Saturday, February 28, 2009
That is all very nice, and I am very happy for the man (I can't really call him a "young" man since a 29 year-old ballplayer is not considered young anymore), but his performance so far has been making me think about Gary Scott.
Gary Scott was a third base prospect in the early 90s that was hyped by the Cubs and their propaganda newsletter, Vine Line, as the next coming of Ron Santo. Scott was the prototypical kind of player the Cubs like to hype to their fan base: a hard-playing, team-oriented, defense-minded, high-character white guy.
Scott would go down to Mesa and tear the cover off the ball all spring long and make the team as the starting third baseman. Then the airlines would apparently lose the luggage in which he stored his talent on the flight to Chicago. In 1991, he batted .165 until May 14, when the Cubs sent him down.
In 1992, he had another great spring and made the team again as the starting third baseman. Again, somewhere between Arizona and Chicago, he misplaced his talent. He was batting a robust .103 on the season when I stepped into the picture.
On April 20, 1992 I headed for the bleachers with a group of my college friends for what the Cubs billed as "Opening Night IV" (first night game of the year), and I decided that I was going to be a Gary Scott fan. The guy needed a fan, and I was going to cheer for him, no matter what.
Greg Maddux started the game and when he struck someone out, I would yell to Gary that he did a great job standing there. I took every opportunity to try to boost his confidence.
Gary's first at-bat resulted in a weak grounder to short where he was thrown out easily. I yelled to him that he did a great job hustling, and that he had been robbed. (I was not above stretching the truth a bit in my efforts to help him out.)
It is important to note that I did not have a single drop of alcohol in my system. I was not of age quite yet, and I was not a cool kid who managed to get a fake ID or talk older people into buying drinks for me. I was drinking nothing stronger than Pepsi that night.
The game went on and Greg Maddux hit a towering homerun over my head and out of the stadium towards the Budweiser building, so the Cubs had the lead and we were all in good spirits. I was consistently telling Gary Scott how well he was playing, despite not doing anything more impressive than spitting and scratching himself on occasion.
Later, the Cubs had two runners on and Doug Dascenzo at the plate. After the count went to 2-0, I realized Gary was on deck. So, I yelled out, "Go ahead and walk him! Gary will hit a grand slam!"
At this point, most of the folks in the bleachers were probably pretty convinced I was either drunk, crazy, or a combination of the two, but I could care less. Dascenzo walked to load the bases, and as Gary came up to the plate, I rose to my feet for the pre-emptive one-man-standing ovation.
On the very first pitch, he cranked a deep drive to left that from my perspective definitely had homerun distance. As the ball sailed, all I could say was, "No way! No way! NO WAY!....... It's FOUL! F---!"
"Thats OK, Gary! You can do it again. Straighten it out a bit! You own this guy!"
Gary returned to the batters box and ran the count to 2-2, and then fouled off eight straight pitches. When I say he "fouled off" the pitches, it would be more accurate to stay he barely managed to touch the ball eight straight times. He hit a conglomeration of piddling grounders and pop-ups that barely made it into the stands. It was not awe inspiring in any way.
As the at-bat wore on, the attitude in the stands started to change. Around the tenth pitch of the at-bat, the rest of Wrigley joined me on the Gary Scott Bandwagon, and began chanting, "Gar-y, Gar-y, Gar-y." Quietly at first, as though everyone was still a bit embarassed to be rooting for a guy batting .100, but it steadily rose in volume.
Every swing he took caused me to have a brief heart-attack until I saw he would live to swing at least one more time. I was barely alive to see the thirteenth pitch in the at-bat. He finally hit one that was not going to be foul. He hit it pretty well and it arched out towards the left-field basket, getting pushed ever so slightly by the wind as it went. When it landed in the first row of the bleachers for the grand slam I had predicted, the entire stadium exploded into bedlam.
Beer was tossed everywhere. High-fives and hugs were had all around like the Cubs had just won the division. I was suddenly the most popular guy in the bleachers.
Gary did a little curtain call that has to be one of the earliest curtain calls in a Cubs season, and the place went nuts again.
I figured that was the moment when Gary would turn the corner. He came up next (with the stadium again joining me in our displays of admiration), and sure enough, he hit the ball pretty hard.... right at the second baseman for an out.
He then went the next three games without a hit and was sent back down to the minors again. After a couple of brief call-ups later in the year, his major league career was over.
So what does this mean for Micah Hoffpauir? Probably nothing, which is about how meaningful these three games are to the overall track of his future career success.
Perhaps he'll become a fixture at Wrigley for the next few years, providing numerous clutch hits to thrill the crowd. Perhaps he'll have that once-in-a-career opportunity to thrill us in the moment, and wax nostalgic about seventeen years later. Perhaps he'll never make the team and we never hear from him again.
If he learns anything from the Gary Scott story, he should definitely pack his talent in his carry-on bag if he makes the major league club.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Losing Kerr and Van Lier on the same day would be like the Cubs losing Billy Williams and Ron Santo on the same day. The only macabre coincidence that overshadows this one that I can think of is John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on the same July 4th.
Yesterday started out poorly enough with the news about Van Lier early in the day. I had always admired his fire and love of the Bulls. I never saw him play, so I have no real appreciation for his on-court skills, but his tenacity and effort has seemed to be what set him apart from other players of equal calibre. In his broadcasts, you could tell his love of Chicago Bulls basketball ran deep and he was unafraid of expressing his opinions about the current incarnation of the team, good or bad.
It was also surprising because he had seemed in good health overall and he was only 61. It was far to soon for us to lose Stormin' Norman.
Late last night, I was about to close up my laptop and a twitter message came across from the Sun Times that Johnny Kerr had reportedly died and they were working to verify the story. Now, the Sun-Times is not usually what I would call journalism at its finest, but it certainly is not a rumor-mongering rag so I was fairly confident that it would prove to be true in the end.
