Archive for the ‘ Profiles ’ Category

10 Decades, 10 Legends: 1970s—Rick Reuschel

Reuschel

For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.

In the seventh installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, we look at towering right-hander Rick Reuschel, who was a consistent workhorse throughout the 1970s.

Previous Decades:
1910s – Hippo Vaughn
1920s – Grover Cleveland Alexander
1930s – Billy Herman
1940s – Bill Nicholson
1950 – Ernie Banks
1960s – Ron Santo

1970s – Rick Reuschel, 41.3 WAR

Seasons: 1972-79
AVG/OBP/SLG: 114-101
W-L: 284-274
G-GS: 284-274
IP: 1834.1
K: 1122
K/9: 5.50
ERA: 3.43

Unlike some of the other players on this list, Rick Reuschel’s numbers don’t jump off the page. He even led the league in losses in 1975 with 17, albeit with a 3.73 ERA. But while he didn’t earn a lot of attention for his efforts, Reuschel was definitely the standout performer for the Cubs during a down decade—a stretch that saw the team win between 75 and 85 games nine times.

The right-hander’s lofty WAR total can largely be attributed to a clean bill of health and a high level of consistency. He won at least 10 games from his big league debut in 1972 through the end of the decade. He also pitched no fewer than 234 innings a season from 1973-79, making at least 35 starts in each of those years. As a result, his WAR total ranks fifth among all pitchers in the 1970s.

The 1977 All-Star wasn’t one to strike out a ton of hitters—he averaged 5.1 K/9 for his career—but he used deception and a wide arsenal of pitches to get hitters out.

Big Daddy’s finest season came in 1977, when he went 20-10 with a 2.79 ERA, made his lone Cubs All-Star appearance and finished third in the Cy Young race. He ultimately pitched for 19 seasons and earned 214 major league victories.

 

10 Decades, 10 Legends: 1940s—Bill Nicholson

Nicholson

For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.

In the fourth installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, Bill “Swish” Nicholson provided the team with some necessary pop in the 1940s, especially during the early part of the decade.

Previous Decades:
1910s – Hippo Vaughn
1920s – Grover Cleveland Alexander
1930s – Billy Herman

1940s – Bill Nicholson, 36.9 WAR

Seasons: 1940-48
AVG/OBP/SLG: .271/.369/.472
PA: 5,371
HR: 200
R: 701
RBI: 795
SB: 26

Bill Nicholson was at his best in 1943 and 1944, when he won both the home run and RBI titles. He hit 29 homers and knocked in 128 in 1943, and followed that with 33 bombs and 122 RBI in 1944, when he was runner-up in the MVP voting. The right fielder also led the league in runs scored that year. But power was Nicholson’s game, as his 211 home runs in the 1940s (200 coming with the Cubs from 1940-48) rank second in the decade among NL hitters. All four of his All-Star appearances were with the Cubs during the 1940s, and he made starts in 1941 and 1943. Despite earning the nickname Swish for his swing-and-miss tendencies, Nicholson managed to draw more walks than strikeouts in his nine seasons on the North Side.

Now Playing: In the Dugout with Rick Renteria, July 2014

Cubs manager Rick Renteria is all about forward momentum. He doesn’t waste time worrying about trade rumors or other distractions. Instead, he’s focused on creating a positive learning environment and developing the team’s young major league talent. When we sat down with the skipper during a three-game sweep of the Mets in mid-June, things seemed to be heading in the right direction. We talked to Renteria about the team’s learning curve, Anthony Rizzo’s development as a hitter and the bullpen’s burgeoning youth movement.

To read the full interview, pick up the July issue at the ballpark or at Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line, the official magazine of the Chicago Cubs, for just $29.95.

Hot Off the Press: July VL featuring the best player from every decade at Wrigley Field

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I’m a sucker for nostalgia, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this season at Wrigley Field so much. I have been looking forward to Wrigley’s 100th birthday for a few years now because I knew it would give Vine Line a chance to really delve into the organization’s history.

We not only produce the magazine, but we also create the scorecards sold at the Friendly Confines during every home series. To tie in with the Cubs’ 10 Decades, 10 Homestands promotion, we’ve been populating the covers with photos specific to the years being celebrated—which means we’ve spent countless hours searching the team’s photo archives for just the right shots.

When the Yankees were in town during the 1930s homestand, we found a picture from the 1932 World Series between the North Siders and the Bronx Bombers. When the Cubs were honoring the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s series, we found a photo of the league’s tryouts, which were held at Wrigley Field in 1943.

