Tuesday, June 30, 2009
When you read sports fan blogs, you have to be prepared for some highly volatile and reactionary opinions. Fans let emotions take hold of their better judgement and it clouds their senses of reason and logic. It comes with the territory, but it does occasionally make people sound more insane that Ryan Freel, who has a midget named Farney living in his head.
The Cubs are stumbling at the moment so, of course, there has been some chatter about how the calendar could be turning to July and the Cubs don't already have the playoffs clinched in such a crappy division. Instead of marvelling at the fact that Cubs fans aren't all partying like its 1989 because the Cubs are only 3 1/2 games back (as they probably would be in almost any other year of being this close to winning a division), the blogosphere is all riled up and throwing out some less than orthodox solutions to the Cubs problems.
One lunatic thinks that the solution is to cut Carlos Zambrano.
"Get Carlos Zambrano out of here, even if the Cubs have to give him away. He's not the guy you want as the ace of a curse-busting team, and at this point, it's wishful thinking that he'll ever mature into that guy.
Proving that I did not attend Kellogg, Wharton or even the Acme School of Business, I offer this proposition for Jim Hendry: First thing Monday morning, put Zambrano on waivers. If anyone claims him and the $62.75 million left on his contract, which runs through 2012, immediately trade him for whatever is being offered, from a bag of balls to a 32-year-old minor-leaguer."
Now, I understand the frustration and this fan clearly has let his emotions get the best of him when he.... wait. Hold on.... seriously?
OK, sorry folks, I'm being told that this was actually written by Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune. My bad. Anyway, this obvious neophyte to journalism and the game of baseball in general clearly has been swayed by.... what? You are f---ing kidding me. He's been doing this for how many years?
Well, um, it turns out that according to Phil Rogers' bio, he "is in his third decade covering major league baseball, and has done it for the Tribune since 1997."
Well, I officially have no explanation for how a grown man, who has been paid to report and write on baseball related topics for thirty years would ever come to the conclusion that the way to make a team better would be to cut a player that Baseball-Reference.com compares most similiarly to, among others: Brandon Webb (Cy Young winner), Pete Vukovich (Cy Young winner), John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, and the pre-DeRosa Cub fan's favorite trading target, Jake Peavy (Cy Young winner).
Clearly, the best way to begin building a World Series winner would be to trade a pitcher with Cy Young talent for a "bag of balls." Yes, this would be much better than trading a utility player for three decent pitching prospects.
So, that was a bad example. Perhaps we should look instead to a crazy lady who wants to fire Lou Piniella because he is the one batting sixty points below his career average and walking every other opposing batter he faces. At least, she argues, Lou is not motivating his players to perform better than the horrible performances they have trotted out there so far.
It is just like a blogger to run to a ridiculous conclusion that the 66-year old Lou can't control a team, but the 65-year old Lou was the master of his clubhouse. You see, it's this kind of crazy arguments that give us fellow bloggers a bad name amongst the professional media. Amateurish, sensationalistic hackery makes us all look.... what's that? No. You have got to be shitting me. This piece of crap was written by a professional journalist? Sigh...
It turns out that the anti-Lou sentiment is courtesy of Carol Slezak of the Suntimes. According to her bio, she "has been a Sun-Times Sports Columnist since 1996." The bio was posted in 2001, so I'm hoping she has some more accolades since, but I don't care enough to look for them.
Alright, sorry again everyone, but you know what they say: third time's a charm. So I went to Chicago Now and found an honest to goodness blog that amongst some other crazy sentiments like elevating Carlos Marmol to the closer role to solve Kevin Gregg's excessive wildness (and a later retraction), the author, "Kap," proposes a trade to the Orioles for Aubrey Huff and George Sherrill that would only cost Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, and a "high level prospect not named Josh Vitters."
Seeing as the Cubs' only high level prospects in the system not named Josh Vitters are actually on the current MLB roster, I have to assume that the prospect to go would be Jake Fox in this scenario.
I looked up Aubrey Huff on Baseball-Reference.com and saw that he is comparable to Vernon Wells and Raul Ibanez. Those are two decent players. Who else? Jacque Jones, Preston Wilson, and Glenallen Hill also pop up on the list. That list is kind of all over the place, but it serves a purpose to point out that Jake Fox (even if he isn't involved in the trade - he would be the one sacrificed off the MLB roster to make room for Huff) could probably give us production at this level, expecially if we set the bar at Jacque Jones.
So the issue becomes whether one half year of George Sherrill is worth parting with two pitchers that could possibly replace Rich Harden in the rotation next year at a very cheap rate. Possibly, but again, the issue this season really has not been the pitching. The bullpen has not been good, but it has been decent lately. The problem is that we don't score any damn runs and they either are protecting a slim lead or trying desperately to not allow any more to score. I just don't see how this trade would make a big enough impact to jeopardize future rosters that may be under more of a salary squeeze than we have currently become accustomed.
Don't get me wrong, Kap's heart is in the right place, but he seems to be jumping off a cliff when it really shouldn't take too much patience to have this team start performing better. Perhaps he isn't as familiar with the current ownership situation. There really is a lot going on behind the scenes, and he may have missed that new ownership probably isn't going to be in place anytime before the end of this season. I'm sure he would probably be a little more rational if he had some insider info that would come from, say, working in Tribune Tower instead of typing away in his mother's.... what? He works where? He broadcasts on what radio station? Oh, for f---'s sake. Come on!
Well, based on what we have seen from the respected professional journalists in Chicago, I guess the season really is that bad and we should all just kill ourselves. Now please excuse me while I go take my toaster into the shower.
Monday, June 29, 2009
The episode I caught today was "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc." The title is Latin, and as Josiah Bartlett promptly taught us, it means "after it, therefore because of it."
Normally, when watching the smartest fictional President and his patriotically dedicated staff of walk-and-talkers, I rarely think about the Cubs. But today, post hoc, ergo propter hoc got me thinking.
Basically, the phrase means that since one thing follows the other it therefore must have been caused by the first. The point in the show and the point that is relevant to the Cubs, is that this is not always true, and, in fact, it often is not true.
In the world of the Cubs, Mark DeRosa was traded. Then the Cubs started hitting the ball poorly, ergo, many, many people have surmised, Mark DeRosa being traded was a mistake.
The reasons for the Cubs not hitting probably have very little to do with Mark DeRosa not being on the team. Mark DeRosa being traded did not (as far as we know) cause Geovany Soto to blaze up in the offeseason, gain a ton of weight, and become a less effective player.
Mark DeRosa being traded did not turn Milton Bradley from a league leader in OPS to someone we would all happily trade for Jacque Jones.
Mark DeRosa's presence on the roster probably would not have prevented Theriot from thinking he is a power hitter, Fontenot from showing his true colors as a part-time player, Aramis Ramirez from getting hurt, and Soriano going into one of the coldest cold spells that his streaky career has ever seen.
The Cubs' freefall from offensive powerhouse to rally-killing specialists almost assuredly can not be attributed to the trade of Mark DeRosa.
At the same time, a Cardinals offense that requires Mark DeRosa to bat CLEANUP will not be propelled to greatness with his sheer presence. They are surely better with him, as the Cubs would have been better with him instead of Aaron Miles, but the acquisition of Mark DeRosa isn't going to win the World Series for the Cardinals.
If the Cardinals land Matt Holliday, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, or any other player of all-star quality to put alongside Pujols, then we can start shaking in our We Believe bracelets. Until that time, the world is not ending (my last post was meant to be satire, but has been misintrepreted at about the same rate as the Bible from which I stole the framework), and the division remains inconceivably winnable.
Be frustrated, be pissed, be whatever you want, but don't try and tell me that the Cubs' failure is because of Mark DeRosa.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Then I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bat and a DeRosa jersey, and a Cardinal's hat had been given to him. He went out as a conqueror to conquer.
When the Cub opened the second seal, I heard Billy Williams say, "Go!"
A second horse went out. It was fiery red, and its rider was given permission to take peace away from Wrigley Field and to make people vomit Budweiser on one another. So he was given a large keg.
When the Cub opened the third seal, I heard Ron Santo say, "Go!" I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a Cardinals lineup card in his hand with DeRosa penciled in at third base.
When the Cub opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of Ryne Sandberg say, "Go!"
I looked, and there was a pale horse! Its rider's name was Pujols, and LaRussa followed him. They were given authority over one-fourth of the earth to kill Cubs fans using homeruns, quality starting pitching, squeeze plays, and the most solid fundamentals on the earth.
When the Cub opened the fifth seal, I saw under the bleachers the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of their Shut Up and Drink Your Beer t-shirts and the faith in Hendry they had given.
They cried out in a loud voice, "Harry and Jack, how long will it be before you judge and take revenge on those living in St. Louis who shed our blood?"
Each of them was given a floppy hat. They were told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow fans and their brothers was completed, who would be killed as they had been killed.
Then I saw the Cub open the sixth seal. There was a powerful earthquake. The ivy turned as black as pinetar, and the Wrigley lights turned as red as blood.
