Friday, January 30, 2009

The Question

I was asked today if this was the Cubs' year.


This is always a difficult question for me to answer because my answer will usually involve much more detail and reasoning than the person who asked really cares to hear. Remember the scene in the movie, "Groundhog Day" where Bill Murray responds with a meteorological analysis when asked about the weather:

"We may catch a break and have that blizzard blow by us. All this moisture coming up out of the south... will probably push on east of us. At high altitudes it will crystallize and give us what we call snow. Probably will be some accumulation... but here in Punxsutawney our high will be about 30 today, teens tonight. Chance of precipitation about 20 percent today and tomorrow.... Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?"
That is me when asked about the Cubs. I do my best to temper any answer I give. I know the asker could care less about bullpen usage, defensive ratings, or Bill James' Win Share formulas. I also know that when they ask, they just want to hear: 1) Hell yeah it's going to be their year! or 2) Oh god no. They suck this year.


They don't care about Milton Bradley's injuries. They don't care that Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez may be overrated as middle-of-the-order threats. They just wanted to convey to me that they know I am a Cub fan and are politely showing interest in something I care about.

But, I get spoiled by my discussions with my summer family who actually do like to discuss baseball down to the micro level and I will forget myself, causing my girlfriend to look for a rock to either hide under or throw at me.

Come up to Aisle 424 sometime and ask us who was most at fault for blowing Game 6 in 2003. But don't do it if you don't really want to hear the answer because you'll be there for the rest of the game and possibly dragged along to a Wrigleyville bar afterwards to continue the argument.

I need to remember that 99.999% of people I meet and talk with are not deranged season ticket holders when posed with The Question.

That in and of itself is hard enough, but now that I am on a quest to be more optimistic, it is even more difficult.

Those who know me know that my default position in life has been cynical pessimism. It was not born entirely out of being a Cub fan, but that sure didn't help dissuade me from seeing the glass as half empty.

I have been optimistic about the Cubs exactly twice in my life. Once in 1984 after attending The Sandberg Game (I'm sure I will post more about this day as we approach the 25th anniversary, which also happened to be my 12th birthday) that lasted until the 9th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS. It was during that inning that I realized no comeback would be forthcoming and I had trouble seeing the television through the tears. I also lost a five dollar bet made with a friend of mine who placed the bet after the Cubs were up 2-0 in the series. I have not bet on the Cubs since.

The second time was 2003. The Cubs were about to play game 5 of the NLCS against Josh Beckett, but even if they lost in Florida, they were coming home to start Mark Prior, and if necessary, Kerry Wood. I thought to myself: "By this time next week, I will be attending a World Series game being played in Wrigley Field." I remember exactly where I was when I thought it (the parking lot of Charcoal Delights as I walked back to my apartment across the street). I will remember until I die, like people who can tell you the exact moment they heard Kennedy was shot.

That optimism lasted only a few days. It disappeared right around the time Prior walked Castillo after the Bartman incident. That night, I did not cry, but I was shattered. I sat in my seat for about 40 minutes after the game and just stared at the field. Other members of my summer family were also coping in their own way, ranging from anger to depression to feigned optimism about Game 7. I am still prone to depression after discussing it (I'm fighting the blues as I write this).

The feelings associated with such close calls are debilitating, so I have done my best to guard myself from them as much as possible. I never thought they had a chance in 1989, 1998, or even the last two years. There were too many flaws to ignore, so I wouldn't allow myself to believe while others around me drank the Cubbie Kool-Aid.

This year, armed with a new sense of hope fostered by a Presidential election that I did not think was possible, coupled with a defiant anger towards all things curse related, I want to be positive. I want to feel confident enough to go and put down $50 on the Cubs to win the World Series. I want to tell anyone who asks me if the Cubs will win it this year, "You bet your sweet bippy they will."

But then I think about Carlos "Head Case" Marmol as closer, Milton "Human Volcano" Bradley as the dependable left-handed bat, and Derek Lee and the rest of the Double Play Gang and can't help but think its not enough. I feel the need to qualify my answer and I'm right back where I started with a glass that is half empty.

At least I know I have a problem. I understand that is the first step towards recovery.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rod Got Zero Votes (only because its impossible to have less than that)

Anyone who has been paying even a little bit of attention to the Rod Blagojevich impeachment proceedings can not be surprised that Rod was removed from office today. The vote of 59-0 is what is truly shocking.

Think about any time you had a group of even ten of your good friends together and you were trying to decide something. Not anything serious, but just something like what movie to go and watch, or where you want to go and have a drink. How many times do you get a 10-0 vote? Probably not very many.

The state Senate is made up of people who can't agree on anything. They all have individual agendas and polling information pulling them in all different directions. Almost any decision that seems to be a slam-dunk, no-brainer to one person is invariably screwing someone else, so the representative of the screwed people votes against it - just so they can tell their constituents after losing 58-1, "Hey - I did what I could to stop them from screwing you."

That is how toxic Rod Blagojevich was. There was NOBODY who had anything to gain from dissenting even a little bit to Rod being removed kicking and screaming from the office of governor. I'm actually a little surprised he didn't go to his office and handcuff himself to the radiator, while humming "We Shall Overcome" to himself.

Nobody wanted to be the person who could ever be painted as being on Rod's side in this. If the Senators had their way, a yay vote wouldn't have been good enough. The tally would have been 59 "Abso-f---king-lutely Yays" to nothing if the Senate's rules of order would have allowed it as an option.

Hopefully the next step is jail, because he'll probably use all of his extra spare time to try and become Ronnie Woo's sidekick to rebuild his popularity amongst the people. I can hear Ronnie now: "Get away - Woo! Douchebag - Woo! I work alone - Woo!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Garrett Olson, We Hardly Knew Ye

I never even saw what Garrett Olson looks like. Sure, I could have Googled him and found a picture of him. I still could, I suppose, but whats the point? He's a Mariner now.

The Cubs packaged newly-acquired Olson along with out-of-minor-league-options-but-probably-not-good-enough-to-stay-on-the-major-league-roster Ronny Cedeno to acquire booed-out-of-New-York-for-blowing-five-out-of-eight-saves-down-the-stretch-last-year Aaron Heilman.


This seems to be Jim Hendry trying to get something of value for his AAAA players while he can. Essentially, he has traded Felix Pie, formerly the untouchable prize of the system, and Cedeno, formerly the shortstop of the future, for Heilman and a middling prospect from the Orioles.

So what does Heilman bring to the table? This link provides more than enough statistical information, but basically from 2004 to 2007 he had a 3.27 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. His K:BB Ratio was about 3:1. Pretty good numbers. So why is he on his second team of the off-season?

Because last year, he posted a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. His K:BB Ratio fell to less than 2:1. Why the huge drop off? One theory is that Heilman may have been the most abused pitcher in baseball last year (and if not the most abused, then Carlos Marmol was #1 and Heilman #2), possibly accounting for his poor performance down the stretch. That raises two questions: 1) Has Heilman recovered from overuse and 2) Will Piniella continue to abuse both Marmol and Heilman in his bullpen?

