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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Get Well Wishes To Former Fan Favorite

When I was a kid during the 80s and early 90s the Cubs were, for the most part, thoroughly mediocre.   This was when Sammy Sosa was still a spindly young fourth outfielder, long before Wood and Prior, before Bartman, before a nine-figure annual payroll helped make the Cubs consistent contenders, for which I'm thankful, but also before Wrigleyville, always a popular summer destination, became unaffordable for anything more than the rarest special occasion.  My family, grandparents and all, would routinely pile in our gas-guzzling American-made boat of a car and drive three hours to take in a game (hell, gas was less than a dollar a gallon, right?).

Naturally, the Cubs teams of this era will always have a special place in my heart.  Not just Dawson, Sandberg, and Maddux, our contributions to Cooperstown, and longtime regulars like Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, and Joe Girardi, but also the cast of shapely misfit utilitymen, including Hector Villanueva, Doug Dascenzo, Lloyd McClendon, Vance Law, and one Luis Salazar.

Like all of the players listed above, each of whom brought one basic skill in abundance, but were severely lacking in all the rest, Salazar was absolutely beloved by the Wrigley Field faithful.  One of the most raucous moments in any game was when Don Zimmer, as part of some desperate double switch, elected to replace one of his revolving door of borderline major-leaguers with another.  Villanueva would pinch-hit and remain at catcher as Gary Varsho shifted to center, Salazar took his place in left, and Dascenzo trotted in from the outfield and took the mound (this happened far more often than it should have).

Salazar, a journeyman infielder, finished his career with four years on the north side.  He was, perhaps too frequently, our starting third baseman, but also spent time at four other positions and was a fairly sharp defender (by my memory, at least) everywhere.  He couldn't hit a lick, but he was a hustler, and, despite being in his mid-thirties by the time he landed in Chicago, had incredibly quick reflexes, perfect for the hot corner.  Which only makes his recent injury, struck by a foul liner while he stood in the dugout, even sadder.  After the initial shock, Salazar fell upon his head and neck, sustaining even further injuries.  After three surgeries, he is apparently stable and ready to return home.  Though doctors had to remove an eye, they feel fortunate that he has escaped death, paralysis, or severe brain damage.  Best wishes to Salazar, his family, and Braves teammates.

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