Cubs familiar with late bloomers

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Cubs familiar with late bloomers

The Cubs have completed 19 games thus far; a decent chunk of the season...and Bryan LaHair has 57.1 percent of the team's home runs.

LaHair, 29, has all of a half of a season's worth of a game under his Major League belt. The feeling around Wrigleyville is that he's just a placeholder until highly-touted prospect Anthony Rizzo is ready to take the next step. Rizzo's tearing up the minors; with 7 HR and 21 RBI in 20 games at Iowa.

LaHair knows Iowa. Curiously, the Iowa Cubs play in the Pacific Coast League; and LaHair took home 2011 PCL MVP honors with a stunning season of 38 HR, 109 RBI and a .331 BA. But he's 29.

Is it inconceivable for a late bloomer to burst onto the scene and have a productive career?

Ask Hank Sauer.

The man referred to as "The Mayor of Wrigley Field" was a fan favorite at the Friendly Confines for several years, and it took him a long time to get there.

Born in the Pittsburgh area in 1917, he finished high school in 1935 and went to work to help support his family, playing baseball on the weekends. Discovered on a sandlot by a Yankees scout, he spent 1937-38 at Butler of the Penn State Association. He also figured he was a bit old for his level, so he listed himself as two years younger than he really was...and played his entire career with this secret until after his retirement.

He was drafted by the Reds organization prior to the 1939 season, which he spent at Akron, then moved on to Birmingham for the next two seasons, earning a cup of coffee with the big-league team in Cincinnati in both 1941 and 1942. 1943 was spent entirely in Syracuse; Reds skipper Bill McKechnie doubting his defensive ability.

Next came World War II; 1944 and most of 1945 were spent serving in the Coast Guard. He finished September 1945 with the Reds and looked for a starting spot the next season, but was overlooked, and back to Syracuse he went for 1946 and 1947 as well.

After posting solid numbers in the minors from year-to-year, usually in the teens in home run output before hitting 21 in 1946, it was 1947 when Sauer broke out. Syracuse Chiefs manager Jewel Ens recommended a heavier bat, and the results turned heads. Sauer hit .336 with 50 homers and 141 RBI, earning him recognition as The Sporting News Minor League player of the year.

Sauer arrived in the Majors for good as a 31-year-old in 1948. He paced the Reds with 35 homers, finishing with more than any two teammates combined. A slow start in 1949, hitting .237 with only 4 homers through 41 games raised doubts, and the Reds decided to pull the trigger, dispatching the 6-foot-4 slugger to the Cubs with Frank Baumholtz in exchange for Peanuts Lowrey and Harry Walker. Lowrey and Walker gave the Reds a combined 4 HR in 266 games after the trade, while Sauer got back to business at Wrigley Field, cranking out 27 longballs in 96 games in 1949 alone.

It didn't stop. For an encore in 1950, Sauer slugged 32 homers, followed by 30 more in 1951. The Wrigley faithful showered left field with pouches of tobacco to show their appreciation.

In 1952, at age 35, he kicked it up a notch, leading the Majors with 121 runs knocked in and tying for the Major League lead (with Ralph Kiner) with 37 HR. The Cubs were a fifth place team at 77-77, but voters couldn't help but make Sauer the first player from a second division team (bottom half of the standings in the 8-team NL) to win MVP.

A succession of broken fingers and finally a broken hand limited Sauer to 108 games and 19 bombs in 1953, but once again he rebounded in a major way with a career-high 41 home runs in '54.

After a trade to the Cardinals and subsequent release, Sauer's last hurrah came in 1957, when the 40-year old slugger won the Comeback Player of the Year award with 26 homers and a .508 slugging percentage. He played his last game in 1959 before enjoying a long career as a scout.

In all, he hit 281 of his 288 career homers (97.6 percent) past the age of 30. At the time of his retirement, only Babe Ruth (430) had hit more homers beyond that age.

The story of Hank Sauer is encouraging to those of us who got a late start at something they love. It makes me think of getting back in the classroom at age 28...doing hard work for free at various internships just to get my name out there.

I didn't get my first job in the media until age 29, and nearly three years later, I'm still working as hard as I can, still feeling the thrill just to have the platform I do. It would be nice if the Cubs can provide the same opportunity to LaHair.

Sources:
Hank Sauer - (SABR BioProject) - by Jim Sargent
baseball-reference.com
We Played the Game - edited by Danny Peary
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

Cubs drop series finale with Marlins, lose for sixth time in seven games

Cubs drop series finale with Marlins, lose for sixth time in seven games

MIAMI — Jose Fernandez delivered another gem at Marlins Park, allowing one run in seven innings and striking out 13 on Sunday to help Miami beat the faltering Cubs, 6-1.