In the interest of full disclosure, my home is littered with black-and-white photographs of everything from the Chicago Theater to my relatives during WWII to the Cubs at Spring Training on Catalina Island. I love this stuff, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a few evenings looking through the photo archives just for fun.

In other words, this is probably something I shouldn’t get paid to do (though I probably don’t need to spread that news around).

Some of the things that caught my eye when we were planning our 2014 content for the magazine last year were the memorable program and scorecard covers the team used from the 1930s through the 1960s. We liked them so much, we decided to dedicate the valuable back page of the magazine (The Score) to featuring some of the best of the best this season.

When we wanted to learn more about the scorecards, we went to that amazing wellspring of arcane Cubs information from every era, team historian Ed Hartig, who has been an invaluable resource for all the historical content we’ve published this year. It turns out, for decades, most of the scorecard designs were the brainchild of one man, Otis Shepard, former art director for the William Wrigley Jr. Co. and longtime member of the Cubs board of directors. For our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look into the life and career of Shepard and how he came to design some of the Cubs’ most iconic images.

It’s also the July issue, which means it’s almost time for the Midsummer Classic. For our annual All-Star issue, we set out to find the most valuable Cubs player in each of Wrigley Field’s 10 decades. To do this, we used the stats website Fangraphs to compile the highest Wins Above Replacement totals for each decade. WAR essentially takes all of a player’s offensive and defensive efforts and outputs them into a single number designed to measure how many wins he provides over an average replacement player. There are definitely some names you would expect (I don’t think we could have a list like this without Mr. Cub), but there are also a few surprises (Rick Reuschel, anyone?).

Finally, Vine Line had a dream opportunity in May when the Yankees came to town. We worked with Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III to bring together two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen: Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. The legendary players sat down for a tête-à-tête that is every baseball fan’s dream come true.

Of course, we’re good for more than just history lessons. Follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline for the best of the Cubs past, present and future.

And let’s keep that whole “shouldn’t get paid” thing between us.

—Gary Cohen

From the Pages of Vine Line: Cubs players reflect on their fathers’ influence

James-Russell
Cubs reliever James Russell is following in the footsteps of his dad, Jeff. (Photo by Stephen Green)

You grew up watching baseball on TV with your father. Then you played Little League, and your dad was the coach. Later, he started taking you to games, making sure the two of you got there extra early so you could snatch a few stray home run balls during batting practice.

For generations, baseball has been bringing fathers and sons together. Chances are, when you became an adult and had a son of your own, you tried to get him into baseball, coached his Little League team and took him to games too.

To celebrate Father’s Day this month, Vine Line caught up with a few Cubs players to discuss the almost mystical connection the game engenders. Though each person may have attached to the sport in a different way, there’s no denying baseball served as a valuable link between fathers and sons—just like it has in the past and will in the future.

Ryan Sweeney and his dad, Gary
“I think baseball is definitely, of any of the sports, the bonding thing between father and son, especially now that I have a son,” said Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney. “Sharing that with him is something that brings [us] closer together.”

Ryan credits his dad, Gary, for the success he’s had in the game, especially early in his life. Gary always pushed his son to excel, even if that meant making him do some extra work when the younger Sweeney wasn’t fully invested.

“My dad pushed me pretty hard to get me where I’m at,” Ryan said. “I might not have liked it at the time, but looking back, I’m glad he pushed me the way he did. He was my coach growing up for a lot of the time too. He never played baseball, but he tried to read up and learn as much as he could so he could teach me to do the right things.”

When Ryan finally did break into the major leagues, Gary happened to be visiting his son in Charlotte (home of the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate). Ryan was at the stadium when he got the news and promptly called his parents. Though they didn’t believe him at first, they ultimately made the trip to Kansas City to see Ryan put on a major league uniform for the first time.

Despite having spent the majority of the last seven years at the game’s highest level, Ryan said he still shares the occasional instruction-filled phone call with his father.

“He tries to tell me what to do now, still, and how to play,” Ryan joked. “He’s constantly watching games on TV, saving my games, watching my swings, everything.”

Justin Grimm and his dad, Mark
When Justin Grimm graduated from junior high, he was faced with a difficult athletic decision. Both soccer and baseball were played in the same high school season, so he was forced to choose between the two. Though Justin was ready to put away the glove and bat for good, his dad, Mark, wasn’t in favor of the idea.

“He definitely leaned me toward baseball,” Justin said. “I thought I was a better soccer player at the time than I was baseball. He didn’t say, ‘You’re not playing soccer,’ but he did [say it] at the same time.

