My grandfather turned 90 earlier this year.
Pops is no saint, but I have always been struck by his ability to make friends. It's a testament to his talent for relating to others that a week does not go by when somebody in our neighborhood asks me how he's doing or tells me a story about a good time they had with him.
But the fact that he has been a Cubs fan since at least the 1930s has to be penance for something. The man has been subjected to more bad baseball in his lifetime than anybody else I know and has not even enjoyed the experience of watching his favorite team play in the World Series since 1938. He was serving in the Pacific while the Cubs participated in the 1945 Fall Classic.
"Wait 'til next year!" my late grandmother would mutter whenever she'd hear a Cubs fan speak those words. "It's always wait 'til next year with those Cubs!"
Will the Cubs bring home the World Series trophy for Pops next year? Will my 63-year-old father ever get to see the Cubs end their 103-year championship drought? Will I live long enough? Will my 3-year-old son?
I ask myself that question often - as I suppose any serious Cubs fan does.
There are many theories that have been kicked around over the years. I don't believe any single theory totally explains it, but there are many elements that have contributed to the ineptitude.
1. Too Many Day Games
This theory was first popularized following the 1969 collapse and gained steam during the 1980s while the Tribune Company was lobbying to install lights at Wrigley Field.
By city ordinance, the Cubs are limited to 30 night games a season and are prohibited from playing night games on Friday and Saturday.
Don Kessinger, the starting shortstop for the '69 Cubs, was hitting .297 at the All-Star break, but gradually tailed off, hitting .248 in August and .186 in September/October.
"Part of it was the switching back and forth from night games on the road to those hot, humid day games at home," Kessinger told Rick Talley in The Cubs of '69 (Contemporary Books, 1989). "I first noticed I was getting tired when I was sleeping past noon on the road. I knew my body was trying to tell me something.
"It became my opinion that to compete for a championship, the Cubs had to have lights. Personally, of course, I wish everybody played every game in daylight. But because they don't, the Cubs needed lights to be competitive.
"Let me give you an example: if you play three hours of tennis during the middle of the day all summer and somebody else is playing three hours every evening at 7 o'clock, who's going to be the most tired after two months? The sun takes its toll."
Mark Grace, the starting first baseman for the Cubs from 1988-2000, recalled his rookie season when there were 47 days with temperatures above 90 degrees and seven above 100.
"You just died playing out there in the daytime," Grace told George Castle in The Million-To-One Team (Diamond Communications, 2000). "All you wanted to do was go home and sleep."
Count pitcher Bill Hands, a 20-game winner in 1969, as a former Cub who was fond of daytime baseball and won't blame day games for the '69 collapse.
"We folded," Hands told Talley. "I don't want to hear all the bullshit about day games and the guys being tired. I don't buy that crap. I thought it was such an advantage to play in Chicago, it wasn't even funny. Biggest homefield advantage in baseball, no question about it. Here we were, home with our families getting normal meals and normal night's sleep, and here are these other guys down on Rush Street beatin' their brains out with three hours of sleep. And we were at a disadvantage because of day baseball? No, thank you."
Hands' theory, of course, only works if the Cubs players are going home and getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis.
I know a Chicago police officer who used to work in Wrigleyville and would tell me what Cubs were regularly patronizing bars at closing time.
"You're playing 51 day games a year, you'd better know what your players do at night," former Cubs TV analyst Steve Stone told USA Today. " If you don't, you'll find they get worn down over the course of the year."
Hands is right, though. Despite the effects of playing under the sun on a daily basis and the havoc that day baseball wreaks on a player's sleeping patterns, the Cubs should regard day baseball as an advantage. It's a mindset.
If the players look at it like a detriment, than it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When Roger Craig took over as the manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1986, he banned his players from complaining about the cold and windy conditions at Candlestick Park. He wanted his players to view the adverse conditions as a disadvantage for the visiting teams.
The Giants lost 100 games in 1985 and were just 38-43 at home. But they became a dominant home team during Craig's seven-year tenure that included two 324-243 (.571 winning percentage). A perceived negative became a positive.
"(Day games are) not the reason we're losing," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster told USA Today. "It can be done. You just have to fight through it."
