The Best Players From Each State (Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, & New Jersey)

Nebraska

You might not find it surprising to learn that Nebraska has only produced 113 major league players.  But, what you might find shocking is just how many of them are in the Hall of Fame – six players from the Cornhusker State have plaques in Cooperstown.  Now, that might not sound like a lot, but it’s the highest percentage of any state.  By comparison, California has produced over 2300 major league players.  If the same percentage of players from California were in the HOF as Nebraskans, they’d have 122 … instead of 24.

The best player playing today from Nebraska is Alex Gordon, of the Kansas City Royals.  The Lincoln native has been in 3 All-Star Games, and was instrumental in their World Series win in 2015.  The best player I’ve ever seen from Nebraska has to be Wade Boggs.  The Omaha native was a 5-time batting champion, 12-time All-Star, and is a member of the exclusive 3,000-hit club.

Runner-up to the best ever, though, (and it was a tough choice) is Bob Gibson.  Gibson was absolutely dominant, winning 2 Cy Youngs, an MVP, striking out over 3,000, and winning 2 World Series MVP’s.  He was unquestionably the most feared pitcher of his era, and is the primary pitcher responsible for the lowering of the mound after the 1968 season, when his ERA was 1.12!  But, as impressive as that is, I have to give the nod to…

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Pete Alexander – this Elba native won the pitching triple crown (wins, ERA, & strikeouts) an impressive 4 times!  He is 3rd all-time in career wins with 373, and the only pitchers with more spent their entire careers pitching in the dead-ball era.  He used a variety of breaking pitches, multiple speeds, and drove batters crazy by forcing them to swing and make weak contact on balls barely in the strike zone.  Many considered him the most accurate pitcher the game had ever seen when he retired.

Nevada

The state of Nevada has only produced 47 major leaguers, and no Hall of Famers … yet. There’s really only one name of note from years past – Barry Zito, who was a 3-time All-Star, Cy Young winner in 2002, and World Series champion in 2012. But, the intriguing names to come out of the Silver State are all currently playing in the majors.

Brandon Kintzler is an All-Star pitcher who has had a decent career. Tommy Pham appears to be a bit of a late bloomer that is playing well in Tampa Bay. And, Joey Gallo made his first of what looks to be multiple All-Star appearances this year. But, for the second time in as many posts, I’m going to have to go with a tie at the top.

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Kris Bryant & Bryce Harper – Until you look at the numbers, you might not realize how similar these two are. Bryant is 3 seasons behind Harper in terms of major league experience. Which means Harper has the edge in the “counting” categories (total HR, RBI, etc.). But, they have nearly the exact same per-year HR, RBI, and hit outputs. And, believe it or not, Bryant actually has the slightly higher career SLG and OPS. It’s going to be pretty fun to watch these two friends and travel-ball teammates compete for the rest of their careers.

New Hampshire

The small New England state has only produced 54 major league players, and no active players are on that list. Even the most recent players from the Granite State didn’t have very memorable careers.

The vast majority of players with decent careers from New Hampshire are pitchers. Brian Wilson was a 3-time All-Star, and an important part of the Giants’ World Series championship in 2010, when he led the league in saves. Bob Tewksbury pitched for 13 years, and had an All-Star appearance. Stan Williams pitched for 14 years, was an All-Star in 1960, and won the World Series with the Dodgers in ’59. Mike Flanagan was an All-Star in 1978, won the Cy Young in ’79, and the World Series in ’83 – all with the Orioles. But, the pitcher that is also the best player from New Hampshire is…

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Chris Carpenter – the Exeter native has the best career win pct. of any New Hampshire pitcher (.605), and more strikeouts (1697). He is one of only three New Hampshire natives to appear in as many as three All-Star games, he was a 2-time World Series champ, and won the Cy Young in 2005.

New Jersey

Considering the population of the state (11th in the US), I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that New Jersey has produced quite a few major league players (437 – 10th most). I was a little surprised, however, by the lack of overall quality. Only 3 Hall of Famers (so far), and once you get past some of the biggest names, there really aren’t a lot of names you would recognize.