“He was a football fan, he loved football. He played at East Tennessee State in college, and he had a love for football, especially when I was growing up. Even to when I was 9, I was playing football, and I think it kind of crushed him when I definitely decided I wasn’t going to play anymore.”

Despite straying from his dad’s favorite sport, Justin said his father always supported his decisions and was somebody he could confide in growing up—even on topics he wouldn’t discuss with his close friends.

“[He] helped keep me encouraged, always feeding me positive thoughts instead of the negative ones,” Justin said. “He was pretty good with that growing up. Him and my mom both. They kept me on the right path, kept me going in the right direction, helped me stay into the right things and out of the wrong things.”

These days, the reliever said he gets a kick out of how excited his dad gets when he visits the clubhouse or throws the ball around with Justin in a major league outfield.

“He enjoys it probably 200 times more than I do,” Justin said. “He loves just going places, especially to different [venues]. Every time he comes into town, he wants to go see the park and what I do every day. And he wants to go to the team shop and get a bunch of gear, so he can support me back home. He’s definitely one of my biggest fans.”

James Russell and his dad, Jeff
Though James Russell is the son of former big league closer Jeff Russell, there was never any pressure for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. Still, between playing baseball every day and spending countless afternoons and nights in major league locker rooms growing up, the left-hander quickly formed an affinity for the game.

“He never really pressured me into it,” James said of his father, who spent 14 seasons in the majors, including 10 with the Rangers. “It was just something that I was good at, and I enjoyed playing. I loved all sports. I played everything growing up—football, basketball and baseball being the bigger three of the sports.

“Fortunately, I grew up in clubhouses that are a little bigger than ours at Wrigley, but it was fun getting into trouble. There were always a bunch of other kids that I [got] to hang out with. We’d find our ways and [make] little batting cages and stuff, so we could just mess around until security came and kicked us out.”

As James got older, he’d go to the ballpark virtually every day with his dad. While the Cubs reliever credits those trips for stoking his desire to play professional ball, he also knows how important those moments were for his father.

“That was some of the most memorable stuff out of his career,” James said.

With the roles now reversed, James has been informed his dad can be a tough guy to watch a game with.

“I’ve always heard he’s a real nervous guy whenever I’m throwing,” Russell said. “He can never sit down in a seat. He’s always walking around. He’s usually drinking a couple of beers to ease his nerves. If he’s not around a TV, he’s got it on his phone.”

John Baker and his dad, Dave
Entering Spring Training, journeyman catcher John Baker was on the outside looking in when it came to finding a spot on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. However, after a strong preseason showing in which he consistently provided outstanding effort, the North Siders found room for the 33-year-old backstop. Baker can thank his dad, Dave, for his solid work ethic.

“He was the biggest baseball influence I had [growing up],” John said. “There are still a lot of things I think in my head that my dad told me. His favorite line was ‘It takes no talent to hustle.’ That was his favorite thing to say. That … and ‘The most important position is the ready position.’

“He was always about being prepared, hustling and playing the game the right way—developing a strong work ethic. I got to see that as a kid, watching him go to work every single day. He’d get up with me at five in the morning and flip me baseballs in the side yard.”

Though many people were surprised to see John make the team over veteran free agent George Kottaras, one person never doubted it for a second.

“When I called [my dad] and told him I made the team here, he told me, ‘Son, I believed you were going to make the team, so two weeks ago, I went ahead and bought a ticket to Chicago,’ which was a really cool, validating feeling for me, knowing that he really believed in me without even telling me,” John said.

Dave played a lot of baseball growing up, so he had a good idea of how much effort it was going to take to make a career out of the game.

“There were days where I didn’t want to go [out to the field to practice], where he made me go,” John said. “And there were days where he came home from work, and I probably said, ‘Dad, can you throw me some balls?’ and he kind of went, ‘Yeah, let me take you to the batting cage. Let’s go do it.’ So it was give and take, but I was never turned down.”

Mike Olt and his dad, George
Early in Mike Olt’s career, his father, George, served as a sort of “baseball whisperer” for his son. As a former college player, the elder Olt had spent a fair amount of time around the diamond and knew a thing or two about the game. But if there was one thing he knew better than baseball, it was Mike.

“He knows I’m a head case, so he usually would tell me one little thing, which I probably wasn’t doing any differently [anyway],” Mike said. “Like, ‘Hey, raise your hands’ or something small that meant nothing.