The Marlins won three of four from the injury-depleted Cubs, who went 1-6 for the week but still have baseball's best record.

Fernandez improved his career record at home to 24-1 with a 1.48 ERA, and this year the right-hander has been pretty good everywhere — he's 10-3 with a 2.28 ERA and 138 strikeouts.

Giancarlo Stanton doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth for the Marlins, who went 7-3 on their homestand. At 41-35, they're six games above .500 for the first time since June 2012, their first season in Marlins Park.

Cubs' Jake Arrieta will get tattooed after losing bet to Tommy La Stella

Cubs' Jake Arrieta will get tattooed after losing bet to Tommy La Stella

Jake Arrieta is heading to a tattoo parlor near you.

The Cubs ace and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner bet on the outcome of a few College World Series games with teammate Tommy La Stella and lost, meaning he's slated to get a new tattoo, according to a report from ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers.

Arrieta's alma mater, TCU, tangled with La Stella's school, Coastal Carolina, and it was the Chanticleers defeating the Horned Frogs in a pair of games this week, ending the CWS run of Arrieta's former squad.

As the loser, Arrieta will get a Coastal Carolina tattoo.

La Stella isn't walking away unscathed, though. TCU did take one game earlier in the week, meaning La Stella will have to dress up as TCU's mascot, Super Frog.

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

MIAMI (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki slapped a ground ball toward the left side of the infield, then hustled down the line to first just in case the throw didn't get there in time.

It didn't, and the Miami Marlins were in business.

That play by Suzuki kick-started what became a four-run fifth as the Marlins took the lead for good, and they went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Saturday.

"Just a good team," said Justin Bour, who hit his 14th home run and finished with three RBIs. "Good vibe right now, and just got to keep it rolling."

Giancarlo Stanton had his first three-RBI game since April 26 for Miami, which got to 40 wins in 75 games - or 20 games faster than they did a year ago. Paul Clemens (1-0) allowed four runs in five innings for his first big league win since June 12, 2013, and A.J. Ramos got the last two outs for his 24th save in as many chances this season.

Going back to 2015, Ramos has saved 33 straight, tying a Marlins franchise record.

"He's been solid," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Any team that has a guy at the end that's closing `em down and not giving `em up, if you can get to him with a lead you're in good shape."

Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Miguel Montero added a solo homer for the Cubs, who still have the best record in the majors even after losing five of their last six games. They ended a four-game skid Friday night despite giving up Bour's grand slam.

"That's a tremendous lineup," Clemens said.

Cubs starter John Lackey (7-4) gave up a season-high seven runs in 4 1-3 innings, and it's almost like he knew Suzuki's infield single would be trouble - smacking his glove and shouting in frustration after he reached.

It only got worse over the next few minutes for Lackey, who had a 2.78 ERA when the game started and a 3.29 ERA when it ended.

"To start off with an infield hit ... I have to do better than that," Lackey said. "Four runs should be enough to win that game."

Suzuki took second when Russell's throw squirted away from Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and scored two pitches later on Martin Prado's double.

Stanton drove in Prado with a single that chased Lackey and put Miami up 5-4, Bour greeted reliever Gerardo Concepcion with an RBI double, and Derek Dietrich's sacrifice fly made it 7-4.

It was a rare sort of loss for the Cubs, who were 33-0 this season when scoring six runs and 44-3 when scoring at least four.

"When we score that many runs we're going to win a baseball game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It was one of those nights and we move on."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Rizzo (back stiffness) and Montero (right knee) returned to the lineup after missing the last two games. ... 2B Ben Zobrist, who was forced out of Friday's game after getting hit in the left ankle by a pitch, didn't start but pinch-hit in the eighth.

Marlins: CF Marcell Ozuna, who played in all but one of Miami's first 74 games, wasn't in the lineup because of left wrist pain. Suzuki started in center for the sixth time this season.

CUBS LINEUP

Willson Contreras, who had an RBI double in the ninth for the Cubs, got the start in left field. That became the third position (joining catcher and first base) that he's played in a very hectic opening eight games of his MLB career. And Lackey batted eighth, the second straight day that Maddon put a starting pitcher in that slot after doing the same with Kyle Hendricks in Friday's win.

ICHIRO WATCH

Suzuki went 1 for 4, moving him within 16 hits of 3,000 for his MLB career.

UP NEXT

The series ends Sunday when Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.36) faces Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (7-3, 2.55). Fernandez is 23-1 all-time at home and has never faced the Cubs, who have lost each of Hammel's last three starts. Fernandez briefly left the Marlins' dugout in the first inning Saturday after a foul ball bounced off his right hand, but returned not long afterward - and even asked Mattingly if he could pinch-hit in the late innings.