Current players include the likes of Jason Heyward, Todd Frazier, and Charlie Morton – all All-Stars, but not exactly “greats” of their generation. The same could be said for many of the names of previous generations of players from the Garden State. Some of the best players they have to offer include Andy Messersmith, Al Leiter, and Don Newcombe. Granted, Newcombe was very good, but his career was very short.

But, while the depth certainly isn’t there, when you consider the best New Jersey has to offer, there are some excellent players. Joe Medwick was a 10-time All-Star, MVP, and Triple Crown winner with the Cardinals and Dodgers. Goose Goslin was one of the best position players the Washington Senators ever had – helping them win their only World Series title in 1924. And, then, there’s the Captain. Derek Jeter, a Pequannock native, was a 5-time World Series champion, 14-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and World Series MVP. And, his 3,465 career hits rank him 6th all-time. But, as great as Jeter was, a boy who idolized Jeter as a kid is the best ever from New Jersey.

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Mike Trout – yes, he has only played 9 seasons. But, yes, he is already better than anyone else from the state. He’s the youngest player ever to reach 200 HR and 200 stolen bases. By the end of his age 27 season (this year), he will have more hits than Yasztrzemski did at the same point in his career, more HR than Mays did, more RBI than Ruth, more stolen bases than Molitor, and more walks than Rickey Henderson. 2 MVP’s already (and a 3rd one all but guaranteed this year), the only full season Trout didn’t finish 1st or 2nd in the voting was 2017, when he only played 114 games, due to injury, and he still led the league in OBP, SLG, and OPS, finishing 4th in MVP voting. There is no room for argument when it comes to who the greatest player is from New Jersey, because it’s clearly the greatest player of this generation.

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The Best Players from Each State (Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan)

Maine

Saying that Maine hasn’t produced much baseball talent is quite the understatement.  Of the 78 players to come from The Pine Tree State, only two have a career WAR above 25.  By comparison, Jake Arrieta, who is in his 10th season, has won a Cy Young, but only has one All-Star appearance … currently has a WAR of 25.8.  And, to make it even less impressive, the two guys with the highest WAR played in the deadball era.

The lone All-Star from Maine is a pitcher named Bob Stanley.  Bob had an ok career with the Red Sox, primarily in the ’80’s.  He was a starter when he first broke into the league, but spent most of his career coming out of the bullpen.  He did save 33 games in ’83 (one of his All-Star seasons), and finished 7th in Cy Young voting in ’82.

But, the best player from Maine is (and it looks like it’s a title he’ll hold for a while since no one in the league currently is from Maine) …

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George Gore – he has more runs, hits, and RBI than anyone from the state. He played from 1879-1892, as the centerfielder primarily for the National League team located in Chicago – which is today the Cubs, but was then called the White Stockings – and the New York Giants.  He won a batting title in 1880, hitting .360 with an .862 OPS.

Maryland

While the state of Maryland hasn’t produced a large number of major leaguers (312 – 17th in the US), only 8 states have produced more Hall of Famers.  Well, that is, if you’re willing to count the most undeserving HOF election in history, which occurred a few months ago when a bunch of Harold Baines‘ friends got together and decided to put him in.  You know, in spite of the fact that he only appeared in 6 All-Star games spread across 22 seasons, only led the league in anything once (SLG in ’84), and never finished higher than 9th in MVP voting (only receiving votes of any kind in 4 seasons).

But, I digress.  The Old Line State (whatever that means), has produced some very talented players.  Even several non-HOF worthy players (like Baines) had quality careers. Men like Mark Teixeira, Brady Anderson, Brian Jordan, and Charlie Keller.  But, the Hall of Famers from Maryland (with one glaring exception), are some big-time names.