“But he knew that was the only thing I’d think about and not what the pitcher was throwing. Next thing you know, I’m 4-for-4, 4-for-5, it was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mike grew up in Connecticut, listening to his dad tell stories about traveling to Yankee Stadium with his own father. Years later, Mike enjoyed taking those same trips to the Bronx with George.

“We always went to a ton of games at Yankee Stadium, me and him,” Mike said. “Those are the kind of memories you don’t forget.”

These days, the third baseman enjoys bringing his dad with him to Wrigley Field as often as possible. When Mike made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2012, George was in attendance, and his excitement was something Mike will never forget.

“Those are experiences that he’s going to be really proud of, and he’ll remember those forever,” Mike said. “I would do anything for him, anything for my family. To have him at the game and watching the highlights, seeing him and how happy he is, it does make me really happy. It’s kind of cool to see how excited he is for me and what’s to come.”

—Phil Barnes

From the Pages of Vine Line: Wrigley Field and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

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The following article appears in the June issue of Vine Line. The Cubs will salute the girls of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Friday at Wrigley Field.

With her glove in hand and her head on a swivel, a young woman from Cincinnati stood on hallowed baseball ground and awaited her big break in a steady rain.

Crack! A batter pummeled a fly ball that soared to her left, and the 22-year-old sprinted after it in the wet grass. Crack! Another ball sailed to her right, and she lunged. Crack! Yet another flew high over her head, and the gifted athlete took off once again.

“You had to run about a mile to get the ball,” said retired schoolteacher Betsy Jochum with a chuckle. “It was quite a thrill to try out on that field.”

That field, of course, was Wrigley Field, and those fundamental drills triggered a movement that would dispel the popular notion that girls were not cut out for sports. Jochum was among a group of women trying out for 60 spots in the newly formed All-American Girls Softball League, according to the Chicago Tribune.

It was 1943, and as big league baseball clubs ceded talent to the war effort, front offices scrambled to fill the void. Scouts were dispatched to the coasts, Midwestern cornfields and even Canada to mold a new league. The ballplayers—some still in their teens—came by train and were run ragged on the field. Dreams were made, hearts were broken, fans were entranced, and a rocketing 12-inch softball cracked the old boys’ club wide open.

“At the time, we were just having a lot of fun playing,” Jochum, now 93 years old, said in a telephone interview from her home in South Bend, Indiana. “Later on, they told us we were pioneers.”

* * * *
The plan was hatched for practical, decidedly unromantic reasons. Executives simply needed a way to fill stadium seats.

Chicago Cubs owner and team president Philip K. Wrigley, a business-minded numbers man, found himself staring at a deficit in 1942. The front lines of World War II were plucking MLB’s best and brightest from the rosters, and Wrigley knew that old-timers, nobodies, rookies and the 4-F would hardly excite his fan base. He worried postwar teams would be weaker or could possibly fold altogether, and large ballparks such as his, which stood empty for more than half the year anyway, would be history.

“[The league] came about not because he wanted to do the right thing,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “Baseball shutting down was a very real fear.”

Organizations were just recovering from the Great Depression, and the war threatened to gut professional baseball so drastically there were fears it might never rebound.

As chief of a chewing gum empire, Wrigley had a knack for solving problems. Summer softball leagues, for men and women alike, were popular in Chicago, and the swelling interest in the sport got him thinking—why not start a pro league for women?

He and Ken Sells, assistant to the Cubs general manager and the new league’s future president, drummed up the idea of marrying softball with some of baseball’s rules. There would be nine players on the field rather than 10, and they would play a full nine innings instead of seven. But the league would also feature a shorter pitching distance, underhand pitching, a bigger ball and a shorter distance between bases. Wrigley pitched his idea to the other owners, but even with the dangling carrot of filling their parks, the idea went over like a lead rosin bag.

“The Wrigleys were a lot better off financially,” Hartig said. “They were a little more willing to experiment.”

With minimal support outside of his own office, Wrigley plowed ahead. He secured four cities that each agreed to pony up $22,500 in financing, which would be matched by Wrigley himself. In February 1943, the league’s formation was made public.

Based in Chicago, the All-American Girls Softball League—the name changed several times, eventually landing on All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—comprised four Midwestern teams and would do its own marketing, player recruiting, training, signing and allocating. The women were offered one-year contracts by the league, not their individual clubs.

Wrigley had never been short on cash, but his financial stake in the league was enough to send a tremor through even the deepest pockets. In addition to his initial investment, he ran the league as a nonprofit, redirecting all proceeds to the war effort. If any team was in the red, Wrigley made up the difference himself. Hartig noted that the Cubs owner spent between $135,000 and $200,000 on the venture by his tenure’s end.

