Outsized home runs, outsized reputation, outsized expectations.
Maybe Kyle Schwarber never had a chance to live up to the Ruthian portrait many of us painted of him.
After exploding on the Cubs scene in 2015 and making a Hollywood comeback in the 2016 World Series, Schwarber regressed. Or did he? Perhaps “settled in” is a better way to put it. He belted 94 home runs from 2017 through 2019, but he also got demoted to Class AAA Iowa, struck out a ton and lived in the lower .200s.
He was a good player — and a great teammate — but not the hitting machine we wanted him to be. Former manager Joe Maddon put it perfectly in admitting a while back that he, too, had played a role in fueling a narrative that, in the end, did Schwarber no favors.
“Maybe we should not have expected that much,” Maddon said.
Seeing Schwarber back at Wrigley Field this week in another team’s uniform, I can’t help but think he embodies the arc of these Cubs more than anyone else. He was spectacular. Then he kind of stagnated. And then — poof — he was gone.
Even after being sent down in 2017, Schwarber himself described his future in grand terms.
“I want to be one of the best in the game,” he said in the dugout in Des Moines, Iowa, the sting of his demotion still fresh. “I want to be one of the best out there. And I want to help the Cubs get back to the championship.”
The championship part didn’t happen. The “best” part hasn’t, either. Now 28, Schwarber is giving the Nationals essentially the same production he gave the Cubs. It’s not that it’s not good enough. It’s just that it isn’t great.
The way he describes his baseball dream has changed a bit.
“I’m [living] it right now, baby,” he said with a laugh before launching his sixth homer of the season in Monday’s series opener. “Playing major league baseball, you know? This is it.
“I want to be the best version of myself. I think that’s the biggest goal. I don’t want to go out there and chase other people’s numbers. I want to be the best version of myself and — whenever the end of the dream comes — [to] look in the mirror and know that you did everything possible to fulfill that dream and be happy and smile.”
That actually sounds pretty perfect. Schwarber’s time on the North Side wasn’t perfect, but when you really think about it? It was damn wonderful.
“There’s a lot of things here that made me the person I am today and the ballplayer I am today,” he said. “There’s things that you definitely keep with you. And so it’s hard to forget because this is where you came up, this is where you grew up in the big leagues, and you had the people around you that formed you into a major league player. There are special bonds that you make, and we’re all going to be specially bonded for the rest of our lives with what we did in ’16.”
White Sox manager Tony La Russa blew it. And that was just by apologizing to the Twins for designated hitter Yermin Mercedes swinging away and homering Monday on a 3-0 count in the ninth inning with his team leading 15-4.
As if the Twins hadn’t already turned the game into a clown act by sending position player Willians Astudillo to the mound to half-interestedly heave 47 mph lollipops toward the plate. Twins fans are miserable about their team, but they love Astudillo in large part because it’s impossible to stop laughing when he pitches.
But for La Russa to rip Mercedes publicly as he did? And to dismiss — almost belittle — Mercedes for his baseball joie de vivre? What a foolish misstep.
The big danger isn’t the Twins having an axe to grind with Mercedes and the Sox. It’s Sox players having no use for their manager.
Does La Russa really want to suck the fun out of the Sox dugout? Because that’s a group of players that feeds off fun. La Russa’s outmoded baseball piety ought not get in the way.
• Watching Candace Parker in the Sky’s opening win Saturday against the Mystics was riveting. Her ball skills, at her height, are almost criminal. Her defense should be on an instructional video and taught to basketball players everywhere. Of course, there are many people who understood all this a long time ago. Good on them. And shame on me for only now getting on board.
• Albert Pujols on the Dodgers vs. Karl Malone on the Lakers:
• Stephen Curry and the Warriors against LeBron James and the Lakers is all the argument needed in favor of the NBA’s play-in tournament. It’s a keeper.
• New DePaul basketball coach Tony Stubblefield is on fire on the transfer front.
Brandon Johnson, a tough forward who more than held his own at Minnesota last season after three seasons in the MAC, is an instant frontcourt upgrade. Tyon Grant-Foster didn’t make much of an impact at Kansas, but he’s long and a leaper and did we mention the Kansas thing?
And remember the name Jalen Terry. The point guard and former Michigan Mr. Basketball — who turned down an offer from Michigan State — came off Oregon’s bench as a freshman last season and flashed serious scoring and playmaking ability.
This could get kind of fun.