2. Which Way the Wind Blows
For decades, Cubs GMs, Jim Hendry included, have fallen into the trap of building a team based on the fallacy that Wrigley Field is a hitter's paradise. Any longtime fan knows this isn't true. The ball certainly does fly out when the wind is blowing out, but when the prevailing breeze is coming off the lake, you can't shoot the ball out of the park with a cannon.
"I believe there hasn't been a whole lot of people that have run that team that truly understand the ballpark," Stone said. "Because the bleachers are so low in comparison to (other parks), the wind and the wind direction has an inordinate effect on a fly ball."
In 2010, weather records indicate that the wind blew in 41 times and blown out 27 times. There was a cross breeze on 13 occasions. These conditions, I believe, are the norm.
"It works real well when the wind blows out. ... It's on to Waveland (Avenue), it's on to Sheffield (Avenue), everybody's happy," Stone said. "But the next two games the wind blows in, and you lose two of three at home."
The Cubs continually stock their roster with slow, plodding power hitters, forcing them to employ an unsuccessful (and boring) station-to-station style of play.
The result: In the last 70 years, Cubs teams have won 50 games at home just three times.
The St. Louis Cardinals have accomplished the feat six times since 2000.
And the false perception of their home park as a home run haven has also affected how the Cubs have developed hitters.
An exasperated Jim Frey, during his tenure as GM (1988-91) traded a young, pre-steroids Rafael Palmeiro "because he doesn't hit for power." Never mind that he hit .294 in 258 games with the Cubs and hit .307 in his final season on the North Side.
In 1980, GM Bob Kennedy and new manager Preston Gomez ordered hitting instructor Billy Williams to change Scot Thompson's swing so he could hit more home runs. Thompson went from a .289 hitter in 1979 (and 2 homers) to a .212 hitter (and 2 homers) in 1980 thanks in large part to management's tampering.
"Billy said they wanted me to have a fuller swing," Thompson told Castle in The Million-to-One-Team. "He said that he didn't know why they were doing this, that with time I would hit more homers (with his natural swing). But this is what they were asking me to do. There was a certain feeling that we would try to appease them, but we really didn't have our hearts in it.
"I had two separate swings. One was the swing that they wanted me to do. The other was my own. I abandoned it (the imposed swing) fairly early in the season."
But the damage was done. Thompson played in the major leagues through the 1985 season, but never again was a regular and never came close to fulfilling his promise.
3. Crappy Facilities
New owner Tom Ricketts' recent clubhouse renovations were like putting lipstick on a pig.
"I puke every time I go there," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen once said.
I was a seat vendor at Wrigley Field for two seasons in the 1980s, and although, I never saw any rodents, I can attest to the cramped, dim, and smelly conditions in the deep recesses of the Friendly Confines. The vendors' locker room in the left-field corner was a place I never cared to spend much time in.
The outdated clubhouses offer little space and few of the modern amenities that modern ballparks offer. The media interview room, which is about the size of a closet, is a joke. Worse, there are no indoor batting cages. The only place where players can take extra batting practice is a pitching machine with a net that players can hit balls into. I'm pretty sure my high school's hitting facilities are more advanced.
The Cubs do own the triangular parcel of land next to the ballpark, near the intersection of Clark and Waveland and it seems that space would be ideal for expanded clubhouse facilities.
The space will eventually be developed by the team, but I've always heard ideas about retail space and parking facilities. I suspect that if it comes down to revenue streams or facility upgrades - revenue streams will win out.
4. The Inmates Are in Charge of the Asylum
Philip K. Wrigley was a genius when it came to running a chewing gum company, but during his 45 years (1932-77) as the owner of the Cubs he proved to be incompetent when it came to baseball matters.
Wrigley seemed to not be very interested in baseball matters and was rarely seen at the ballpark. It seemed that his only reason for continuing to operate the Cubs was out of loyalty to his late father, William Wrigley Jr.
Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley speaks with the College of Coaches at spring training in 1961.
The corporate culture in the Wrigley Building rewarded loyalty and fostered a "yes man" environment. No one dared challenge the eccentric owner's outlandish ideas like the College of Coaches and the hiring of a former Air Force general, Robert Whitlow, as athletic director.
When manager Phil Cavaretta told Wrigley during 1954 spring training that the team had no chance of contending, he was fired.
Salty Saltwell, with no experience in major league baseball operations and the longtime vice president of ballpark operations, was made the team's general manager for one year (1976). Charlie Grimm served three different terms, in three decades, as the team's field manager.
The Cubs, who had been one of the National League's powers during the 1930s, refused to change with the times. While teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers invested heavily in scouting and development, the Cubs were way behind the times in both areas.
During his tenure as Cubs general manager (1950-56), Wid Matthews was fleeced so many times by his former employer, the Brooklyn Dodgers, that some Cubs fans wondered if he was still on the Dodgers' payroll.
Matthews, who had served as the Dodgers' director of scouting from 1943-49, was considered a shrewd judge of talent. But his criteria for evaluating players was hardly "Moneyball." He once told reporters that a player's handshake was an integral part of his evaluation process.
The Tribune Company took over in 1981and far too often bean counters meddled in baseball decisions with disastrous results.
Unlike Dallas Green, who had a sense of long-term vision during his six-year tenure as GM in the 1980s, most Cubs executives have been obsessed with the quick fix.
Before the 1991 season, general manager Jim Frey overspent on three free agents - Danny Jackson, Dave Smith, and George Bell - he believed would put the Cubs over the top, but all three players proved to be flops.
Left-handed pitching ace Jackson brought with him to the Cubs an injury-plagued track record and the injuries continued once he joined the North Siders. Jackson was the Cubs' Opening Day starter, but twice landed on the disabled list and went just 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA in 14 starts during the disastrous 1991 season.
Smith, who was installed as the team's closer after a successful decade in the same capacity with Houston, also had two stints on the disabled list and finished with six blown saves and an ERA of 6.00.
Bell was past his prime and was a prototypical American League player. Installed in left field by the Cubs, he proved to be a defensive liability. Any value he brought to the Cubs with his bat was offset by his glove.
With the Cubs at 18-19 in late May, Trib bean counter Don Grenesko decided to show his subordinates and the media who the boss was, and fired popular manager Don Zimmer.
Zimmer recalled the whole sordid affair with Bill Madden in Zim: A Baseball Life (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002):
"After a six game winning streak in early April, we lost eight of the next 10, and a reporter asked me: 'How do you feel sitting here with no contract for next year?'
"I said, 'That'll take care of itself. Bell's gonna hit, Dave Smith is gonna start saving games, and Jackson's gonna win his share before it's all over.'
"Now the reporter went to Don Grenesko, the Tribune-appointed club president, who responded: 'Zimmer's got a contract for this year and we'll evaluate him at the All-Star break.'
"When I read that, I hit the roof. I went to Frey and said, 'I want to talk to this guy Grenesko.'
" 'I wouldn't do that,' Frey cautioned. 'Let it lie. You'll cool off tomorrow.'
"The next day, however, I hadn't cooled off at all, I told Frey again, I wanted to speak to Grenesko.
" 'Just leave it alone,' Frey pleaded. 'The guy knows nothing about baseball. Why go in there and ask for trouble?'
" 'Because I have to live my own life,' I said.
"Frey was afraid I was going to go in to Grenesko and raise hell. I wasn't going to do that. All I wanted was to get a clarification from him that I wasn't on some sort of trial until the All-Star break. Just the same, Frey decided to go with me.
"In the meeting with Grenesko, I never raised my voice. What I said was, 'I don't think your comments helped our club.'
"His response was, 'Well, I didn't know you were going to take it so personal.'
"I said, 'What does it mean, after being here for two years and after all I've accomplished, that I'm going to be evaluated at the All-Star break?'
"He really didn't have an answer for that, and after we left his office, Jimmy said to me, 'This could cost you your job, you know.' "
And indeed it did. Zimmer was replaced with the inexperienced and inept Jim Essian. The Cubs finished fourth with a 77-83 record.
What a way to run a ballclub!
Two years later, Frey's successor Larry Himes decided to make an example of, all people, pitching ace Greg Maddux. Never mind that the 26-year-old Maddux was en route to the first of four straight Cy Young awards. Nobody was going to dictate the terms of contract negotiations, especially the agent of a cocky 26-year-old pitcher.
An entire shoebox of baseball cards could not fill the gaping holes left by the departures of reigning Cy Young Award winner Maddux and slugger Andre Dawson following the 1992 season. But Himes rationalized that with the money he would have paid Maddux and Dawson, he was able to strengthen his team with the additions of pitchers Jose Guzman, Randy Myers, Dan Plesac, and outfielders Willie Wilson and Candy Maldonado.
While franchises like the Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels stay on task with long-term goals, the Cubs continue to be reactive instead of proactive.
The Cubs, under the stewardship of Hendry, cannot be accused of being cheap. But they have not spent their money wisely. Long-term contracts doled out to Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Zambrano have given the team little flexibility in the makeup of their roster and in their budget.
After the disappointing three-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, Hendry and manager Lou Piniella decided that the team's fatal flaw was a lack of left-handed hitting. They over-reacted and essentially replaced the right-handed hitting Mark DeRosa in the lineup with the lefty swinging Milton Bradley. No consideration was given to the intangible, but important, team chemistry that produced a 97-win season in '08. The subtraction of DeRosa and addition of Bradley is largely responsible for the two-year tailspin the Cubs have experienced.
5. Funny Farm System
By 1940, the St. Louis Cardinals had over 600 minor-league players under contract in baseball's first farm system. The Cubs by that time had just 34 and continued to rely on the out-of-date practice of buying players from independent teams.
A parade of young prospects were called up by the Cubs in the years following World War II - Clarence Maddern, Cliff Chambers, Bob Rush, Rube Walker, Hal Jeffcoat, and Roy Smalley Sr. to name a few - but the talent mined from their outdated farm system was mediocre at best. The Cubs farm system would not begin to bear fruit until the late 1950s when players like Williams, Ron Santo, and Dick Ellsworth emerged and the decade of the 50s - with the exception of the fine play of Ernie Banks - was the darkest in club history.
During the Wrigley era, each minor league team was assigned a manager. The only other in-season instruction was provided by two roving minor league coaches, one for hitting and one for pitching. Class organizations of that era like the Dodgers and Orioles were much better staffed.
General manager John Holland had put together a solid club by the late 1960s, but as the core of that team aged, the Cubs farm system lacked quality players to replace them.
The first decade-and-a-half of the Major League Entry Draft, that was instituted in 1965, the Cubs weren't necessarily interested in selecting the best player. The objective of Holland, Saltwell, and Kennedy was to select the most "signable" player - the best player available at the lowest price.
The result was a weak farm system stocked with slow-footed, one-dimensional players. The likes of Santo, Williams, and Banks were replaced by the likes of Adrian Garrett, Danny Breeden, Cleo James, and Pat Bourque.
By 1975, the penny-pinching Cubs employed just nine scouts. They relied greatly on the generic reports sent to all teams by the Major League Scouting Bureau. Minor league instruction was almost non-existent.
"Players were left to their own devices," first baseman Pete LaCock, who was drafted by the Cubs in 1970, told Castle. "They had to learn themselves. The farm system was understaffed compared to other organizations. I knew I would get better coaching when I went to winter ball. The players had to help each other. If you didn't have talent, you just didn't make it. The managers were so busy doing reports, doing interviews, they didn't have time to really coach."
With the talented Gordon Goldsberry as his farm director, Green built a magnificent farm system during his tenure as general manager (1982-87). It produced the likes of Grace, Shawon Dunston, Jamie Moyer, Maddux, Palmeiro, Dave Martinez, Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Joe Girardi, and Damon Berryhill.
But those seeds were never allowed to grow. A shortsighted Tribune hierarchy pushed Green out after a veteran major league team limped through three straight disappointing seasons (1985-87). The bumper crop was squandered by Green's two immediate successors, Frey and Himes.
"Unfortunately, before all of us got up here to make our marks on the big leagues, they fired Dallas," Grace told Castle. "They got rid of the people who made the young players what they are today. That was the big mistake, that we didn't get a chance to make a youth movement with a bunch of kids who were ready to play. With Dallas still running the team, they would have added free agents around us.
"Had that happened, this team would have been a winner for the (next) decade, no question about it. I think they know that they (made a mistake). Dallas and the people working for him had this organization going in a championship direction. The people who were running the show knew a lot about baseball and cared a lot about winning. That was the main thing they taught us in the minor leagues - winning. If you win, everything will be taken care of."
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Cubs' farm system was highly regarded by the likes of Baseball America and other such publications. Corey Patterson was supposed to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. and Hee Seop Choi was touted as a future All-Star.
Those claims are so laughable now.
So consider me skeptical about the well regarded current state of the farm system. It was touted in a recent story on Cubs.com.
Catcher Geovany Soto (2008) was the first homegrown position player to make the All-Star team since Grace in 1997.
In 2010, the Cubs finished fifth in baseball with a minor league system .533 combined winning percentage. Double-A Tennessee won 86 games and made it to the Southern League championship series, while every full-season club finished over .500.
"In my 10 years, it was the best," Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. "The number of kids who came up to the big leagues for the first time, they showed they're big leaguers. My top three teams - Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona - I think had the best winning percentage in all of baseball. We don't only have players, we have players who play winning baseball.
"We were able to continue to bring players from within and stay away from signing veterans, and the prospects all played well. I couldn't be any happier with the way the season went."
As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out.
6. Fragile Pitchers
History often times repeats itself.
In the late 1950s, the Cubs farm system developed a quartet of talented pitchers - Dick Drott, Moe Drabowsky, Glen Hobbie, and Bob Anderson - but all four broke down and failed to fulfill their promise.
Or how about in 1985 when all five members of the Cubs starting rotation landed on the disabled list at the same time to help derail the Cubs' drive for a second straight NL East title?
The 50s were a dreadful decade for the Cubs, but the emergence of Banks as one of the game's premier players and a bumper crop of pitching prospects seemed to indicate better times ahead in the 60s. The careers of Drott, Drabowsky, Hobbie, and Anderson were all derailed or slowed by injuries, and unfortunately advances in sports medicine were still a long way off.
"Tommy John" surgery was a long way off. There were no specialized medical procedures for athletes and no scientific rehab programs.
Drott emerged on the scene as a flame-throwing 20-year-old right-hander in 1957. He went 15-11 while allowing just 200 hits in 229 innings while striking out 170. The right-hander led the National League in walks with 129, but control problems for a hard-throwing young pitcher are not unusual.
Drott's career highlight came on May 26, 1957 at Wrigley Field. Drott thrilled many in a crowd of 32,127 by striking out 15 to help the Cubs complete a doubleheader sweep of the eventual world champion Milwaukee Braves. Drott had 10 strikeouts by the end of the fifth. Using a blazing fastball and sharply breaking sidearm curve, he retired the mighty Henry Aaron on called third strikes three times. Drott struck out every Braves regular at least once en route to the seven-hit, one-walk complete-game performance.
Drott endured elbow pain throughout an inconsistent 1958 campaign, going 7-11 with a 5.44 ERA and 99 walks in 167 innings, but struck out 156.
By 1959, according to Jim Langford in The Game Is Never Over (Hardwood Press, 1980), "Drott's sore arm had become chronic (six of the most painful words written in this book - oh, the splendid promise of that young man)."
In the days when the most common remedy for an ailing arm was rest, Drott appeared in just eight games in 1959 and went an awful 0-6 with a 7.16 ERA in 23 appearances in 1960. He was used primarily in long relief and mop-up duty in 1961 and was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the 1962 expansion draft. After going 3-12 in two seasons with Houston, he was out of baseball at age 27.
While Drott was rising to prominence in 1957, 21-year-old right-hander Drabowsky was also turning heads. He went 13-15 and struck out 170 in 239 2/3 innings. Drabowsky's career became sidetracked on July 11, 1958 while pitching against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
"Bob Skinner was batting, and I had an 0-and-2 count on him," Drabowsky told Castle. "I wanted to throw a fastball by him, getting a little something extra on it. I felt something pop in it. I tore the muscle capsule of the elbow. I had no idea what the cause was.
Drabowsky tried to make a go of it eight days later but exited after facing just four batters.
"When you're young and strong, you go out there and think you're pretty much invincible," Drabowsky remembered. "I don't think we babied ourselves until we hurt it a second time."
Drabowsky tried to pitch through the elbow pain, but by compensating for the injury, he developed a sore shoulder that plagued him for the rest of his 17-year career.