“It was pretty much guaranteed not to be a moneymaker,” Hartig said. “But [Wrigley] was pleased with what he had done.”

* * * *
On that dreary mid-May day in 1943, Betsy Jochum and the other invited talent swung bats and shagged balls at Wrigley Field, trying to nab one of the 15 coveted spots on each club. Days were spent sweating on the field, while evenings found the women knee-deep in etiquette training, which was designed to teach them the finer points of being “ladies.” This included the art of walking in high heels, applying make-up and sitting in a proper, ladylike manner.

The women were chaperoned on any social outings, and they were forbidden from smoking and drinking hard liquor in public. They were to wear dresses outside of the ballpark (and inside the park, thanks to their fashion-forward belted tunic uniforms).

Tryouts wrapped up on May 25, and the season began just five days later. The Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets, Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox, where Jochum played for six seasons as an outfielder and pitcher, were officially playing professional ball.

Games drew about 2,000-3,000 fans initially, with one July 4 doubleheader in South Bend bringing in close to 10,000, Jochum recalled. Though the league was formed in part to fill major league ballparks, the women’s teams had their own fields and played in the big stadiums only for special events.

The Racine Belles clinched the ’43 title, and the 108-game season (54 games per team) wrapped with attendance reaching nearly 176,000 leaguewide, according to the AAGPBL.

Wartime games had an especially patriotic bent, with the women lining up in a V formation (for victory) before play began. Servicemen and -women were admitted free of charge, and exhibition games were often played to benefit the armed forces or the Red Cross.

Etiquette training was ongoing, as was extensive promotion of the women as ladylike girls next door. The average age of the players hovered around 21, and they earned between $45-85 per week, a decent living in those days. In the offseason, they were likely to stay in their team’s town, taking on a factory job or something similar, said Jeneane Lesko, a former player and the president of the AAGPBL Players Association.

Competition was intense, with rivalries almost guaranteed given how infrequently the teams were able to socialize with one another. Lesko recalled clearing both benches when she nearly beaned an opponent with a wild pitch, but the managers broke up the scrum before it got physical.

“Oh, it was major league,” said the 79-year-old Lesko. “The competitiveness was there.”

As the seasons progressed, the game looked less and less like softball. The pitching distances increased, the ball size decreased and overhand pitching was instituted. Certain players emerged as powerhouse fan favorites, and clubs even reported to Spring Training in Florida and Cuba. After Wrigley divested himself and Arthur Meyerhoff took over operations as the war drew to a close, the league expanded to 10 teams. In 1948, attendance reached 1 million.

“After they saw we really could play,” Jochum said of the fans, “they knew.”

* * * *
Over the run of the league, there were 15 different teams—the dismal Chicago Colleens even graced the Windy City for one season in ’48. But changes in leadership, the end of wartime rationing and the incursion of television sets into American households dealt the AAGPBL a fatal blow. The organization had been decentralized, and team owners were feeling the sting of dwindling attendance.

The league quietly folded after the ’54 season—so quietly, in fact, that by the following April, many players still assumed they would be on the field again in a month, Lesko said. As the teams disbanded, some women went back to their hometowns, some stayed in their affiliate towns, and others headed to college and pursued careers. Jochum quit after the ’48 season when she learned she had been traded, but opted to stay in South Bend.

Lesko, a southpaw, was still active when the AAGPBL dissolved and then joined a traveling league that played barnstorming games in the U.S. and Canada. She quit after two years, taught school overseas, and returned to the States to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. She eventually married, had three sons, worked in real estate and became involved in the AAGPBL Players Association. The Seattle resident is currently serving as the association’s president, and she is active in the organization, formation and promotion of women’s professional ball leagues. Up until this year, she was still playing softball.

“Our purpose is to promote the AAGPBL and to promote women’s baseball,” Lesko said. “To ensure our place in history, and to help other girls have an opportunity to play sports.”

Lesko has made the league’s legacy her mission, traveling around the world for tournaments, organizing AAGPBL yearly reunions and assisting with other high-profile gigs, such as the salute to the AAGPBL that will take place at Wrigley Field on June 6. Of the 600 women who played in the league, roughly 150 remain, and just a handful will head to Chicago to be honored before the Cubs take on the Brewers. “Sockem Jochum” has been asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the field where her career began more than seven decades ago.

“Well, I’m going to attempt it,” Jochum said with a chuckle. “I’ll just bounce it into the catcher’s mitt.”