The stars in the sky fell to the earth like Soriano drops a routine flyball when there is a little bit of wind.
The sky vanished like the infield tarp being rolled up, and every bar and restaurant in Wrigleyville was moved from its place.
Then the coaches, the players, the agents, and the hangers-on, and all the remaining beer-soaked fans hid themselves under the scoreboard and among the seats in the grandstands.
They said to the scoreboard and grandstand, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of DeRosa.
For the great day of his wrath has come, and who is able to endure it?"
Friday, June 26, 2009
I have said many times in the past that I do not believe that the Cubs woes are caused sheerly by the lack of a glorified utility player in the lineup. I do not believe that Mark DeRosa has the kind of talent that can single-handedly transform a lineup as Manny Ramirez did for the Dodgers last year.
That being said, it would not completely displease me to eventually see DeRosa in a Cubs uniform this year. Jason Stark, at ESPN, is saying the Cubs are inquiring about his availability.
- The Cubs have considered trying to reacquire Mark DeRosa.
- They've also done some preliminary searching for a bat, but they're not sure where they'd play a new hitter so that gives the versatile DeRosa extra appeal.
Given that we have no clue what Aramis Ramirez is going to bring to the table when he eventually returns, we still have numerous gaping holes in the lineup that need to be addressed. Based on the composition of the roster, the position that is most likely to be upgraded offensively is second base.
Fontenot isn't hitting the way we hoped he would. Miles is only good at cashing his paychecks. Andres Blanco is a good fielding, weak hitting option. None of these guys are a better option than Mark DeRosa even when you worry about the lineup being "too right-handed."
I give Hendry credit for attempting to do the right thing in the off-season. It was very disconcerting to see an all-righty lineup get set down easily and often by strong right-handed pitching. He attempted to sell high on a player that had at least approached his peak performance, if not achieved it last season. He tried to bring in a fiery presence, and a bat that was capable of leading the heavy-hitting American League in OPS.
It all sounded reasonable on paper. It probably would have even worked on a team that was not the Cubs. But the right plays don't always work out. I won't bore you with the details of the entire hand, but when I was in Vegas playing poker, I pushed all-in with Ace-King with an ace on the board. I KNEW my opponent had an ace, and I KNEW he probably hadn't made two pair. So I pushed him to commit almost his whole stack. It was the right play because I figured I was over 90% to win.
He called me, turned over Ace-Queen, and promptly caught a Queen on the river to bust me. I lost that hand, and I had played it correctly. It happens.
The same type of thing is happening to Hendry. On paper, this team should be more dangerous than the team that won 97 games last year, especially when you consider that the Marshall/Wells combination in the fifth rotation spot has given more consistently quality outings than Marquis did last year. Instead, it seems the odds of a Cubs run scoring is about the same as me winning the lottery.
Every now and again, the baseball gods will provide an opportunity for a mulligan. After the 2005 season, the Red Sox traded backup catcher Doug Mirabelli to the Padres because they had a young prospect, Josh Bard, that they felt was ready to become Jason Varitek's backup.
It became clear as the season began that neither Bard nor Varitek could handle catching Tim Wakefield, the rotation's knuckleballer. Theo Epstein managed to swallow his pride and correct the move (even though he may have still believed it was the correct move to make in the off-season) by trading Bard to San Diego for Mirabelli.
"Josh was working really hard and going about it in a very professional way. But we just didn't necessarily have the luxury of time waiting to find out if things would get better so we made this move now while Doug was available at a reasonable cost."
Mirabelli received a police escort from the airport to Fenway so that he could step right into the lineup to catch Wakefield on the day of the trade. The return of Mirabelli was hailed in Boston unlike any kind of reception a back-up catcher should ever receive.
So there is historical precedence. The Cubs also do not have the luxury of time on their side. The window of opportunity is closing quickly, and they almost assuredly will need to make a move somewhere. The roster is aging. The sale is not going through any time soon, which means there will not be a huge spending spree to fix problems. Our veterans almost all have no-trade clauses, so blowing up the roster and starting over with quality prospects from other teams is not a probable option.
The time to win is right now and if that means trading for Mark DeRosa again, that is what it should be. Set up the parade route, arrange for the secret service to secure the field so he can take infield practice without having Dave Kaplan attempt to hump his leg. In fact, go ahead and have him helicoptered right into the ballpark so he can step out and assume his position at second without any issues.
There may be other options, but it is almost July, so it's time to start giving some serious consideration to swallowing the pride and trying to correct the issues.
Hoping and praying haven't really worked as a strategy for the last 100 years, and I'm doubting it will work this year.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Chris DeLuca, of the Sun-Times, reports that Soto tested positive for marijuana during the World Baseball Classic.
"While I fully acknowledge my inappropriate behavior, I want to assure my fans and my family that this was an isolated incident," Soto said in a statement released by the Cubs during their game against the Tigers. "I do not say this to minimize or deflect from my conduct and I fully understand the ramifications of my actions. I have and will accept any and all consequences.
"I am fully dedicated to the game of baseball and my teammates, and I apologize for any distraction and embarrassment this may cause them.
Finally, I would like to thank the Chicago Cubs organization for its support in this matter. I take great pride in putting on my Cubs uniform every day and I look forward to helping the team achieve a successful season."
That is a nice statement, with all the correct sentiments and buzz phrases. It was an "isolated incident." It was "inappropriate." He "understands" and "accepts" the repercussions. He is "dedicated" to the team. Blah, blah, blah.
I have been around the batting cage in Spring Training when Soto is hanging out with other guys and based on what I have heard from him, I would be shocked if he could pronounce most of the multi-syllabic words used in this statement, much less use them in a coherent appropriate way. Someone wrote this for him, explained what it meant, and he said that he would be fine saying the statement came from him. I think it would have been more realistic if they had at least peppered the statement with some expletives.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and MLB aren't going to punish Soto. Apparently, they have no problems with athletes using drugs that don't threaten homerun records, as long as it is in the off-season and it is an "isolated" incident.
He can't participate in international play for two years, which is essentially meaningless since baseball is no longer an Olympic event and the WBC doesn't occur again until 2013.
I'm glad he is so open to "accept any and all consequences." Right now, the most significant consequence will be having bloggers like me using him as a convenient punching bag while we all suffer from Offense Withdrawal during this unbelievably maddening season.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I thought maybe the anger and bile would have calmed down overnight, but the level of hatred towards Kevin Gregg seems to have gained steam overnight.
Yes, Gregg did put a damper on my otherwise fine birthday by giving up a walkoff homerun to Ryan Rayburn, a player that I had originally mistaken for the Matchgame host, Gene Rayburn. As in, "Cubs fans hated Kevin Gregg so much, that when he walked off the mound, they gave him a (blank)."
The folks on Twitter are making their feelings known in 140 characters or less:
- @mcsey: Kevin Gregg gets no coffee this morning. Why? Coffee is for closers Kevin--closers that don't lose the game for Big Z
- @EamusCatuli: The ball slipped out of Gregg's hand. Excuse me while my hand slips into your face, Kevin
- @CowboyAngler: Gregg.....Gonna Ruin Every Game Guaranteed
- @JasWalsh: Blah, last night was a bad nigt for the cubbies, Kevin Gregg needs to be run out of Chicago
- @chicityenvy: Cubs need 2 drop Kevin Gregg on craigslist..."interesting trades accepted" seriously, im done. just take an AC 4 him. 2 hot 2 be this pissed
- @kylockbox: I said it before the season started and I will say it forever. Kevin Gregg is trash. Please, front office, cut him...NOW!
- @iluvryno: the calls for Kevin Gregg's head HAVE to be getting louder. MAR-MOL! MAR-MOL!
- @JoJoShare: Think its time to trade kevin gregg...at least woody is nice to look at!
Meanwhile, over at Kap's Corner, Dave Kaplan shows the kind of restraint and thoughtful analysis we look for in a member of the "mainstream," "professional" media by describing how he has never liked Kevin Gregg:
"I am not a big Gregg fan because I believe a closer must have swing and miss stuff to be a reliable guy in late inning pressure situations. Gregg is far from that and his propensity for the base on balls drives me crazy."
And then how Gregg proceeded to ruin his dinner:
"Uh oh, a pitch on the inner half and that ball is driven to deep left center....hold it Comerica....it won't....and the Tigers beat the Cubs 5-4 on a 2 run home run by Ryan Rayburn. These leftovers suddenly taste lousy. I think I'm going to be sick! Please move Carlos Marmol to the closer's role and get Kevin Gregg out of any and all late inning, pressure situations. NOW!"
I'm not 100% sure how the frustration over Gregg's walk rate will be alleviated by turning to Marmol's 33 walks in 33 2/3 innings, but Kap is pretty worked up over it.
Sherm at View from the Bleachers has proposed that we replace the F-bomb with "Gregg," as in, "I'm tired of these motherGregging snakes on this motherGregging plane!"
