The devastating news du jour as pitchers and catchers reported today was that Cubs legend (TM) Tony Campana was designated for assignment and thus likely exposed to waivers assuming that the Cubs can’t trade him. There is actually a good chance that some random team (my guess is the Atlanta Braves) will use one of their open spots to claim Tony, and then the cycle of Cubs fan outrage will be complete. This led many fans to freak out more than they already have, as they blasted the Cubs for repeating some of baseball history’s greatest mistakes when they allowed other former Cubs legends such as Greg Maddux and Tyler Colvin go. The most common comparison to Tony is former Cubs legend Lou Brock, who as many of you know, went on to become one of the great Cardinals and won two World Series championships while with the Redbirds.
I won’t get into how crazy it is to compare Tony Campana (as legendary as he is) to Greg Maddux, nor how it does look like the Cubs goofed with the Tyler Colvin trade (he certainly hit VERY well at Coors Field). However, it is easy to see why fans would compare Tony to Lou Brock. After all, both are great base stealers; Brock held the career stolen base record before Rickey Henderson obliterated it. And…wait, that’s about it.
Minor League Records
Tony Campana spent part of 2011 and 2012 playing (mostly pinch-hitting, pinch-running, and pinch-benchwarming) on the Cubs MLB team. Before that he was mostly in the minors, having been drafted out of Cincinnati as a 13th rounder. He didn’t hit particularly well until he got to Tennessee, then was promoted to Iowa before he got his first cup of coffee…at the age of 24-going-on-25.
Lou Brock…didn’t spend a lot of time in the minors. He signed with the Cubs as an amateur free agent (pre-draft), spent most of his age 22 season destroying baseballs at St. Cloud of the Northern League, and then debuted with the Cubs that September. The destroying baseballs part is somewhat important. Lou Brock basically stayed in the majors once he got there.
About the destruction of baseballs. Tony Campana finally (!) got one over the fence in Iowa in 2012. Before that he had a very unconventional homer in 2011 with the MLB Cubs (h/t GBTS for the gif):
Now people often blast this blog for being heartless in bashing poor gritty scrappy players like Tony, but to be honest the numbers kind of speak for themselves. I do like Tony, he’s a cool guy and all. Took a picture with me at the Cubs Convention last year and he’s probably a much better baseball player than I will ever be. Then again he’s paid a lot of money (league minimum is still a lot) to be supposedly good at baseball so that ain’t saying much. Anyway, take a look at the 2012 Cubs numbers.
You can see all the guys with more than the zero homers (over the fence or otherwise) that Tony hit last season. Joe Mather (who beat Tony Campana for spot #25) hit 5. Dave Sappelt basically equaled Tony’s entire professional homer output, but both of his cleared the fence without bouncing. Josh Vitters, who couldn’t hit his way out of a pinata factory, had two.
Then you notice all the guys with more MLB triples than Tony Campana. That’s right, with all of his speed, Tony Campana has ZERO MLB triples. I couldn’t believe it myself. But Geovany Soto, he of the slow-footedness, had a triple. It might have been a cheap triple, I think the outfielder lost the ball in the twilight or something, but it was a triple. PITCHERS Chris Rusin and Ryan Dempster had triples. Ian Stewart (who everyone hates) had two triples. For all his fleet-footedness, Tony Campana does not have the gap power or is suffering from such bad luck that he can’t get that elusive triple.
If you look at Lou Brock’s brief and spotty minor league record (apparently the Cubs sucked not just at baseball but also at record keeping), he had a slugging percentage (SLG) of .535, something that’s extremely difficult to achieve with nothing but singles and doubles. Lou Brock also hit at least two home runs in every season except his September call-up season and his age 39 season, the year before he retired. Brock ended his 19-year Hall of Fame career with 141 triples and 149 home runs.
The transaction that Cubs fans refer to is this:
I have no idea what happened to the dudes the Cubs got back. But we all know what happened with Lou Brock. The Cardinals won the World Series in 1964 and 1967. They lost in 1968 but that’s three pennants and two championships within a brief time due in part to Lou Brock going to St. Louis. He was a very good player. He’s not the best Hall of Famer, but all you gotta do is get in, and Lou Brock did.
Lou Brock had a similar slash-line to Tony Campana as a Cub. The only difference, and a glaring one, is that Lou Brock was good enough with the bat to get those triples and homers, and played regularly whereas Tony is basically only there because most of the other MLB-ready options are terrible.
The fact is that Tony Campana could be useful to the right team. He is fast and he can disrupt defenses with his speed in terms of infield singles and stolen bases (or at least the threat of stealing). The problem is that he’s a one-trick pony. Lou Brock had speed too, but he also had the power and the offensive ability to use that speed. He also debuted at an earlier age than Campana did. And at the end of all this, there is a possibility that Campana can pass through waivers without being claimed because despite his one-dimensional skillset, the Atlanta Braves or Washington Nationals may still think twice before they waste the roster spot for him. It is highly unlikely that the Cubs can work out a trade with Campana as the centerpiece. But with Lou Brock, somebody (the Cardinals) actually wanted him, and traded what were perceived to be good players for him.
That is the difference here. Someone wanted Lou Brock. There is a strong possibility that nobody but the Cubs and their fans wants Tony Campana.
Tony Campana is not Lou Brock.