Forget the stiff upper lip — make it a hairy one
June 24, 2010
Leo The Lip couldn’t do the job.
Now, maybe it’s time for the Cubs to seek out a hairy upper lip instead.
As Chicagoans continue to bask in the afterglow of a world championship captured by a team most of them had forgotten existed until just recently, one fan brought up a good point while conversing with a couple of friends a week or so ago. I wasn’t one of those friends, but since they were sitting outside and I was busy trying to look as if I were doing yard work right next door, eavesdropping was ridiculously easy.
Most of their conversation was of the basic guys-talking-sports variety, but during the gabfest, an interesting observation was made by the aforementioned fan: The Blackhawks had become the fourth Chicago-based title winner in a row to be coached by a guy with a mustache.
Preceding Joel Quenneville were White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, Bulls coach Phil Jackson and Bears coach Mike Ditka. Lovie Smith, on the contrary, is clean-shaven, which may have had more to do with the Bears’ inability to beat the Indianapolis Colts a few years ago in the Super Bowl than Rex Grossman’s quarterbacking inadequacies.
And that got me to thinking about some of the past shortcomings of Chicago teams. As I was growing up, success and Chicago sports were mutually exclusive terms.
There were a few close calls — the 1969 Cubs, under the guidance of Leo “The Lip” Durocher, suffered the most infamous late-season collapse, but the 1967 White Sox, 1970-71 Blackhawks and 1974-75 Bulls also disappointed millions.
The Sox were just one game out of first place with five to play in ’67, but they proceeded to take an 0-fer against the cellar-dwelling Kansas City Athletics and a sub-.500 Washington Senators club. The Hawks blew a 3-2 advantage in the ’71 Stanley Cup Finals — not to mention a 2-0 lead in the third period of Game 7 against Montreal — and the Bulls were also unable to close the deal on the Golden State Warriors in the 1975 Western Conference finals after going up 3-2 in the series.
The Warriors won Game 6 in Oakland and Game 7 in Chicago, then swept Washington to earn the franchise’s lone NBA championship to date.
What do all those Chicago failures have in common? The men at the helm of each team — Eddie Stanky (White Sox), Billy Reay (Blackhawks) and Dick Motta (Bulls) — were like Durocher in that they did not sport any facial hair.
Since the Cubs are the only Chicago pro team without a title to its credit sometime in the past 25 years, it’s time for the Ricketts family to take firm action. Sure, they could convince Lou Piniella to grow a mustache, but that wouldn’t really count because it’s not the manager’s normal look.
No, the Cubs need to put in charge someone whose razor’s been idle for a long time. Some of you may doubt the power of the mustache, but take a look at history — many dictators and despots have worn them, and they ruled over entire countries, although straightening out the Cubs would admittedly demand even greater effort.
There’ve been plenty of notables who’ve become famous in part because of the facial hair they’ve worn, and not just folks in sports. If Cubs ownership is truly serious about wanting to bring a championship to the north side of Chicago for the first time since the Model T was the automobile of choice, I hereby offer a few managerial suggestions:
• Rollie Fingers: Possessor of the finest handlebar mustache in modern baseball history, the former Oakland A’s reliever was part of three world championship teams in the early 1970s. That’s three more than the Cubs won back then, or ever since. He might not have a coaching track record indicating his readiness for the job, but Fingers’ solid playing career and storied mustache speak volumes as to his actual capabilities.
• Hulk Hogan: For years, the World Wrestling Federation superstar regularly bucked long odds and survived brutal make-believe beatings at the hands of nefarious behemoths such as Andre The Giant, King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd, so he wouldn’t be intimidated by the presence of Albert Pujols in the batter’s box or Roy Halladay on the mound. And since he’d be the largest Cub — assuming the organization could find a uniform to fit him — the well-muscled, heavily mustached Hogan also wouldn’t be afraid to deal swiftly with malingerers on his own club.
• Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger: He safely landed a stricken airliner on the Hudson River in 2009 and displayed an incredible sense of calm in the face of peril. Those nerves of steel would get put to the test by a team that’s constantly in danger of crashing and burning, but the rock-steady “Sully” would likely be equal to the challenge.
• Geraldo Rivera: He didn’t find anything in Al Capone’s vaults, but maybe his luck will improve if he can convince Casey Stengel’s heirs to let him have access to the former Yankees manager’s personal archives. After all, Casey managed well enough to win 37 World Series games and seven titles, or five more championships than the Cubs have managed in the last 110 seasons.
• Tom Selleck: I know he wore a Detroit Tigers cap while portraying detective Thomas Magnum in the 1980s, but Selleck sports one of America’s best-known mustaches, so he’s worth the gamble. And since “Magnum P.I.” aired for about eight seasons and was strong in the ratings for most of that time, he knows a little something about delivering a hit and converting it into a [long] run.
• Gene Shalit: I’m sure the veteran movie critic is familiar enough with baseball through his reviews of films like “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams” to understand what’s needed from a manager. And since his job has required sitting through screenings of horror flicks as well, the bushy-lipped Shalit should be completely unfazed by the nightmarish on-field displays that have so frequently marked Chicago Cubs baseball.
• David Crosby: He and his mustache have survived drug and alcohol addiction and a liver transplant, dealt with obesity and battled diabetes. Anything the Cubs throw at the aging rocker can’t be any worse than that — hopefully.
• Yosemite Sam: When it comes to being animated, Lou Piniella has nothing on this classic Warner Brothers character. Sam, of course, is ageless, so he won’t grow old before our eyes, and since the Cubs’ antics have so often bordered on the cartoonish, he might be the best fit of all.
•Those are just a few of the possibilities. There are others, ranging from Burt Reynolds to Jeff Foxworthy to Wilford Brimley, so the pool of qualified applicants is rather deep.
Now, it’s up to the Cubs to act. The team’s management needs to think outside the box and make a drastic move to end more than a century’s worth of futility. And as has already been proven in the Windy City, those guys who raise hair on their upper lip are also capable of helping their clubs raise a championship trophy.
So go ahead, Ricketts family, invest in a mustache. Unlike in 1969, 1984 and 2003, maybe your organization will finally stop falling short by a whisker.