Assuming Heilman is healthy and can rebound to anything close to his 2004-2007 numbers, he will compete for the fifth starting spot in the rotation. He also has more value because he could theoretically make the transition between starting and relieving easier than Sean Marshall can. Flexibility will be key on this pitching staff given Harden's fragility, Zambrano's questionable durabilty after putting so much mileage on his body over the last 6 years, and a potentially over-worked Marmol.

Also, even if the Cubs do manage to pry Jake Peavy away from the Padres, I'm not convinced he is healthy enough to make it through a full season. So Heilman, in a best case scenario, would probably function as the Terry Mulholland of this staff (though I doubt even Lou the Abuser would bring him out of the bullpen the day after he started as Riggleman did to Terry in 1998).

Of course, Heilman has stated he wants to start and may not be receptive to playing the swingman. But he also doesn't have great stats as a starter: 25 Starts, 5 Wins, 13 Losses, 5.93 ERA, 1.57 WHIP. So we may not want him starting.

After all of this, my reaction to the trade remains: huh.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Champion Rating: Carlos Zambrano

It turns out some radio guy in Indianapolis has already written the Cubs' 2009 season off. He analyzed the Cubs using the "Super Scout" method of determining whether a player is a "champion."

"...a new GM [for the Orioles] told all of the scouts that he wanted nothing but players who the scout could envision playing for a world championship team. If the scouts saw a good player, but thought the kid would never contribute to a champion, the Orioles would pass."

The conclusion of the blog was that the Cubs do not have enough "champions" and would therefore fold in the playoffs once again.

Since there is still some dead time (defined as: time when baseball is not being played), I thought I would look at the key players on the Cubs and give them my own Champion Rating and see where we stand.

It will not be scientific by any stretch of the imagination, but it will try to encompass both the players' past statistical performance, former playoff experience, and the ever-popular "intangibles." General Managers and coaches love "intangibles" with players. There is something to a player's mental makeup and approach being key in baseball, but always be wary when the first thing said about a new acquisition is that they like his intangibles. That is usually code for: He is not very good, but he hustles.

I'll still make other posts not relating to the Championship Rating, but let's be honest, until the sale of the Cubs is final or they actually start playing again, there isn't a heck of a lot relating to the Cubs to discuss.

WARNING: Until now, I have purposefully tried to stay away from raw statistics as much as possible, because most people's eyes tend to glaze over when faced with a mountain of numbers. However, in this case, it seems impossible to analyze without career data, so I apologize in advance.

Carlos Zambrano

We start right off with a fairly difficult call. Clearly, Zambrano has been huge for the Cubs as they have finally managed to develop a starter from their own farm system who does not have repeated arm injuries. Carlos has been a horse for the Cubs, pitching 200+ innings for five straight years, ending last year when he pitched "only" 188 innings.

The question of whether he has been an ace-level starter is harder to determine. From 2003 to 2006, Zambrano averaged almost 15 wins with a 3.13 ERA. However, in 2007 and 2008, he still managed to average 16 wins, but his ERA shot up to 3.93. Conversely, he averaged 192 strikeouts per year from '03 to '06, but only 153.5 in the last two years.

Could it be that all of the innings are having a negative impact on his performance? Possibly, but there is another coincidence in those years. From 2003 to 2006, Zambrano's salary averaged $2.7 million. In 2007, his salary jumped to $12.4 million, and then again to $16 million in 2008.

So are we looking at a guy who may have been gutting out a sore arm from about 1,200 innings of work, or a guy who has become a bit complacent after hitting his big payday? This is where the intangibles come in.

Zambrano is a competitor, sometimes to his own detriment. He gets inside his own head and loses focus, starts to scream into his glove, throws coolers around and breaks bats over his knee. But he has actually calmed down a bit in the last couple of years under Piniella (after his fight with Michael Barrett in the dugout, of course).

Zambrano was the victim of the Keystone Cops routine performed by the Cubs infield during Game 2 of last year's NLDS. By my count, he had already recorded five would-be outs in the 2nd inning before the floodgates opened and the runs started scoring. Before that, he had blown away the Dodgers in the first inning, including a strikeout of Manny Ramirez where Manny looked overmatched (which doesn't happen often).

Unfortunately, the rest of Zambrano's playoff performances aren't exactly stellar. Overall he is 0-2 with a 4.34 ERA. These are not numbers that demand the ball in a Game 1 situation, and hence why Piniella most likely gave the nod last year to Ryan Dempster, who had frankly outperformed Zambrano all year long, but especially so at the end where Zambrano had one phenomenal game (the no-hitter) sandwiched amongst some god-awful outings.

However, on the plus side, his playoff strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost 3.5 to 1 while his career regular season K:BB ratio is less than 2 to 1. Of course, sample size of playoffs games is too small to compare directly to career statistics, so that could mean nothing, or it could mean that Carlos gets a little bit more adrenalin flowing in the post-season and starts to miss a few more bats.

I also gave Zambrano credit for not imploding after the 2nd Inning From Hell. He went on and gave up only 2 more runs in the game (one of which was allowed by Neal Cotts but charged to Zambrano). That said a lot to me about Zambrano's will and desire to win, which make him someone I can envision on a championship team.

I give Zambrano the benefit of the doubt that desire or effort were not the problems last year. He does have problems staying focused, and his performance in the clutch is not MVP-worthy so I'll give him a Champion Rating of 7 out of 10.

Next up: Ryan Dempster

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Normally in the middle of January, we're all just counting the days until pitchers and catchers report to training camp. But the pending sale of the Cubs has the fans, talk radio, columnists, and bloggers in a frenzy.

The consensus opinion seems to be that anyone would be better than the Tribune Company. George Castle, author of numerous Cub-related books, makes a good point that the Cubs haven't been owned by a true fan of the team since William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932.

The Sun-Times reveals that Tom Ricketts was a first-hand witness to the pain and suffering of the 1984 team that blew the two games to nothing lead to Steve Garvey and the Padres in the NLCS.

One particular passage in the Sun-Times piece struck home with me:

"Thomas Ricketts, 43, declined to be interviewed, preferring not to court media attention until his bid is accepted. Tribune could still drop him, or Major League Baseball, which has the final say, could refuse his family's bid."

This is a man who doesn't just say he is a Cub fan. This is a guy that has been burned by the Cubs before and doesn't want to say much before the deal is done. He is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He knows the deal is not done. He knows that being five outs away from the World Series does not make actually going to the World Series a sure thing.

There are still all sorts of things that could end up making this deal go the other way. The other bidders could restructure their deals to include more money up front (which is ultimately what the Tribune and the bankruptcy lawyers are looking for). The other MLB owners could decide they don't want to let Ricketts into their little fraternity. There may be judges involved because of the bankruptcy.

