Cubs' 2003 run to NLCS had an unlikely hero

Randall Simon's late-season acquisition proved to be key

September 25th, 2018

CHICAGO -- In 2003, the Cubs were in contention in the National League Central and general manager Jim Hendry made a splash by acquiring Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton from the Pirates in late July. But Hendry made another trade the next month, also with the Pirates, and that move played a big role in the team securing a division title.

was batting .274 for Pittsburgh when Hendry acquired the first baseman, who was the Cubs' unlikely hero that season.

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"It was one of those magical front-office years where every deal you made seemed to work, going from [Eric] Karros to [Mark] Grudzielanek to Lofton and [Ramirez]," Hendry said. "We picked up [Doug] Glanville and Randall, and they were both significant contributors. Randall, I thought, augmented what Eric did for us. Eric, I was a huge fan of the way he was that year and how he carried himself and what he meant to the club. Randall gave us that extra left-handed bat late in the year, August and September. I thought it was a good balance with Karros the rest of the way to help clinch it."

The Cubs acquired Glanville in a July 30 deal with the Rangers, and the outfielder may have only batted .235 in 28 games, but he will be remembered for a pinch-hit RBI triple in the 11th inning of Game 3 of the NL Championship Series in a 5-4 win against the Marlins. Simon homered in that game.

Simon, a native of Curacao, provided some punch from the left side. In 33 regular-season games with the Cubs, he batted .282 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. He made his debut with the team on Aug. 17 in a loss to the Dodgers when the Cubs were a half-game back in the standings. In September, Simon batted .277, including a two-homer, five-RBI game on Sept. 7 in a 9-2 win over the Brewers. That win gave the Cubs a half-game lead in the division and was part of a six-game winning streak.

"I had such a good relationship with [Pirates general manager] Dave Littlefield then," Hendry said of why he went after Simon. "We made the Ramirez and Lofton trade, and I remember Dave telling me who else was available. I think we just thought we didn't have another guy to platoon with Eric and we had our sights set on one more left-handed bat and a guy who could play first. I don't think we had anybody on the bench who could play first. We were looking for that kind of guy."

Simon was a good fit, batting .317 that year with runners in scoring position.

"Simon had a lot of big hits, but he was also important to the team culture," Glanville said. "He was a guy who was always upbeat and had a smile. He was joking around and keeping everyone loose."

It's all part of the mysterious team chemistry that can be tough to create.

Glanville noted that the Cubs had a lot of veterans on the '03 roster who weren't accustomed to being platoon or role players.

"That was tough at first," Glanville said, "but it helped when we all could look at each other and see that we needed to manage egos for the bigger goal. Simon had swagger but was always ready when called on. Then you had a Lenny Harris, who was a pure professional off the bench. He was a great example to follow on how to be effective off of the bench."

The '03 Cubs were led by Sammy Sosa. Mark Prior won 18 games. Lofton got things started as the leadoff man. Ramirez was Mr. Clutch, delivering RBI hit after RBI hit. Simon provided power and a huge smile. But it wasn't enough, as the Cubs lost in seven games to the Marlins in the NLCS.

"We had the roster to do it," Hendry said of his pickups in 2003, "but couldn't finish it off."

After the 2003 season, Simon returned to Pittsburgh and had a brief stint with Philadelphia in 2006. He also has played in Mexico, Japan and the Independent League. Now 43, he's still involved in baseball as the hitting coach for the Bravos de Leon in the Mexican League.