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updated: 7/6/2011 9:26 PM

Who will pay for Cubs' wretched season?

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  • Cubs manager Dusty Baker was fired the day after the 2006 season ended.

       Cubs manager Dusty Baker was fired the day after the 2006 season ended.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail resigned as president of the Cubs on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006 after an 8-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies in what was Dusty Baker's final game as manager.

      Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail resigned as president of the Cubs on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006 after an 8-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies in what was Dusty Baker's final game as manager.
    Associated Press

  • Ed Lynch

      Ed Lynch

  • Don Baylor was fired in early July after a slow start to the 2002 season.

      Don Baylor was fired in early July after a slow start to the 2002 season.
    Associated Press

  • The Cubs started hot in 1999 but finished 67-95 and Jim Riggleman was fired the day after the season ended.

      The Cubs started hot in 1999 but finished 67-95 and Jim Riggleman was fired the day after the season ended.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Say this for the Cubs: When they have bad seasons, they have bad seasons of epic proportions.

Entering Wednesday night's game at Washington, the Cubs were 35-52 for a season-worst 17 games under .500. That put them on pace for a season-ending mark of 65-97.

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Since I began covering the Cubs daily in 1998, they've had four playoff seasons: 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008.

They've had five disappointing or middling seasons: 2001, 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

And they've had four absolutely miserable seasons: 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2006.

Welcome to the misery club, 2011 Cubs.

Just for "fun," I decided to look back at each of those miserable seasons to see what we could learn.

What each of the really bad seasons had in common is that one or more persons paid for failure with their jobs. That should be an ominous sign for everybody in the Cubs organization this year if things don't turn around in a hurry.

Let's take a look at the bad seasons to see what happened, what good came out of them and who paid.

1999:

Believe it or not, the Cubs started 32-23. Then, Lance Johnson got picked off base to seal a loss at Arizona, and the Cubs were swept at home by the White Sox.

From 32-23, the Cubs finished 67-95. The low point was August, when they went 6-24.

There was very little in redeeming value on that club. With Kerry Wood lost for the season to elbow surgery, they trotted out the likes of Brad Woodall, Andrew Lorraine and Micah Bowie. When the Cubs were still seemingly in the race in May, they obtained reliever Rick Aguilera for a pitcher named Kyle Lohse.

Who paid: Manager Jim Riggleman and much of his coaching staff were fired the day after the season ended.

2000:

You know it might be a long season when you open in Japan with a roster that contains such players as Tarrik Brock, Brian Williams, Danny Young, Cole Liniak and Jose Nieves.

As bad as the '99 team was, the 2000 team did it two better, finishing 65-97.

The kicker came early. On May 14, Eric Young stole five bases at Montreal, but the aforementioned Aguilera gave up 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Expos emerged with an unbelievable 16-15 victory.

Jon Lieber led the National League in innings pitched, and he won 20 games the following season. Sammy Sosa hit 50 homers, and the Cubs had a solid keystone with shortstop Ricky Gutierrez and second baseman Eric Young.

Who paid: General manager Ed Lynch fell on his sword in July, with team president Andy MacPhail taking over and promoting Jim Hendry to assistant GM. MacPhail made a host of off-season moves that had the Cubs in first place for four months in 2001.

2002:

MacPhail made positive headlines in the off-season by signing left fielder Moises Alou. But Alou hurt his leg standing in the outfield during the final exhibition game in Arizona, and the Cubs got off to a bad start on the way to a 67-95 campaign.

There were days when this team trotted out an infield of Fred McGriff at first base, Delino DeShields at second, Alex Gonzalez at short and Chris Stynes at third.

They also had a .374 on-base guy in Mark Bellhorn they didn't know quite how to handle.

Kerry Wood won 12 games. A kid named Mark Prior came up to pitch, and Carlos Zambrano saw his first extensive big-league action. MacPhail traded an A-ball pitcher named Dontrelle Willis to Florida for a starter named Matt Clement, who would team with Wood, Prior and Zambrano to form a division-winning rotation in 2003.

Who paid: Manager Don Baylor was fired in early July, with MacPhail promoting Hendry to GM. Bruce Kimm finished out the season, but he was let go on the last day as Hendry waited for Giants manager Dusty Baker to become available.

2006:

The honeymoon with Baker had ended well before this 66-96 season got under way. But this one was over almost before it started as first baseman Derrek Lee suffered a broken wrist in mid-April.

Near midseason, Hendry made a list of possible replacements for Baker, who spent the rest of the season lamenting his fate.

The positive coming out of this lost season was the debut of a pair of young pitchers: Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall.

Who paid: On a stunning last day of the season, MacPhail announced his resignation with marketing chief John McDonough taking over as president. Baker was out the next day.

From there, Hendry, McDonough and the Cubs embarked on an unprecedented spending spree that led to the 2007 and '08 division titles but also saddled today's club with a lot of long-term contracts.

2011:

Zambrano called this bunch "Triple-A" last month, but in truth, this looks more like a first-year expansion club. It plays poor fundamental baseball on many days, and its pitching and fielding both are at or near the bottom of the league.

There appears to be some hope, with young players Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney on the rise. The farm system is deeper than it has been in years past, but it lacks an "impact" player or pitcher. The Cubs have had to scrounge for veteran starting pitchers such as Doug Davis and Ramon Ortiz.

If things continue going bad, one question remains: Who pays?

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