Of course, it was confirmed and I sat transfixed on my couch with my twitter account buzzing with posts of shock and sadness from across the internet. Comcast Sportsnet had a very somber tone as they chronicled the lives and deaths of both Bulls legends.
I was not as surprised by Kerr's passing. He had been battling prostate cancer, and was visibly looking more frail on television broadcasts. Nevertheless, I never thought he was going to pass away quite so soon at the age of 76. Combined with the earlier news about Van Lier, it was extremely shocking and depressing.
Bulls basketball will never quite be the same.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Bradley does have to be awarded the silver medal though. Taking a walk in his first plate appearance of Spring Training (while not swinging the bat once) resulted in what was later described as "mild tightness in his left quad." He was removed from the game as a precautionary measure.
I'm sure this is nothing and he will play again during the spring exhibition season (unlike some former Cubs' pitching phenoms I will only identify by saying their names rhyme with "should" and "crier"), but it nevertheless brings the seemingly inevitable specter of injuries into our collective consciousness far earlier in the season than even the most jaded of us fans expected.
This is where many fans will start waiting for when this gets worse. When will we lose our $30 million left-handed bat that was supposed to bring balance to the lineup? Will Milton Bradley be our version of Randy Myers, who got paid about $14 million by the Padres for essentially doing nothing for them (14 1/3 innings and 6.28 ERA in 1998, zero innings in 1999 or 2000)?
I will not be letting myself lose sleep over this. I doubt that Milton Bradley is the difference between success and failure for the Cubs. Plus, I'd rather see Bradley sit out most of the spring anyway. Give him some at-bats to get used to live pitching, but there is no sense on wasting the finite number of games his body has left on meaningless pre-season games.
Maybe they should wrap him in bubble-wrap too. I'd say it couldn't hurt to try, but I bet he could find a way.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I know I am not in my full baseball season mode. I have only recently even begun to formulate a strategy for my fantasy baseball teams. At this point, I have my team name chosen in my keeper league (Boom! Roasted), but no semblance of an auction strategy yet.
My other team is even worse shape. I have no name, and I have not even begun to put together a draft sheet. My draft is less than a month away and I haven't even looked at any pre-rankings of players yet.
I think part of the problem is that it is still frickin' freezing out. There is not much in the Chicago weather to suggest that baseball season is around the corner. April is never warm at Wrigley and I have stopped even hoping to be semi-warm on Opening Day. I'm now happy if it is not snowing and the wind chill stays above freezing, but even by those standards, it is not close to baseball weather yet.
I also haven't received my season tickets from the Cubs yet. That is usually the day where I turn the mental corner into baseball mode. I don't run out into the snowy street and hug my FedEx driver like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch, but I usually have the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in my head as I open the package.
Myy mental preparation has also been further slowed by an inability to make it out to Arizona this year for Spring Training. I have been making so by living vicariously through the Boys of Spring blog that posts a lot of pictures and goings-on from Fitch Park and Ho Ho Kam.
So I'll be tuning in to the game today on WGN radio to hear Pat describe the colors of the teams uniforms, Ron being unfamiliar with most of the minor league players, and some scintillating conversation about tuna fish sandwiches. I can't wait.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I started to think about how long it has been since there has been a really good baseball movie. Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore is the last one that comes to mind, and that was put out in 2005.
I understand that the underdog stories are done to death and have become horribly cliched by now, but you would think someone would be able to come up with something fresh about the national pastime.
But until the next baseball movie classic comes to theatres (and because there is not much else interesting going on around the Cubs right now), I thought I would throw out my nominations for Best Baseball Scene. This is not a measure of the movies' quality in their entirety, but rather of the indelible scenes within the movie.
Bad News Bears - Final inning for the Bears - In the final game of the Little League World Series, the most talentless of the underdog Bears mount a two-out rally against the evil Yankees. The bases are loaded and the superstar-bad-ass Kelly Leak is at the plate. The Yankees try to intentionally walk him, but Leak leans out over the plate and smacks a drive into the gap. The bases are cleared as Leak comes streaking around as the tying run, only to be thrown out at the plate. The Bears lose, but take the 2nd Place trophy and tell the Yankees where to collectively stick it. I love the lack of a fairy-tale ending, and the kids drinking/spraying celebratory beers after the game. You wouldn't be able to have that in a movie made with kids today.
Pride of the Yankees - Gehrig's Luckiest Man on Earth speech - I know this is an odd choice in a Cubs blog, and one that seems overly sentimental for our modern, jaded tastes, but this really is a great finish to an excellent movie from its time. Gary Cooper, delivers the speech perfectly, and it is enhanced by having the actual Babe Ruth as part of the scene. It is heartbreaking to see the Iron Horse at the end of his career, and life, facing it with dignity and class.
A League of Their Own - "There's no crying in baseball!" - The AAWBL Rockford Peach's manager, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) verbally chastises his right fielder for missing the cut-off (wo)man, resulting in her breaking into tears. Unable to process how this turn of events could be possible, he breaks into a rant about no crying in baseball that has propelled it into our cultural mainstream.
Anybody else want to toss in their favorite scenes?
Saturday, February 21, 2009
My mother took me to my first baseball game near the end of the 1979 season. It was a White Sox game against the Mariners at Comiskey Park. Wayne Nordhagen hit two homeruns and the White Sox won 3-1. The scoreboard exploded after every homerun, and during the 7th inning stretch, there was a crazy old guy in the press box that sang along and danced to Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The night sky lit up with fireworks after the game, and everyone sang the Na-Na-Na song after the victory.
It was a great game for a seven-year old as a first game.
The next year, my mom and my aunt and uncle brought me to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field. It was a day game (of course) and the soon-to-be World Champion Philadelphia Phillies opened up a can of whup-ass on the hapless Cubs.
