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Cub Tracks steps up to the plate

Hiram Bithorn, kids in spring training parks, a two-headed monster emerges, and other bullets

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MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Last issue, Cub Tracks read between the lines. In this installment we’re looking at Hiram Bithorn, kids playing on Spring Training Fields, and, through our Cubbie-Blue glasses, the present of baseball.

We’re stepping up to the plate, unafraid. I’ve seen this buffet before. Guadalajara will do, Donald Fagen. Round is a shape, too. I might even knock one back. Happy reading. As always * means autoplay on™ (directions to remove for Firefox and Chrome).

Today in baseball history:

  • 1943 - Due to wartime travel restrictions, spring training camps begin opening in northern locations. Some of the locales include Bear Mountain, NY (Dodgers), French Lick Springs, IN (Cubs and White Sox), Asbury Park, NJ (Yankees), Medford, MA (Red Sox), and Wallingford, CT (Braves).
  • 1953 - The Milwaukee Braves become the first franchise shift in baseball since 1903, when Baltimore moved to New York. The Braves have been in Boston for 77 years. Milwaukee assumes Pittsburgh’s place in the Western Division for scheduling purposes and night games. The minor-league Milwaukee Brewers move to Toledo.
  • 1958 - In a move to change their image, the Dodgers announce that clown Emmett Kelly will not perform in 1958.
  • 1984 - White Sox coach Charlie Lau, renowned hitting instructor, dies at age 50 after a long bout with cancer. Lau, whose major league average was .255, earned his fame as the Royals batting coach from 1971-78, where his star pupil was George Brett.
  • 1985 - Commissioner Peter Ueberroth reinstates Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Major League Baseball banned the two Hall of Famers from associating due to their employment with Atlantic City casinos.
  • 1990 - Players and owners reach a new collective bargaining agreement that will end the 32-day lockout of spring training camps. Highlights of the deal include increasing the clubs’ contributions to the players’ pension fund, raising the minimum major league salary to $100,000, and a compromise on salary arbitration that leaves 17 percent of players with between two and three years of major league experience eligible.
  • 2009 - The Cubs announce the team will retire its fifth number when 31 will be set aside on May 3 in honor of both Fergie Jenkins (1966-73, 1982-83) and Greg Maddux (1986-92, 2004-06). The hurlers will join Ron Santo (#10), Ernie Banks (#14), Ryne Sandberg (#23), and Billy Williams (#26) in being honored by the Chicago club.
  • Cubs birthdays: Jimmy Callahan, Hi Bithorn*, Dick Littlefield, Fernando Rodney.

*Hiram Bithorn was the first Puerto-Rican-born player in the major leagues. He played for two years with the Cubs, did a two-year stint in the Armed Forces, played another year with the Cubs and finished with the White Sox. He was the property of the Pirates for a time in 1947, and the Sox selected him from the waiver wire.

I’m sure most of you recognize his name, especially if you’ve ever watched Caribbean League play, as the park in San Juan is named after him. The Montreal Expos played there part-time for two years.

Here’s a great history of Hiram Bithorn from SABR, should you wish to peruse it. More Bithorn.

His baseball card:

Hiram Bithorn

Cubs news and notes:

Three Cubs players -- Kyle Hendricks, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Montgomery -- were briefly on hand to take in the festivities at Sloan Park.

“We’re out here to hang out with the kids, teach them baseball,” said Emma Hendricks, wife of the Cubs starting pitcher. “It’s so much fun to connect with them and show them that anybody can play baseball and have fun. Girls, boys, anyone.”

  • Carrie Muskat (*): ‘Two-headed monster’ invaluable to Cubs’ arms. Mike Borzello and video coordinator Tommy Hottovy are instrumental in the Cubs’ success.
  • Barry Rozner (Daily Herald {$}): Cubs have no reason to rush on Joe Maddon contract. “...Maddon will enter 2019 on the last year of a deal that will pay him another $6 million.”
  • Patrick Mooney (The Athletic {$}): After free-agent freeze, Cubs have big labor questions and the union is still searching for answers. “...the Major League Baseball Players Association could be gearing up for a labor war.”
  • Golf Channel: Feherty: Jon Lester reveals ‘mound’ talk with coaches [VIDEO]. Lester’s segment debuts at 8 p.m. Monday on Golf Channel.
  • Andy Fry (Chicago Magazine): Did Illinois’ tax rates help land Yu Darvish? “In a lot of cases the best gross deal is not the best net deal for the athlete,” said Robert Raiola.
  • Paul Sullivan (Chicago Tribune* {$}): Cubs’ Jose Quintana in fine form, striking out 8 Indians in Las Vegas. “This is the point where it’s exactly where I want to be,” Quintana said.
  • Mark Gonzales (Chicago Tribune* {$}): Justin Hancock and Anthony Bass making late bids for spot in Cubs bullpen. The latest entry in this ongoing saga has Hancock receiving praise from Joe Maddon and Bass fishing for answers to the “sudden tightness in his side”.
  • Patrick Mooney (The Athletic {$}): Who’s in? Who’s out? Thoughts on a Cubs bullpen that could be ‘as good as anyone’. “You got to put your seat belt on,” said Maddon.
  • Mark Gonzales (Chicago Tribune* {$}): No discomfort as Cubs second baseman Javier Baez returns to action. “I feel great now,” said Baez, who tested his leg running the bases before team workouts. “No more sugar drinks and a lot of water.”
  • Carrie Muskat (*): Kris Bryant reflects on hometown in Vegas return. “It’s been a big evolution from the first time I’ve played here,” Bryant told the media at Cashman Field.
  • Paul Sullivan (Chicago Tribune* {$}): Annual Las Vegas homecoming renews Bryce Harper subplot for Kris Bryant. “I really only hung out with him ( Harper) a couple of times in the offseason,” Bryant said. “He lives on the bad side of Vegas.”

Food for thought:

The last edition of baseball history unpacked. Where to get my books. Thanks for reading.