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Did Marquee botch another countdown?
Yeah, pretty much.
Welcome back to another exciting edition of the Pointless Exercise newsletter. Are you enjoying it so far? Tell your friends! And if you aren’t, well, tell them anyway.
Marquee Sports Network’s dearth of original content would be more noticeable if anyone could actually watch, but like the old saying goes, ‘if you screw up a countdown in the woods and nobody can see it, does it make a noise?’ That’s a saying, right?
Anyway, after the launch day debacle where their countdown of the Top Ten Games in Cubs’ history included three losses and the fucking Bartman game at NUMBER TWO, they’re at it again.
On Monday night they debuted the top 20 Cubs Players of All-Time. Well, sort of. They clarified that “all-time” is actually any time after 1947, mostly because an hour-long special with a bunch of guys who played before moving pictures would not make for great TV.
Then again, this list didn’t really make for great TV.
Let’s break them down by fives.
Kerry Wood - I laughed when I first saw it, but you know what? I’m going to allow it. I’m not sure if you’ve heard that he once struck out 20 guys in one game (he did, ask Pat Hughes about it some time), but he was the balls in 2003 and especially in the NLDS against the Barves. Kerry was a huge reason why they won their first postseason series in 85 years. He also hit that ridiculous three-run homer in game seven of the NLCS. So that’s something. It was cool when he turned into a good closer after he thought his career was over, and who can forget the day he struck out an overweight White Sock then walked off the field to hug Tony Campana?
Sure, he was on the disabled list so often that baseball has named the new one the Wood Prior Injured List™, and even a decent start in game seven could have undone the awfulness of the night before. But as a sentimental choice for 20th on this list, why not?
19 - Kyle Hendricks - Oh come on. He’s only 19th? This is a bad early sign. It’s not like he led the NL in ERA in the same season in which he started and won the pennant clincher and started the game when the Cubs finally won the World Series. Did he? He throws 12 miles an hour and has a career ERA of just 3.14. He should be on it just for that. But he also has a career postseason ERA of 2.98 in 11 games, and that includes the NLDS game against the Giants when he got nailed in the chest with a line drive and had to leave so that Travis Wood could hit a homer that Bob Costas still hasn’t noticed.
18 - Javier Baez - Nope. I know I’m pretty deep in recency bias, but there aren’t 17 guys who should be ahead of Javy on this list. He could make the top 20 on just his tags alone. Then you throw in an MVP runner up season, an NLCS co-MVP, 102 homers in the last three years, the homer that crushed John Lackey’s spirit in the 2015 NLDS, two errors in game seven of the World Series…wait, no, a homer in game seven of the World Series and just his general El Mago-ness. The last 63 years of Cubness is not so chock full o’ greatness that Javy’s not higher on this list.
He even makes routine slides into third cool:
17 - E-ramis Ramirez - One of my all-time favorites. He was incredible after the trade in 2003 and then got better. He did this to Coco Cordero:
He did this off Dontrelle Willis and put the Cubs within a game of the World Series.
He took a lot of shit for his defense (which was better than anybody gave him credit for…including me who hung E-ramis on him) and the Bob Brenly crap about his effort when he was playing with leg injuries was embarrassing. This dude was just a really good player at a position where the Cubs hadn’t had one for more than 30 years.
16 - Derrek Lee - One of the coolest guys ever, D-Lee won a batting title for the Cubs and nearly won a triple crown and was on his way to another great season the next year when he ran into Rafael Furcal and broke his wrist. He was a great defensive first baseman, an incredible athlete and he hit .545 with a 1.405 OPS in the 2008 playoffs against the Dodgers. Let’s not talk about what anybody else did in that series.
15 - Rick Reuschel? - Wait, what? Hey, I’ve got nothing against Big Daddy and he was an underrated pitcher during his Cubs’ years because the team was so bad, but I honestly think they screwed this up. They started his segment by saying he was a “leading veteran on the 1984 Cubs.” I think Rick Sutcliffe was supposed to be here. Reuschel pitched in 19 games with a 5.17 ERA in ‘84 and didn’t make the playoff roster.
He did win 135 games for the Cubs, including 20 in 1977 and 18 in 1979. He also was a solid hitter who occasionally pinch hit (though that said more about how bad the Cubs’ offenses were) and even though he was lumpy he pinch ran on occasion, too.
He was a true sex symbol, though overshadowed only by his even hotter brother Paul.
Rick and Paul used to hunt on our neighbor’s land, and in 1983, Rick was on a rehab assignment for the Quad City Cubs and when they were in Beloit my dad took me to a game and we went down behind the dugout during batting practice. Dad got Rick’s attention and he came over to chat with us and Rick asked me if there was anybody I wanted to meet. I was ten, but I had an answer. Rick disappeared for a few minutes and when he came back he had 20 year old Shawon Dunston with him. That was pretty cool. So Rick Reuschel would be on MY top 20. I just don’t think he should be on THIS top 20.
