Welcome back to Historical Heroes and Goats where I help you pass the offseason by taking a walk down memory lane. Thank all of you who voted and chose 2003 as the year to be covered this time around. I took some notes about possible seasons to look at in the future and certainly at least one or two of those seasons not selected this time around will be options for future years.
I’ll try to bring you stories twice a week through the 2003 season. Just like last year, I’ll look at one homestand or one road trip. So you’ll generally get about six games to look back at. I’ll highlight a player, an event or a game itself. Hopefully, you’ll learn a few things about most of the players on the team and get to relive some of what went into a pretty magical season.
It is easy to look back to the 2003 season, very much like the 1984 season, as a crippling disappointment. The analogy I always use for those great Cub seasons from the past was Lucy moving the football away from Charlie Brown just before he tried to kick it. It seemed like this time... this team they’d finally get across the finish line and at very minimum at least get to the World Series after so many years absence. Alas, it was never to be.
Regular readers of my writing know I tend to have a very optimistic view of most things Cub. I’ll apply that here. While seasons like 1984 and 2003 might have ultimately had painful endings, they were endearing seasons. They fueled the hope that maybe one day those of us who long suffered would get to the promised land. But they also brought many new fans into the fold. Sure, that first game your dad or your grandfather or whoever took you to at Wrigley Field may have hooked you. Or maybe it was having Steve Stone explain the game of baseball and tell you what was about to happen. But for many it was those “just missed” seasons. Those seasons helped to grow and cultivate the fanbase.
Without further adieu, let’s turn our attention back to 2003. That year the Cubs hired Dusty Baker. I don’t have to say a lot about Dusty, but in brief, he’d spent 10 seasons as the manager of the Giants. He took them to one World Series and a few other playoff berths. He was regarded as a player’s manager.
Baker was handed a team with a trio of promising young pitchers, all of whom were expected to ascend to stardom in Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. A team very much built around pitching, but one that also featured a still very potent Sammy Sosa and veteran Moises Alou. The Cubs had won just 67 games and finished in fifth place the year before. But, after bringing in Dusty, there was a sense that maybe this team would be different.
Opening Day - March 31: Cubs 15 at Mets 2 (1-0)
Moises Alou (listed on Baseball Reference as Moises Rojas Alou - how about that for some great baseball names?) was the left fielder for the 2003 Chicago Cubs. Alou was drafted by the Pirates with the second overall pick in 1986. He did briefly reach the big leagues with the Pirates in 1990 for two games before being traded to the Expos. 2003 was his second for the Cubs and was his age 36 season in the major leagues. He was signed as a free agent by the Cubs following the 2001 season and would be paid $25 million over three seasons. Moises had a career in which he made six All-Star appearances, seven times he received MVP votes including two third place finishes, and two silver slugger awards. Moises was brought to the Cubs to provide veteran leadership. But he was not by any means washed up. He would make two of those All-Star appearances in 2004 and 2005. That 2004 season was his finest as a Cub. He hit 39 home runs and drove in 106 runs. Moises would slug 332 home runs, drive in 1287 runs and amass 2,134 hits in 1,942 career games.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero - Moises Alou (.124). A single, a double, two walks, two runs scored and two RBI on opening day. Not a bad start.
- Hero - Corey Patterson (.100). Tough crowd award on opening day. Corey had four hits in six at bats. He slugged two homers and drove in seven runs in maybe the finest game of his career.
- Sidekick - Alex Gonzalez (.088). A single, a double and a walk in six plate appearances.
- Billy Goat - Damian Miller. (-.062). The only player on the team with a negative WPA, Damian was hitless in six at bats. Ouch.
- Goat/Sidekick - Troy O’Leary/Eric Karros (.000). This game got out of hand quickly and a whopping eight Cubs registered exactly .000. I dropped two pitchers who threw scoreless innings, one hitter who had a hit, two walks and three runs scored, another runner who was hitless in one bat but scored a run and a batter that had a hit in his only at bat.
Game 2 - April 2: Cubs 1 at Mets 4 (1-1)
Matt Clement got the ball to start game two. Matt came to the Cubs in spring training of 2002 in a trade with the Marlins. The Cubs received Matt and Antonio Alfonseca for four players including Julian Tavarez and Dontrelle Willis. Matt was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 3rd round of the 1993 amateur draft. Matt first reached the Major Leagues with the Padres in 1998.Matt made one All-Star appearance in 2005 as a member of the Red Sox. He made 238 appearances across nine big league seasons and started all but two of them.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Alex Gonzalez (.094). Alex had a double and a walk in four plate appearances. He scored the team’s only run.
- Hero: Joe Borowski (.048). Joe pitched three innings of scoreless relief, allowing only one hit and striking out three.
- Sidekick: Mark Guthrie (.022). Three batters, three strikeouts.
- Billy Goat: Matt Clement (-.287). Matt recorded only nine outs in his season debut. In that time he allowed five hits, two walks, two home runs and four runs, three earned. He also had three wild pitches.
- Goat: Damian Miller (-.112). Three more at bats, still no hits for the Cubs starting catcher.
- Kid: Mark Bellhorn (-.090). Mark was hitless in four at bats.