Wasting Away in Wrigleyville likens Gregg to an ex-girlfriend:
"Having Kevin Gregg on the mound in a close game is like keeping your ex-girlfriend's number programmed in your cell phone. In theory, its not a bad idea, but more times than less, you are going to drunkenly text a desperate message and look like a pathetic piece of shit that can't throw a damn ball to close a damn game to save his damn life. Wait. That analogy made sense at one point. In conclusion, Gregg sucks like your ex-girlfriend."
I'm certainly not pleased with the outcome of the game. I am not brimming with confidence when Gregg goes to the mound to close a game. I also am not convinced that a change in closers is going to miraculously cure anything (assuming the reality of our other options).
We just saw firsthand evidence that Kerry Wood, as much as we love him, is NOT a lock-down closer and that Cleveland has got to be ruing the day they signed him to a two-year, $20.5 million deal (with a vesting option for a third year at $11 million with 55 games finished in either season).
As I mentioned, Marmol has walked a batter per inning this year, and I grow increasingly worried that his best days are behind him. I'm starting to wonder if he's another Dontrelle Willis or Hideo Nomo. Once the league figured them out and adjusted, they seemed incapable of adjusting themselves to get batters out regularly.
Opposing batters don't appear to be getting suckered by the nasty slider anymore and seem more willing to make Marmol throw his erratic fastball. There may be pitch f/x data to discredit that, but that is my opinion based on seeing him pitch this year.
Gregg certainly isn't innocent in the walks he has allowed. His 4.2 BB/9 IP is higher than you would like it, but I think we can agree that it is decidely better than Marmol's 8.8. Also his 8.9 K/9 is the second highest rate of his career, so its not like he isn't striking anybody out.
Gregg underwhelmed us at the beginning of the season after going through about eight years of spring training without allowing a run. In April, he sported a 5.59 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, and opposing batters had a .282/.396/.909 line for BA/OBP/OPS. In May, he improved to 3.86 ERA with 1.46 WHIP and .261/.340/.753.
In June, even with the two run homerun last night, he has a 3.27 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and batters are hitting .186/.238/.565 off of him. That is actually pretty darn good.
So I'm not going to get into a frenzy over it. Kris will testify to the fact that I merely dropped my head in disappointment when the ball landed in the bullpen, and did not turn over any tables, throw silverware, or even curse the TV at Aurelio's.
I guess that makes me Kevin Gregg's biggest fan right now.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I had moved to Western New York the previous summer, so I was down to seeing maybe one Cubs game per year, and June 23rd was my one game of the 1984 season.
When you are twelve years old, the innocence and naivety in which you a view a game is not something that can be duplicated later in life. Age and experience will cause you to learn that most things are not too good to be true, heroes are flawed, and cheering for the Cubs will inevitably bring pain and suffering. But at twelve, you believe in things. You are beyond optimism in your sureness that your heroes will reward your love.
I don't know how I would have viewed the events that transpired on that sunny day in June if I had been older. I may have been more pissed about Steve Trout getting hammered for seven runs in less than 2 innings. It may have struck home more with me that Willie McGee was absolutely tearing the Cubs apart all day. The entrance of Bruce Sutter, former Cub and dominant reliever might have filled me with more dread. I may have hated Lee Smith for giving up those two runs in the 10th after Sandberg had heroically brought the Cubs all the way back to tie it in the 9th.
I just don't know how I would have viewed those events if they happened today.
At that point, I don't think I realized that the Cubs were down 7-1 in the second inning. I knew they were behind, and I may have even known the exact score, but when you are twelve, a six-run lead doesn't matter as much to your psyche. You believe that the Cubs could come back, and they sure did. Sandberg was 3 for 4 with four RBIs as they fought back to make it 9-8 after the sixth inning, but that is the way the game stayed until the ninth inning.
I was old enough to have remembered when the Cubs traded Bruce Sutter for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz, so I knew how good Sutter was when he entered the game. I also knew that Ryne Sandberg was leading off the ninth inning. I believed that Ryne Sandberg could tie the game, even when the rest of the world may have only been wishing and hoping.
My dad and I were sitting down the third base line in the Upper Deck Box seats, probably right above the bullpen, so we had an excellent view of the trajectory of the ball hit by Sandberg in the ninth. We knew it was gone before it cleared the infield.
I watch the videos of that day and see the footage of the people in the stands going crazy, and I don't think it comes close to capturing the joy and bedlam in the stands as that ball hit the back rows of the bleachers.
This was a team that had SUCKED for the entirety of my baseball viewing life at that point. 1969 was but a mere fairy tale to me of days long past and glories all but forgotten. The 1984 team was the first team that had really exhibited any real signs of life and potential to me.
I believed in that team because I knew that Ron Cey, Larry Bowa, and Gary Matthews had played for World Series teams. These were guys whose baseball cards you actually wanted. Plus we had picked up another player whose name I knew only by baseball card collecting, but knew he was an excellent pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe. Harry Caray told me how great Jody Davis was, and the impending greatness of our new Daily Double, Dernier and Sandberg.
Cubs fans were seeing their hopes that the relatively new ownership of the Tribune would be restoring the Cubs to prominence in the National League. The weight of the blown 1969 season and one crap team after another since were starting to fall away as the city fell in love with the Cubs. The Sandberg homerun was supposed to be the moment when the Cubs would stand up to Whitey Herzog's Cardinals and shove them around for awhile.
But, the Cardinals would not go away easily and there was Wille McGee in the middle of a two run inning that seemed to sap away all of the joy within moments. The Cubs were reverting back to form.
The Cubs came to bat in the tenth and I realized that Sandberg was due up fourth in the inning. I began to believe that all the Cubs needed to do was get a runner on base so Sandberg could come to the plate again. I remember asking my dad if he thought that Sandberg could come through again. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect of, "Let's hope he gets a chance."
It didn't look good when Sutter retired the first two batters in rather easy fashion. But then, Bobby Dernier managed a walk to keep the game alive and bring Ryno to the plate.
There are so many times in any baseball fans life where you try to will a homerun from your hero. Baseball being a game of failure, you walk away from the vast majority of those times sorely disappointed. That day, I didn't know if I was being a fool for believing Sandberg could hit another game-tying homerun off of one of the pre-eminent closers in the National League, but I also didn't care. I was SURE he could do it.
I was not alone in my beliefs that day, as the crowd seemed to sense that something special was about to happen.
When I said before that Wrigley erupted into bedlam after the first homerun, the second homerun caused the stadium to almost convulse and be torn apart by the sheer volume of the sound that erupted as soon as the ball launched off of Ryno's bat.
I may eventually witness a Cubs World Series moment that will eclipse Sandberg's heroics that day, but nothing I have seen since comes close. I saw the Cubs beat the Brewers last year after being down 6-2 with two outs in the ninth. I saw Eric Karros launch a pinch homerun to take away Roger Clemen's 300th win. I was at the 1998 tie-breaker game. I saw the Cubs clinch the division last year. I've seen numerous epic battles with the White Sox, Brewers, and Cardinals.
I still get chills when I see replays of the Sandberg Game. I still can't believe I was there. Thanks, Dad.
Check out Chuck's post on Chuck-to-Chuck for a video of the 9th and 10th innings of the Sandberg Game.
Monday, June 22, 2009
"Fehr, 60, informed player representatives of his decision during a conference call on Monday, according to the New York Daily News, which cited a source who had been briefed on the call. Fehr told the players that he has been 'doing this for 32 years and it's time to go.'"
The man who played a significant role in causing the cancellation of the World Series in 1994, and who at least ignored, if not covered up, players' performance enhancing drug use in the years following will be replaced by Michael Weiner.
This news is sure to have a far-reaching effect on both players and management as they will now spend a disproportionate amount of time in meetings, laughing inappropriately every time Mr. Weiner's name is mentioned.
Donald Fehr will assuredly remain a dick, though now only his friends and family will care.
But then, the baseball gods must have become distracted by a thing, because almost nothing has gone wrong for the Cubs since their comeback against the Sox.
They followed up their stunning victory on Thursday by rolling out the red carpet for the most revered of all ex-Cubs, Luis Vizcaino. Oh, and Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood came in with the Indians too. They spotted Cleveland a 7-0 lead almost before we had been able to come to grips with the reality of the day before.
Normally, when you give Cliff Lee a seven run lead and have one and two pitch at-bats, you are going to lose, but the Cubs somehow managed to get into the Cleveland bullpen. To say that Cleveland's bullpen is flammable is kind of like saying that the Hindenburg got a little warm. After watching those guys attempt to hold leads, I'm actually a little shocked they didn't claim Neal Cotts off waivers when the Cubs dumped him since they are currently carrying a guy with an ERA over eleven.
So the Cubs managed another miraculous comeback walk-off victory by welcoming back another one of their former players, Slappy Theriot. Slappy had been traded for Muscles in mid-season, and despite an early favorable response, Muscles had worn out his welcome, and the clamoring for Slappy ensued. They look almost identical, but you can tell the difference because Slappy tends to hit sinking linedrives into right field, whereas Muscles tries to hit every ball to Evanston (and fails miserably).
