It seems Kyle Schwarber, Cubs have captured our full attention
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BY DAN McGRATH
For the Sun-Times
They have added Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist to a roster responsible for 97 victories in 2015, so you wonder why the Cubs have to trifle with the regular season. Shouldn’t they be seeded directly into the World Series?
Oh, well. It’s a moot point now that Dexter Fowler is back in the lineup — lightly armed, .250-hitting Dexter Fowler. Get your tickets now. With Fowler freeing up Heyward to roam his natural habitat in right field, this team might well go undefeated.
It was apparent the Cubs had elevated themselves into rarefied Bears air several days ago, before spring training officially got underway. During an informal workout in Mesa, Arizona, one of Kyle Schwarber’s trademark moon shots crushed the windshield of an unsuspecting vehicle parked beyond the right-field fence at the Cubs’ complex.
Schwarber, who might have been Spanky from the ‘‘Little Rascals’’ movie in another life, is too guileless to be soliciting product endorsements at this stage of his career, so there was a mischievous innocence to his delivery as he spoke about hooking up the vehicle’s owner with a well-known chain of body shops. He seemed amused by the hearty belly laughs his throwaway line elicited from the media.
The scene was reminiscent of Halas Hall in October, when a Bears backup tackle might wander into camera range all befuddled about the fact that it’s Thursday when he could’ve sworn it was Wednesday. From the side-splitting yuks that invariably follow, you might think you had come across Steve Martin doing stand-up.
Boy, do we love our athletes in this town. Exhibit A is the perpetual fascination with the ’85 Bears, who won one championship.
Or the ’69 Cubs, who won none.
And we want to love them — unless it’s Sammy Sosa, who remains a non-person more than a decade after he committed the unpardonable sin of cutting out early on the last day of work.
Not to defend ‘‘His Samminess,’’ whose history of diva-like behavior could gain him membership in the Kardashian clan, but Sosa was pretty much all the Cubs had to offer during one of their frequent bleak periods. Methods aside, his obsession with the long ball put a lot of fannies in the seats at Wrigley Field. It’s puzzling that he remains in exile while the organization employs Manny Ramirez, a recidivist drug cheat with no ties to the franchise.
Patrick Kane was linked to a far more serious misdeed last summer, but as ‘‘M-V-P!’’ chants echoed through the United Center after a recent four-point performance against the Maple Leafs, the hand-wringing over his possible involvement in a sex crime seemed a distant memory, if not totally forgotten.
Likewise Kobe Bryant. The adulation heaped upon him in Chicago last Sunday was consistent with the huzzahs he has been hearing at each stop on his farewell tour. Rarely mentioned are the sexual-assault charges that could have sent Bryant to prison if the alleged victim hadn’t changed her mind about pursuing the case.
One wonders whether the suddenly beleaguered Peyton Manning will fare as well in the court of public opinion.
Then again, it’s hard to predict what type of behavior is required to provoke outrage. As Schwarber inadvertently was auditioning for Jimmy Kimmel, Pablo Sandoval showed up in Red Sox camp with some extra padding on the ‘‘Kung Fu Panda’’ physique that made him a cuddly cult figure to Giants fans. Albert DeSalvo didn’t get as rough a ride from the Beantown media, and he was the Boston Strangler.
Will Schwarber be as endearingly witty if opposing pitchers exploit holes in his swing and he’s hitting .184 for the 24-28 Cubs on June 1? Not to worry. Stan Zielinski, the veteran scout who signed him, valued Schwarber’s makeup as highly as his power stroke. The kid can flat-out hit.
It’s possible the Cubs could be four games under .500 at some point, but it’s not likely. Teams that leap forward as quantumly as they did — from 73 victories in 2014 to 97 last season — tend to regress to the mean and fall back a bit the next season. But the front office has gone to great lengths to fortify what we tend to forget was a third-place roster.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (Lackey, Heyward) and Pirates (Neil Walker, J.A. Happ) have suffered significant losses.
The Cubs are being talked about as the best team in baseball. If they embrace the target, the pressure never will exceed the pleasure.
There. I’m converted.