Can the Cubs win without a left-handed power hitter?
By Cary Heinz
I feel sorry for kids today in a number of ways. One can argue they grow up too fast – there is too much technology at too early an age, and the like. Every 10-year-old needs a smartphone? I think not.
One of the joys of my youth was when the thick J.C. Penney’s and Sears holiday catalogs showed up. They doubled as door stops. My childhood pre-dates post-it notes, so I would dog ear a page for the stuff I wanted ‘Santa’ to bring. Heading into this winter, now I’m thinking about what I want from Jed Hoyer and Tom Ricketts as a Cubs fan.
I want a lot of things (as do we all). But what do we need? How about a left-handed bat? A big left-handed bat. Who led the Cubs in home runs from the left side of the plate this year? Switch-hitting outfielder Ian Happ. Chicago hit 159 home runs as a team this year – just 32 of them came from left-handed bats.
With specialization and splits today, it’s nice to have some variety in a lineup with hitters from both sides of the plate. It’s not as easy as it looks. Sweet Swinging Billy Williams is the best left-handed hitter in Cubs history, and provided power launching balls onto Addison, anchoring a lineup with Ernie Banks and Ron Santo for a decade.
Cubs playoff teams have often, but not always had a slugging left-handed hitter to counterbalance the batting order. Leon Durham did this with the 1984 team. In 1998, Henry Rodriguez bashed 31 home runs, supplementing Sammy Sosa. I had forgotten that Corey Patterson smacked 24 home runs in 2004, and that Jim Edmonds spent the second half of the 2008 season at the Friendly Confines, hitting 19 dingers. Of course, Anthony Rizzo was potent for the 2015-2021 Cubs.
Two playoff teams lacked power from the left side. In 1989, Mark Grace (13) and Dwight Smith (9) were all the Cubs had to show in that regard. Grace slugged .445 with 456 doubles, but only hit 148 home runs in thirteen seasons. His four Gold Gloves helped, as well. Occasional Marquee studio cohost Cliff Floyd led the 2007 team with just nine homers, so you can make the playoffs without lefty power.
So what’s the answer for the Cubs? I’m not sure – at least not yet
I generally like to write something for Cubbies Crib with a conclusion, but I don’t know that I can. Why? Scanning many free agent lists for the winter, I don’t see many left-handed power bats. All the names you read about on people’s ‘wish list’ are right-handed hitters. Traditionally, left-handed batters play first base or the outfield with exception.
First base must be addressed. With all due respect, I don’t want Anthony Rizzo back. Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t go Home Again,” and I think he’s best suited for the short porch in the Bronx, and he’s thirty-three with a bothersome back. Matt Mervis. Let’s not put too much pressure on this kid. “Mash” has had a monster year at the plate, and is already being called the “Next Rizzo.” I hope he is, and that would certainly address much of what I wrote here.
Who will be the next left-handed Cubs hitter with 30 home runs? That’s a good question.