Cubs icons dish on favorite moments from historic 2007-08 seasons
Does clubhouse chemistry matter?
If you ask the players, it certainly does.
As in any relationship, trust within a baseball team is important and the leaders of the historic 2007-08 Cubs teams felt that level of trust in each other. It was a paramount to the team’s success in earning back-to-back trips to the playoffs for the first time in a century (since 1907-08).
Four of the best players from those teams got together for a roundtable discussion with Marquee Sports Network earlier this year. Ryan Dempster, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramírez and Kerry Wood sat down with host Cole Wright to reminisce on their careers playing together — particularly the back-to-back division titles in 2007-08.
In 2007, the Cubs won 85 games, claiming the National League Central by 2 games over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Cubs took their game to the next level the following season as they paced the NL in wins (97) and the entire league in run differential (+184).
“It was such a fun year,” Kerry Wood said. “The 07-08 team, we had great chemistry on and off the field and we played so well.”
Wood reflected on a particular instance in Colorado on April 23, 2008 where the Cubs were trailing by a run entering the top of the 9th inning.
“I’m looking up and down the lineup and I’m like, Rami’s [third] up, lemme start stretching,” said Wood, who was the Cubs closer at the time. “Rami’s still in the dugout and I start playing catch and everybody’s looking around. I’m like, ‘Rami gets up, we’re gonna be ahead. I gotta get ready.’ And everybody’s like, ‘oh, here we go. This guy.’
“And sure enough, boom, homer and here we go, I’m in the game. Memories like that — trusting these guys, knowing them and the history I had with them, knowing certain situations. That one stuck out to me quite a bit.”
Wood actually didn’t end up getting the save in that ballgame as the Rockies tied it in the bottom of the 9th. But he did pick up the victory when Ryan Theriot knocked home Mike Fontenot in the top of the 10th inning.
Ramírez and Kerry Wood were on the 2003 squad that came 5 outs from the World Series, but Ramírez believed the 2007-08 teams were better because they had better pitching and were more complete up and down the roster.
In 2008, Ramírez hit 27 homers — including that go-ahead blast in Colorado — and led the team with 111 RBI.
Wood may have been the closer for the 2008 Cubs, but Dempster actually held that position in 2007 (28 saves). He shifted to the rotation for the 2008 campaign, going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA over 206.2 innings.
“We caught lightning in a bottle in that sense — I had a really good year starting and he had a really good year closing. We both got to go to the All-Star Game,” Dempster said.
And of course, it all came back to chemistry with this group.
“I can’t reiterate enough — just our camaraderie we had within our team. We weren’t afraid to challenge each other — if somebody wasn’t doing the work they were supposed to do, somebody was gonna say something. If I decided I’m gonna slack on running today, Ted Lilly would be like, ‘hey dude, let’s go.’ If somebody wasn’t gonna take BP, somebody was gonna be like, ‘hey, we need you out there.’ If somebody wasn’t running the bases hard. There was never dissent, there was never any kind of anger. There was just a lot of fun.
“Just such a good group of guys. The times we’d have. So many get togethers in the lounge — cards, whatever it was. Baseball almost seemed the easier part. We were just family getting along, going out there. It was unfortunate we didn’t win in the playoffs because we had the team to do it. But man did we ever have fun.”
The 2008 Cubs sent seven different players to the All-Star Game that summer and manager Lou Piniella served as a coach on the NL staff. Dempster and Wood were joined by fellow pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Mármol while Ramírez held down the position player front alongside catcher Geovany Soto and outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
Lee did not earn a trip to the Midsummer Classic but he still had a very good year, smacking 20 home runs with 90 RBI, 93 runs scored, an .823 OPS and received some down-ballot MVP votes.
He concurred with his former teammates that there was something special about the 2008 team.
“Chemistry creates the trust,” Lee said. “We’re down 3 or 4 and [Wood] as the closer, he’s starting to get ready mentally — that’s a big difference than ‘oh we’re down 3 or 4 and we don’t have a shot.’ That was the big part of it.”