Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bring Out Your Dead

For about a month and a half, the Cubs seem to have been enacting their own little Monty Python bit:



After weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, hooked up to tubes and various machines, the Cubs' 2009 playoff hopes flatlined as Fatman David Weathers served up a nice juicy pitch to Chris Ianetta in Colorado and he quickly deposited it into the right field bullpen area to beat the Brewers 7-5.

What we knew from the moment the Cubs got smacked around in Los Angeles in mid-August finally became a mathematical reality. The World Series-less streak is now officially 101 years. The Chicago Tribune will pass the team on to a new owner without delivering the championship that Dallas Green promised us 28 years ago.

As I pondered everything that went wrong this year for the umpteenth time, I'm still bewildered at how all this came to pass.

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Rich Harden would make more starts this year than all but one of his previous years, Milton Bradley would not go on the disabled list, Fukudome would maintain a reasonable batting line throughout the season (.260/.375/.423), Derrek Lee would hit 35+ homeruns and set a career high in RBIs, and Angel Guzman would emerge as a reliable force out of the bullpen, I'd have asked how far ahead of the Cardinals did the Cubs finish?

But a devastating injury to Aramis Ramirez, the poisonous presence of Milton Bradley, the failed Mike Fontenot experience, the utter uselessness of Aaron Miles, the propensity for allowing late-inning homeruns of Kevin Gregg, the staggering decline and fall of Alfonso Soriano, the Mitch Williams-esque wildness of Carlos Marmol, the weight and drug problem of Geovany Soto, the delusions of power-hitting grandeur of Ryan Theriot, a broken toe by Ryan Dempster, a wasted roster spot known as David Patton, and the utter flammability of the rest of the bullpen combined to torpedo the season before Labor Day.

The fingers have been pointed all season long at Jim Hendry, Lou Piniella, the individual players, Sam Zell, the baseball gods, and whoever else the pissed off fans can think of, but this was a true team effort. Its nice to believe that Lou Piniella has "lost his fire" or that the simple presence of Mark DeRosa would have been the difference between futility and greatness.

This was a perfect storm of events that hit a pretty decent, but not perfect baseball team. The team may not be that far away from actually being a true contender. The last few weeks (even before Milton went away), showed a team with mostly healthy players performing and winning like we thought they should (17-10 so far this month).

Of course, this season may simply be a harbinger of things to come. Soto could be a one year wonder. Derrek Lee's neck might start bothering him enough to slow his bat back down. Aramis Ramirez may simply not be able to play a full season without significant missed time. Soriano may never get any better. Zambrano may finally implode completely and get driven out of town.

Hell, we have no idea what the new ownership group is capable of doing with the roster. Will they eat the contracts of the players that need to go? Will they be able to fill the holes with marginal signings to strengthen the bench? Will they try to make another big splash with a major signing? Will they just cross their fingers and hope to hell that Hendry's master plan will finally come to fruition in its current form?

No one really knows, hence the countdown to the Winter Meetings when we should have a better feel for how the new ownership will want to go forward.

Rest in peace, 2009 season. So much potential.... (sigh).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cubs Destroy Someone Else's Playoff Hopes For Once

I stated yesterday on Twitter that I was proud of the Cubs for going into San Francisco and taking three of four games.  One person asked me why and I responded that the Cubs had nothing to play for, they were fielding a glorified AAA team, and they went into a contender's ballpark and beat a team with fantastic pitching.

He responded with: "I suppose having minimal expectations is one way to root for a team. Lucky for you the Cubs will always live down to it."

I understand being disappointed in this team, depressed by this team, and pissed off by this team.  If you've read this blog all year, you'll know that I have been highly critical of many of the players and of the team in general.  Nevertheless, the deed has been done.  The math won't eliminate the Cubs until Tuesday at the earliest, but the Cubs have been dead since they got their asses handed to them in Los Angeles a month and a half ago.  I'm over it.

I no longer view this as the 2009 Cubs of Failure.  This is the beginnings of what the 2010 Cubs could look like.  Zambrano outpitching Tim Lincecum in a true pitcher's duel when both guys were dealing like you'd expect.  Jeff Baker ripping San Francisco's hearts out of their chest with a 2-out, 2-strike go-ahead homerun in the 9th off the Giants closer.  Tom Gorzelanny stepping in and making it easier for the Cubs to not feel as though they have to sign the impending injury known as Rich Harden.

