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December, 2008:

Officially Old

Today, Dec. 31, 2008 is a monumental day for me.  When the Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for three prospects, it marked the first time ever that no one on the Cubs’ 40-man roster is as old as I.

This will change when the Cubs finalize their trade of Jason Marquis to Colorado for Luis Vizcaino. Vizcaino is a few months older, but this is all besides the point.

This is a landmark, no?  No more looking “up” to this group of heroes. My dreams of inexplicably developing a 98 mph fastball and a killer slider and becoming a Major League player have passed. Now I have to cope with knowing every member of the Cubs is younger than me (and each can buy and sell me many times).

Now if you excuse me, I’ll mark tonight by drinking heavily.

Happy New Year!

Memory Lane

Greg in the Good Old Days

Greg Maddux in the Good Old Days

Greg Maddux’s retirement inspired some tributes worth reading. Can I add anything to what’s already been said? I doubt it.

Maddux was the best pitcher of our lifetime, and as angry I was at his departure in 1992, I was privileged to be able to see him pitch in person so many times over the last 20 years. That’s really all I can say.

However, I thought it would be interesting to see what was written about Maddux when the Cubs called him up in September 1986.  From a September story by Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune:

The Cubs list him at 6 feet and 150 pounds, but Maddux likely isn’t that big. A pair of size-30 pants bagged about his thighs and upper legs.

Maddux , who was 10-1 at Iowa, looked even smaller while dressing in the locker stall next to 6-6, 220-pound Rick Sutcliffe.

“I guess I should get out there for batting practice?” Maddux asked his new neighbor.

“With the kind of year you’ve had, you can do anything you want,” Sutcliffe said.

Maddux’s debut came in the 17th inning of an 18-inning game with the Astros. Manager Gene Michael sent Maddux in to pinch-run for Jody Davis, and he then came in to pitch the 18th inning.  Billy Hatcher (traded by the Cubs the previous offseason) homered off of Maddux, who took the loss.

“He made one mistake, but I like what I see in him,” said Michael. “I want to see what he can do as a starter and we’ll probably start him either Sunday or soon after that. I have to talk to (pitching coach) Billy Connors.”

His first start came a few days later against Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium.  He went the distance and got the win.  Fred Mitchell ran a little bit more about him for a story that ran just before the Reds’ start.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect Greg to lead the league in strikeouts,” said Jim Colborn, his pitching coach at Triple A Iowa. “He’s not a strikeout pitcher and he probably won`t ever win 25 or 30 games in the big leagues. But he should have a good big-league career.

“He’s a good competitor and he`s fun to watch, especially knowing that he`s just finished his paper route a couple of years ago. He`s one of my favorite pitchers.”

Colborn was wrong. Maddux became a strikeout pitcher, and while he never won 25 or 30 games in a big league season, he won 20 a few times in an era when 25 or 30 is next to impossible.

One final thing about Maddux. Today, he’s known to have respect for baseball history. Here’s something from another September article:

“I’m kind of awe-struck now,” Maddux said. “Some of the guys I saw in the clubhouse when I first walked in I watched when I was 10 years old. I remember watching Gary Matthews play at Dodger Stadium when I was about 6 years old. That`s kind of nice.”

Fast forward to this year. Maddux played alongside James Loney, who was one month old when the Cubs drafted Maddux in 1984.  Another teammate, Clayton Kershaw was born in March of 1988. At the point,  Maddux was reparing for his second full Major League season and had already won eight big league games. (He had also established some “street cred” by beaning Benito Santiago in the infamous Eric Show game, but that’s another story.)

This is for you, Governor

A song dedicated to Illinois’ first Elvis fan Rod Blagojevich: