Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"The Man Who Knew Baseball"

In 1983, Steve Stone became a color commentator for the WGN television broadcasts of the Chicago Cubs, teaming for 14 years with Hall of Fame announcer Harry Caray. After Harry Caray's death in February 1998, Stone was paired with Caray's grandson Chip Caray. Stone left the booth due to health reasons in 2000, and returned to the Cubs booth in 2003 and 2004.

Highly regarded as a broadcaster, Stone refused a contract extension as the Cubs color-man after the 2004 season amid a controversy involving Cubs players who felt he was being overly critical of their performance. Even so, he was a fan favorite. This was apparent at the Cubs' last home game of 2004, when, after the game had ended and all the players had left the field, nearly everyone left in the stadium looked up to the broadcast booth and chanted "Stoney! Stoney!" for several minutes. One reason he was so well-liked was his ability to accurately predict what might happen in various game situations, explaining to the audience why the strategy or pitch would be successful prior to the play. A famous example of this was him expressing "I wouldn't pitch to this guy" in a 2004 game, seconds before the batter (Adam Dunn) hit a home run off Cubs pitcher Mike Remlinger to give the Reds the lead.

Stone expressed frustration with Cubs manager Dusty Baker for not controlling his players. At one point during the 2004 season, Kent Mercker called the broadcast booth from the bullpen during a game to complain about comments made, also confronting Stone in a hotel lobby. Among the comments that reportedly irked Mercker were Chip Caray's praise of Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt. It was also reported that Mercker and left fielder Mois├ęs Alou shouted at Stone on a team charter plane to a road game in 2004, and that Alou tried to have Stone and Caray banned from the team charter flights.

On September 30, 2004, in the wake of a 12-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds that all but eliminated the Cubs, Stone strongly criticized the team. "The truth of this situation is [this is] an extremely talented bunch of guys who want to look at all directions except where they should really look, and kind of make excuses for what happened...This team should have won the wild-card [playoff berth] by six, seven games. No doubt about it." The comments stunned manager Baker, and were a factor in Stone's resignation as a Cub broadcaster the following month.

I miss you, Stoney. I love the Cubs, but they made a terrible mistake in letting you leave. You were right in criticizing players, management, etc. I respect your knowledge of baseball, and your willingness to criticize when warranted. I'm happy for your continuing success in broadcasting -- I just wish you were doing it with the Cubs.

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