Willie Hernandez started for the Cubs and got hammered around. The Cubs trotted out the likes of Lynn McGlothen, Bill Caudill, and Doug Capilla from the bullpen. Mike Schmidt hit two of the roughly 300 homeruns he hit against the Cubs that day, and Steve Carlton could have thrown a shutout against a lineup including Mike Vail, Jerry Martin, Steve Ontiveros, and Tim Blackwell, but was lifted after seven innings. Oh, and Pete Rose also got a couple of hits and the Phillies won the game 7-0.
I learned a few things that day. I learned that day baseball is inherently better than night baseball. I learned that the Cubs could never get Mike Schmidt out. I learned from the guy in front of me that Dave Kingman was "worthless" and that Bill Buckner was "over-rated." I learned that drunk girls can sometimes be enticed to take off their shirts at a baseball game.
I learned that I was a Cub fan.
During the 1984 season, my mom moved us to Jamestown, New York. The first thing I checked upon getting there was whether the local provider included WGN in its cable package. It was on a more premium package, but she agreed to purchase that package so I could still watch the games.
My dad still lived in Chicago, so I got to go to a game each year when I visited during the summer, but it was hard knowing I couldn't go more often. I watched the 1984 playoffs, the first night game, and the 1989 playoffs on our family room TV in Jamestown.
But my mom would often arrange for us to go see a Cub game or two in Pittsburgh. Sometimes my brother would come, and sometimes not, but the trip was always planned for me.
As a teenager, you don't often appreciate the important things at the time. Back then, it seemed like kind of a raw deal that I had to go to see Cub games at the concrete multi-purpose monstrosity at the convergence of the Allegheny and Mononghela rivers instead of at Wrigley Field.
It seemed unfair to have to watch a game with someone like my mom, who enjoys the games, but doesn't know much about it beyond the basics. I couldn't get into a conversation with her about whether Don Zimmer should leave in Mike Bielecki or call for Paul Assenmacher. Meanwhile, I had no interest in her observations that Mark Grace had a nice butt.
Since then, I realized she was trying to find something she could share with me that I enjoyed. She could probably have cared less about the games, and I'm sure she could have used the money we spent on gas, food and lodging in Pittsburgh for other things.
So while she didn't play catch in the backyard or have an opinion on whether the Cubs should have traded Rafael Palmeiro, I definitely have her to thank for contributing heavily to my love of baseball and the Cubs.
I'll leave it up to you to decide if that is a good thing or not, but I think its a good thing.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The Cubs instituted a wristband policy a few years ago to prevent people from camping out in front of the ticket offices overnight. This has proved to be one of the wisest moves the Cubs have ever made, since the demand has risen so high that there would be people living in a makeshift shanty town established at the corner of Clark and Addison moments after the final out of the previous season.
I love the Cubs. I think I've established that, even among those who only know me through this blog. Nevertheless, the annual feeding frenzy for the single-game tickets amazes me every year. There will be people standing in line in the frigid cold, or waiting hours in the online virtual waiting rooms hoping to get the right to buy an obstructed view seat for a game againt the White Sox or Cardinals.
Let me tell anyone who may be considering purchasing an obstructed view seat at Wrigley Field on the rationale that it gets you into the park: That is all it does. It gets you in the park. When you get an obstructed view seat that actually says so on the ticket, they are not kidding around. The only thing you will be able to see is whatever graffiti may have been written on the pole by the person who sat there for the game before.
If the pole is only partially or mostly in your sight lines, the ticket will not indicate it as obstructed view. You have been warned.
Also, be prepared to not get anything you want. As many rules and regulations as the Cubs dream up to prevent the non-Cub sanctioned scalpers from buying up all the tickets to the good games, those same scalpers always manage to find a way around those rules to suck up whatever remaining scraps of tickets are left.
Anybody hoping to get tickets online will have a two hour disadvantage to the live braceleted ticket buyers because the tickets start selling at the box office at 8:00 AM, but the online sales begin at 10:00 AM. If you're looking for Opening Day (and I am, by the way, if anyone has an extra), or Crosstown tickets online - I wish you luck and hope that you like scattered single seats in the 500 sections.
Those three people who get the tickets they want will dance around like Charlie Bucket after finding the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. I only ask that you not wave them around in front of those who are not so lucky. People have been known to get shot for lesser things in this city.
Good luck to everyone. I will be trying to get that extra Opening Day ticket, so I'll see you around the virtual waiting room.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
However, not being a graduate of the Carol Slezak School of Broad Generalities, I thought I should check into the matter a bit further and pulled out my trusty (rusty) Excel skills.
I compared the number of posts I have made per week through the life of this blog to the number of posts that deal primarily with statistical analysis:
As you may be able to see in the fuzzy chart and diagram, there has been a recent spike in the number of posts dealing primarily with stats. The red area represents the number of stat-based posts against the total number of posts represented by the blue area. This chart shows periodic spikes in statistical activity that appear to be growing over time.I decided to dig a bit deeper to see what percentage of my posts have dealt with stats to see if there is a noticeable effect on the overall content of the blog:
Clearly, the blue line, representing the overall percentage of posts dealing with stats, has been trending upward over the life of the blog. Currently, 21.2% of my posts have dealt with stats. That is up from 11.5% just two weeks ago. Overall, the percentage of stat-related posts has been growing at a rate of just over 3.5% per week.
If I chart the trend line (blue) over the actual stat percentage rate (red), and extrapolate it out into the future at the current pace, the projection shows that this blog will be 100% statistical analysis by the end of July.
While this may excite the nerds and geeks of the world like myself, I am at risk of alienating my core audience that consists of females who read this blog primarily out of obligation because they happen to be dating me.
So I'm going to give the stats a rest for now and allow everyone a chance to dig out from under the piles of numbers I have been shoveling around lately. I am 98.3% sure I am doing the right thing, but there is only a 67% chance of that.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
But when it is a Chicago columnist writing for one of the city's major newspapers, I'd like to think there would be a bit more understanding of the team, the players, and the fundamentals of the the sport itself.
Carol Slezak, of the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote about Lou Piniella's ruminations about moving Soriano down in the batting order, and wonders why Lou just doesn't do it.
