22-37, 4 saves, 4.78 ERA with Cubs
(Editor's Note: Tenth in a series identifying the 100 worst Cubs of all-time.)
Tim Robbins played Eby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh in the 1988 movie, Bull Durham. Nuke was a young pitching phenom who was described by his catcher Crash Davis as a prospect who possessed "a million-dollar arm and a five-cent" head.
I always considered Crash's description of Nuke an apt one for Kyle Farnsworth, a young flamethrower who teased Cubs fans with his blazing heat and some fleeting success but failed to fulfill his promise because of a lack of commitment to his career.
Kyle Farnsworth. "Why is he calling me Meat? I'm the guy who's driving a Porsche."
Farnsworth did not respect himself - and that was his problem. But he disrespected the game - which was the Cubs' problem. He's been able to put together a decent 12-year major league career, but never became the star he could have - and perhaps should have - been.
Farnsworth was selected out of high school by the Cubs in the 47th round of the 1994 MLB June Amateur Draft and made an impressive major league debut on April 29, 1999, earning the victory after limiting the host Florida Marlins to one earned run and six hits over six innings
Farnsworth, who assumed a spot in the Cubs' rotation, worked five or more innings in each of his first nine starts. After a couple of shaky starts - including an atrocious one-third inning effort (6 ER, 7 H) in a 21-8 loss at Philadelphia on July 3 - and a stint in the bullpen, Farnsworth returned to the starting rotation for the tail end of the season.
The 6-4, 230-pound Farnsworth was inconsistent but was never better than he was against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 29. In a game that was not televised, Farnsworth tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout. He finished his rookie campaign with a 5-9 record and a 5.05 ERA.
Farnsworth opened the 2000 season in the starting rotation, but fared poorly in five outings. He was demoted to the bullpen after getting pounded for 25 earned runs on 36 hits (including 6 home runs) in 27 1/3 innings. With a struggling team far from contention, the Cubs had the luxury of being patient with Farnsworth. He finished the season with a record of 2-9 and an ERA of 6.43 but his 51 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings was impressive. His 50 walks in 77 innings on the season (5.8 BB per nine innings) was not so impressive.
Things finally clicked for Farnsworth in 2001. He and veteran southpaw Jeff Fassero teamed up to become one of the National League's best righty-lefty setup reliever combos. Farnsworth had baseball buzzing with a high-90s fastball. The control problems that plagued him during his first two seasons were a thing of the past. He walked just 29 in 82 innings. Farnsworth, who finished the season with a 4-6 record and a 2.74 ERA, allowed just 65 hits. His WHIP improved from 1.818 in 2000 to 1.146 in 2001. He struck out a whopping 107 hitters. The 25-year-old Farnsworth appeared to be a closer of the future who was on the cusp of stardom.
Perhaps, up to that point, things had come too easy for the talented Farnsworth. He had been able to coast on his natural abilities but seemed unwilling to put in the necessary work to take his game to the next level. He enjoyed the lifestyle that his major league career afforded him. It was no secret to many Cubs fans that Farnsworth was a regular patron of some of the popular drinking establishments that surrounded Wrigley Field. He was even known to tend bar at one watering hole from time to time. Farnsworth's nocturnal habits didn't necessarily make him a bad guy, but it was a shame that his many late nights turned out to have such a negative impact on his career.
Baseball is a young man's game.
I often believe that if I had the opportunity that was presented to Farnsworth, that I would have grabbed it by the horns. But another part of me asks, "Who are you kidding?"
I did countless stupid things and made many ill-informed decisions when I was a 20-something. Did I fully utilize my talents and fulfill my potential? Hell, no! Were there consequences for my foolishness? No doubt.
Whether or not it was because of youthful indescretions, Farnsworth's career trajectory regressed during his final three seasons with the Cubs.
Stories of a hungover Farnsworth falling asleep in the Cubs clubhouse were whispered as he turned in an awful 2002 campaign, going 4-6 with a 7.33 ERA. He allowed 53 hits and struck out just 46 in 46 2/3 innings.
He went 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 77 appearances and showed flashes of his former greatness for the 2003 division champion Cubs.
His most notable outing came on June 19 at Cincinnati. Reds starting pitcher Paul Wilson, who was batting against Farnsworth in the seventh inning, took exception with an inside pitch. He stepped out of the batter's box, shouted at the Cubs pitcher, and then charged the mound. Farnsworth met Wilson in front of the mound and tackled him to the ground with a hit that could have made Dick Butkus jealous. Farnsworth was suspended three games for his actions, but later had his penalty reduced to two games.
He turned in three scoreless outing in the division series against Atlanta, but was hammered for five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings during his team's collapse in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS against Florida. A three-run, two-out double he allowed to Mike Mordecai was one of the key blows during the Marlins' stunning eight-run eighth inning in Game 6.
Farnsworth was 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA in 72 appearances in his final season with the Cubs in 2004. He allowed 67 hits - including 10 home runs - in 66 2/3 innings. The Cubs had shown considerable patience with Farnsworth for a decade, but that patience had finally run out by the end of the '04 season and an incident on Aug. 27 likely greased the skids for his exit from the team.
He was hammered for six runs on six hits in the ninth inning of a key pennant race game against the Houston Astros. After being removed from the contest by manager Dusty Baker, Farnsworth angrily kicked an electric fan in the tunnel leading from the Cubs dugout to the clubhouse. He severely bruised and sprained his right knee, was placed on the disabled list, and missed nearly a month during a critical stretch in the season - a campaign that finished with the Cubs behind the Astros in the National League wild-card race after a late-season collapse.