Slappy's first at-bat while back with the Cubs was a bad-hop grounder past Victor Martinez to score Soriano, who had just shocked everyone by imitating a prototypical leadoff man, by walking and stealing second. Did I forget to mention that the reason all of that happened was because Kerry Wood blew a save? Well, it was.
The next day featured a Kerry Wood meltdown of Cublike stature. I felt a little dirty taking delight in Kerry's obvious problems on the mound, but it was nice to be on the other side of that coin for once. He got himself into trouble by walking Kosuke to leadoff the bottom of the 13th after all-powerful Luis Valbuena deposited his third homerun of the series into the bleachers to give the Indians the lead. Wood probably should have gotten out of the jam when he struck out Koyie Hill on a 3-2 pitch with Kosuke running, but Kelly Shoppach made a horrendous throw into centerfield and Kosuke ended up at third with only one out instead.
Andy White bounced one by the mound and a drawn in infield to tie the score, and then Aaron Miles accidentally hit a blooper down the line to bring up the big, bad Jake Fox. Kerry denied Fox the opportunity to be the hero because he uncorked one of his patented, I'm-going-to-throw-this-ball-absolutely-through-the-catcher-and-show-this-rookie-who's-boss wild pitches. Game over. More Cubs bouncing around the infield ensued as Wood tossed his equipment into the stands as he walked off.
On Sunday, the Cubs actually scored early and they scored often in an effort to finally give Randy Wells a much-earned first major league victory. The game really shouldn't have had any suspense at all, but when you are talking about Wells leaving with a lead, nothing feels safe. Nevertheless, the 6-0 lead held up for a 6-2 victory and the Cubs had completed a sweep of the American League's crappiest team.
So where does this leave the Cubs? The short, simple answer is: third place only 2 and a half behind St. Louis. The actual answer is: Who the hell knows?
Cubs fans are feeling pretty good, but I get the feeling that we are feeling a little too good about what the Cubs just managed to accomplish. Cleveland is a pretty crappy team. Yes, I know they have Mark DeRosa, but he was pretty quiet in the series (certainly quieter than the crowd who seemed to be hoping that DeRosa would actually hit a homerun whenever he came to the plate). He drove in the seventh run on Friday, and a run after they were down by six on Sunday, so those were hardly clutch at-bats, though he didn't embarass himself aside from running into the bullpen phone while in the field.
Luis Valbuena is the only guy who did anything consistently in the series. This guy has four homeruns in his career, and three of them happened on Friday and Saturday. He has a .218 average against everyone else he has faced in his career. He batted .429 in the series. Who knew that Luis Valbuena is Spanish for Jeff Blauser? (By the way, his other homerun is against the White Sox at the Cell.)
The Cubs SHOULD beat Cleveland. It would have been extremely depressing if they hadn't beaten Cleveland at home.
I'm happy the offense is coming around a bit. Slappy seems to be back, and Geovany and Milton are quietly hitting alongside a rejuvenated Derrek Lee. The pitching, on the whole, has remained solid enough for me to not go into a panic about Rich Harden's Frank Castillo impression from Friday.
I even like our bullpen as it is currently composed. Marmol needs to figure it out pretty quick, but the others, including Rule 5 Patton, have stepped up significantly since the departure of Mr. Cotts.
So, is this the beginning of a surge that can carry the Cubs back to the top of the division, or merely a .500 team teasing us again with a flash of brilliance. We'll see, but its nice to be on a peak for now, instead of a deep, dark valley.
Friday, June 19, 2009
The Cubs were dead. They weren't, there's-a-bright-light-I-must go-towards-its-ethereal-beauty dead. They were just-passed-through-the-crematorium, ashes-to-ashes-dust-to-dust dead. Jesus probably would have gone into the dugout and given up while attempting to bring new life. They were dead.
You could hear the Sox fans cracking open their cans of celebratory Keystone Light. Dave Kaplan was all ready with his flaming torches to lead the charge of the Fans Against Soriano Society's mob. Ron sounded like he was about to jump out of the broadcast booth to his death. I was getting blood all over my computer from repeatedly beating my head against my desk. The depths of sorrow were almost too heavy to comprehend for a game in mid-June.
They were down 5-1 in the 8th and Milton Bradley (who actually has been getting on base lately) struck out for the second out with two on and seemingly ended any threat of a big inning. Just as we had started to give up hope, when we began bracing ourselves for the mockery that would be heaped upon us for at least eight more days before the Cubs could even try to exact revenge against the Sox, when it seemed that no force on earth could possibly cause the Cubs to score a goddamn run - Derrek Lee stepped to the plate and hit one into the basket.
Suddenly it is 5-4, but most Cub fans were still thinking that it's a damn shame Marmol couldn't stop those two insurance runs from scoring in the top of the 8th, because we still didn't think that the Cubs could push across another run before the end of the game. But then Geovany Soto stepped up and crushed a no-doubt homerun to left to tie the game and stun the hell out of the White Sox and Cub fans everywhere.
The depths of despair suddenly became full of hope. The White Sox were now the ones who were on the defensive. We just sat and hoped that Kevin Gregg didn't incinerate the newfound hope with a pyrotechnics display out of the bullpen. Shockingly, he did not allow a run and the Cubs came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to win.
Reed Johnson edged a little closer to becoming the utility player that Cubs fans idolize and then bitch about when he is traded in the off-season at inflated value, by leading off with a single. Andy White stepped in and laid down a good sacrifice bunt to move Reed to second. This in itself was a minor miracle as the Cubs have typically had a maddening lack of ability to lay down bunts in big situations.
At this point, I was on the edge of standing up in my office and yelling encouragement into the radio, but then I saw on Gameday that Aaron Miles was the one coming to the plate. Aaron Miles is a black hole of talent where no positive feelings can possibly escape. His at-bats actually cause me physical pain.
I immediately jumped back to the conclusion that the Cubs would not score and begin playing the tenth inning at any moment because death-slumping Soriano was on deck. In less than 70 games, the Cubs have managed to erase all confidence and "Cubbie swagger" that had been built up during last year's dominant run to the playoffs. Such is the life of a Cubs fan. Positivity is always fleeting.
Sure enough, Miles grounded to shortstop and my hatred of him continued to grow unchecked. He has joined Mel Rojas and Candy Maldonado as my most hated Cubs of all time. I figured we were a couple of Soriano swings and misses at outside breaking balls from giving the White Sox new life.
For some reason, Matt Thornton, the Sox pitcher, threw a 2-2 fastball right down the middle to a guy who has spent the better part of the last month wishing and praying that someone would throw him a fastball. Soriano didn't hit it hard. It wasn't pretty. It was a humpback linedrive, but it had enough on it to clear second and not enough to carry into the outfielders' ranges. The ball fell in and Reed Johnson, taking nothing for granted, sprinted the entire way home. The Cubs burst out of the dugout to mob Reed and Soriano as the Sox walked off the field.
(AP Photo/David Banks)
I sat in my office completely stunned. It all seemed too good to be true and I kept waiting for the umpire to call Soriano out for using too much pinetar or something. But that never happened. The Cubs had actually won the game.
In the grand scheme of things, this singular instance could mean nothing. The Cubs face Cliff Lee today on the mound and the God of Baseball (that isn't thunder you are hearing in Chicago, it is Mark DeRosa nailing his hotel room door shut to keep Dave Kaplan out), in the batters box. Nothing can erase the positivity and potential momentum the comeback created like a couple of bad losses to Cleveland.
On the other side, a comeback victory of that type in a playoff atmosphere could be something that rejuvenates the team more than inserting a AAA hitter with a stone glove into the lineup ever could.
Either way, yesterday was a prime example of why I don't leave baseball games early and why I just plain love this game.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Everyone OK? Ready to move on to some blind sources' speculations? Awesome.
"Sources confirmed to CNBC that Ricketts received a letter from Tribune Company about the matter a few weeks ago.
The letter stated that unless the remaining matters were agreed to within a specific time frame, Ricketts could risk losing the deal or Tribune could begin talks with other interested parties."
Of course, CNBC also says that the agreed-upon price was $950 million, so its hard to tell if its a typo, or if whoever filed the story actually knows what is going on. But, its CNBC, so they must be on to something, right?
Reuters says, no, their sources (some of whom allow their names to be known) say that everything is fine and they expect the deal to be done in a couple of weeks.
"'The [CNBC] report is untrue and the negotiations have been moving along very positively,' Dennis Culloton, spokesman for the Ricketts family said."
So who knows who to believe, or where the hell this deal or non-deal stands. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Ricketts will not own the team anytime soon, if at all. Having this dragged out and f---ing up any chance Hendry has of fixing this roster mid-season would be so Cub-like in its ridiculous, amateurish, and self-destructive aspects that I don't know why I ever expected anything else besides the clusterf--- going on right now.
This team can do almost nothing right at the moment, so I fully expect the pitching to go into the shitter very soon. I think Ted Lilly's will power is the only thing that has prevented it from happening already. Maybe we should send Ted over to Zell's house to help him find a more flexible negotiating position.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
My opinion of Sammy Sosa has not changed much with this evidence of his use. I suspected that Sammy may have not been all natural while he was hitting homeruns onto the old pink house on Waveland in 1998. Everybody was quick to credit Jeff Pentland, the Cubs hitting coach at the time, with the tapping toe timing mechanism that he added to Sosa's swing before the 1998 season.