I spent some time yesterday on the same subject. Ms. Slezak and I have come to two differing opinions on the subject. The difference is that Slezak has no basis for her opinions other than faulty assumptions.
She uses statistics twice in her whole column. In the first instance she states:
"The Cubs like to point out that they were 69-37 last season when Soriano led off. But here's a more telling statistic: They're 0-6 in the last two postseasons. Here's another more telling stat: Soriano had an .071 on-base percentage in the three '08 playoff losses."
OK, I'll agree that an .071 OBP from your leadoff hitter in the playoffs did nothing to help the Cubs, but what about Aramis Ramirez batting .182 last year, and .087 in the two playoff series combined? Derrek Lee had zero RBIs in the two post-seasons combined (1 for 9 with 2 double plays with runners on base, with the one hit being described as a weak grounder past third).
Soriano was hardly the only guy struggling in the playoffs, and I find fault with the logic that moving him into the three-hole (or wherever she wants to move him) would have magically changed anything about his production.
Her only other stat is a made-up one:
"There's no need to overthink this one. If you polled Cubs fans, 99.9 percent would say Soriano never should bat leadoff again, and they'd be right."
Really? 99.9%? If you even take a brief look through Cubs blog land, you'll see that simply isn't true. A few people over at waxpaperbeercup disagree with moving Soriano. Bleed Cubbie Blue has a thread of posts that seem fairly evenly divided on the issue. Clearly, I disagree, and I know I've had conversations with other members of Aisle 424 who have argued in the past that Soriano may not be ideal, but he is the best alternative the Cubs have. While I know I have been known to have some differing opinions and have been known to hang out with and emulate people who are on the fringe of mainstream ideas, I don't think you would even get close to 99.9% in a poll of Cub fans. Stay tuned for why that fictitious 99.9% would be wrong.
For the bulk of the column, Ms. Slezak just makes arguments with no statistical evidence at all:
"Any combination of Ryan Theriot, Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot should produce results at least as good as Soriano has in the last two years in the leadoff spot, freeing Soriano to drive in more runs."
Well, I took about two minutes to go to baseball-reference.com to see if her assertion was based in fact. Theriot has a career batting average/OBP/OPS of .290/.362./.731. Miles is at .289/.329/.693, and Fontenot is at .290/.369/.826. By comparison, Alfonso Soriano has career stats of .293/.342/.892 in the leadoff position. The only one who stacks up against Soriano is Fontenot, and he has only 212 games worth of stats, so we don't know how Fontenot's numbers will change if he becomes a full-time player this year.
But, you may have noticed, I only compared the stats of Soriano batting leadoff versus the career stats of Slezak's three-headed lead-off monster. What happens if I compare apples to apples? Theriot has 52 games as a lead-off hitter and delivered .313/.357/.767 in that spot. Miles has 206 games at leadoff, producing .272/.305/.658. Fontenot has only 9 games at leadoff, but he has not shined in that position, hitting only .143/.143/.357.
So perhaps she should have said, "A magical combination of the very best we can hope for from Theriot, Miles, and Fontenot could produce results almost as good as Soriano."
Meanwhile, Ms. Slezak faults Piniella for coddling Soriano by not making the move already:
"Is Soriano really so mentally fragile that he'll be unable to deal with batting somewhere other than leadoff? Piniella seems to think so."
You know why Piniella seems to think so? Because he knows statistics, and he knows that those statistics show that Soriano has a pretty decent number of games batting elsewhere in the order, and his resulting stats take a significant hit. Soriano drops from a fairly decent .293/.342/.892 clip to a very ordinary level of .263/.304/.770.
Why in the world would anyone think that somehow 2009 would be any different than what he has shown in his entire career? Ms. Slezak assumes that Soriano's production will be at the level she is accustomed in the lead-off spot, when there is nothing in the data to suggest that might be likely, or even plausible. It is based on nothing but hopes and dreams, like the following quote:
"I envision Soriano in the middle of the order, driving in bunches of runs. All those solo home runs he hit from the leadoff spot were nice, but they count for only one on the scoreboard."
That certainly sounds like a nice vision, and one that would be lovely if it were based at all in reality, but another simple check of the stats reveals a world where the sun doesn't shine out of our collective butts. I feel compelled to point out that in addition to making more outs when he drops down, Soriano's homerun rate drops from one every 16.5 at-bats in the leadoff position to one every 21.8 at-bats elsewhere in the order.
So, Slezak's plan calls for someone other than Soriano to put up leadoff numbers that will equal Soriano's in the best case scenario, and put Soriano in a run-producing slot where he will most likely put up pedestrian numbers. That sounds like a winning formula to me!
What gets me isn't so much whether I am right or she is wrong (though I am and she is), its that she gets paid to write her column (almost assuredly more than I get paid to do my real job) and she throws together an opinion piece that is unsupported by any data.
I'm sure there is an argument to be made on the other side of this, but without showing me some numbers, its all just meaningless conjecture and wishful thinking.
Come on, Carol! I'm sure the Sun-Times has an internet connection somewhere. Go to mlb.com, baseball-reference.com, or ESPN.com and you can get at almost any player data you want pretty easily. If you don't want to do it yourself, get an intern to put some stats together for you.
Hell, shoot me an e-mail or a twitter message and I might be able to dig up a stat or two for you to back up your opinions. At the end of the day, that's really all I ask.
Monday, February 16, 2009
First, let me state in very clear terms: I do NOT think that Alfonso Soriano is a good leadoff hitter.
His OBP in the leadoff spot of .342 is mediocre at best. He is not a threat to steal 40 bases per year anymore. He strikes out way too much. These are not good things to say about your leadoff man.
Having said all of that, I still believe that moving Soriano down in the lineup is a mistake. I never thought I would end up defending Soriano's leadoff abilities, but unfortunately, leadoff is where Soriano performs best. He has 700 games at leadoff in his career, versus 505 games in all other spots in the lineup. Both sample sizes are large enough to draw some reasonable comparisons.
