8 think-outside-the-box moments for Cubs that hit or missed
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 29, 2014 10:44PM
Billy Goat wanders around the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003. Many fans of the Chicago Cubs blame the curse of the Billy Goat for the team's 9-6 loss to the Florida Marlins in the final game of the NL Championship series.(AP Photo/Steve Matteo) ORG XMIT: CXSM102
Updated: July 1, 2014 6:46AM
Maybe the great Manny the Mentor Experiment will work. Maybe it will fail for all the obvious reasons critics raise.
But at least give team president Theo Epstein credit for joining the pantheon of outside-the-box thinkers in Cubs’ history.
And then watch to see how former Red Sox bad-guy, drug-cheat Manny Ramirez’s role in the Cubs’ critically important player-development plan winds up ranking among some of these other great outside-the-box Cub inspirations.
Rankings range from outstanding (five Ernie Banks) to awful (five Ernie Broglios):
1908: Merkle’s Boner
When Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers saw that New York Giants runner Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on what looked like a walk-off two-out single that scored the winner from third, Evers ignored tradition, retrieved the ball from the outfield, touched second and altered baseball history.
Baserunners typically exited the field quickly, often without touching the next required base on game-ending plays to avoid the fans who usually flowed onto the field afterward. And opponents typically ignored it.
But Evers successfully urged umpire Hank O’Day to rule Merkle out on a force play that ended the ninth with the score tied, and when fans couldn’t be cleared from the field effectively enough to resume play, the game was called.
The Cubs won the makeup game, beat the Giants by one game for the pennant and then beat the Tigers in the World Series for the second of what was sure to be a long run of championships. Rating: 4 Ernie Banks.
1937: Ivy-covered outfield walls
General manager Bill Veeck’s contribution to owner P.K. Wrigley’s renovation of the bleachers that year has been one of the enduring — and landmarked — features defining Wrigley Field for three generations. Rating: 5 Ernie Banks.
1945: Billy being Billy
In what is both the most legendary and most bizarre act in franchise history, Cubs fan and tavern owner Billy Sianis felt inspired to take his goat — as a ticket-holding companion — to a World Series game. It did not work out as planned. Rating: 5 Ernie Broglio.
1961: College of coaches
The greatest moments of genius often are ridiculed the most when introduced to the world. That’s as close as this one got to genius.
Eschewing the one-manager convention, owner P.K. Wrigley employed an eight-man rotation of alternating “head coaches” that played out for two seasons with disastrous results — including the worst two-year record in franchise history until 2012-13.
After three more years in a slightly altered form, the idea was scrapped completely, and Leo Durocher was hired. Rating: 5 Ernie Broglio.
1984: Rick Sutcliffe trade
General manager Dallas Green jumped the trade market that summer (heads up, Jeff Samardzija) to land Sutcliffe a full seven weeks before the deadline in a seven-player deal with Cleveland — giving the Cubs 20 starts of Sutcliffe’s services that season.
With the right-hander going 16-1 (for the NL Cy Young award), they extended a 1 1⁄2-game division lead to 6 1⁄2 and reached the postseason for the first time in 39 years. Rating: 3.5 Ernie Banks.
2008: Kenney being Kenney
The Cubs exec persuaded a Greek priest to bless the Cubs’ dugout before the 2008 playoff opener in an attempt to offset the Sianis goat curse, infuriating manager Lou Piniella and others on the baseball side — then lied to fans at Cubs Convention when it blew up as a p.r. move, saying the priest had approached the Cubs unsolicited. The Cubs were swept by the Dodgers and haven’t been back to the playoffs. 2.5 Ernie Broglio.
2004: Rooftop Eureka!
After a lengthy battle over rooftop owners’ continued poaching of free and profitable views of Cubs games from across the street, hardball Tribune Co. counsel Crane Kenney wrested a 20-year contract from the rooftop owners that still rakes in $3 million to $4 million for the Cubs — and that people still talk about today. Maybe that’s how he got to be business president under new ownership. 3 Ernie Broglio.
2009: Milton’s Paradise Lost
In what even then-GM Jim Hendry admits was his worst move, the Cubs became the only team to sign career clubhouse problem Milton Bradley to a multiyear contract. He washed out as a Cub by the end of the year, and within two more seasons was out of the majors, last believed to be active in the California penal league. 3 Ernie Broglio.