Cubs

Classic Cubs games we'd like to watch again during baseball's hiatus

Classic Cubs games we'd like to watch again during baseball's hiatus

Man, do we miss baseball. All we have for now are rebroadcasts of old games, but those can be a lot of fun to watch as well.

In the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, the Outside the Ivy guys — Danny Rocket, Luis Medina and Michael Cerami — discuss which old Cubs games they would like to watch again. We asked the members of our Cubs content team to tell us what past game is must-see (again) TV.

Gordon Wittenmyer — vs. Pirates, Sept. 24, 1984

Even three months after joining the Cubs in a trade from Cleveland, Rick Sutcliffe didn’t understand the historical significance of the playoff berth he was driving the Cubs toward in September of 1984.

As he walked to the bullpen near the stands at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium for his final start of a Cy Young season, Sutcliffe saw a family of Cubs fans holding up a sign: “39 Years of Suffering is Enough.”

“I always used to find a kid to give my warmup ball to. And as I got done warming up, I brought the dad and kid down,” Sutcliffe recalled during a recent spring training. “And I said, ‘What does that sign mean?’ He said, ‘Well, we haven’t been to the playoffs in 39 years.’

“I wasn’t trying to be cocky or anything, but I said, ‘Here, hold onto this ball, because I’m telling you right now, after tonight that’s all going to change.’ “

RELATED: 13 best trades in Cubs franchise history

Talk about making good on a promise. Sutcliffe drove in the second run of the game with a two-out single in the second and pitched a complete game that Sept. 24 night to earn a 4-1 victory as the Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 1945.

Sutcliffe, who struck out nine without a walk in a two-hit gem, picked off Joe Orsulak at first to end the sixth and then retired the final nine batters he faced. The only run he allowed scored on a grounder after a leadoff triple by Orsulak in the fourth.

History? Playoffs?

“Until that time, I didn’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t a real history guy.

“I came from Cleveland so we didn’t need to worry about playoffs.”

Tim Stebbins — vs. Mariners, July 31, 2016

If you watch this game with zero context, you'll think I'm crazy. The Mariners jumped out to a 6-0 lead after three innings, hitting three two-run homers off spot starter Brian Matusz — whom the Cubs signed to a minor league deal a month prior.

Trailing by three entering the ninth, the Cubs plated two runs off Steve Cishek to get within one. Down to their last strike, they knotted things at six on a Cishek wild pitch (emphasis on wild). A Jason Heyward double put the Cubs in business in the 12th, and after advancing to third on a flyout, Heyward scored the winning run on a Jon Lester walk-off bunt.

Yes, a Lester walk-off bunt. 

RELATED: All-time best Cubs players by jersey number

Before the exciting finish, Joe Maddon moved reliever Travis Wood (who already tossed 1 1/3 innings) to left field, and Wood made a catch against the ivy in the seventh that would've been tough for an actual outfielder. 

A Jon Lester walk-off and Travis Wood outfield appearance? This game was something else.

Nate Poppen — vs. Brewers, Sept. 12-13, 1998

The back-to-back walkoff wins against the Brewers Sept. 12-13, 1998 at Wrigley. Orlando Merced’s three-run bomb on Saturday capped a five-run bottom of the ninth to give the Cubs a 15-12 win. Then on Sunday, Mark Grace’s solo shot in the bottom of the 10th was the difference in an 11-10 victory. Fifteen-year-old me had no idea September baseball could actually mean something.

Lou Melgarejo — vs. Cardinals, April 22, 1980

The 16-12 win over the Cardinals on April 22, 1980. Barry Foote hit a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie it at 12, and added a walk-off grand slam in the ninth as the Cubs erased a 12-6 deficit to win 16-12. By the way, Foote went 4-for-6 with 8 RBIs in the contest.

Jeff Nelson — vs. Mets, Aug. 7, 1984

I was lucky enough to attend the Aug. 7, 1984 doubleheader against the Mets at Wrigley. The Cubs scored six times in the fifth inning of the opener and went on to an 8-6 win. In the nightcap (or daycap, since Wrigley didn’t have any lights at this time), the Cubs scored five runs off Mets starter (and future Cub GM) Ed Lynch in an 8-4 victory.

The division lead was up to 3 1/2 games, and the Cubs never looked back en route to their first playoff appearance in 39 years.

Mike Piff — Sept. 28, 1998

Sept. 28, 1998. Game 163 at Wrigley between the Cubs and Giants. Michael Jordan, wearing a Sammy Sosa jersey, threw out the first pitch. Steve Trachsel threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, Gary Gaetti homered and Rod Beck got the save as the Cubs won 5-3 to advance to the playoffs.

RELATED: How Cubs’ Nico Hoerner is making an impact in Chicago during shutdown

Joe Collins — Sept. 27, 2003

Sept. 27, 2003. The Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Pirates, winning the opener 4-2 with Mark Prior getting his 18th win of the year. Then in the nightcap, a five-run second inning propelled them to a 7-2 win, clinching the NL Central. I went as a fan for both games, and immediately after the final out I went to work for CLTV gathering postgame sound. Fun times.

