Monday, July 31, 2006

Another slap in the face 

This has been a very stressful and sometimes sad summer, in part for personal reasons, and in part due to happenings of which we are all aware. It has been all the more difficult for lack of a reliable diversion to transport me away. I am generally well grounded in reality, but in times of stress I think it is natural to seek diversion. On my wife's birthday in August 2001, I gave her the box set of the Sopranos first season on VHS. I will have a warm place in my heart for Tony Soprano for as long as I live, because that box set got us through the days following 9/11, when we were exhausted by the non-stop coverage of the event which had occurred 2 miles from our apartment, and which claimed numerous neighbors, members of our church, former colleagues, and one extended family member. We could not escape the stink of burning metal that hung over our neighborhood for weeks after, but we could at least spend a couple of hours each evening transported to the rough and tumble mobbed up neighborhoods of North Jersey, and it was a blessing.

In summer I usually seek diversion in baseball. I guess I picked up the interest from my father, who grew up a New York Giants fan but followed and appreciated the sport, not just his team. Growing up in Iowa, I fell into Cub fandom and I'll never forgive my father for not warning me off it. He certainly knew the sting of sports pain, slamming the Big Peach down in disgust after some egregious Giants loss and announce he was giving up baseball. Why, oh why, did he not steer me towards the Yankees or the Atlanta Braves or the St. Louis Cardinals? When I think of all the pain I could have been spared...

In 1987, a 20 year old pitcher came up with the Chicago Cubs. He went 6-14 his rookie year, but you could just tell he was special. He didn't have blazing heat, but he was smart. You could tell by the way he pitched. He made mistakes, but you could see the potential. He was also an athlete. When it was his turn to bat he didn't swing feebly as the ball snapped into the catcher's mit. He could hit the ball, and could also lay down a bunt when he was asked to do so. He could also field. When the ball came his way he stabbed it with his glove and could reliably throw it to first base for the out. On grounders into the first base hole he sprinted to cover the bag and actually caught the ball when it was thrown to him. He was so fast, in fact, that manager Don Zimmer would actually use this young pitcher as a late inning pinch runner on days when he wasn't scheduled to pitch. He was not just a pitcher, he was a baseball player, and one of the best to ever play. His name was Greg Maddux.

Maddux was great, pure and simple. In 1988 he won 18 games, and came back in 1989 and won 19, helping to get the Cubs into the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the Giants, led by their emerging star first baseman Will Clark, much to my father's pleasure (the Giants would go on to lose to Oakland in the famous earthquake series).

The Cubs would not return to postseason for 9 years, but Maddux was established. In 1992 he won 20 games for the Cubs and won the National League Cy Young Award. And then somehow, inexplicably, the Cubs let him get away and he signed with the Atlanta Braves. He would go on to win the next 3 Cy Young Awards for the Braves, and go on to be one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

In the 2003 the Cubs flirted with their first world series since 1945 on the strength of three young superstar pitchers, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano. 4 outs away from the World Series in game 6 of the NLCS, a series of well chronicled events conspired to doom the team. Despite the horrific turn of events, the future looked bright with the dominating young arms forming the foundation of the team. In the off season that year, Cubs management made a move that warmed the bitter hearts of Cubs fans still cursing a poor bastard named Steve Bartman: they signed Greg Maddux and brought him back to Chicago to finish his career where he started it.

Maddux was passed his prime, everyone knew that. But he was still smart, and even in his late 30s was in the top quartile of National League pitchers. Cubs fans drooled at the thought of Maddux in the dugout tutoring the young guns, while nailing down the fourth spot in the Cubs rotation. Alas, it was not to be as envisioned. Oh, Maddux did his part winning 15 games in 2004, and the Cubs nearly returned to the playoffs, but sufferred another inexplicable collapse in the final week of the season, punctuated by the fall and subsequent banishment of the once mighty and beloved Sammy Sosa. In the two seasons since, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have struggled with injury, and the rotation has never come together as envisioned. This season, the Cubs have been terrible, despite a surprising dominance over the St. Louis Cardinals, whom they nevertheless trail by 15 games.

Still, one of the wonderful things about baseball, and even about being a Cubs fan, is that you can still derive pleasure from little things. One of those little things for me was knowing Greg Maddux was still going to pitch every fifth day, and knowing that he would finish his hall of fame career a Chicago Cub, where he should have been all along. Slim reeds if you're a Cardinal fan perhaps, but Cub fans are used to looking for the bright side.

Tonight when I got home from work I was greeted with the news that the Cubs had traded Greg Maddux to the Dodgers. It makes no sense to me and makes me so sad I want to cry. It puts me in the perverse position of having to seek diversion from the baseball season by watching scenes of war. And that is a terrible place to be.


By Blogger Papa Ray, at Tue Aug 01, 01:35:00 AM:

I could be thoughtless and say that you need to get a life.

But I know about obsessions and how emotions work, I have had to deal with a lot in my long life.

Just let me say this. It's an amazing world we live in. But it is up to us to make of it what we will. I used to work myself to death, for way too long and missed a lot of what I should have been concentrating on: Family.