The odds of something going wrong for Ricketts now are pretty long, but he knows that when you have a three run lead, five outs to go, and your ace on the mound, you don't stand up and yell to your beer-vendor buddy, "Hey Steve! I'll see you at the World Series!" (A member of my summer family actually did this and I swear to God, the next pitch was hit down into the left field bullpen seats to the poor bastard with the Walkman.)

He knows how it feels and soon he could very possibly be in the position to do something about it first hand, and he is not going to do anything to jinx it.

Well, in my continuing spirit of spitting in the face of the curse: Hey Tom! We'll see you at the World Series!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How Much For Those Cubbies in the Window?

The Tribune Company has finally named a preferred bidder to purchase the Cubs. The Ricketts family of TD Ameritrade fame is putting up $900 million to purchase a team that had a selling price of $21 million in 1981 when the Tribune bought them from the Wrigleys.

Thats a pretty good return on investment. I'm taking MBA classes so I should know. Over those 28 years, they earned almost 15% per year in value. Not too shabby.

I don't know much about the Ricketts, but I'm sure we will learn more in good time, and the opinions of wanna-be managers and owners will fly across the internet. I'm more concerned about the proposed purchase price.

For one, it drives home the fact that I will never own the Chicago Cubs.

I came to grips with the fact that I would never play for the Cubs a few years back. Its a sad day when you realize you will never be able to hit a curveball well enough to get a scout to notice you without hitting him with your car, but I got over it. Sort of.

But I always dreamt about hitting the Mega Millions jackpot and using the hundreds of millions to purchase the Cubs. Then I could remake the farm system, stop signing injured players, and keep the Cubs at Wrigley Field for as long as I live.

But the record Mega Millions jackpot is $390 million. Even if the goverment let me keep every nickel of that money, I would not have enough to outbid the Ricketts.

They are digging $450 million out of their own pockets and then borrowing $450 million more to complete the sale. The numbers are staggering.

Supposedly, the other offers were for more than $900 million, but those proposals involved more debt and less cash up front. Given that the Tribune has filed for bankruptcy, they are interested in getting as much cash up front as they possibly can, so the Ricketts take home the prize if they get approved by MLB and the owners.

I can never compete with that. If someone lended me $2,000 right now and I invested it so that I had 100% return each year (about the same likelihood as me learning to hit a curveball 400 feet), it would take me 20 years to raise the money to put down a similiar down payment as the Ricketts. The problem, however, is that by then, the Cubs will be worth over $13 billion.

So its not going to happen. I'd like to try though. Anyone have a couple thousand dollars laying around that they could lend me?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inblogguration Address

My fellow Cub fans:

I sit here before you on a couch in cyberspace, grateful for your stumbling upon this site while looking for nude photos of Jessica Alba.

Innumerable fans have taken the task of blogging about the Cubs before me. The words have been written during rising tides of prosperity and really crappy years that involve Doug Dascenzo coming in to pitch because the Cubs are losing by fifteen. At these moments, the Cubs have carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in the general manager's office, but because we the fans have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our dementia.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Cub fans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our team is at war, against a far-reaching network of hateful baseball gods. Our lineup is badly weakened, a consequence of a bad leadoff hitter and no dependable left-handed power. Playoff games have been lost; phenoms traded; Dodger drain pipes shattered. Our tickets are too costly; the concession stand lines are too slow; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use Alfonso Soriano strengthen our adversaries and threaten our team.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics found by nerds on the internet. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our stadium — a nagging fear that the Cubs' decline is inevitable, and that the next generation of fans must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, Cub fans— they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and bitching about Fukudome.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the poor fundamentals and false promises of "five-tool players" in our farm system, the injuries and worn out towel-drills, that for far too long have strangled our team.

We remain a young fan base, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things like the "We Got Wood" and "Horry Cow" t-shirts. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that no matter the score, some random minor celebrity will lead us in song during the 7th inning stretch.

In reaffirming the greatness of our team in the regular season, we understand that greatness is never a given in the playoffs. It must be earned. It is not a path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer drinking beer in the bleachers, or seek only the pleasures of drunk co-eds in ripped pink Cub t-shirts.

Rather, it has been the season-ticket holders, the Die-Hards, the people who time and again pay four times face value on StubHub — some celebrated, like Vince Vaughn or Ronnie Woo, but more often men and women obscure in their fandom, who have picked up the tab for the numerous losing teams that have come before.

For the Cubs, they fought their way to their seats through crowds busy reading the ornamental bricks or having their pictures taken by the Harry statue. For the Cubs, they endured raised ticket price after raised ticket price with the same results every year. For the Cubs, they stood in long lines in freezing cold weather to buy what remaining single-game tickets they could get their hands on.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that they might get a seat without a big post in front of them, or closer to the beer vendors. They saw the Cubs as bigger than the sum of the individual mediocre players.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful team on the North Side of Chicago.

Everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the bullpen calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new nicknames for Kevin Gregg, but to argue constantly whether he should close or set up Marmol. We will build support back for Fukudome as a starting centerfielder. We will restore our faith in Aramis Ramirez to hit in the clutch. We will harness the power of the W flag to further fuel future victories. And we will transform our beliefs that Milton Bradley will be hurt before the All-Star break. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that the weight of the curse may be too powerful to overcome. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this team has already done back in the late 1800s and early 1900s; what the Cubs can achieve when there are only about four other teams and no such thing as free agency.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale curses about goats that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our players' salaries are too big or too small, but whether the team works — whether they can score a runner from third with less than two out, or have the relievers strand inherited runners while protecting a lead. Where the answer is yes, we intend to cheer wildly. Where the answer is no, blind support will end. Those who manage to boot routine ground balls or repeatedly get picked off second base will be held to account — to run the bases wisely, reform bad habits, and hit the ball to the right side — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a team and its fans.

Nor is the question before us whether Lou Piniella is a force for good or ill. His power to generate wins and playoff appearances for the Cubs is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, his strategies can spin out of control — and that a team cannot prosper long when it pulls an ace during the 6th inning of a tied playoff game, or gives a Game 1 start to a #3 pitcher.

Recall that earlier fans faced down White Sox and Cardinal fans not just with thrown beer and hot dogs, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our chanting of "right field sucks" alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to run on the field to attack coaches, umpires, or players. Instead, they knew that our power grows through the prudent use of mocking opposing outfielders; from the justness of throwing back opposing homerun balls, and never ever, under any circumstances, starting "The Wave."

We are the keepers of this legacy. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by showing up in our ballpark in opposing teams' uniforms and yelling "You suck," at the tops of their lungs, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you by pelting you with peanuts, and telling you that you are the ones who suck.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a fan base of men and women, retirees and children — and tourists. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of WGN's broadcast range.

