There's no doubt that the Chicago Cubs are much more fun to watch now than they were early in the season. There's a palpable sense of excitement and hope that springs from seeing young players performing at a high level.
But there's also no doubt that this team still has plenty of flaws, as evidenced by Thursday's hiccup against the Milwaukee Brewers. Filling in for the injured Matt Garza, Mike Fiers burned the Cubs to the tune of 14 strikeouts, while allowing just 3 hits and no runs.
Will Smith got jiggy wit' it as well, mowing down 2 Northsiders to bring the K total to 16 on the afternoon. Not the worst performance a Cubs squad has ever had, but the futility and general malaise of the game set minds a-wandering as the innings dragged on.
Javier Baez was at the center of the fun, as he donned a Golden Sombrero, going down on strikes in all 4 of his plate appearances. Radio man Pat Hughes brought up a little baseball trivia at that point, recalling the 56-game hitting streak of the great Joe DiMaggio.
During the streak, which took place over over the course of 2 months and 1 day and encompassed 223 plate appearances, Joe D struck out only 5 times. Yes, that's correct. And what's more, over the entirety of that hallowed 1941 season, the Yankee Clipper whiffed only 13 times.
And while that is an amazingly low number, consider that DiMaggio's average K-total for a season was just over 28. Over the course of 13 seasons, he amassed only 369 strikeouts, just 8 more than his home run total of 361. At the pace Javy Baez is going, it'd take him 1,534 K's to reach that many homers.
I know, I know, that's neither fair nor accurate. But that's part of what makes it fun. And you know what else is fun? That 1941 season was not just about The Streak; it was also the last time anyone finished the season batting over .400, as Ted Williams hit .406.
As incredible as it sounds, Williams's accomplishments in that season were far overshadowed by DiMaggio's. Chalk it up to the different media markets and Teddy Ballgame's bristly relationship with the press, but when you look at his season with some of today's metrics, it's just unreal.
In 150 games (of a 154-game season; the current 162-game format wasn't adopted until 1962), Williams slashed .406/.553/.735 with an OPS 1.287. He hit 36 home runs, drove in 137, and walked 145 times. Those are like Kris Bryant numbers. But I suppose I will give the edge to the Splendid Splinter in the end, since he struck out only 27 times.
Of course, DiMaggio's year wasn't just about The Streak; he slashed .357/.440/.643 with a 1.083 OPS, 30 HR's, 125 RBI and 76 BB's. Two years later, both DiMaggio and Williams would step away from the game to serve in WWII, missing 3 seasons in the prime of their careers as a result.
I could go on and on about how the game has changed and how players, fans, and field dimensions and money have all conspired against the kinds of obscene stats that those legends once put up. But that's not the point. I don't want to compare the present to the past though.
Rather, I want to be able to appreciate each era for what it is. Steeped in tradition as they are, the Cubs have the opportunity to establish some new memories with the team they're putting together. Baez and Bryant are not going to be modern-day incarnations of DiMaggio and Williams, but that doesn't mean they can't be great.
Maybe one day we'll look back at the accomplishments of some of these Cubs players with awe and reverence, staring in wonder at Javy Baez's first Wrigley home run or marveling at the abilities of Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.
Cubs Nation has had its lonely eyes turned to the future for quite some time now, and, despite games the one on Thursday, it looks like the picture is finally starting to come into focus.
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