The Rundown: Bill Buckner Is My Favorite Player, MLB May Consider Starting Season in Japan, Lost Revenues Will Affect Future Free Agency

Over at The Athletic, writers have been tasked with naming their favorite athletes while growing up and I’ve quite enjoyed following that series. I was trying to think about who my favorite athletes were and in some cases it’s obvious, like Walter Payton of the Bears, who I consider the greatest football player ever.

When it came to basketball, I couldn’t get enough of watching Jerry Sloan of the Bulls, who was about as consistently steady as any athlete to ever play the sport. Of course Michael Jordan is probably the greatest basketball player in the history of the game, but I was already 19 years old when the Bulls drafted him out of North Carolina in 1983.

I played hockey throughout my youth and though I strictly played left wing, my favorite NHL player was Bobby Orr. If you’ve never seen what is hockey’s most iconic goal, you don’t know what you’re missing.

(Here’s a fun fact about me: I do everything right-handed except play hockey. My father was my first hockey coach and I used his old equipment, which meant left-handed shooting and stick-handling drills.)

When it comes to baseball, and being strictly a Cubs fan, my choices are somewhat limited because the roots of my fandom lie in so many bad 1970’s teams. In fact, I’d watch games just to see manager Herman Franks get ejected and always got such a kick watching him go into a full tirade.

“Herman, if you had a chance, would you take back what you did?” asked ABC’s Brad Palmer at the time. “No,” replied the manager, “In fact, I’d like to do it again.”

One Cubs player I enjoyed a great deal was journeyman outfielder Mike Vail. Though strictly a reserve, Vail was a hitting and on-base machine, and I never understood why he didn’t garner more playing time. Vail came to the Cubs from the Indians in a trade for “Tarzan” Joe Wallis, another of my favorites from those bad ’70’s teams, and was eventually traded to the Reds for outfielder Hector Cruz, who everybody thought would be a star based on his impressive rookie season with the Cardinals.

Still, my favorite Cubs player growing up was Bill Buckner. Though he got his start in the Dodgers organization, he stayed a bit under the radar because Los Angeles had so many good players at the time. He came to Chicago, along with shortstop Iván de Jesus, in a trade for Rick Monday, which upset a lot of Cubs fans at the time. And though Buckner grew up in California, he had the perfect blue collar work ethic for a city bereft of baseball heroes at the time.

The first baseman was always a lock to hit near .300 or better and rarely struck out. In fact, over the course of seven full seasons in Chicago, the lefty whiffed just 185 times. How good is that? Anthony Rizzo, one of the more disciplined batters on the current roster, struck out 86 times last season. It would take Buckner about four seasons and 2,400 plate appearances to match that.

Billy Buck was always a team-first player, too. He was a speedy outfielder and a threat to steal 20+ bases early in his career, but he was playing on a gimpy left ankle by the time he arrived at Wrigley. He never used the bad wheel as an excuse, though.

“I’d rather not,” Buckner once said about taking an extra base. “But if it will help the club, I’ll do it. My ankle injury still bothers me sometimes.”

I was quite upset when the Cubs traded Buckner to the Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley in 1984. I was never a fan of Leon Durham, and though Eckersley was instrumental in getting the North Siders to the playoffs for the first time in 40 seasons, I can’t help but think that the league championship series against the Padres might have ended differently had the Cubs had Buckner in their lineup and playing first base.

I always felt bad about what happened to Buckner in Boston. He didn’t deserve to shoulder the full blame for that game and series and he should have still been with the Cubs at the time anyway.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Sammy Sosa wants to make amends with the Cubs. It’s time for ownership to make an effort, too.
  • Jon Strong and Evan Altman of Cubs Insider, and Danny Rockett of The Son Ranto Show podcast are hosting a live, round-robin YouTube show called The Rant every weekday at 3:30 pm CT. Yesterday the three interviewed Tony Andracki of Marquee Sports. They’ve got some great guests lined up for this week, including Jordan Bastian (Tuesday), John Baker (Wednesday), Mike Bryant (Thursday), and Rachel Folden (Friday). Be sure to subscribe to CI’s YouTube channel or check the show out on Facebook.
  • In honor of his 54th birthday, MLB Network is re-airing the 300th career win by Greg Maddux today at 9 am CT. The game will take fans back to Aug. 7, 2004, when Maddux and the Cubs beat the Giants 8-4 in San Francisco.
  • Whenever the Cubs return to action, David Ross will be the leading voice for an organization that has limited its public comments while awaiting MLB’s ultimate plans (subscription to The Athletic required).
  • Since I’ve anchored myself to so much Cubs nostalgia over the past two days, how about a recap of the single greatest performance in team history courtesy of Kerry Wood and the Cubs YouTube Channel?

Apropos of Nothing

What is your confidence level that Major League Baseball will return in 2020? I’m still sticking to my prediction of July 1 for Opening Day, but my confidence in that forecast is admittedly waning. While we’re at it, what do you think is the cutoff date before Rob Manfred calls the season? I’ll go with June 15 on that. If no plans are in place to restart the season by that date, baseball should just vacate the entire season.

Odds & Sods

I think this would be great for baseball, just as I once thought (and still do) that Mark Cuban would make a great owner of the Cubs.

MLB News & Notes

An authentic Astros world championship ring from 2017 has hit the auction block, and may fetch up to $60,000.

The plan to kick off the 2020 season in Arizona — and possibly play the entirety of its games in the Grand Canyon State — could be an all-or-nothing endeavor for the league.

According to the Associated Press, discussions between owners and the MLBPA regarding just such a scenario are continuing.

Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen has an alter-ego named Larry.

MLB could lose as much as $2.68 billion with no gate receipts this season.

MLB teams could spend significantly less money in free agency this coming offseason and the next few if their revenues plummet. So, though Kris Bryant could theoretically earn back his disputed year of service time, it might make more sense for him to try to renegotiate with the Cubs rather than test free-agency in baseball’s post-pandemic world.

Citing a source, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian told Sports Center’s Scott Van Pelt that MLB is considering starting or playing the 2020 season in Japan. From a financial standpoint, that idea actually makes a lot of sense. Though fans may still be prevented from attending, at least initially, the global television revenues would be significant.

Extra Innings

Happy Birthday, Greg!

They Said It

  • “When it’s all said and done, it seems like it’s going to be Arizona or bust for Major League Baseball. It may have to get to the point where they say to themselves, this is what we are going to try to do even if we can’t ultimately pull it off.” – Jeff Passan of ESPN
  • “I’ll do anything [to get the season started]. I’ll play on the moon, I don’t care. Whatever the schedule looks like, I’m good. The only thing about Arizona is that it’s going to be really hot. Even at night, it’s going to be really hot. Those games will be tough. You’re talking 100-degree tough. That’s the part that concerns me.”Joe Maddon

Tuesday Walk Up Song

(Walk Me Out in The) Morning Dew by The Grateful Dead – Back to showcasing live music, and this song takes on new meaning today due to the ongoing global pandemic. I heard something interesting yesterday about Jerry Garcia. The reason the frontman never spoke on stage is because he knew his fans hung on every word, and he was afraid of delivering the wrong message.

“Where have all the people gone my honey? Where have all the people gone today? Well there’s no need for you to be worryin’ about all those people. You never see those people anyway.”

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