Celebrity baseball -- they said it would never happen in the NL Central -- but the Chicago CUBS challenged history again Tuesday when they hired one of America's biggest TV talk-show superstars -- Oprah Winfrey -- to a two-year, $525-million contract, to catch, cook, coach, clean and hit in the number five spot behind Sammy Sousa and Moises Alou.
The team also added the U.S. President, Vice-President and Secretary of Defense to bolster defenses at third base -- a perennial weakness for the Northsiders -- and to shore-up the backstop and sell beer and cotton-candy in the event the team should make the playoffs again in 2004.
"This is our year. We went down to the wire to get Oprah," said CUBS Manager Dusty Baker. "We're talking about a utility player that can literally do it all.
"She can tell management how the game should be played, she can call a good game for the pitchers. She brings wealth and experiences and a maid and a butler to the dugout and she's one of the few players in the league who can probably hit her weight (360 lbs.) consistently while rarely striking out. Oh, and did I mention she loves to cook? "
Last year at Tacoma, in the Middle League, Winfrey was cooking when she hit an astounding 325, drove-in 75 runs, and assisted in 65 put-outs at the plate.
"No one in baseball can block home plate like this gal," said Baker, "She's not about to let anyone get between her and a plate -- it's simply not going to happen."
While behind the plate the diet will go on hold again as Oprah works to bulk-up into her newest role as baseball's face-masked dust-bunny sweetheart. She will only play home-night-games at Wrigley Field because of her strenuous daily talk-show schedule, but team management said this will free-up more seat space on road-trip team flights, and lower jet-fuel consumption over the whole season as a result.
CUBS vet Paul Popovitch will fill-in and be taking over the catcher's duties when the team is on the road.
Even though the deal will blow the lid off the team's salary cap most baseball analyst agree that Winfrey's high profile celebrity is sure to bring more overweight fans to the night-games in masses and increase concession sales enough to offset her hefty paychecks.
The two-year deal reportedly includes performance clauses that will hinge on hot-dog sales, and their buns.
"This can only be good for baseball," added Baker. "People will see her eat, and they'll get hungry and they'll be buying something to eat for themselves and their families, it has a sort of domino effect.
"She likes to snack-out during innings like Babe Ruth did -- pop corn, bratwursts, and all the trimmings. We feel the fans will emulate her, and that will aspire them to buy more food, gain weight and possibly become obese and bossy themselves too."
"There's no doubt she's a heavy, in all senses of the word," said CUBS General Manager, Dallas Houston," and we're damn glad to have her here. She lives near-by Wrigley, can always get a ride to work, and loves the team buffet table in the clubhouse more than any six players.
"She doesn't wear an apron or drive a better boom or anything like that but that doesn't mean we couldn't bat her in the clean-up spot if one of our guys were to go down with a serious groin pull or some other personal muscle injury or life-threatening disease. She understands these things."
Winfrey began her career in the ranks of Softball when she signed her first deal in 1990 with the Rockford Ladies League four-time world champion, Lobb-Itts. In her first year at Rockford she hit only a paltry 244, but walked 6,801 times, and hit into only seven double-plays. Her on-base percentage set the league standard for that year (301) and continues to be the benchmark some ten years later.
"She loves to take a walk. And as a hitter she's hard to pitch around," said Houston.
"She has a presence at home plate that few players can match. Behind the plate she's even bigger. On a throw from the outfield she can cover home, and the left and right batter's boxes at the same time. She's got game-savvy and she doesn't mind mixing it up with the other team leaders around breakfast -- sometimes she even picks-up the check!"
"She's far richer than the first three players in the CUBS lineup combined and league-wise her salary is in the top ten, and most important she's hungry," said baseball expert Ken Burns, "that's what makes this deal so appetizing to the CUBS."
Sammy Sousa -- who purchased the Dominican Republic and Cuba during the off season calls Oprah a baseball phenomenon that will surely increase the team's winning percentage and concessions outlook for 2004.
"I really don't see the money thing getting in the way of our regular games," said the new President of the Dominican and CUBS right-fielder Sousa. "There's plenty of room around Wrigley to park another stretch-limo or two."