Ryan Dempster’s a very good pitcher and a true role model
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org July 14, 2012 8:36PM
Ryan Dempster, who likely will be traded soon, has been a true pro and a model citizen during his time in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:46AM
He makes his glove go down and then up before offering a final waggle as he moves into his windup. It’s the same on every pitch when Ryan Dempster isn’t in the stretch: down, up, waggle.
That funky delivery is mesmerizing, which is exactly what a magician wants as he diverts attention from the deception he’s about to foist on a suspecting audience.
What the audience always expects from Dempster is effort and class. In that sense, his delivery has been almost perfect. Someday soon, all of it will go away from Chicago — the pitching motion, the hard work, the success, the fun and the bearing.
Someday soon, the Cubs will trade Dempster for younger players who might help the franchise down the road. It’s a business, and it’s the right thing to do for a struggling team, but you get the feeling that even the most coldhearted members of the front office wish they didn’t have to do it.
Saturday might have been Dempster’s last start for the Cubs. The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31, and he has agreed to waive his no-trade rights, pending his approval of any potential deal. There were scouts with radar guns behind home plate at Wrigley Field, but what were those scouts and radar guns going to say that hasn’t been said before? He’s a very good pitcher. Everybody knows that.
Those scouts and those guns can’t speak to the way Dempster has carried himself during his nine years in Chicago, from the way he struggled as a closer to his second life as a starter to his tireless fundraising for the genetic disorder his daughter has to his outstanding 2012.
Those scouts and those guns can’t tell the story of a man who was a role model for younger teammates.
‘‘You need to learn how to play the game the right way, how to act around the clubhouse, how to treat the staff and the people you work with, and Demp’s all that to a T,’’ Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. ‘‘For a young guy like me, he was good to watch. You just kind of mimic what he does.
‘‘I hope he sticks around. This is a business, and it’s the way things go, but it wouldn’t be cool, that’s for sure.’’
If this was Dempster’s last start for the Cubs, a crowd of 38,068 saw him make something out of nothing, the ultimate illusion. He extended his scoreless streak to 33 innings by holding the Diamondbacks to four hits and no runs in six innings, even when he wasn’t nearly at his best. Since 1918, the Cubs have seen one of their pitchers have a scoreless streak of at least that length only three other times.
‘‘It’s pretty humbling,’’ Dempster said. ‘‘I’m just trying to get outs. I’m not expecting that [streak].’’
He said he wasn’t approaching the start as though it might be his last for the Cubs, nor did he wish he had the opportunity to tip his cap to the crowd. But he acknowledged the fans in his own way after the game.
‘‘I look back and just think how lucky I’ve been to play here as long as I’ve played here,’’ he said. ‘‘I got a chance to play in the city for nine years and be a part of some really good teams and fought through some tough times when things haven’t gone so well. The city has been tremendous to me and my family.’’
In 2006, I called the decision to sign Dempster, then a closer, to a three-year contract ‘‘misguided.’’ As it turned out, the only thing misguided was the missile I had fired. Since being moved from closer to starter in 2008, he has gone 58-44.
‘‘You’re not going to outwork him,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
No, you’re not. This is what Dempster said four years ago about moving into the rotation: ‘‘I love pitching eight innings and then going for a five-mile run the next day. Or going out and getting your butt kicked in a game and then going for a 10-mile run because you’re [angry].’’
He’s 35 now, and there’s gray in his beard. But there looks to be a lot of baseball left in his right arm. And a lot of flutter left in his glove for windups. He does that so hitters can’t tell how he’s holding the ball and, thus, what pitch is coming. We’ll miss that, too.
‘‘The ultimate professional,’’ Sveum called Dempster.
That he is.