14 - Bruce Sutter - Sutter only pitched 12 years in the big leagues and his five Cubs’ seasons were statistically his best, but he was still so good when they traded him to the Cardinals that it made no sense. The trade did bring back Leon Durham, but no, that’s not enough. Even if the other guy the Cubs got had one of the best lines ever. Ken Reitz was once asked what the worst thing about being released by the Cubs was and he said, “They make you keep your season tickets.”
13 - Lee Smith - Smith eventually replaced Sutter as closer, but it sure would have been nice to have had a Sutter-Smith-Willie (Guillermo) Hernandez back of the bullpen for a few years. Yeah, that was not to be. Big Lee was not a favorite of Jim Frey when he was manager, so when Frey became general manager he was convinced Smith was near the end and shipped him off to the Red Sox for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper. Frey was close. Lee only pitched another ten years. Ugh.
12 - Mark Grace - Hey guys, did you know Mark Grace led the big league in hits and doubles in the ‘90s? Sure, that’s merely a statistical and calendar-ial anomaly, but Grace was a very good player for the Cubs for 13 seasons. He hit .308 with a .386 on base with the Cubs and for most of his career he hit third behind Ryne Sandberg, when clearly the two should have been reversed in the order. But Sandberg didn’t want to do it. Seems like a good way to run a team. You do wonder how much better Grace would have been if he didn’t smoke a pack of Winstons every day and lifted a weight or two.
11 - Jake Arrieta - Not paying Jake after the 2017 season was the right move, but damn, I miss the guy. A Cy Young, two no hitters, the greatest half season of pitching in baseball history, the Wild Card game shutout over the Pirates, the three run homer off of Madison Bumgarner in the 2016 NLDS, he won two games in the 2016 World Series, and if Mike Montgomery had somehow not gotten Michael Martinez out, Jake was going to come in to save game seven on ZERO days rest. Not bad for a throw-in in the Pedro Strop trade.
And remember when Jake took time out of Wild Card Game prep to taunt a Pissburgh fan on Twitter?
10 - Greg Maddux - Unless you are new here you know how I feel about Greggie. I just happen to think he’s the greatest pitcher of all-time. The fact that the Cubs managed to screw it up so he spent 12 years in the middle of his career in Atlanta is unforgivable. And it’s not like he got good in Atlanta, he won the Cy Young with the Cubs the season they let him go.
This came up just last Friday.
But another of my favorite Greg Maddux stories was from his 2004 return to the Cubs.
The Cubs were in Anaheim, Greg was pitching to Vladimir Guerrero and the umpire missed a call on a 1-2 fastball on the outer half. It was clearly a strike. Maddux, who rarely showed any emotion was visibly upset. He snapped at the ball as it came back from Michael Barrett. He paced around the mound. Finally he got back up on the hill and Guerrero hit a sac fly to score Chone Figgins to tie the game.
In the dugout between innings, somebody asked Maddux why that pitch had made him so uncharacteristically angry. His answer, “I’d been setting him up for that pitch for six years.”
He wasn’t kidding.
And then there was this:
He once lost a shutout against the Astros in the late innings on a solo homer to Jeff Bagwell in a lopsided Braves win. After the game a teammate told him it was too bad he gave up the one run. Maddux said, “No. I’m glad he hit it.” When asked why, he said, “Players only remember what they hit. I threw him a pitch I’d never throw him if I needed to get him out. From now on, he’ll always be looking for that pitch he hit the homer on tonight.”
I could write an entire newsletter on Greg alone, and one of these days I will.
9 - Kris Bryant - Nope. No way. I know he’s only been a Cub for five years, but he’s won a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and he hit the biggest homer in Cubs’ history right here:
Think I’m exaggerating? Perhaps it’s been surpassed, but at the time, that homer off of Prince Charming, Trevor Bauer, breathed life back into the Cubs in a lose or stay home game five. They never trailed in the World Series again.
8 - Andre Dawson - When he signed himself to the Cubs in 1987 his knees were already in terrible shape from all of his years as a superstar in Montreal on that awful French-Canadian turf, but all he did was win an MVP with the Cubs that first year, and etch himself into our hearts forever. Andre was not just a great player, but he was incredibly tough. Here are two pretty different, but awesome, examples.
First, one of my favorite Cubs memories ever was him scoring from first on those terrible knees to keep the Cubs in first place late in the 1989 season against the Cardinals. (You have to watch Luis merely tie the game first, then you get the game winner.)
Second, was the time Eric Show of the Padres hit him in the face and while Dawson laid motionless on the dirt, Sutcliffe tried twice to get to Show to kick his ass, and then when Andre did get up…well, just watch. It is truly bad ass.
7 - Anthony Rizzo - Look, you love Anthony Rizzo, and I love Anthony Rizzo. He’s a great player, he’s a great guy, he has a great dog, he’s a truly inspirational person.
But he shouldn’t be on this list ahead of Kris Bryant. Move Dawson back a few spots, and slide KB in front of Rizzo and I’d be cool with it.
Rizzo has been a part of some incredible moments. He caught the final out in both the pennant and World Series clinchers. His offensive awakening (and Matt Szczur’s bat) in game four against the Dodgers turned that series around. But we both know that 30 years from now when we think of Anthony Rizzo, we’re going to immediately think of his reaction (because it was the same as ours) when Ben Zobrist did this:
6 - Ryne Sandberg - Nope. Nope. Nope. Take the tape and burn it, this countdown is now ruined.
