Chicago for seven years now, and it feels like nothing, like I just got here. Conversely, the roughly equvalent span of seven years of my childhood during which my baseball cards came to me seems immense and inexhaustible. The writing at this site is, among other things, my surrender to the idea that it will take the rest of my life to approach saying everything I want to say about those years. Maybe I live an intentionally narrow life in the present to leave myself time and energy to explore the past. Likewise, I don’t collect cards anymore. I don’t have room for them, physically or emotionally. But I can make room for the occasional stray, like this Frank Castillo card that I found a few months ago on Western Avenue, my fourth and probably last Western Avenue baseball card find. I’ve been looking since then and haven’t found any others, on Western Avenue or elsewhere, and I just moved to another neighborhood that’s not very close to Western Avenue. My new neighborhood is on the Red Line, however, so I’ll be a short shot away from Wrigley. I’ll be seeing the 2011 Cubs in person at least a little, so I’ll get to see if this pummeled Frank Castillo card will turn out to bear any resemblance to the Cubs’ fortunes in their 103rd straight season of wanting.

Everybody knows what wanting is. It’s very close to the feeling of being alive, or else it’s so often present that you come to believe it’s the feeling of being alive. I go through most days wanting and not even knowing what it is I want, and this feeling only rarely goes away. It doesn’t go away with the seemingly logical counterpart to wanting: getting. But sometimes it dissipates if I can surrender to a kind of purposelessness, a way of wandering open-hearted through the world. Going for a walk can bring this to me, especially in a city, where the world seems to show its randomness more readily. Yesterday on a walk I stopped wanting when I spotted a cheap, dark masquerade-ball type mask lying on the sidewalk. A couple days ago I stopped wanting when a disheveled young man who looked he had a lot on his mind walked by me on Chicago Avenue, dragging a golf club behind him like a stiffened, dogless leash.

One of my favorite memories so far of my seven years in Chicago is from when I was sitting in the bleachers for a Cubs game, which is somewhat like surrendering up your individual body in exchange for a much drunker, louder collective with thousands of limbs. A guy sitting in front of me who had been keeping score as he pounded beer after beer rose for a mid-inning bathroom break, inevitably, and without thinking shoved his scorecard into my hands. “You know how to do this, right?” he muttered, and for the next inning and a half I kept track of the game for him until he staggered back to his seat with two more overflowing beers for himself. I don’t remember whether the Cubs won or lost that day. Somewhere maybe there’s a scorecard with my notes mixing together with someone else’s notes, though my guess is that the drunk guy likely was unable to hold onto the scorecard for very long beyond the end of the game. Maybe sometime after it slipped out of his benumbed fingers someone noticed it lying on the street and noticed a different style of handwriting for a couple frames. Maybe not. All this is to say the 2011 Cubs will provide moments of purposelessness and wanting and will be discarded, only to be happened on later by accident, maybe, an artifact of a presiding random indifference, capable of nothing or wonder.

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How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 17 of 30: Check out the Scott Simkus’ Outsider Baseball Bulletin for fascinating explorations of the lesser-traveled paths of baseball history. (Additionally, with the recent repurposing of his blog to be one that follows the current trials and tribulations of the Cubs, Simkus has conceded, reluctantly, that baseball also exists in the present.)

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2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s; Seattle Mariners

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Jerry Martin

April 22, 2010

What could possibly be better than to be a starting centerfielder for a major league team? And yet, Jerry Martin, who held just such a position for the Chicago Cubs at the time of this 1980 card, wears an expression that makes it seem like he’s counting the hours left in his shift at the circus, where he’s employed to brush the teeth of tigers and give elephants enemas.

According to the back of this card, life was getting better and better for Jerry Martin. The son of a major leaguer, Barney Martin (who pitched briefly for the Reds in the 1950s), Jerry had broken in with the Phillies in 1974, playing just 13 games, and then had gotten more and more chances at bat with each succeeding year as the Phillies developed into a National League powerhouse. The card suggests that he played an important supporting role for the Phillies as they won three division titles in a row from 1976 through 1978. In the first of those seasons he appeared in 130 games despite logging just 121 at-bats, evidence of his usefulness as a late-inning defensive replacement for lead-footed fly-ball mangler Greg Luzinski. In 1977 he got nearly a hundred more at-bats, occasionally platooning with Bake McBride, and hit a respectable .260 with some power, and in 1978 he got even more playing time and responded with new career highs in homers and batting average while, as the bullet points at the bottom of the back of the card relate, also hitting three pinch-hit home runs during the regular season and a fourth in the playoffs. Finally, in 1979, he got his chance to be an everyday player upon being traded to the Chicago Cubs, and he upped his career singe-season high in batting average to .272 while smacking 19 home runs and 34 doubles.

