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4 Chicago Cubs The loss of Kerry Wood cast a pall over an otherwise positive preseason

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

4 Chicago Cubs The loss of Kerry Wood cast a pall over an otherwise positive preseason

Sitting on a table in the center of the Cubs' spring training
clubhouse was a white box with a slot in the top and the label
COMPLAINT BOX. It was empty. At his locker, newly fit first
baseman Mark Grace belted out background vocals to a Bob Marley
tune. Sammy Sosa chuckled about his new life as an action hero,
in the Sammy Sosa comic book--not to be confused with the Sammy
Sosa animated movie, the Sammy Sosa CD (on which, mercifully,
neither he nor Grace sings), the Sammy Sosa TV commercials for
McDonald's or the Sammy Sosa biography. Kerry Wood laughed about
being a pop star. (He's featured on cans of cola.) Yes, it
seemed a very good time to be a Cub, seeing that every starting
position player but .222-hitting catcher Scott Servais was back
from the team that won the '98 National League wild card, only
the third 90-win club the franchise has had since 1969.

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

Alas, these are the Cubs we're talking about, a team with an
infamous history that dates back nearly as far as The Old
Farmer's Almanac. On March 16 Chicago suddenly had itself one
very large complaint: Wood will miss at least the entire season
because of a torn elbow ligament. Despite the brave faces and
words in the clubhouse, the injury changed everything about the
Cubs' outlook. Replacing the excitement and bravado Wood brought
them--every fifth day they knew they had one of the game's most
dominating pitchers going for them--is a bigger blow than making
up the 13 wins and 166 2/3 innings he gave them last year. In
practical terms, it weakens the rotation as well as an already
suspect bullpen, with 36-year-old lefthander Terry Mulholland
likely to take Wood's spot in the rotation.

Moreover, without the 21-year-old Wood, the biggest complaint
about this team from outside the clubhouse looms even larger:
These Cubs are so old they give new meaning to the term "senior
circuit." Manager Jim Riggleman is understandably sensitive
about this, preferring to dwell on recent performance rather
than on birthdays. Fact is, how well a team with few pairs of
young legs holds up while playing its usual daytime-dominated
schedule will determine whether Wrigleyville stays a contented
place.

When shortstop Jose Hernandez turns 30, on July 14, every one of
the team's starting position players, its winningest starting
pitcher in '98 and its closer will have reached that age or
passed it. Every one of those geezers, except outfielders Sosa
and Henry Rodriguez and closer Rod Beck, is eligible for free
agency at the end of the season. The future of this team doesn't
go beyond tonight's early-bird dinner special.

Says general manager Ed Lynch, "It's a two-sided coin with all
the free agents. On the one hand, you don't have much cost
certainty. On the other hand, it gives you tremendous
flexibility."

Third baseman Gary Gaetti exemplifies the wrinkles in the Cubs'
plans. After signing with Chicago on Aug. 19, his 40th birthday,
he hit .320 the rest of the season to earn a contract for '99.
Only one other fortysomething position player in Cubs history
has started on Opening Day: Cap Anson, who last did so in 1895.
(No, Gary doesn't recall playing against Cap.) Three other
well-worn starters are returning from injury-plagued seasons:
leftfielder Rodriguez, 31; centerfielder Lance Johnson, 35; and
catcher Benito Santiago, 34.

Chicago's lineup plays something as close to American League
baseball as you'll see in the National League. The Cubs, who
banged a franchise-record 212 home runs last year, rely heavily
on the long ball. They also strike out way too often (1,223
times; only Arizona whiffed more) and have almost no speed (65
stolen bases; only the Mets had fewer).

The Cubs scored more runs than any National League team but
Houston and San Francisco last year, and they'll need similar
production again to offset an unreliable bullpen that made
Riggleman the league's most-watched manager. Although his
starters ranked sixth in innings, Riggleman changed pitchers a
league-high 449 times. Beck, who was found to have a protruding
disk in his back in spring training after leading the league
with a career-high 81 appearances last year, must be monitored
closely.

Setup men Felix Heredia and Matt Karchner were major
disappointments, combining for a 4.73 ERA after midseason trades
to the Cubs. Heredia, 22, at least has youth on his side.
Karchner has had such a mediocre career that he turns 32 in June
having never thrown 65 innings in a major league season.

