Friday, February 04, 2005


Christopher hinted that I may be the oldest contributing blogger at this site. I’ll have to admit that I do find myself looking back at the past more frequently every day, a sure sign of becoming a bonafide “old fart.” Now, while rehashing ancient history can be painful it can also be instructive. So while we wait to see if Mr. Hendry is going to do anything more to shore up the offense, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

I first became a Cub fan during that famous summer of 1969 at the tender age of 13. The Cubs were rolling along and life was grand, but then September came and the “unthinkable” happened.

Somehow we all got through that pain. I even found it in my heart to root for the Mets in the World Series (always been a NL fan). Eventually the spring of ’70 arrived and lo and behold the Cubs were rolling again. This team seemed to have even more depth than the ’69 team, and they knew what a pennant race felt like, so we were excited again. I seem to remember that the ’70 Cubs had a significant lead on the rest of the NL East for much of the season, but in the end the result was the same - they finished second again, this time 5 games behind Willie Stargell’s Pirates.

The 1970 edition of the Cubs was one of my favorites - lots of pop in the bats and a great starting pitching staff. Sound familiar? So as I was waxing nostalgic a couple of weeks ago I began to think about how this team stacked up against the 2004 Cubs. I believe I have found some interesting correlations.

All of the numbers I am going to present here came from the good people at

The ’70 Cubs finished 84-78, only 6 games over .500 in spite of outscoring the opposition 806 to 679 on 179 homeruns. Baseball-Reference’s statistical database on each team includes a factor developed by Bill James known as the “Pythagorean Winning Percentage”. This percentage is used to calculate what a team’s record should have been based on the number of runs they scored relative to their opponents. As the story goes, comparing this with the actual won-loss record provides some clue with regard to the “luck” the team had. I think what this may indicate is a team’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness at winning one-run games. And that, my friends, essentially boils down to the ability to play “small ball.” When the PWP is applied to the 1970 Cubs we get an expected W-L record of 94-68. Evidently some underachievement took place (sound familiar again?). That’s the difference in finishing 5 games ahead of the Pirates instead of 5 games behind them.

Anecdotally, I do remember that my lovable 1970 Cubbies were one of the most famous teams for sitting back and waiting for the homerun. Here are a few facts that bear this out. They had great power for the era. Billy Williams led the attack out of LF with 42 HR and 149 RBI. Jim Hickman split about half his time between RF and 1B and tallied 32HR with 115 RBI. When Hickman wasn’t in right Johnny Callison usually was and he added 19 HR and 68 RBI just playing on a part-time basis. Ron Santo at 3rd - 26 HR 114 RBI.

Just four men combined for 119 HR and 446 RBI. Now, let’s think about small ball for a second - moving a runner over or stealing a base. The lead off man, shortstop Don Kessinger led the team with 12 stolen bases. Now remember - for 3 to 4 at bats in a game Kessinger is going to follow the pitcher up to the plate. But he led this team in sacrifice bunts with, count ‘em, 10! What does that say about the rest of the lineup? Even more embarrassing is the fact that Fergie Jenkins tied Kessinger for the team lead and he only played once every 4 days. And Jenkins was a fairly good hitter with power so when he approached the plate with runners on he wasn’t necessarily in an automatic sacrifice situation.

As for the 1970 pitching staff; the four man rotation of Jenkins, Bill Hands, Ken Holtzman and Milt Pappas won 22,18,17 and 10 games respectively and the staff finished 4th out of 12 in team ERA. These four guys combined for an incredible 57 complete games! Yes, in those days the game was managed differently and CG’s were more commonplace, but this tally by the Cubbies was almost double those of both Pittsburgh and the NL Champion Big Red Machine which won 102 games.

Ok, now fast forward to the 2004 Cubs - Record 89-73. Pythagorean W-L 94-68 - and identical to the 1970 Cubs. Only 789 runs scored on a record 235 homeruns.

We have the four top guys (Alou, Ramirez, Sosa and Lee) combining for only 387 RBIs from an incredible 142 HR. Again, small ball tells the story. Corey did swipe 32 bases when he wasn’t flailing at air. But in the area of sacrifice bunts we had no player in double figures. The team was led in sacrifices by Maddux with 9 followed by Zambrano with 8. Ramon Martinez led “everyday” players with a whopping 7. How important were the sacrifices? I don’t know but I find it interesting that Maddux and Zambrano each won 16 games. No one else was in double figures. A pitcher can sure help himself this way in a one-run ballgame.

I’ve belabored this way too much. I hope you’re still with me. My final point - and here's the significant comparison: In spite of losing the division the year before, the front office did practically nothing to upgrade the Cubs for 1971. They felt they had a good team so they put the same 9, save Randy Hundley (whose knees were going), on the field the following year. Manager Leo Durocher ran the offense in the same "station-to-station, let’s wait for the homerun" manner as he had the previous year and the results were even worse. The team turned further south in spite of the fact that the starting pitchers had phenomenal talent, with Ferguson Jenkins compiling a Cy Young winning 24-13 season.

So far the 2005 Cub front office has done LESS than maintain the 2004 status quo.