But on the front of the card, he seems to be considering his life and saying, I want out. 

In fact, that’s exactly what he said, publicly, just before the start of the 1980 season, according to a 2006 story on The Baseball Think Factory about that year’s putrid edition of the Cubs. Martin had been promised a five-year contract if he proved himself capable of handling a regular centerfielder gig. His 1979 season, though not the stuff of legends, certainly seemed a decent showing for a regular centerfielder, and yet Cubs brass did not come through with the contract they’d promised. Worse, the Cubs general manager, Bob Kennedy, publicly denigrated Martin, saying that his disgruntled player “was not even a center fielder. He’s a left fielder playing center.” 

The Cubs did not comply with Martin’s demand to be traded, and Martin manned centerfield for another season as the Cubs lost 98 games. Martin managed to hit 19 homers again, but slumped to a .227 batting average. After a season back in part-time duty with the Giants in 1981, Martin got one more year as a regular, with the Kansas City Royals in 1982, but his time in Kansas City powder blue would be much more widely associated with his arrest the following year for attempting to buy cocaine along with Willie Wilson, Willie Mays Aikens, and Vida Blue. All four players spent ninety days in prison and were suspended from baseball for the 1984 season by manager Bowie Kuhn. The suspensions were reduced on appeal, and Martin hooked on with the New York Mets. It would be his last season in the majors. Considering the following two anecdotes stemming from that season, from the Jerry Martin memory page at the great Ultimate Mets Database site, you have to conclude that life’s glum eventualities are unavoidable, even for gods:

vemmerf: I grew up 30 minutes from Shea. [Martin] rented a house in my neighborhood for the summer . . . and my buddy and I looked in the yearbook and found the name of some assistant to the PR director and called Martin, saying we were that guy. We told him we were shooting a commercial for Banner Day and we wanted him to be a part. He fell hook line and sinker. Feel kinda bad about it, but it was better than egging his house.

Shari: I remember this poor shnook getting the call to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth . . .  he struck out, and he got booed the whole way back to the dugout. That was the last time I think I ever saw him as a Met. He was trying to make a comeback after being in re-hab. I was at the game, and I just remember feeling really sorry for him, as he hung his head in shame and took the slow stroll back to the dugout.

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Couple of book-related things: Josh Spilker (not a lazily conceived pseudonym, I swear) has a feature at Impose Magazine on my recent reading list. Elsewhere, Tom Hoffarth of the L.A. Daily News reviews Cardboard Gods (and Dave Jamieson’s book Mint Condition).

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Rick Reuschel in . . . The All-Time Franchise All-Stars

March 11, 2010

I, like the Chicago Cubs, have much that remains undone. First and foremost, in addition to and inclusive of the completion of this smaller undone project of starting a conversation about the all-time franchise all-stars of every team that was around when I was a kid, I need to write about every single baseball card that ever came to me, something that I’ve done with only a fraction of the cards in my shoebox even though I’ve been chugging away at things pretty constantly for three and a half years. For almost the entire time this project has been in motion, I’ve intended to write about this Rick Reuschel card. It’s one of my all-time favorites, which has made the task of writing about it daunting. I have stopped and started many times, failing to get it right, and already this current attempt, in true Cubs fashion, is beginning to feel like another failure in the making. It’s a card that seems at a glance to be just another static pregame still-life, but I don’t know, there’s something about it. First of all, it’s Rick Reuschel, which is one of those names of the gods from my childhood that somehow burrowed farther down into my subconscious than most, the alliteration of the R’s balancing the complicated unpronounceable muck in the middle of the last name to make the moniker both mysterious and familiar. It didn’t hurt that he had a brother who for a little while played on the same team as he did, enacting perhaps the greatest fantasy this worshipful younger brother ever had as a baseball- and brother-loving boy. (And it also didn’t hurt that the two of them, when featured together in a Topps “Big League Brothers” card, were the second-funniest brother-related sight gag of the 1970s after the Guinness Book of Records-featured minibike-riding twins.) Rick Reuschel’s prominent place in the pantheon in my mind was also probably bolstered over the course of time as he managed to remain a major leaguer far beyond the end of my childhood and my singular attachment to baseball, and did so in a way that was prominent enough to remain in my increasingly substance-hazed consciousness yet not so prominent as to break the lingering, childhood-holding spell his name had on me. All through the 1980s, as the alliterative likes of Bake McBride and Dick Drago and Jay Johnstone disappeared, Rick Reuschel endured, even at times excelled, many of his upswings accompanied by stories about the improbable nature of his success that, with a mixture of mockery and fondness, always seemed to go down a checklist of his apparent drawbacks: he was old; he was lumpy; he didn’t throw very hard.

