10 things you need to know about the Chicago Cubs

Cubs - trio of stars

Legacy. It’s a strange word. In the build-up to the 2012 Olympics, it became a byword for legitimising £9 billion of expenditure. But what is the legacy of London 2012? Do we have more kids participating in athletics? I doubt it. We probably need to stop selling off school sports fields first, but perhaps that’s for a different article in a different publication.

Part of the legacy of the London Olympics is that we have a wonderful stadium in Stratford, which for two days next year, will host the MLB clash between the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.

It is too early to know how the 2019 London Series has helped grow the game in the UK and across Europe, but I sense that more people are interested in the sport than this time last year.

I have no data for this, but there appeared to be more people (of all ages) playing baseball during the summer, and I see that in Birmingham there is a new sports bar with batting cages.

In June, I had a spare ticket for New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox but struggled to find someone who wanted it. Comments of “to watch rounders?” or “it’s even more boring than cricket” were usual replies.

Now, it seems something has changed. I will be going along to the 2020 games with a bunch of newbies. If this is part of the legacy that MLB wanted, it looks like success.

Two of the guys, let’s call them Paul and Steve, have adopted a team each. Here is a primer for them and anyone else looking to build their excitement ahead of the 2020 London Series.

10 things you need to know about the Chicago Cubs

1. Two club city

Chicago and New York are the only cities in the USA with two MLB clubs. Los Angeles appears in the name of two teams, but the Angels are based in the city of Anaheim. The distance between Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium is about the same as from Old Trafford to Anfield. Anyway, I digress.

The Cubs play in the North Side of Chicago, with the White Sox on the South Side of the city. Notorious Mafia boss, Al Capone (pictured below) frequently attended games in the 1930s. Current celebrity fans include Bill Murray, John Cusack, Gary Sinise and, in her younger days, Hilliary Clinton.

Al Capone watching the Cubs

A founding member of the National League in 1876, the Cubs are one of the oldest teams still in existence. They were previously known as the White Stockings, the Orphans, the Rainmakers and the Colts, but it was the Cubs that stuck after journalists used the nickname to describe the youthful team.

In 1906, they won 116 games but lost the World Series to cross-city rivals, the White Sox. The following year, the Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers to win their first World Series, a feat which they repeated against the same opponents to retain the trophy in 1908.

After those two successive championships, the franchise then endured a record-breaking 108-year drought before the ultimate prize would return to the North Side of Chicago.

2. Chew on this

Cubs home of Wrigley Field is one of sport’s magical venues, and yep, it’s named after the chewing gum company who owned the club in the 1920s.

Baseball is fantastic. What other sport has fields of play which vary in dimensions as dramatically? Or have such unusual features as the Green Monster in Boston, triples alley in San Francisco or the ivy in Chicago?

The ivy-clad walls of Wrigley Park are an iconic feature. It’s a ground-rule double if the ball gets trapped in the ivy; however, if it pops back out, it is deemed still in play. Where else do you get stuff like that?

Ivy-clad walls at Wrigley Field

In 1981, The Tribune Company bought the club from the Wrigley family for just over $20 million, which ended the longest continuous operation of a franchise by the same family in one city.

Just 28 years later, the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for around $850 million; not a bad profit for the Tribune Company. The Ricketts aren’t doing too badly themselves, as Forbes valued the club at $3.1 billion, making it the fourth-largest franchise behind the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox.

3. The Curse of the Billy Goat

The years without World Series success wasn’t entirely the fault of the club. No, the continued failure was partly due to a curse imposed by a bar owner.

Curse of Billy Goat
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

So miffed was William Stannis that he wasn’t allowed to bring his pet goat, Murphy, to watch Game 4 of the World Series in 1945, that he uttered the immortal words of “The Cubs will never win the World Series as long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

The Detroit Tigers won that one in seven games, and for the next 71 years, Cubs’ players, officials, fans and ownership were absolved of all blame about their abject inability to build a decent team.

4. The Curse of the Bartman

For some people, catching a foul ball is the highlight of a baseball game. A ball hit into the stands makes fans react like nutters – spilling their beer, dropping their nachos, diving over seats, bundling on the litter-strewn ground, pushing kids out of the way.

The Steve Bartman incident does not paint the Cubs in a good light. It is 2003, and the Cubs still haven’t won anything for years.

Already leading the series 3-2, Chicago was within touching distance of their first National League championship since 1945 (the year of the Billy Goat). They were up 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6 when Luis Castillo of the Marlins hit a high popup in foul territory down the left-field line.

Cubs’ outfielder Moise Alou timed his leap well and reached over the safety barrier, while several fans, Bartman included, attempted to catch the ball. Bartman deflected it, and his life changed forever.

Alou was vivid, maybe trying to convince the umpires that it was fan interference, which would have resulted in an automatic out.

The Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series but capitulated under the pressure. With each run the Marlins scored, the ugly attention on Bartman intensified.

The crowd chanted abuse, people shouted death threats, he had beer poured over him and all the while the TV and radio announcers fuelled the animosity.

The Cubs lost the game 8-3 and were eliminated the following day. As far as the media and fans were concerned, Bartman was the reason they lost. First a goat, then a scapegoat; it sure beats looking for real reasons for systemic failure.

Bartman, with his life in tatters, went into hiding for years. There is a slither of silver-lining that in a classy move by the organisation, the Cubs presented Bartman with a 2016 World Series ring.

5. Midas touch

Chicago did not have a monopoly on curses. In 2002, the Boston Red Sox were enduring an 84-year trophy-less stretch caused by the Curse of the Bambino, which started when they traded Babe Ruth to arch-rivals, the New York Yankees in 1919.