Home Run Baker (who actually only hit 96 HR’s), was legendary for his power, and led the Philadelphia A’s to 3 World Series championships.  Vic Willis won 249 games in spite of only pitching for 13 seasons (that’s an average of 19 per year!). Al Kaline was an 18-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and had over 3,000 hits.  Cal Ripken, Jr. won Rookie of the Year in ’82, and MVP in ’83, on his way to 3,184 hits, and of course 2,632 consecutive games. Jimmie Foxx had 534 HR’s, won 3 MVP’s, and ranks 5th all-time with a career 1.038 OPS.  And, Lefty Grove won 300 games, won an MVP, and led the league in ERA nine times.  But, the best player from Maryland was head and shoulders above the rest…

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Babe Ruth not sure what I could say that you haven’t already heard about this Baltimore native.  He still owns the career SLG (.690!) and OPS (1.164) records.  He also had a career .342 batting average, was a 20-game winner twice as a pitcher, and led the league in ERA in 1916.

Massachusetts

Can you believe this little New England state has produced the 7th most major leaguers in America (664)?  And, the 6th most Hall of Famers (14 – 11 players, 3 managers)?  That being said, however, 8 of those Hall of Fame players played most or all of their careers during the deadball era, around the turn of the 20th century.  And, when it comes to more modern players, the better ones from The Bay State are the likes of Mark Belanger, Greg Gagne, and Richie Hebner.  Not exactly household names even among avid baseball fans.

But, there are two names that rose to the top as I was looking for the best of the best from this state.  And, runner-up goes to Jeff Bagwell.  In spite of several injuries, and a career cut to just 15 seasons, he averaged 30 HR and 102 RBI for his career.  He finished with a .948 OPS, and won ROY and MVP awards.

The best from the state of Massachusetts, however, is a pitcher…

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Tom Glavine – 305 career wins, 2 Cy Young awards, 10-time All-Star, and World Series MVP in ’95.  Born in Concord, Glavine is only the 5th left-handed pitcher to win 300 games in his career.

Michigan

The Great Lakes State has produced some names you know:  Frank Tanana, Jim Kaat, Milt Pappas, Bob Welch, Kirk Gibson.  Respectable names … but, not exactly great names. In fact, despite the production of 434 players from Michigan, only 26 appeared in more than one All-Star Game, and only 4 have plaques in Cooperstown.

Of those 4, two were great hitters. Kiki Cuyler had a career .322 batting average in the 15 full seasons he played.  He also led the league in stolen bases 4 times, helping his team to the World Series 3 times (’25, ’29, and ’32).  Charlie Gehringer has a career .320 average, and had over 200 hits in 7 different seasons.  He won the batting title in ’37, as well as the MVP (though, it’s a bit of a strange win, since he wasn’t even the best player on his own team – Greenberg clearly was).

But, the best to come from Michigan are two pitchers.  Hal Newhouser had an outstanding career with his hometown Tigers that was cut short by arm injury – winning just 18 games after his 30th birthday.  But, he was a force to be reckoned with prior to that – winning back-to-back MVP’s, leading the league in wins 4 times, and ERA twice.

Another injury-plagued pitcher is, in my opinion, the best to come from the state…

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John Smoltz – despite multiple injuries, surgeries, and numerous games missed due to being on the disabled list, this Detroit native won over 200 games, saved over 150, struck out more than 3,000 batters, and owns the NL record for most saves in a season (55).  He was an 8-time All-Star, and won the Cy Young in ’96.

The Best Players From Each State (Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, & Iowa)

Idaho

The state of Idaho has only produced 30 major league players – tied for 5th fewest in the nation. But, compared to other states with similar representation in the majors, The Gem State has had significantly better representation in the All-Star Game.

Jason Schmidt pitched most of his career for the Giants and Pirates. He appeared in three All-Star games, and had two seasons in which he finished in the top 4 in Cy Young voting (including a runner-up finish in 2003). Larry Jackson pitched primarily for the Cardinals and Cubs in the ’50’s and ’60’s. He appeared in 5 All-Star games, and finished runner-up for the Cy Young in ’64.