These are all good things.  It doesn't change the fact that there is only a week left of baseball for them, when they absolutely should have been able to make the playoffs again this year.  It doesn't make Milton Bradley's $21 million left on his contract disappear.  It doesn't make Soriano any younger, able to lay off that breaking ball low and away, or a better outfielder.  It doesn't make Aaron Miles useful in any way.  But I don't care.

I like that the Cubs showed some fight at the end when they had nothing to fight for.  I like that we are disappointed and pissed off with a Cubs team that could still end up with a better record than the 2007 playoff team.  I like that there is a tangible difference in the way this team has played after Bradley was removed from the equation.

Finishing strong allows the embers of hope to glow a little brighter through the cold, dark winter.  It makes the possibility that a complete destruction of this team may not be necessary right away.  Geo is looking better at the plate.  Baker keeps making it harder to ignore him as a starter.  Hell, even Samardzija makes me think he might not be totally useless.

The series victory in San Francisco was not about resurrecting the 2009 playoff hopes or even making us feel good about how this year has turned out, it was about pointing to the future and creating something they can build on.  I'm damn proud of them for showing up and basically crushing the Giants' playoff hopes.

More of that next year, please.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nobody Touch Derrek Lee Anymore

The Cubs year has gotten to the point where they have managed to injure themselves twice while celebrating wins against teams they shouldn't be that excited about beating.

Seriously, the homerun by Jeff Baker with two outs and two strikes was a great individual moment for him and solidly wrapped up his Best Hendry Acquisition of the Year Award (second place was a really good pizza Hendry had delivered to his house in May), but all it did was extend the Cardinals' wait to clinch the division one more day.

The Miracle Watch didn't even climb over .1% with the victory.  They beat a Beach Boy whose hair style looks more appropriate in the Cardinals' stands than on a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.  They managed to not let .176-hitting Jon Bowker single-handedly beat them with his two RBIs.  These are not accomplishments that one would think would cause such jubilation that injures a player.

But, shut-down-for-the-year Angel Guzman managed to do just that when he slapped Lee on the head after he scored on the homerun by Baker.  I thought it was bad enough when Lee came out of the game and I assumed that Lee hurt himself earlier in the inning while sliding into second on his first stolen base attempt of the year.  Lee has hurt his neck a couple of times on slides, and on this one he had a second baseman land on his head, so I figured that did it.

But, according to the story by Bruce Levine on ESPN, the injury was actually caused by a celebratory head slap from Guzman.  This vaults Lee ahead of Dempster in the Most Ridiculous Injury of the Year Award.  This is an upset on par with Marisa Tomei winning the Oscar ahead of Vanessa Redgrave in 1993.

So the Cubs lose Ryan Dempster for a month because he can't jump a fence, and potentially lose Lee because his neck can't handle a smack from a relief pitcher.  How come no one injures Aaron Miles during a celebration?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Suddenly My Joke Solution Seems More Plausible

I was pretty much joking when I posted earlier this week that the Cubs should keep Milton Bradley suspended for the duration of his contract: 

I was under the impression it was an actual suspension, and that while it may not have involved lost pay, still involved paperwork and potential appeals by the MLBPA, and thus would not be plausible.
Personally, there is part of me that hopes the Cubs don't trade him. I hope they just keep him suspended and let him sit at home not playing baseball for the next two years. Nobody will sign him after two years of sitting around, or he'll have to play for league minimum salary, which will make him extremely expendable if his personality remains at the same level of assholishness. The Cubs will pay him virtually the same amount as they will if they trade him and they'll have the exact same level of talent in their system as they would if they traded him for the PTBNL from hell. Screw him. Don't help another team with only ten fans, a part-time beat reporter, and absolutely no pressure to perform (Pittsburgh?) get better because you save a million dollars.

However, Paul Sullivan informs us today that Bradley is not actually suspended.  The Cubs did not file paperwork, they are not docking his pay, and he is not losing service time, thus there is nothing for the MLBPA to appeal.

Earlier in the day, Bad Kermit at Hire Jim Essian wrote an awesome piece about the whole situation which I tweeted earlier was letter perfect, but Sullivan actually poked a hole in the story, albeit a small one, that doesn't really take much away from the quality of the piece at all, but rather lends some credibility to my idea.

Bad Kermit stated:

"First of all, it is unprecedented for a team to suspend a player for comments he has made to the media. I know one might point to John Rocker’s suspension for his racial comments as precedent, but it is not. Rocker was suspended by Bud Selig and the MLB for his comments, not by the Atlanta Braves. Go do your Googley best and try to find me an MLB team that has ever suspended one of its players for being a dick. I don’t think it’s happened."

Sullivan points out that there is at least one instance, but it is easily forgettable because it happened in Miami where they have two World Series trophies as seemingly the only evidence that there is an actual baseball team down there:
"The Florida Marlins did ["suspend" a player] in 2005 with pitcher A.J. Burnett, who was in his final days with the organization because of his impending free agency.

After a loss to Atlanta on Sept. 27, Burnett blasted the Marlins organization, saying: "We played scared. We managed scared. We coached scared. I'm sick of it, man. It's depressing around here. A 3-0 ballgame, I give up one run and leave guys on base, it's like they expect us to mess up. And when we do, they chew us out. There is no positive, nothing around here for anybody."

Florida general manager Larry Beinfest sent Burnett home for the final six games of the season, but they continued to pay him. The Marlins just wanted Burnett out of their hair, and since it was the Florida Marlins, no one paid much attention. When it's Milton Bradley, everyone pays attention."

Well, if there is nothing to appeal, the Cubs can just let Milton rot in his suspension-that's-not-a-suspension. They will get absolutely nothing of value in return for him. The only thing that happens is they save a little money and Milton goes and becomes productive for another team that no one cares about. Well, I don't want Milton Bradley playing baseball anywhere after going out of his way to torpedo any possibility of rebounding with the Cubs next year. Screw him. If nobody with any sort of interest in the Cubs is happy with how this turned out, neither should he.

The problem is that he would have to use up a roster spot while he is sitting at home, so there is the possibility they would have to have him around the team at least in spring training. If that's the case, they can play him in every inning of every spring training game and when he complains that he's not in shape, his knee is swollen, or his vagina hurts, the Cubs can put him on the 60 Day DL and leave him there.

I have not done an exhaustive search, but the only rule I can find about how a player is placed on a disabled list comes from a site called Sons of Sam Horn that has a Wiki regarding various MLB rules and procedures:


"There are two Disabled Lists: the 15-day Disabled List and the 60-day Disabled List. To be put on a Disabled List, a doctor must certify a player as disabled. Players on the 60-day Disabled List do not count towards the 40-man roster. Players may be moved from the 15-day Disabled List to the 60-day Disabled List. Players may be put on either list retroactively up to ten days, beginning the day after they last played."
So all the Cubs would need is a doctor who is willing to say that Milton Bradley actually is injured. I'd recommend using the same doctor that claimed David Patton was injured after he had spent exactly 90 days on the Cubs roster, thus meeting the minimum requirement for the Cubs to keep him without having to offer him back to his original team.

So here's how it would go next Spring:

Lou: What's the matter Milton, how come you aren't heading out to the field? I know its Spring Training, but we've still got some game left here.

Milton: What the f---, skip? I've played every inning so far this pre-season. It's 110 degrees out there. I'm actually getting more tan! Can't I come out like all the other starters?

Lou: So you're tired?

Milton: F--- yeah. You deaf?

Lou: Otherwise you're fine?

Milton: Sure, everything still feels good, just really tired.

Lou: Well suck it up. You clearly aren't in game shape. Do you think Derrek is tired? I don't hear Ramirez complaining.

Milton: They haven't played since the second inning! They're sitting in the shade over by the Gatorade machine. Can I at least have some Gatorade?

Lou: I think we're out. Now get out on the field.

Milton: Ummm... I... uh... my knee hurts.

Lou:  Well, why didn't you say so?  Sure sit on down.  (calls over to rumply looking guy in the stands with a cell phone glued to his ear and nacho cheese sauce on his shirt)  JIM!!  You can go ahead and make "The Announcement."

