The following commentary contains factual errors detailed quite well in the string of comments that follows the essay. Nevertheless, my larger point stands - I think the Cubs are mistaken in thinking Jeff Samardzija's football experience will make it possible for him to rush through the minor leagues. And for those who will cite his first "save" on Sunday, I would cite Joe Borchard's 503-foot home run. Sunday could very well be the highlight of Samardzija's baseball career.
I realize that to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs, one must be a tad irrational in thought. But I would hope that Cubs fans have enough sense not to expect Jeff Samardzija to be the great savior who takes their favorite ball club to multiple National League championships and World Series titles during his athletic career.
Samardzija, of course, is the Valparaiso, Ind., native who gave up a final season of being the quarterback for Notre Dame University’s famed football program in order to play professional baseball – and Samardzija is on his way back to Chicago, as the Cubs have promoted him to the big club (for the time being).
SAMARDZIJA HAS BEEN a pitcher in the minor leagues, and some baseball fans would like to think the glamour and pressure of being a big-time football quarterback (particularly for Notre Dame) will make him fit to cope with the pressures of big-time baseball, and will enable him to bring a championship mentality to Wrigley Field.
Yet all I can think is that he is a kid ballplayer who has been on the fast track in the minor leagues because of his Notre Dame notoriety. It reminds me too much of the last big-time college football star who was supposed to set Chicago baseball ablaze.
You all remember Joe Borchard of the White Sox? He was the former quarterback for Stanford University who received a record high (for the Sox) signing bonus of $5.3 million to get him to choose the greatest sport of all over U.S.-style football.
Yet what did the White Sox get to show for that bonus contract? Half of one season (2004) with the major league team, parts of four other seasons with Chicago, and so much playing time with the top minor league affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., that he hit so many home runs that he is the all-time career home run champ in Charlotte Knights history.
MAYBE CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS fans think he was worth the $5.3 million, considering that they got to see him regularly at his best. We in Chicago did not.
Borchard’s problem was that he is a big bulky guy with a huge swing who, when he makes contact with the ball, hits long home runs. When he doesn’t make contact (which is often), he strikes out.
There was little in between. And because the White Sox of the early 2000s were perennially on the fringes of pennant races, there wasn’t the chance that he would have received with a bad ball club (like the Cubs) to just play and work out his kinks.
Borchard got caught up in his own negative vibe, which prevented him from ever becoming the ballplayer whom some White Sox fans tried to dub “Light Tower Power.”
EXPECTING SAMARDZIJA TO contribute anything to the Cubs at this point is a dream. I would hope the Cubs have enough sense to send him back to the minor leagues when relief pitcher Kerry Wood recovers from shoulder problems and comes off the disabled list. Life in Des Moines, Iowa, may not sound glamorous to Jeff, but it is best for his long-term future.
For Samardzija is the future, not a part of ’08 and the Cubs’ desire to take advantage of their fast start this season and actually win a National League championship – their first since 1945.
Trying to rush the future now will cause long-term problems, even if Cubs fans manage to see a good game or two from Samardzija during his current stint with the big club.
After all, Borchard is the guy who in August 2004, in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, got ahold of a pitch from Brett Myers and drove it over the right field seats onto the concourse where the cheap drunks lounge around and guzzle overpriced beer while watching the Sox.
AT JUST OVER 500 feet, it is the longest home run ever hit at U.S. Cellular Field/New Comiskey Park (even Frank Thomas’ longest home runs never traveled so far). Even if the building survives another 30 or so years as a major league stadium, Borchard’s shot will always be one of the longest home runs ever hit there.
But was one tape measure home run worth $5.3 million? Could his talent have been harvested better had the White Sox not put the pressure on trying to rush him through the minor leagues and onto the big club?
Would he have been an integral part of this year’s pennant contending White Sox team, instead of struggling to hang on to the game at age 29 with a spot on the roster of the Richmond Braves?
It would be sad to see Samardzija, who is 23, become yet another former college football star whose career got spoiled by being rushed.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Patience is a necessity when it comes to the development of top-quality athletes (http://www.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/stories/072508aai.html) in professional athletics.
Here’s hoping that Joe Borchard can recover from surgery on his shoulder that is keeping him (http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/borchjo01.shtml) from playing anywhere this season.