Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 29, 2007

Chicago Cubs: Tallest Midgets in the League

 First of all, let me say I am genuinely excited for my hometown baseball team, despite the tongue-in-cheek title above. It’s just that I’ve been a Cub fan for a long time, and a fan of the pro game’s history in general. So I’m working very hard to keep the Cubs’ 2007 Division Championship in perspective, to not let my heart be trampled again. It’s the Cub fan’s lament, the classic dysfunctional love-hate relationship played out on a field of green.

Major League Baseball is the mythology of my inner world. I used to read stats books as a kid, and could throw around “ancient” names like Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson (not that any of my schoolmates were interested… I was the same geek at age ten that I am now). I have the autographs of Ernie Banks and Wade Boggs, both Hall-of-Famers, and thanks to dumb luck didn’t pay a dime for either one. I have eight of the nine innings of Ken Burns’ excellent Baseball documentary on home-taped VHS video (from 1994, when DVDs and Tivo were just a twinkle in some engineer’s eye). 

So as a committed fan, I’ve seen all manner and type of satisfying comeuppances (the 2004 Red Sox comeback on the Yanks and crushing of the Cards), immensely tense chokes (Santo and Banks’ 1969 Cubs), crackpot schemes (Milwaukee’s sausage races, and the playful, over-hyped 2003 whacking of a sausage racing fan by the Pirates’ Randall Simon), grand entrances (rookie Kerry Wood strikes out 20 in 1998) and shameful exits (can you say “1986 Red Sox“? … the mere acquisition of that BoSox link was — I kid you not — enough to crash my Internet Explorer program. Spooky.)

For instance, here’s one hilarious crackpot scheme involving the above-pictured midget– excuse me, “person of small stature”– as quoted from Time magazine’s 2005 obituary for Bill Veeck:

In 1951, as owner of the St. Louis Browns, Veeck hired 3-ft. 7-in. Eddie Gaedel and trained him to crouch low so his strike zone was approximately 1 ½ inches wide… Next day, the American League barred all midgets. Veeck talked about demanding a ruling on whether Yankee Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, at 5 ft. 6 in., was a short ballplayer or a tall midget.

(Rest in peace, Scooter.)

Even before I did today’s web-search, I could fondly recall the above photo of Eddie Gaedel, like other people might recall their first puppy, or a favorite Big Wheel from when they were six. It’s one of the ten great representative photos of the twentieth century, in my opinion.

So why bring him up now? Because Little Eddie is going to be my own private Cub mascot for the duration of the playoffs: a gentle reminder that this is entertainment, not something of life-and-death importance. Eddie’s also a reminder that the Cubs division is full of some pretty bad baseball teams (midgets), based on the fact that the Cubs will move on to the playoffs with a record that barely topped .500 .


Uh oh, is Alfonso doing a Secret Sammy Sosa Hand Signal!?!

For those who are waiting for my prediction (i.e. Die Hard Cub Fans who would gladly follow the team off a cliff in the name of faithfulness and allegiance), here it is:

Cubs will play the Phillies in the Division Series, and lose in five games.

My head is spinning with all the math and rules about who can win what, and who will play whom, based on the results of this weekend’s NL games. If it goes another way, I believe the Cubs will beat the Padres in the Division Series, but will lose to the Diamondbacks and/or Mets. (And best of all, I predict it won’t be the Mets… hahahahahaha — take THAT, New York, ya big bullies!)

Plus if it’s the Padres, all the media frenzy will help us remember the ’84 Cubs/Padres NLCS, led by all-time pud Steve Garvey, who helped boot the Cubs from the playoffs (thanks mostly to ’84 scapegoat Leon Durham booting an easy grounder, and frequent pud Rick Sutcliffe’s sub-par pitching). Nevertheless, this Cub team has a spark of something, a slightly charmed existence, despite erratic guys like Zambrano and clutch/lazy Aramis Ramirez. Thus this year’s Cubs have the potential to overcome the weight of those past mistakes by other Cub teams, if they can somehow weld the on-off switch of their most erratic players’ brains into the ON position.

Whatever happens, the one player who inevitably does something remarkable to get the Cubs (or Padres, or D-backs, ya never know) into the next NLCS will become the temporary Big Story, next week’s Midget of the Week.

Why all this talk about midgets again? Because all the NL teams are midgets compared to the skills and power of the AL teams going into the playoffs. The Red Sox, Yankees, Angels and Indians (speaking of long World Series droughts) all have more pitching, better power, better defense, and more run-producers than the NL teams. They’re more balanced teams, in other words, who do not depend on just one or two really hot players.

Obviously, a Cubs/Red Sox World Series would be the Matchup for the Ages, the one to “save baseball” yet again from the steroids scandals, and the drooping TV ratings of playoff baseball the past few seasons. But I don’t think it’ll happen.

My World Series pick, in which my confidence is only about 38%:

Red Sox over the Phillies, in six games.

And now, let the annual crazy-making love/hate fest begin!

But remember: it’s not Sudan. It’s not a presidential race. It’s not World War II, Ken Burns’ latest controversial documentary subject. It’s just baseball. It’s midgets and “chin music” and last-hurrah-has-beens and billy goat curses and the coulda-woulda-shoulda dreams and dashed hopes of the ten year old fan in all of us. It’s the bullshit-laden, historically unpredictable, funny, dead-serious, revenue-generating pageantry and entertainment of October baseball: there’s nothing like it on the planet.

There are bigger giants to slay than the wealthy, well-run Yankees, or the demons of baseball seasons past, or some silly fan in a seven-foot sausage costume trying to amuse us between innings. So have fun out there, but let’s not go off the deep end, acting like children, or idiots, or politicians (but now I repeat myself). Don’t ever forget that our current president once owned the ridiculous Texas Rangers baseball club. That alone should have been enough to suggest we here in the U.S. look elsewhere for our true heroes and leaders.



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