Then Hendry would get in front of the cameras and regretfully announce that Milton's knee is sore and that he will be getting placed on the disabled list.  Then they would eventually move him to the 60 Day DL, and get the roster spot on both the 25 and 40 man rosters back.  Done.

He can use the time to homeschool his son so he won't have to deal with racist teachers and racist three-year-olds. Oh, and rehab his knee.

Focusing on the Positives

With all of the complaining about what terrible signings the Cubs made in the offseason, I thought I would try to bring out some positive vibes and look at the top ten free agent acquisitions by the Cubs.  I do not include contracts where the team extended a current player, or resigned one of their own players (like Aramis Ramirez resigning, or Derrek Lee's extension).

1.  Andre Dawson - OF - 1987
The distance between Andre and the rest of the field is so large, it makes the distance between Earth and Pluto seem like a jaunt across the street.  Andre plunked a blank contract down in front of Dallas Green and told him to fill in a number.  When Green put a paltry (even relative to 1987 baseball contracts) $500,000 down, Andre signed his name and promptly became the MVP and remained a solidifying force in the lineup despite his sore knees until Larry Himes chased him out of town after the 1992 season.  It still saddens me that one of the main reasons he isn't in the Hall of Fame is because he played in the 1989 playoffs hurting so badly that he managed to go only 2 for 19.  Andre needs to be in the Hall of Fame.  Now.
 
2.  Ted Lilly - SP - 2007
People laughed when people found out that Jim Hendry signed Ted Lilly from his hospital bed.  They scoffed when they found out the deal was for 4 years and $40 million.  At the time he signed, he was 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his career.  With the Cubs, he is 44-25 (.638) with a 3.68 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  This from a guy who once got into a fist fight with his manager.  People aren't laughing anymore and some (like me) are seriously concerned the ownership situation could end up preventing the Cubs from extending his deal further.

3.  Dave Kingman - OF - 1978
Kong had his best three season span of his career with the Cubs as far as production, but he could only stay on the field with any regularity in 1979, when he put up 48 homeruns, led the league in Slugging and OPS (though nobody really paid attention to OPS at the time), and had his highest batting average of his career.  As a Cub, he hit 42 points higher than his career average, and made the all-star team twice out of the three times in his career.

4.  Kevin Tapani - SP - 1997
Tapani came to the Cubs in a virtual swap with the White Sox when the Sox chose to sign Jaime Navarro instead of resigning Tapani, leaving him to sign with the Cubs.  Tapani started his Cubs career going 28-12 with a 4.44 ERA in 1997 and 1998.  He was never the same after 1998 when Jim Riggleman started abusing the hell out of him when he couldn't trust anyone in his bullpen besides Rod Beck to hold a lead, but those two years of solid pitching gets him on the list.  He dueled Tom Glavine to a nine inning draw in Game 2 of the '98 NLDS and should never have had to go out to pitch the 9th inning with only a 1-0 lead, but again, Riggleman didn't have many options.  Tapani also provided one of my favorite Cubs moments when he hit a base-clearing double while batting with a broken arm.

5.  Randy Myers - RP - 1993
Randall Kirk Myers was signed to be the closer, and did what no other free agent closer the Cubs have signed has managed to do: successfully close games.  Dempster was put into the closer role, but that isn't why he was signed.  Myers remains the only hired gun that came in with any bullets left.  In his three years with the Cubs, he led the league in saves twice, had a save conversion rate of 87% overall with a 90% in 1993.  He also personally took down a douchebag who ran out to the mound to yell at him about giving up a homerun in one of the most indelible moments in Cubs douchebag fan history.

 6.  Rod Beck - RP - 1998
Beck had one good season for the Cubs, but that season was 1998 and he managed to get guys out to close out ballgames with nothing but smoke and mirrors as the season wore on.  There is no way in hell the Cubs make the post-season without Rod Beck, and he pretty much blew out his arm to get them there.  During the tie-break game against the Giants, I don't think he threw more than one or two pitches over 80 mph, but he got the job done.

