Cubs closers: Like opening a can of worms

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

By Dave Wischnowsky


Last Monday during the Chicago Cubs’ loss to the Milwaukee Brewers during their Wrigley Field opener, erstwhile closer Carlos Marmol was serenaded with boos when he entered the game.

So what did the demoted pitcher do after the game? Well, naturally he promised to lead the team famous for not making the World Series to the promised land.

“I’m going to put us in the World Series and make the fans happy again,” Marmol vowed, perhaps meaning that he’d be buying his teammates tickets to the Fall Classic.

Funny thing is, the next night Marmol went and won a game out of the bullpen, giving him a win, a loss, a save and a blown save just a week into the Cubs’ 2013 season. Now, that’s versatility.

Considering how Marmol actually started his baseball career as a catcher and outfielder – he batted .258 for the Rookie League Arizona Cubs in 2002 – maybe the guy really thinks he can lead the Cubs to the World Series by himself.

Obviously, he’s “Committed,” or perhaps should be.

With this latest quirky episode, the Cubs proved once again that while they might not have the market cornered on closing out wins, they do have it cornered on maddening, oddball closers.

On that note, here are five of my favorite – or least favorite – Cubs closers from the past 25 years, a group that was as likely to open a can of worms as it was to close a door.

LaTroy Hawkins

If not for Todd Hundley, the surly Hawkins would probably be my least favorite Cub of all-time. A native of Gary, Ind., Hawkins grew up as a Cubs fan and when he signed with Chicago as a free agent in 2004, his arrival was hailed as a great move for the bullpen.

Instead, Hawkins blew nine saves for the ’04 Cubs, and memorably called a midseason press conference to tell the media that he would no longer be talking to the media.

Rod Beck

With his shaggy hair, Fu Manchu mustache and “everyman” demeanor, Beck became a beloved Cubs icon for saving 51 games in 1998 and later for living in a mobile home in Des Moines during a rehab stint in the minors.

Fun to watch, Beck’s tightrope act was also stressful. In 2007, he died at the age of 38, although he had always looked at least 10 years older – and often made Cubs fans age a decade during just the 9th inning.

Mitch Williams

Cut from the wackiest of cloths, Williams – who saved 36 games for the Cubs’ 1989 Division Champs – was once described by Mark Grace as a guy who “pitches like his hair’s on fire.”

In Chicago, Williams’ “Wild Thing” nickname was hard earned as he’d do such things as walk the bases loaded only to then strike out the side.

Mel Rojas

The cousin of former Cubs slugger Moises Alou, Rojas’ stint in the Windy City wasn’t nearly as fruitful. Pitching for the Expos in 1994, he became just the 28th pitcher in baseball history to strike out the side on nine pitches.

After signing with the Cubs in ’97, however, it didn’t seem like Rojas threw nine strikes in Chicago. By June 5, he had five saves – and four blown saves. By August, he had been traded to the Mets.

Antonio Alfonseca

Nicknamed “El Pulpo” – Spanish for “The Octopus” – because he had six fingers on each hand and foot, Alfonseca seemed to stub all of them in Chicago, blowing nine saves in just 28 chances in 2002.

Alfonseca left his biggest mark in 2003, however, when he belly-bumped an umpire, was suspended for five games and pretty much closed the book on his Cubs tenure.