As a leadoff hitter, Soriano has a .293 batting average, .342 OBP, and .892 OPS. His homerun rate is one every 16.5 at bats.
Hitting elsewhere in the lineup, he is at .263/.304/.770. His homerun rate is one for every 21.8 at bats. That is a significant dropoff in performance.
The players last year that put up similiar numbers that I could find were: Adrian Beltre (.266/.327/.784), Corey Hart (.268/.300/.759), and Brandon Phillips (.261/.312/.754). Do we really want the equivalent of Corey Hart in the middle of our lineup as we try to win a World Series?
Especially when Soriano's .892 OPS in the leadoff spot is comparable to Jason Bay, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera's numbers from last year. Yes, there are fewer opportunities to drive in runs from the leadoff spot, but losing 122 points off his OPS in the transition would negate any gain in run-producing opportunities he gets.
Perhaps if we had a real leadoff man ready to be plugged in, we close our eyes and add Soriano to the list of players we need to exceed their career numbers for team success. But, there really is nobody on the roster. In theory, Fukudome of April/May 2008 fame could work, but we have no idea which version of Fukudome is going to show up this year.
Theriot's OBP is fine as long as he bats in the .300 range. But he just doesn't draw enough walks to be overly effective as a batter with no power at all, and he certainly is not an improvement over Soriano. Fontenot is an interesting possibility, but there is simply not enough career data there to make any sort of accurate projection.
The answer, unfortunately, is to perfect my time machine and prevent Hendry from signing Soriano in the first place and having a place to put Manny Ramirez. But lets face it, if I invent a time machine, I'm going to be busy throwing blocks in the stands near the Cubs bullpen during the 2003 NLCS, so we'll have to live with Soriano being on this team.
There is a possibility that the drop in Soriano's production could be attributed to batting at places in the order where he did not want to be. He has always stated that he feels most comfortable hitting leadoff and has resisted any attempts to move him. This year, he says he will do whatever Lou wants him to do. I still think he doesn't really want to move in the order, but at least he is saying the right things this year that could indicate some maturity, and thus a better ability to make the psychological transition to a run-producing spot.
Lou knows the statistics as well as anyone, so he may just be giving everyone something to talk about, or he may be seriously considering it. Nobody really knows but Lou right now, but it sure is fun to have something besides steroids and playoff collapses to talk about.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Gordon Wittenmeyer at the Sun-Times writes today that Rich Harden has a goal of making 30 starts this year. That would be great if he can do it (particularly because I own him in my keeper fantasy league for something like $5), but the reality of the situation is that he has only made 30 starts once in his career (in 2004). He has averaged under 17 starts per year in his six major league seasons. He is currently working on rehabbing a shoulder injury that may or may not eventually need surgery. I have to wonder what exactly makes the Cubs feel that Harden will even make 25 starts again like he did last year, much less 30.
Meanwhile, over at waxpaperbeercup, the analysis of Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles leaves me wondering how the departure of DeRosa helps the team. Fontenot still doesn't have enough at-bats to get a real good sense of what he is going to bring to the lineup, and Miles' history seems to suggest that we may be seeing an Augie Ojeda clone, only more expensive.
But the big problem I still have is with the signing of Milton Bradley. I've said it before and I'll likely continue to say it until he proves me wrong: the man has never driven in more than 77 runs in a season. People used to bitch that Mark Grace wasn't a run producer, but he drove in more than Bradley's career high in 10 of his 16 seasons. Grace has a career .825 OPS. Bradley's is .827.
Even if Bradley manages to stay happy and healthy this season, we have the equivalent of Mark Grace in right field. That's fine, but hardly a difference-maker compared to other right fielders in the league. Meanwhile, Adam Dunn signed for 2 years and $20 million in Washington. Dunn has hit 40 or more homeruns the last 5 years. He has driven in 100+ runs in four out of the last five (92 in 2006). He has a career OPS of .899 and he is only 29 years old.
That is a run producer. He has also played in 150 or more games in 6 of his 8 seasons. The exceptions being his rookie year and 2003, where he still played 116 games (which would be the third highest amount for Milton Bradley). Yet the Cubs have guaranteed Bradley $30 million over 3 years.
I just don't understand how the Cubs read the market for free agents this off-season so badly. Dunn gets only $20 million, Bobby Abreu (career .903 OPS, .842 last year) gets about $5 million guaranteed from the Angels, and Manny Ramirez is still unemployed. The Cubs are like the people who ran out to buy laser-disc players for $600 when they first came out instead of waiting a bit and paying far less for DVD players.
The Cubs and their unrealistic expectations are really testing my optimism, so hopefully they will start proving me wrong soon.
Friday, February 13, 2009
It is my hope that this is the first step of many by the Cubs organization to tell the baseball gods where to stick their curse, but I believe it was probably just a small clerical oversight when planning out the Spring Training schedule. My guess is that Crane Kenney (he who felt it necessary to bless the dugout before the playoffs last year) simply didn't check his calendar closely when the date was first set.
Generally, I'm not a big believer in Friday the 13th, but this day also marks a major anniversary for me. It is the eleventh anniversary of my first purchase of my season ticket package in Aisle 424. You may wonder how I have remembered the exact date of my purchase when I have difficulty remembering what I had for dinner last night (Waffles!), but it is not so much because I remember the date I purchased the tickets, I remember because of what happened the very next day.
On February 14, 1998, Harry Caray collapsed into a coma while dancing with his wife, Dutchie, after a Valentine's Day dinner. He never regained consciousness and died four days later.
So, it stands to reason that I killed Harry. I certainly didn't mean to, and if I had any inkling that was going to be the penalty for fulfilling a personal dream, I certainly wouldn't have done my little I-Got-Cubs-Tickets Jig after getting off the phone with the Cubs' ticket representative.