To the White Sox, we seek a new way forward, based on you not winning the World Series again before the Cubs do. To those managers on the South Side who seek to sow conflict, or blame their team's ills on the media bias — know that your fans will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

For as much as the players can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the Cub fans upon which this team relies.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of 1983, in the coldest of Aprils, a bad team was 5-14. Strategies were abandoned. The losses were mounting. The scorecards were littered with errors and strikeouts. At a moment when the success of the team was most in doubt, the manager uttered these words to the people:
"F--- those f---in' fans who come out here and say they're Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you rippin' every f---in' thing you do. I'll tell you one f---in' thing, I hope we get f---in' hotter than sh--, just to stuff it up them 3,000 f---in' people that show up every f---in' day, because if they're the real Chicago f---in' fans, they can kiss my f---in' a-- right downtown and PRINT IT."

Cubs fans, in the face of back-to-back failed playoff performances and 100 years of futility, in this April 1983 of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us f---in' stuff it up the f---in' gods' a--es, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not become White Sox fans nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and Harry's grace upon us, we carried forth and finally celebrated a World Series title.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the Chicago Cubs.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Survey Says....

I was not given a thank you for plopping down yet another significant chunk of my salary into the hands of the Cubs. When I walked into the office, I had my hopes partially raised because the fat dude wasn't the one in the booth, it was a pleasant-looking woman.

I waited behind a couple of people and tried to hear if they got thank yous, but all I could hear was the customers' ends of the conversations.

The moment of truth arrived and she asked if I had my invoice. I said that I did not, but I had my account number. She typed in the account number, confirmed me as the owner of the seat and went to print off something. She then took my check, wrote the account number on the back, stamped it and said, "OK, you're all set."

Then I said, "Thank you," and headed on out.

It was reflex. I couldn't help it. But I quickly realized I had just thanked them for the opportunity to hand over money from which I most likely will get no return.

Why would I do that? After paying the Cubs I went to Taco Bell to get a couple of tacos for lunch. The cashier thanked me. Then the woman who prepared and gave me the order thanked me. I am a larger individual, but I did not spend anywhere close to $3,000 at Taco Bell, but I got two thank you's from employees that make minimum wage.

I let a woman turn left in front of me on the way home. I got a thank you wave. Imagine if I had handed her a check for $3,000.

But I was the one who thanked the Cubs. I think I was thrown by the woman's pleasant demeanor. That was new. The fat guy always seemed pissed that I was making him do actual work by paying for my seat. So this was an improvement, but she would have had to actually put a knife to my throat as I walked in the door to make it a step down from the previous experiences. But it is a baby-step in the right direction.

I am just hopeful that the team's performance on the field improves by a larger increment this year, because if not, they still won't win a game in the post-season.

The Big Test

Today is the day I hand over most of what is left in my checking account to the Cubs in exchange for them letting me sit in my seat to watch them lose.

This will be my eleventh season in Aisle 424 and I don't believe the fat guy in the ticket office has thanked me yet when I drop off my check. Not that I'm bitter.

The Cubs made a big deal about improving customer service and building relationships with their season ticket holders this year. After losing in staggering fashion again last year, plus removing two fan favorites (not saying they weren't prudent baseball moves, but nevertheless Wood and DeRosa were extremely popular, especially with the ladies), not increasing their budget for salaries (citing the economy & unsettled team sale), they went ahead and raised our ticket prices anyway. A thank you when I hand over $3,000 for a single seat (in this economy) is the LEAST I should get. I would think a hug would be in order. Maybe flowers?

But all I want is the fat guy in the booth to say thank you. Once. He doesn't even have to mean it. Just say the words.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Same Old, Same Old...

The Cubs Convention is over and most of what I have heard is not a surprise. According to Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune, the tone was subdued with a hint of boredom.

The Bleed Cubbie Blue site reported that there were not many surprises during the Q&A sessions. Crane Kenney took the blame for having the priest blessing the dugout. He said the blessing was for good health, not necessarily to break the curse. I don't believe it, and I would have rather heard him own the fact that he believes in the curse.

They also mentioned that the Chicago Hilton & Towers may be too small to host the event. I have personally wondered why they have not moved to a larger facility. Frankly, I believe they could draw 250,000 people during the weekend by holding it at McCormick Place or another larger facility. (The current estimate of passes sold I have seen is 60,000, which I figure to be at least in the ballpark of accurate.) I'd rather they sold more passes to raise revenue than continue to raise my ticket prices.

Lou Piniella is reading some books while looking for answers to change the Cubs' inept performances in the playoffs the last two years. That says to me that Lou has no friggin' idea how it would be any different this year, and that scares the hell out of me. If Lou has no answers in mind after all of his experience, I'm not sure how a book or two is going to help anything.

The one true surprise came when pitching coach, Larry Rothschild seemed to contradict himself and the Cubs position when discussing Rich Harden's health. Supposedly Harden has been on a rigorous strength and conditioning program for his shoulder that will enable him to avoid surgery on his shoulder. Yet, after saying how Rich is throwing the ball well, he said, "'He's not close to throwing off a mound yet. There's some issues there, no question.''

So Harden is on course to not miss any time when pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, but he's not close to throwing from a mound? This is typical Cubs-speak and my interpretation is that he will miss most of the spring, and probably be left behind in Arizona at the start of the season for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the Cubs traded the last "phenom" from the Cubs' farm system, Felix Pie, to Baltimore for what appears to be the equivalent of pocket lint. I don't know much about the prospect they got in return, but Garrett Olson has just under a 7.00 ERA over the last two years. That is not good, nor is it in the vicinity of good. For comparison, Bob Howry had an ERA of 5.35 and just about everyone hated seeing him come into a game last year, so you can imagine how we will feel about Olson.

Lastly, Kerry Wood took out a couple of full page ads in the Trib and Sun-Times to thank Chicago fans for their support and to say goodbye as he moves on to Cleveland. In leaving Chicago, he once again shows the difference between himself and Mark Prior. Class all the way. I found a better version of the 20K montage I posted earlier. Don't watch it if you are easily depressed by what could have been. Thanks, Kerry.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good Times?

The Cubs Convention began today at 5:00 and I'm wondering about the tone this year.

First, for those who don't know, the Cubs Convention was conceived by John McDonough as an interactive off-season fest where fans could have the opportunity to mingle with Cubs players both current and former (for a fee). The idea was wildly successful and the Convention sells out within minutes every year.

I, personally, am not an autograph guy, I have a hard time shoving a ball or other random piece of whatever into someone's face to get them to sign it. But I know that many people like to have something signed by their favorite player. Especially kids. Unfortunately it is getting harder each year for the kids to negotiate through the professional autograph hounds.

The reality of the Convention now is that you don't have much more contact with players than you would if you went to a game. What started as an idea for the fans has become a conglomeration of memorabilia dealers and wanna-be journalists crowding out the kids and the kids-at-heart, with the players protected from the mobs by having designated times and places during which they will sign or have their pictures taken.

The former Cubs players are a bit more accessible. Many is the time I have seen Bobby Dernier sitting in the lounge surrounded by fans as he tells various stories. Otherwise you get in an hour-long line to spend maybe 10 seconds with someone like Fergie Jenkins or possibly Larry Biittner.

