If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
No, Doug Davis didn't just throw down his glove against the Cubs and ring up victories. But it just seemed that way even amid his 9-8 lifetime mark and 3.55 ERA against Chicago. The slow-balling lefty with the hesitation in his big windup has made a sideline of his journeyman career out of getting the Cubs to over-swing and go for power, unconsciously believing they had a free lunch against the seemingly-hittable Davis.
A telling number about the Cubs hitters' thwarted greediness was Davis' record in Wrigley FIeld. He was just 3-3, but possessed a 2.98 ERA. He allowed 39 hits in 45 1/3 innings -- he was getting his hosts out with efficiency. I watched his first-ever start against the Cubs in Wrigley Field as a Brewer on Aug. 31, 2003. He allowed just five singles and no runs in 8 1/3 innings in a 2-0 victory. Dusty Baker stacked an all-right-handed hitting lineup against Davis, to little avail. Utilityman Ramon Martinez, starting at second, collected three of those five hits. My prevailing sentiment at the time: Who is this junkballer and where did he come from?
Davis' long career, ranging from Texas to Milwaukee to Arizona, has now taken him back to Wrigley Field -- finally as Cub. The latest band-aid plugging up the gaping hole left by injuries to starters Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, Davis will take the mound Saturday night in a Fox-televised game against the Giants. And the early line is he isn't likely to enjoy his traditional Chicago success. After all, he's not pitching against the Cubs.
There's a more prevailing, generations-long track mitigating against Davis helping much. He's 35 and not far from the end of his career. The Cubs have hired Davis types before with little success. There's hardly a worse sight in baseball than an aging, struggling lefty. They're the easiest to hit and saddest to watch get pounded. The Cubs are hardly the only team to believe they can still get mileage out of such a baseball archetype. Yet the cycle continues, and the proverbial truck keeps backing up with the pitching carcasses of these elderly southpaws.
I'll use a 45-year sample in the Cubs' historical track. About the only veteran lefty who succeeded even for a half season was 34-year-old Juan Pizarro in 1971. The portly pitcher, who had ace-level stuff for the White Sox in the mid-1960s, had been rescued off the scrap heap the year before with Leo Durocher sticking Pizarro into the rotation in mid-season '71. He went 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA, including three shutouts, in 14 starts. He allowed 78 hits in 101 1/3 innings. I was among 25,233 in the Clark and Addison house on a Thursday afternoon, Aug. 5, 1971 when Pizarro one-hit the San Diego Padres. "Downtown" Ollie Brown collected the only hit, a fifth-inning single.
Almost every other southpaw would have killed for Pizarro's numbers when the Cubs imported them to try to defy the odds. GM John Holland foolishly tried to roll the clock back to 1950 and the Phillies Whiz Kids sixteen years later when he acquired both lefty Curt Simmons, 37, and right-hander Robin Roberts, 39, the latter doubling as pitching coach under Durocher after Freddie Fitzsimmons quit. Simmons and Hall of Fame-bound Roberts were more of the "wheeze" kids grown old, Simmons going 4-7 with a 4.07 ERA and Roberts 2-3, 6.14. Simmons stayed on amid the big Cubs revival of 1967, but didn't get with the winning flow, going 3-7, 4.94 with 100 hits allowed in 82 innings before he was waived and finished up his career with the Angels.
Advance the calendar to 1978. The Cubs had struggled so long to acquire a decent lefty after home-grown Ken Holtzman's 1971 departure that GM Bob Kennedy went to war with Woodie Fryman, 38, and Dave Roberts, 34, in the rotation. Fryman, a winner back in Pittsburgh, was just 2-4, 5.17 in nine starts. Roberts stumbled at 6-8, 5.25 in 20 starts. Kennedy went for the trifecta in mid-season by re-acquiring Holtzman, by now 32, rusty from disuse by Billy Martin with the Yankees, and in decline from his prime with Oakland. The only Cub to ever toss two no-hitters, Holtzman went on to go 6-12 with the Cubs in his final 1 1/2 seasons, allowing 194 hits in 170 innings.
Like Holtzman, Larry Gura was a home-grown lefty whom the Cubs had coming and going. Gura had only spotty chances to pitch under Durocher and Whitey Lockman from 1970 to 1973, then went on to the Yankees and the Royals, for whom he had a pair of 18-win seasons. Of course the Cubs would get Gura back at the very end, amid the chaos of a well-paid, highly-rated starting rotation on the disabled list en masse at mid-summer 1985. The Cubs clutched at Gura, 37, and he was a hitters' delight with an 0-3, 8.41 ERA in four starts before his career ended.
The list of aging lefties also courses through Shawn Estes, 30, with 8-11, 5.73 and 182 hits allowed in 152 1/3 innings in 2003, and Glendon Rusch, 3-8, 7.46 and 86 hits allowed in 66 1/3 innings in 2006.
With the Cubs, of course, you don't have to be past 30 to be a lousy lefty. Ken Frailing was just 26 when he was 6-9 with 150 hits allowed in 125 1/3 innings for the '74 team. I witnessed a great Frailing triumph -- a complete-game 15-hitter in a 12-4 win over the Giants at Wrigley on May 27, 1974. In 1989, 27-year-old Paul Kilgus, who finished 6-10, 4.39, was so ineffective at one point manager Don Zimmer dropped him as a starter and tried unsuccessfully to go with a four-man rotation headed up by Greg Maddux. And the all-time Cubs free-agent pitching bust had to be Danny Jackson, also 27 in 1991. A 23-game winner for the Reds in 1988, Jackson's flop helped lead to the demise of the Jim Frey GM regime after his injury-plagued self finished 1-5, 6.75 in '91. Frey successor Larry Himes shipped Jackson out quickly to Pittsburgh after he started 4-9, 4.22 in '92.
There were other southpaw flops, but we'll give you a breather, the same you should give Davis if he gets pounded by the Giants. Hard as he tries, he'll find a tall order defying age, stuff and the strange traditions endemic with the blue pinstripes on his uniform.