But he got the job done, year after year. Unfortunately for him, his apparent superficial drawbacks seem to have cost him a higher place in history in terms of generally held perceptions. He was, when he played, a kind of polar opposite to his contemporary, Nolan Ryan, and while Ryan sailed into the Hall as easily as anyone ever has on the strength of his charismatic on-field persona and his charismatic assault on the record books (the all-time single-season and career strikeout record, the record for most no-hitters, 300+ wins), Reuschel, unassuming in his persona and his deeds, quickly vanished from Hall of Fame consideration without so much as a whimper—he got just two votes in his single year of eligibility before dropping off the ballot. (For an interesting take on Rick Reuschel’s credentials that contradicts the lack of support from Hall voters, see the 2009 article on Cy Morong’s blog Cybermetrics; as with many of these studies, my tiny brain shuts off when the math gets even slightly complicated, but I like scanning for the gist of the argument, which in this case places Rick Reuschel surprisingly high on the list of standout pitchers.)

You may be thinking, based on the title of today’s blog post, that I’m going to insert Rick Reuschel as the starting pitcher on my personally selected roster of all-time Cubs. I’m afraid I can’t take my connection to Rick Reuschel that far, much as I’d like to. He was good, but he wasn’t Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown good. But I would like to argue for his inclusion on the all-time Cubs squad nonetheless. It’s been a while since an installment on this site of The All-Time Franchise All-Stars, but you may recall that there is a “wild card” spot on every franchise’s team. I have a feeling that the Cubs may have had more lovable wild cards than any other team in history, since their history, more or less, has been of yearly collections of lovable wild cards flailing away at the never-ending fog of disappointment that hangs metaphorically and constantly over Wrigley. And though I now live in Chicago I can’t at all say I am an expert on which wild card is most worthy of inclusion on the all-time team. But for me, it’s Rick Reuschel, and more than anything I’m saying that because of this card, which has fascinated and entertained me since it came into my hands 34 years ago. I love the way Rick Reuschel is leaning forward a little, as if he’s just realized he’s stepped in something, and I love how the bulge in his cheek makes it seem as if earlier in the day he clipped off the left side of his mustache while shaving, and I love his small, suspicious eyes, and I love that he is wearing a batting helmet, despite being identified by his pose and by the icon in the lower left as a pitcher, seemingly suggesting that he’d either rather be doing something else than what he’s been called on in his life to do or that he’s preparing himself for the screaming line drives he suspects might be coming back through the box as soon as he makes one of his unimposing pitches. Good old Rick Reuschel. I’d want him on my team.

Here’s the rest of the all-time Cubs, as I see it. Who’s on your all-time Cubs squad? (See baseball-reference.com for the franchise’s all-time batting and pitching leaders.)

C-Gabby Hartnett
1B-Cap Anson
2B-Ryne Sandberg
SS-Ernie Banks
3B-Ron Santo
LF-Billy Williams
CF-Hack Wilson
RF-Sammy Sosa

SP-Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown
RP-Bruce Sutter

Wild Card: Rick Reuschel

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Joe Wallis

February 2, 2010

Joe Wallis made his first appearance on Cardboard Gods early on, thirty or so cards into the imposing task of writing about every card that ever came into my hands as a child (and some cards that have found their way to me since then). I often miss those early days of—what should I call it? The project? The compulsion? The flowering of mental illness? Anyway, I miss it, even as I realize that I’m prone to romanticizing anything as long as it belongs to the past. When I was just starting to write regularly about my baseball cards, the touch of childhood was still crackling on the surface of the cardboard.

