Watching the orange- and red- and yellow-clad day camp groups filing out of the upper deck in the middle innings of today's game, I mentioned to Mike I was reminded of a similar event in my life, forty years ago this summer.
I had come with the day camp I attended to a weekday game, and I remember being upset that they made us leave before the game was over.
It was no wonder that day: the Mets beat the Cubs 14-0 on July 29, 1965, and that was a 112-loss Mets team. And I hadn't remembered till I looked it up, that the 14-0 loss was the first game of a doubleheader!
But that Cubs team had two (and hopefully, someday, three) future Hall of Famers, and most days (not that one, though) you could go to the park feeling that Ernie, or Billy, or Ronnie, might hit a homer or two and the Cubs would at least make a ballgame of it.
The Cubs have had many bad teams since then, as you all well know. The 1974 team lost 96 games -- but you knew they were going to suck, after they'd finally broken up the late-60's gang the previous off-season.
The 1980 team lost 98 games, and they'd have lost more the next year if not for the strike. But we knew those teams had no talent -- guys like Mike Tyson and Ken Reitz and Steve Dillard played key roles, and even those teams had their moments -- I remember this 1981 game in particular, where the 11-36 Cubs played the 34-18 Dodgers and Fernando Valenzuela at the height of Fernandomania, and gave him the worst beating of his career to that date, with the crowning blow being a three-run homer by Tyson, who only hit two that year.
And there were the 1994 and 1997 and 1999 and 2000 and 2002 teams, 94+ loss teams (or would have been in 1994 if not for the next strike) all; but again, we knew ahead of time that those teams weren't really going to be any good. The most similar of that group to this year was the '99 squad, which started well and then quit on Jim Riggleman.
Which raises the question of whether this team has quit on Dusty Baker, and I'll address that later.
I mention all of this because in forty years of watching the Cubs on a nearly everyday basis via TV, and for the last twenty-five or so on a nearly everyday basis in person (and since 1997, pretty much every day), I don't think I've ever seen as poor an exhibition of baseball as I saw in today's pathetic 8-2 loss to the Reds.
There's no other way around it. It was pathetic. Barring the biggest miracle in baseball history, this season's playoff hopes have gone the way of Jody Gerut -- that is, here for a couple of weeks and then gone.
It was a nice sunny day; a cold front went through overnight with some brief booming thunderstorms, and then it cleared, with a gentle breeze off the lake, and a game-time temperature of a pleasant 81, instead of yesterday's 90.
That idyllic image was shattered on Rich Hill's first pitch of the game to Ryan Freel, which was sent into the family section for a 1-0 Reds lead. With homer machine Eric Milton on the mound, I figured one run wouldn't win the game.
And when Michael Barrett homered in the second to tie the game, I figured Milton's number was up and the Cubs would start bashing him around the yard.
Wrong! The next fifteen Cub hitters made out. In the meantime, the Reds put up a seven-run inning, and I'm going to take the blame. I had to go over to left field to drop off some tickets for tomorrow's game that I'd gotten for friends of my friend Ron, and I was leaving them with Tim in LF. I hadn't been to LF during a game since the 1990 All-Star Game, when I had my ticket there.
I did this right when the fourth-inning walkathon was happening. When I got back to my seat, I asked Mike, "Have they thrown a strike since I left?" He just shook his head.
Ten walks. That is simply unacceptable for any major league team, and six in one inning is bordering on the ridiculous. The only other time I saw a team walk six batters in one inning was this game, a White Sox-Red Sox game started by Charlie Hough, a knuckleballer, for heaven's sake, and they were consecutive walks -- and the White Sox staff walked fifteen batters that day and won the game anyway, 7-6.
I love Retrosheet -- don't you? The play-by-play of that game is well worth reading, incidentally. Check it out.
Someone who was in that game -- Wade Boggs -- was at Wrigley Field today, along with Ryne Sandberg, to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", which Boggs did in a pretty mediocre Harry Caray-style voice. By the time he sang, half the crowd had left, and most of the rest left afterwards. In fact, there was a pretty large exodus after the Reds' fourth inning, about the earliest I've seen in recent years.