—Kerry Trotter

Hot Off the Presses: June 2014 issue featuring Starlin Castro

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Sometimes the gap between perception and reality can be exceedingly wide. What’s visible from the outside is often much different from what is being experienced on the inside.

Case in point, there are essentially two Starlin Castros.

There’s the Starlin Castro the fans see and have a love-hate relationship with. The one who is perceived by some as uncommitted, unfocused and inconsistent.

Much of this characterization is, of course, informed by the 2013 season. After two All-Star campaigns from 2011-12, in which Castro compiled 390 hits and earned a seven-year, $60 million contract, things went off the rails a little last year. Castro slipped to a .245/.284/.347 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line, often looking lost at the plate, bereft of the trademark confidence that defined his early career. That regression, coupled with some defensive lapses, have placed the 24-year-old’s every move under the fan and media microscope.

But there’s another Starlin Castro as well—the player his teammates see. This is the Castro who is putting up remarkable early-career numbers, goes to the post every day, is eager to learn, and brings constant energy and excitement to the clubhouse.

“He’s one of those guys who’s the face of the team,” said Cubs catcher and longtime teammate Welington Castillo. “I know a lot of people got on him last year, but that’s in the past. We have to move forward. It brings a lot of confidence for the team when he’s playing like this, when you see Starlin on the field. That’s a guy that never wants to be out of the lineup. He wants to play every day, no matter what. So he brings a lot of energy and a lot of positivity to the team.”

Through his age-23 season—which, as we all know, includes one very off year—the Cubs shortstop had compiled 692 hits. To put that into perspective, by age 23, Hank Aaron had 718 hits, Cal Ripken Jr. had 569, Derek Jeter had 385, and all-time hits leader Pete Rose had just 309.

In other words, the guy can rake. It’s difficult to fluke your way into 700 big league hits before you’re old enough to rent a car.
And through the first month-plus of the 2014 season, Castro looked to be back to his early-career form. His aggressiveness is back, and that has Cubs personnel excited about the future. For the June issue of Vine Line, we talk to Castro’s teammates, coaches and the man himself to find out what has triggered the young star’s resurgence.

As part of our ongoing Wrigley 100 series, we also go back to the 1940s at the Friendly Confines, when a group of trailblazing women turned the baseball world upside down. With World War II rationing taking its toll on major league attendance and players being redirected to the war effort, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and other executives were desperate for a way to reinvigorate the game. Enter the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. We examine the role Cubs ownership and Wrigley Field played in the formation and life of the league.

Finally, with Father’s Day on the horizon, we get a little sentimental. Baseball is a tradition that has always been passed down from fathers to sons. To celebrate the holiday, we talk to current Cubs players about the impact their fathers have had on their lives and careers. Needless to say, when the Cubs take the field 162 times a year, there are some pretty excited dads out there.

For more in-depth stories about the Cubs organization, pick up the June issue of Vine Line, or subscribe for just $29.95. You can also find us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

—Gary Cohen

From the Pages of Vine Line: Philip K. Wrigley’s lasting impact on the Cubs and Wrigley Field

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In the emotional last throes of the chewing gum magnate’s life, while the Great Depression dug its claws deeper into Chicago’s big shoulders, William Wrigley Jr. made his only son promise him one thing.

Do not sell his beloved Chicago Cubs to pay the inheritance taxes.

The elder Wrigley’s illness and subsequent death at age 70 in 1932 were swift and unexpected, a wake-up call to his 37-year-old heir, Philip K. Wrigley, who did not have his father’s passion for baseball but shared his shrewd business sense.

Wrigley had already accepted the mantle of president of his father’s chewing gum company, and now, by death and default—and a sometimes-troublesome sense of loyalty—he was the Chicago Cubs’ majority stockholder and owner.

“He liked baseball. He was around baseball. He just didn’t view himself as a baseball person,” said Chicago Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “I think if P.K. had his way, he would have been an engineer.”

But he was first and foremost a Wrigley, and as a member of one of Chicago’s most powerful families, he had a duty to fulfill.

And that duty was to the Cubs.

* * * *
Simply put, Philip Knight Wrigley opened his eyes in the right crib. Born in 1894 at Chicago’s Plaza Hotel to a family of great wealth and influence, he never wanted for much.

“He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” Hartig said.

With that spoon came a secure job at the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company and leisure time to pursue his love of horses and boats, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. He was a low-level stockholder in his father’s baseball enterprise and stood to inherit Wrigley Field and the breathtaking Catalina Island off the Los Angeles coast. Even after the stock market crash of 1929 sunk the country’s economy, the Wrigleys fared well because they had avoided extensive dealings with banks, Hartig said.

