9:23 PM EDT, April 8, 2013
Watching the Cubs' annual opening exercise at Wrigley Field, an event lessened by Chicago politics and low expectations, there was plenty of time to wonder about a question that applies on both sides of town: WWBVD.
What would Bill Veeck do?
I'm sure he would have done everything he could to keep Wrigley viable, as Tom Ricketts is doing. But I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have taken his business into the best seats in the house, as Ricketts did. Ricketts sat a few rows behind his invited guests, Ald. Tom Tunney and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in the early innings, theoretically with renovation talks not adjourned for long.
Veeck probably wouldn't have traded Tony Campana in spring training, either. You never know when you might need a pinch walk.
And I definitely don't think he would have signed a guy to a $52 million contract after he had bounced between seven teams, compiling a 70-71 record. But then again, this is a much more complex world we live in than the one in which Veeck suggested ivy for the Wrigley walls and fireworks for the Comiskey Park scoreboard.
Veeck relied on a terrific sense of humor when the going got tough. He would have needed it in the first couple of innings Monday.
Edwin Jackson put the Cubs in a 5-0 hole in a game they would lose 7-4 to the Brewers, with a change of direction by the powerful wind stopping Starlin Castro's drive to right field at the warning track in the ninth inning. The bases were loaded, naturally.
With all of the familiar icons (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins) assembled in the crowd of 40,083, there was no magic for the home team, which did not lose for a lack of intentional walks. Dale Sveum ordered them up in the first, fourth and seventh innings, and never got burned.
Will the Cubs get burned by the Jackson signing?
It's way too early to know that, but his first two starts have kept his appeal a mystery to those who were surprised at the length to which President Theo Epstein went to get him. He's 0-2 with a 5.73 earned-run average after starts against the Brewers and the Pirates.
This follows a spring in which he worked 24 innings and had a 5.25 ERA. But Sveum said he is not alarmed.
"He pitched a pretty good ballgame in Pittsburgh,'' Sveum said. "Today there was a wind-blown popup to right field with the bases loaded. It was a heck of a game he pitched.''
Jackson wasn't as forgiving of his performance. He acknowledged that the "wind-blown popup'' that Sveum spoke about would not have produced three runs if it hadn't followed back-to-back walks, the second of which forced in the first run for a Brewers team that had gone 1-5 to start the season.
With two outs and two on in the first, Jackson got Jonathan Lucroy to a 2-2 count, but Lucroy fouled off two-strike pitches three times and worked a walk, loading the bases. He walked Alex Gonzalez on a 3-2 pitch, forcing in one run, before Martin Maldonado lifted a soft fly that was carried into the right-field corner by winds that were 24 mph at game time.
"I feel like I put myself in position to be a pitch away,'' Jackson said. "I didn't execute the pitch. The Lucroy at-bat, I had two strikes on him and couldn't put him away. That allowed them to get away.''
One good thing about the Jackson contract — the Cubs didn't give up two good pitching prospects (Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg) to get him, as the White Sox did three years ago. Epstein took a financial gamble in part because he hopes not to have to trade kids for arms in two or three years, when he foresees the stakes being raised.
Whether the 29-year-old Jackson holds up until then is the question. He has been more durable than successful (4.40 career ERA, 30-plus starts six years in a row). He's a No. 2 starter this season but figures to be a No. 4 a couple of years from now, assuming Epstein succeeds in turning around his pitching staff. He'll enjoy the financial security but not always the ride.
That's going to be bumpy for everyone around Wrigley Field the next couple of seasons, with or without a giant video board, a few more night games and concerts.
Veeck would have loved it all, I think.
As for the baseball itself, I suspect he'd hope for a warm summer and tanning room in the bleachers. Don't we all?
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