There are also sessions where fans sit in a room and have moderated dialogue with the players, coaches, management, or former players. Usually a WGN radio personality will interview a panel of players and then there will be time for the fans to approach a microphone to ask their questions. This is the part of the Convention where you get a good read on the overall sentiments of the fans.

After bad years, they are mad. How are we going to hit better? Why don't we hit and run more? Are we going to get a real lead-off man? Are we going to stop paying tons of money to guys who can't stay healthy?

After the playoff years, the questions are a little different. Shouldn't we give Geovany Soto a ten year contract right now? Is Carlos Marmol the best reliever in the league? Will Carlos Zambrano win the Cy Young this year?

But the Cubs haven't been to the playoffs two years in a row since 1907 & 1908. This fan base has never had its hopes raised after a good year and then had another good year follow. This fan base has always hoped that if the Cubs could ever get to be a repeated contender and playoff team, they could become a legitimate threat in the post-season, but the last two years the Cubs have destroyed that belief by completely disintegrating in the playoffs.

On top of the mixed feelings that people may have about the team's performance, there is the lackluster post-season. They have removed two fan favorites in Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa, and signed the middling talent of Aaron Miles, Kevin Gregg, and Milton Bradley. Its hard to believe that the Cubs' fortunes last year would have been different if Aaron Miles had been a part of the team.

So I am wondering about the mood of the fans. Are they excited? Are they pissed? Are they an ambivalent mixture that wants to be celebratory, but can't muster any enthusiasm?

If anybody attended, I'd love to know your take.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Towel Boy

I was watching a little bit of the new MLB Network the other night and a small item amongst the scrolling news items at the bottom of the screen caught my attention. Mark Prior has signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres. I felt my stomach do a small dip and roll to the left.

My opinion of Mark Prior remains that he is a coddled prima donna, who never appreciated the adoration of the Chicago Cubs fans who forgave him for melting down in the Bartman game, and were exceedingly patient with him as he bumped from injury to injury and couldn't seem to stay on the mound for any length of time.

Of course, the patience wore out and we all grew very tired of seeing nothing of Mark Prior other than the occasional "towel drill." (Are towels provided at the minor league level, or is it BYOT?) Nothing was helped by his extremely defensive and curt attitude as people began wondering if perhaps Mr. Prior did not have the mental toughness and pain threshold necessary to be a major league pitcher.

My girlfriend hates Mark Prior, but she wasn't paying that much attention to the Cubs in 2003 (the "Pre-Tim" or "Golden" Era) and doesn't remember how good he was. She never saw the Greg Maddux-like precision combined with the Curt Schilling-esque power. He would hit the outer corner with a two-seam fastball, blow another fastball by up and in, and then buckle the knees with a twelve-to-six curveball for strike three.

It was beautiful. It was effortless. The man had tree trunks for legs and drove all of his power through his lower body. This was supposed to cut down on arm injuries that are inherent in the "slingers" like Kerry Wood. Wood absolutely blew his arm out because all of his action was going through his arm and elbow, but Prior was supposed to be different.

Cub fans romanticize about Kerry Wood because he was likable and he had absolutely nasty stuff. But the fact of the matter is he never won more than 14 games or had an ERA lower than 3.20 in a season. The love was all based on potential and the glimmers of greatness and domination that we saw in games like his 20 strikeout game as a rookie. (Normally, the links I provide are not necessary, but you should really watch the video link of the 20K game - that is a baseball he is throwing, not a whiffleball.)

Mark Prior has no signature game where he absolutely dominated. No one talks about a singular game by saying, "I was there when Mark Prior..." He simply went out every start and mowed guys down. He finished 18-6 in his rookie year with a 2.43 ERA. He finished third in the Cy Young voting and ninth in MVP voting (most votes for a starting pitcher that year). To Cub fans, he was what everyone had hoped Kerry Wood would be.

In the end, he did end up mirroring Kerry Wood, but unfortunately, that is not a good thing. He couldn't stay healthy, and the fans started to turn on him.

The Cubs didn't help anything by being less than honest about the severity of his injuries. Cub fans needed a secret decoder ring to be able to determine what the Cubs meant when they announced the status of a Prior (or Wood) injury:

  • "Missing a couple of starts in Spring Training" = Gone at least until Opening Day

  • "Staying behind in camp to get tuned up" = Will not pitch until May at the earliest

  • "We're not going to rush him back and risk re-injury" = Might possibly think about considering a return after the All-Star break

  • "There has been a slight setback in the recovery" = Done for the season
Wood owned his injury troubles and came out and said on numerous occasions that he felt guilty for being paid so much money for doing nothing on the field. When his bloated contract ended, he could very well have gone to another team that was willing to take a risk and pay him exorbitantly despite the injury history, but he stayed with the Cubs for less money.

Prior went the other way. He avoided the media or got surly when questioned about his durability. He lacked Wood's charm to be able to deflect the tough questions, and withdrew from the fans even more.

Even so, when Jim Hendry tried to trade Prior to the Orioles for former MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada and up-and-coming lefty ace, Erik Bedard before the 2005 season, the Cub fan base went crazy. They were dying for either Prior or Wood to live up to their potential. At the end of his time with the Cubs, the fans would have traded him for me and been happy about it.

Prior never was relevant on the mound again. He hasn't pitched in a game since August 2006 and has undergone two shoulder surgeries since. His replica jersey hangs in my closet and mocks me because I actually believed in Mark Prior. I thought he was going to be the ace that could carry the Cubs to the top of the mountain.

Instead, all we did was learn more than we wanted about the towel drill and the technical difference between a "strained" and "torn" tendon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What the Hawk?

Let's have a quiz. I will give you some career data on two different baseball players. One of them is going to the Hall of Fame and one of them was rejected again on Monday. Think you can tell which is which?

Player A: 382 homeruns, 1,451 RBIs, 2,452 hits, 373 doubles, 79 triples, 58 stolen bases, .298 batting average.

Player B: 438 homeruns, 1,591 RBIs, 2,774 hits, 503 doubles, 98 triples, 314 stolen bases, .279 batting average.

Player A won an MVP award, finished in the top 5 in MVP voting five times, and received MVP votes in eight different seasons.

Player B won an MVP award, finished second twice, and received MVP votes in nine different seasons.

Player A was Rookie of the Year runner-up. Player B won Rookie of the Year.

Player A went to eight All-Star Games, four as a starter. Player B went to eight as well, seven as a starter.

Player A won two Silver Slugger Awards. Player B won four.

Player A did not win a Gold Glove for his defense. Player B won eight.

The major difference between these two hitters seems to be that Player A hit for a higher average and that Player B had more speed and was better in the field. Otherwise they are pretty close.

Who do you suppose got the call to the Hall? Those who said Player A, also known as Jim Rice, get the prize. Player B, also known as Andre Dawson, got only 67% of the vote (75% is needed for induction).

I don't get it. I just don't get it. The stories about Jim Rice finally getting the call during the fifteenth and final year he was going to be on the ballot all seem to mention in one way or another that the media did not like him very much because he was always kind of a jerk. Surely, the stories surmise, he would have been inducted sooner if he had maybe been a little nicer to reporters.

