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Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: 2003, part 18

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A two-game stop at home, then a three-game road trip.

Kyle Farnsworth
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Welcome back. Last time, we covered a five game road trip in which the Cubs won three games. Given that the opposition was the Braves and Marlins, that’s a pretty good trip. Alas, the baseball gods didn’t do the Cubs any favor. They actually dropped another 1½ games in the standings and were now in third place and four and a half games out. The Cubs had lost their starting center fielder in Corey Patterson. With Troy O’Leary and Tom Goodwin on the bench there was outfield depth, but Patterson was one of the more productive hitters on the team.

The Cubs were fading and though even a .500-ish season would have been a step forward for a team that lost 95 games the year, that still seemed disappointing for a team that played at a 90-win pace for the first two months of the season. The team needed a boost, particularly in the lineup.

That boost came in time for the game on July 23. It came in the form of a trade. At the time of that linked article (November 2014), Josh ranked this trade as the seventh best trade in Cubs history. I suspect at minimum the Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta trades by the current regime would effect that list. But regardless of how you cut it, this was a monumentally effective trade. The Cubs acquire Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback.

As Josh noted in that article, if you aren’t old enough to remember, third base had been an abyss for decades for the Cubs. A few good months or even a really great minor league career dubbed you as the best Cub third baseman since Ron Santo. For those of you who maybe didn’t see Ramirez play, make no mistake, he would go on to be one of the best third basemen in Cubs history. Kenny Lofton filled the hole in center field more than ably. I for one will always think that Kenny was criminally underappreciated. I don’t think necessarily that he should have been a Hall of Famer. But I also did not think he was a guy who should basically merit no consideration at all. We’ll talk more about him later, but he had an impact on the game and I’ve seen lesser player receive more votes than Kenny did.

As for the guys the Cubs traded back? We’ve already discussed that Hernandez’ best days were behind him. The Pirates were the third team he played for in ‘03 and he didn’t hang around in the majors all that much longer after that year. Bobby Hill was one of the Cubs touted prospects that never really became much of anything. I barely even remember Bruback’s name. This was a heist. Let’s see if it paid immediate dividends on the field.

Game 100, July 23: Cubs 0, Phillies 3 (50-50)

For some reason, in both TV shows and in baseball, the 100th game seems to take on some added significance. At least with TV shows, it used to be heavily tied into your ability to get your show into syndication and thus provide an extra stream of income, particularly residual income. In baseball? It’s just a nice round number in a long stream of games. The only real significance to this game was the presence of new third baseman Ramirez and new center fielder Kenny Lofton. Both played in Pittsburgh on July 22 and then started for the Cubs in a night game on July 23.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Grudzielanek (.039). Mark batted second and had a three hit game that included two doubles. This is essentially the entirety of the good news in this one.
  • Hero: Mark Gutrhie (.016). Other Mark threw a scoreless eighth inning with the Cubs trailing already 3-0.
  • Sidekick: Trenidad Hubbard (.015). Hubbard had a pinch hit walk in the seventh, one of three walks the Cubs drew. That supplemented four hits.
  • Billy Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.138). Sammy was hitless in four at bats with two strikeouts.
  • Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.128). WPA and Heroes and Goats didn’t love Kenny Lofton with the Cubs. But this one is no mistake. The Cubs new lead-off hitter was hitless in four at bats and struck out once.
  • Kid: Aramis Ramirez (-.115). Ramirez batted sixth. He was hitless in four at bats. But hey, he didn’t strikeout.

Game 101, July 24: Cubs 6, Philles 14 (50-51)