But, the obvious choice here is the man whose All-Star appearances represent more than half the total for the entire state…

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Harmon Killebrew – the Payette, Idaho native appeared in 13 All-Star games, won an MVP in ’69, and had five more top-5 finishes in MVP voting. Killebrew led the league in HR’s six times, leading to a career total of 573.

Illinois

If I were to suggest you rank the states based on the total number of major leaguers they have produced, how high would you expect the state of Illinois to rank? I don’t know about you, but it surprised me that The Prairie State has produced the 4th most major leaguers in the country, with 1,060.

With all that production, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the state has produced some very good players. Before we even get to the Hall of Famers, there are names like Bret Saberhagen, Fred Lynn, Curtis Granderson, Ben Zobrist, and Gary Gaetti.

Now take a look at some of the all-time greats from Illinois… Red Schoendienst, Kirby Puckett (one of my all time favorites), Lou Boudreau, Jim Thome, Robin Yount, and Robin Roberts. But, once again, even with all of these excellent players, the choice for the greatest from the state was actually quite easy.

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Rickey Henderson – how great of a base stealer was Rickey? He led the league with 66 stolen bases in 1998 … at the age of 39! That was just one of 12 seasons in which he led the league. He’s also the all-time leader in career runs scored, was a 10-time All-Star, and won an MVP in 1990.

Indiana

While the state of Indiana has produced 8 Hall of Famers … every one of them at least started – if not finished – their career prior to WWII. Lots of dead-ball era guys from Indiana – Max Carey, Sam Thompson, Sam Rice, Ed Roush, and Amos Rusie.

But, there are some other very recognizable names from the “Crossroads of America.” Don Mattingly, Kenny Lofton, Scott Rolen, Gil Hodges, and Tommy John are among the names of players that were very good – just not quite Hall of Fame material. And, it was tough not to consider picking either Lofton or Rolen, since their career WAR is at the top of the list even ahead of all the HOFers. But, ultimately, I went with…

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Mordecai Brown“Three-Finger” Brown was the ace of a staff that led the Cubs to 4 of 5 World Series from 1906-1910. Not only did this Nyesville native win nearly 65% of his decisions, he led the league in saves 4 times – actually led the league in both saves and shutouts in 1910! Ty Cobb called Brown’s curveball “the most devastating pitch I ever faced.”

Iowa

Outside of the players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, the state of Iowa doesn’t really have much to brag about. I mean, rounding out the top-10 players from Iowa are names like Mike Boddicker, Hal Trosky, and Kevin Tapani. And, then, of the six Hall-of-Famers to come from the Hawkeye State, five of them at least began their careers during the dead ball era.

That being said, I think honorable mention here goes to Cap Anson. The man played 27 years of professional baseball. He was a part of the very beginning of the National League in 1876, and was easily the best hitter of his era (he hit over .300 for 15 straight seasons). When he retired, he owned the game’s record for hits (3,081 – the first to ever cross the 3,000 hit threshold), doubles, runs, games, and at-bats.

But, the best player from the state of Iowa, in my opinion, is the one Hall of Famer that did not play during the dead ball era.

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Bob FellerFeller lost nearly 4 full seasons to military service during WWII, and they were right in the prime of his career. He led the league in strikeouts for 4 consecutive years, leading up to his service time, and then led the league in strikeouts again for the next 3 full seasons he played after returning. Had they had the award, he undoubtedly would have also won 3 consecutive Cy Youngs leading up to his time in the military.

The Best Players From Each State (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, & Hawaii)

Delaware

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a state that ranks as one of the smallest in both land mass and population, would not have produced a great number of MLB talent.  56 players in history were born in The First State.  But, only 3 ever appeared in a single All-Star Game.