That may have helped Sammy out a bit, but Jeff Pentland's genious was not enough to get regular hitting out of Henry Rodriguez, Fred McGriff or any of the other stiffs on the roster during his tenure. He also has not magically turned around the Royals' or Mariners' hitting in his gigs since. The Dodgers had a nice little surge there at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so its possible the tutelage of Jeff Pentland, Roving Hitting Instructor, did the trick. Of course, it may also have been the presence of another 'roided up slugger added in the middle of the Dodger lineup that made the difference. It's hard to say, really.
As a fan, you hoped that Sammy was clean. You wished that he really was just taking Flinstones vitamins. But deep down, you knew it wasn't so. It was too good to be true.
Even if you bought into it from 1998 to 2002, the degree that Sammy fell off the table afterwards was shocking and the explanation that always made the most sense was that he wasn't using steroids anymore. Still, Sammy was teflon when it came to actually having any allegations stick.
Not even Canseco would say any more about Sosa than a comment that what Sammy was doing just HAD to be unnatural. With all of the allegations thrown around in his book (most of which have basically come out as 100% true), he must not have been very comfortable with making any more of a declarative statement because he probably thought there was a chance he could be wrong and end up getting sued.
So Cub fans everywhere clung to statements like, "Nobody has ever actually accused Sammy" or "He really did have a great workout regimen, so maybe thats all it was" in the hopes that he was a ray of pure shining light in an era where Lenny Dykstra appeared to be sweating pure testosterone, Luis Gonzalez and Bret Boone became two of the most unlikely power hitters ever, and 50 homeruns in a season was considered a minor feat.
The "revelation" that he is a steroid user doesn't take away the awe that I felt in the moment when Sammy launched twenty homeruns in the month of June 1998 alone. It doesn't take away from one of the best weekends ever in September 1998 when he hit HRs 60, 61, and 62 against the Brewers in a wild weekend series. It doesn't change the fact that I would have traded Sammy Sosa, the 1998 version, for an Andre Dawson with healthy knees on any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
It doesn't change the fact that I think he should go into the Hall of Fame. The fact that there are still 102 names left on a list somewhere that are proven users of steroids in 2003 (after the players all knew that they would be tested) should leave us with the conclusion that Sammy was competing against many other steroid users along the way.
He was facing pitching that stayed healthy and threw harder because of steroids. He hit balls into defenses that were quicker and nimbler as a result of steroids. His fellow hitters were also using steroids and not putting up the numbers that Sammy did. He was the king of that era.
To separate out the caught users from the users who have avoided detection (so far) from the clean players (Mickey Morandini?) is impossible. Also, baseball doesn't have a problem with Gaylord Perry, a known spitball pitcher, in the Hall. People were more willing to put Sammy in the Hall before he was officially outed, but he was a bat corker.
Stealing signs, scuffing balls, using foreign substances, using amphetamines, and any other less-than-legal tactics have been used by players in the past, and there are no villagers with torches attempting to burn any Hall of Fame plaques of players who may have engaged in such activities. Bat corkers catch more hell because they threatened the sacred homerun records, but if that had been Sammy's only transgression, he gets into the Hall without much protest at all.
Sammy was not a hero of mine prior to the allegations, so I'm not in mourning over his fall. If anything is sad, it is the loss of the shred of hope, realistic or not, that Sammy just might have been clean. Now, he's just no different than anyone else in that era.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Whoopdee freakin' doo.
I am so over the Crosstown rivalry. I could care less what the Sox are doing except for this brief period where they are playing the various teams also residing in the NL Central.
The Crosstown rivalry used to be something that both sides of town could count on to help determine which team was superior. At the very least, it was fun to ruin a perfectly good season by the other team by winning the series.
2005 changed all of that. The Sox reached the Holy Grail first. There isn't anything that winning a stupid mid-season series can do to change that. So what's left to argue about?
The Crosstown was Chicago's World Series because neither of the teams ever had a real one to celebrate for almost 90 years. Since that can no longer be said, the only thing that adds any fuel to this "rivalry" is the White Sox fans having an annual opportunity to rub our noses in it. Awesome.
In order for a Cubs fan to come out of the crosstown series with any semblance of happiness, a sweep is almost necessary. Anyone want to bet me money that the Cubs pull off their second consecutive sweep in Wrigley? I'll take the bet. I would gladly lose money on a bet to insure the Cubs taking all three games.
Let's go Cubs. Just get this damn series over with.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Others may believe that this is simply a potentially potent offense finally eating its Wheaties and performing even partially up to snuff.
Still others may chalk up the winning rally to a blind squirrel finding a nut.
However, I know differently.
The Secret Weapon Rally Hat made its official debut at Wrigley today in the ninth inning. This is kind of a good luck charm that I really should use for sports betting, but for now I will just use it for the Cubs. It has traveled with me to Wrigley for a number of games, where it is 5-0 so far, but it had never been worn during a game situation since the Cubs always had the lead going into the ninth inning in its previous visits.
Today, with the combination of another clutch pitching performance by Ted Lilly and a king's ransom worth of runs (2) through the first eight innings, the Cubs managed to head into the bottom of the ninth tied up at two.
The Rally Hat proved it isn't completely all-powerful when it failed to keep Milton Bradley from hitting a weak grounder on the first pitch, but then it kicked into full force. Derrek Lee singled past third, and Geovany Soto followed with another single to left and Lee managed to advance to third on a hustling, head-up baserunning choice. The failed attempt to get Lee at third allowed Soto to advance to second.
Mike Fontenot was walked intentionally in order to load the bases to bring Ryan "Muscles" Theriot to the plate. After a big swing and miss where Muscles tried to hit the Horseshoe Casino building formerly known as the Budwesier building across Waveland, Theriot reconnected with his former "Slappy" self and shockingly did not try to pull an outside pitch. Instead he lined it through the right side like the Theriot of old winning the game and sending a Cubs crowd home happy for the first time since May 30th.
While the players certainly played their role, the only real difference between today and every other day in the recent past is the presence of the Rally Hat. It shall accompany me again to the park where it will be needed to help defeat John Danks and the Chicago White Sox.
In the meantime, I'm curious what other Rally Hats or other items with good mojo have been used to assist the Cubs over the years. I'd love to hear about it and possibly share some good stories about any lucky charms or talismans anyone may have employed over the years, be it lucky hats, socks, or underwear.
Send me any stories and/or pictures of your lucky items to Aisle424 (at) gmail (dot) com. By sending me a story or picture, you are giving me your consent to use the contents as part of this blog. I will give proper credit to the submittor if used, so sign your e-mail with whatever name or alias you would like me to publish it under (this does not guarantee publication).
Clearly, as you can see from today's picture, no item is too bizarre.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I'm particularly pissed off at interleague play this year because this is the year that the NL Central plays the AL Central, so I am going to have to root for the White Sox quite a bit this year. This fact is slapping me in the face this weekend as I travel up to Milwaukee for an annual tailgate party and baseball game. Some years, we get lucky and catch the Cubs up there, but usually it's the Brewers against some random team that I could care less about, but for whom, on that one day, I am their biggest fan.
I hate the Mets, but if they are playing the Brewers: Go Mets! If the Brewers are languishing in last place, and they are playing the Cardinals: Go Brewers! Whatever the situation, my allegiance in the game is determined entirely by what outcome benefits the Cubs the most.
This year, the Brewers are playing the White Sox. I have to cheer on that fat, inbred, bleached out, fat (yeah, I said it twice) f---, Bobby Jenks. I have to get behind A. J. Pierzynski and hope he starts a fight with Ryan Braun that leads to multiple suspensions. Now Scott "I've Never Hit a Homerun in My Entire Life, Except to Walk-Off in the World Series" Podsednik is back with the team? I want to kill myself.
I'm sure the Astros will trade Geoff Blum back to the White Sox for the weekend to complete my horror.
It will be interesting to see how I react to the game as it plays out. I don't like the Brewers much, and they certainly hate the Cubs fans invading their ballpark every year, so I assume I will hear a few things from Brewers fans that are sober enough to realize that I'm wearing a Cubs hat. But, man do I hate the White Sox.
I thought my feelings over having every little break go in their favor in 2005 would have numbed by now, but it hasn't. I'm pissed off now even thinking about the doubleplay ball through Graffanino's legs, the lost flyball bouncing off of Grady Sizemore's hip, the dropped third strike, and every other boost the gods decided to give the White Sox in their championship quest whenever they started tightening up.
Go White Sox. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Cubs lost two of the three games.
Ted Lilly must have threatened to go medieval on the offense if they didn't step up because they managed seven runs in the first six innings of Game 1. They could only squeeze two more runs across (on two solo homeruns by Soto and Lee) in the next 25 innings of the series.
