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A Chance To Re-Write History . . . Will 2005 Replace 1945 In Cub Lore ?

by Charles N. Billington

The merry month of May comes a-calling, and while all the hope and hype the Chicago Cubs generated in the 2005 season's infancy has not been dashed, it is—at best—on hold for the moment. Once again the Cubs are off to a very average start. Once again the mysterious "injury bug" has ignored the wintery Chicago temperatures and already settled into Wrigley Field. Once again the Cardinals are ahead of the beloved Chicagoans by a comfortable margin. Once again . . . we wonder if (please God) this could be "The Year" . . . .

Since 1945 was the last "year," what did those Cubs do then to make the pennant come true? If this year's darlings play the way their predecessors did exactly 60 years ago, will the hallowed triangular flag hang above Wrigley Field? Do baseball's equivalent of the blessed sacraments, the almighty statistics, tell us what this year's "Boys in Blue" have to do to win it all? Who knows . . . it's probably worth a look. It sure beats trying to figure out when Kerry Wood might pitch again . . . or when a Cub baserunner will outrun a throw to the plate by a Houston centerfielder!

Let's start with fielding, an endeavor we fans take for granted but can never overlook. The 1945 Cubs led all 16 major league teams in fielding and had a whopping 16 fewer errors than their nearest National League competitors in that statistic, the Cardinals. Over the entire season their opponents scored fewer runs (532 in 154 games) than any other team in the major leagues. Their veteran third baseman, Stan Hack, and their young centerfielder, Andy Pafko, both led the major leagues in fielding average for their position. As a matter of fact, the Cubs' starting outfielders had a grand total of only nine errors all season! Pafko had but two; rightfielder Bill Nicholson had three; Peanuts Lowrey in left had four. Can this year's heroes become more stingy in letting opponents score? Can Aramis Ramirez match Stan Hack? Can Burnitz, Patterson, and Hollandsworth steady their hands to the masterful extent that Nicholson, Pafko and Lowrey did? Can the entire team lead baseball in fielding? Well . . . who said fielding is important, anyway? Let's talk about hitting.

Charles Billington is the author of Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945 (Lake Claremont Press, May 2005)

The 1945 Cubs also led all 16 major league teams in team batting average. Their first baseman, Phil Cavarretta, won the National League batting title; his .355 average was the highest in the major leagues. Third baseman Stan Hack's average was .323, fourth highest in the majors, and if Hack had played in the American League with that average in '45 he would have won the AL batting title by 14 points! Their second baseman, Don Johnson, hit .302, and Pafko hit .298. Pafko was also second in the league in triples (12) and third in runs batted in (110). We don't want to put any more pressure on Mr. Burnitz, Patterson, and Hollandsworth, but the starting Cub outfield in 1945 drove in 287 runs (Pafko 110, Lowrey 89, and Nicholson 88). Take heart, Cubs fans; may Derrek Lee, with his fast start, can match Cavarretta. Maybe Aramis Ramirez, a fan favorite, can match the great Stan Hack. Perhaps "who's playing second now?" can match Don Johnson. Umm . . . . Perhaps we should talk about pitching.

Yeah, pitching! Everyone knows that's the strength of the 2005 squad. Well . . . it is sad to report that if our 2005 hurlers have to match the pitchers of 1945 Cubs fans may just have to "wait 'til next year". In 1945 the Chicago Cubs led the National League in team earned run average (a ridiculously low 2.98), fewest walks allowed, and most complete games (an unheard of total of 86, well over half the scheduled games). They were second in total strikeouts and second in shutouts. Their four starting pitchers (Hank Wyse 22-10, Claude Passeau 17-9, Paul Derringer 16-11, and the mid-season acquisition Hank Borowy11-2) had a combined record of 66-32. Their fifth starter, the soft-tossing Ray Prim, went 13-8, and led the league in a bevy of statistical categories. Manager Charlie Grimm, like most managers in those days, did not have a true "closer" . . . he would use one of the starters, usually the one who had not pitched recently, in that role. For long relief and spot starting Grimm had the intimidating Paul Erickson (7-4), big Hy Vandenburg (6-3) and the lanky lefty Bob Chipman (4-5). Well, Cubs fans, this year we have Prior (we hope), Wood (we HAD Wood, anyway), Zambrano, and Dempster. Or was it Zambrano and Rusch?

Or was Rusch going to replace Wood? Who knows? Oh well . . . do we REALLY have to pitch as well as we did in 1945 to win the pennant this year?

Maybe the real question is this: Would Cubs fans be REAL Cubs fans if they didn't have to ask such questions? Of course not! That's the beauty of their love affair . . . and why it has lasted so long.


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