Perhaps honorable mention here could go to Sadie McMahon.  He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association for a couple years, before spending 7 years with the Baltimore Orioles.  But, not those Baltimore Orioles.  Sadie was a part of the Orioles team that was a part of the National League from 1882-1899.  It was a successful team (Sadie was on the championship team in 1896), but after the 1899 season, the National League contracted from 12 teams to 8, leaving the Orioles behind.  Two years later, the American League was formed, and the reorganized Orioles were a part of it.  But, that’s not the Orioles you’re familiar with either.  Because two years later, the team had ceased play again, and two men purchased the franchise, moved it to New York City, and renamed it the New York Highlanders.  Which is the team you likely know as … the New York Yankees (a name change that occurred in 1913).

So, aside from some ancient baseball history, choosing the best player from the state of Delaware was actually quite easy.

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Paul Goldschmidt – It really isn’t even close.  McMahon is the next best player from the state, and Goldschmidt is going to continue to put distance between himself and the rest of the pack.  He leads all Delaware natives in HR (234), RBI (768), OPS (.918), and even batting average (.293) among anyone with at least 100 plate appearances.

Florida

The state of Florida produces a large number of athletes.  Many play football or basketball, but it should not be overlooked when it comes to great baseball talent.  Many excellent players from the past have come from The Sunshine State.  Including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, and Fred McGriff.  There are also several Florida natives that are currently playing in the majors.  And, some of them are some of the best in the game – Zack Greinke, Chris Sale, Andrew McCutchen, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson.

But, we’re looking for all-time best, so I had to limit it to players in the Hall of Fame.  There are 4 players from Florida that have been inducted into Cooperstown.  The runners-up include Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Chipper Jones.  Each of these were great talents in their era.  Power, speed, defense, a switch-hitter.  It’s all represented here.  But, ultimately, the best player from Florida was a pitcher.

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Steve Carlton – Carlton is among the 3 best left-handed pitchers to ever play the game, no matter which metric you use.  329 wins, 4,136 strikeouts, 10 All-Star Games, 4 Cy Young Awards.  The Miami native spent all or part of 24 seasons in the majors, and was a part of 2 World Series champions (Cardinals in ’67 and Phillies in ’80).

Georgia

Florida may have more players that have played in the majors, and have more All-Star Game appearances … but, Georgia actually has more players in the Hall of Fame, with 5.  The one player/manager on their list is Bill Terry, who played for the New York Giants from ’23-’36, and also managed them to a World Series championship in 1933.  He hit .341 for his career!

There are some notable names not in Cooperstown from The Peach State.  Kevin Brown, Tim Hudson, Moises Alou.  And, among those still active, there’s Buster Posey, Adam Wainwright, and Lorenzo Cain.  But, the Hall of Famers from the state of Georgia include some of the absolute best of their generation:  Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize, and Jackie Robinson.  You would think that with names like these, it would be difficult to choose the best from the state of Georgia.  But, there’s only one “Georgia Peach.”

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Ty Cobb – The man with the highest career batting average in history (.366) is from the small town of Narrows, GA.  He hit over .400 not once, not twice, but three times in his career (1911, 1912, and 1922 at the age of 35!).  And, even with 4,189 hits, Cobb was far more than just a singles hitter (unlike the only man in history with more hits).  Cobb’s career SLG is over .500, because he led the league in doubles and triples several times.  His career OPS is .945.  And, he stole an amazing 897 bases!  He may not have been the nicest guy – but, he was definitely the best ever from Georgia.

Hawaii

The Aloha State has only produced 44 major league players, most of whom have had less than remarkable careers.  No Hall of Famers, and only six have ever appeared in an All-Star Game.  But, there are a few players who had decent careers over the years:  Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez (one of just two that appeared in more than one All-Star Game), and Charlie Hough.

There are a couple current players that were born in Hawaii that are decent contributors to their teams:  Kurt Suzuki (who has spent much of his career as a high-quality back-up catcher), and Kolten Wong (who is right around a league-average hitter, and one of the better defenders at second).

