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The 26th Man
by alex ciepley
Baseball is a game of traditions, and the Cubs and their fans tend to cling especially hard to theirs. Ivy on the brick, organ music in the stands -- even traditions that should have died off, such as Harry Caray's choral directing of "Take Me Out...", have been maintained in their own (often painful) ways.
Steve Stone has become one of those great traditions. Since his early bumpy days with Caray in the booth, through his careful guidance of a fading Harry in the icon's last years, to his continued excellence with Harry's grandson Chip, Stone has been as much a fixture at Wrigley as Sandberg's flawless throws to first or Sammy's first inning sprints to right. Despite a contentious year in the booth and the departure of his broadcast partner, Stone was expected back next year. Yesterday, he informed Cubs fans that he's resigned.
I came to Chicago on the high road with my credibility and integrity. Thirty years later, I choose to leave the same way.
The phrase I used that angered certain people was "I regret nothing." Well folks, I was wrong about that and want to set the record straight. I regret I won't be calling another Cubs game on WGN-TV for the greatest fans in baseball...the fans of the Chicago Cubs.
Stone has always been such an enjoyable fixture in the Cubs booth in part because of what he wasn't. He's not a slick personality draped in cliches; rather, Stone is honest, sarcastic, and insightful. He always has the appearance of a mischievous kid in the booth, with a sly smile and sometimes bubbly giggle. His voice wasn't that of a great media broadcaster--he sounds like your boss at work or your 5th grade history teacher. His manner wasn't what was important, though. Stone was no flash, all substance.
I'm pretty bummed he's gone. Great players and great teams will always make the fans watch, but Stone gave you a reason to watch the Cubs in all the years the team played poorly. He was a great educator for Cubs fans, and his in-game predictions often left a viewer with the impression that Stone had scripted the game beforehand, and we were just watching the players act out his musings.
How Stone was treated by players and management this past year infuriates me, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone among Cubs fans in this sentiment. A lot of my fury falls on players like Moises Alou and Kent Mercker (both of whom, ironically, are unlikely to be back next year), who should have been concentrating more on learning the fundamentals of baserunning or throwing strikes than complaining about WGN's coverage of them.
Another decent chunk of my ire is thrown at Dusty Baker, who failed to handle an obvious distraction within the clubhouse. Could you imagine Joe Torre standing idly by while one his players fought publicly with the guys in the YES booth?
And finally, I'm irritated at Jim Hendry and even Stone himself, for escalating the problems to the point where it apparently became untenable for Stone to continue his work with the team.
Where will Stone land? There are already speculations that he'll end up broadcasting for another team (such as the D-Backs or, gulp, White Sox), and he also has expressed some interest in working in a front office. I hope he stays on TV, because I'd like to be able to switch over for a few innings some evening and listen to his take on the game. I'll miss him too much not to.