Eleven years later, the Cubs begin their quest to avoid the 101st year of championship drought at a point in time that has historically bad mojo tied to it. You can see why my optimism might wane a bit.
But instead, I choose to take this as an opportunity to stand up and shove this cosmically tainted day in the faces of the baseball gods and spit at their feet. This is a new time, when I will not fear black cats, bad karma, or shady conspiracy theories. I dare them to do their worst.
Now where did I put that rabbit's foot?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
A-Rod Dead at 33
"A-Rod is survived by 33-year-old Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, a divorced father of two who is currently in therapy and who, despite being in extremely good physical condition and possessing the ability to hit 500-foot home runs, has no future in baseball whatsoever."
A-Rod: 'Maybe Everyone Will Let This One Slide'
"'Sure, I've gotten blasted for my failure in the clutch, and people on the street still taunt me for slapping the ball out of that guy's hand, but maybe they'll let me go on the whole taking-steroids-for-years thing,' the embattled third baseman said from his Florida home."
F---Rod Wondering What Permutation of His Name Will Be Used For Steroid Story
“Alex ‘F----Rod’ Rodriguez, who has been given many unflattering nicknames by the press during the course of an eventful and turbulent career, found himself wondering what unflattering sobriquet he would be awarded for lying about his steroid use.”
Turns Out Craig Counsell Was Actually Best Baseball Player of Steroid Era
“Upon hearing the news, broadcaster Bob Uecker lauded the Brewers utilityman as ‘one of the best I ever saw, if we're talking about those who I can say without a doubt never took steroids. He came this close to stealing a base off of Ivan Rodriguez, and I swear I heard him foul tip a Roger Clemens fastball.’”
Report: Curt Schilling Has An Opinion On A-Rod
“Former pitcher and current blogger, micro-blogger, commentator, and would-be gadfly Curt Schilling delivered his opinion on the A-Rod steroid situation Monday despite never having been asked to do so.”
- “Kobe Bryant Shouts 'I Have Been Taking Steroids' As Sports Media Gallops Past Him”
- “Jose Canseco Smirking Smugly At Nation”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I have wavered in my stance on the steroid issue for some time and have gone from a libertarian viewpoint, like my good friend James Wilson at Independent Country, to a viewpoint of indifference similar to that of Joe Aiello, over at View From the Bleachers.
But as I think more about the ramifications that steroid use by athletes such as A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc., have on the actions of young athletes, the more I do feel that something needs to be done, and like it or not, the government is the only one that is in any position to do so.
The problem with steroid use, as opposed to recreational drug use, is that steroids have been shown to dramatically improve one's ability to play sports. Sports that, when played at an elite level, can increase your earning power beyond most people's dreams. Currently, what lesson do aspiring athletes learn from A-Rod using steroids? That you can earn almost half a billion dollars before you are 40 years old by hitting a baseball really far, sleep with Madonna (and basically any other woman you choose), and occasionally do a tough interview with Katie Couric or Peter Gammons. What a hard life.
Its bad enough that sports is usually the only ticket out of abject poverty for a lot of kids in Latin American countries and the inner cities of the United States, but now there are seemingly magic pills that will help anyone get the edge to get out of those situations. Not only that, but if you get caught, you say you are sorry, you have a suspension, and you move on. There are people who will help you not get caught by getting around the tests. The potential payoff is far greater than the perceived risk.
So now you have a bunch of kids shooting up in order to be able to bench press more weight, run faster, and jump higher. The kids who aren't in dire economic situations, but who are also gifted athletes get left behind by the cheaters, so they start using. It just snowballs.
Do you know how casinos prevent most people from cheating? They beat the living crap out of those that are caught. There is real incentive to play on the level. Do you know how you know that the Bellagio isn't rigging its slot machines and playing with stacked decks? The gaming commission will shut a casino down without hesitation if the house is caught unfairly tipping the odds more into their favor. Again, the risk of the penalty outweighs the potential reward of taking tourists for a few more dollars here and there.
So who can provide that kind of pressure on multimillion dollar professional sports teams and the multibillion dollar sports leagues? Plain and simple, it should not have to be the government's job, but since the American public clearly can't turn off the TVs or stop buying tickets to games being played by enhanced supermen, the sports leagues have no reason to be tough on users.
The government is the only entity with enough power to do anything about it. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with the government, they are going for the high-profile, cosmetic actions that they can point to during elections to prove they are tough on drugs and a friend of safety for children. They are not solving the problem, they are merely treating symptoms. They are chastising individuals for their actions, hoping that lessons will be learned by others who do not want to go down that same path of destruction.
That lesson is not being heard. Athletes know that there are far more users that are not getting caught than ones who are. They know down deep inside that despite no physical proof, there are guys like Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez who fall into the category of "Everyone knows they used, but we can't prove it." Sosa gets to keep all of his money. He will go into the Hall of Fame. Luis Gonzalez gets to keep the extra millions he made after suddenly becoming a 50+ homerun hitter after showing no potential for that level of power production at any level of his career before that. There is no disincentive on the player's part.
The teams keep making money. Even the small-market teams are profitable now after the resurgence in popularity fueled by the 1998 homerun chase between two allegedly juiced superstars. The Cubs just hired a bunch of employees for the summer, the new owners (once approved) are rumored to be interested in increasing the team's administrative headcount and increase the number of scouts. Who else is hiring in this economic environment? Clearly, the status quo works for the teams, and by extension, the Players Union because they like the rising salaries that result from the rising attendance figures and increased revenue streams.
So instead of trotting Barry Bonds out to a perjury hearing, and holding hearings where they scold players and owners for being irresponsible while doing their best to look indignant while on camera, they should be fining the hell out of any sports franchise that has a player tested positive for steroids or other illegal performance enhancers. You hit these teams hard enough in their bankbook they will start to rethink their evaluation and hiring of players.
