The Chicago Cubs in the 1990s
A Young Cubs Fan
I have heard my Dad tell this story a hundred times to his friends. I don't know why he likes it so much. He came home from work to find me, maybe eight years old, crying. He thought I must have hurt myself and said, "What's wrong, son?" "What happened to you?" I answered, "We lost, Dad, we lost!" He didn't understand, so he said, "Who lost, son? Who lost?" Through my tears I cried, "The Cubs!"
Such was my emotional attachment to the ebbs and flows of the Chicago Cubs; and of my love for Baseball.
I was a pretty good baseball player myself, in Little League and Babe Ruth. I remember one of my managers saying, "That kid knocks the cover off the ball!" At one time or another, I played every position on the diamond, including catcher and pitcher (I had velocity but was too wild. Scared a lot of guys, though.)
I settled in as an outstanding Center Fielder. I was very fast and could throw the baseball from the fence to home plate on the fly. By the time I was sixteen I had to choose between two dreams: Baseball or Music. I chose music. I tell this story to establish that I not only understand the game of baseball from a fan's perspective; I played the game. I continued to play in softball leagues for many years afterwards.
Chicago Cubs History: The 1990s
The Chicago Cubs history in the 1990s were nothing to brag about. Only twice in ten years did Cubs fans witness a winning record. The best year undoubtedly, for the Chicago Cubs, was that incredibly exciting year of 1998.
The Chicago Cubs made the playoffs in 1998 for the first time in nine years. I wish the iconic Harry Carey could have witnessed it, but he died before the season began, after 16 years as the Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer. Though this truly was a team effort, and excellent performances were turned in by many players, the stars were Sammy Sosa, Mark Grace and Kerry Wood.
Sammy Sosa, the Chicago Cubs Right fielder, was the best baseball player to ever don the Chicago Cubs uniform. He played for the Chicago Cubs for 13 seasons. He won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1998 when he posted these astounding statistics: 66 home runs; 134 runs scored; 158 runs batted in; 416 total bases. This represents one of the top performances during a baseball season in the history of the game. Besides that, he was an outstanding defensive player to boot. He was the first major league baseball player to ever hit 65 home runs in a season. His 412 total bases in 1998 was the most for any hitter in 50 years. He also hit over 60 home runs in 3 seasons—becoming the first hitter to ever do so.
Mark Grace was our First Baseman. Today, he stands 40th all time for doubles hit in the history of baseball. He is not far out of the top 100 for career batting average, on base percentage, and hits. And Mark Grace was a remarkable defensive player and team leader.
Kerry Wood burst on the scene in 1998 to win the Rookie of the year award. He struck out 20 hitters in one game in May of that year, which still stands tied for the all time major league record. For the season Kerry Wood struck out an unbelievable 233 batters in only 167 innings—at the time more per inning than any pitcher in history.
Naturally, the Chicago Cubs being the Chicago Cubs, in the playoffs to get to the World Series they lost four straight games and were eliminated—despite a magnificent array of talent. Many tears were shed.
The Making of a Cubs Fan
I plead guilty (misery loves company) to having turned many of my friends into loyal Cubs fans over the years, including one of my best friends who was born blind. He would listen as I watched the games on WGN and I explained everything that was going on. To this day, he rarely misses listening to the Chicago Cubs when they play, and we go the ballpark together at least once a year.
For a couple decades I have also had a tradition of taking my son and daughter to Wrigley once or twice a year (I have lived in Florida most of this time). These are precious shared memories. But I never would have become one of the knowledgeable Cubs fans I am today had it not been for Lou Boudreau and Steve Stone.
Most Cub fans are more familiar with the careers of longtime broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Harry Carey. Lou Boudreau, in the Hall of Fame as a player, was the analyst for WGN radio from 1961 through 1987, and possessed unparalleled insight into baseball. As I entered the work force, I could no longer watch day games but I had a job with the freedom to listen to the the Chicago Cubs games on the radio.
Lou Boudreau had a great ability for teaching fans the game-within-the-game—what was really going on, what strategies were being employed. I hear casual observers mention that baseball seems so slow and boring. For me, it has a perfect pace and it is exciting—if you understand what is going on, which is mostly thinking and reaction.
Through Lou Boudreau, I was enabled to understand what was taking place, which took the game to a whole new level in my mental imagery. Lou Boudreau was an awesome guy and a rare individual. He managed the Cubs one year. But he was famous for what he did in 1948, when Lou Boudreau was not only the Most Valuable Player in the American league as a Shortstop; and led the Cleveland Indians to a World Championship—he managed the team at the same time at 31 years of age!
Steve Stone was the color commentator for the Cub games on WGN television for 19 seasons, the last being 2004. 15 of those years he worked with Harry Carey. Steve Stone is an eloquent teacher of the game to Cubs fans. He was also famous for uncannily predicting what was going to happen next as a game unfolded.
Steve Stone had previously been a fine pitcher who won the Cy Young Award (for best pitcher in league) in 1980. Lou Boudreau and Steve Stone: they taught me what baseball was all about, and they are vital parts of Chicago Cubs History.