Sunday Rundown: Growing Up Baseball, PCA a Potential Top-10 Prospect, Swanson Energizes Lineup

Good day and Happy Easter to those who celebrate.

I was fortunate last night to uncover some amazing old episodes of This Week in Baseball. I loved Mel Allen’s show when I was growing up because it was the first around-the-horn type of weekly that existed. That said, I can remember being bummed whenever there was an episode that did not feature any hometown players. The Cubs weren’t must-see baseball between 1977 and 1983 so I experienced quite a bit of disappointment.

I did not know this until recently, but Allen took over TWIB because he needed a script to continue working. He was the voice of the Yankees from 1960-1964 until he caught a case of the broadcasting version of the yips.

But back in the day, my Sunday schedule included Allen, Lou Boudreau doing The Lead-Off Man, and then the Cubs game on WGN. Sundays during the summer were the best. Baseball actually played two-and-half-hour games without the need for Rob Manfred’s gimmicky wizardry, and then you still had most of the day to enjoy playing baseball with your pals. I’d hum that TWIB theme song in my head every time I approached the plate like I was about to do something otherworldly.

My generation came just after sandlot baseball had run its course. We had a big field next to my house that included a long line of 10-12 foot shrubs in left field that resembled the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field. If the ball got lost in there it was a ground-rule double, and if you hit one over, of course, it was a home run. There were humongous maple trees in center, and the fence to my backyard formed a right-field alley just like the Friendly Confines. We used to throw stones up into the maples at dusk and big brown bats would dive-bomb after them until they nearly hit the ground, similar to kamikaze pilots. Fun stuff.

Baseball was a lot more fun before social media turned it into an exercise in overanalysis and rabid mood swings. Our heroes back then were mostly blue-collar guys with dad bods who competed for wins instead of dollars. “Growing up baseball” meant trading Topps player cards, a game of running bases in the front yard, bounce-or-fly in the alleys, or any other game we could make up with a bat and a baseball if we didn’t have enough kids to go a full nine. I hated the “right field out” games. I mean, that’s not baseball.

Maybe you played a game of “500” as I did or threw “fast pitch” against the side of a brick wall. Heck, I didn’t even need a batter, and I was always pitching the bottom of the 9th in the 7th game of the World Series. I was a Cubs player at Wrigley and I’d always unleash ungodly breaking stuff to punch out Reggie Jackson to win the series. I’d catch him looking low and on the corner with a three-and-a-half-foot hook, and he’d tip his hat in my direction as the crowd went wild.

And then, in my head, I’d hear Allen say “How about that!” before I’d do my inevitable commercial for Danley’s Garage World.

Midwest Farm Report

I know it’s early, but Pete Crow-Armstrong looks even better this year than last. We know his defense is elite and that he can fly around the basepaths, but check out the bat speed.

That is as effortless a swing as you will ever see, and to generate that level of quickness makes it almost seem like PCA is cheating. Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline believes Crow-Armstrong is potentially a top-10 prospect in all of Major League Baseball.

“The short answer to this question is yes,” Mayo wrote last week. “We certainly could see him reach the top 10 by the time we do a full update of the rankings. He has the tools to reach that level, especially if his newfound power continues to come, and even just by guys graduating ahead of him, he’s going to move up.”

Mayo went on to say that most of his associates are “bullish” on the outfielder’s ability to make the necessary adjustments as he rises through the system.

His smooth, level swing is geared for line drives and Crow-Armstrong has shown an ability to spray the ball to all fields. The (then) 20-year-old finished the 2022 season with 16 home runs and exceeded exit velocities of 107 mph on multiple occasions. It’s hard not to notice, but Crow-Armstrong is starting to shake the high-floor label he has been saddled with and now appears to be a breakout high-ceiling, five-tool outfielder.

He’ll need to repeat last year’s success to convince the sabermetric guys, but he most certainly has already passed the eye test. If that kid reduces his strikeouts, he’s going to be one of the most electric rookies in baseball next year.

