As everyone knows, the Cubs won the World Series last year and broke the longstanding “Curse of The Billy Goat”. Now of course there’s really no such thing as curses, but then again it is the Halloween season. And perhaps in the spirit of the season, it’s time to reconsider whether the Cubs, in view of their meek surrender to the Dodgers in the playoffs, have been visited by a new curse. The “Billy Goat Curse” is no more, but have the Cubs now become the victims of “The Curse of the Disappeared Bullpen”?
For as long as anyone can remember, the Wrigley Field bullpens, where relief pitchers warmed up, were located on the field down the foul lines next to the box seats. At the beginning of this season, the Cubs relocated the bullpens out of sight underneath the bleachers. Management maintained that the move was for safety reasons - to protect players in the bullpens from line drives, and fielders from tripping over bullpen pitching mounds or crashing into the benches. A cynic might point out the added revenue realized by putting in new rows of expensive seats where once the bullpens stood.
Whatever the rationale, when the bullpens were on the field, one of the highlights of a game at Wrigley Field was being lucky enough to sit near the players in the bullpen. Good or bad, there was always something happening. Players would banter with fans, occasionally toss them a baseball, and before the game it was a prime spot to secure autographs.
Not that the mojo was always good. In one memorable incident in the bullpen, a fan snatched the cap from a Dodger player’s head, which resulted in a full scale melee when a bevy of Dodgers went into the stands to redress the grievance, by violence if necessary. During the legendary 1969 season, a Cub reliever named Dick Selma would wave a towel in the bullpen to excite the crowd during Cub rallies. It worked quite well and was a highlight of the season - that is, until the Cubs collapsed and opposing bullpen players took to waving their own towels to mock the Cubs as they went down to another ignominious defeat. And of course the infamous Bartman incident occurred right off the bullpen with Cub relief pitchers and nearby fans watching in horror as if they were reliving the Kennedy assassination.
So since the Cubs have moved the bullpens what has happened? To put it mildly, the relief pitching has become an unmitigated disaster, especially in the recent playoffs. The relief staff, with the exception of Wade Davis, seems to have developed an unusual propensity for surrendering walks and home run balls.
Consider the relievers’ performances in recent debacle of the playoff series against the Dodgers (in the interest of good taste and decency, said relievers will remain nameless). In the first game, a Cub reliever gave up the game-winning home run on the second pitch he delivered. In the second game, a long-time Cubs starter, pressed into relief, gave up the game-winning home run in the ninth inning to the second batter he faced. And in the final game, a Cub reliever, called on with the bases loaded in the third inning, promptly offered up a grand-slam home run to the second batter he faced, effectively ending the 2017 season.
All of this might be attributed to bad luck, but if there was any question about something more otherworldly at work it was in Game Three. With the game in the balance, a Cubs reliever faced the Dodgers’ pitcher at bat with the bases loaded. The Dodger pitcher was, to put it mildly, not much of a hitter. He played professionally in Japan where he had a total of five hits and one walk as a hitter in his career. When he came to the Major Leagues here in the United States, he has amassed a total of four hits and one walk as a hitter. That meant he had a total of only nine more hits and two more walks in his professional career on two continents than everyone reading this put together (assuming no current or former Major Leaguers are reading).
The Dodger pitcher barely made a pretense of taking a serious stance at the plate. So what did the Cubs reliever do? Walked him on four pitches. This drove in a critical run, simply one more nail in the Cubs coffin. It happened to be the first time in forty years any pitcher had been walked with the bases loaded in the playoffs.
Now some of you may believe that there is no relationship between the Cubs’ relievers’ abysmal performance in the playoffs and moving the bullpens off the field. Hexes, witchcraft, werewolves, vampires –all nonsense, no scientific basis. But the spirit of many of a reliever lived in that old bullpen, and the Cubs knowingly dug it up, like something out of Stephen King. They sent those spirits to places unknown- perhaps to haunt the new bullpen? And after watching that frightening performance against the Dodgers, you can believe what you want, but I prefer to see it as “The Curse of the Disappeared Bullpen.”
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