At least there was some offense in this one. But Kerry Wood was battered for eight runs in five innings of work. Three relievers each allowed two runs as the Phillies pounded the Cubs highlighted by a Bobby Abreu grand slam off of Wood in the sixth. This was actually a 3-1 Cubs lead heading into the sixth. But Wood allowed five hits and two walks in the sixth without retiring a single batter. That doesn’t do anything good for the ERA. The Cubs dropped their third straight and were swept on the brief two game homestand. That pushed them 5½ games out of first.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.088). Sammy had only one hit in four at bats. That hit was a two-run homer. I’ve mentioned it a few times. People were prone to saying Sammy piled up a lot of numbers in blow outs. Here’s a home run he hit in a game the Cubs lost 14-6. But here’s the thing. He hit the home run in the first inning and it gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. At the time it was hit, it mattered.
  • Hero: Moises Alou (.057). Alou had a hit and two walks in four plate appearances.
  • Sidekick: Hee-Seop Choi (.041). In the bottom of the seventh, Phillies starter Vincent Padilla tired. He allowed two single and then Choi hit a three-run homer to cut the deficit to 10-6. Choi didn’t start this game, but did pick up two at bats in it.
  • Billy Goat: Kerry Wood (-.496). The team gave him a 3-1 lead heading to the sixth when things fell apart. In total he was credited with five innings of work allowing seven hits, two home runs, four walks and eight runs. He did strike out nine.
  • Goat: Eric Karros (-.075). Karros was hitless in three at bats before being lifted from the game. He struck out once.
  • Kid: Kyle Farnsworth (-.073). Kyle followed Kerry into the sixth inning. He inherited runners at first and second and a 6-3 game. He got the first batter to fly out to center but then walked Padilla and the next hitters, future Cub Marlon Byrd. He then allowed a two-run single. He left with the Cubs trailing 9-3. He was charged with two runs allowed.

Game 102, July 25: Cubs 5 at Astros 3 (51-51)

Moises Alou played for the Astros from 1998 until 2001. He signed with the Cubs before the 2002 season. While a member of the Astros, Moises hit 95 home runs in three seasons. By wRC+, his 1998 and 1999 seasons were the two best of his career (158 and 154). Alou lead the offense in this win with three hits. One of those hits was an eighth inning two-run homer that made it 5-3. Carlos Zambrano also hit a two-run game tying homer in the seventh inning.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Moises Alou (.430). Alou also started the scoring for the Cubs with an RBI single in the sixth to trim a 3-0 deficit.
  • Hero: Joe Borowski (.113). Zambrano left with one out in the ninth after allowing a single and Borowski retired the only two batters he faced to notch the save, his 18th.
  • Sidekick: Carlos Zambrano (.083). 8⅓ innings of work, five hits, one walk, seven strike outs. All three runs allowed were unearned following an error by Aramis Ramirez that would have ended the inning without any runs scoring.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.141). Alex was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.136). Ramirez had one hit in four at bats.
  • Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.097). Sammy had one walk in four plate appearances. He struck out in the other three.

Game 103, July 26: Cubs 1 at Astros 3 (51-52)

Mark Prior missed another outing and this time it was Juan Cruz who picked up the start. Cruz started a handful of games for the Cubs in every season between 2001 and 2003. He started six of them for the Cubs in 2003. Juan was actually a relatively effective starter in his career with a 4.17 ERA over 38 starts and 196⅓ innings. He didn’t pitch badly in this one, but the Cubs managed only two hits and a walk in the game and so he was the loser.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Aramis Ramirez (.080). Ramirez had two hits including a triple in three at bats. He scored the Cubs only run.
  • Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.029). Like everyone else on the Cubs that day, Alex was hitless. But he reached on an error with two outs in the fifth allowing Ramirez to score from third.
  • Sidekick: Kyle Farnsworth (.026). Nice bounce back performance by Kyle after a rough outing. He pitched a perfect inning and struck out two.
  • Billy Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.113). Hitless in four at bats for Kenny.
  • Goat: Eric Karros (-.111). Karros was hitless in three at bats and struck out once.
  • Sidekick: Mark Grudzielanek (-.093). Hitless in four at bats. Once again batted second.

Game 104, July 27: Cubs 5 at Astros 3 (52-52)

Kenny Lofton played in parts of 17 big league seasons. He was drafted with the seventh pick in the 17th round of the 1988 draft by the Houston Astros. He did eventually play 20 games with the Astros in 1991, his first season in the big leagues. But then he moved to Cleveland where he had his greatest success. He played 10 seasons with the Indians and had a line for them of .300/.375/.426. He scored 975 runs and stole 452 bases for them.

