By Randy Richardson
The loudest cheer from Cubs fans when the public address announcer introduces their team at the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years is likely to be for a player who will not even be in the starting lineup.
Even with the news that doctors have not medically cleared the Cubs’ No. 12 to play the field, the legend that is already Kyle Schwarber is so large that the rafters in the old stadium are likely to shake when his name echoes from the loudspeakers.
Just one more magical moment to add to the 23-year-old’s growing keepsake box.
It is still hard to take in just what the native of Middletown, Ohio, has done in his brief major league baseball career, which amounts to all of 82 games (regular and postseason combined), 318 total plate appearances and 270 total at bats.
Here are a few of the highlights:
- Just eight days after the Cubs made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, Schwarber hit his first professional home run to power the team’s then minor league affiliate Boise Hawks to a 4-2 victory against the Tri-City ValleyCats.
- On June 17, 2015, in his second game after the Cubs called him up to the major league team to serve as a designated hitter, Schwarber collected four hits in five at bats with two RBIs and six total bases.
- On July 12, 2015, Schwarber played in the All-Star Futures Game, where he was named the MVP of the game after hitting a go-ahead two-run triple for Team USA.
- Just nine days later came “The Schwarber Game” on July 21, 2015. Five days after the Cubs recalled Schwarber from Triple A Iowa, he hit a game-tying 2-run homer in the ninth inning and a solo-go-ahead home run in to the top the 13th to lead the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
- In the National League Wild Card Game on October 7, 2015, Schwarber drove in three runs and hit a long two-run home run to help the Cubs defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4–0, and advance to the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
- In the National League Division Series, Schwarber helped the Cubs to a 3-1 series victory with two home runs, including a mammoth Game 4 shot that landed on top of the new Wrigley Field scoreboard in right field. The ball was removed during the 2015-16 off season to prevent theft but was encased in Plexiglas and returned “to where it landed”.
- In his eighth career postseason game, a 5-2 loss to the New York Mets in game 3 of the 2015 National League Championship Series, Schwarber set a Cubs record with his fifth career postseason home run and also the record for the most home runs in a single postseason by a player age 22 or younger, passing Miguel Cabrera.
Not surprisingly, expectations were through the roof going into 2016. But in just the third game of the season, Schwarber collided with teammate Dexter Fowler, tearing two ligaments in his left knee and prematurely ending his season.
Or so we thought. Until just days before the Cubs were to take to baseball’s biggest stage for the first time since 1945 and word began to spread that Schwarber had been added to the Mesa Solar Sox’s roster in the Arizona Fall League.
Still it seemed improbable. But after two games in Arizona, the Cubs announced that Schwarber would be on the World Series roster.
The skeptics were out in full force. How could Schwarber possibly be ready for major league pitching?
After striking out in his first plate appearance against the Indians’ ace Corey Kluber, who had been mowing down one Cub hitter and another, Fox TV baseball commentator Pete Rose predicted that Schwarber would strike out three times.
Now Rose would probably have been right if Schwarber were just your ordinary major league baseball player. But he’s not. He’s a hitting machine who seems to thrive in big moments. And just seconds after the words spilled out of Rose’s mouth, he was eating them. Schwarber blasted a double off the right field wall in Cleveland, becoming the first major league position player in baseball history to get his first hit of the season during the World Series.
Schwarber’s father, Greg, a retired police chief, knows his son a lot better than Rose does. “He’s one of those kids, if he says he’s going to do it and you tell him he’s not going to he’ll use it as motivation to show you he can,” Greg Schwarber told The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg before Game 1 at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
In Game 2, Schwarber once again rose to the occasion, reaching base three times with two singles and a walk, driving in two runs and scoring another, accounting for three of the runs in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory.
“That’s why we’re calling it ‘The Legend of Kyle Schwarber,’” Cubs catcher David Ross said after the game. “That’s who does this. It just blows my mind what he’s doing. He’s doing things that are unheard of.”
There will be fewer opportunities for Schwarber at Wrigley Field, but expect him to make the most of them.
“Schwarber’s comeback has been remarkable, and there’s no reason to think he can’t make a difference in Chicago, even in fewer plate appearances,” Fangraph’s Craig Edwards concluded after analyzing Schwarber’s postseason plate appearances thus far.
With his stocky build and powerful left upper cut, Schwarber has gotten comparisons with the most famous baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth. And as legend has it, they have even both called home runs in the postseason. Ruth famously called his shot in the 5th inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, held on October 1, 1932, at Wrigley Field. Schwarber reportedly called his homer in the wild-card game and his moonshot in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cards. The similarities are so striking that some people have taken to calling the Cubs slugger “Babe Schwarber” and even making t-shirts.
All of which adds to the growing legend. One would be hard-pressed to script a story any better.
“They’re going to make a movie out of him,” teammate Kris Bryant said after Schwarber’s Game 2 heroics.
Grab your peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jack, folks. This is a show you don’t want to miss.
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation
Image by Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons