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Columnist
What if ... the Cubs won in 2003?
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist

What if a fan moved out of the way of Moises Alou and he made that catch in the eight inning that fateful game?

 

What if a life-size Dusty Baker statue was put up outside Wrigley Field?

 

What if Andy McPhail, with his cuatious and incremental approach, was still in charge?

 

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Published: 9/14/2007 12:31 AM

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CHICAGO, Oct. 15, 2003 -- The Tribune Co. announced today that it has named Andy MacPhail president for life of the Chicago Cubs.

In turn, MacPhail has extended the contract of general manager Jim Hendry for five years. Hendry then gave field manager Dusty Baker a five-year extension.

All of these developments came in the wake of the Chicago Cubs reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs beat the Florida Marlins 3-0 last night in Game 6 of the National League championship series to advance to the Fall Classic.

Mark Prior pitched a complete-game shutout, throwing 146 pitches. He was helped out in the eighth inning by a spectacular catch by left fielder Moises Alou, who reached into the stands to grab a foul flyball off the bat of Luis Castillo.

Alou was able to make the catch because a fan seated in the stands next to the wall moved out of the way.

When asked who that bespectacled man was, Alou replied, "I don't know. He got away before I could thank him."

In another development, Cubs marketing chief John McDonough said he is seeking artists to create a life-size statue of Baker, to be put up next to the Harry Caray statue outside Wrigley Field.

"We want the artist to pay particular attention to detail, right down to a bronze toothpick," McDonough said.

McDonough has been given an order of his own. Perhaps flexing his newfound power, president-for-life MacPhail has asked McDonough to implement a marketing theme for 2004: "Let's do our due diligence again, like we did last summer."

"Alternative history" holds a nice little niche in the literary world. If you want to imagine a Confederate victory at Gettysburg or a German victory in Russia during World War II, it's all there in books.

Along those lines, what if the Cubs had not lost Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS to the Marlins in '03? It's fair to speculate things would be much different at Clark and Addison these days.

Let's imagine:

The president's chair

CHICAGO -- Convinced his cautious and incremental approach worked in producing champions in Minnesota and Chicago, Cubs president Andy MacPhail announced the Cubs would increase player payroll only marginally in each of the coming seasons.

"I don't know what came over me when I offered pitcher Mike Hampton $100 million back in the fall of 2000," MacPhail said. "Rest assured, nothing like it will ever happen again."

Even if the Cubs had won in '03 and then slipped by '06, as they did in reality, it's difficult to imagine MacPhail ponying up dough like the $136 million McDonough and Hendry gave to sign Alfonso Soriano last winter.

It's almost impossible to imagine MacPhail ever openly declaring it his goal to win the World Series, as McDonough did last October in taking over after MacPhail resigned.

The dugout step

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Dusty Baker today announced a system of fines for players who "needlessly clog the bases" with walks and don't demonstrate an aggressive approach at the plate.

"It's called hitting, dude," Baker said. "It's not called walking."

Baker added he'd like his young pitchers to consistently reach pitch counts of 130 or more, saying, "When you're young, that's the time you work."

The manager also called on GM Jim Hendry to sign infielder Ramon Martinez to a long-term contract extension -- "I love Monie," Baker said -- and sources said Baker also is pushing Hendry to acquire utility man Neifi Perez.

If Baker were still here, it's difficult to imagine young players such as Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot getting anywhere near the playing time they've received this year under manager Lou Piniella.

Baker openly scoffed at the importance of on-base percentage. That stat has improved marginally this year, but Piniella has stated he recognizes its importance. Piniella also has spoken many times of "freshening up" pitchers' arms by removing them from games early or giving them an extra day of rest.

The TV booth

CHICAGO, July 30, 2004 -- The Chicago Cubs today rewarded TV broadcasters Chip Caray and Steve Stone with new three-year contracts.

They had important allies in the manager's office and in the clubhouse.

"Hey, man, those are two of the most positive dudes around," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker. "You're either for us or against us, and I can't think of two more 'for-us' guys than Chip and Stoney."

Relief pitcher Kent Mercker and Stone were said to have had a friendly chat on a hotel elevator on a recent road trip. Witnesses said Mercker's parting words to Stone as the elevator stopped were, "Thank you."

Player rep Mark Prior also went to the front office and asked that Caray and Stone be upgraded to the front row of the team's charter plane.

If the Cubs had won in 2003, Baker would have been given wider berth for his managerial decision-making in 2004.

As it turned out, Caray and Stone adopted a more critical approach. Baker felt the criticism became personal, and by the end of the year Caray was on his way to Atlanta and Stone was headed to talk radio and national TV broadcasts.

The result was that Cubs TV viewers got a new announcing team in Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, who today have become recognized as perhaps the top duo in the game.

Naturally, it took awhile for Kasper and Brenly to grow on Cubdom, and Stone remains a popular figure, but the new guys have carved a nice niche in Chicago. Kasper calls a good game and has a great grasp of statistical analysis, and Brenly isn't afraid to criticize.

'Next year, 2004'

CHICAGO -- Buoyed by their success of 2003 and demonstrating what their manager called a "killer instinct," the Cubs cruised to the 2004 National League wild card.

Relievers Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins nailed down victories in the final road series at New York's Shea Stadium, and then the Cubs swept the lowly Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, enabling them to rest their regulars in the final home weekend against the Braves.

"Based on last year's championship and this year's final couple weeks, I think we can put to rest all that talk Dusty's teams can't close the deal," said GM Jim Hendry, referring to criticism Baker received for his 2002 Giants failing to close out the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. "Obviously, this proves all those people wrong."

With the Cubs heading toward their second straight postseason, sources say Chicago has become the preferred place for free agents and that several star players, including Houston's Carlos Beltran, are ready to play for Baker, and at discount prices.

As all Cubs fans know, 2003 was Baker's last and only hurrah in Chicago, hollow as it turned out to be.

The Cubs collapsed during the final days of 2004 despite a team that added Derrek Lee in the off-season and Nomar Garciaparra at the July 31 trading deadline.

This is as close as the Cubs have come to the postseason since those final days of '04.

Perhaps they'll change the course of history again this fall.