I freely admit that I was not the biggest Ryne Sandberg fan as a kid, even though I had his glove and I did love that thing. I was a punk kid and I just didn’t think he was that cool. But I did know that he was a great player, and the fact that he’s sixth on this list is an absolute joke. When I sat down to watch it, I figured two things were for sure, and that was that we all knew who would be first and that Sandberg would be second. I just don’t think you can dispute it. He was an incredible defensive player, easily the best second baseman of his time (and there were other good ones) and maybe Roberto Alomar passed him later on, but when you add in Sandberg’s power-speed combination, I just don’t see how he’s not the second best player on this list. Maybe Marquee is mad that his hair plug doctor won’t advertise on the network?
5 - Ferguson Jenkins - Yes, Fergie was great. He won 20 or more games for the Cubs for six straight seasons before they traded him to the Rangers in 1973 for Bill Madlock (who they would then trade after he won back to back batting titles—man, what a crap franchise). But not only did Fergie win 20 games those six years, he also threw 20 or more complete games every season. He also lost 12 or more games each of those seasons. It was a different game. At the time of Greg Maddux’s retirement, he and Fergie were the only players in big league history to have more than 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks. They both wore 31 for the Cubs and their number is retired together, so that’s pretty cool. It’d be even cooler if the Cubs hadn’t let them both go in the middle of their careers.
4 - Sammy Sosa - I will admit I worried as the countdown went on that they were just going to leave Sammy off. You can’t. And to their credit, they didn’t. Steroids or not, selfishness or not, bad haircuts or not, Sammy’s an all-time great player. He’s the only player in history to hit 60 or more homers three times, and incredibly, though he led the league in homers twice he didn’t do it in any of those 60 homer seasons. Sammy never met a cutoff man he couldn’t miss, and he never missed a dugout camera, but for most of his career he was pretty much all we had that was worth watching on that team. Oh, and has Wrigley ever been louder than this?
Never mind that if Dusty could have resisted the urge to let Mark Guthrie pitch to Mike Lowell that the Cubs could very well have swept that series, and if they had, Sammy’s the NLCS MVP and…well, you know what? We don’t have to worry about that anymore.
3 - Billy Williams - 19 years with the Cubs, 2,510 hits, a batting title and two truly monster years, both in his 30s. Billy hit .322/.391/.586 with 42 homers, 129 RBI and led the NL in hits and runs at 32 years old. He finished second in the MVP race to Johnny Bench (who hit 48 homers and drove in 148.) Then, two years later Billy hit .333/.398/.606 with 37 homers and 122 RBI. He won the batting title and led the league in slugging, and he finished second in the MVP voting to Bench again, even though Billy had arguably the better season. Oh, and Billy has always just seemed like the coolest guy ever.
2 - Ron Santo - Somewhat lost in his antics in the radio booth was that when Pat Hughes would introduce him as Cubs’ legend, it was for good reason. It was ridiculous that it took so long for Santo to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. On my list, I’d have Sandberg here and Santo, Williams, Sammy and Fergie all bumped back a spot. But whether he’s two or three on this list, Santo got there with five Gold Gloves, and nine All-Star Game appearances when those really meant something. People of our generation remember Ron most for setting his toupee on fire in a Shea Stadium press box and for trying to sell us “Acapulco Taco Pies,” but he was a truly great player.
1 - Ernie Banks - It’s impossible to get this wrong. Even if WGN-TV only has one highlight of him, and it’s when he’s an old hunchbacked first baseman, it’s incredible that the first black player in Cubs’ history is also the best player they’ve ever had. For Ernie to have to bear that burden at 22 and do it so smoothly that he never had a bad season in incredible. He was the first shortstop to hit 40 homers and he did it two years in a row and won the MVP both seasons on bad teams. Will Ernie be surpassed as the best Cub? Some day, sure, and it’d be nice if the Rickettses would get some of the current Cubs’ stars signed long-term, because you could certainly see Bryant or Baez motoring on past the ghosts of the ‘69 Cubs at some point. But not if they’re playing for the Dodgers or Yankees.
So who’s missing? Well, the fact that Sutcliffe isn’t on the list is weird. The guy went 16-1 in 1984 and won the Cy Young and then was a big part of the 1989 division championship team.
Jon Lester should be on the list, and his absence makes it less cute that Kerry Wood and Rick Reuschel are on it.
You can tell it’s not my list since Dunston, our large adult son Kyle Schwarber, my first favorite player Bill Buckner, and the immortal Luis Valbuena aren’t on it. I might have tried to carve out a spot for Carlos Zambrano, too. He only had 1.2 less WAR for his Cubs’ career than Grace, and he was cool, but I’m not sure even I could make a successful case for him.
Is this countdown better than the one that had the Bartman game two? Well, that’s a pretty low bar. You just know the next one is going to be the 10 best seventh inning stretch performers, and that’s going to be awful. If you’re reading this Marquee (and you know you are) just don’t do that. Ever.
And tell Dempster not to work on nine more awful impressions.