With the recent talk of playing time and call-ups of minor league prospects, its time to take a look back at one of the best examples of poor judgment by Cubs management.
Richard Lewis was a second baseman who, along with left handed pitcher Andy Pratt, was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Juan Cruz and Steve Smyth prior to the 2004 season. Cruz was a part of the Cubs young pitching staff, which included Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Joe Borowski. Cruz was a set up man, but was held in high regard as a future starter or closer.
Lewis was also a well regarded prospect who batted .404 in the 2003 Arizona Fall League. He was assigned to the Cubs AA team at West Tennessee. He went on to hit .329 in 99 games. He had 47 extra base hits, including 10 Home Runs, and, more importantly, a .995 fielding percentage. At the All-Star break that year, Cubs GM Jim Hendry told a Chicago radio audience that outfield prospect Felix Pie and Lewis would be "the Cubs lead-off and number two hitters for years to come". Lewis would be named both a Southern League All-Star and the League's MVP for 2004.
In late 2004, the Cubs were in a push for the wild card spot. They had recently made a blockbuster trade to acquire Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra from the Boston Red Sox. However, Lewis' success hadn't gone unnoticed by the Chicago media. When pressed as to whether Lewis would be called up to the parent club, Hendry lapsed into a phrase now common to Cubs fans concerning prospects, "He's not ready". Hendry, along with manager Dusty Baker, preferred to go with veterans Todd Walker, Jose Macias, and Neifi Perez. Instead, Lewis was sent to Iowa, the Cubs' AAA team. A dejected Lewis batted only .239 for Iowa, but had 3 Home Runs and 4 stolen bases. It was still rumored that Lewis would be brought to the big leagues once Iowa's season finished. In the last game of Iowa's season, while sliding into second base, Richard Lewis broke his leg. There would be no call up.
Richard Lewis would go on to play four more minor league seasons: two with Cubs affiliates, one in the Texas organization, and one independent. He never did recover from his broken leg, although he did steal 18 bases in his last year of play. He never made a major league appearance.
The 2004 Cubs would fall short of the playoffs, and started a downward spiral that would eventually get Dusty Baker fired. One of the biggest criticisms of his managing was an over-dependence on marginal major league veterans. Hendry is still the GM of the Cubs. He is overseeing what some experts feel the best collection of minor league talent the Cubs have had in 25 years. Here's hoping that some of these prospects get a better chance than Richard Lewis.