7.  Ryan Dempster - SP - 2004
People may think he is overpaid now, but Ryan Dempster coming to the Cubs allowed them to fill the closer role in 2005 after the fall of Joe Borowski and the failure of anyone else to step in and close adequately.  Dempster was never spectacular in the closer role, but he got the job done well enough to keep the job for 3 years, which is more than most closers in baseball can do.  He then added to his value by rejoining the rotation and becoming a very reliable guy to have going to the mound every fifth day.  He took a step backwards this year, but he has not been bad, and he's been dealing with some serious issues with his newborn daughter's health without using it as an excuse.  If the Cubs offense was anywhere close to where it was last year, his 4.04 ERA surely would have gotten him at least another win or two more than he has now.

8.  Mark DeRosa - 2B - 2007
The funny part about the Mark DeRosa signing is that there were very few who welcomed his acquisition because it meant that there was a changing of the guard in the straight-talking, media-savvy, stubbly utility/second baseman role formerly occupied by Todd Walker.  DeRosa exceeded expectations and soon became a fan favorite while averaging 15 homeruns, 80 RBIs with an OPS of .824 as a Cub.  He did everything that Lou Piniella asked of him and was a marketing dream for the t-shirt vendors.  The day DeRosa was traded to Cleveland is widely believed to be the worst day in the history of the world.

9.  Terry Mulholland - SP - 1997, 1998
Mulholland came to an absolute crappy team in 1997, recorded the rotation's second best ERA and WHIP to Kevin Tapani and was rewarded with a 6-12 record and a trade to the contending San Francisco Giants for the stretch run.  He then resigned with the Cubs for the 1998 season and despite the presence of Mark Clark in the rotation, he was relegated to the bullpen and an occasional spot start for most of the year.  he posted the bullpen's best ERA and emerged as the only other reliable arm that Riggleman could turn to with a lead other than Beck.  He was added to the rotation for three starts at the end of September, where he went 2-0 with three quality starts.  Then the very next day after he started and pitched 8 innings in Houston, he came in relief to help preserve the tie-break game against the Giants.  He did everything the Cubs asked him to do in 1998, and he received one of the biggest and most-deserved rounds of applause on Opening Day 1999 as a result.

10.  Moises Alou - OF - 2002
Alou came to Chicago with high expectations and did not get off to strong start.  He was very pedestrian in 2002 and was looking like another big ticket free agent bust.  Alou rebounded in 2003 and became a key part of an offense that was suddenly having to pick up a struggling Sammy Sosa instead of the other way around.  I would actually rank Alou higher since he did statistically improve again in 2004, but his post-Bartman antics in 2003's Game 6 and his incessant bitching about every pitch he took that was called a strike contributed heavily to a team that bogged down more in complaining than winning games.  Still, the man earned his money while he was here.

Honorable Mention: 
Gary Gaetti - 3B - 1998
Mike Morgan - SP - 1992
Jim Edmonds - OF - 2008
Todd Walker - 2B - 2004

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cubs Should Just Keep Bradley Suspended

Unless you just haven't been paying attention to the Cubs at all (which is entirely possible), the Cubs have suspended Milton Bradley for the duration of the year.  Rather than rehash yesterday's events, I'll just point you to my bloggy-friend (which means we have never actually met) Julie's post on her blog, A League of Her Own; that not only will bring you up to speed on the the suspension, but also provides some background to Milton's past behavior and some comments from Milton's team mates.

Other places to read about the Milton debacle include:
Nobody seems to miss Milton very much, with the possible exception of Steve Stone, who suddenly finds himself having to start paying attention to his own team not making the playoffs.  The consensus opinion seems to be that Milton has played his last game in a Cubs uniform, which would mean the Cubs will try to trade him this off-season.  I don't know whether that is true or not, but if it is, the Cubs have royally screwed themselves and their new owners.

The timing of this suspension is ridiculous.  At this point, all they did was reward the guy with giving him exactly what he wanted, which was to not have to play baseball for the Cubs anymore this season.  I can't imagine any of these guys want to be schlepping to Milwaukee and San Francisco to play games that don't mean anything, but they do because they are professionals.  Milton bitched and moaned and pointed fingers and gets to go sit on his couch and laugh at the TV when Bobby Scales falls down repeatedly in the outfield.