Amazingly, two of the biggest franchises in the game with massive fan bases and near-unlimited funds at their disposal could not clinch the star prize.

The Red Sox brought in 28-year-old Theo Epstein to become the game’s youngest-ever General Manager, with Jed Hoyer as his assistant. Just two years later, Boston won the World Series with victory over the St Louis Cardinals, breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

In 2011, Epstein and Hoyer were reunited on the North Side of Chicago. Surely they couldn’t repeat the magic?

They slashed payroll by 35%, dumped veterans, improved the farm system and drafted Albert Almora, David Bote, Zack Godley, Kyle Schwarber, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ and of course, Kris Bryant.

Embed from Getty Images

After a 108-year wait, the Cubs finally clinched the World Series in 2016. Epstein and Hoyer had broken the two longest-standing World Series droughts. Their place in baseball history was assured.

6. The greatest game ever played?

The only thing predictable about the 2016 World Series, was that the loser would be saddled with title of the longest run without winning the World Series – either 109 years for the Cubs or 69 years for the Cleveland Indians.

The series was must-watch baseball, with Game 7 being one of the greatest sporting events ever.

Indians Corey Kluber started the game, his third of the World Series, on just three days rest, but immediately gave up a lead-off home run to Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs were 5-3 up when David Ross, in his final game of a 15-year career, surprisingly took the unhittable Andrew Miller deep to extend Chicago’s lead. The 39-year-old, who has just been appointed the Cubs manager, became the oldest catcher ever to homer in the World Series.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, MLB’s fastest-throwing pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, was brought on to secure the championship-clinching five-out save.

He immediately allowed Jose Ramirez to narrow the margin, before lightweight outfielder Rajai Davis, with only 55 home runs in 3,999 career plate appearances, shocked the sporting world by turning on a 98-mph fastball to tie up the game with a two-run homer. It was the latest ever home run hit in a Game 7 of the World Series.

The Cubs were stunned. Momentum was clearly with the Indians, and the Billy Goat curse looked set to continue.

Rain stopped play at 6-6 after nine innings. It was 4:00am for us watching in the UK. The Cubs regrouped during the rain delay, and Jason Heyward gave his now-famous motivational team talk.

When play restarted, the Cubs scored twice in the tenth inning to clinch the World Series.

Embed from Getty Images

7. KB17

Hopefully, we will see Kris Bryant playing in London. The Cubs third baseman is a masterful hitter and has the potential to be the best player in the game, after all, the 1.96M adonis was the MVP in his first full season in 2016.

Despite missing time with an ankle injury, Bryant led the Cubs this year with 108 runs, including 31 homers.

The 27-year-old, in his third year of arbitration, is expected to receive a pay rise from $12.9 million to around $18.5 million for 2020, but his 2021 future is more in doubt.

At the start of the 2015 season, the Cubs waited 12 days before they promoted an obviously-ready-for-the-big-leagues Bryant from Triple-A. According to MLB’s quirky rules, the Cubs gained one extra year of control over their star player, meaning that instead of becoming a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, it is pushed back to the end of 2021.

Unsurprisingly, Bryant and his über-agent Scott Boras filed a grievance against the Cubs for manipulating his service time. Four years after the incident and the case has only just been heard. Apparently, the ruling will still take months, so Bryant’s future is in limbo.

8. The magician

Arguably the most exciting player expected to appear in London next year is the Cubs prodigious shortstop Javier Baez. There are only a handful of players who can match El Mago’s defensive prowess. He is a one-man highlight reel, with audacious plays and no-look tags.

In 2014, when he reached the majors, there was no doubt that Baez was a wizard with the glove, but it was clear he was atrocious with the bat. In his first two seasons, he hit just .201 and struck out at a league-leading 38.5% of the time.

Now, however, he is as deadly at the plate as he is in the field. Over the last two years, Baez has averaged 32 home runs with 98 RBI. That’s slugger stats.

9. Japanese phenom

With a strikeout rate of 11.12 K/9, Yu Darvish has the best career-strikeout rate not just of any active starting pitcher, but of any starting pitcher in history. Fingers crossed we get to see one of this generation’s true greats in London next year.

What sets Darvish apart from every other pitcher in MLB is his eight distinct pitches. He has more weapons than anyone else.

A sensation in Japan, Darvish debuted in the US as a 25-year-old, and his talent immediately translated to MLB, until he blew his elbow out in the summer of 2014.

In 2018, the Cubs tied him to a six-year deal, making the Japanese superstar the highest-paid player on the roster. The 33-year-old will earn $22 million this season.

10. Closer of the decade

In the era of multi-billion dollar franchises, it was disappointing that not one of the 30 MLB teams wanted to give a contract to Craig Kimbrel during the last offseason. The 31-year-old remained on the shelf until June when he was snapped up by the Cubs and signed to a three-year deal.

After watching closer Aroldis Chapman throw 101 mph for the Yankees during this year’s London Series, it feels like we will be equally privileged if we get to see Kimbrel in action in 2020.

With 346 saves to his name, the right-hander is unquestionably the closer of the decade. In a 10-year career consisting of 546 appearances, Kimbrel has posted a 2.06 ERA with 14.6 K/9.

Follow @BatFlips_Nerds for all of your baseball news and opinion with a British twist. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you read Ben’s recent article about meeting Minnesota’s (and Germany’s) star outfielder Max Kepler.

Oh, and please check back to read the next article when we will be giving you 10 things you need to know about the St Louis Cardinals.

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