In all, he plated in 2,103 games in the big leagues for 11 teams. He had 9,235 career plate appearances and score 1,528 career run. His career line is .299/.372/.423. He stole 622 bases. He was a six time All-Star selection. He won four straight gold gloves between 1993 and 1996. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1992. He received MVP votes in four different seasons, including a top five finish in 1994 when he lead all AL position players in bWAR (7.2). He is 15th on the all-time stolen base list. He had six seasons with 50+ stolen bases (two with 70 plus), and seven more with 20+. Nine of the 14 men with more stolen bases than Kenny are in the Hall. By Total Zone Runs as an outfielder, he ranks 15th all-time. Kenny had 116 career triples and 130 career home runs. He was not a one-dimensional player.

He received 18 votes in the 2013 balloting and then dropped off of the ballot with less than five percent. Of the 19 players who finished ahead of him that year in the voting, eight have been elected to the hall. A good handful of the others have been associated with steroids. I feel certain that Kenny and fellow Indians teammate Sandy Almora (who got two less votes than Kenny in his same one year on the ballot) will receive further consideration at some time down the road from the veterans committee of the Hall. To put things in perspective, Kenny had more WAR and more peak WAR than Edgar Martinez. I recognize that WAR already accounts for position, but this is comparing a center fielder to a corner infielder/DH. I absolutely support Edgar Martinez being in the Hall, but Kenny should have at least come very close. He also compares very favorably to Tim Raines. Kenny suffered from falling off of the ballot before he had time to build the kind of support that Martinez and Raines eventually did.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Kyle Farnsworth (.163). Kyle faced five batter in the seventh and eighth innings with the Cubs leading 5-3. He tried all five of them, including one by strikeout.
  • Hero: Eric Karros (.151). Karros had two hits and a walk. One of his hits was a solo homer. He also struck out once.
  • Sidekick: Kenny Lofton (.143). In this one, Kenny showed Cub fans all that he was capable of. He had three hits in the game, including a double and a triple. He also stole a base and struck out once.
  • Billy Goat: Ramon Martinez (-.130). Hitless in four at bats and struck out twice. The cherry on top was grounding into a double play.
  • Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.069). Ramirez was hitless in four at bats.
  • Sidekick: Dave Veres (-.046). Dusty Baker got Shawn Estes out of this game via a pinch hitter with two outs in the top of the sixth with a 4-2 lead. Veres followed and allowed a solo homer to the first batter he faced. He allowed a second hit in the inning, but no further damage. He struck out one.

Obviously, I developed an affection for Kenny. I’d always appreciated his performance from his days with the Indians, but I thought he made enormous contributions for the 2003 Cubs. Those contributions have lead me to have support for his career even now, years after his retirement.

The trade, as good as it was, didn’t pay immediate dividends. The Cubs went out on the road and dropped three of five. This stretch of games was an odd one. 2003 was one of the years when the oddity of three different series in a week showed up. That week in July, the Cubs played two in Atlanta, two at home against the Phillies and then three in Houston.

Winning two in Houston was a big deal though. One of the teams the Cubs were chasing was the first place Astros. With this group of five games though, the Cubs had gone from a team that was 36-27 after winning the first two games in Baltimore June 10 and 11 to a team that was just 52-52. That stretch of games produced a 16-25 record (.390 wining percentage, 63 win pace).

The Cubs finished the series in Houston 4½ games out first with just 58 games remaining in the season. They were in third place, two games behind the Cardinals.

We’ve covered 10 games for the Cubs now coming out of the All-Star break. There were no days off in that time. It isn’t over yet. The Cubs are heading home, but six straight home games brings the total to 16 games in 16 days to start the second half. Lest anyone think that long stretches of games with no days off are only a recent creation. The 2003 Cubs weren’t getting almost any time at all off that summer. And there was no weather involved with creating that schedule.

The opponents in the next homestand would be the Giants and Diamondbacks. The Giants came to town with a 67-39 record and an 11½-game lead in the NL West. The DBacks would come to town in free fall as they would be swept in a three game series in Florida while the Cubs were playing the Giants. That pushed their losing streak to four games. Still, they came in with a 56-52 record (12½ games out of first).

We’ll check in on that homestand next time. Until then, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. I’ll indulge myself with a poll to conclude things. Please vote in the poll and leave me your thoughts on my Kenny Lofton.

Poll

Was Kenny Lofton Hall of Fame worthy?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Yes!
    (8 votes)
  • 19%
    No!
    (4 votes)
  • 42%
    No. But he merited more consideration.
    (9 votes)
21 votes total Vote Now