The 2005 Cubs season really isn't much worth remembering. Derrek Lee's season was the best part of the year, as he led the league in hits, doubles, home runs, BA, SLG and OPS and finished third in MVP voting. Only nine players in National League history have had more extra-base hits in a season than D-Lee had (99).
But the key stat in understanding why Lee's season meant little is an old-school number: RBI. Lee drove in 107 runs. Only four players in major-league history have had 46 or more home runs in a season (as Lee did) and fewer than 107 RBI. The Cubs just didn't have enough baserunners in 2005 for D-Lee to drive in, and it showed in their runs total: 703, ninth in the league.
So the last home game of this misbegotten season was a relief, in some ways, to say farewell to a team that had failed for the second straight year to repeat as division champions.
Beyond the relief, it was also a sad day for those of us who are regular bleacherites, for it was the final game before the bleacher reconstruction and expansion that began just a few days after the season ended. Appropriately, it was a dreary, wet afternoon. Most of the game was played in a steady light drizzle that at times became rainshowers. The Cubs lost to the Pirates 3-2; as you can see by the boxscore, no fewer than three of the winning Pittsburgh squad that day eventually became Cubs (Paul Maholm, John Grabow, Daryle Ward). Jose Macias homered for the Cubs. That, I found funny, because Macias, a favorite of Dusty Baker's who became a favorite target of most fans, had a horrific year, with an OPS+ of 52. It was his only home run of the season, and thus, the last home run that landed in the original bleachers that had been constructed in 1937. The Cubs finished second in the league in home runs in 2005 with 194, and the guy who hit just one all year gets that distinction. How very Cub.
To complete the failure that Cubs fans know all too well, the Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with nobody out and the rain falling pretty hard, trailing by just one run, but failed to score. Corey Patterson and Ben Grieve struck out, and Macias popped up to end it.
Those of you who have met me in the bleachers over the last few seasons know that my seat is in the left-field corner, close to the foul pole. But as you can see by the photo attached to this post, our group used to sit in right field. If you were familiar with the old bleachers, this section contained two short benches, five seats each, right next to a stairwell that was used by employees (the lower level of the bleachers was not open to the public until after the expansion). We liked having those shorter benches; easier to get in and out, and generally, that meant we could all sit together. I joined that group in 1979, but its origins had gone back to the beginnings of the bleacher structure in 1937, and in some ways even before that, as "Papa Carl" Leone, who I first met in 1979, had been coming to Wrigley Field since it opened in 1916.
When the expanded bleachers opened in 2006, that area was gone, as we knew it would be, so on Opening Day 2006 we tried a nearby bench in right-center field, but it didn't feel right. So the next day, we moved to the left-field corner, where the short benches were reminiscent of the old right-field perch. It's the same feeling, only in a different location.
I thought this photo (complete with crushed Super Big Gulp cup!) summed up well not only the 2005 season, but the sadness we all felt in losing what had been a part of our lives for many years. The Cubs get credit for doing the reconstruction and expansion of the bleachers in a way that didn't change too much of what it felt like to sit there.