They will not want guys like A-Rod on their team. They will start building clauses into long-term deals that void remaining years, and allow fines that will allow them to take back some of the money they already paid for medically enhanced statistics. Barry Bonds would have been dropped from a roster long before he had a chance to break Hank Aaron's homerun record. The extra revenue the Giants brought in during his chase wouldn't have been worth the risk. If you think they would have been too loyal to drop him, notice they had no problem dropping him as soon as his chase was over and there was nothing left to market. He became a drain on their resources instead of a benefit, so he is out looking for work.
Teams would step up testing so they could make sure they had done their homework before signing players, minimizing their risk. Do you think that Tom Hicks, the owner of the Rangers (who says he feels betrayed by Alex) would have gone ahead with an investment of $252 million over 10 years if he had the added risk of getting nailed with a $50 million fine if one of his players is caught using? He would have done his homework. He would have built clauses in to protect himself from that risk. He would have taken action to create vigilance around the team to prevent the use of illegal performance-enhancers, instead of pretending that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. Suddenly, the statistics would not be the key to big money anymore. When the risk of using steroids outweighs the potential gains, the demand will go down and usage will drop.
There would still be cheaters because there will always be someone who can find their way around rules. There would still be people who get away with it, because no monitoring system is flawless. But fining the teams would finally create an incentive to become more vigilant of their players and to act accordingly to keep the sport as clean as possible.
When steroids are finally stopped being perceived by young athletes as a magic ticket to riches, they will heed more of the warnings about shriveled testicles, impotence, and death. Until then, they are willing to risk a couple of shrunken balls because they think that one day they will be able to sleep with Playboy bunnies on a big pile of money.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
This is great for the few people who might be able to weather the bad economic storm by vending some peanuts or cracker-jack, showing the ticket-holding tourists where their seats actually are as opposed to where they indignantly think they are, or keeping crazed lunatics from running out on the field.
This is also an opportunity for the Cubs to step up their level of customer service.
The Cubs stadium personnel has long been short of actually backing up the claim that Wrigley Field is the Friendly Confines. It is more like the We Took Your Money So I Suppose We Can't Throw You Out Until the Game is Over Confines.
Security is surly and the ushers tend to make security seem like Mr. Good Times Happy Guys. The concessions are slow and not overly courteous. I won't even go back into my feelings on the ingrates in the ticket office.
These people that the Cubs are hiring should be damn glad to have a job, so they should be pretty willing to aspire to whatever high level of customer service the Cubs deem necessary to roll out.
Afterall, the Cubs are also unique in the fact that they have somehow managed to raise their ticket prices again without any impact on the demand, despite more and more of their fans losing almost half of their retirement savings, getting laid-off, or going into foreclosure.
I would think that this is the year that the Cubs should live up to their flowery phrases and marketing copy, and actually show some appreciation to their fans. It would be nice if the usher I have passed about 100 times in the last two years would eventually know that I do belong there, and if he is still a bit fuzzy, somehow manage to ask me to see my ticket in a pleasant manner, or failing all of that, simply saying "thank you" when I produce the same ticket I have shown him 100 other times. I really don't ask for much.
I know the ownersip is changing hands and I'm sure the people who currently work there are trying to think of ways they may be able to impress the new boss so they can keep their jobs. In my opinion, showing some common decency to the fans as humans that have funded their recent hirings, rather than walking, talking cash-machines would be a good place to start.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
- The sun rises in the east.
- Clay Aiken is gay.
- Water is wet.
- Smoking is bad for your health.
That's all I can think of right now.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
They are the cutest little girls ever, in my opinion, and its always fun when they can visit from St. Louis. Unfortunately, being from St. Louis makes them pre-disposed to growing up into Cardinals fans.
Historically, I have disliked Cardinals fans the most because I have had to deal with them the most. Before the Cubs played the White Sox in meaningful games, there really was no reason I would intermix with Sox fans. Even if I did meet them, they didn't have much more going for them than the Cubs did. If they wanted to hang their hat on winning the World Series last in 1917 versus the Cubs in 1908, that was fine. At some point, the time lines become so long the difference in 9 years was hardly a tick that mattered. But then 2005 changed all that and I began to hate the White Sox with the intensity of a thousand suns.
So the Cardinals come in second now.
The Cardinals have always been our division rivals. When I was growing up, the Cardinals were always good and the Cubs were usually not. It was not uncommon to have Wrigley Field filled with more red than blue during a Cardinals series because the tickets were not as difficult to come by back then. So they would fill up our ballpark with a smug confidence in seeing a Cardinals victory.
That pissed me off something awful.
I hate that Cardinal fans are portrayed as the "smartest" baseball fans, but there they were filling a stadium to see Mark McGwire hit steroid-driven homeruns on a lousy team, but then ridiculing the Cubs fans for only showing up to see Sammy hit homeruns. I have sat in both Busch Stadiums and the vast majority of people who are keeping score are the ones wearing the Cubs hats. But they are smart and we are dumb, beer-swilling morons.
I also don't understand the animosity towards the Cubs. Is it because everybody associates Harry Caray with the Cubs instead of the Cardinals? Did it grow from the downstate Illinois' rivalry with all things Chicago?
I have no idea why they hate us so much when we have really done nothing to them. We don't knock them out of the playoffs. They win more divisional titles than the Cubs. They obviously win more championships than the Cubs. They even have a higher profile superstar right now in Albert Pujols.
But I go down there and I have little kids jumping out of a pool to mock my Cubs hat. Seriously. A little punk jumped out of a pool and ran up to me and my girlfriend:
Kid: Are you Cubs fans?
Kid: Do you know what Cubs stands for?
Kid: (interrupting): Completely Useless By September! (jumps back into the pool)
I go to a mall around Christmas time wearing my festive Christmas Cubs hat, and multiple people walk by me and say, "1908." Come on! Its f---ing Christmas! Give it a rest!
So I obviously don't want these sweet little girls to become part of that culture if I can help it. So I have slowly been introducing the Cubs to them as a viable option, with varying degrees of success.
