It came to me as I was watching "SportsCenter" Thursday night. I knew all about the injury already, but it suddenly struck me differently when presented there in wide-screen, 50", high-definition detail. Chicago Cubs do-it-all first baseman Derrek Lee clutched his wrist in pain after a collision with Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal.
There is never a good time for a
serious injury as this one has been diagnosed to be. Yet, the irony of it
occurring on the eve of the Cubs' initial trip into
Then, I began to think about other parallels between Lee's misfortune and that of Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen last season.
Both injuries occurred against the
Los Angeles Dodgers. Rolen's shoulder was slammed when he and then-Dodger Hee Seop Choi met on
Both Rolen's and Lee's injuries occurred due to a collision between the runner and the first baseman at the bag.
The previous season
Lee had just completed his best season ever. At age 29, he hit 46 home runs and drove in 107, while batting .305 for the 2005 Cubs. Lee finished third in the National League Most Valuable Player award voting.
Rolen was coming off a 34 home run, 124 RBI, .314 campaign for the 2004 Cardinals when he went down. All three numbers were career-bests for Rolen. The then-29 year old had received the fourth-most votes in the NL MVP competition that year.
Until his injury, Lee was hitting .318 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 14 games for the 2006 Cubs. He had been on base all but two of those contests.
When Rolen and Choi collided last season, the third baseman was batting .312 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 22 games. He had reached base in 21 of those 22 contests in early 2005.
Lee joined the Cubs via a steal of a trade with the Florida Marlins following the 2003 season in return for a minor leaguer and who else but Choi, Rolen's collision partner in 2004.
As of now, the Cubs are 9-5 (.643), a half-game out of first place in the NL Central. On May 10 last year, the Cardinals were 20-12 (.625) and led the Division by four games.
The rest of the way
When Rolen was initially injured, the Cardinals stated he would be out three-to-six weeks. Rolen did try to return from his initial surgery on his left shoulder on that schedule, missing just 33 games. However, he was playing in pain. Rolen's second surgery ended his disappointing and frustrating 2005 season at 56 ineffective games.
Early reports say that Lee has to wear a cast up to his elbow for up to six weeks, with another four to six weeks for a second cast and healing and rehab time following. So, will Lee return for the final two months of the season or maybe even three? But, will he be himself at that time or will he be ineffective like Rolen was upon his return? Will the Cubs still be in contention at that point, anyway?
The end result
As we know, the 2005 Cardinals found an adequate replacement for Rolen in Abraham Nunez and still won the Division in dominating fashion, by 11 games. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has been quoted as saying his team will not make a reactive trade, which may thrust former Cardinal John Mabry into a starting role. Is the Cubs' supporting cast good enough to overcome Lee's loss?
Is it really the same?
Some Cubs fans may assert that the loss of Lee is more serious than Rolen's loss in 2004, because the Cardinals still have Albert Pujols. Well, the Cubs still have Aramis Ramirez, who his hit 30 home runs three times and driven in more than 100 RBI three times by the age of 27. Jacque Jones, Michael Barrett and Juan Pierre are proven veterans.
One big difference
The Cubs are the Cubs. Sure, the Red Sox and the White Sox erased their curses or long-standing futility or whatever you want to call it by winning the World Series these past two seasons. But, the Cubs' drought has lasted even longer. Does even the most optimistic fan really think the Cubs can hang tough with Lee out?
Time will surely tell. Most of the writing population and the coaches and players from teams themselves will be very safe in their comments, not wanting to insult or inspire their still-worthy and dangerous opponent, especially in the Cardinals' case on the eve of an important head-to-head series.
However, I am not bound by any of that. I think the 2006 Cubs will do what they have done every year since 1908 – fall short of a World Series victory. Whether they actually avoid a June swoon, register a winning record, come in second place or even defy odds to secure a Wild Card berth is irrelevant.
For the Cubs faithful, the loss of Derrek Lee has officially signaled the time is here to begin to utter the time-honored "Wait until next year!" chant.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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