But, the Wailuku native with the nickname “Flyin’ Hawaiian” was the clear choice here…

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Shane Victorino – he was a 2-time All-Star, 4-time Gold Glove winner, and an important part of two World Series championship teams (Phillies in ’08, Red Sox in ’13).

Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

A Story of Fandom

I don’t write a lot from a “fan’s” perspective on here.  I try to write as objectively as possible.  I use a lot of statistics.  I use a lot of numbers that I know can get pretty boring for people who don’t care about the analytics side of the game.  This is all very intentional.  I don’t want to be accused of writing something a certain way because of my own fan-based biases.  I’ll admit that I have them.  I’ll even admit the possibility of some of my writing being influenced by them.  But, I try my best to keep my fandom out of my blogging.

So, I hope you’ll indulge me a little today, as I take just this once to talk a little about the team I’ve been watching since I was 10 years old.

I was in 4th grade.  It was March.  I was probably already signed up to play t-ball – the only sport I ever really wanted to play.  And, in my 10-year-old mind, I began to process the fact that I didn’t really have a favorite team.  I had sort of followed the Giants, because that was my first t-ball team.  But, now I was playing for teams named after businesses – like Blue Ridge Trophy.  So, who was I going to root for?

Somewhere along the way I had latched on to the Chicago Bears as my NFL team.  I don’t even remember why.  But, Jim McMahon and Mike Singletary and “The Fridge” were the first sports team I ever root for.  So, I decided – again, keep in mind I was 10 – it only made sense for me to root for a baseball team from the same city.  So, I thought about it, and decided, “Ok.  I’ll be a White Sox fan.”  I shared this information with a classmate of mine named Kyle.  And he said, “What about the Cubs?  They’re in Chicago, too.”

I had completely forgotten about the Cubs.  So, I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands.  Within a week of this conversation, I was scanning our local television guide after school to see if there was any baseball on TV that day.  Low and behold . . . the Cubs were actually going to be on TV!  I was shocked by this, since I lived in North Carolina.  So, I turned the TV on to this station I had never heard of – WGN.  And, I watched.  I watched as the Cubs played the Seattle Mariners.  I listened to the voices of Steve Stone and Harry Caray.  And, I … was … hooked.

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By the end of that 1989 season, I was completely and totally immersed in Chicago Cubs fandom.  To this day I could name every starting position player on that team, but I won’t bore you with that.  But, to say I was wrapped up in the team featuring Sandberg, Grace, and Dawson, is an understatement.  I loved the fact that they won their division.  And, I was so excited to see what they could do in the playoffs.  But, they lost the NLCS to the Giants (ironically enough) in just 5 games.  I was sad, to be sure.  But, I knew that they would have another shot next year . . . oh, how naive I was.

Over the next 27 years, I would root for the Cubs no matter what.  There were so many seasons that started off looking like they were going to be promising, but by June or July, it was obvious they weren’t going to be a contender.  There were some exciting years.  1998 was fun – back before we had any idea what was powering McGwire and Sosa.  2003 was really exciting, up until the very end – 5 outs away from uncharted territory.  But, the glimmers of hope were few and far between.

That all changed in October of 2011.  I had heard rumors, but dismissed them as wishful thinking.  But, as my wife and I sat in a pizza place in Indiana with our 2-year-old son, I was ecstatic to see on the TV screen that the Cubs had actually hired Theo Epstein away from Boston.  This was going to be a turning point.  I knew it was.  Because if anyone could turn a franchise around that had endured decades of losing . . . well, Epstein had already proven he could.

The next 3 seasons were rough.  Well, sort of.  On the one hand, it was tough to see your team lose 90-100 games every year.  But, I was never one of those Cubs fans who was always screaming “this is our year!”  I was realistic about their situation, and I knew they had some terrible contracts, and a mediocre farm system.  So, I watched as Epstein broke down the feeble excuse for a quality team that he’d been handed, and I paid careful attention to the farm system.  My son (whose middle name is Ryne, by the way) got his first game-used ball when the first baseman tossed it up into the stands to him at a Tennessee Smokies (AA) game – where we went to see Kris Bryant play.

