Friday, April 6, 2012

64 + 75. Are we in for worse in 2012?

The real baseball season in Chicago begins Friday, yet the return of professional ball keeps making me think about the conditions that existed in this city some 36 years ago.

I’m referring to 1976, which isn’t officially the worst combined season for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. But it isn’t that far off.

FOR THAT SUMMER during which I was 10 years old, it was a truly dreadful time on the playing field. Sixty-four wins coming from Comiskey Park, while the Cubs were barely better at 75 victories. Both teams had losing records, and the most memorable aspects of those seasons had little to do with actual athletic activity on the playing field.

So while I understand, in theory, that if Adam Dunn hits even remotely close to what he’s capable of that the White Sox won’t be as completely dreadful as they were last season, the cynic in me wonders if what we’re going to see this season will be reminiscent of the summer of ’76 – when the Spirit of the Bicentennial didn’t impact our city’s baseball clubs.

Or maybe it did. Because I recall those teams playing like two collections of 200-year-old men whose athletic skills were far in the past. It literally was the year the White Sox were managed by Paul Richards (a holdover from the 1950s) and had 50-year-old “Cuban Comet” Minnie Miñoso become a four-decade player – actually managing to get a base hit in one of the three games he played in September of that year.
At 75-87, not much better

Is that what we’re in store for this year? It has me wondering if I’d have a better time this summer recalling that summer from just over a third of a century ago.

BECAUSE THERE WERE quirky moments that will forevermore be remembered by baseball fans. Take April 25 when the Cubs were at Dodger Stadium and a couple of fans got onto the playing field to make what they thought was a political statement – burning a U.S. flag.

Only to have Cubs center fielder Rick Monday charge over and snatch the flag away from them – a moment that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.,  chose as one of the 100 “classic moments” of the game.
This team card (from '77) shows the shorts

The White Sox got their own memorable moments on August 8, 21 and 22. Those were the three dates that the ball club actually wore those short pants with their uniforms that so many people like to call the “ugliest” uniform ever, and that they’d have you believe the White Sox wore for every ballgame of the mid-to-late 1970s.

Of course, everybody inclined to take the Chicago Cubs seriously (why, I don’t really know) is making much of the fact that Theo Epstein now runs their ball club, instead of the Boston Red Sox. They have hopes that new management will revitalize the team.

I CAN’T HELP but think the Cubs problems are so deep (the Red Sox were never as bad as their fans want to believe they were) that Epstein isn’t enough for a real revitalization.

For the return of Bill Veeck to the White Sox beginning in 1976 sure wasn’t enough to jolt that franchise. ’76 is arguably one of the ball club’s worst teams ever. With the exception of the following season, the rest of the decade was a collection of losing teams.
Will Harry look like a star compared to now?

Names such as Bill Nahorodny and Harry Chappas are what come to my mind when I recall the era. Although I’m starting to wonder if ’12 and the 20-teens will be just as mediocre.

Not that this mediocrity will keep the hard-core fans from still going out to the ballpark. For there is something about baseball when it is watched live that is entrancing – even in cases where the “home team” consistently manages to get its butt kicked.

THERE EVEN CAN be moments that are memorable on the playing field in those games.

Take 1976 in Chicago.

On April 17 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 18-16 in a game that seems like a preview of the 23-22 loss to the Phillies in ’79. In that game, now-Hall of Fame member Mike Schmidt managed to hit four home runs, with the final one being the game winner in the 10th inning.

The wind must really have been blowing out toward Waveland Avenue.

FOR THE WHITE Sox, July 28 was the unique moment in a bad season. That was the date the Oakland A’s, in their final seconds of glory in the Charlie Finley era, lost to the Sox, with pitchers John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom and Francisco Barrios combined to pitch a no-hit game.

It also was the season that two future Hall of Fame ballplayers both pitched for Chicago ball clubs – Rich Gossage in his last season with the White Sox and Bruce Sutter in his first season with the Cubs. Yet who remembers that fact?

So even amidst this season’s mass of mediocrity beginning Friday in Arlington, Texas (the Washington Nationals' 2-1 victory Thursday was entertaining, but really doesn't count), there are bound to be a couple of games that will be worth watching.


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