CHICAGO — He’s the backup to the backup, but Chicago Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom sure isn’t playing like it. As the 29-year-old rookie preps for Sunday Night Baseball — against the team that drafted him — Wisdom has already accomplished more than most.
In his first 10 starts as a Cub, Wisdom hit eight home runs, tying Aristides Aquino for the most by any player in his first 10 games with a team since 1900.
He has lit the league — and opposing pitchers — on fire.
“The guy has seven pumps already and he hasn’t been here that long,” teammate Ian Happ said before Wisdom hit home run No. 8. “Some of us are looking at the board thinking, ‘Shoot, he’s been here for a minute — we don’t have that many.’
“If we can get it to Wisdom with guys on base, we’ll be all right.”
Wisdom has become that valuable for a team beset with injuries, which is why the 52nd pick of the 2012 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals is getting a chance in the first place. Former Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy was manning third base while former MVP at third Kris Bryant was roaming the outfield. But then Duffy went down with a back injury, opening the door for Wisdom.
Wisdom has been asked many times over the past couple of weeks to explain his success, after years of hanging around the edges of the majors. “Playing for a long time at the Triple-A level, and getting spurts at the major league level, it’s definitely helped me ease my mind, not letting it [feel] bigger than the moment,” Wisdom said. “There’s another deck on the stadium and more cameras, but it’s the same game.”
Wisdom’s journey began with the Cardinals, but after just 50 at-bats in 2018, they gave up on him. He hit .260 with four home runs, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the organization.
“From the Cardinals’ perspective, it was the classic running out of time to provide that opportunity,” Cardinals president John Mozeliak told ESPN on Friday. “With the way the rules are set up, you don’t control the player forever.”
So the Cardinals’ loss became the Cubs’ gain, but not before stops in Texas and Seattle, where, according to Wisdom, things didn’t work out because of “performance-based” issues. In other words, he just didn’t hit enough, at the right times, to warrant being kept around.
“Couldn’t get it going,” Wisdom said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise.”
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That’s when the Cubs came calling, three days after Wisdom was released from the Mariners in August 2019. They couldn’t promise him a major league deal, so he flew under the radar in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic allowed for that.
“He was really good at the alternate site last year,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “In some ways, it was under-reported how many homers he hit there. He had an incredible hot streak last summer of hitting a lot of home runs.”
But that wasn’t against the San Diego Padres or San Francisco Giants, two opponents he crushed recently. He hit .364 with a .417 on-base percentage against both teams while hitting seven of his eight home runs. It helped the Cubs to a 5-1 season series win over San Diego.
“It’s a combo of ingredients,” Wisdom said. “It’s the team. It’s the staff. It’s my maturity level. My family. I could go on and on about what’s contributed to my success.”
The Cubs get the credit for taking a flier on him, but even their part of the story isn’t without a blemish. The Cubs released him near the end of last season but brought him back in January on a minor league deal. Wisdom was close to signing overseas but gave the Cubs another chance.
“[Cubs director of pro scouting] Andrew Bassett told us, ‘If he plays in the States, it’s going to be for us,'” Wisdom’s agent, Adam Karon, said.
That was enough to keep Wisdom in a Cubs uniform, but Hoyer can’t dismiss the notion that anyone could have had him between September and January.
“Every team takes pride in signing undervalued guys like Duffy or Wisdom,” Hoyer said. “There’s good fortune with those things. You have to have some humility to realize if someone had offered them more, they would have had them.
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“But we were higher on those guys than the rest of the league. Those are the decisions that are fun for us.”
Wisdom and Duffy are a big part of the 2021 narrative surrounding the Cubs. Like many teams, they’ve had an inordinate amount of injuries, but many of their backups have thrived, keeping the team at the top of the National League Central.
The Cardinals might truly come to regret losing Wisdom.
“Anytime you see a player you had high hopes for and was unable to do it for you, you wonder what went wrong with the process,” Mozeliak said. “Could we have been more patient? Could we have given him more tries? To truly answer those types of questions, you have to give it time.”
Wisdom’s success has been in the small-sample-size category. But it came when the Cubs needed it most, as stars such as Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo also missed time because of injuries. He was a lifesaver.
“He’s been carrying us,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s been the real offensive force for us right now. Every time he gets in the box, he does something to help the team. He has real power.”
Pitcher Kyle Hendricks added: “He is so hot right now. What a huge lift. Every time he goes out there. It’s amazing to watch. We’re just enjoying it right now.”
So is Wisdom, who has become popular with media and fans alike. But interviews and attention aren’t likely to keep him from his job, as he asked reporters to wait before Friday’s game so he could take ground balls. The grind has been real for Wisdom and he’s not about to let the dream end.
“It’s been truly special,” he said.