Lou Melgarejo — Oct. 1, 1932

Oct. 1, 1932. Game 3 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Yankees. Did Babe Ruth really call his shot? The television broadcast is sure to give us an answer.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

How a random pack of old baseball cards made the LA Times bestseller list

How a random pack of old baseball cards made the LA Times bestseller list

A few years after starting to cover baseball as a full-time beat writer many years ago, I ran into an old mentor at the ballpark I hadn’t seen in a long time and asked if he wanted to join a few of us for drinks after the game.

He’d be there, he said, but he didn’t drink anymore. Couldn’t. Not like he used to. Not after all those years covering baseball finally taught him what he didn’t want to know — just in time for a columnist job to come along and save him. 

“This beat will expose your demons,” he said. “Whatever they are.”

It’s a haunting truth for any of the countless, often faceless, people who ever have subjected themselves and their families to the lifestyle of baseball’s traveling circus, whether as one of the stars of the Big Top, one of the carnies, or even one of the media clowns.

And whether Brad Balukjian sought that particular truth when he set out on a seven-week, cross-country journey to track down the stories of 14 players from a single pack of 1986 baseball cards, he found it along with chapter after chapter of surprisingly candid interviews, emotional revelations and sharply written observations in "The Wax Pack," which reached the Los Angeles Times bestseller list last week.

RELATED: Even Giants legend Willie Mays can’t catch ‘em all — just ask the Cubs

“The reality is everybody has something,” said Balukjian, who joined the Cubs Talk Podcast to talk about the book. “Whether it’s physical, mental, [you’re] famous, not famous, none of us get off without having something to deal with, and so that’s kind of what I wanted to tap into in the way that I approached the book.”

The book, which features a Hall of Famer (Carlton Fisk), two Cy Young Award winners (Rick Sutcliffe, Dwight Gooden), a one-time All-Star (Lee Mazzilli) and Balukjian favorite Don Carman, is like 14 mini-biographies woven through an autobiography you don’t see coming as it unfolds across 11,000 miles of highway and 123 cups of coffee in the summer of 2015.

On his website, the author said the book in part turned into a “meditation on the loss of innocence [and] what it means to grow up.”

It’s also about fathers and sons, strength and frailty, success and failure, humor and a lot of very personal, sometimes odd details.

We learn, for instance, that both Steve Yeager and Garry Templeton abruptly stopped drinking once they finished big-league careers that included a lot of it.

“One of the themes in the book is about the importance of behavior vs. thoughts and feelings,” said Balukjian, who centers much of the book’s thematic wisdom in the chapter spent with his childhood idol, Carman — now a sports psychologist who works for agent Scott Boras.

“Don Carman makes a big point to say you can’t control your thoughts and your feelings. you can only control your reaction to them. What these players were really good at was … essentially knowing that all they can control is their behavior. Someone like Yeager and Templeton recognizing their own demons, or their potential to be consumed by drinking, made that decision that, ‘OK, I’m just going to stop.’”

As much as anything, the book was the result of an inspired concept and a labor of love — emphasis on labor during a process to find a publisher that consumed the lifespans of two book-agent relationships and included 38 rejections over five years.

“The idea using a pack to get a random sample came to me very quickly and suddenly,” said Balukjian, who already had a fascination with typically lesser-light players and a desire to take on a where-are-they-now project. “It just seemed like it was this device that captured the excitement of the unknown that we all remember from opening packs as kids.”

But that might have been the only part that came easily during a project he pulled off with a 13-year-old car, a tight budget and a list of players that included one who had died too young (Al Cowens) and another who proved nearly as elusive (Fisk).

“For Fisk — well, for any of the guys — I decided I was still going to try to find them and tell their stories,” said Balukjian, who devoted two chapters to stalking the Red Sox and White Sox legend, including an undercover operation at a Florida country club.

“I found out from a source where he golfs at this really exclusive resort,” said Balukjian, who then posed as a wealthy snowbird looking for a home on the golf course. 

“It may not have been the most well conceived plan thinking that I could pass myself off as a multimillionaire coming in with a 2002 Honda Accord with 100,000 miles on it and peeling paint,” he said. “But it was one of the more fun chapters. The book has a lot of heaviness and some very somber moments to it. The Fisk chapter was a sort of fun diversion.”

Balukjian did not find Fisk at the resort. In fact, attempts by the Cubs Talk Podcast to have Fisk on with Balukjian also were unsuccessful.

Which is not to say the author did not get his face time, however brief. And it’s definitely worth reading about.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: MLB owners and players are still far apart

mlb_logo.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: MLB owners and players are still far apart

David Kaplan and Gordon Wittenmyer discuss the back and forth between the MLB owners and players, and just how far are the two sides are in coming to a deal.

Later on, Wittenmyer interviews Brad Balukjian, author of "The Wax Pack," to discuss the book about baseball cards and the players connected to them.

(1:25) - If a deal gets done, it should happen this week

(5:15) - Are the Cubs/MLB owners exaggerating the potential losses?

(10:20) - If a deal doesn't get done, will the players take the blame

(17:05) - Interview with Brad Balukjian author of "The Wax Pack"

Listen here or below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.