Author Archive

1/25 Maddon: “I want to see him smile”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was in Puerto Rico this weekend to watch Javier Baez play in the championship series with Santurce. What was he looking for? Maddon told the young infielder he wanted to “see him smile.”

“My purpose is to see Javier Baez play,” Maddon told El Nuevo Dia on Saturday. “Being a new member of the Cubs organiation, being the manager and Javier being such a big part of our future, I thought it was important to come down and show support and start building that kind of relationship so he could trust me, also. From my perspective, the most important thing I have to do in Spring Training is earn the trust of all of our players.”

Baez, who batted .169 in 52 games with the Cubs last season, hitting nine home runs but also striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats, started playing for Santurce on Dec. 11. In the round robin playoffs, he did deliver a walk-off RBI single in the 10th on Jan. 12, but in the first two championship games, he was 0-for-9 with six strikeouts.

“He’s trying way too hard,” Maddon said. “I want him to back off. The last thing I want him to do is try to impress me tonight. … I said, ‘Hit a couple singles and above all, I want to see you smile.'”

On Saturday, Baez went 1-for-4 and scored a run in Santurce’s 6-0 win over Mayaguez. The best-of-seven series is now tied at 2-2, and Game 5 was scheduled for Sunday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Baez, 22, told El Nuevo Dia he was impressed that Maddon would come visit him in Puerto Rico. Maddon has talked to Santurce manager Eduardo Perez about Baez as well.

– Carrie Muskat

1/24 Winter league update

* Junior Lake was 1-for-2 with an RBI in Estrellas’ 2-1 win over Gigantes Saturday night in the Dominican championship series. Gigantes leads the best-of-nine game series, 4-3. Game 8 will be played Sunday.

* Cubs manager Joe Maddon was in Puerto Rico Saturday night to see Javier Baez go 1-for-4 and score a run in Santurce’s 6-0 win over Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican league championship series. The best-of-seven series is now tied at 2-2, and Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday.

1/24 Remembering Ernie

Some of Ernie Banks’ former Cubs teammates and a few other notable Cubs players were in Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday, taking part in Randy Hundley’s fantasy camp. Here is their reaction to Banks’ passing on Friday:

* Glenn Beckert
“To me it’s a tragic thing, really a tragic thing. I lost one of my best friends. You don’t realize how close you were to some of those old athletes until something like this happens. He was great to play with. He was my best hitting instructor. In 1965, I came up as a young kid and he was still at first base. You can’t imagine the impact. I played with him for seven years. This has hit me hard. It’s hard think about losing a friend like that.”

* Randy Hundley
“Ernie was terrific to play with. I remember the first year I joined the ballclub, Leo [Durocher] was the manager. He called a meeting and he got on Ernie, he told Ernie that every time the pitcher threw over to first base, he wanted Ernie to tag the guy even if he had been standing there for five minutes. And Ernie did it without complaining with every runner that got on first base.

“He was a wonderful person to play with. He and I used to talk a lot when we were on the plane. He’d come over and sit with me and we’d talk about the game.”

“It was sad to hear that he had passed last night. I was very sorry to hear that. … We lost a wonderful person. I saw him the last time during the last couple of months. We missed him very much at the Cubs Convention. I sure wish I had been able to see him then.”

* Gary Matthews Sr.
“I mean, obviously, without a doubt, the greatest player, if not recognized player, in Cubs history. You know, I just saw him recently and he really looked happy. He looked good. He had lost a lot of weight. He was a guy for me who really loved life. He lived his life like that. The Cubs family is going to miss him, without a doubt. Just in terms of being the first black player the Cubs had and the home runs he hit. A shortstop that went to first just shows you what a great player he was, but he’s not here anymore, period. All fans are going to miss him.”

* Bob Dernier
“For me, if there was a monarch, a King Cub, he certainly filled that role. The way he treated me was just golden. He gave me a joyful welcome and sort of a big brother hug. I thought a lot of Ernie. I think we all did. He’ll be sorely missed, but he’s up there with [Ron] Santo and Harry [Caray] and a variety of others. They’re welcoming him now. He was the ambassador of Cubs baseball, no doubt. I just go by my own experience and he always treated me very kindly. I feel badly for the guys who played with him. I can feel their sadness because I know how I would feel if and when I lose a teammate. Not if, when. That’s part of the gig. They have to have a heavy heart.”

* Ed Lynch
“There are certain players who define an organization. For the San Francisco Giants, it’s Willie Mays. For the New York Mets, it’s Tom Seaver. I think Ernie Banks was that kind of player. He defined the Chicago Cubs. During the lean years of the 1950s he was the one bright spot for the fans. And he transitioned into the very good teams they had in the late ‘60s. From my experience being in Chicago as a player and a general manager I don’t think there was any more beloved player than Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Just the name itself was indicative of the high regard in which he’s held by the fans, the city and the organization.

“I knew him well. We didn’t socialize or anything, but he knew that as the general manager, I was trying to make the club better and he was all for that. One thing about those guys –- Ernie, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert –- all those guys legitimately rooted for the Cubs. They wanted the Cubs to win. And you felt that. You felt that support from all those guys and Ernie was one of them.