The question that this naturally raises amongst even the most rainbows-and-sunshine Cubs fans is: What in the name of holy f--- are you motherf---ers doing out there?
Soriano is going through his obligatory cold-as-the-deep-recesses-of-space period that he goes through at least twice a year.
Milton Bradley managed a broken bat single that probably should have been a double play from the way I heard it described by Pat Hughes on the radio.
The Hill/Soto combo is making us look back fondly on the Tim Blackwell/Barry Foote days. Fukudome has gotten a couple hits, but he's not getting hits to drive in any runs. Fontenot had a nice birthday game, but not much since.
The AAA boys have all lost their magic. Bobby Scales, Andres Blanco, and Micah Hoffpauir look like they are overmatched in almost every at-bat. Hoff managed a long, loud out to straightaway center, but otherwise did little to demand more playing time.
Aaron Miles is, unsurprisingly, the most useless player on the entire roster in every way.
Derrek Lee is the only guy who is putting up numbers that don't make grown men weep uncontrollably. Unfortunately, he is performing merely admirably, and not single-handedly-carry-the-offense fantastic, so it does little good except keep the Micah Hoffpauir Fan Club quiet for now.
This is why it is a real damn shame that Lou and Gerald Perry seem to have broken Ryan Theriot. Theriot started the year well enough with his signature style of slapping hits to the right side with great frequency and little power. He didn't strike out much, but he didn't scare anybody with an ability to drive in a runner by hitting an extra-base hit.
Then the coaches told him that he should occasionally look to drive the ball a bit more and maybe hit the left field gap for some doubles. On the surface, this seemed like sage advice. It makes sense that the coaching staff would like for this one dimensional offensive player to at least keep other teams honest by showing the ability to turn on the ball if they insist on pitching him middle in. There were a couple games where the defense was almost in the Bonds Shift positions because they knew he wasn't going to pull the ball.
So the coaches told Theriot to look for pitches he could drive. What he apparently heard was: "You should always look to try to hit a homerun because you are a big bad power hitter that can change the game with one swing." It's like having Corey Patterson all over again.
Again, I blame the coaches. They should know that Theriot isn't terribly bright regarding his own baseball abilities. The evidence is all over the place in the other parts of his game. He thinks he has a strong arm and tries to make throws he shouldn't. He thinks he is a good base stealer and continuously finds new ways to get thrown out while on the bases. Now, he thinks he is a power hitter.
He has gone from the guy I wanted at the plate above almost anyone else with a runner at third with less than two outs, to a guy I never want to see with a bat in his hand in any situation.
Unfortunately, the alternative is seeing more of Aaron Miles, so I'll just hope that the coaches can figure out how to turn "Muscles" back into "Slappy."
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I've had numerous problems with their arrogant tone used to demand payment for tickets that have gone up in price again, their unwillingness to even say thank you when you do hand them a check for thousands of dollars, or the stadium personnel's lack of warmth, efficiency, or even competency.
So it concerned me a bit when I stumbled on an article on the Houston Chronicle website by Ken Hoffman that revealed that the Houston Astros are the only major league team to ban all outside food and beverage from their ballpark. Hoffman is not bothered in the slightest by this fact.
"I’ve been to a bunch of stadiums around the country. I’ve never noticed a lot of fans bringing in food with them. I’ve never seen a guy at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia with a Subway sandwich in his pocket."
I'll grant you that the majority of fans don't bring in their own food. I've been known to grab a Jimmy Johns sandwich when walking up Clark from the Belmont stop, or grabbing a Quarter Pounder at the McDonald's across the street from Wrigley, but those occasions are rare and a ban on food would not bother me that much personally.
However, there are plenty of people who buy the peanuts out on the street because, as the peanut sellers outside will remind you, they are "cheaper on the outside." Lots of families will bring sandwiches, or their own bags of popcorn or cracker jack so they don't have to pay $20 more per kid to feed them during a game.
I see lots of 7-11 Big Gulp cups around the stadium that I know saved their owners at least $3 in beverage expenses.
While it may not be a big deal to Mr. Hoffman to spend that extra $10 on a hot dog, coke, and peanuts, it is a big deal for a family of four trying not to have to take out a loan in order to be able to afford enjoying a ballgame together.
My fear is that someone in the Cubs front office is going to see this as an opportunity to seize more revenue that flows outside the ballpark and bring it into the ballpark at an inflated price. They may have been fearful of doing it before because they didn't want to be the asshole in the league. But now that Drayton McLane has been outed as the pioneer asshole and blazed a trail in that direction, the Cubs could find it much easier to justify going down the same path.
I'm not naive enough to think that baseball isn't already heading in the direction of becoming unaffordable to anyone without a large sum of disposable income. But when the Cubs pay a guy $30 million to sit on their bench, use up their medical supplies, and leave runners on base at a staggering rate, I get a bit pissed that they then have to find these new revenue streams to help pay for someone I never wanted on my team in the first place.
So while it lasts, here are the existing rules for outside food and beverages as outlined on the Cubs.com Ballpark A to Z Guide:
"Bottles, Cans and Outside Beverages: No glass bottles, cans or alcoholic beverages of any kind may be brought into Wrigley Field. Hard-sided coolers and thermoses of any kind are not permitted into the stadium. Sealed Bottled water is allowed to be brought into the stadium.
Food and Beverages: Food and beverages are available throughout the ballpark at concession stands and carts managed by Levy Restaurants. Visitors may bring food or drink items into the ballpark, which are packaged in acceptable containers."
Enjoy it while you can.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But seeing whoever the high school or college athlete is that the Cubs draft tonight ranks just barely above my interest in learning to crochet.
It's strange that I am usually very interested in watching the NFL draft, and I usually will take notice of what the Bulls are doing (especially if they have a lottery pick), but I have rarely been interested in what the Cubs will do on draft day.
The last time I remember being interested was in 2001 when the Cubs were picking second overall. They were essentially picking first, because the top two players in the draft that year were Mark Teixiera and Mark Prior. The Minnesota Twins, who owned the first pick, knew that they would not be able to afford the gargantuan signing bonuses commanded by either of the Marks, so they went ahead and targeted catching prospect, Joe Mauer.
That fact was known well ahead of time, so the Cubs knew they would be on the clock with their choice of whichever of the top two prospects in the land they chose. They, of course, picked Mark Prior. Obviously, we don't need to dwell on how that pick has since worked out for the Cubs except to say this, it's actually one of the better picks the Cubs have made in my memory.
No other first round pick of the Cubs has set foot in the majors since Mark Prior. In 2002, the Cubs had four first round picks: Bobby Brownlie, Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko, and Matthew Clanton. Only Brownlie made it as far as AAA where he posted a career 5.82 ERA and he was last seen in the Washington Nationals system last year.
Ryan Harvey and Mark Pawelek, the 2003 and 2005 first rounders (there was no 2004 first round pick) were both released this offseason. Harvey made it as far as AA and has picked up in the Rockies farm system. Pawelek never got out of A ball and appears to be done.
2006 first rounder, Tyler Colvin, has bounced between A and AA for a couple of years now. Somehow his .683 OPS in A ball at Daytona was good enough for a promotion back to AA Tennessee. After nine games, he has a .920 OPS so I'm sure Vineline will be writing a puff piece about him at any time.
On the positive side, Josh Vitters, the 2007 pick, is actually killing the ball down in A level Peoria so much that Lou is starting to get questions about whether the kid could make the jump to the big club to help fill in for Aramis. To which, my reply would be: Lance Dickson.
Lance Dickson was the Cubs first round pick in 1990. He was a nasty lefty from the University of Arizona, so he was already "seasoned" with experience at the college level. As a result, he shot through the Cubs farm system, posting a 0.53 ERA with Rookie League Geneva, 1.51 with Peoria, and 0.38 in AA at Charlotte all before August of the same year. The Cubs promoted him with much ballyhoo and fanfare and he made three August starts and posted a 7.24 ERA at a time when ERAs above 4.00 were considered crappy (expansion brought about the existence of the serviceable 5.00 ERA pitcher). He became derailed by injuries and was done in baseball by 1995.
In 1997, the Cubs picked Jon Garland and he has become a serviceable starter, but he has hardly set the world on fire. He is best known by Cub fans as the prospect traded to the White Sox for Matt Karchner instead of Randy Johnson in 1998.
Kerry Wood certainly was phenomenal at times, but he never has won more than 14 games in a season, and his ability always outshined his results. Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Brooks Kieschnick, Jon Ratliff, Kevin Orie, Derek Wallace, and Doug Glanville were other first round picks in the 90s that never had more than fleeting success. Glanville and Kieschnick at least managed to have careers as journeyman level players.
Other first rounders in the 90s include Ben Christiansen, who is best known for almost killing an opposing player with a ball because he was in the on-deck circle timing Christiansen's warm-up pitches, Todd Noel, who was traded for Felix "But He Has a Live Arm" Heredia, and Jayson Peterson, who it appears did actually exist, though no one cares.
