BY DAN McGRATH
For the Sun-Times
The storied Chicago practice of election stealing always seemed more of a South Side thing, probably because my late, great Uncle Frankie was a suspected perp.
A minor cog in the original Daley machine, Frankie drove a nice car and was known to visit the neighborhood’s cemeteries in election years. If he had any relatives buried there, they were unknown to me.
Did adding names of the deceased to voter- registration rolls fall within his job description as a get-out-the-vote specialist? My father answered the question with a question:
‘‘Why would you ask that?’’
A non-denial denial in my own home.
An ardent White Sox fan, Frankie would have viewed it as a personal challenge to get Scott Podsednik (2005) and A.J. Pierzynski (2006) chosen for the All-Star Game in the years they were nominated for last-man roster spots. The Sox mounted two campaigns strong enough to get their guys elected without Frankie’s help, though I’m sure he checked in from the Great Beyond, early and often.
Not that they’d ever resort to such tactics, and not that it’s a stealable election, but the Cubs could use a man with Frankie’s talents and guile to influence voting for 2015’s postseason awards. As a side benefit to their exhilarating rise in the National League standings, the Cubs are running powerful candidates in each of the four baseball writers-sanctioned races. A sweep is possible, though not likely. Anything less than a split would be an injustice.
Rookie of the Year should be a laugher: Kris Bryant by unanimous decision? The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joc Pederson looked to be a rival at the All-Star break, but Pederson has largely gone missing in the money months of August and September, while Bryant has emerged as one of the NL’s best players, not to mention its top rookie.
Beyond the numbers, instincts and three-position versatility, what stands out about Bryant is the way he plays the game. On his 10th at-bat in his 18th inning of last week’s doubleheader sweep against the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryant hit a slow chopper to the left side. Most players would have eased themselves down the line, happy to call it a night with four hits and four RBI in the books and the Cubs leading 7-3. But Bryant doesn’t punch out early. He hustled out an infield single, running hard enough to suggest the game, or maybe the season, hung in the balance.
Bryant, in the parlance, is a ballplayer. Manager of the Year is another landslide. New York being New York, Terry Collins will be canonized for the Mets’ second-half shape-up, and Mike Matheny should be commended for keeping the St. Louis Cardinals together despite a series of roster-depleting injuries.
But let’s be real: Joe Maddon is a no-brainer. Credit his confident, charismatic leadership, his unorthodox lineups, his refreshing candor or his open-minded willingness to try things, but no manager in memory has done more to turn a loser into a winner with such certainty. And this is not some Billy Martin quick fix. Maddon, because of who he is, will have staying power.
Cy Young? Zack Greinke’s mid-season dominance made him an early favorite, and Clayton Kershaw lurks as a perennial contender in the manner of Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson. But Jake Arrieta has been unbeatable and virtually unhittable in the money months of August and September, countering Greinke’s 45⅔ scoreless-innings streak with a no-hitter against the first-place Dodgers on national television.
If you had one game you had to win tomorrow — a scenario the Cubs may well face — whom do you send to the mound? Answer that question and you have your Cy Young winner.
MVP? If I had a vote, it would go to Anthony Rizzo. I know, Bryce Harper’s numbers — both traditional and analytic — resemble something from the juiced-up era, and MVP talk has accompanied his monster swings all season. But Harper, at 22, is still something of a diva, feuding with umpires, criticizing Washington’s fans and alienating some teammates with his youthful self-absorption. And he’s playing for the most underachieving team in baseball.
I know, not his fault.
Rizzo, meanwhile, is the undisputed leader on a team of young overachievers. His numbers don’t match Harper’s, but he’s a terrific all-around player with a penchant for delivering when it matters most.
As the playoff picture takes shape, who means more to his team? The best player isn’t always the most valuable.
Two locks, a toss-up and a long shot. Uncle Frankie has work to do.