Game 3 - April 3: Cubs 6 at Mets 3 (2-1)
Mark Prior. The can’t miss superstar. He was taken with the second pick of the 2001 draft by the Cubs (he’d also been taken in the first round of the 1998 draft by the Yankees, but chose to go to college). Mark was starting his first full season after having reached the majors the year before and finishing seventh in rookie of the year voting after recording a 3.32 ERA over 116⅔ innings. Mark’s career would be derailed by injuries and he only ended up making 106 starts over five seasons in the major leagues. He had a lifetime ERA of 3.51. Mark was definitely one of the more frustrating chapters in Cubs history. So much promise.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Mark Prior (.148). Mark threw six innings in his first outing. He struck out seven and walked two. He allowed four hits and one run.
- Hero: Sammy Sosa (.146). Sammy had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances, but the key here was he drove in three runs.
- Sidekick: Alex Gonzalez (.140). Alex completed a strong first series with two hits and two runs scored in four at bats.
- Billy Goat: Eric Karros (-.058). Eric was hitless in four at bats.
- Goat: Corey Patterson (-.029). Corey did have one hit, but he struck out twice.
- Kid: Mark Bellhorn (-.024). Mark had just one walk in four plate appearances. He also struck out twice.
Game 4 - April 4: Cubs 9 at Reds 10 (2-2)
Shawn Estes was the starting pitcher in this one. Estes was originally drafted by the Mariners with the 11th overall pick in the 1991 draft. He first reached the majors in 1995 with the Giants. In 2003, Shawn was in his age 30 season, his first as a Cub. He was signed as a free agent following the 2002 season and this would be his only season as a Cub. Shawn was an all-star in the 1997 season, his first full season in the majors. He would pitch in parts of 13 seasons for seven different teams. He appeared in 283 games, 281 of them as a starting pitcher. He threw 1,678⅓ career innings.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Lenny Harris (.266). Lenny hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of this one to tie the game at 9-9. He had only two plate appearances in the game.
- Hero: Moises Alou (.100). Moises had three hits and a walk in five plate appearances. He scored one run.
- Sidekick: Alex Gonzalez (.094). Alex stayed hot with two doubles and a walk in five plate appearances. He drove in one and scored one.
- Billy Goat: Shawn Estes (-.325). Shawn managed to get through four innings despite allowing eight hits, three walks, two home runs and eight runs (four earned).
- Goat: Dave Veres (-.236). Dave allowed a hit, hit a batter and allowed the decisive run.
- Kid: Corey Patterson (-.221). Corey had one hit and scored a run in five at bats.
Game 5 - April 5: Cubs 9 at Reds 7 (3-2)
Paul Bako was the primary backup catcher for the 2003 Cubs. Paul was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the sixth round of the 1990 draft. He reached the majors for the first time in 1998 for the Tigers. He played in 789 games over 12 seasons and lived the nomadic life of a back-up catcher. He played for 11 different teams and never played for any one team for more than two seasons. He came to the Cubs in November of 2002 in a trade with the Brewers for a player to be named later. The Cubs were one of the two season teams for him.
Three Hereos/Three Goats:
Superhero: Paul Bako (.416). One of only three four-hit games in Paul’s career. He also had six of 195 career RBI in this one. Among his four hits was a triple which seems like a good story waiting to happen. Paul had 11 triples in his big league career.
Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.141). Five consecutive games on a hero podium to start the season. This one was a four hit game (one of eight in his career) including two doubles. He also had a walk, drove in a run, and scored a run.
Sidekick: Corey Patterson (.101). Corey had a hit and a walk in five plate appearances. He scored two runs.
Billy Goat: Kyle Farnsworth (-.202). Kyle recorded two outs. He also allowed two hits, a walk and two runs. And he was successfully credited with a hold.
Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.116). I almost didn’t want to cover this season for fear of having to spell this name more than a few times. Mark actually had two hits and scored a run in this one. He batted six times though and grounded into a double play once.
Kid: Moises Alou (-.079). Moises had just one hit in six at bats. He scored two runs. He lands here after we disregard the hitting of starter Carlos Zambrano who had a hittless in three at bats with two strike outs day.
Game 6 - April 6: Cubs 4 Reds 5 (3-3)
Mark Guthrie (whose baseball-reference picture still shows him as a Cub) was originally drafted by the Cardinals in 1986 but didn’t sign. He was then drafted again by the Twins in the seventh round the following year. Mark first reached the majors in 1989 for the Twins. Mark would go on to pitch in 765 games, including 43 starts, over a 15 year major league career. He pitched for eight different teams. He had two different stints with the Cubs (1999/2000 and 2003). He finished his career with 65 appearances for the Cubs in 2003 in his age 37 season.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
Superhero: Mark Grudzielanek (.081). Mark had two hits, including a double, and a run scored in five at bats.
Hero: Hee Seop Choi (.078). Choi had a hit and a walk in three plate appearances.
Sidekick: Corey Patterson (.020). Corey had two hits, including a double, in four plate appearances. He drove in a run and scored another.
Billy Goat: Mark Guthrie (-.229). Mark retired the first two batters he faced.. The third batter he faced hit a solo home run that turned out to be the game winner.
Goat: Moises Alou (-.144). Alou was hitless in four at bats.
Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.135). Sammy actually had two walks and a run scored in five plate appearances. He lands here because he grounded into a game-ending double play with the tying run on first.
The Cubs had a 3-3 start to the season, perfectly alternating wins and losses. The Cubs would then return home for a 10-game homestand against the Expos, Pirates and Reds. That’ll be where we pick up the story when we return. Until then, thanks for reading. Please share your memories of some of these 2003 players and games in the comments.