Workers who lost their livelihoods in the meat, railroad and steel industries began to organize in the city, as hostility toward the wealthy swelled.

“Chicago was one of the major centers of left-wing agitation,” said Peter Alter, an archivist with the Chicago History Museum. “Socialists and communists were strong in Chicago.”

But the Wrigleys weren’t necessarily viewed as bad guys, Alter added. They were rich and powerful, but they still contributed to the city’s goodwill.

After all, the family had one of the few businesses that—though it did not necessarily flourish during the Depression—held on to its employees. The Wrigleys also owned the Cubs, a team that won pennants in 1929 and ’32 (and later in ’35 and ’38), often to half-capacity crowds thinned by hard times. But by 1933, the team and the company were under the direction of Philip K. Wrigley, a man who routinely veered from the trappings of coddled wealth.

“The way people viewed him was he was not your typical baseball owner,” Alter said. “He was not a Comiskey.”

Wrigley, despite his wealth, enjoyed a “normal” streak. He never went to college and eventually joined the military, where he became a mechanic. He got married, had three kids and plugged away at the family’s gum company, but he lacked pretense about his success. He was a loyal employer, even as competing businesses shuttered and sales slowed. He had a generous streak, giving great chunks of money to charities and interests and turning his father’s beloved Southern California island into a conservancy.

Wrigley’s father, William Wrigley Jr., wasn’t born a baseball fan but died the biggest Cubs booster around. He bought up shares of the team piecemeal until eventually he owned it outright. He also purchased the park, which the team leased from him.

As a sort of memorial to his father, Wrigley’s vow not to sell the team to pay inheritance taxes morphed into a blunt refusal to sell the team under any circumstances, despite some promising offers.

“He made a lot of decisions based on business principles,” Hartig said, “and not on sound baseball principles.”

Oftentimes that strategy worked; sometimes it didn’t.

* * * *

“Baseball is too much of a sport to be a business, and too much of a business to be a sport,” Philip K. Wrigley once said. This ambivalence showed in his leadership style and in how he kept the Cubs at emotional arm’s length.

When Wrigley started out as owner, he had the experienced Bill Veeck Sr. in his camp. Unfortunately, Veeck died only a year after Philip K. Wrigley took over, forcing the new owner to make his first big baseball decision—hiring a new president.

Wrigley chose longtime team investor and fishmonger William Walker, but it was a short and rocky arrangement. Though history looks back on Walker’s tenure more kindly, he sealed his fate with several questionable trades, for which he was vilified in the press. Wrigley bought him out, sent him packing and took over as president in 1934.

“God knows, I don’t want the job. If I could find another Bill Veeck, I’d put him in there in a minute, but he doesn’t seem to be available,” Wrigley said, according to an article published by the Society for American Baseball Research. “No matter who’s in there, if anything goes wrong, I’m going to get blamed for it, so I might as well take the job myself.”

While the team won three pennants in the ’30s, Wrigley was less occupied with Cubbie blue than ledger black.

“His father was at games a lot,” Hartig said. “P.K. very seldom went to games.”

This is ironic considering his marketing push early in his presidency, when he went to great lengths to sell “Beautiful Wrigley Field.”

Yes, there was Cubs baseball to see, but the park was also an experience to behold and to be sold, win or lose. Wrigley began purchasing ad space in Chicago newspapers in the middle of winter, a practice that was decried leaguewide. But he was planting the seeds for interest in games and getting on fans’ radar long before tickets went on sale.

While Wrigley was a bottom-line kind of guy, he was not miserly. He relished spending money for the sake of the park and fan comfort. Wrigley brought in bigger, more comfortable seats at the expense of capacity, had the bleachers rebuilt to improve sight lines and laid plans to “green” up the park, which eventually led to the addition of the iconic ivy.

Yet in the final days of pre-war baseball, Wrigley’s loyalty to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis got the best of him, and it wound up costing the Cubs. Wrigley was the only owner to go along with a plan hatched by Landis to keep minor league teams from folding during the war by making them independent entities that could sell their players to the highest bidder. It didn’t work.

“P.K.’s decision to dismantle the farm system put him back 10 years,” Hartig said.

He also resisted adding night games to the schedule, partly because he felt they were a passing fad and partly because the born innovator hadn’t been the first person to come up with the idea. In 1941, he reluctantly purchased the most advanced lighting system in baseball, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he promptly donated the materials to the war effort. After that, the idea remained dormant for decades.

