3 Chicago Cubs Will baseball's longest championship drought finally end? Don't count on it

March 25, 2002

Delino Deshields has a Delaware-sized chip on his shoulder.
Throughout his 12 years in the majors the Cubs second baseman
has told anyone who'll listen that his home state--land of,
uhhm, several rest stops--is where it's at.

Like many Delawareans, DeShields has taken part in the following
dialogue too many times to count:

Q: Where are you from?

A: Delaware.

Q: Oh! I drove through there once.

Disrespect for the First State is part of what drives DeShields,
who likes to think of himself as the defender of his native
turf. "My goal has always been to shed some light on Delaware,"
says DeShields, 33, who was raised in Seaford, "and to let
people know, hey, we may be small, but we come to play."

For much of last year one had to wonder whether DeShields's
mantra was as empty as Newark's Christiana Mall on a Sunday
morning. The same man who was named MVP of the Orioles after a
breathtaking 2000 season was, for three months, one of the
American League's worst players. In 58 games with Baltimore,
DeShields hit .197 with an uncharacteristically high 42
strikeouts in 188 at bats. Looking back, he links the hellish
numbers to playing with a listless team doomed to finish with
the league's second-worst record. Still, he was furious when, on
July 2, the Orioles released him. "They gave up on their MVP,"
he says. "It hurt." In hindsight, he considers it a blessing.

Five days after he was dumped, Chicago general manager Andy
MacPhail called DeShields to ask if he'd be interested in
joining the Cubs as a utilityman. DeShields jumped at the
chance. He found new life in Chicago, where he played four
positions, served as an offensive spark plug, soaked in the
Wrigley aura and laughed more than he had in years. "This is the
happiest I've been in baseball," DeShields says. "When I came
over here last year, I was down. The guys here brought me back
to life."

Adds rightfielder Sammy Sosa: "Delino was lost for a little
while. Now he feels like a man again."

In allowing free-agent second baseman Eric Young to walk, the
Cubs handed DeShields a regular gig, as well as the leadoff spot
in the lineup. With Fred McGriff, Sosa and free-agent signee
Moises Alou forming one of baseball's best middle-of-the-order
trios, it's imperative that DeShields, whose career .354 on-base
percentage is 11 points lower than Young's, and No. 2 hitter
Bill Mueller get on base early and often. Equally important,
DeShields must use his quickness and athleticism to plug the
hole on the right side of the infield which, with the
38-year-old McGriff at first, will often seem to hitters as wide
as Lake Michigan. "Delino is a perfect fit," says MacPhail.
"It's easy to forget that he was one of the best second basemen
for many years. He's an established pro." The Cubs have also
asked DeShields to serve as a mentor to Bobby Hill, 23, their
second baseman of the future, and possibly return to a utilty
role if Hill is ready to play full-time sometime this year.

DeShields doesn't mind the multitasking. This winter he
maintained a rigorous schedule, coaching an age 8-and-under Boys
and Girls Club basketball team, working out on a daily basis and
continuing to develop 302 Entertainment, his two-year-old music
production company. DeShields aspires to follow the career path
of Quincy Jones, only on--what else?--a regional level.
Three-oh-two is Delaware's area code, and DeShields wants to use
his business to promote musical talent from his home state. "I
don't care what avenue you take: business, sports, music," he
says. "If you're from that part of the country, nobody notices
you. That has to change."

The little leadoff hitter from the little state dreams big.
--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The rejuvenated DeShields knows what it's like to be underestimated and won't stand for it anymore. COLOR PHOTO: TOM HAUCK/GETTY IMAGES FARNSWORTH

IN FACT
Batters in 2001 hit for a lower average (.202) against Kerry
Wood than any other pitcher in the major leagues.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cubs

"The Cubs should score some runs. Fred McGriff has lost a little
bat speed but will provide protection for Sammy Sosa.... I'd be
a little worried about Moises Alou switching to leftfield. He's
not the most fleet of foot, and that wall in Wrigley has some
nooks and crannies. If you can get average fielding out of him,
you're happy.... With Corey Patterson all the hype has to be
answered. He has to get better control of the strike zone. Maybe
being down in the lineup will take some pressure off him. For
now, if he plays solid defense and hits .250, they'll be
happy.... Last year Jon Lieber kept the ball down consistently,
got ahead of a lot of hitters and controlled the inside part of
the plate. He's not afraid of contact. He gets ahead and dares
people to hit the ball. Last year they did it, and the Cubs
caught it. This year I don't think he'll win 20. I see him more
at 15, but Kerry Wood could offset that with a big year. His
stuff is electric.... Jason Bere's changeup is a funky pitch,
like a splitter--it's hard and goes in with a lot of deception.
He doesn't hold runners well, though. His delivery time to the
plate isn't good.... Kyle Farnsworth is the hardest thrower in
the league and is getting his breaking stuff over. They're going
to miss Tom Gordon [who's out for at least three months with a
torn muscle in the back of his right shoulder], but Farnsworth
is good enough to be a closer.... Jeff Fassero surprised a lot
of us last year. His splitter was outstanding, and he got his
velocity back up to 89 to 93. I don't see any reason why he
can't have the same season."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

2B Delino DeShields* L-R 111 .234 5 37 23
3B Bill Mueller S-R 256 .295 6 23 1
RF Sammy Sosa R 3 .328 64 160 0
1B Fred McGriff* L 54 .306 31 102 1
LF Moises Alou[1] R 48 .331 27 108 5
C Todd Hundley S-R 208 .187 12 31 0
SS Alex Gonzalez[1] R 127 .253 17 76 18
CF Corey Patterson L-R 201 .221 4 14 4

BENCH

IF Chris Stynes[1] R 287 .280 8 33 4
OF Darren Lewis[1] R 315 .280 1 12 5
C Joe Girardi R 329 .253 3 25 0

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Jon Lieber 20 20 6 6.8 1.15 3.80
RH Kerry Wood 7 12 6 6.2 1.26 3.36
RH Jason Bere 92 11 11 5.9 1.32 4.31
RH Juan Cruz (R) 70 3 1 5.6 1.28 3.22

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

LH Jesus Sanchez[1] 170 2 4 5.8 1.47 4.74
LH Jeff Fassero 105 4 4 12 1.21 3.42
RH Kyle Farnsworth 110 4 6 2 1.15 2.74
RH Julian Tavarez 200 10 9 0 1.49 4.52

[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)

*Combined AL and NL stats

Manager
Don Baylor
third season with Chicago

2001 record
88-74
third in NL Central

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Gonzalez
Lieber

Good Leather

Alou
Patterson
Sosa
McGriff
DeShields
Mueller

Iron Hands

Hundley

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)