"October is here!" There was a time when that phrase meant one primary thing for sports fans: the World Series. Nowadays, the Fall Classic doesn’t arrive until October is almost over and football — college and pro — has all but consumed the lion’s share of media coverage and fan attention. (For better or worse here in Chicago. Mostly worse.)
But that doesn’t mean we should give the World Series short shrift — even in a season like this one (and, let’s face it, most of them) when nary a Chicago baseball team shall appear. Yes, there are reasons to watch the
Clash of the Titans underdog matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers that begins October 27. And, as you may have come to expect, we have precisely five such reasons to offer up for your reading pleasure.
1. Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie!
As we first reported in The Deep Dish, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen will be, once again, lending his dulcet tones to the Fox TV broadcast booth. In an interesting twist, Guillen will join the Fox Deportes Spanish language team for five innings following his para ingles pregame analysis.
From there, he’ll either join the English language, in-game team of Chris Rose and former Cubs first baseman Eric Karros. Or Ozzie will rejoin his pregame compatriots Joe Buck and Tim McCarver for some late-game analysis. Confused? So are we. A little. We’ll just have to tune in to see how it all works out.
In any case, Ozzie will, as always, have plenty to say. As you may have heard, today (Tue, Oct. 26) is the five-year anniversary of the White Sox' 2005 World Series win. So expect to hear plenty of reminiscing and remarks on the pressures of managing in the ultimate postseason series. In particular, Ozzie will have close and personal insights on two players from that historic White Sox team …
2. The Spirit Of '05
In Juan Uribe (age 31) and Aaron Rowand (33), the San Francisco Giants have two carriers of the 2005 torch who each hope to become one of those rare players to win a ring on two different teams. Of the two, Uribe is generally regarded more as a difference-maker. That’s based mainly on the fact he had not one, but two clutch hits in the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit a sacrifice fly in Game 4 to give the Giants a 3-1 lead in the series. And then he hit the eventual game-winning home run in the clinching Game 6.
Uribe has always been a funny player. He looks and acts (at the plate) like a third baseman — short, stocky, free-swinging, slugging to a certain extent — but he’s played most of his major league innings at shortstop. He’s never been a remarkably valuable player, but he’s always been a useful one, mainly because he is regarded as a solid defender who can really play any infield position other than first. (And he could probably play there in an absolute emergency, though he never has.)
Rowand, on the other hand, is likely to be more of a background voice. The Giants signed him to a five-year, $60 million deal in 2008, but he just hasn’t produced at the plate consistently — ever, really. He’s had two outstanding seasons, one in 2004 for the White Sox and the other in 2007 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Otherwise, he’s been an around and mostly under league average hitter who plays all-out, wall-smashing centerfield defense that affects his ability to stay healthy.
Expect to see Uribe starting most, if not all, of the World Series games at either third base or shortstop (depending on how the aged Edgar Renteria is feeling that day). Rowand’s playing time is harder to project. He got only two starts in the 2010 NLDS and NLCS combined, appearing in five games total. But, as Geoff Blum showed in 2005, one never knows when a guy might come off the bench in a big game and make a difference with one swing of the bat.
3. Utility Belters
It’s what you’ve long waited for, Cubs fans: A former utility man smackdown. Ladies and gentlemen! In this corner, at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds (according to his baseball-reference page, although he's not that tall) and wearing the orange & black uniform (and it still seems odd for someone that small to walk around wearing a shirt that says "GIANTS"), Mike Fontenot! (Age: 30) And in this corner, weighing 190 pounds and wearing Rangers blue & red, Andres Blanco! (Age: 26)
First, there’s Fontenot. Acquired in the Sammy Sosa trade of 2005, "Lil’ Babe Ruth" (as he was affectionately dubbed by should-be Hall of Famer and Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Santo) is a natural second baseman who, mainly through his two major league team’s injury-related misfortunes, has managed to garner himself the title of "utility infielder."
Most Cubs fans will tell you that he’s not. Fontenot doesn’t really have the arm for third base nor the range for shortstop. And Giants fans will likely agree based on his painful error in Game 2 of the NLCS. Believe it or not, going into the 2009 season, Fontenot stood poised to snag a job as a starting second baseman with the Cubs. He’d had an outstanding 2008 campaign, hitting .305/.395/.514 (.395 wOBA, 3.0 WAR) in 284 plate appearances. But he’s regressed pretty dismally since, joining San Francisco in a throw-away trade of sorts this past August. Expect to see him pinch hit a few times and get a start only in the event of injury.
Andres Blanco holds the dubious distinction of having zero postseason appearances, even though he’s been on both of the Rangers’ 2010 playoff rosters thus far and is expected to be in their dugout for the World Series. Don’t even think of holding that against Blanco, though, or he’ll tell you:
I'm a part of this. If I don't play and we still win the World Series, I'm still in that team picture.
In Blanco’s defense, he’s a middle infield backup on a team that features two solid, young middle infielders: Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. And speaking of defense, Blanco is good at it. In his short time with the Cubs, he didn’t hit much — and he probably never will — but he was a joy to watch in the field, picking everything that came his way and making a few mind-blowingly spectacular plays, particularly this one for the Cubs against the Mets in September 2009. He probably won’t hit a game-winning home run for the Rangers, but he could make a play that saves the game.
4. To See What Almost Was
Another interesting Chicago connection to this year’s Fall Classic is something we’ll call "What Almost Was." Let’s start with Giants 26-year-old ace Tim Lincecum. Y’know, the freaky lookin’ dude who’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for three years running? He was originally picked by none other than the Cubs in the 48th round (1,408th overall) of the 2003 MLB Draft. So what happened?
Lincecum was still college-eligible, so he decided to go to school. (Many late-round picks do.) He did the same thing to the Cleveland Indians, who drafted him in the 42nd round, in 2005. It wasn’t until 2006, when Lincecum went 10th in the draft, that he stuck with a team — this year’s NL rep in the World Series.
Want to hear another one, Cubs fans? If you’ve spent any amount of time on the Internet, you’ve probably caught wind of this story. The North Siders snagged Rangers’ All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton in the 2006 Rule Five Draft and immediately traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for cash considerations.
Less informed, though more imaginative, critics of Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry have long tried to depict this move as a crushing failure. But, by all realistic accounts, Hendry made the pick only as a favor to Reds GM Wayne Krivsky in return for the money involved. At the time, Hamilton had lost just about all of his top prospect status and had a widely known, deadly heroin addiction to boot. The Reds were taking a chance on him only because they employed a coach, Jerry Narron, with close personal ties to Hamilton who could provide one-on-one support.
To suggest that any big league GM could have foreseen Hamilton’s amazing recovery with the Reds and later, the Rangers, is pure lunacy. His story is exceedingly rare — all the more reason to watch these games and see whether he adds a ring to his comeback tale.
5. The 'H' Word
Our last reason for watching the World Series? Why, hope, of course. As noted above, this year is all about underdogs. And with the White Sox continuing to struggle against their arch-nemesis, the Minnesota Twins, and the Cubs doing the same, epically, at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals (let’s assume the ’10 Reds were a fluke), Chicago fans should take heart at this year’s matchup.
Anything can happen in baseball. With an ace at the top of your rotation (something the teams on both sides of town need to work on — the Cubs a little more than the Sox) and the right hits at the right time, you too can make it deep in the postseason. So let’s pick one side or the other and cheer that team on. Or just watch the whole series play out and enjoy the drama from an objective point of view. Many fans trumpet the "high level of play" in the postseason, but the level of play isn’t really any higher — the stakes are. And, someday, we’ll get back there.