If Hendry was telling the truth about "the issues we've all lived with during the year" being the reason for the suspension, why is now suddenly the breaking point?  What is to be gained by taking disciplinary action after the post-season math has virtually caught up to the Cubs?  Milton Bradley is an asshole and has been an asshole, and everyone knows he's an asshole, but now the Cubs have thrown up their hands in defeat and surrendered to the assholery.

If there is possibly a greater failure than the signing of Milton Bradley, it will be whatever flaming porcupine up the backside that Hendry has to take in order to get rid of him.  The Cubs will get nothing for Milton Bradley.  Whatever player they get will be the equivalent of Aaron Miles in a wheelchair and will never ever be useful to the Cubs in any way.  Meanwhile, Milton will go off somewhere where Gordon Wittenmyer and the rest of the Chicago media are not and start hitting like the guy Hendry thought he was signing, and the Cubs will be paying at least 80% of his salary to do so. 

To paraphrase Milton, now I get why the Cubs haven't won in 101 years.  It has nothing to do with negativity, it has to do with taking valuable assets and destroying all of their value prior to trading them away.

Who in the world is going to trade anything of value for Milton Bradley?  Who is going to take anything but the bare minimum percentage of the remaining salary that is owed to him?  People are talking about how Hendry has a track record of being able to get value for crappy contracts, but that track record is based on the singular trade of Todd Hundley.

Todd Hundley had become useless, surly, and by many accounts, a drunk, but Hendry could make the case to other teams that he simply needed a change of scenery. He had come to Chicago with a weight of expectations heaped on by the level of his previous performance, legacy of his father and a huge contract and been unable to cope.  A fresh start is all he should need to get back on track, but Chicago just isn't it.  What can you give us?

That argument can not be made about Milton Bradley.  He has had six fresh starts.  He hasn't played a full season's worth of games with a team since the 2004-05 Dodgers (who have the record for most games in which Milton Bradley has played with 216).  People talk about Terrell Owens being a team destroyer, but he usually gets through a full season or two before he wears out his welcome, and then another season before the team realizes it won't get any better and they have to dump him.

The Cubs have a habit of trading guys after they prove to the rest of the world that a player is a useless piece of crap.  They should have known that Patterson and/or Pie would flame out at some point in watching the flailing away at the plate, but they held onto them like grim death until they had no trade value at all.  It is an absolute crime that the best thing they received in return for a guy with 600 homeruns was Mike Fontenot.  Why?  Because the Cubs had to prove to the fans and the media that Sammy was bad and needed to be traded.

For a team that markets the hell out of a bad ballpark (yes - Wrigley Field is a bad ballpark in almost every way except for the aesthetics of the playing field itself) to the tune of 3 million plus people showing up to see bad baseball, they have no idea how to spin players that are not in their long-term plans.  They have no idea how to play it so that it might seem that they are reluctant to move a guy that has worn out his welcome.

How hard would it be to have Hendry go to Milton Bradley and say, "Look, asshole, you don't want to be here and we don't want you here, so here's how its going to go down: Go out there and talk about how you have regrets about how you've dealt with the adversity this year.  Tell them you are looking forward to coming in next year and winning a championship with the Cubs.  Tell the fans that you understand that they may not come around right away, but they'll see you are serious about performing better and helping the team.  I'll send out Lee, Theriot, and Dempster to talk about how hard you work and they appreciate the effort you bring to the ballpark every day.  Then, I'll sniff around this off-season and let people know we need to cut salary and start gauging interest.  If we play this right, we might even have a couple of teams interested.  Now, we're going to say that your knee has been bothering you for months, but you have been soldiering on in an effort to help the team get to the playoffs, but since we are practically eliminated, we're going to shut you down for the year.  Sound good?  Great.  Now get the f--- out of here."

Personally, there is part of me that hopes the Cubs don't trade him.  I hope they just keep him suspended and let him sit at home not playing baseball for the next two years.  Nobody will sign him after two years of sitting around, or he'll have to play for league minimum salary, which will make him extremely expendable if his personality remains at the same level of assholishness.  The Cubs will pay him virtually the same amount as they will if they trade him and they'll have the exact same level of talent in their system as they would if they traded him for the PTBNL from hell.  Screw him.  Don't help another team with only ten fans, a part-time beat reporter, and absolutely no pressure to perform (Pittsburgh?) get better because you save a million dollars.