So what did "The Hawk" do wrong? He didn't play in a major market until his knees were shot to hell. His best years were spent in Montreal playing for a team that had almost no following or media exposure. No one saw him play on any regular basis.

The stadium in Montreal was a cavernous concrete dump with a thin layer of astroturf. It was ridiculously hard to hit a homerun there, but he still managed to hit 438. The astroturf shredded his knees and robbed him of his speed. At the end of his career, he could barely walk, much less run.

By the time he got to the Cubs he only had a couple of good seasons left in him. His first season playing on the grass of Wrigley Field resulted in him setting a career high in homeruns, but his doubles total went down. Quite simply, a good number of balls that would have been doubles in Montreal became homeruns. He would have quite easily had the magic number of 500 homeruns had he played his entire career in Wrigley.

I had hoped that the 1987 MVP year that the world got to see on WGN would open some eyes to just how good Andre was, but the fact that the Cubs finished in last place that year is held against him. Unfortunately, when the Cubs made it to the playoffs in 1989, he was a shell of his former self. He had been playing hurt all year and it showed in the playoffs, going only 2 for 19.

He rebounded in his next 3 years in Chicago, driving in an additional 294 runs, but the national press never got to see him in a playoff game again.

So, Andre Dawson, one of the most classy individuals in the game, is shut out of the Hall because he played in Montreal, had the misfortune to be injured during the one shining moment when everyone was paying attention, and because his career finished just as the steroid era was hitting full-stride and making the power numbers of the 1980s look feeble by comparison.

He did everything. He had speed, power, average, a cannon for an arm, and tremendous defensive instincts. Only three players have ever accumulated 400+ homeruns and 300+ stolen bases in their careers: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Andre Dawson. I would have traded Sammy Sosa at his peak for a healthy Dawson on any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

I thought he had a shot this year. Rickey Henderson was the only significant name added to the ballot. The writers are still on their horses about steroid use, so I thought it might be possible to reward the guys who put up pretty impressive numbers for their era. The guys who had to be mentioned in any discussion about the best outfielders in the 1980s. I thought this would be the year that Rice and Dawson both made it since they are such similiar players.

But Jim Rice gets in, and Andre Dawson does not? It is simply baffling.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Couple of Milk Crates and a Lawn Chair

I was driving through some side-streets today on the northwest side of the city. This is an area that is not hurting for parking spaces. It is mostly single family homes, and there are no shopping or dining areas nearby that would attract extra cars into the parking spaces.

I drove through and there were tons of spaces. Some were cleared out of snow all spic and span, some belonged to people who just drove it out of the snow bank, and most were somewhere in between. But there were LOTS of spaces. Definitely more spaces than there were cars.

Most of the spots were being guarded by furniture. For those of you who do not live in Chicago, this is a recurring phenomenon every winter. People dig their car out of a spot on the street and then they save their spot by putting old junked up furniture, paint cans, home-made barricades, milk crates, big bags of leaves, and whatever else might be useful in saving a spot.

The City of Chicago doesn't do much to stop this practice, though they did announce a couple of years ago that they would throw out furniture left on the street. I never actually saw that happen, but it may have.

The strange thing about today is that I live in an area that has very inflexible parking during the best of weather. On the sunniest day, you may not find a parking spot because of the two churches, one school, and various restaurants that are within a stones throw of my apartment. It seems logical that people in my neighborhood would be very eager for a big snowstorm just because they would then be able to "legally" claim a parking spot for their own for awhile. But I haven't seen that happen.

I also lived across the street from Wrigley Field a couple of years ago. That neighborhood has about 3 cars to every street parking spot, but I never saw that happen on my street.

But there I was today in this neighborhood filled with people who probably never have to worry about parking more than one house down from where they actually live, and they are carrying their entire furniture collection out to the street to save their spots.

I've got to get home and get my old bookcase outside by my temporary replacement Hyundai before the snow really hits.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Everybody Hates Rod

I can not even believe that Governor-for-now Rod Blagojedouche is a Cub fan. It's embarassing to be associated with him in even the smallest way. Its not even fair to call him a douchebag or jagoff because it is an insult to douchebags and jagoffs everywhere.

At this point, everybody knows that Rod was being investigated by the Feds for corruption and instead of curtailing his corrupt activities, he dared the Feds to bug his phones and went on his merry way attempting to sell President-elect Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

When he got arrested at his home for "staggering" levels of corruption, and snippets of his conversations were leaked out to the press, detailing his efforts to sell the seat (or appoint himself to avoid future impeachment), his chief of staff promptly resigned, as any sane person in the same position would. Not Rod though.

Rod posted bail and went back to work. He started governing like he has never governed before. He showed up at his office bright and early and put in a full day's work of governing. He governed his fingers to the bone.

Meanwhile, his lawyer started mounting a defense that involved the taxpayers paying for Rod's defense. Not the "if you can't afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you" kind of lawyer, a high-priced, super-lawyer that you might find at an O.J. trial (the first one).

The Illinois House, who collectively couldn't come to a consensus on the color of the sky, voted 113-0 to form an impeachment committee. The United States Senate came out and said they would not approve ANY appointment made by Rod. His approval rating hit 8%. Eight. His approval rating makes George Bush shake his head with pity.

So he is hated locally by virtually everyone not named Blagojevich, he has absolutely no political support at any level, and he is a national joke.

But Rod can not be deterred. He keeps going into his office like the little governor that could. He appointed Roland Burris to the Senate seat, and continues to try to settle an ongoing budget dispute that has involved cuts to education and child and family services, as well as leaving the state behind in payments for special education, transportation, and early childhood development. Oh... and he unilaterally decided to post honorary Jim Hendry Way signs in Park Ridge.

Park Ridge politicians and residents are angered by the governor's decision to post the signs without anyone's permission. I can not get past the fact that state bills are going unpaid, but Rod is out hanging signs to honor a general manager that hasn't won anything.

My girlfriend contracts with the state to evaluate small children for developmental delays that affect their ability to eat, walk, use their hands, speak, or learn problem-solving skills. She said that until the age of three, children have what is called neural plasticity. She explained to me in small words and a few drawings that neural plasticity is the ability of the brain to make new neural connections. Essentially, if the brain has bad connections, before the age of three it is much easier to redirect the connections and correct the issue. After the age of three, the neural connections slow significantly, making correction of issues much more difficult. So it would seem that delaying evaluations and therapy for these little guys would be not only wrong, but potentially tragic for families of undiagnosed children.

The state is over 3 months behind in payments to her for evaluation and therapy services. She hasn't been paid a nickel since the beginning of December. Luckily, my girlfriend is smart and knows the state of Illinois can't be trusted to pay their bills, so she has set aside cash to weather dry spells like this (this is not the first time the state has neglected to pay for long periods). Unfortunately, many individuals and small businesses don't have the resources and will be in danger of bankruptcy.