The eight-year old is already fairly well on her way to being a Cardinals fan. She knows a lot of the players on the Cardinals and watches a fair number of games, but she doesn't yet know about 1908. Also, she now will say that she roots for the Cubs when they are not playing the Cardinals. So that is a minor win for me.
The five-year old doesn't really care about baseball, but she knows that I like the Cubs and I wear my Cubs hat all the time. She says she also wants a hat and when I ask her if she wants a Cubs hat or a Cardinals hat, she whispers to me that she would like a Cubs hat better. Big win.
The two-year old doesn't even know what baseball is yet, but she loves to take my hat and put it on. I also gave her a Cubs pacifier shortly after she was born. I like to think that it made her familiar with the Cubs and will make her more likely to accept them, but I fear that she will just associate the Cubs with sucking.
But when I think about it further, maybe I should be focusing more on protecting them from becoming Cubs fans. Why would I wish lives of torment and pain for these three innocent little kids? What have they done to me?
They should live happy lives where they believe that good things can happen. They should have confidence that unseen forces will not yank away their happy feelings in an instant. They shouldn't have to grow up peeking around corners and constantly waiting for impending doom.
Maybe they would be better off as Cardinals fans.
But then I remember that I am now an optimist. That I now am grasping the concept that being a Cub fan will pay off in the end, and that the victory will be that much sweeter. Those kids deserve to experience that kind of euphoria.
Maybe this weekend I'll teach them the lyrics to "Go Cubs Go."
Monday, February 2, 2009
This trade doesn't bother me as much for two reasons: 1) Micheal Wuertz has never been considered an untouchable prospect, and 2) he actually still has value at the time of the trade, so its possible this trade could end up bringing the Cubs something that could help them.
Billy Beane, the GM of the A's is not a fool, and is not above screwing another team by hyping "tools" and "intangibles" in a player that is not performing to the levels that the scouts envisioned, so I'm not thrilled either. But the simple fact is that Lou never trusted Wuertz (sometimes with good reason) and he was also out of options, so the fact that Hendry may have gotten value is a minor miracle.
The two prospects were rated the #14 & #15 rated guys in the A's system last year. According to ESPN:
In the Oakland deal, the Cubs received outfielder Rich Robnett and infielder Justin Sellers.
Robnett, a first-round pick of the Athletics in 2004, has played five seasons in Oakland's minor league system, reaching Triple-A. He played in only 82 games last season after having a tumor removed from his stomach. He is a .256 hitter in the minors.
Sellers has played four minor league seasons in the Athletics' system, alternating between shortstop and second base.
It seems unlikely that any of the players acquired in the Hill and Wuertz deals will be helpful to the major league club this year unless Hendry is able to flip them later to fill a hole with a proven player.
This is all speculation, but I'm sure Hendry is wary about trading a guy that has been projected as a #3 starter for nothing. At the same time, Andy MacPhail is not about to give up too much for a pitcher who has showed absolutely no evidence of being that #3 starter since 2007.
I'm sure the trade will be "fair," but it still irritates me. Hill is added to the list of "untouchable" players in the Cubs' system that have ended up providing no value at all to the major league club. I just thank the Lord that Hendry did end up trading away Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill before the whole world found out that they weren't any good either.
Granted, Hill is a slightly different case because he did perform on the major league level for a full season and there was no real indication that he was going to fall off the table like he did, but that is not enough to keep me from being frustrated.
The regular season can't get here soon enough so I can have actual baseball to be frustrated about.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Don't get me wrong, I like football. I get worked up by the Bears and yell at the TV when they do dumb things. But I don't live and die with the Bears. When they handed the Super Bowl to the Colts with a big bow, I was bummed about it for a couple of days. If you have read any of this blog at all, you know that I'm still not over 1984, much less 2003 or any of the other highly disappointing Cubs seasons.
But today is the Super Bowl and I get a break from obsessing over failure and dwelling on heartbreak and curses. Or do I?
The pre-game coverage (which started in 2005) has involved a lot of talk about a curse on the Arizona Cardinals. ESPN provides the details, but essentially, the curse stems back to 1933 when the Cardinals and the Bidwills laid claim to an NFL championship in 1925 that should have belonged to the now-defunct Pottsville Maroons.
The problem with the curse is that the Cardinals won an NFL championship in 1947. That is fourteen years after the curse was placed on the team by Pottsville, and 22 years after the season that is causing all the problems. That's really not a very long streak. Even Phillies fans will laugh about someone complaining that they have not won in 22 years.
So I have to wonder if this is a curse at all or just plain bad management of a football team. It seems to me that a curse should announce itself much more prominently. The Red Sox had Tony Conigliaro, Bucky Dent, and Bill Buckner (among others) contributing to staggering collapses and repeated instances of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Cubs close-calls and historic collapses are no secret.
But the Cardinals don't really have much of that. No more, it would seem, than any other team that has been in existence for as long as the Cardinals have. I've heard the "Bears are who we thought they were" game used as evidence that there is a curse. Really? That was a blown lead. It happens. It wasn't the playoffs. It did not prevent the Cardinals from making the playoffs.
The Cardinals have just been bad. If they had blown the lead against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game and lost, that would have been good to use as evidence of a curse. But they came right back down the field and took the lead back from the Eagles and won the game. Historically, when they lost playoff games, they lost to superior teams.
The Cubs lost to teams they should not have lost to. If they had gone on to the World Series and lost to the 1984 Detroit Tigers or the 2003 New York Yankees, I would have a harder time making my case about a curse, but they collapsed and lost to teams that, on paper, were not as good.
So I'm having a hard time mustering much sympathy for the scores of Cardinals fans that have been suffering with the team for the past 61 years. Lets face it, the team has been in three cities since the curse supposedly began. How many Chicago Cardinals fans are still following and rooting for a team that keeps moving further away from them? (I know of exactly one.)
I may just be bitter though. Kurt Warner cost me a fantasy football championship. If anyone is cursed around here, it is my fantasy team.