In an illogical turn of events, Ryan Dempster has become a villain to Cubs fans
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media July 27, 2012 11:30PM
Right-hander Ryan Dempster has been a solid citizen and a very good pitcher, but Cubs fans have turned on him recently. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:24AM
Day baseball, Mike Schmidt, billy goats, black cats and whatever demon you choose to blame for the Cubs’ century of futility has company.
Demp? Hold on there. Hasn’t he been one of the Cubs’ most dependable pitchers over his nine-year tenure, not to mention a model citizen and a respected clubhouse presence?
Dempster is 58-46 over four-plus years as a rotation starter, with 200 or more innings in each season reflective of a proud I’ll-take-the-ball mentality. He loves to pitch, and his competitive nature makes him as attractive to a contender as his numbers.
Dempster was 17-8 with a 2.96 ERA and made the All-Star team for the Cubs’ last division winner in 2008.
In the three previous years, he had 87 saves as an emergency closer, volunteering for the job after the Cubs whiffed on several attempts to find a serviceable one — remember LaTroy Hawkins?
He’s not Fergie Jenkins or Greg Maddux or even Big Daddy Rick Reuschel in the pantheon of Cubs pitching, but Dempster’s 67-66 record, 3.74 ERA and 87 saves constitute a credible body of work. It would be better if he hadn’t endured a 1-9 disaster as a reliever for a 96-loss team in 2006. Rick Sutcliffe was 82-65 with an identical ERA in his eight Cubs seasons.
But if talk radio and the blogosphere have it right, Dempster has long since outlived his usefulness to the Cubs and is no longer welcome at Wrigley Field. He’s being portrayed as obstructionist, as an obstacle to the new regime’s grand design.
Dempster is in the final year of a contract that pays him $14 million this season, and the Cubs have not exactly been subtle about their desire to move him. The younger, cheaper arms Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are seeking in exchange for him can’t get here soon enough.
Building blocks to a brighter future? Heck, they’ll probably help this year — look how well Anthony Rizzo, the poster child for Theo-and-Jed Guys, is doing. There are 60-some games left — let’s put a Theo-and-Jed team together and make a run at those Reds. They’re hardly invincible — Dusty Baker is still the manager.
Who needs Dempster?
Dempster, though, has been a reluctant pawn in this scenario. As a 10-year major-league veteran with five years of service to one club, he can’t be traded without his consent, a leverage perk the players gained through collective bargaining more than 40 years ago.
Dempster is no dummy. He knows his long-term future with the Cubs is no brighter than Luis Valbuena’s, but his service time gives him a say in what happens next for him. He’s taking advantage of a workplace right most of us take for granted. At 35 and with 2,147 big-league innings on the odometer, he won’t get many more chances
Somehow, though, this makes Dempster disloyal to the Cubs, as if their future is his concern. When they’re trying to unload him? He’s not the one suggesting a move from Chicago.
Dempster isn’t your random ’85 Bear, but he is (or was) a popular figure, most notably for the charity work he has done to raise awareness of and research funding for the medical condition that has threatened daughter Riley’s life since she was born four years ago.
But he’s standing in the way of Theo and Jed’s master plan, like a humble old shopkeeper resisting a high-rise development. He must go.
Other than import Rizzo and maybe Paul Maholm, what have the Boston Boys done to inspire such loyalty among Cubs fans? How’s Chris Volstad working out? Could we get a mulligan on Tyler Colvin for Ian Stewart? Does it bother anybody that what they left behind in Beantown has turned into quite the mess?
Then again, there’s no telling with Cubs fans. They hooted at Fred McGriff when he balked at coming here in a deadline deal in 2001. Now they’re hooting at Dempster because he doesn’t want to leave.
They poured on the love for Ron Santo this weekend as his Hall of Fame enshrinement was celebrated with Ron Santo Day and other festivities. It probably didn’t come up that in 1973, as the Cubs were disassembling the team that had broken so many hearts in the previous few years, Santo exercised his newly acquired 10-and-five rights to reject a trade to the California Angels.
A week later, he was OK with going to the White Sox for Steve Stone. He didn’t want to leave Chicago. He never really did, and we loved him for it.