“It’s a huge loss, not only for the organization, but for the city and for baseball. You know, this guy wasn’t too far removed from Jackie Robinson. He was only six years removed. It wasn’t exactly a picnic for Larry Doby and Roy Campanella and that whole group that came in the 1960s. It was a still a pretty tough environment to not only work, but to succeed. And they succeeded. These were the type of people who encompassed what America was all about and that’s why he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama because he deserved it. He blazed the trail. They were out there alone. They did it alone. I have the utmost respect for the players of that era who did it alone. They were the true trail blazers and Ernie was certainly one of those guys.”

Reported by MLB.com’s Barry Bloom in Mesa, Ariz.

1/24 Ernie and Wrigley Field

In an interview with Ernie Banks for my book, “Banks to Sandberg to Grace,” the Cubs legend told me a story about how a nurse at a health spa in Tucson, Ariz., asked him for a favor. Here’s Ernie telling the story:

“[She said] ‘My grandfather was a longtime Cub fan and before he died, he wanted his ashes spread at Wrigley Field. Do they do that there?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know but I’ll let you know before I leave.’

“So I called, and they said, ‘Well, Ernie, we get a lot of requests from people who want to do that. We don’t publicize it because we don’t want to make it sound like a cemetery.’

“I know we haven’t played well but it’s not a cemetery, so I told [the nurse] that. She said, ‘OK, but I really wanted it to happen.’

“So now, I want it to happen to me. I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out.”

1/24 Ernie Banks home runs

Looking back at Ernie Banks career, here are some of his home run highlights:

* Of his 512 career home runs, Banks hit four walk-off blasts, 50 that tied the game, and 164 that gave the Cubs the lead.

* He homered off 216 pitchers. Robin Roberts served up the most (15), and Banks hit seven each off Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and six off Warren Spahn.

* Banks hit 277 homers while playing shortstop, 210 as a first baseman.

* Of the total homers, 290 came at Wrigley Field.

* Banks’ first home run came Sept. 20, 1953, three days after his big league debut. He connected in the eighth off Gerry Staley in St. Louis. Home run No. 500 came May 12, 1970, off the Braves’ Pat Jarvis at WRigley Field in the second inning. Banks’ last homer was Aug. 24, 1971, also at Wrigley Field, when he connected off the Reds’ Jim McGlothlin in the fourth inning.

1/24 Obama on Mr. Cub

President Barack Obama, who had presented Ernie Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2013, issued a statement Saturday regarding the passing of Mr. Cub. Banks died Friday at 83.

“Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him,” Obama said in the statement.

“Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day,” Obama said. “He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired. Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game.

“As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago,” Obama said. “He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV. And in 2013, it was my honor to present Ernie with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team’s behind him, and Mr. Class — “Mr. Cub” — is ready to play two.”

1/23 RIP, Mr. Cub

Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, passed away Friday. He was 83; Banks would’ve celebrated his birthday on Jan. 31.

“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time,” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.

“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind-hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”

Banks did not attend the Cubs Convention last weekend because of poor health.

Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks played the game he loved as a lifelong Cub for 19 seasons. He made his debut with the club in 1953, and retired from the game in 1971. A 14-time All-Star, Banks won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player awards in 1958 and 1959 when he hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI in 1958 and followed up with 45 home runs and 143 RBI in 1959.

Banks hit 512 home runs in his career, surpassing the 40-home run mark five times in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record to this day.

Banks ranks first in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).

Starting while still as a player in 1967, he turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African American to manage a Major League team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.

Banks became the first player in Cubs history to have his number retired in 1982. He was also voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team and honored on the field at the All-Star Game in Fenway Park in 1999.

Beyond his statistics on the field, Banks was famous for his endearing charm and his remarkable wit. He became the first player in franchise history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field when he helped with the unveiling at Clark and Addison on March 31, 2008. His statue is adorned with his famous line, “Let’s Play Two.”

In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given to those who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

1/23 Cubs claim Germen

On Friday, the Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Gonzalez Germen off waivers from the Rangers. He was designated for assignment by the Mets on Dec. 15 and traded to the Yankees four days later. Germen was then designated for assignment on Jan. 13 and traded to the Rangers on Tuesday.

With the move, the Cubs’ 40-man roster is now at 40.

Germen, 27, is 1-2 with one save and a 4.31 ERA in 54 relief appearances over the last two seasons with the Mets. He has struck out 64 batters over 64 2/3 innings pitched, and limited opponents to a .248 batting average, including a .229 mark by right-handed hitters. Last season, Germen appeared in 25 games for the Mets, compiling a 4.75 ERA. He missed a month because of a virus and abscess.

– Carrie Muskat

1/23 Dexter Fowler signs

The Cubs and newly-acquired center fielder Dexter Fowler reached an agreement for a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, thus avoiding arbitration. Fowler, 28, was acquired from the Astros Monday for pitcher Dan Straily and infielder Luis Valbuena. The outfielder made $7.35 million last season in Houston, where he hit .276 with four triples, eight home runs, 35 RBIs and scored 61 runs in 116 games.

1/22 Nichols named Scout of the Year

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Ty Nichols, an area scout who handles Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, was named the Cubs’ 2014 Scout of the Year during a team dinner Wednesday night in Chicago. From left to right, it’s Matt Dorey, director of amateur scouting; Nichols; Tim Wilken, special assistant to the president and general manager; and Jason McLeod, senior vice president, scouting and player development.

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