The Chicago Cubs welcome familiar friend-turned-foe, the always likable Dexter Fowler back to Wrigley Friday as the Cubs battle the St. Louis Cardinals.
It didn’t necessarily excite me, and that’s not a knock on Fowler. From a statistical standpoint, Fowler represented a very nice piece coming back for the Cubs.
I just didn’t realize at the time how important Fowler would be to the Cubs.
Throughout his career, he’d demonstrated decent power, and of course, showcased the speed which made him so lethal. Chicago’s intention of adding Fowler was two-fold: top-of-the-lineup fixture, and tremendous defensive potential in center field.
Fowler’s indistinguishable characteristics, his trademark grin and loose personality are among the immeasurable intangibles any clubhouse needs.
These were the qualities that endeared the personable outfielder to Cubs fans.
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He’s also one heck of a ballplayer.
You go, we go
Perhaps the most memorable Joe Maddon slogan starts and ends with you go, we go.
In the second half of the 2015 season, Fowler surged. He led Cubs in on-base percentage post-All-Star Break — coinciding with Chicago’s strong play as they made their playoff push.
Anthony Rizzo at the time on Fowler:
"“It’s the most underrated thing on our team. He gets on in the first inning and he sets the tone right away,” per Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan."
While much of that 2015 season is tied to Jake Arrieta‘s record-setting season, you go, we go was the reverberating idiom echoing within the Cubs regarding their lineup sparkplug.
Per Fangraphs regarding Fowler:
"“He swung at only 39 percent of pitches, with a minuscule 8.0 percent swinging strike rate. That lent itself to a 14.3 percent walk rate that ranked fifth among major league outfielders on his way to a .393 on-base percentage, representing a career mark for him.”"
Fowler started the 2016 season with multi-hit games in his first four contests. A .347 batting average for the month of April set the tone as the Cubs took charge of the NL Central.
This was clearly evident during the months of June and July last season when Chicago endured its worst slump of the season. Coincidence or not, the slump coincided with Fowler missing 28 games due to a hamstring strain.
Of course, the team bounced back when they got their leadoff man back.
Big smile, legendary moments
Fowler’s presence strong on the field, one can’t undervalue his off-the-field attributes, the aforementioned clubhouse qualities he brought to the Cubs.
As Sullivan illustrates:
"“Fowler’s intangibles are what set him apart. He was a perfect fit in that clubhouse, providing a calming presence that rubbed off on some of his younger teammates such as Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez. Fowler never stressed out during a slump, never stopped smiling.”"
As Fowler makes his first trip to Wrigley Field as an opponent in 2017, even as he dons St. Louis Cardinals red, the well-regarded outfielder will receive his ring, and a worthy hand from the Wrigley faithful.
When you remember Fowler, the lasting imprint etched in your mind likely takes you back to his Game 7 leadoff home run.
It was a play that perfectly characterizes Fowler: Personality, full-on exuberance on display, practically running backward on the basepaths.
And his home run got the Cubs going. One last time.