I’ve been reading J.D. Salinger stories the last few days, and many of them center on the threshold between childhood and adulthood. In Salinger’s fictional worlds, childhood holds life and liveliness and imagination and unaffected sincerity, while adulthood offers nothing but fakery and the keeping up of appearances and the cruelty embedded in social hierarchies. Many of the stories reveal Salinger’s stinging, sardonic masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, to be, by comparison, his most hopeful work. In Holden Caulfield, Salinger found a lasting, if compellingly tenuous, bridge between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. In the short stories, on the other hand, there are no lasting bridges, only harrowing gaps. The man (“see more glass”) in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” can’t endure life on the adult side of that gap; Eloise in “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” seems ruined by the gap, too; the narrator in “The Laughing Man” survives, but his childhood on the yonder side of the gap does not. “For Esmé with Love and Squalor” offers a hint of a bittersweet bridge across the gap, in the form of the story itself, which is a loving stretch across the gap by a traumatized veteran to a young girl who stands alone among the uncorrupted entities of the world. Holden is more than the hint of a bittersweet bridge, of course. He’s a living and breathing bad-postured avatar that millions have poured themselves into as if into a second skin, and it’s because he bridges that universally felt gap between childhood and adulthood in a way that feels truer to that element of the human experience than any artistic creation ever has.

When I opened up the box of baseball cards from my childhood and started writing about them, I was trying to follow Holden’s footsteps and bridge that gap, and in those first few weeks, there was an immediate charge in the cards as I held them. But everything gets old, especially rituals, so sometimes, especially if I’m in a writing slump, I get nostalgic about the days when I could pick up a Joe Wallis card and imagine a baseball player who (somewhat like J.D. Salinger, now that I think about it) could not abide in the civilized world and so took to the woods to be wild and malodorous and hairy and free.

But anyway, here I am again, and here I’ll be. In religion, there’s the thrilling moment of epiphany or conversion or enlightenment or whatever, I guess. You “see the light.” After that: well, you try to be sincere with your prayers. You try to find ways to connect to the mystery.

The first mystery of this Joe Wallis card is his batting stance. On first glance, I thought this card might be a strange mistake, for the Joe Wallis card I am more familiar with shows him in a right-handed batting stance, while this card shows him bemusedly following through on a left-handed swing. When I looked at the back of this card, I thought that a piece of information included there—“Bats: Left”—proved that the card here was correct and that the later and hairier Joe Wallis card from 1980 was a mistake. But on baseball-reference.com Joe Wallis is listed as being a switch-hitter. I’m not sure why he is listed on the back of this card as only hitting left-handed, but it may have something to do with his career .199 batting average against left-handed pitchers (compared to his .263 average versus right-handers). Maybe before this card came out the Topps people called him to confirm his status as a switch-hitter, and at that point he was considering forgetting about being a switch-hitter and just sticking to being a lefty. In that light, it’s interesting that his later card with the A’s, the one I am more familiar with and that is his last card, shows him from his weaker side. He was determined, I guess, to prove that a debilitating dooming weakness could be turned into a strength.

The second mystery was pointed out some time ago on the original Joe Wallis post by a commenter who goes by the name Champ Summers. Champ linked to an article that describes a minor league baseball game in which Joe Wallis hit a fly ball that never came down.

How do you survive a mysterious and beautiful event such as that? How do you not slowly unravel and grow increasingly less able to exist in the mystery-stripped world of adulthood? How do you not take to the hills? A ball went up and never came down. People will tell you that only a child would think that such a thing was possible, but you were there. You hit the ball that never came down. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. 

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Bill Madlock in . . . The Nagging Question

May 1, 2009

bill-madlock-77

On this date in 1980, Bill Madlock shoved a glove in an umpire’s face. He was suspended for fourteen days, the harshest punishment the oft-reprimanded Madlock ever endured in the major leagues. (Once, in the minor leagues, Madlock was suspended for an entire season for apparently using a bat as a weapon—or at the very least as a menacing prop to help illustrate his dark mood—to spark what a long-time scout on hand later called “the best fight I’ve seen in my many years in baseball,” but upon appeal Madlock was allowed to return to the field after a couple weeks.)

I would not normally begin a post on Madlock by focusing on his history of flying into on-field rages, and would instead begin by marveling over the lifetime batting average on the back of the card shown here: .337. My lord! Now that I think about it, this card features the highest lifetime batting average of any card in my collection. In other words, in terms of the most celebrated and worshipped statistic of my childhood, batting average, Bill Madlock reigns supreme. In at least one significant way this underrated card of an underrated player is the holiest of my cardboard gods!