"We're counting on those guys," Riggleman said of his setup
corps. "All I know is that when the phone rang this winter,
everybody was asking for them. [Other teams] figured they could
get them cheap because we might be down on them. We're not."

The only factor more daunting than the Cubs' age is their
infamous history. Chicago hasn't won 90 games two seasons in a
row since 1930 and hasn't reached consecutive postseasons since
1908, the year of its last world championship. Their chances of
repeating a season like last year's are worse than selling soda
cans endorsed by a pitcher who can't pitch.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN Hitting 66 homers might be easier for Sosa than overcoming team history: The Cubs haven't reached the postseason two years in a row since 1908.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 90-73 (second in NL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .264 (5)
RUNS SCORED 831 (3)
HOME RUNS 212 (3)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .266 (12)
ERA 4.47 (11)
FIELDING PCT. .984 (4)

Winning Ugly

Kevin Tapani has a record of 120-87 despite accumulating a 4.22
ERA over his 10 seasons in the majors. Tapani's career ERA is
the highest among the 19 active pitchers with a career record of
at least 30 games above .500. Last season Tapani won 19 games
with a 4.85 ERA--the third-highest in history for a pitcher with
19 or more victories (below). Not surprisingly, Tapani got good
run support: 5.35 runs per start, as compared to the National
League average of 4.60.

Pitcher, Team Year ERA W-L

Bobo Newsom, Browns 1938 5.07 20-16
Ray Kremer, Pirates 1930 5.02 20-12
Kevin Tapani, Cubs 1998 4.85 19-9
Mike Mussina, Orioles 1996 4.81 19-11
George Earnshaw, Athletics 1932 4.78 19-13

Pitcher, Team Year ERA W-L

Jim Bibby, Rangers 1974 4.74 19-19
Dickie Kerr, White Sox 1921 4.72 19-17
Vern Kennedy, White Sox 1936 4.63 21-9
Schoolboy Rowe, Tigers 1936 4.52 19-10
Robin Roberts, Phillies 1956 4.45 19-18

Next Up...

Righthander Terry Adams is so eager to avoid further injuries
that when a fan sent him an orthopedic pillow during spring
training, Adams took it home to give it a go. "I'll try
anything," the reliever says. Last season, partly because of an
injured collarbone that resulted in pain in his right shoulder,
Adams had such an awful second half that the Cubs briefly sent
him to the minors. He walked 23 batters in his last 281/3
innings, continuing to frustrate Chicago with his inability to
be effective for an entire season. (His career ERA before the
All-Star break is 2.94, afterward it's 5.31.) Starting his fifth
big league season, Adams is only 26, can throw 97 mph and can be
a good power setup man.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Jim Riggleman (fifth season with Chicago)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Lance Johnson L 156 .280 2 21 10
2B Mickey Morandini L-R 172 .296 8 53 13
RF Sammy Sosa R 2 .308 66 158 18
1B Mark Grace L 51 .309 17 89 4
LF Henry Rodriguez L 108 .251 31 85 1
C Benito Santiago*[1] R 250 .243 13 42 1
3B Gary Gaetti R 225 .281 19 70 1
SS Jose Hernandez R 86 .254 23 75 4

BENCH

OF Glenallen Hill[#] R 197 .310 20 56 1
C Tyler Houston L-R 277 .255 9 33 2
OF Robin Jennings (R)[##] L 318 .248 16 62 4
IF Manny Alexander R 341 .227 5 25 4
IF Jeff Blauser R 375 .219 4 26 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kevin Tapani 53 19 9 6.4 1.40 4.85
RH Steve Trachsel 62 15 8 6.3 1.38 4.46
LH Terry Mulholland 102 6 5 6.6 1.24 2.89
RH Jon Lieber[1] 125 8 14 6.1 1.30 4.11
RH Kurt Miller (R)[##] 194 14 3 6.1 1.37 3.81

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Rod Beck 16 3 4 51 1.32 3.02
RH Matt Karchner[#] 203 5 5 11 1.48 5.15
RH Terry Adams 226 7 7 1 1.56 4.33
LH Felix Heredia 311 3 3 0 1.62 5.06
RH Marc Pisciotta 342 1 2 0 1.73 4.09
RH Jeremi Gonzalez 239 7 7 0 1.50 5.32

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*1997 stats [#]Combined AL and NL stats [##]Triple A stats