Saturday, June 24, 2006

We Need Sammy Sosa (Sort of...)

I started following the Cubs in the late 60's. The club included three future Hall of Famers -- Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins -- and one guy (Ron Santo) that should be in the Hall. In the 1970's, the Cubs fell on hard times. Those teams in the 1970's didn't have any players that I remember being really good. After the Cubs Hall of Famers retired or were traded, there wasn't much to cheer about. In 1972, Burt Hooton and Milt Papass each threw no-hitters and in 1976 Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock won the NL batting title. Other that those players, the big names for the Cubs in the 1970's were brothers Paul & Rick Reuschel.

The 1980's featured better times and better players. In 1984, the Cubs went to the playoffs for the first time since 1945. The team included Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Cy Young Award Winner Rick Sutcliffe. Future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joined the Cubs in 1987 and promptly won the NL MVP award. Dawson, Sandberg, Sutcliffe, and Cubs favorite Mark Grace lead the Cubs to the playoffs again in 1989.

The 1990's saw some individual accomplishments. For instance, Ryne Sandberg had some of his best years during the 90's, including setting the record for most home runs in a career by a second baseman and playing a record 123 consecutive games without an error. Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, in his first go round with the Cubs, won the Cy Young award in 1992. First Baseman Mark Grace had more hits than any other player in the NL in the decade of the 1990's. But as a team, the Cubs faced some dark days. That is, until 1998.

1998 was a great year for several reasons. The headlines documented the NL home run race between Mark McGwire of the Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs. Although both players broke the single season home run record established by Roger Maris in 1961, it was McGwire who finished on top in the 1998 home run race. But Slammin' Sammy Sosa had the last laugh when the Cubs went to the post season. Sosa, along with Moises Alou, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, lead the Cubs to the playoffs again in 2003.

So what's the point of all of this Cubs history? The fact that for the past 40 years, the best years the Cubs have enjoyed have involved good baseball players. Players that make all-star teams. Some players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. These players have been the face of the club and in many cases, have been leaders in the clubhouse.

This isn't brain surgery. Good baseball teams are made up of good players. Good players make all-star teams. Some even make it into the Hall of Fame. Making up a team of too many mediocre players, none of whom deserve to be on the NL all-star team, and non of whom are candidates for the Hall of Fame (Greg Maddux excluded), is a sure fire way to build a mediocre, underperforming team. That's exactly what Jim Hendry did to build the 2006 Cubs.

The Cubs need another Sammy Sosa. I'm not talking about a guy who (allegedly) does steroids and quits on his team at the end of a disappointing season. I'm talking about a ball player that is recognized as one of the better ball players in the game. I'm talking about a guy that can be the face of the team. I'm talking about a guy that can put fans in the seats and move merchandise off the shelves. A guy that fans will love and a guy that the rest of the team can be built around.

As the Cubs prepare to "rebuild" in 2007, they need to start by adding a big name, prime time player (or two or three). Derrick Lee is a good player, but he's not the type of big name player you can build a team around. DLee is more of a complimentary player. What Scottie Pippin was to Michael Jordan. Now the Cubs just need to find a way to bring the baseball version of Michael Jordan (is there such a thing?) to the Northside.


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