Baffoe: Clapping It Up For Starlin Castro

By Tim Baffoe–

(CBS) (clap clap clap)

No, please, folks, that’s not necessary.

(clap clap clap)

Truly I am not here to gloat. I implore you…

(clap clap clap)

OK, fine. I’m here to gloat a little. For every 37 things I’m wrong about, I’m right once.

Think back two months ago as the Chicago Cubs entered August. The team was 55-47, defying most assumptions that they were “a year away,” and vibes were largely good.

Good, except regarding annual whipping boy Starlin Castro. The then-shortstop was mired in a stretch so bad that it was inflicting a nasty aftertaste in what had otherwise been a really savory season. Shouts were for his trading, which the Cubs tried but couldn’t pull off. There were also calls for his benching or cutting him or sending him to the minors … or putting him before a firing squad in a special pregame ceremony.

But I wasn’t one of those people. I went glass half full on the three-time All-Star. (And I wrote that he wasn’t going to be benched, which he was a week into August, but whatever.)

My brilliance and faith in Castro and his second-half history has paid off, though. Where are you executioners now?

(clap clap clap)

Your rhythmic applause reminds me of the really cool practice that fans, fellow Cubs teammates and even opposing players have with Castro’s walkup music. As he approaches the plate at Wrigley Field, 40,000-plus people clap in unison to Omega’s “Ando En La Versace,” a much different feel from the boos and groans the throng was dumping on him not long ago.

Oddly enough, just as the Cubs were looking to get rid of Castro for, well, almost anything, with fans almost unanimously volunteering to drive him to the airport or into the lake, Castro was looking to ditch that song. Per MLB.com:

Earlier this season, Castro asked the Cubs’ music coordinator to change his song.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want that song anymore,'” Castro said. “‘I’ll give you another song.'”

The response? No way.

“He told me, ‘That’s the song the fans love,'” Castro recalled.

And now they’re back to loving the shortstop-turned-second baseman. Wednesday night was a microcosm of Castro’s complete turnaround since manager Joe Maddon sat him and moved him to the other side of the infield in favor of Addison Russell in the first week of August, as Castro went 4-for-5 with a homer, two RBIs, three runs scored and a fabulous defensive play to boot in a 10-3 win for the Cubs over the Reds.

It concluded a September that saw Castro lead baseball with a .426 batting average, and he had a 1.202 OPS. His second half 117 wRC+ is the second-best of his career. His strikeout rate in July was a brutal 21.4 percent but dropped to just 9.6 percent and 13.5 percent in August and September, respectively. If he stays on fire for the last four games, he can end the season with an fWAR of 1.0. To put into perspective, at the end of July he was worth a -0.8 fWAR, which was way worse than his infamously, historically bad 2013 of -0.1.

Numbers don’t lie and are fun to play around with, but what has stood out most is Castro’s demeanor through all this. When he got benched, he didn’t pout or complain about it. He made no excuses and proclaimed that he would do whatever he could to help the team when called upon.

“Very professional,” Maddon said at the time. “He listened, understood, he was not upset. I’m sure he’s disappointed, but he was very professional about the whole thing.”

And on Castro potentially being permanently scarred by the move?

“He’s a man,” Maddon said then. “He can deal with it. We’ll be better for it. He’s going to be better for it, too. So yes, you’re always concerned about the emotional component, but at the end of the day, it’s about the Cubs winning.”

Castro’s beyond better for it, and the Cubs are indeed winning their way right into the postseason. And they’re doing so with the hyperscrutinized, presumed-bust remnant of the Jim Hendry era.

But that demeanor. It wasn’t Castro’s bat or highlight defensive play that stood out in that Wednesday microcosm so much as an otherwise insignificant routine play. In the middle of the game, there was an infield popup of the bat of a Cincinnati Red between Castro and Anthony Rizzo. The first baseman was called off as they converged for the sixth inning’s second out. After the catch, Castro turned with faux anger to Rizzo and snapped at him “I got it!”

Rizzo tried not to smirk while his teammate grinned widely at him. Then the relaxed, reduxed Castro tossed the ball around and clapped his mitt.

(clap clap clap)

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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