When Derrek Lee’s long fly ball into the teeth of an east wind landed harmlessly in Hunter Pence’s mitt and the Cubs’ 3-0 loss to Houston was complete Monday afternoon, it was only the second most demoralizing moment in the home half of the ninth inning.

The low point was having Kosuke Fukudome rap into what would have been a game-ending double play had Alfonso Soriano not upended Jose Castillo, the Astros second-baseman.

I found Fukudome’s at-bat depressing because he looked as hopeless through most of that turn against Houston closer Jose Valverde as he has through most every turn at the plate for many, many weeks.

An average in the .260s, a homer total in the high single digits, 50+ RBI—the Cubs have granted significant playing time over the years to outfielders who produced much less offense. And when you factor in Fukudome’s speed and range and generally superb throwing accuracy, the first-year Cub is far from an embarrassment.

It’s just that he is nowhere near the star, at least not yet, that many of us thought he would be.

At different points this season, as the Cubs offense has binged whether or not Fukudome was contributing, I have thought back on one of the best-hitting teams of my lifetime, the Big Red Machine of the mid-‘70s. A mainstay of those teams was the centerfielder, Cesar Geronimo, who was the weak link offensively but an exceptional asset in the field.

Here is a comparison between Geronimo’s career, 162-game averages, his totals in 1975, and Fukudome’s numbers this season:

Geronimo (162-game averages): .258 AVG, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 683 OPS, 93 OPS+
Geronimo (1975): .257 AVG, 6 HR, 53 RBI, 690 OPS, 90 OPS+
Fukudome (2008): .263 AVG, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 748 OPS, 94 OPS+

It looks to me like the comparison is a fair one, and if Fukudome only ever turns out to be Cesar Geronimo, maybe it's not the end of the world.

Particularly if the Cubs follow the path of the '75 and '76 Reds for whom Geronimo played and win a World Series.


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