Drabowsky struggled through elbow and shoulder pain while going 5-10 with a 4.13 ERA in 1959 and 3-1 with a 6.44 ERA in 1960. He was traded to the Braves late in 1961 spring training and re-emerged as an effective reliever in the late 1960s with the Baltimore Orioles.
Hobbie, a hard-throwing right-hander with an effective curve and changeup, arrived on the scene at age 22 as an effective reliever in 1958. He was promoted to the starting rotation in 1959 and was the Cubs most effective pitcher for two seasons - going 16-13 in '59 and 16-20 in '60 for dreadful Cubs teams.
"I really thought it was a matter of time before I became the best right-handed starter in the league," Hobbie told Castle.
Hobbie's downfall began in 1961 when he developed a sore lower back above the right hip.
Hobbie saw Dodgers team physician Dr. Robert Kerlan during a Cubs West Coast trip and was advised to rest his back, but the Cubs medical staff had their own opinion.
They "stuck a big needle in my back with cortisone and told me to go back out and pitch. But the cortisone didn't last the whole game. I changed my delivery to compensate for the back pain (notice a pattern?). ... I ended up hurting my shoulder.
"If I'd have been on the disabled list for 15 days, I'd have been fine. But then, the credo was to pitch. You felt you were going to lose your spot."
Hobbie was never the same. He finished 7-13 with a 4.26 ERA in 1961, 5-14 with a 5.22 ERA in 1962, and 7-10 with a 3.92 ERA in 1963. Hobbie was traded to the Cardinals on June 2, 1964 and after 13 appearances with the eventual world champions, pitched his final game on July 25. His career was over at the age of 28.
Anderson, a 6-4, 210-pound right-hander, stuck with the Cubs late in the 1958 season at age 22 and was a regular starter to start the 1959 campaign. Anderson battled through elbow pain to post a 12-13 record in 1959 and a 9-11 mark in 1960 and was converted to relief duty in 1961 during the first year of the College of Coaches.
He was effective in his new role but was abused. Anderson's decline began during a three-game series in Pittsburgh late in the '61 campaign.
"I pitched three innings (actually one inning) one night, then four innings (actually 2 1/3) the next night, and three innings the third night," Anderson told Castle. "The last guy I faced was Roberto Clemente. It was a pitch that didn't need to have been thrown.
"I had a 1-and-2 count, and threw a pitch just below the waist. Roberto dropped his bat, thinking he was called out. The whole ball was over the white of the plate. The ump (Ken Burkhart) missed it. The catcher (Dick Bertell) walked away, I was walking off the mound, and Roberto was walking off.
"I had to throw another pitch. It was a fastball on the inside of the plate. I jammed him and got Roberto out (on a grounder to second). I felt something in my shoulder, a sensation, not pain. I think the handwriting was on the wall."
Anderson's next outing came four days later at Wrigley Field.
"When I tried to put something extra on it, it felt like someone jabbed a hot poker in my shoulder. After three innings (actually five), I asked to be take out of the game. (The rest of the season) I did absolutely lousy. It hurt and I kind of slung the ball instead of throwing it with a snap to it. I got a few guys out because they weren't used to seeing me throw that slow."
Anderson was examined by Cubs doctors and he said they urged him to pitch through it.
Anderson pitched two more ineffective years in the majors but said he felt a "tug" in his shoulder with each delivery. He finished his career, at age 28, by going 3-1 with the Detroit Tigers in 1963.
"After a time, the pain went away, but the life in my fastball didn't come back."
Prior won 18 games in 2003 and compiled a 42-29 record and a 3.51 ERA in 106 starts during five injury-plagued seasons with the Cubs from 2002-06. His final appearance with the Cubs came on Aug. 10, 2006. He has undergone three shoulder surgeries since his last major league outing.
Some have blamed his injuries on Prior's mechanics and others have pointed a finger at manager Dusty Baker for overworking his young ace. But a pair of freak injuries also had to contribute.
Prior, 30, is now a free agent, but is expected to be invited by the Texas Rangers to spring training as a non-roster player and compete for a bullpen spot in 2011.
Wood recorded over 200 strikeouts in four out of his first five major league seasons, with a high of 266 in 2003.