But Rod is sneaking around in the middle of the night hanging street signs that nobody wanted. He tried to make the outcry go away by saying he would pay for signs honoring White Sox general manager, Kenny Williams as well. That is not the point, Rod! Stop spending money on things that no one gives two shits about! Stop trying to resurrect your approval rating by doing nonsense things that you think will score you points with the uninformed.

You are an elected official that is supposed to be acting in the best interests of the state! You are supposed to be deciding how best to spend the tax dollars of your electorate. How do honorary signs that nobody wants somehow trump the state's ability to pay for children being able to learn to walk, speak, or even eat?

I hate that he is a Cub fan. It makes me feel dirty.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Go Cubs Go (and get a new song)

I got into my temporary replacement Hyundai to head home from work and turned on WGN radio. Almost immediately, I was hearing the tunes of Steve Goodman's "Go Cubs Go," which became the anthem of the 2007 and 2008 Cubs. It struck me that the Cubs "theme" would be getting played in the middle of January, but it turns out that Lou Piniella was about to be interviewed by Steve Cochran.

Lou said everything you would expect him to say:
  • Its a shame to lose Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa, but it was necessary to give the team more depth and athleticism while staying within the budget restraints of a team trying desperately to find a new owner.

  • We did our homework on Milton Bradley and he is just a special kid that everyone is really going to like and his switch-hitting balances out the lineup.

  • Aaron Miles adds high OBP and speed to the team.

  • Kevin Gregg will be a great addition to the bullpen in the late innings.

Yada, yada, yada.

I barely paid attention because he just wasn't going to say anything that wasn't a pre-determined answer.

I got caught on "Go Cubs Go."

It really is a lame song. It has a simplistic tune and fairly dumb lyrics with a bit of a catchy beat. Its definitely not something you rock out to on your iPod. It served its purpose well as it got ingrained in our heads as the Cubs victory song, but I think that was more of a Pavlovian response than actual love of the song itself.

After the pain and anger of the last two seasons, I wonder if the fans will be as willing to boogie on down to "Go Cubs Go" this year. The response for me when I heard it was a bit of depression. It brought me back to the place of huge disappointment and despair and I can't see it as a happy song anymore.

Maybe when the season starts and I'm back at Wrigley watching the Cubs win (if the Cubs win), the positivity will come back, but I don't think so. We have been burned twice in a row now by a team that promised the world and then went out and played like they were sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds. Even those of us who lowered our expectations out of habit were shocked by how horribly they played.

So again, I think a radical change is needed. We need something we can rally behind. Something we can shout from the rooftops in defiance of the baseball gods. The first song I thought of off the top of my head was "We're Not Going to Take It" by Twisted Sister. It is also rather simplistic, but it has the raw anger and defiance that the Cubs and their fans are going to need to bring down the tyrannical and unforgiving baseball gods.

I am not a music guru by any stretch of the imagination so I don't pretend to have the answers, so I'll throw it out there into the ether.

Anybody else have any ideas?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are You There Baseball Gods? It's Me, Tim

I have always been very respectful of the baseball gods. I am well aware of their powers to destroy a player or team that they deem unworthy. I know that they have decided, for one reason or another that the Cubs shall never win another championship.

I have tried, over the years, to get back into their good graces and to convince them to forgive the hubris and bandwagon-jumping that accompanies every Cub team that somehow gets its nose over the .500 mark. I am very careful to not declare that I believe the Cubs will win. When asked what I think about the Cubs' chances, I reply that I am enjoying their current success very much thank you, and I hope it continues. No bragging. No picking on other teams' fans because they are having a bad year. You just close your eyes and hope it continues. But it never does.

I've come to the conclusion that no amount of kow-towing or groveling is going to be good enough for the baseball gods. They hate the Cubs and that is all there is to it. So you know what? The baseball gods can suck it.

You heard me. The baseball gods who thought it was funny to destroy a poor guy's life just because he happened to be the "lucky" one who touched that foul ball in 2003. The ones who were amused by the black cat running around Ron Santo in 1969, or the ball that Leon Durham "Bucknered" two years before Buckner's famous gaffe for the Red Sox (by the way - Buckner was wearing his "lucky" Cubs batting glove under his mitt that night).

To those who turn crappy ballplayers like Jeff Blauser, Mike Mordecai, Austin Kearns, and Brad Ausmus into Cub killers. To those who turn players with actual talent like Will Clark, Steve Garvey, and Josh Beckett into unstoppable forces who can single-handedly crush an entire season. They all can suck it.

I've had enough. The gods deemed that the Red Sox have paid off their debts for selling Babe Ruth to finance a musical. They have forgiven the White Sox for throwing a World Series! But the Cubs have not been forgiven for refusing to let a smelly goat into the bleachers for a World Series game. How is that the biggest crime in baseball history? So the goat can suck it too.

So if by some miracle anyone from the Cubs organization reads this, please tell anyone you work with what I am saying. Because every time someone does some publicity stunt to break the curse, all it does is give more credence to it in the first place.

They had a priest bless the dugout before the playoffs last year. How is that different than the destruction of the Bartman ball or the numerous attempts by the Sianis family (owners of the original goat) to get out from under whatever hex has been placed on them? When the cameras caught the blessing ceremony, the Cubs said that it was supposed to be private and not meant for the public to see.

That means one of two things. Either the Cubs have gotten extremely covert in their publicity stunts (which I highly doubt) or THEY BELIEVE IN THE CURSE! They say they don't, but there was Crane Kenney finding a priest to sprinkle some holy water in the dugouts before the game. Its one thing to have fans and media talk about it, but the organization itself? The top guy in the organization? No, no, no, no, no!

They will not win anything until they decide in their hearts that they will win in spite of the curse. They need to tell the gods to bring it. They need to channel their inner Obama (yeah, he's a White Sox fan, what about it?) and tell the baseball gods that at this time, in this place and with one voice: Yes We Can. So suck it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

193,000 Miles is the End of the Road

The day finally arrived and its hitting me harder than I thought it would.

My car is gone. I could have put tons of money and time into trying to extend its life just a bit longer, but its time.

It had a tough life here in Chicago. Shortly after coming with me to Chicago from its original owner in Tinley Park, it was viciously assaulted twice while parked in parking lots and minding its own business. It also was rear-ended while having the audacity to be stopped at a red light. It was stolen and probably used as shelter by my former roommate with the gambling problem. It was towed a couple of times thanks to the Wrigleyville Parking Gestapo that has no mercy, as well as some unpaid parking tickets for which I have to take the blame (though The Gambler contributed his share as well).

In hindsight, it really is amazing my little 1993 Honda Civic lasted as long as it did.

Early on, despite the dents, it would happily take me to Jamestown, NY and back on a regular basis. It took me to numerous friends' weddings, a family reunion in the Smoky Mountains, and all over the Midwest for various weekend getaways.