Incidentally, when Wayne Messmer announced that Boggs and Sandberg were singing, he called Sandberg a "future Hall-of-Famer", which prompted Jeff (who came anyway, even though he was supposed to be housepainting today) to say, "Guess Joe Morgan skipped the induction ceremony for nothing."
Gallows humor. That's what we've been reduced to.
There's no reason to go over any further details of today's game -- the bullpen did throw five hitless innings after all was lost, but so what. We sat there basically in stunned silence, although there were some younger guys behind us who spent most of the day spewing venom at Corey Patterson, Dusty Baker, and just about any other target they could find.
Speaking of Patterson -- I have to agree with Chuck today. Patterson's attitude is, as it seems to have been from day one, that he's entitled to a major league job without having to work hard, without having to listen to instruction, and without having to make adjustments when situations call for them.
Patterson has talent. But he's got to go. Today, he regressed again; we were flipping a coin on his fifth-inning at-bat when it got to two strikes -- looking or swinging?
I said, "What difference does it make?" It didn't. He looked at strike three. Trade him NOW while he still has some value. He'll be 26 on Saturday. That's way beyond "potential".
Mike and I got into a discussion about Baker. I still think there's no particular reason to fire him at this time. This is Jim Hendry's team -- he's the one who constructed it and gave it to Baker. Yes, I admit -- as I said to Howard, who didn't come today but called right after the game, and who disagreed with me -- this team was likely a .500 ballclub who, with a few breaks, might have contended. And they did, actually, for four months, with the wheels not only fallen off now, but spinning wildly down Addison Street.
What has to be done for the rest of this season is for the ballplayers themselves to pick up and play for professional pride, if nothing else, at least give the paying customers a decent show for the money, and maybe try to be that .500 ballclub. Dusty Baker may be a convenient scapegoat -- it's way easier to fire one guy than 25 -- but he is not the problem with this team. I expect him to be here at least through the end of his contract.
Nor do I think the players have quit on Baker -- some of them aren't really that good, and guys like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez desperately need days off. I do NOT believe Aramis is dogging it -- if he appears to be, I believe it's because the nagging hammy injury is slowing him down -- and why on Earth Dusty left Lee and Ramirez in the game today after the sixth inning is beyond me. Lee can probably barely get out of bed these days after carrying a baseball team on his back for four months. Give the poor guy a day off.
There are many things that can be done to improve the ballclub over the winter -- you guys have already started the discussion in the diaries (and remember, BCB isn't going anywhere in the off-season -- I'll be posting here every day), and I'm sure I'll hear an earful of them from Phil on Sunday (and no, Phil, Rich Hill isn't the answer either), but right now, if I were Hendry, I'd be on the phone trying to get whatever I could for Matt Lawton and Jeromy Burnitz. The Yankees could be interested in either one of them. Lawton's a free agent and gone, and though there's an option on Burnitz, I wouldn't bother with it. I believe the infield will return intact -- though as you all have debated, there isn't much doubt that though Michael Barrett is a good offensive player, his defense (and I'm not talking about fielding percentage, I'm talking about his game-calling ability and ability to throw out runners) leaves us really missing Damian Miller.
That leaves perhaps a completely new outfield and new bullpen, and maybe a starting pitcher or two. There ought to be 10-12 new faces on the 2006 twenty-five man roster.
Know what Howard signed off his call with me by saying?
"They'll probably win three of four from the Cardinals."
That's unlikely, of course. But two weeks ago, did you see an eight-game losing streak in the wings?
This is why we love the game -- because it is so unpredictable, because each and every day you go to the ballpark, you might see some historic event, or some quirky little thing, or see someone's stupid sign (Today, I saw one that said "HERE'S YUR SIGN" -- spelled exactly that way. Can't figure that one out.), and enjoy baseball, the greatest sport ever created.
In our disappointment and frustration, let's not ever forget that.