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First off, folks, apologies for last week.
There were no Monday morning thoughts from yours truly, and I know there was likely an uproar out in Wrigleyville because of that. But no worries, I’m back this week, and to make it up to you, I’ll be packing in all the thoughts I have left from a crazy, news-filled week.
The biggest news? Fergie Jenkins was finally immortalized with a statue outside of Wrigley Field. An incredible honor, no doubt, and a day that brightened up what was otherwise a disappointing weekend for the Cubs.
We definitely have some things to talk about from this last week on the North Side, so without further ado, let’s get into it. Here are your Monday morning Cubs thoughts for May 23.
“Fergie Day” was such a cool event to cover.
The rain held up and let Fergie Jenkins have his moment, the crowd was packed with a bunch of former Cubs, and there was just so much joy around Wrigley Field as Jenkins finally got his statue to immortalize him with some of the other all-time Cubs greats.
One of the coolest parts about it, though, was seeing Jenkins and old teammate Billy Williams interact. As two guys who spent their glory years in Chicago, they had plenty of memories from playing at this ballpark together.
But did you know they also had some classic moments playing against each other, too? If not, our friends over at Stathead have you covered.
The two did face each other once in Jenkins’ rookie season with the Phillies in 1965, but that ended in an uneventful walk. It wasn’t until Jenkins was traded to the Rangers after the ’73 season and Williams was traded to the A’s a year later that they truly had some memorable times against each other.
The first time they faced off post-trade was in Texas on April 12, 1975, when Williams stepped to the plate in the top of the second and cranked a home run to right field off his former teammate.
“I called my father, and he said, ‘Y’all had that planned.'” Williams remembered. “I said, ‘No, we didn’t!'”
Just 10 days later, the Rangers and A’s met in Oakland, and once again, Jenkins was on the mound. By the end of the game, Jenkins had pitched a two-hitter and Texas had won 2-1. Can you guess who managed to notch the only two hits against Jenkins that day?
“So this particular night, we’re playing a game, and Fergie pitched a two-hitter against the Oakland A’s — and I got the only two hits,” said Williams, who hit a solo homer in the second and singled in the seventh but otherwise couldn’t keep Jenkins from getting the W. “I said, ‘If I had known you were going to do that, hell, I’d have gave you the two hits so you could pitch a no-hitter!’”
Williams ended up hitting .435 with two home runs and three RBIs in 29 plate appearances against Jenkins. But the latter has an idea of why Williams was so successful against him.
“I threw him batting practice every spring training, so he knew what I was trying to get him out with,” Jenkins joked.
Head-to-head numbers aside, you could tell how happy Williams was to see Jenkins’ statue go up in the same spot as his. The last line of his speech says it all:
“To my teammate and friend, from the bottom of my heart, dude, from the bottom of my heart… Congratulations.”
Really, this was just a great event that I’m glad I was able to cover.
This poll from our main account really got me thinking:
Now that Fergie got his honor, who’s next?
Like the poll shows, the obvious answer is Sandberg. Only five other Cubs have had their numbers retired by the team, and he’s always mentioned among the franchise’s icons. He’s a 10-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, a seven-time Silver Slugger, and he won the National League MVP while leading the 1984 Cubs to the NL East title. Really, there’s nobody else in front of him in line.
From there, I struggle to think of anyone else that will one day be immortalized on “Statue Row.”
Maddux would be a shoo-in had his best years come in Chicago and not in Atlanta. Wood became a Cubs legend based on his 20-strikeout game alone, but injuries just didn’t give him the longevity. Sammy Sosa is the all-time club home run leader and one of nine players to ever top 600, but with controversies from his playing days still driving a wedge between him and the organization, that doesn’t seem likely.
Of all the players who have played for the Cubs over the years, the most logical monument would actually come with honoring a group of the them: the 2016 World Series champions.
I don’t think any of the players had Cubs careers deserving of individual honors, but that team as a whole ended the 108-year World Series drought and ended decades of futility that made it seem like that was never going to happen.
The White Sox have one on the South Side commemorating their ’05 title team. I’m not saying, ‘Hey, why don’t the Cubs go and copy their crosstown rivals,” but when the result for the team was so much bigger than any one player, that’s the way you honor it.
Sometimes, when I think of statues or busts or whatever other ways people get honored, I think of the bust of Cristiano Ronaldo and the statue of Baker Mayfield that received a ton of criticism for the way they depicted the honorees.
