Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after the 7th inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Ryan Dempster is what every baseball player should be.
He's talented at his craft. He works hard -- from what I have heard and seen, he works harder than just about any of his teammates, and that's not a rip on his teammates, just a credit to how hard Dempster works.
He's a good family man who has dedicated his life to helping find a cure for the affliction that his daughter was born with, so that people less fortunate than he is who have the same issue, can get some help.
He's a wit and a humorist. How many athletes who hold fundraisers for their foundations emcee them by themselves? Dempster hosted a fundraiser I attended for his foundation last summer, and he was funnier than any professional comedian they could have hired. He does an absolutely dead-on-hilarious Harry Caray impression.
And beyond that, he truly seems to understand how fortunate he is to be making the money he is, playing the game he loves -- a game that so many of his countrymen ignore, since they're so focused on hockey. I like the way Dempster is a true hockey fan, just like any of the rest of us who are fans. For lack of a better term, he "gets it". He hasn't played his entire career as a Cub, but entering his eighth season on the North Side, I hope he finishes his career here and celebrates a World Series win with the rest of us. He's one of us.
Ryan Scott Dempster was born on May 3, 1977 in Sechelt, British Columbia; he's one of 19 Canadian-born players to be active in the major leagues in 2010. He was drafted out of high school there by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 1995 draft.
His career with the Rangers didn't last long. Only a little more than a year later, he was shipped to the Marlins for John Burkett; the Rangers also sent Rick Helling to Florida as a PTBNL. He shared time in the Florida organization with Derrek Lee, as well as former Cub Roosevelt Brown. Two years after that he was in the major leagues at age 21, and he struggled for a bit before having a breakout year in 2000, a season that put him in the All-Star Game.
Then the injury bug that bites so many major league pitchers got to him. He developed elbow trouble and declined in 2001 and worse in 2002; the Marlins finally shipped him to the Reds in 2002 for Juan Encarnacion, Wilton Guerrero and Ryan Snare, but he was even worse for Cincinnati and after a 3-7, 6.54 season in 20 starts in 2003, he was released at age 26, possibly done.
He underwent Tommy John surgery and Jim Hendry rescued him from the scrap heap, one of Hendry's best signings. Coming to the Cubs major league team late in 2004, he was used in mop-up duty in relief -- and had Dusty Baker turned to him instead of LaTroy Hawkins closing late in that season, the story of 2004 might have turned out differently. Even when Dempster was clearly the No. 1 candidate to close during spring training in 2005, Baker insisted on keeping Hawkins in the job -- until Hawkins blew too many saves, and Baker was forced to go to Dempster.
It was a perfect match. Dempster saved 33 games in 2005, 24 more in 2006, and 28 in 2007. His ERA's are fairly high, reflecting a handful of bad outings, but in general Dempster did a good job closing. There was a brief time in '07 when Dempster claimed Lou Piniella was going to move him into the rotation, but this was quickly denied by all parties. It took the return of Kerry Wood -- in similar circumstances to Dempster, late in 2007, when he showed the possibility that he could close -- to move Dempster back into the rotation.
Everything clicked in 2008; Dempster returned to the All-Star team, posted his best year as a Cub with a 17-6, 2.96 mark and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. Since then, he has put up solid if not All-Star seasons and been a mainstay in the rotation; his only real time missed was when he suffered one of those "Cubbie Occurrence" injuries in 2009, breaking his toe leaping over the dugout rail to celebrate a win.
But that's Ryan Dempster, team guy. He's got two years left on his current deal and although he's not an "ace" -- whatever that means -- the Cubs know they can count on 200 innings, probably 200 strikeouts, and having him take the team deep into games. He's the best bunter on the team and always takes responsibility for his mistakes, his bad games. His 12.3 WAR as a Cub rank 93rd, just below Ted Lilly; I ranked Dempster above Lilly because of his longevity with the team and the fact that he'll add to that total over the next couple of years.
He's another guy who seemed born to be a Cub, even though he started elsewhere. The Cubs are counting on him having another good year in 2011, and he's an easy guy to root for. Besides Kerry Wood, the Cub I'd most feel happy for when the Cubs do win a World Series is Ryan Dempster.