The Cubs already practiced how to play with a short roster in their efforts to not have to offer David Patton back to the Rockies for some reason, so they really won't be any more short-handed than they were this year.  Jeff Baker can play the role of Mark DeRosa (without the sexy stubble), and be the infield/outfield utility guy whose versatility can make the bench seem deeper than it actually is.

They should do everything in their power to screw him as much as he screwed them this year.  Why should he be able to move on as though nothing has happened while the Cubs are left with his salary and a hole on the roster they won't be able to fill from the outside because payroll isn't increasing?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cubs and Rally Hat Both Fail in St. Louis


The Cubs continued their season of pissing me off at every opportunity down in St. Louis tonight, and I was fortunate to be able to witness the lastest debacle surrounded by a sea of red at Busch Stadium II: The Return of Jaffar.

The game itself is not something I want to go over in too much detail, but I will share some photos that Kris took with a little background to each picture.


Kris got a nice shot of Ted Lilly, who pitched pretty well.  He allowed 2 runs in 7 2/3 innings, and should have only allowed one run, but Bobby Scales (not pictured) picked an unfortunate time to emulate Alfonso Soriano on a double by the Golden God, Mark of Roses (not pictured because no camera can truly capture the awesomeness of a .256 hitter with sexy stubble).  Scales misplayed the ball, allowed it to get by him, and almost fell down which allowed DeRosa to advance to third from which he scored on a sacrifice fly.


Meanwhile, it turns out that Steve Bartman's parents were in attendance and they are Cardinals fans.


Later in the game, the bearded Cards fan managed to get injured on the most benign lollipop of a foul ball.  He was bleeding from a cut on his eye, but this was the best shot Kris got because the Soriano guy kept getting in the way.  This was unfortunately one of the highlights of the game for me.

In between innings, the Cardinals provide the smartest baseball fans in the world some diversions like girls blowing whistles and slingshotting t-shirts into the crowd, trying to start The Wave, and asking who the best catcher in Cardinals history was: Mike Matheny, Ted Simmons, or Tom Pagnozzi.  Somewhere, Tim McCarver's head (not pictured) exploded.

Speaking of heads, the balding dude stood up and ruined this photo of the t-shirt girls, but you can still see the security guy creepily leering away while hoping that no one notices the uncomfortable bulge in his pants.

Finally, as the Cubs continued to underwhelm us all with their lack of any actual baseball skills on the field, my hopes were that the Rally Hat would work its magic and provide at least one meaningless victory in this series.  Unfortunately, the magic of the hat failed miserably as Theriot got himself picked off on a 2-0 count to Fukudome, and Matt Holliday led off the ninth with a walkoff homerun.  But I promised pictures of me in the hat, so here they are:


 
At least I still have my dignity.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We Might Not Make the Playoffs Now (But They Can Still Do It!)

Uh oh.  The Cubs seem to have finally found their bats and Rich Harden decides the last two starts would be good to show off his Nuke Laloosh impression.  His control was all over the place and when he did throw a strike, the Brewers were hitting him like Kevin Costner was behind the plate telling them what was coming.

The really stupid part about being a Cubs fan is that I was genuinely disappointed the Cubs didn't win the game last night.  For as much as I write about how a Cubs comeback would be a phenomenon of such magnitude, it would rival me winning the lottery, getting struck by lightning, and then getting eaten by sharks, as a Cubs fan, there is that tiny voice that keeps telling my brain how f---ing cool it would be if it happened.

For years, I have searched for something that would be capable of either shutting up or drowning out the tiny voice.  The tiny voice is a troublemaker and always makes me do things against my better judgement.  It's the tiny voice that makes me stay at a baseball game in the cold and rain when the Cubs are down by ten in the sixth inning because I wouldn't want to miss a great comeback.

It was the tiny voice that implored me to buy a scorecard for virtually every single one of the games I attended for the past 10 years so that I could have a souvenir of a potential no-hitter.