It would’ve been a shame if anything similar were to happen to Jenkins’. Fortunately, he was totally pleased with what sculptor Lou Cella put together.
“That’s me,” Jenkins said with a smile. “It looks like me.”
Before we move on, I just had to share this photo I saw on Twitter.
I don’t remember exactly what Williams was saying in that moment, but it clearly made NBC Sports Chicago’s Tim Stebbins smile. Just take a look at that cheek-to-cheek grin!
Like I said in the replies underneath, that picture features two Hall of Famers, but only one GOAT.
Willson Contreras had himself an eventful week prior to leaving Saturday’s game with right hamstring tightness.
Most recently, Contreras found himself on the wrong end of a strike-three call in the seventh inning on Friday. I think it was inside. I also don’t think it was an egregious call.
But I get the frustration. The Cubs were trying to make a late-inning rally. Contreras is the fiery leader of this group, and in that moment, he wanted to be there to put the team in a position to win, not get sent back to the dugout on a bad call.
So yes, I get it, but that doesn’t mean I was expecting to see what ensued between him and home-plate umpire Ryan Additon right after.
Contreras wasn’t around to talk after the game, and when we got to speak to him the next day, he’d already put the incident behind him. I get that, too. An emotional outburst in the pivotal moment of the game isn’t something you want to keep talking about. He said he wasn’t looking to distract his team any more, and I can respect that.
The other incident with Contreras happened three days earlier when the Pirates were still in town.
Daniel Vogelbach, a former Cubs prospect who’d spent multiple seasons playing with Contreras in the minors, legged out the first triple of his career in the top of the fourth. He must’ve had a need for speed after that, because when Yoshi Tsutsugo flew out to Seiya Suzuki in right field the next at-bat, Vogelbach took off for home. The throw beat him by a mile, and he never actually touched the plate as Contreras applied the tag.
What followed that really came as a shock.
Contreras isn’t one to back down, and neither is Vogelbach, so they exchanged words and the benches cleared. Contreras and the Cubs got the last laugh, too, finishing the Pirates off in a 7-0 shutout to clinch the series win.
And after the game, he had what I would say is the ultimate mic-drop moment: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We won the ballgame, and they got shut out.”
In case you were wondering, yes, Jed Hoyer did give us a few prospect updates during the media scrum on Thursday.
For the sake of spacing and time, I’m just going to throw his exact quotes your way:
- On Ed Howard’s hip injury: “Obviously, a really serious injury to his hip. He’s going to have surgery. The early prognosis is really good as far as a comeback, but that’s going to be a comeback after a lot of rehab and a lot of time. I know he’s in good spirits, but he’s got a real road ahead of him.”
- On Brennen Davis dealing with adversity: “Obviously, last year, he played so well in Tennessee and in Iowa at the end of the year. I thought his work this winter was awesome, so for him to sort of come out and struggle a little bit (.195/.286/.299, 34% strikeout rate in 22 games) and then have the (back) injury, he’ll be fine. I think he’s going to come back and be really strong. This might be a good good challenge for him to have to overcome. Certainly not what anyone expected, given the work in the winter and what he did in Iowa last year, but I mean, that’s baseball. I have no doubt that he’s going to come back stronger from this.”
- On Caleb Kilian’s success and potential MLB debut in 2022: “(Thursday) was sort of the longest we’ve let him go (80 pitches over 5 2/3 innings). He pitched in the Fall League until the very end, so we took it slow with him in spring training and even into the season. We tried to lessen his workload a little bit, but then today, I think he went low 80s for a pitch count. He’s been getting better and better with each start, and we’re really excited about him. I can’t speak to timetables, but certainly, we’re well aware of the success he’s having. … The way he’s throwing, he’s in Triple-A, he’s getting a lot of guys out. He’s certainly put himself in position (to be called up).”
- On Brailyn Marquez recovering from shoulder issues: “I’m not sure on games. He’s throwing. We’re trying to get him off a mound and get him back to pitching in games, but that’s not imminent right now.”
David Robertson and Marcus Stroman both returned from stints on the COVID-related IL, Robertson making his return in the ninth on Wednesday, Stroman getting the start on Thursday.
Both said they had similar experiences (in bed with low energy, needed to take a few days off before getting back to it). Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy left them both some equipment to use on their own and build up, and the two of them even got to throw with each other when they had a chance.
