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BCB After Dark: Closing time

The nightspot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks who the greatest closer in Cubs history was.

Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: The secret afterparty for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Glad you could join us again tonight. Bring your own beverage. We’re not requiring a tie tonight. Be sure to check your hat and coat and tip the cloak room girl.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

The Cubs lost the Mets tonight by a 5-2 score. It’s a bit disturbing that he Cubs could only manage two runs and three hits against the Mets’ worst starter. Better pitchers are coming. But that’s baseball for you. At least the Brewers lost, so the Cubs remain in a tie for first place in the Central. If you wish to discuss tonight’s Cubs game here, please feel free to do so.

We’re finishing up our voting on the greatest Cubs player at each position in the expansion era and last time I asked you who you thought was the best Cubs catcher since 1962. The vote was extremely close and your choice was current Cubs catcher Willson Contreras with 42% of the vote. Randy Hundley was close behind in second place with 41%.

Here’s the part where I discuss jazz and movies. Those of you who want to skip to the baseball poll question at the end are free to do so now. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Lee Morgan was one of the most talented jazz trumpeters around from the late-fifties to the early-seventies. Best known for his hard bop style that he honed as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s band, he was actually a very versatile player who could play a variety of styles well. He was also a member of the Jazz Messengers in the early-sixties and as a solo artist in 1963, he recorded his most famous work, The Sidewinder. The title track, which I present here, scraped the bottom of the pop charts and the album itself was a top-25 seller. Its success probably saved the then-struggling Blue Note label, which is even today perhaps the premier record label for straight jazz music.

So here’s Morgan’s 1963 hit, “The Sidewinder.” [VIDEO]

And unfortunately, you can’t mention Lee Morgan without telling the tale of his tragic death. In February of 1972, his common-law wife, Helen More, shot him to death at a nightclub in New York City. The details differ depending on who tells the tale, but apparently a snowstorm that night kept an ambulance from getting to him in time.

A spoiled heiress and a fast-talking working man with little in common are forced to work together and end up falling in love. It’s the basic plot of every romantic comedy of the past 85 years. And it all started with director Frank Capra’s 1934’s pre-code comedy It Happened One Night.

I’ve said in the past that I pretty much only care about the Academy Awards as trivia, and this is one of my favorite pieces of Oscar trivia. There are three films that have won all five major awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (original or adapted). The most recent one was 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. The second one to do it was 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the first one to sweep all five awards was It Happened One Night.

There are a lot of legends about this film and some of them are true and some of them aren’t. The first is that sales of undershirts dropped because Clark Gable took his shirt off and wasn’t wearing one. (There’s no evidence this is anything other than a studio publicist’s creation.) Another one is that Gable was sent to work on the film at Columbia as punishment for being difficult at MGM. (Probably untrue. Back then actors were on a weekly salary at the studios and Gable was making $2000 a week at MGM. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, offered MGM $2500 a week to borrow him, so MGM could make $500 a week without having to do anything.) A third is that star Claudette Colbert refused to show off her leg in the most famous scene so Capra was forced to bring in a body double. Colbert took one look and said “That woman is not playing my legs!” and did the scene herself. (Probably true.)

The plot was adapted by a short story called “Night Bus.” Colbert plays Ellen Andrews, a pampered, sheltered and impulsive heiress who has married a playboy aviator she just met against the wishes of her father. The romantic rival, King Westley (Jameson Thomas), is an amazing combination of arrogant and boring, thus setting the type for romantic rivals for decades of romantic comedies.

Andrews is trapped on her father’s yacht in Miami as he tries to get her marriage annulled. She jumps off the boat, swims to shore and is determined to return to her new husband in New York. Knowing that her father will have his detectives at the train depots, she decides to take a bus.

While riding the bus, she runs into Peter Warne, who just got fired from his newspaper job and is pretty sore about it. The sit next to each other on the bus because they’re the last two to get on and there are only two seats left. They immediately start bickering.

When they get off the next morning for breakfast, Ellen heads off to a ritzy hotel to eat and misses the bus when it leaves. Peter buys a newspaper and sees the story of the “runaway heiress.” He immediately figures out that his riding companion is the woman in question and intentionally misses the bus as well to get the story. They make a deal. Peter will help Ellen, who is so clueless that she thinks the bus will wait for her as she eats a leisurely breakfast, get to New York in exchange for her exclusive story, which he figures will get his job back.

Ellen thinks Peter is rude and uncultured. Peter thinks Ellen is snobby and naive. Do you think these two kids will fall in love? Of course you know that they’ll fall in love. You’ve seen this movie before even if you haven’t seen it before. It’s basically every rom-com made since.

