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An All-Star Tale

Rather than post yet another analysis of where the current Cubs are batting in the lineup tonight, or discuss why or why not I think Z should or shouldn't pitch, I thought I'd tell you a story about a long-ago All-Star Game, one which many of you may be too young to remember, and the tale of a Cub who played in it... and how that might have ruined that season.

It was thirty-one years ago, July 19, 1977, oddly enough, the last time the game was played at Yankee Stadium. Even more eerily, that Cubs team -- a bunch of overachievers -- had hit the break, as this year's team has, nineteen games over .500 (54-35) and in first place by 3.5 games.

The '77 Cubs, as I mentioned, were playing a bit over their heads, and unlike this year's team, had only three All-Stars -- pitchers Rick Reuschel, who was 12-3, 2.17 at the break and Bruce Sutter, in his first full season as Cubs closer, who had a 1.15 ERA and 20 saves in the first half, and center fielder Jerry Morales, enjoying the best year of his career at age 28; he hit the break hitting .331/.391/.502 with 24 doubles and 52 RBI.

Morales entered the game in the bottom of the sixth, replacing starting CF George Foster. And in the top of the eighth, he came to bat for the first -- and what turned out to be the only -- time in an All-Star Game. Yankees pitcher Sparky Lyle was on the mound for the AL, and he promptly hit Morales in the knee with a pitch. Lyle wasn't a headhunter -- he faced 5794 batters in his career and hit only 14 during the regular season -- so it was just a pitch that got away.

At first it didn't seem like a big deal. Morales stayed in the game and eventually scored. But the knee started to bother him and his second half performance started to decline -- he hit only .218/.269/.352 after the All-Star break and finally was shut down for the season on September 15; the knee injury had been compounded by back trouble and a finger injury suffered when making a catch in CF.

After the '77 season Morales was traded to the Cardinals and was never quite the same player. Remembering that the '70s were a lower-offense era than today, Morales' numbers up to 1977 weren't that dissimilar to Mark DeRosa's -- a guy who could hit for average, draw a few walks, hit a few doubles and HR. He was also an excellent center fielder. But his career was ruined by that pitch.

Tonight, of the eight Cubs chosen, two (Alfonso Soriano and Kerry Wood) won't play due to injury and another -- Ryan Dempster -- likely won't pitch because he had a long outing two days ago. As for the other five -- please don't get hurt! Enjoy the game. I'll post a game thread later this afternoon.