He deserves to be celebrated for this, but I’m going to have to turn over that celebration to you, dear reader, because in honor of Bill Madlock’s May 1, 1980, suspension, I am suspending myself on this day, May 1, 2009, from writing posts on Cardboard Gods.

The duration of this suspension is in relation to an upcoming deadline (or perhaps oncoming would be a better adjective, as when it is used to describe the progress of a train) to produce a book-length manuscript that interweaves the tale of an anonymous, nondescript guy with considerations of that guy’s old baseball cards. I actually planned to temporarily stop writing on this site a little while ago, but I discovered that even the thought of not writing on this site was very difficult to absorb, so I didn’t stop, and the oncoming manuscript deadline hurtled closer, and now, with time growing short, I feel I have to act stridently against myself, as if I were the kind of scofflaw who only understands the harshests of punitive measures. So I am banning myself from writing posts on this site for one month.

I will return from this suspension to full active duty. (I may also make the occasional appeal to myself to shorten the suspension, but I’m hoping to channel my inner Kenesaw Mountian Landis when considering these appeals.) 

Also, I am not banned from being in the stadium, so to speak, and so I’ll often be hanging around and very possibly even yelling my two cents from the cheap seats if any of the hundreds of open conversations on this site flicker with any life.

With that (and Bill Madlock) in mind, I hand this conversation over to you. Have you ever been suspended?

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Oh, and one more thing. I’ve been meaning to pass along this link for a while: check out The Baseball Chronicle (created by former Baseball Toaster writer Phil Bencomo) for excellent baseball writing and photography designed to push beyond the well-worn ruts of the genre.

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Greg Maddux in . . . the Nagging Question

December 9, 2008
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Who is the greatest pitcher of your lifetime?

I’m tempted to go with Tom Seaver, because I marveled at his feats as a kid and count a game I saw him pitch at Fenway in his last season among the most memorable games I’ve ever attended.

I was 18 that year, 1986, and I am pretty sure I went to the game alone, the only time I’ve ever done that. I must have taken a bus in from my grandfather’s house on the Cape, where I was spending the summer pumping gas. I could look up the game on retrosheet, but I prefer to just rely on my memory, which has me in the centerfield bleachers and Seaver on the mound in a duel with a young flamethrower named Mark Langston, a guy who is not exactly a household name now but who at that time, because the pitches springing from his left hand were as fearsome as a snapped and writhing power line, seemed to be at the beginning of a splendid career, dawn to Seaver’s dusk.

While the whip-thin youngster racked up the strikeouts, the stocky old-timer craftily navigated through occasional jams, never allowing his calm claim on the game to be disturbed. My strongest memory from the game has to do with this last thing, his calmness. I remember getting the sense, even from the centerfield bleachers, that as Seaver stood on the mound looking in for the sign and drawing in a slow breath he was as calm as the Buddha, aware of and at peace with the fact that he was the center of the game, the center of the world. The game finally swung his way late, when Langston came undone. As I recall it, an error played a part in the go-ahead rally, just enough of a tremor to push Langston off his center, something that did not happen to Seaver that day. I couldn’t imagine it happening to Seaver any day.

The young ace of the Red Sox staff that year, on the other hand, as great as he was, proved in the coming years capable of coming undone from time to time. Still, I think many people around my age would have, up until some fairly recent events, argued that Roger Clemens was the best pitcher of their lifetime. His reputation has taken a hit of late because of revelations about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, and I guess the general belief is that his career numbers, especially those compiled late in his career, should be downgraded with the caveat that he may have gained an unfair competitive advantage by going on the juice. Even before all that came to light, I don’t think I would have been able to embrace Clemens as a choice for the best pitcher of my lifetime, because, fairly or unfairly, I see him in my memory allowing the occasional big moment to overwhelm him, to turn him into an unfocused raging bull falling off his axis at the center of the game.

His successor as ace of the Red Sox, Pedro Martinez, fares better in my memory. My first memory of him is always the performance he turned in against the Indians in the playoffs in 1999. Unable because of arm trouble to throw fastballs, Pedro nonetheless pitched several innings of no-hit relief by masterfully baffling the Cleveland hitters with an assortment of off-speed junk. Even stripped of his most fearsome weapon, the mound was his. For that, and for all the games I watched him pitch when he did have his full arsenal, I would say that no one in my lifetime has reached the level of dominance that Pedro performed at during his prime.

