When Derrick Rose tore his ACL, we saw an MVP’s Hall of Fame career crumble. When Marcus Lattimore tore his, we saw a generational talent go from NCAA Freshman of the Year to out of football in only three years. Even Adrian Peterson’s “miraculous” comeback took 10 months before he was able to compete again. But with Kyle Schwarber a mere six months removed from ACL surgery, the Cubs are already penciling him into their World Series plans. And Cubs fans are ready to cement him into Chicago lore for good.
In only the third game of the 2016 MLB season, Schwarber, playing left field, collided with Dexter Fowler while going after a hit in the gap. As he lay writhing on the outfield grass, a thousand questions flickered through the minds of Cubs fans. Is he okay? Is anyone else able to play left field? Can Bryant and Rizzo carry the offense? To briefly address these: no, yes, and yes.
Even from an outsider’s perspective, the Cubs’ season certainly did appear to be in peril. In only 69 games in 2015, Schwarber hit a Gary Sanchez-esque 16 home runs while driving in 43 runs. With a full-time role in 2016, he was expected to join forces with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and propel the Cubs offense to stardom. As the sixth hitter in the most potent lineup in professional baseball, Schwarber was primed for a breakout sophomore season.
But injuries are never well-timed, and Schwarber’s ACL tear seemed like it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Despite losing one of their top hitters, however, the Cubs rolled through the regular season to the tune of 103-58-1 (yes, they actually tied a game). The emergence of Wilson Contreras at the catcher position and Javier Baez at second base softened the blow of Schwarber’s injury. The platoon of Contreras, David Ross, and Miguel Montero behind the plate and Ben Zobrist’s shift to left field allowed both the offense and the defense of the Cubs to continue without a hiccup, even as their season headed into the playoffs.
Initially, Schwarber was ruled out for the season. And why shouldn’t he have been? With a fully torn ACL, LCL, and a severely sprained ankle, the expected time table was somewhere between 8 and 12 months. But after grinding away in rehab for the better part of the regular season, Schwarber appears primed for a remarkable, nay astounding, return.
After being cleared to resume batting practice last week at his six-month checkup, Schwarber was immediately activated from the 60-day DL and subsequently slotted in as the designated hitter for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. By all accounts, his knee appeared to hold up fine and his swing, albeit a bit rusty, looked as explosive as ever.
For all intents and purposes, Kyle Schwarber’s 2016 campaign could end right here and still be considered a success. The fact that he completely tore his ACL and LCL and returned to professional baseball in the same calendar year, let alone the same season, is nothing less than a miracle. But with the Cubs appearing in their first World Series since 1945, Schwarber is still determined to make an impact on the series, season, and ultimately, history.
The postseason is known for extraordinary performances. There’s the well-documented heroics of Madison Bumgarner, David Freese’s clutch Game 6 in 2011, and Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series walkoff. Every playoff team has its hero and every series has its story. But no one remembers the numbers. No one is going to tell you how many shutout innings Bumgarner pitched or what Freese’s batting average was before he hit that triple off the wall.
But they will tell you what they saw. They’ll tell you how Willie Mays ran faster than any man alive to catch that line drive to the farthest depths of the Polo Grounds. They’ll tell you how Fenway Park roared in tear-jerking pride when David Ortiz walked off in the 14th inning of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. They’ll tell you how Kirk Gibson pumped his fist as he hobbled around the bases after his walkoff homer against Dennis Eckersley. And now they’ll tell you about Kyle Schwarber.
The return of Kyle Schwarber brings so much more to the Cubs than just a powerful bat. It brings a story. The story of how a second-year catcher came back from what should have been a season-ending injury to play on the largest stage a baseball player can dream of. This recovery brings the Cubs that extra inch of willpower and the fans that extra inch of pride. For the hundred years that Wrigley Field has stood at 1060 West Addison St, players have come and gone, but their stories have remained. And what better story to add to the book than that of Kyle Schwarber.