It’s great to hear that they are healthy and didn’t go through some of the worst kinds of battles that we’d heard about throughout the pandemic, and Robertson actually attributed that to something we haven’t discussed all that much: “I’m glad I’m vaccinated and boosted and all that. I think it helped.”
No, I’m not getting into that discussion, but Robertson’s comment did beg another question for Jed Hoyer when we met with him on Thursday: “What kind of shape are you guys in when you head to Toronto?”
“I think pretty good,” Hoyer said. “Not perfect, but pretty good.”
Not much of answer there, which makes me wonder what might happen to the roster when the Cubs hit the road for a three-game set in Toronto at the end of August.
You still need to be fully vaccinated to get into Canada, and there isn’t an exemption for MLB players (just ask the Reds, who placed four players on the restricted list prior to their series at the Rogers Centre this weekend). Remember, the Cubs were one of the teams who struggled to reach the 85% vaccination rate laid out by MLB last season for relaxed protocols.
There are plenty of new faces on the Cubs roster than there were last season and we don’t know most of their vaccination statuses, so there might be a lot more who are vaccinated and will be able to travel for that series. There’s also still three months before that series, so there’s a chance Canada’s rules do change (though that’s very unlikely). But this is a reminder that COVID is still going to affect this baseball season, and possibly future seasons, too.
Right now, we don’t have a clear picture of how many players on the roster are vaccinated, so we don’t have a clear picture of who will even be eligible to make the trip.
I guess we’ll find out when we get an active roster update three months from now.
I also got a chance to chat with Codi Heuer this week, who’s recovering from early-March Tommy John surgery but made the trip to Chicago for the Cubs’ homestand.
He told me he’s rehabbing in Houston for now, and then he’ll make the jump over to Arizona six months post-op. Right now, he said he’s looking at a 15-16 month full-rehab timeline, which would make his return sometime in June or July 2023.
What we talked about outside of his injury, however, was the Cubs’ “Field of Dreams” game on Aug. 11.
Before he was acquired from the White Sox at the trade deadline last year, he was on track to be at — if not pitch in — the first iteration of the game between the Sox and the Yankees. The trade to the Cubs, obviously, didn’t let that happen.
But when the Cubs and the Reds were announced as the the teams who would play in Dyersville, Iowa, in 2022, he was excited to get another opportunity to go.
“I missed the chance to go out there this year, but the fact that we’re going out to the Field of Dreams next year is awesome,” Heuer told me back when that was first announced last August. “I had a lot of family that were excited to go out there that love the movie and love that scene, so they were bummed that I didn’t get to go out there. Hopefully, they’ll get to make it next year.”
I reminded him about our conversation, but now, all I can think is that I brought him some sort of bad luck by even mentioning it to him back then.
Regardless, he’s not sweating not being able to play in that game for the second year in a row, because he’s more focused on rehabbing and getting on the field as soon as possible. Plus, he said he’s going to do everything he can to be there for the game.
So at least he won’t have to miss out on the experience. Who knows when he’ll get that chance again.
Wade Miley has been solid through his first three starts in a Cubs uniform, and he’s even more fun to talk to have a conversation with (if you didn’t already know from his time talking with Boog and JD during Marquee’s broadcast on Tuesday). He’s also thrown a no-hitter before, in case you were unaware.
But I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the single most impressive thing I’ve ever seen him do:
You can see things flying at players anytime one of them puts on the headset: gum, sunflower seeds, whatever. A Cliff bar was not something I expected to be thrown, but clearly Miley and his sixth sense did.
Get that man a Gold Glove.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Cubs get a win at the quarter-season mark, but they still look like sellers in 2022
- Fergie Day: Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins immortalized at Wrigley Field
- Cubs prospects show out in debuts … Is ‘The Next Great Cubs Team’ on its way?
- Despite his uncertain future, Willson Contreras still leads the way for the Cubs
Normally, I would’ve ended my Monday thoughts column with the above “recommended Cubs reading” section, but I think this quote from Fergie Jenkins deserves to be the final thing everyone takes away from this.
Jenkins has gone through terrible tragedy in his life, but he has been able to persevere through it all. And he wants anyone going through the same to know that they can, too.
“You try to let people know that, sure, everybody has tragedies. I went to counseling. I’m not ashamed to say it. I think the nice thing about it, they listened to what I had to say and you try to talk things out. And that’s the nice thing about it. When somebody else can confer with you about having a problem, and you tell them and they try to understand what my gut feeling is, I’m kind of honored with that fact. I’ve had counseling. I’m not ashamed of that.”
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