However, while Pedro was dominating the American League throughout the steroid era, another master was putting up similarly jaw-dropping numbers while dominating the National League. And he had been pitching at a high level for several years before Pedro ever reached the major leagues, and in the last few seasons, while Pedro has struggled mightily to stay off the disabled list, this pitcher who predated him has continued to log big innings and win his share of games.

I never got to see much of this latter pitcher, Greg Maddux, in his prime, but he did return to his first team, the Cubs, the same year I moved to Chicago, so I got to watch him a few times in his sunset years. Some games went well, some not so well, but either way he always remained unflappably poised, like that 1986 version of Seaver. He also had a springy looseness all his own that I found inexplicably enjoyable to watch. In fact my most vivid memory of Maddux in his second go-round with the Cubs is the way he covered first base on a grounder. To be more specific, I see him just after he has expertly executed the play to end the inning, flipping the ball straight from his glove to the first base ump with an almost playful nonchalance. It’s often been said of Maddux, because of his stocky frame and nondescript features, that he looks more like an orthodontist or an accountant than an elite athlete. But I think you would only need to have watched him moving around his workplace for a couple minutes to see that Maddux, who yesterday announced his retirement, was as much at home on a baseball diamond as Seaver or Clemens or Pedro or anyone else who has ever lived.

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Darold Knowles

October 8, 2008
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“Get ready; ninety-nine years . . . The wait is over. This IS the year!!” – Quote by the sponsor of the baseball-reference.com Cubs page

OK, let’s start at the top of the card for answers. Maybe it’s the name. The sound of it. Cubs. The hard C collapsing immediately into the short glum “uh,” which gives way to the stubbing, stunting B sound, which reduces whatever power might have been the sound of the name of the long-suffering team to a sibilant, trailing-off S sound, a weak hissing like the last gasp of a broken radiator in a car on the side of a highway, other cars flying past, the drivers of those cars all thinking the same thing as they notice the poor sap peering into the smoldering open hood of his car: Glad that’s not me, stranded, fucked. Yes, maybe it’s the name. Cubs.

Or maybe it’s the cap, represented here not by a photographed image but in a version imagined by a Topps artist and superimposed on a photograph. The imaginary version of it is in a certain way more real than the real version in that it highlights a certain key aspect of the Cubs cap, a cap that has been the same for as long as I have been alive. It looks, atop the head of Darold Knowles, more like somewhat sloppily applied cake icing than a cap. It looks like you could eat it, like you could dip your finger into the blue and red and get yourself a nice quick sugar high. Their real caps don’t look like this, not exactly, but maybe there is something in the cap, in the mild, friendly blue, in the taming of the racier red by restricting it to the confines of the basic spelling-block C, that invites a kind of metaphorical dipping of the finger into the icing. Maybe other teams, without even knowing it, look across the diamond at the Cubs and assume the attitude of a guy walking through an empty break room at work and noticing a cake just sitting there, waiting to be violated.

Or maybe, going lower on the card, to Darold Knowles’ face, it’s the feeling of doom. I don’t believe that teams are ever cursed, but I do think, and actually know from my own experience as a Red Sox fan, that year after year of disappointment and defeat tends to make one worry whenever victory seems close at hand. How is it going to go sour this time? What new unscarred section of my heart is going to get ground to bits this time? The nervous murmuring in the stands, along with the constant references to curses and droughts in the media, filters down to the members of the team. How could it not? How could it not in their weaker moments make them feel like Darold Knowles seems to be feeling now? He seems to be aware that something gloomy and horrible is descending, big and invisible, impossible to stop.

To turn back the tide on all that, the name, the cap, the feeling of doom, you need to face it head on, I think. Lou Piniella, current manager of the Cubs, seemed to explode whenever asked about the last sad century of the Cubs. I think this strategy, trying to ignore the elephant in the room, getting angry whenever anyone mentions the elephant, is only going to make things worse. When the New York Rangers toppled their Cub-like demons in 1994 they did so by following the lead of Mark Messier, who embraced, rather than turned away from, the burden of history. They also did so by having a fantastic team, which of course is the first prerequisite to slaying curses, but the Cubs had a fantastic team going into these 2008 playoffs, possibly the best all-around team in baseball, and they got bounced in three games, playing tight, as if they had all seen the dark cloud that Darold Knowles seems to be seeing.

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