The 33-year-old right-hander, who had somewhat of a career revival as a setup man with the New York Yankees late in the 2010 season, has been placed on the disabled list 14 times in his 13 big league seasons. He missed the entire 1999 season due to elbow surgery in spring training. In recent years, he has had three serious arm injuries, and only started 14 games from Opening Day 2005 through the middle of 2006.
In 1985, the Cubs spent 33 days in first place early in the season and led the NL East by as many as four games. But the pitching woes contributed to a 13-game losing streak in June that knocked the Cubs out of first and sent them reeling to a 77-84 finish.
Manager Frey used 20 pitchers, including 13 different starter, six of whom made their major league debuts. With starters Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Dennis Eckersley, Scott Sanderson, and Dick Ruthven all on the disabled list, Frey's starters during a nine game stretch from Aug. 14-23 were Ray Fontenot, Steve Engel, Derek Botelho, Lary Sorensen, and Jay Baller.
The "Big Four" of Sutcliffe, Trout, Eckersley, and Sanderson combined to miss 51 starts and win just 33 games.
Sutcliffe, who was on the disabled list three different times that season, saw the trajectory of his career forever change after he pulled a hamstring while running to first base in Atlanta on May 19. He rushed back from the injury and pitched a complete-game shutout on June 7 but by compensating for the hamstring injury, he soon developed a sore shoulder that would bother him for the rest of his career.
7. Too Soon, Dammit
Hollocher had a magnificent inaugural campaign in 1918, leading the Cubs to the NL pennant. The 22-year-old shortstop hit .316 while leading the league in hits (161) and stolen bases (26). He would have been a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year had the award then existed.
Charlie Hollocher in 1919. Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-061768. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.
The diminutive Hollocher (5-7½, 158 pounds) was described by Arthur Ahrens as a
"quick thrower and a smooth fielder who covered all his ground and then some. He became especially renowned for his ability to haul down Texas League pop flies."
Hollocher was weakened by the flu early in the 1919 season and his average fell to .270. He got off to a hot start in 1920 but on June 8 became ill on a train en route from St. Louis to Philadelphia with what was reported as ptomaine poisoning. He returned to the lineup two days later but on July 15 he reported that he again was feeling ill and missed a Cubs east coast road trip. Hollocher was back with the team on July 24, but played in only two more games. On Aug. 17, the Cubs announced that Hollocher had been hospitalized and that he would play in no more games that season.
Hollocher had a respectable season (.289 BA in 140 games) in 1921 and a spectacular one in 1922 (.340 in 152 games).
Hollocher informed the Cubs that he had suffered from stomach flu during the offseason and suffered a relapse after reporting to 1923 spring training in Avalon, Calif.
He was examined by doctors in St. Louis in Chicago and did not appear in a game until May 11. By July 22 Hollocher was hitting .350, but later that week he again fell ill.
On Aug. 3, Hollocher left the team, notifying the team with a note addressed to manager Bill Killefer:
Dear Bill -
Tried to see you at the clubhouse this afternoon but guess I missed you. Feeling pretty rotten so made up my mind to go home and take a rest and forget baseball for the rest of the year. No hard feelings, just didn't feel like playing anymore. Good luck,
Hollocher also wrote Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and his request to be placed on the voluntarily retired list was granted despite the Cubs' claims that their start shortstop was a deserter.
Hollocher demanded the $4,200 of his salary that he claimed was owed to him during his absence but the Cubs refused. Hollocher held out for the entire 1924 spring training.
Hollocher finally gave in and signed a two-year, $24,000 contract, but struggled.
On May 20, 1924, the Tribune reported, "The X-ray plates of Charlie Hollocher's stomach have definitely determined that there is nothing organically wrong with the star shortstop."
After going 0-for-8 in a doubleheader loss to Boston on Aug. 20 that dropped his average to .245, Hollocher was benched. On Sept. 4, Killefer announced that he had sent the shortstop home for the remainder of the season.
Hollocher returned to the Cubs to play two innings at second base in a 6-3 loss to the White Sox in the City Series on Oct. 3, but never again appeared in a regular season game.
It will never be known whether Hollocher's ailment was real or imagined. He committed suicide on Aug. 14, 1940.
Hubbs, at age 20, took over as the Cubs' starting second baseman on Opening Day of 1962. He hit .260 in 160 games and handled 418 consecutive chances without making an error and 78 consecutive games without a miscue. Hubbs was named NL Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie to win a Gold Glove award.