Now that I am old, crippled up, almost blind, I have been given a second chance. I have wonderful Grandkids, including my favorite, my one and only GrandDaughter Sweet Sarah.
Well, sweet most of the time, when she is not being bossy, spoiled, opinionated to a point at the grand age of 5 1/2 y/o,

We do everything but go to day care together and I don't guess they will let me in Kindergarden either, which starts in Sept.

But, we go places, do things, study, play, surf the web and just talk. We pretend, tell storys, playing with stuffed animals and make up stories.
I have been helping her learn to draw as well as her letters and numbers. She is a quick study and is going to be one of those kids who will have to have special treatment because if she doesn't she will become bored. I am trying to teach her patience, self control and such, but at her age thats asking a lot.

But my point is, if you don't have a child, find some, give them your time and efforts and help them.

You will never find anything more satisfing and more challenging.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Tue Aug 01, 06:32:00 AM:

Thanks Papa Ray. I do actually have a life, which includes two wonderful boys, who I will discourage from embracing the Chicago Cubs when they are old enough to take an interest.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Aug 01, 10:27:00 AM:


I always enjoy your writing; you have, I believe, a wonderful gift for distilling things to some still inexplicable essence. (I'm refering here, too, to your last entry, which I did not comment on, but found beautiful.) Such writing tugs at my heart.

All I can say in response to this new insult--though undoubtedly you don't need me to tell you--is that sometimes life just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Tue Aug 01, 01:34:00 PM:

I fear you'll have as much luck steering your boys toward a winning franchise as you will steering them away from tattoos. Fanhood is mysterious and inexplicable. I come by my preference honestly having grown up outside of Pittsburgh. We are presently committing our fourteenth consecutive losing season and my fondness for the Cubbies derives solely from the fact that it is the only more hapless team in the senior circuit, strewn by the baseball gods to the battering winds. My brother is a life-long Cubs fan, for no reason other than that they answered a call in his heart when he was twelve years old and have flogged him senseless ever since. He knows that the Marlins have won two championships in the past decade and immediately scattered their players like a spoiled child. He and his wife just took their first vacation in twenty years,arriving in Chicago just after the Cubs swept the Cardinals in a series. They were in attendance at Wrigley the next night to watch the boys get pasted by Arizona 15-4. That's a Cubs fan.  

By Anonymous Anwyn, at Tue Aug 01, 03:11:00 PM:

As a practical matter, the Cubs should trade whomever they feel will get them the personnel they need to win games.

But that would be assuming the Cubs actually know who they need to win games. Until they can figure it out, they should at least let us have our icons. Maddux is cool. It's a shame to have him passed around at the end of his career. Maybe he should hang 'em up? But that's his choice, and it'll be interesting to see how he does with the Dodgers.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Tue Aug 01, 03:27:00 PM:

Maddux waived his no trade clause to allow the transaction, so I guess its fine with him. At least he can pitch in the pennant race. It doesn't mean I have to like it, however.  

By Anonymous Anwyn, at Tue Aug 01, 03:30:00 PM:

Oh, I don't like it either. My point was 1) if I thought the Cubs knew what the heck they were doing I might be better with it, but they don't, and 2) a resigned, well, if Maddux doesn't care, I guess I don't either. Baseball's lower on my radar this year than it's ever been, thanks to the Cubs' spectacular, even by their standards, tanking.  

By Blogger todd, at Tue Aug 01, 06:42:00 PM:

From a sentimental standpoint it was tough to see Greg go. His love of the game rivaled that of the legendary Ernie Banks.

However, Greg benefits by going to a team that still has a shot at the playoffs.

The Cubs did well by getting a Gold Glove shortstop in Cesar Izturis who has drawn rave reviews from the likes of Tommy La Sorda.

When the storm passes,perhaps there will be light at the end of the rainbow.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Tue Aug 01, 10:35:00 PM:

Perhaps, and maybe Izturis will be the shortstop for years. Of course I saw Nomar playing that role two short years ago. But then I also recall the trade of washed up Dennis Eckersley and how that turned out. There really is a curse. There is no other credible explanation.  

By Blogger Bat One, at Wed Aug 02, 12:16:00 AM:

I was raised on the Yankees of long ago. When I moved to Atlanta 25 years ago, I attended Braves games where I would swear to this day that there were more employees at the stadium than fans.

In his prime, Greg Maddux, who looks for all the world like somebody's tax accountant, could make a baseball move in ways I have never seen before or since. And it will always be a bitter disappointment to me that he did not finish his career and earn his 300th career victory here in Atlanta. To truly appreciate his artistry and craftsmanship on the mound, one need only listen to Braves announcer and Hall of Fame Pitcher Don Sutton describe Maddux as one of the best, and smartest pitchers he has ever seen.

Once last year, and again earlier this year, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemmons faced each other in an epic duel between two 300 game winners. Should they do so one more time again, we should all pay close attention to that very special moment. Like Cal Ripken, Jr's home run trot on the night he broke Lou Gehrig's "iron man" record, we will never get to savor such a moment again.  

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