Big League Chew

If there is a major league baseball player having more fun this year than Dansby Swanson, I’ve yet to see it. When the big four shortstops hit free agency this winter, few Cubs fans would have pined for Swanson. It’s still early, but Jed Hoyer looks like a genius right now. Swanson is 12-for-28 (.429) heading into Sunday’s action and has been a magician defensively. He and Nico Hoerner have really solidified the top of the order. Swanson is the second-best among his open market peers through a week and change.

Oof, Correa. We all wanted him here.

Swanson came to Chicago labeled a “winner,” akin to some folks as having a nice personality when looks are discussed. But, Lieutenant Dans is always looking to give his team an edge. He’s been electric since Opening Day, and the guy looks fired up on even the most routine of plays. He also gives Chicago its first marquee idol since Kris Bryant left town. We certainly haven’t seen that type of energy since Nick Castellanos had his Wrigley layover in 2019.

“I talk a lot about this group and the baseball player IQ, right?” David Ross said after yesterday’s 10-3 win. “[Swanson was] just keeping his head up and finishing the play.”

Swanson’s enthusiasm is going to attract big free agents to Chicago next year. In that respect, he is this team’s version of Jon Lester.

Sunday Six-Pack

  1. Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz and João Gilberto – Did you know that bossa nova approximately translates to “new wave?”  Getz and Gilberto are masters of the 2/4 time signature, and the duo is at its finest on this effort. João’s wife Astrudo shared vocals on The Girl from Ipanema and a few others and she sounds like the female counterpart to Chet Baker. When I’m ready for summer to start, this bad boy goes into heavy rotation on my sound system.
  2. Naturally by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Jones nearly single-handedly restored R&B to its 1960s heyday with this release, the second in her canon. The funk is so thick you’ll need a machete to cut through it. Stranded in Your Love – her duet with Lee Fields –  is one of the sexiest songs ever, and her cover of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land is a full-on sonic explosion.
  3. Call Me by Al Green – This LP is known as a “summer-soul steambath,” a phrase coined by a Rolling Stone writer upon its release in 1973. Green’s song about Jesus even kicks ass. Is that Easter Sunday blaspheme? Guilty as charged. Have You Been Making Out Okay is the best song on this album.
  4. Bloodshot by J. Geils Band – The percussion at the end of Give it to Me is ridiculously unfair. It starts with a police whistle, some Hammond B-3, and then grooves for nearly four minutes like it’s a cross between early Chicago and the finest works by Santana, and it equals almost anything done by the Stones. The band has always been a bit hokey but producer Bill Szymczyk, who became the longtime producer of the Eagle after the band fired Glyn Johns, gets the most out of Peter Wolf and the boys. This one’s a true front-to-back burner.
  5. Black Pumas Self-Titled Deluxe Version – Imagine being a garage band in Austin one day, and then being credited industry-wide with returning funk to its roots. Immediate impressions are of a Daptone-style nu-soul/funk with a kicker. Black Pumas combines dusty R&B with unique kaleidoscopic-style songwriting topped with sublime arrangements and excellent vocals. The results are dramatic but with a relaxed, rhythmically competent feel. The deluxe version comes with a decent cover of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.
  6. Never Get Out of This Funk Alive by T-Bird & The Breaks – I discovered this band while on a photo assignment at Fun Fun Fest in Austin about 10 years ago. Their cover of The Clapping Song (called The Hand Clap Song on this album) by Shirley Ellis is pure fire. The entire long player is an exercise in sweaty, sin-filled grooves that will have you dancing in your seat. Break me off a piece of that cheese, please, and thank you.

This Week’s Money Quotes

  • “I mean [Dansby]  just makes things happen. He’s always engaged, always giving his best effort, no matter what the score. Even if we were down 9-2 in that spot, he’s gonna do the same thing. If it’s a close game, he’s gonna do the same thing. He’s the same player regardless of the situation and just a professional through and through.” – Trey Mancini

Sunday Funnies

Imagine paying $6.50 for a box seat or $5 for reserved grandstand seats at Wrigley Field. I remember it like it was yesterday.

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