By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) It appears that the Cubs may have figured out a solution to their lack of a closer: Just never lead again.
This week began on Sunday with Cubs manager Rick Renteria demoting his closer Jose Veras after his second blown save. Since Monday, the Cubs have been outscored by the Blackhawks – handily.
Yes, they’re that cold. Along with the team’s offensive woes, the open closer job is once again a hot topic on Chicago’s North Side.
“Right now, we’ll see who emerges,” Renteria said on Sunday.
In the days since, media reports have claimed that Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop are the leading candidates to fill the role – should the team ever actually give them a shot. Although, I’m hearing that Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Moe have all presented strong cases, as well.
You know, like Renteria said, we’ll see who emerges.
But what’s already clear is the Cubs once again have cornered the market on ninth-inning drama, which is a franchise tradition that’s as well-known at Wrigley as ivy, day baseball and off-key singers.
In honor of the Cubs’ colorful history of employing closers who are often best at opening a can of worms, the following is my dirty half-dozen of the team’s most maddening ones from the past 25 years.
Once upon a time, he was a dominant reliever. But last season, during the Cubs’ home opener at Wrigley Field, Marmol had already been demoted from his job as closer when he took the mound. He was still serenaded by boos, nonetheless.
In response to the catcalls, Marmol issued a vow after the game when he told reporters, “I’m going to put us in the World Series and make the fans happy again.”
Perhaps he meant was that he was planning to buy his teammates tickets to the Fall Classic. Whatever the case, the Cubs didn’t make the World Series and Marmol didn’t make the fans happy – until he and his 6.16 ERA left town with a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A native of Gary, Ind., Hawkins actually grew up as a Cubs fan, and when he signed with the team as a free agent in 2004, his arrival was hailed as a celebrated homecoming.
During the season, however, there was little to celebrate as the surly Hawkins blew nine saves for the ’04 Cubs and memorably called a midseason press conference during which he told the media that he would no longer be talking to the media.
During the Cubs’ wild card season of 1998, Beck became a beloved icon thanks to his 51 saves, his shaggy features, and his “everyman” demeanor that later led him to live in a mobile home during a minor-league rehab stint in Des Moines.
While Beck was fun to watch on the mound, his tightrope act was also stressful. In 2007, Beck died at just 38, although he had always looked to be at least 10 years older than his age – and often made Cubs fans age a decade during just the 9th inning.
Once described by teammate Mark Grace as a guy who “pitches like his hair’s on fire,” Williams – who saved 36 games for the Cubs’ 1989 Division Champs – was as wacky as he was wild.
And fittingly, he earned the nickname “Wild Thing” for doing such things as walking the bases loaded only to then strike out the side.
In 1994, while pitching for the Montreal Expos, Rojas become just the 28th pitcher in MLB history to strike out the side on nine pitches. After signing with the Cubs in 1997, however, it didn’t seem like Rojas threw nine strikes during his entire short-lived Chicago tenure.
By June 5 of that season, he had almost as many blown saves (four) as he did saves (five). By August, he had been traded to the Mets.
Nicknamed “El Pulpo” – Spanish for “The Octopus” – thanks to the six digits he had on each of his hands, Alfonseca made it look like he was all thumbs by blowing nine saves in just 28 chances back in 2002.
It was in 2003, however, that Alfonseca left his biggest mark when he belly-bumped an umpire, was suspended for five games, and pretty much closed the book on his Cubs career.
But, hey, at least he closed something.