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He's Not Dead, Jim

Scene in Jim Hendry's office, late in spring training:

SCOUT: Hey Jim! I just saw this guy play for the A's, he's fantastic, you gotta go get him!

HENDRY: Who is he?

SCOUT: Frankie or Freddie something-or-other, I forget, lemme get my notes...

(shuffles through papers, pulls out a paper that has mustard and ketchup stains on it)

SCOUT: ... Byman or Bynum or something like that. He hits for power! He's really fast! He plays a bunch of positions!

HENDRY: Anything else?

SCOUT: Well, he clogged the bases with a couple of walks, but don't tell Dusty that. He's really fast!

HENDRY: OK, I'll get him. We got a million pitchers. Here, gimme a quarter, I'll do some coin flips to decide who to trade for him.

Now, it probably didn't happen quite exactly in that way (though there is a Steve Rosenbloom Q-&-A with Hendry in today's paper in which Hendry says:
There's a misconception that the company doesn't care about winning, the Tribune doesn't give us enough to win with, they don't care as long as the place is packed. I have found that nothing could be further from the truth. Our budget is very fair to compete. I think three or four of the last World Series champions don't have any bigger budget than we have. I've never been told "No" in the middle of the year.
So who are you going to believe on this? A bunch of people hunched over their basement keyboards, or the guy who actually works there?

In any case, making trades for guys like Freddie Bynum based on seeing games like this one or this one, where he Bynum played really, really well (and in the second one, he played shortstop), in the blazing sunshine of Arizona where guys like Scott McClain have put up Hall of Fame-type numbers, is very dangerous, because when those sorts of players leave the Valley of the Sun, often times their bats shrivel up. No, I said BATS.

Bynum, as you all know, has been mostly a disaster for the 2006 Cubs (not that the rest of the team hasn't been the same), but last night he had the major league game of his life (three walks, a single, two runs scored, and turned a nifty double play), and the Cubs inexplicably won a game they figured to lose big, 8-3 over the Braves, avoiding a season sweep and really costing the Braves big-time in their late-season push to squeeze out another playoff berth (they're now 5.5 games out with 19 left).

It wasn't just Bynum, of course -- Derrek Lee had his first multihomer game of the season, one of them a three-run shot (after Bynum and Aramis Ramirez had clogged up the bases with walks), and it's very, very good to see D-Lee starting, at last, to hit the way he was a year ago; this bodes well for his performance potential in 2007. Jacque Jones also hit a three-run homer; though this doesn't make him a good player, it does put him on target to have an utterly predictable season, given his track record.

Now, Bynum's game-of-his-life doesn't mean he should be playing next year, next week, or even today -- and in fact, if Dusty Baker wanted to be consistent, he'd bench Bynum today after he drew those three base-clogging walks. Remember, the original Baker base-clogging quote stated that "walks just clog the bases for people who can run", so maybe he thinks that if Bynum walks, he can then steal bases. What difference does that make? GETTING ON BASE IN THE FIRST PLACE is the important thing.

I know, I'm preaching to the choir here. What's most amazing about Bynum's night is that the three walks are one-third of his entire season total, in over 120 plate appearances. Do not expect this to be repeated.

The other amazing thing about last night's offensive outburst was that it came off John Smoltz, who had beaten the Cubs early and often throughout his career. According to Braves manager Bobby Cox:

"He tweaked (the groin) a little bit and got some balls up," Cox said. "Obviously, it bothered him. He didn't have good location. He's had this before and it usually goes away. Tonight, it didn't."
OK, whatever works. Rich Hill threw reasonably well again, though he had to be yanked in the sixth inning after throwing an unreasonable 120 pitches (80 strikes, at least his control was still good), and the bullpen was able to keep the Braves offense down. Bob Howry made his 76th appearance -- nine more will break the club record.

Finally, back to OBP for a moment. What impressed me most about last night's telecast was the fact that Bob Brenly went on for quite some time about how getting on base, by hit OR walk, is the most important thing, and how the Cubs under Baker simply haven't done this. I don't think he was lobbying for the manager's job by saying this, either -- I think he was simply stating the obvious, and it's about time we heard this on a Cub telecast.