Its last years were not its best. The air conditioning had long since stopped working, the rust was creeping in around where the various dents had been made by my fellow Chicago motorists, the radio was dead, and it had a recurring case of over-heating that would pop up from time to time and then just kind of go away.

I got the call from Ken at Tok's Auto and there was a long pause before he broke the news. Bad distributor, bad timing belt, and unfortunately, the car's computer was gone. There wasn't much else he could do.

I'm sure my dad is a bit proud that I have carried on his tradition of taking Civics to the very ends of their lives. I don't know if its a genetic quality or a learned response, but darned if I probably won't eventually get myself another Honda.

So my Civic died much as it lived, after dutifully starting up in the sub-freezing temperatures to bring me to Garcia's for a burrito. It just could never start back up on its own again. 193,000 miles was all it had in it. Thanks for taking me so many miles, little Civic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Letter

Every year, I get The Letter. The Letter doesn't change much from year to year.

The actual words change, but the message is the same:

Dear Cubs Season Ticket Holder,

Thanks for your support last season. Sorry we lost. Again. But this year we are even more committed to bringing a World Series to the "Best Fans in the World." We hope to see you return this year to beautiful Wrigley Field to set an attendance record. Again.

Of course, by keeping Wrigley Field free of advertising (mostly), we are challenged to find revenue that will allow us to field a team that will make you, our loyal fans, proud. So we are raising ticket prices. Again.

But be comforted in the fact that the average ticket price for Wrigley Field is still less than at Fenway Park, the other stadium where demand is high and seating is limited by the restrictions of a landmark-worthy stadium. Pay no attention to the two World Series championships won by the Red Sox in the past 5 seasons, and definitely do not compare them to the zero championships won by the Cubs in the last 100 years.

We are looking forward to another great season because we just signed some players who had their best seasons for other teams, and are happy to bring back some great players who can't seem to stay healthy. Again. We are also very excited about our young talent from the minors that will never quite develop into quality players. Again.

We will need you to pay your entire balance by the middle of January. We must receive your payment on time as we have a significant number of people on the season ticket waiting list. That means that we have 85,000 other people who will gladly give us their money for your seat, so you better fork it over. Again.

Oh, by the way, since the demand is so high, we won't be improving anyone's seat and you can't buy any extra tickets before they go on sale to the public. Again. We would also be remiss if we didn't remind you that 85,000 people are just aching to write us a check if you don't give us the money. So give it to us. Now. Seriously.

See you at the ballpark!

The Chicago Cubs

Its hard not to feel warmed by the appreciation and loyalty. Where's my checkbook?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stephen A. Smith is a Moron

My intentions of starting this blog was to have an outlet for my various rants on numerous topics (but mostly the Cubs) so I could spare my girlfriend and others from having to hear me go on and on about things they barely care about. My intentions were to try to describe how my emotional state of being has become so closely tied to the welfare of my favorite team that it borders on psychosis (and many would probably just remove the phrase "borders on"). My intentions were to slowly indoctrinate the reader into my world instead of throwing them headlong into the dark abyss of my brain.

But instead, I think I will just verbally assault Stephen A. Smith of ESPN for writing one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. You know the scene in National Lampoon's Vacation where Chevy Chase gets so infuriated with Wally World being closed that he lets loose with a profanity-laced tirade that would make Lee Elia blush? That is my subconscious right now. I am having trouble forming coherent sentences to aptly reply to the dumbest baseball article ever.

Mr. Smith asserts that since the Yankees have gone a full decade without winning a championship, the signing of C.C. Sabathia (7 years, $161 million), A.J. Burnett (5 years $82.5 million) and Mark Teixiera (estimated 8 years, $180 million) is not enough. He feels that not only should the Yankees sign Manny Ramirez, who wants $75 million for 3 years, but that they NEED to sign him to cure the hard-suffering Yankee fans of their decade long misery.

He calls the past 10 years where the Yankees averaged 97 wins and made the playoffs every year but last year, "too painful, too vivid, to recall or discuss." Are you f---ing kidding me?

Yankee fans have no idea what pain is. They can't even begin to fathom the annual hopelessness and despair that accompanies being a Cub fan. I used to get pissed when Red Sox fans wouldn't shut up about their pain and suffering when they were at least contenders every damn year, and the Cubs had already gone a decade without winning when the Red Sox started their little streak. But where the hell does Stephen A. Smith get the temerity to even SUGGEST that Yankee fans suffer?

If 10 years is causing suffering among the Yankee faithful, then New Yorkers are the biggest bunch of wusses and pansies ever. When it comes right down to it, they have suffered the emotional equivalent of a papercut. If I were a Yankee fan, I would want to punch the hell out of Smith for thinking I am so weak that I can't handle a 10 year championship drought, when (all things being equal) you should only expect to win one every 30 years. (Hear that Philadelphia? You beat expectations!)

Smith says that the last time the Yankees won a World Series was when Bill Clinton was in office. You know who was in office the last time the Cubs won? Roosevelt. Not Franklin, mind you, Teddy! The first World War hadn't started yet. The Titanic hadn't been built yet. Women couldn't vote. And Smith is telling me about Clinton? I was old enough to vote for Clinton!

The last time the Cubs even got there was when Franklin Roosevelt was in office, JFK was still in the Navy, and Israel didn't exist yet. There is no ungodly way that a Yankee fan can ever understand that kind of repeated futility - certainly not in my lifetime anyway.

You know the worst part of reading that article? It underscored just how good Manny Ramirez is. The man is a hitting machine who hits better than most all-stars even when he is all pissed off and unmotivated. This is a guy the Cubs need in their lineup! Derek Lee is a great guy and wonderful to have in the clubhouse, but the man hasn't done anything in the postseason since knocking in the go ahead runs in the 2003 NLCS against the Cubs. Manny's presence in the lineup would almost assuredly guarantee that the Cubs' offense would at least show up in the postseason.

But the Cubs answer to 101 years of nothing is signing Milton Bradley. Yes, the same Milton Bradley that has played an average of 90 games per season over his career (more than 100 only 3 times out of 9 seasons). The same Milton Bradley who has never driven in more than 80 runs in a season. The same Milton Bradley that has hit 20 or more homeruns exactly once (last year with 22). The same Milton Bradley who had his 2007 season end (while his team was involved in a very tense pennant race) because he blew out his ACL while arguing with an umpire. He has attacked physically and/or verbally a fan, an umpire, his manager, a team mate, a broadcaster, and the media. I believe that is the closest he has ever come to getting the cycle.

The Cubs are paying him $30 million and leaving Manny on the free agent market. The same Manny that has hit 40+ HRs in 5 different seasons, and averaged 32 per year for his career. He has averaged 114 RBIs (with a high of 165). He has a career average of .320. Who needs a guy like that in your lineup when you have lost 9 consecutive postseason games?

Milton Bradley... $30 million over 3 years... sigh....

That, Mr. Stephen A. Smith, is a sports team causing pain and suffering among its fan base. Now please excuse me, I have to go curl up in a fetal position for awhile.