Cubs Nation is still buzzing about the addition of a real life closer in Craig Kimbrel by team Theo last month. We know the rest of the bullpen needs to do their job in order for him to even get in the game and so far, after the all-star break, so good.
It's not because we the fans think he is the end all to beat all, but if you look back over the years it isn't often the Cubs have a legitimate closer they can count on to end the game. Who can ever forget this guy?
Latroy Hawkins was an all-star set-up guy for the Twins when the Cubs enticed him to come and be their closer in 2004. He could not have had a worse season if he decided to start throwing lefty instead. He gave up 72 runs in 82 innings, not exactly putting out the fire.
Remember, the Cubs went after him because their previous closer, the great Joe Borowski, had his arm fall off in 2003. Don't forget Borowski took over the role from "Six finger" Antonio Alfonseca who replaced Tom "Flash" Gordon, who replaced Rick Aguilera, who replaced Terry Adams who replaced Turk Wendell. How the heck did the Cubs ever win a game?
That my friends was basically your closers from 1996 thru 2004. How do you think the starters felt about getting pulled from a game? You don't even want to see the list of bullpen guys during that era. I have two words for you. Kent Mercker.
So when Jed and Theo pulled the trigger on Kimbrel, it was a glorious day for Cubs fans. Finally a proven closer who can be counted on to get three little outs in the 9th inning. He is used to pressure having been in the Red Sox organization. He has pitched in big games. He has experience in the majors. You know, all the stuff you look for in a closer.
In the history of the Cubs they have had three Hall of Fame closers. Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage for one year, and this year you can add Lee Arthur Smith.
Yes they've also had some dependable guys over the years too. Guys like Phil Regan, Don Elston, Lindy McDaniel, Mitch Williams, Randy Myers, Ryan Dempster, Wade Davis, and of course Aroldis Chapman for half a year but none of them were on the level of Craig Kimbrel. Well, maybe Chapman is.
It still is dependent on the rest of the pen to do their jobs and get him the ball with a lead, and with his addition, guys are now slotted where they need to be. The team is playing better after the break and the pen looks like they may actually be above average going forward.
This Sunday the big guy pictured above will be enshrined in Cooperstown as a Cub. While the rest of baseball, and most of the media, will be focused on a certain closer from the Yankees getting his plaque, Cubs fans can remember the slow walk from the pen signaling the game was just about over.
When asked why he walked so slow, Smith is reported to have said, "Me and the ground crew became friends and I found out they didn't make a lot of money in those days but that they got overtime if the game went passed a certain time. I walked out slow to make sure they reached overtime pay to help them out."
That, my friends, is a true closer.