The film just barely got in before the adoption of the Hays Code by a few months, so there are a few more risqué moments than there would be if the film was made later in 1934. There’s the scene where Gable takes his shirt off (all the time narrating it like it was a documentary) and he stands there in his bare chest. The scene happens while they are sharing a roadside cabin on their journey. The two share a room twice, although there is a clothesline and a blanket separating the two beds which leads to a running gag about the “Walls of Jericho.” Then there’s the famous hitchhiking scene. [VIDEO]

There’s another scene that probably wouldn’t have made it later where Ellen unbuttons the top few buttons of her dress as she tries to fool the detectives her father hired to find her. I guess the idea was that the detectives were too much of gentlemen to stare at a woman’s cleavage in order to get a good look at her face. (That’s also a great scene in that Peter and Ellen have a mock married couple fight in order to make the detectives uncomfortable enough to leave.)

There’s a certain “Taming of the Shrew” vibe going on in It Happened One Night, but Ellen isn’t so much as tamed as she is made to realize that her impulsive nature can be used for positive good rather than selfishness. She stays impulsive to the very end. The power relationship between Ellen and Peter is constantly shifting. Neither one is ever in charge for long, which avoids some of the pitfalls that other early romantic comedies fall in.

This is also a Frank Capra film made in 1934, so it’s going to be about America and the Great Depression. There are few movie directors who get adjectives named after them: Hitchockian, Spielbergian, Lynchian and Capraesque. A Frank Capra film is going to be about the class divisions of America and how the common decency of democracy and the American Spirit can bring them all together as one. Ellen and Peter come from different worlds, but they are meant to be together because they both possess that American decency. One scene shows both Ellen’s impulsiveness and kind heart when she gives away all their money to a hungry boy on the bus. (Of course, she didn’t know it was all of their money at the time.) Despite being rich and pampered, Ellen has that American decency. Her father has it. Peter has it. But King Westley doesn’t have it, so that’s why he was the wrong person for Ellen.

Capra’s longtime cinematographer Joseph Walker also deserves a special mention for the look of the film. The film is shot to increase the intimacy of the two, but sometimes it switches to the look of an open road picture.

The success of the film turned Columbia Pictures from a “Poverty Row” studio (which is what they called small studios that churned out dozens of B-Movies a year on tiny budgets) into a major studio, which it continues to be today as part of Sony Pictures.

I’ll finish with one more scene, what today they’d call the “meet-cute” of Ellen and Peter on the bus. [VIDEO]

If you’re even a casual fan of modern rom-coms, you should watch the original one, It Happened One Night.

Welcome back to all those who skip the jazz and movies. Tonight we finish our voting on the best Cubs player since 1962 at each position with a look at men who get the last outs, the closer. Since the position really didn’t exist prior to expansion, we could drop the whole “expansion era” qualifier, although Mordecai Brown did serve as kind of a closer on the days he wasn’t starting. (Brown had 49 career retroactive saves, 39 with the Cubs and four with the Whales.)

Our candidates tonight are the five players who are numbers one through five on the Cubs all-time saves list. That keeps it easy.

Bruce Sutter (1976-1980): Sutter was essentially baseball’s first “closer,” meaning a pitcher who only comes in a game to get the save. He wasn’t a “one-inning” save pitcher as he often entered the game in the seventh or eighth innings. But after suffering arm injuries earlier in his career, then-Cubs manager Herman Franks decided to only use him in save situations to limit his workload. If you’re too young to remember Sutter’s split-fingered fastball, it was one of the most un-hittable pitches in the game.

Sutter had 133 saves with the Cubs and he won the 1979 Cy Young Award with the team. Sutter was a four-time All-Star with the Cubs.

Lee Smith (1980-1987) Also a Hall-of-Famer, Smith took over as the closer from Sutter, although there was about a year in there where it was what we call today a bullpen-by-committee. Smith famously slept through the first few innings of every game. His high-heat was especially intimidating as it came out of the late-game shadows at pre-lights Wrigley Field.

Smith is the Cubs’ all-time saves-leader with 180. He made two All-Star Games as a Cub.

Randy Myers (1993-1995) Myers holds the Cubs single-season saves record with 53 in 1993. He led the National League in saves in 1993 and 1995. He made two All-Star Games with the Cubs, although ironically not in 1993. Myers had 112 saves with the Cubs.

Ryan Dempster (2004-2012) Dempster has the highest bWAR as a Cub of anyone on this list, but most of that was accumulated as a starting pitcher. He had been a starter with the Marlins and Reds and would become a starter again with the Cubs, but he pitched out of the bullpen in Chicago from 2004 to 2007 and recorded 87 saves. He made one All-Star game as a Cub, but that was in a season he was a starter.

Carlos Marmol (2006-2013) Marmol holds the all-time career Cubs record for fewest hits allowed per nine innings and most strikeouts per nine innings. He was only the full-time closer for 3 12 years, spending the rest of his time in Chicago as a set-up man. He had 117 career saves as a Cub and was an All-Star in 2008.

So who is the greatest closer in Cubs history in the expansion era?


Who is the greatest Cubs closer since 1962?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Bruce Sutter
    (61 votes)
  • 42%
    Lee Smith
    (50 votes)
  • 2%
    Randy Myers
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Ryan Dempster
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    Carlos Marmol
    (3 votes)
117 votes total Vote Now

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll be back tomorrow night with a shorter version of BCB After Dark.