One feather in Wrigley’s innovation cap was the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, tryouts for which were held at Wrigley Field in 1941. However, he was woefully behind on the matter of integration, taking a back seat while Jackie Robinson first donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in 1947. The Cubs signed an African-American player to their Los Angeles farm team in 1949, but Chicago was still an all-white club until Ernie Banks took the field in 1953.

In the ’60s, Wrigley devised the curious College of Coaches experiment, in which the manager was replaced by a rotating roster of head coaches who would assume the lead every few weeks. The intent was to create good all-around players who had access to a number of intelligent voices, but it just wound up confusing the team and encouraging favoritism.

Ultimately, it was television that made Wrigley’s legacy.

After World War II, he began pushing the idea of televising games. Just as his father had pioneered radio broadcasts amid criticism, the younger Wrigley was convinced that seeing was believing when it came to his beautiful ballpark, and that broadcasting games on TV would cultivate fandom. It worked, and the team’s relationship with WGN, which went on to become a “superstation” transmitted around the country, birthed fans for both the team and the park far from the Lakeview neighborhood.

* * * *
The promise to his father, at once bold and uncertain, remained steadfast. Philip K. Wrigley did not sell William Wrigley Jr.’s beloved team, nor the gum empire he built, during his 60-plus years steering both ships. Even when the team entered a dark period of losses and mismanagement, he largely did right by his father. And the family business, where his true talents lay, thrived.

Not every decision Philip K. Wrigley made was sound. There were mistakes and missed opportunities. But he gave freely of his significant wealth, created Cubs fans nationwide and made Wrigley Field a destination for fans around the world.
In the end, he kept his word.

—Kerry Trotter

From the Pages of Vine Line: Stretching Out with George Will

George-Will

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author George Will is probably best known for his conservative political commentary. But the Champaign, Illinois, native is also a huge baseball fan who has written extensively on the game. His newest book, A Nice Little Place on the North Side, is a deeply personal look at the Chicago Cubs, the team he has rooted for since he was a boy, and their iconic home, Wrigley Field.

Vine Line: You’ve now done three books on baseball. What keeps you coming back to the game?

George Will: I really only write about politics to support my baseball habit. I was just thinking I’ve published 14 books now, three of them on baseball, and I’m sure those three will sell more than the others combined. Baseball is fun. It’s endlessly fascinating. It has such a long history, unlike every other American sport. It goes back well into the 19th century and beyond.

VL: You grew up downstate, so you had a choice between the Cardinals and Cubs. How did you become a Cubs fan?

GW: I’m not sure I remember how. The funny thing is I remember the Cardinals’ radio broadcaster annoyed me—some guy named Harry Caray, who left St. Louis, went to Oakland, went to the South Side of Chicago, and, of course, wound up being an iconic figure in Cubs history. What annoyed me when he was with the Cardinals was how much he supported the Cardinals. I didn’t mind him supporting the Cubs.

VL: From your book, I take it you’re a reluctant modernist. You like Wrigley Field the way it is, but you see the need for change.

GW: This ballpark is older than the Supreme Court Building, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge—it’s old. And like a lot of old things and people, it needs maintenance. So, first of all, you have to spend on maintenance. Second, every major league team’s ballpark is a revenue producer, and it helps them put a better product on the field. And third, the Cubs need certain things like weight rooms and video rooms and batting cages they can use during games. The modern athlete demands more and deserves more.

VL: What compelled you to devote a book to Wrigley?

GW: I just wanted to know all the interesting things and, frankly, the fun things that have happened. Not many Cubs fans know that Jack Ruby, the guy who shot Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald shot Kennedy, was a vendor in Wrigley Field. Not many people know that Ray Kroc, before he founded McDonald’s, was selling plastic cups to the vendors here to serve soft drinks in. Not many people really know the story, sad and glorious at the same time, of Hack Wilson, who has one of the records that has resisted breaking more than almost any other—191 RBI in one season. So it’s an enormous amount of history just concentrated in this one little spot on the North Side.

Now Playing: In the Dugout with Rick Renteria, June 2014

By the numbers alone, the start of Rick Renteria’s first managerial season with the Cubs looked much like the start of the 2013 campaign. The rotation was solid, but the record left something to be desired, and the bullpen struggled to find consistency. Still, there have been many positive signs in 2014, including the phenomenal start of staff ace Jeff Samardzija. We sat down with Renteria during the Crosstown Classic in early May to talk about pitching, Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday party and going home again.

To read the full interview, pick up the June issue at the ballpark or at Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line, the official magazine of the Chicago Cubs, for just $29.95.

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