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Inspirational Reads

Happy Trails, Dusty

October 2, 2006

When I was growing up, I used to lay on my mom and dad's waterbed watching WGN every summer afternoon, soaking in every bit of the Cubs seasons of futility, which was punctuated every few years by a run for a title, like in 1989 when they beat out the Expos for the NL East and eventually ended up choking it all away to Will Clark and Barry Bonds and the Giants. You can tell from my memory of these events some 17 years later that I was ever-deserving of my Die-Hard status as a Cubs fan (still have the ragged plastic slice of card that designates me as a Lovable Loser).

Over the past few years, the Cubs have done a lot of things to piss me off and make their luster fade in my view. First and foremost was letting Mark Grace go. Ultimately, Gracey ended up with the Diamondbacks and won a World Series ring on the arms of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. But he was the heart and the soul of the team back in the early to mid-90s. Obviously, you can tell that I was a Grace fan. He was, probably, my favorite player, even over Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson and the Bull, Leon Durham (for some reason, I was also quite the fan of Doug Dascenzo, who was a centerfielder who also pitched when the Cubs got blown out (quite often) and actually did a good job). Shawon Dunston also was one of my favorites, but it didn't rip my heart out when he left for the west coast like when Grace went. Grace wanted to stay and the Cubs let him go; Dunston was sick of the bullshit and left. And frankly, I can't blame him.

They trotted through a series of inept managers (Jim Riggleman? Come on...), all the while promising to "build a playoff contender." Finally, to "seal the deal" they brought in Dusty Baker, a man who had been to the world series the year before (I think it was the WS, could have just been the playoffs). Chicago rejoiced. No one seemed to realize that he had been there only because no one wanted to pitch to Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent was seriously clutch whenever they needed him. It had nothing to do with Baker's penchant for ruining young talent, or mismanaging egos (see Kent and Bonds fighting in the dugout, see Sammy Sosa not showing up to work anymore), or anything else baseball related. He simply sat there on the bench, chewing a toothpick, flipping it in and out of his mouth, and then walking to the mound to make a switch when the game was truly out of hand. Essentially, a spider monkey with a crackwhore addiction could have done the same thing.

But, Dusty got the Cubs to the promised land in 2003. Holy Shit, this is IT! I thought. They came out, beat the Braves and rolled on to face the wildcard Marlins. Holy Shit, this IS it! I thought. They're up 3-1, the games are coming back to Wrigley, it's the 8th inning and BAM! they're winning, Mark Prior is a stud and he's cruising. Oh, shit, there was a strange play on a foul ball! Oh, the emotion has changed. Crap, get Prior out of there. Crap! Get Prior out of there! What are you doing??? GET PRIOR OUT OF THERE!!! His emotions are totally crushed, he's shaken, he CAN'T DO THIS THING NOW! Ah, crap! Double! Ah, crap, error by Gonzalez! NOW YOU'RE TAKING HIM OUT???

I never forgave Dusty Baker for that. I wanted him fired the next day. No dice. The Cubs went on to let the games go away. A perfect season pissed away because someone didn't want to make a pitching change when it was obvious that the young kid couldn't handle the crush of emotions. As for me, I couldn't make it, either. The following year, I watched a few games. The next year, even fewer. This season: I watched one. It was, however, the ONLY game the Cubs won at Wrigley during the month of June. One win. In June. At home.

Count me out.

And now it's three years later, and the Cubs are FINALLY making some moves, mostly in the "There's the door, Dusty, don't let it hit you on the way out." BUT, there's only one way to bring me back. Well, there's one way to get my interest back, and it might not even be possible since the boys in Miami have put down the joints and come out of their drug-induced hallucinations. For me, I'd LOVE to see Joe Girardi back in blue pinstripes and those funky blue shirts that look like they say "Cuba" on them.

Joe had two tenures on the Cubs roster. Both times, I admired him tons. He always carried himself with a grace and professionalism that seemed lacking in many major sports stars these days (for example, he never tried to off himself and screw it up). I remember the night Darryl Kile died and Joe made the announcement. The emotion the poured out with his voice for a guy on the other team was heartwrenching. Joe is a rookie manager who helped bring a young, inexperienced team back from 20 games under .500 to flirt briefly with the wild card and then finish a respectable 6 games under. Six games is a whole lot better than 30 (only five losses back in the "most pathetic team in baseball title"...they should have brought Baker back for another season just to see if he could secure THAT crown).

I realize that this year, Baker has dealt with a LOT of injuries to key guys, namely Wood and Prior. However, how much of their issues came from the mismanagement of their talents? The pitching coach in Chicago is just as much a pathetic excuse as Baker himself. Derrek Lee is a stud, though. A huge stud. About the only two smart things the Cubs have done over the past few years were signing him and Aramis Ramirez. Both are Studs, and D. Lee clearly has the charisma and leadership to be a good clubhouse guy, so losing him literally ripped the soul out of the team, especially since he had to leave to deal with the tragic illness of his daughter. All of this is souldrending at best, but a good manager would have circled the troops, would have had them all put their hands in the middle and say "let's do this for D. Lee". Baker probably just sat there chewing on his stupid toothpick.

Happy trails, Dusty. And good riddance.