In the 1980s, the Cubs made 14 first round picks and only three of them are worth noting: Rafael Palmeiro, who only became great when he started doing steroids, Shawon Dunston, who unfortunately had the misfortune of being the Cubs #1 overall pick in the same draft as Dwight Gooden, and Joe Carter, who contributed heavily to the Cubs by being traded for Rick Sutcliffe in 1984.
Before Joe Carter, the only names that stand out to me are Scot Thompson and Randy Martz because they were members of the late 70s and early 80s Cubs teams that I first learned about, and not necessarily because of anything they did on the field.
I know that not all of the players I have mentioned are at fault for their relatively crappy careers. Some were genuinely talented players who got hammered by injuries, but when you look at the list of players taken by the Cubs since 1965 and Mark Prior is one of the high points, you have a draft history that is downright deplorable.
So I hope you understand why I could really give a damn about whatever poor soul gets chosen by the Cubs tonight. Chances are excellent that it won't matter in the slightest.
Cubs drafted Brett Jackson, CF out of University of California in the first round. This allows the Cubs to save some money by simply cutting and pasting all the old Vineline stories about Corey Patterson and Felix Pie into new issues with only minor edits.
In the second round with the 79th pick, the Cubs chose David LeMahieu, another middle infielder from LSU in case they lose either Theriot or Fontenot under the couch cushions. At six-foot four, LeMahieu is taller than Theriot and Fontenot even if they stood on each others shoulders.
With the 109th pick, they took lefty high school pitcher, Austin Kirk from Owasso, Oklahoma. I don't have a joke for that and its getting kind of late.
Monday, June 8, 2009
The right-handed roulette wheel that gave us Luis Vizcaino, Jeff Samardzija, and Chad Fox, seems to have come to rest on Jose Ascanio for the moment. I like the kid because he isn't walking everybody he faces (he struck out 8 before walking his first batter this year), and seems to have a bit of a cocky attitude, like he knows he's good enough to get guys out regularly. The cringe factor when he appears in a game is minimal at the moment.
We have not seen much of Jason Waddell, but in his two games he hasn't walked anybody (unlike a reliever I shall only refer to as Neal C.... wait, that's too obvious, I'll call him N. Cotts) and has actually retired the left-handed batter he has been called on to retire. Is it too early to start asking him if he'll wear a Cubs hat when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame? It's almost a shame he will probably be the one heading back to Iowa when Harden is reactivated.
Waddell will be heading out because I don't think there is any way you can tell Sean Marshall that he has not only been bumped from the starting rotation through no fault of his own, but that he is now going to get to enjoy the cornfields again because of this Waddell kid being more of a true LOOGY-type pitcher. That is just not going to happen.
Angel Guzman is performing so well that there are rumblings from some Cubs fans that he should be the 8th inning guy instead of Marmol, or even the closer. I'm not going to get into that, because he has a ways to prove this isn't all a mirage, but I know I felt more confident with him protecting the lead in the 14th last night than I would have if Gregg or Marmol was going out there.
Kevin Gregg is Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman is Aaron Heilman. They are going to have frustrating outings. I don't think this can be helped. They both have decent enough stuff and you have to live with the bitter and the sweet with a bullpen, especially when the Cubs aren't going to find anyone better on the waiver wire. But if it turns out that Heilman and Gregg are our biggest concerns, the bullpen has truly turned a corner.
Carlos Marmol seems to have something against Randy Wells since he has played an intrumental role in blowing the last two potential victories for the newest addition to the rotation. There is no doubting that Marmol has the nastiest stuff on the entire staff, and that he could very possibly have the nastiest stuff in the league. Unfortunately, you never know what you are going to get from this guy when he takes the mound.
He threw a slider that scared the bejeezus out of Brandon Phillips yesterday that ended up being called a strike. Phillips wanted nothing to do with Marmol and he ended up walking the guy. Marmol seems to only have a vague notion of where the ball is going right now, and it scares me to death when he is in a game.
I manage to survive by grasping onto the thought that Marmol will return to his dominant self soon, and hope that once he gets his groove back, the improvements to the rest of the bullpen don't regress backwards to Cottsian levels.
If (and when) that happens, I think our bullpen will no longer be the Cubs' biggest problem and they can get to work on finding where they misplaced the bats with all of the clutch hits in them.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I'll say that when Ted first signed his four year, $40 million deal, I was a bit apprehensive. The story of Jim Hendry signing Ted while hooked up to an EKG machine sounded too much like when Dave Wannstedt woke up from surgery and his first words were, "Did we sign [Erik] Kramer?"
I didn't really know much about Ted since he had been an American League pitcher and had never really been good enough to warrant a lot of attention in fantasy leagues at that point. He was one of those interchangeable mediocre pitchers that you streamed in and out of your roster when the matchups were right.
I went to the Cubs Convention that January where he made his debut in front of the Cubs fans. I was severely underwhelmed. Kris fell in love with him almost instantly, but I was pretty sure he was either a totally uninterested jerk or had just smoked a ton of weed.
His replies in the fan forums can not be appropriately captured in print to get the full sense of his monotonous tone. "I'm just really glad to be here and be part of such a great team. I'm really excited," is a paraphrased example of a typical comment he would make that day. Try reading that sentence with the same tone as you would imagine would be used in this one: "I just came from burying my father who just died of rectal cancer. Also, my new puppy was run over this morning as my wife was driving off to leave me for another man."
He was especially dull and morose when put next to guys like Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood, who know how to work a room.
As the season got started, he pitched well enough and I liked him as part of the rotation, but his propensity for giving up homeruns kept me from trusting him completely. He also hardly ever smiled. If he ever showed an outward sign of happiness, it was through a smirk. Smiles are warm, friendly, and easily likable. Smirks make you look like kind of a dick.
I've since seen him more relaxed in the dugout (when its not his day to pitch), so I know he is having some fun down there and enjoying the company of at least a few of his teammates. I also know that when he is pitching, he is all business, and I love that. He is taking his job seriously and you can tell it bothers him when he doesn't do his job well.
I think that is what separates him from a guy like Zambrano in my mind. Zambrano objectively has more talent and better tools to do the job of being a starting pitcher in the major leagues than Ted. While Ted has had some meltdowns in his career, the difference between his and Carlos' is that Ted isn't out there putting on a show.
When Ted whips his glove at the ground after giving up a booming homerun to Chris Young in the 2007 playoffs, I'm fairly certain it is a reaction to failing at his job and being mad as hell about it. Carlos would have thrown his glove, stormed around the mound, kicked the rosin bag, and then try to tear the still-beating heart out of his catcher's chest if he dared try to intervene.
Carlos may have an initial reaction that is genuine, but I'll never believe his theatrics are the act of a guy who is out of control. I think Carlos knows excatly what he is doing and likes to play to the crowd, and get all the media attention afterwards.
When Ted jumped out of the dugout to scream at an umpire for tossing him out of a game while he was on the bench, he was livid. He also then calmed down fairly quickly, got in his two cents and left the playing field. Nothing Ted did in that case was for the crowd's entertainment.
I've heard rumors that it was Ted that took the bat to the pipes in Dodger Stadium last year, and while I have no way of knowing if it is true, I really want it to be. It just sounds like something Ted could have done. He was pissed as hell that his team just got swept while he was helpless to do anything about it because they couldn't get him the ball in a Game 4.
I just don't see anyone else on the team who is as likely a candidate. Carlos was the only other guy on the team with enough rage issues, and it just wasn't a public enough display for Carlos.
It seems that for the majority of his time in Chicago, Ted just keeps taking the ball and pitching really well when we need him. On Wednesday night, the Cubs needed a strong start from their pitcher both because of the psychological damage done by the implosion the night before, and because the bullpen got used pretty heavily in the course of losing in traumatic fashion. I don't think the Cubs were going to come back against Derek Lowe if they fell behind early, even by a run.
Unfortunately, Ted didn't earn the win, but he allowed the Cubs to take the first lead and get their legs back underneath them. The bullpen actually had a good night and the Cubs won to salvage what has now turned into a split of the two game series.
He is becoming the pitcher I trust the most. I know that Zambrano and Harden are more likely to totally dominate an opposing team, and even Dempster probably has better pure stuff than Lilly, but none turn in such consistently quality performances.
In a season that is increasingly unpredictable, my desire for one steady rock that I can count on has made me appreciate Ted Lilly all the more. His last name may conjure images of flowers, but he is one bad-ass motherf---er and if the Cubs make the playoffs, he needs to get a start in the series.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
"The patient in the MRI tube before Cubs right fielder Milton Bradley's appointment Wednesday broke the machine in a claustrophobic fit, forcing Bradley's test into the late afternoon."
I'm suddenly starting to wonder if Milton Bradley has some sort of electromagnetic pulse or something else supernatural that causes seemingly ordinary people to go crazy when in his presence.
We've had Lilly jump into an argument with an umpire in a game in which he wasn't even pitching. Dempster attacked the Gatorade machine. Even Zambrano, who should never be considered a completely sane person, brought his performance level to entirely new heights with his act. Now, some dude in an MRI machine completely loses it and breaks the machine.