When the 2016 season rolled around, I did everything I could to keep from getting too excited.  The Cubs were the odds-on favorites to win it all, according to Vegas.  They had made multiple big splashes in free agency, with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.  The youngsters that had made it to the NLCS the year before were a year older and more experienced.  And, they started out on a tear.  They won 27 of their first 35 games (.771 win pct.), and all my friends were asking me if I was buying World Series tickets.  I blew it off as just a good streak.  “The season is long,” I would say.  “They’re bound to go through some rough patches.”

And, they did.  Once.  From June 20th – July 10th, they went 6-15.  But, that was it.  They didn’t lose another 15 games for nearly 2 months.  They finished with the best record in baseball, and were the prohibitive favorite in the NL.  But, I tried to remained calm.  “They’re still very young,” I would say.  I even wrote a blog post here, explaining why the Cubs wouldn’t win it all.  I think I did that, in part, to help me remain realistic.

But, I watched with eager anticipation as the team I had been rooting for more than a quarter century did the unthinkable.  They beat the Dodgers to go to the World Series.  I was so choked up, I could hardly talk to my nephew who immediately called.  The unfortunate soul who, as a child, had followed in my footsteps to become a Cubs fan, but had also chosen his own team to root for in the AL … the Cleveland Indians. We couldn’t believe they were going to actually have to play each other.

Many years ago, I had told my wife that if the Cubs ever actually did make it to the World Series, I was going to have to go to a game.  After all, how often do we expect that to happen?  But, as this amazing season unfolded, that thought never even crossed my mind.  I knew the price of a single ticket would be astronomical.  So, I didn’t even consider it.  That is, until the Cubs were ahead 3 games to 2 in the NLCS.  My wife actually brought it up.  She said, “You know you have to go.”  I tried arguing with her – though, I must admit, I didn’t put up a big fight.  So, as the Cubs were in the process of winning game 6 of the NLCS, I bought two tickets for World Series Game 1 in Cleveland – tickets to Wrigley were 3x the cost, and I was going to be happy just to be there.

What an incredible experience that was.  No description I could ever give would do it justice.  Sure, the Cubs lost – and didn’t look good doing so.  Sure, the Cleveland fans ragged me about my Ryne Sandberg jersey – mostly in a friendly way.  Sure, it was bitter cold, and we were  in the upper deck where the wind was biting through every piece of fabric we were wearing.  But, it was completely and totally worth it.

As the World Series unfolded, I wasn’t terribly surprised that the Cubs were down 3-1.  Disappointed? Sure.  But, I was still trying to keep it in perspective.  It’s just a game.  It’s just a sport.  It isn’t life or death.  Then, they won game 5.  Then, they won game 6.  Friends and family members were constantly asking me how I was holding up.  I kept telling them that I was just happy that there was actually going to be a game 7, at this point.

I’ve watched game 7 of the 2016 World Series at least 5 times now, including the live broadcast.  I will never forget that experience.  The roller coaster of emotions.  Rizzo’s conversation with Ross about being a glass house of emotions.  Having to turn my phone off after Davis hit that HR in the 8th off of Chapman, because so many people were texting or messaging me.  And, then, there was this…

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As long as I live, that image will be etched in my memory.  And, Rizzo’s face as he stood at 3rd.  And Almora tagging up to get to 2nd base on Bryant’s fly out (possibly the most important play of the game).  Every time I watch these events unfold . . . I get chills.  I even get a little choked up.  Even now, after almost 4 months of soaking in all of the joy and celebration of my team finally winning it all.  It’s every bit as exciting as it was when it happened.

