While Oct. 14, 2003 is a date celebrated in many baseball circles (see: Cardinals, White Sox fans), it was really one day later that marks the beginning of the end of the Dusty Baker Era.
Kerry Wood admitted he choked on the mound as he allowed seven runs on seven hits and four walks in 5.2 innings in the Game 7 loss. It happened one night after Mark Prior's infamous collapse that was aided by a fan's hands, a shortstop whose hands disappeared and a manager who made talented young throwing arms disappear.
And at this point, I'm so glad I didn't have Twitter, Facebook or YouTube at my disposal. It would have been ugly.
So, how do the Cubs get back to within five outs of their first pennant since 1945?
1. BUILD THROUGH THE FARM SYSTEM
It's so easy, an expansion team like the Florida Marlins can do it and win two World Series titles since the team's inception in 1993. If you look at the starting rotation of the '03 Cubs, you'll notice the team's top three starters (Prior, Wood and Carlos Zambrano) were each brought up through the organizational ranks. Prior and Wood were first round draft picks, while Zambrano signed with Chicago at the age of 16.
In 2009, the Cubs spent $45.152 million on starting pitchers, with $44.75 million wrapped up in Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden. The Cubs found themselves a bargain in Randy Wells, who pulled in $402,000 in his rookie season. On the other hand, the Prior, Wood, Zambrano trio only raked in a combined $7.98 million. Add in Matt Clement's $4 million salary and Shawn Estes' $3 million mark and the 2003 Cubs spent $30 million less than the '09 team did for more production.
Now, everyone deserves a raise, but the Cubs would be in a better place today, and could create themselves a better tomorrow, if they use their farm system wisely.
The 2010 team is on the right track, as former farm hands Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija look primed to deliver in key roles on the mound. At the plate, it's a different story as only Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot look like they will be the only everyday players who have come through the ranks. But that can be forgiven in some cases, like at first base with Derrek Lee and third base with Aramis Ramirez -- players acquired by trading some of their young, up-and-coming talent.
In the near future, Cubs fans should be seeing right-handed starter Andrew Cashner, third baseman Josh Vitters and shortstop Starlin Castro. With Castro being in line to take Theriot's job possibly sooner, rather than later.
2. SPEND WISELY ON FREE AGENTS
This is where Jim Hendry has put forth a 50/50 showing. In regards to pitchers, Hendry has done a decent job locking in his arms. Ted Lilly looks like a bargain at $12 million next year, and the same can be said for Dempster if he continues to pitch the way he did in the second half of the season.
The same cannot be said about Hendry's free agent hitters. He gave too much money and too many years to Alfonso Soriano, a signing which was great at the time when it happened, but looks to have handcuffed the team for the next five years. Not only did the Milton Bradley experiment flop, but Hendry and Cubs fans, for that matter, are blessed the opportunity to watch what could have been as Bobby Abreu and Raul Ibanez lead their respective teams to the League Championship Series round.
The Cubs are a large market team, and they should spend like one. However, there is a difference between spending wisely and foolishly. A team that has spent its money wisely is the New York Yankees. That is why they won 103 games in the regular season and are looking to win their 27th World Series title. A team like the Cubs, who spent $140 million last season, didn't spend their money wisely. That's part of the reason the team is without a World Series title for the better part of a century.
Free agency should be used like cologne: in small dabs and only to accent your current features rather than a coverall for the fact that you haven't showered in a week.
I hate writing things that make the St. Louis Cardinals look like a franchise that is doing something right, but something has to be said about the Redbirds' commitment to consistency.
Since 1996, the Chicago Cubs have had six different managers. The Cardinals have had one. In that time frame, the Birds
Major League Baseball is not like the NFL or NBA where parity rules and turnover is common. Baseball teams are at their best when there is a system in place and said system runs top to bottom.
Looking for an example that doesn't make you want to gouge your eyes out -- how about the Atlanta Braves?
In the new era of baseball, power is the name of the game. Let's look at four of the last five World Series champions.
- 2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 214 home runs (1st in NL)
- 2006 St. Louis Cardinals: 184 home runs (5th in NL)
- 2005 White Sox: 200 home runs (4th in AL)
- 2004 Red Sox: 222 home runs (4th in AL)
Power pitching plays a role, too as three out of the last five baseball champions ranked in the top five in strikeouts (2007 & 2004 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox). The ability to hit home runs, while striking out other teams' top power threats is directly tied to a team's postseason success.
Somewhere, I hope Tom Ricketts is reading this. While it seems as if everyone was giving Tommy Boy some keen advice, it seemed more focused on the short term rather than the long haul. That's another problem with the Cubs. They plug holes now, only to find out they become bigger messier holes later. As a "real" Cubs fan, Ricketts should know that.