Hubbs' average slipped to .235 in 1963, but his continued brilliance in the field indicated that he would be the Cubs' second baseman for many years to come.
But on Feb. 13, 1964, Hubbs was killed when the private plane he was piloting crashed in Provo, Utah.
Hubbs had emerged as a steady professional and a team leader on and off the field. His death was a stunning blow as his teammates prepared to report to spring training in 1964.
8. Narrow World View
When Hendry was installed as player development chief in 1995, the Cubs were ranked "last in Latin America" by Baseball America. While teams like the Dodgers and Expos had been running academies in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for years, the Cubs lacked any substantial presence within the deep talent pool of the Carribean.
Fleita, now the vice president of player personnel, was the Cubs' Johnny Appleseed of the Dominican Republic.
Fleita began his career in the Cubs organization in 1995 as the manager of the Cubs' Class-A Williamsport affiliate in the New York-Penn League after a stint as a Rookie League skipper in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
"Where the hell are the Latin guys?" he asked himself when he came over to the Cubs.
Fleita was named the Cubs' Latin American scouting coordinator in 1996 and when he arrived in the Dominican Republic, he rolled up his sleeves.
"We couldn't do any worse than what we were doing," Fleita told Castle in The Million-to-One Team. "Our Dominican team was in a co-op situation with two other teams. We didn't have adequate facilities. We just had one field. There were billy goats tied up to stakes in the ground; they were the groundskeepers because we didn't have a mower."
It was a shocking and embrassing sight to Fleita who assumed the Cubs were taking advantage of the popularity of Sammy Sosa in the Dominican.
(During a weeklong trip to the Dominican I made in Februray 2004, I was often asked by waiters, bartenders, casino dealers, and tour guides where I was from. When I told them that I was from Chicago, they'd reply, "Sammy Sosa, he's my cousin!" Sammy apparently has many relatives.)
"All I heard was negatives (about the Cubs' scouting presence)," Fleita said. "I was shocked the Cubs were so far behind."
The Giants, Dodgers, and Pirates had been successfully mining players from the Dominican Republic for three decades before it finally occurred to the Cubs that it might be a good idea to expend some of their player development resources there.
By the turn of the century, Fleita had developed a permanent Cubs academy in the Dominican. Players are housed on the property, served three square meals per day, given baseball instruction, and English lessons.
The Cubs now operate two teams in the Dominican Summer League.
Fleita also helped the Cubs step up their efforts in Venezuela. Zambrano was signed as a 16-year-old in 1997.
Under Hendry's stewardship, the Cubs in the late 1990s also hoped to make headway into the Pacific Rim. But those efforts were mostly fruitless with only Choi and forgettable pitcher Jae Kuk Ryu of South Korea making it to the majors.
The Cubs' top shortstop prospect of the present is 20-year-old South Korean Hak-Ju Lee.
Lee hit .282 in 122 games at Class A Peoria in 2010. The left-handed hitting Lee entered the season as the Cubs fifth-ranked prospect by Baseball America. He has been praised for his blazing speed and cannon arm. The high regard for Lee's defense has some scouts speculating that if Lee reaches the majors in a couple years, it might necessitate the Cubs to shift Starlin Castro to second base.
9. A Random Fluke
"Any team could have a bad century," broadcaster Jack Brickhouse used to say.
Incredible as it may seem, there is no explanation for the Cubs' championship drought. I've never won the lottery or a raffle prize. I've never been struck by lightning. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Some things are just meant to be.
The championship drought is a combination of all of the above theories and a whole lot of bad luck.
10. A Curse?
I don't believe in billy goats and curses, but my wife, Denise, has a cosmic theory regarding the drought.
"The Red Sox ended their drought in 2004 and the White Sox ended theirs in 2005," Denise says. "The Cubs were supposed to win it in 2003 but because of Bartman, they got out of line and missed their turn."
It makes as much sense as any of the above theories or any explanation. I've read elsewhere.
This year may have been a disaster, but Opening Day 2011 offers a clean slate, a fresh start. Perhaps the Cubs will finally put it all together. Wait 'til next year!
Somewhere my late grandmother is rolling her eyes.