They should attach some monitoring devices on a bunch of people in a room and measure what happens when Milton walks in. Somebody give me the grant money and I'll arrange it.
But for now, all we know for sure is that Bradley did, indeed strain his calf, though no one seems to know for sure how severely:
"The Cubs got the report on Bradley's strained calf just before game time, learning that the MRI showed a strain not severe enough to necessarily require a disabled-list move but not mild enough to assure he'll only need two or three days to recover."
So Milton is back to being day-to-day. Which is kind of like saying that the Arctic Circle is back to being cold.
I guess I get why the Cubs were reluctant to disable Aramis when he was having his earlier health issues before the catastrophic day in Milwaukee. You don't want to be without Ramirez's bat for any longer than you absolutely have to, so I understand not guaranteeing a 15 day sit-down with a roster move.
But Bradley is batting .220. Is there really that much rush to get that back to the lineup? Playing Milton Bradley on the field during the best of times is a lot like playing long-toss with a Faberge egg. You might be able to get away with doing it for short spurts, but it's eventually going to break, you know it, and you still pay a crapload of money for the experience. Getting him back out there before we know he's ready is like starting to toss around the broken egg again before the super-glue dries.
I'd rather just know he's out, and give the starts to Hoffpauir for a couple of weeks. Sure, Bradley could be back in time to DH for the American League games, but we have Fox for that.
I don't even care who they bring up to replace him. It can be a purely defensive non-hitter. A guy with great speed (and hopefully some baserunning instincts). Another bullpen guy to give some depth to our bullpen while the current version is busy making games longer than they should be.
Somebody, somewhere in the organization has to have more value than Milton does while sitting on the edge of the bench doing absolutely nothing. Hell, bring up a third catcher so that whoever isn't playing that night can be used as a pinch-hitter without worry that there isn't anyone to catch in an emergency.
Then after two weeks, Bradley will be as healthy as he ever is and ready to get injured all over again.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I remember Jon Lieber throwing a perfect game against the Cardinals at Wrigley. He had retired 20 straight batters and here came Mark McGwire to the plate. The crowd booed him and the guy next to me said, "Oh come on, it's Mark McGwire. Let's see him dent some cars on Waveland."
This man clearly did not know what Lieber was doing, so I decided I would point it out as best I could without committing the sin of saying it out loud. I said, "Dude..." and pointed to my scorecard.
He didn't get it.
I pointed to the bottom where all the zeroes were for the runs and hits in each inning.
He didn't get it.
I pointed to the three outs per inning in each inning he had achieved up until then.
He didn't get it.
"He's throwing a perfect game."
I said it quick and just loud enough so that hopefully only the idiot next to me would hear it. The baseball gods heard it.
The next pitch was hit very high and I didn't think that McGwire had gotten enough of it. There was no wind, but the center fielder just kept drifting and drifting until he ran out of room and the ball landed in the basket in straight-away center.
The perfect game, the no-hitter, and the shutout were all gone in a split second. Lieber then proceeded to not get anyone else out. Someone can check me on this, but I believe that he was finally charged with six earned runs in his 6 2/3 innings. It went from being a masterpiece to a fantasy team-wrecking line.
Last night will be a game that will live in infamy along with the Lieber game. It had the same quality of giving you the sense that you were seeing something special. You started wondering if Yunel Escobar's faked hit-by-pitch was really going to be the only blemish of the night for the rookie pitcher seeking a well-earned first career major league victory. Then it turned to outright shit before you even knew what was going on.
The difference is that Lieber really had no one to blame but himself for the onslaught that destroyed his night. All Randy Wells could do was sit in the dugout and watch his teammates f--- up everything he had worked so hard to achieve.
First, maybe Wells never even has to come out of the game if Derrek Lee doesn't forget how to play defense immediately following the solo homerun given up by Wells. It stands to reason that Wells could have (and given hindsight, probably would have) managed to get more than one out while not walking two guys and hitting batter in the process.
Kevin Gregg actually came in and got three straight outs to record a perfect save opportunity. That is, if Geovany Soto could block a strike-three pitch in the dirt, or manage to find where the ball was after letting it get by, or if he had let it get by, been slow to find it, and then not tripped and smacked his face into the netting behind the plate. Any of those scenarios probably would have resulted in Garrett Anderson being thrown out at first to complete the strikeout. But he managed to turn an otherwise unspectacular strikeout into the Inspector Clouseau routine from hell, allowing the runner to reach base.
So, I can't be too pissed at Gregg. He essentially came in and got three outs. Unfortunately, he had more trouble getting the fourth out of the inning and grooved a two-strike fastball right where Jeff Francouer probably would have requested it, if given the opportunity. The result was a ball that was hit so hard the only question was whether it was hit high enough to clear the wall. It was.
So the culprits were all around. Lee, Soto, Marmol, Gregg, and later Heilman all contributed to the Cubs demise and the preventing of Wells winning his first game despite having an ERA of 1.69 after five starts. Son, if you wanted to beat the hell out of a gatorade machine, throw some equipment around, or junk-punch one of your teammates, no one will blame you.
Meanwhile, Cubdom is left dazed and bewildered by how poorly this team is playing. Some are clinging to the idea that it is still early with a death grip. Some have been playing the "I told you so" card and beating the trading of DeRosa horse to death. Some are just pissed as hell.
Everybody handles the emotional scarring differently, but the one similarity is that we keep going back for more. Clearly, there is something wrong with us.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
What caught my attention was his rationale that the Cubs are caught between owners and can therefore not make any big splashy moves in the remaining two months before the trade deadline.
"The best thing for the Cubs would be for the deal to fall through and for Zell to go back on his free-spending ways. But that seems unlikely."
I'm going to assume that he means Zell should go back TO his free-spending ways because otherwise the entire article makes little sense. But more importantly, why are fans and media-types so in love with the big blockbuster deals?
I had a hard time thinking of a major mid-season trade that actually resulted in a World Series victory for the team landing the big star. We've established that my brain isn't quite what it should be when it comes to salient details, so I did some checking.
Last year, Milwaukee landed C.C. Sabathia, Anaheim rented Mark Teixiera, the Dodgers got Manny Ramirez, Boston got Jason Bay, and the Cubs acquired Rich Harden. Those were all very big deals and not one of those teams won the World Series, the Phillies did. They traded for Joe Blanton, the "other" A's starter that was on the trading block.
I thought maybe last year was a fluke and looked back to the recent World Series winners and any deadline deals that propelled them to victory.
In 2007, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in spite of trading for Eric Gagne, who actually probably hurt the team's efforts in reaching their goal. Meanwhile, the Braves traded for Mark Teixiera and went home.
In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals paved their way to a championship with such crucial July acquisitions as Jeff Weaver, Ron Belliard, and Jorge Sosa. Carlos Lee going to Texas and Bobby Abreu going to the Yankees didn't stop those teams from playing golf sooner than they would have liked.
In 2005, a bunch of players were traded but none of them were really what you would consider blockbuster. But according to the MLB.com story on that July 31,
"Among the more notable players changing uniforms were Preston Wilson, Bret Boone, Joe Randa, Matt Lawton, Kyle Farnsworth, Jody Gerut, Jay Payton, Eric Byrnes, Shawn Chacon and Phil Nevin."
Not a single one of these "notable players" was acquired by the eventual champion White Sox.
In 2004, the Cubs landed Nomar Garciaparra and won the World Series. Oh, they didn't? That was just a dream? Crap.
Also that year, Carlos Beltran headed to Houston, and Freddy Garcia went to the White Sox. They all got to watch the Red Sox with their major acquisitions of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientciewicz break their curse and become really annoying.
In 2003, the Cubs traded for Aramis Ramirez aand Kenny Lofton and won the World Series. Wait... they didn't? Seriously? How the hell could they not have won that year?
Shannon Stewart, Carl Everett, Aaron Boone, and the then useful and sought-after Sidney Ponson also failed to carry their new teams to victory. Florida landed Ugueth "What You Pay For" Urbina, who did a great job of staying the hell out of Josh Beckett's way during the Marlin's championship run.
In 2002, Scott Rolen went to St. Louis and Bartolo Colon went to Montreal. The Angels won the World Series by acquiring Sal Fasano and Alex Ochoa.
Fred McGriff didn't win with the Cubs in 2001 or in 1993 with the Braves. Randy Johnson didn't win a World Series with the 1998 Astros. Mark McGwire didn't win with the Cardinals in 1997.
I started to wonder how anyone, anywhere ever thought trading away major prospects for a single player of any talent level was the key to success, when I hadn't found any evidence to support such a belief.
I think the fascination with the major deadline deal bringing that "one guy" to put you over the top has to be rooted to the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the World Series in 1992 after acquiring David Cone and then again in 1993 after acquiring Rickey Henderson. Pat Gillick's back-to-back success has suckered numerous fans, reporters, and general managers into thinking that the key to a championship is the acqusition of one major stud player.
It may also have been due in part to the 1964 Cubs winning the World Series by acquiring top starter Ernie Broglio for the underperforming, "toolsy" youngster, Lou Brock.... damn it!