Darold Knowles

October 8, 2008
“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.


  1. 1.  LOL. Love the cake analogy.

    The look on Darold’s face almost indicates that that lovely afternoon in Oakland he has overheard the GM sitting in the stands with Charlie O talking about trading him in the off-season. No more World Series money – getting used to it with the 3 time champion A’s. Maybe it won’t be to the Sad-sack Cubs of Carmen Fanzone, Steve Swisher, Pete LaCock and Oscar Zamora. Maybe the Reds need another lefty relief specialist. Please don’t let it be the Cubs……..

  2. 2.  I think that Knowles was the first guy to pitch in seven WS games in one year. I’m not sure if anyone else has repeated that feat.

  3. 3.  2 : Darold’s page on br-bullpen identifies him as the only guy to perform that all-7-games-in-a-World-Series feat:


    He got three rings with the A’s, but only appeared in that one World Series in which he was ubiquitous, 1973. In ’72 he had a great regular season but got hurt before the playoffs, and in ’74 he had a down year and was not used in the series.

    His first year with the Cubs was a real stinker, but he rebounded to have some good years later on with the Expos and Cardinals.

    But all that said, the real story with this guy is his name. . .


  4. 4.  Violating the cake. Classic. Seems like the Cubs had a bunch of great players, but not so much the cohesive team. That’s what it takes to be able to pick yourself up after getting decked around and come back and win a series. The red sox provide the perfect counterpoint to the Cubs, farm players galore mixed in with a few superstars. Picking team dynamic over the big bat of Manny. Such a great team dynamic this year.

  5. 5.  Darold does sound like something that Samantha Steven’s mom might mockingly call her husband.

  6. 6.  I was thinking about the 1994 Rangers even before you mentioned them. The 1991–92 squad captured the Presidents’ Trophy. They took a 2–1 series lead on the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and then faltered in three straight (most observers note a Ron Francis slapshot from the blue line that eluded Mike Richter as the series’ turning point). During the second round of the 1994 playoffs I was at Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals against Washington. The Rangers were up 3-1 in the series, but early in the game Richter gave up a soft, long-range goal. There was a sickening silence in the building as seemingly every person in the place instantly recalled that goal against Pittsburgh 2 years previously. It is tough to win it all when there is such a long history of losing. Maybe the Cubs need a Messier-like player to will them to victory.

  7. 7.  6 : I think it might be tougher in baseball for one guy to do for a team what Messier did for the Rangers.

    The Red Sox needed a a lot of breaks to start going their way in ’04 to finally break through. Luck plays a factor. Talent plays the hugest factor, obviously. And then it can’t hurt to, as the Red Sox brass did, set an organizational tone of embracing the burden of history and the challenge of overcoming it. Schilling, much as he annoys me, also deserves a lot of credit not only for his great clutch performances that year (and in ’07) but for his voluble embracing of that challenge. He understood that whatever team finally broke through would live forever in the minds of the hometown fans.

  8. 8.  Knowles made his debut in the mid60s. Somewhere I have a Sporting News guide from the latter part of that decade lying around. It’s kinda weird seeing these A’s and other hirsute players back when they were cleancut. Knowles was one of them.

  9. 9.  When I think of baseball players violating cakes, I think of Sparky Lyle.

  10. 10.  9 I was thinking of that, too.

    One thing that strikes me about the ALDS was that, in the space of two games, I saw two events I don’t think I’ve ever seen-the Ellsbury sliding over the bag play, and the blown squeeze chase him all the way back and nearly blow it play.

  11. 11.  Yeah, it really is a birthday cake sort of C. They further that with the applique logo on their batting helmets, which I believe are the only batting helmet logos to breach the third dimension.

    I always thought something was just odd about naming a team the Cubs. Cubs are cute. Cubs are relatively unthreatening when snatched away from their mama bears. Even the Padres, as a mascot/team name, can at least sic God on you, and Orioles and Cardinals and Blue Jays can, well, fly away.

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