John Baker was a Cub for only one season. He got a significant amount of playing time (68 games, 208 plate appearances) for someone who hit so poorly (.194/.273/.231, an OPS+ of 42). He was below replacement level, according to his baseball-reference page -- minus 1.0 bWAR. He was so awful in his first 15 games as a Cub (4-for-36, one double, two walks, 15 strikeouts -- seriously, many pitchers hit better) that I thought he might enter the pantheon of Worst Cubs Ever.
But then he started hitting, a little, at least. In 26 games from June 8 to July 30, Baker hit .282/.386/.338 (21-for-70, four doubles, 11 walks), which is at least passable.
And during a game that began July 29 and finished in the wee hours the next day, he did something that will forever cement him in Cubs lore and in our hearts. You all know, of course, what I'm talking about -- his appearance on the mound in the 16th inning of a game against the Rockies at Wrigley Field.
Let's review that game. The game went past midnight, no one having scored since the fourth inning, when Emilio Bonifacio had hit a two-run homer that tied the game 3-3. It was, incidentally, Bonifacio's last game as a Cub. He sat out the next day in anticipation of the trade that happened July 31 sending him to the Braves.
The Cubs ran through seven of the eight relievers then on the team -- Carlos Villanueva, Wesley Wright, Justin Grimm, Brian Schlitter, Blake Parker, James Russell (also making his final Cubs appearance) and Pedro Strop. Hector Rondon had thrown in four of the previous five games and thus was deemed unavailable that night.
So manager Rick Renteria turned to Baker to throw the top of the 16th inning. He ran a 1-1 count on Charlie Culberson before getting him to hit a foul popup to Anthony Rizzo. Then he walked Drew Stubbs on a 3-2 pitch. The Rockies had scored three runs off Edwin Jackson in the first inning (bet you didn't remember he started this game!) and Stubbs was just the 14th baserunner the Rox had had in the 15 innings since -- Cubs relievers did an outstanding job in this game.
Baker threw one pitch to Cristhian Adames. Adames grounded to Arismendy Alcantara, who started an easy 4-6-3 double play. I still remember Baker pumping his fist after that. He'd had an inning better than many closers!
Naturally, Baker was scheduled to lead off the last of the 16th. He walked. Bonifacio, in his final Cubs at-bat, sacrificed Baker to second. Alcantara was hit by a pitch and Rizzo singled, but only to shallow left-center, loading the bases.
That left things up to Starlin Castro, and Castro hit a medium-deep line drive to right. Baker slid into the plate ahead of the throw, causing a wild celebration at 1:36 a.m. July 30, the latest-ending game in Wrigley Field history, in front of maybe 2,000 people who had stayed to the bitter end. It made Baker the winning pitcher, too, the first Cubs position player ever to do that.
John Baker seems like a really cool dude. His baseball abilities as a player are middling at best, but he seems to have a real understanding of the game; pitchers appeared to enjoy throwing to him and he was a team leader. The Cubs went 24-27 in games he started. He's in camp with the Mariners as a non-roster guy, trying to hang on to one more year as a player at age 34. He might make it, but I hope Theo & Co. consider bringing him back into the Cubs organization when he's done playing. I think he'd make a fine pitching coach or manager someday.
And for now, I wish him well. The 2014 Cubs as a team won't be well remembered years from now, but the John Baker Game certainly will.