Cubs

All-out in center: Byrd's Gold Glove chase

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All-out in center: Byrd's Gold Glove chase

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
11:04 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SAN DIEGO Theres a purple welt around Marlon Byrds right eye, and a red spot inside it, the perfect image to sum up his first season in a Cubs uniform, which often winds up covered in dirt or stained by another dive across the grass.

This bruise lingers from a foul ball that bounced near home plate and drilled into his sunglasses last weekend at Wrigley Field. There the crowds like his hustle, the way he sprints around the bases after hitting a home run.

This year the players voted Byrd an All-Star for the first time in his career at the age of 32 and after spending time on the Triple-A level in seven of his previous eight seasons.

Ryan Dempster watched Byrd track down several balls on Tuesday night in the wide canyons of PETCO Park where its at least 400 feet to left-center and right-center and lobbied for his teammate to be recognized for his defensive play.

I hope he wins a Gold Glove because he deserves it, Dempster said afterward. Hes played as good a center field as anybody Ive seen through the 157 games weve played. And (its) not just those kind of catches. (Its) everything he does. He throws to the right base and hits the cutoff guy. He gets the ball in quickly.

As a pitcher, especially when youre playing in big ballparks like this, you just say let them hit it and he goes and gets it.

Managers or their staffer whos handed the ballot will decide the Gold Glove vote. Mike Quade cant vote for his own player, but believes Byrd belongs in the National League conversation with Philadelphias Shane Victorino, Houstons Michael Bourn and Pittsburghs Andrew McCutchen.

All three of those guys run a little better than Marlon, Quade said, and yet still with his reads off the bat (and) his angles hes so consistent with what he does out there.

Baseballs intelligence departments are still trying to figure out how to accurately measure defensive performance. Entering Wednesday Byrd had made only three errors, which translated into a .992 fielding percentage. That compares favorably to Victorino (.995), Bourn (.992) and McCutchen (.986).

Using ultimate zone rating a more advanced metric that shows the number of runs above or below average a fielder is Byrd grades out at 10.5. The website FanGraphs separates the outfielders like this: Victorino at -2.2; Bourn at 14.3; and McCutchen at -10.7.

This is more subjective, but baseball people have noticed how Byrd doesnt take plays off. On the day he was named to the All-Star team, he made a diving catch in the ninth inning with his team trailing the Cincinnati Reds by 11 runs.

Hes oblivious when it comes to effort, Quade said. The score (doesnt) matter (and) youre going to see him leave his feet no matter what the situation is. Thats who he is.

That max-out style has to wear on a players body, and Quade has described Byrd as banged up at various points during the final weeks of the season. Byrd hit .317 with nine homers and 40 RBI before the All-Star break, and .267 with three homers and 23 RBI since then.

Byrd seems to recognize this and late Tuesday night deflected the credit to Dempster after a 5-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Demps just hitting spots, Byrd said. I know where to go, so hes making me look good out there. Thats why I pride myself on defense, (because) youre not always going to hit.

The next night Byrd played in his 149th game, and he intends to end this season the way it began. Even with the Cubs spiraling out of contention, he has refused any chances to be removed from the lineup.

I dont need to take days off to finish up a season, Byrd said. I have a little old-school mentality because of the guys I grew up with in the system over in Philly. Those guys play every single day, so I expect to do the same. You cant take anything for granted in this game. You never know when its going to be your last (one), so play it all-out.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.