That’s something I didn’t expect.  I always wondered what I’d do if the Cubs actually won it all.  And, for the most part, I’ve kept fairly calm about it.  I don’t ever want to be one of “those” kinds of fans that likes to rub it in everyone’s face.  But, I never expected all those emotions to linger the way they have.  And I believe, as much as anything else, it’s because I remember that 10-year-old boy.  I remember how excited he was about his newfound love for a team.  I remember how desperately he wanted to go to Wrigley Field and just see a game.  I remember how he was disappointed year after year when his Cubs didn’t do well.  And, I want to tell him, “Don’t give up.  It’s worth the wait.”

Why the Cubs Won’t Win It All

1908, right?  I mean, that’s reason enough right there, isn’t it?  The next closest team in baseball with that kind of futility is the Cleveland Indians, who have been waiting for a World Series title since 1948.  But, for those who don’t believe in “curses” or that kind of extended bad “luck,” there is an expectation that at some point, the streak is going to end.  Especially the way the league continues to strive to find ways to create parity within the game.

So, maybe this is the year, right?  After all, this Cubs team looks really good on paper.  They have the best team ERA in baseball (3.09), which includes the best starting rotation ERA in baseball (2.92 – better by more than half a run than anyone else!).  They have the best team WHIP in baseball (1.11).  They have scored the 2nd most runs in the NL (709), behind only the thin-air-induced run-scoring of the Rockies.  They have the best OBP in the NL (.341 – 2nd only to the Red Sox in all of baseball), are 2nd only to St. Louis in the NL in OPS (.767).  They have Cy Young candidates (Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks), they have MVP candidates (Rizzo & Bryant), and they have legitimate Gold Glove worthy defense at 3 positions (Rizzo at 1B, Russell at SS, and Heyward in RF).

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Add to all this the fact that they went out and got a flamethrowing closer in Aroldis Chapman to bolster their bullpen, and it just seems like a great team, top to bottom.  But, as we have seen many times over the years – once you reach October baseball, all bets are off.  The regular season records and stats are practically meaningless.  So, the purpose of this post (and hopefully others like it), is to take a look at some of the finer details of the team, and consider what has the potential to be their downfall in the postseason. For the Cubs, let’s take a look at 3 things…

1. Record Against Better Teams

While the Cubs do possess 90+ wins already, and are near to clinching the division with almost 3 weeks left in the season, those numbers are at least a little inflated.  32 of their wins (and just 11 losses!) have come against the bottom 3 teams in their division – Pirates, Brewers, and Reds – all of whom are below .500.  In fact, when you look at the other 5 teams in the NL that are competing for a playoff spot – Nationals, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, and Cardinals – the Cubs are a combined 21-20.  That isn’t exactly blowing away the competition.  And, it should be reason enough for Cub fans to curb their enthusiasm at least a little.

2. Stolen Bases

The secret is out on the Cubs’ pitching staff – you can run on them.  Granted, they may not allow a ton of baserunners.  But, when they do . . . watch out.  There are only 3 NL teams that have allowed more stolen bases – the Braves, Padres and Rockies.  That’s three teams that aren’t anywhere close to making a run at the playoffs.  And, the other secret that’s out – aggressive baserunning can be the difference between scoring a run, and stranding a runner at 3rd.  Particularly in the playoffs, when you expect to be facing some of the toughest pitchers in the game.  Just look at the Royals and the Giants the last couple years.  Both were teams that put the ball in play, and put the pressure on the defense with their baserunning.  A team that gets really aggressive against the Cubs, could reak havoc.

3. Clutch Hitting

One of the most important ingredients for success in October is a team’s ability to keep pressuring the pitching and defense of the other team.  So, even when there are two outs, hitters aren’t giving away at-bats.  And, when there are two outs, with a runner in scoring position, you must take advantage of the opportunity in playoff baseball.  Unfortunately, the Cubs rank 11th in the NL, and 25th in baseball, in batting average with RISP and 2 outs (.216).  Much of this is a product of their youth, and their tendency to be eager-swingers.  This could come back to haunt you in the Fall.

The Cubs look like a very good team.  But, when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, there is reason to hold off on buying those World Series tickets – at least, for now.