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Mind the Gap
by Derek Smart
The broadcast of Saturday's game was on Fox, and when the Cubs are having their images sent out to a national audience via a national network, one can nearly always count on various painful subjects being broached - the "curse", Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS ("the Cubs were five outs away from a World Series"), the existence of Jose Macias - but this time they trotted out one of the truly standard warhorses of the genre: the number of third baseman who have played for the Cubs since Ron Santo left.
The first thing that bothers me is that with the emergence of Aramis Ramirez, it seems that this subject has played out. He's easily the best third baseman to play for the team since Santo, and has a legitimate shot to be an All-Star for years to come. Even if the Cubs wind up losing him due to financial factors after next year, I think a case can be made that the matter has been resolved.
Of course, that's not the way Fox saw it, and since Ramirez is currently on the DL, and Nomar was newly christened as the latest to play the position in the post-Santo era on Friday, in the minds of those fine gents, this was cause to bring the beast back out for another turn around the park.
Item #2 sticking in my craw is the question of whether the numbers they present are as bad as they seem. In other words, while the Cubs have had a lot of men manning the hot corner since Number 10 held down the job, is this period of flux unique during the time in question?
Naturally, I had to take a look, so for your enjoyment, here's a short list of the teams who have had the most different players at a particular position since the beginning of the 1974 season. I've left out pitchers and outfielders for obvious reasons, and DHs have been excluded as well, since it's a position often used to give position players with big bats a partial day off. These numbers are good through this weekend's play.
# OF UNIQUE PLAYERS
So not only do the Cubs not have the most different players at an infield position since '74, they don't even have the most different players at third base. Oakland has the single position title - and interesting that it would be at first base where they've had men like McGuire and Giambi in recent years - but the overall title goes to the Padres who have fielded a total of 220 different players at their infield corners over the last 31+ seasons.
I understand why they keep harping on the Santo Gap, not only was he a Hall of Fame calibre player, but he was there nearly every day for most of his 14 seasons in blue, and these other teams on the list don't have a similar player whose shoes they've trying to fill since then.
Still, while I recognize Santo's contribution to Cub history, now that the team can finally say they have someone at the hot corner who is potentially worthy of sharing in his legacy, I would hope broadcasters could stop talking about this former wasteland and get back to telling us how we're cosmically screwed.