It is the tiny voice that still is whispering how much momentum the Cubs can still get by going into St. Louis and sweeping the Cardinals.

I suppose it could be worse.  Some people have tiny voices that tell them that they are too fat and they should go throw up.  Some have tiny voices that whisper to them that blackjack is a beatable game if you have the right system.  Some have tiny voices that convince them that they are fine to drive after downing half a bottle of whiskey. So, all in all, a voice that once convinced me to purchase a Matt Clement jersey so I would own the entire rotation isn't the worst thing in the world.

But it sure is annoying to know that I will still be peeking at scenarios over the next week or so.  I'll still be watching what the Braves, Marlins, Rockies, and Giants are doing in their games.  I'll still be depressed the day the math catches up with the Cubs.

The Aisle 424 Miracle Watch board has the Cubs down to about 1% to make the playoffs.  I figure two more losses should seal the Cubs doom, but wouldn't it be cool if they didn't lose again?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Miracle Watch 2009

You may have noticed the new graphic I have added that shows the Cubs' likelihood of making the postseason. After the latest victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, coupled with the losses by St. Louis and Colorado, the baseballprospectus.com calculates that the Cubs currently have a 2.54% chance of making the postseason.

Since September 13th, when the Cubs chances stood at a season-low .6% chance, they have more than quadrupled their chances. WOOOOOOO!!!! Go Cubs!

I got into a brief conversation last night with @AngryHack and @TheBlogfines that started with @AngryHack stating: "Hey #cubs fans, crazier things have happened. It's just that usually they happen against us."

My response was that I could not think of a crazier thing. There have been unbelievable comebacks and crushing collapses, but I had to figure that the Cubs making the postseason would be the craziest finish ever.

Meanwhile, my two Twitter friends referenced the 1969 Cubs collapse, the 2007 Rockies comeback, and the 2007 Mets collapse as more miraculous than what the Cubs face this season. I argued that the Cubs being behind 4 different teams in the Wild Card and being down by over 10 games in the division would make the best comeback ever. My beliefs were not fact based, so I decided to see if my feelings actually were accurate.

So, I looked some things up and found a very interesting site called Coolstandings.com. They measure playoff odds of each team, track the trend over the season, and have an area ranking the greatest comebacks and worst collapses in playoff history.

The site is worth clicking around, but here are some points of interest:
  • If the Cubs make it to the playoffs, they will tie with the 2004 Houston Astros for 6th in beating the lowest playoff odds at any point in a season. (.6%) The teams that beat longer odds were the 1951 New York Giants (.3%), 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, 1973 New York Mets, 2005 Houston Astros (.2%), and the 1914 Boston Braves (less than .1%).
  • The 2007 Rockies rank #17 on the list at 1%
  • The 1969 Mets rank #18 at 1.4%
  • The 2007 Phillies (team that ran down the Mets) rank #85 at 8.9%
  • If the Cubs make it, they would own the greatest September comeback in the history of baseball. They were are at .6% on September 13. The lastest comeback for any of the teams ahead of them was the 2005 Astros that were .6% on August 26.
  • The greatest September comeback of all-time at the moment is the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals who stood at .7% on September 6.
  • The greatest September comeback that started at a later lowpoint than today's date of September 16 is the 1962 San Francisco Giants, who were at 1.9% on September 22.
  • If the Cardinals collapse, it will be the biggest collapse in the history of baseball. Not only was their playoff odds at greater than 99.9%, they reached that point on September 9. No team has ever blown a lead greater than 99.9% and no team has ever blown a lead greater than 99.5% in September.
  • The biggest collapse currently belongs to the 1995 California Angels at 99.9%.
  • The biggest September collapse belongs to the 2007 Mets who stood at 99.5% on September 13.
  • The 2007 Padres blowing their lead to the Rockies is #17 all-time at 92.8%
  • The 1969 Cubs are #9 all-time at 95.8%

So, it turns out that there have been statistically crazier things, but no September comeback has ever been as miraculous as the Cubs coming back from their lowpoint of just three days ago.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Urlacher is the New Brown

We had all gotten used to the obligatory story each year when Mike Brown's season would end from one injury or another and the Bears would start giving up a shitload of yards and points immediately after.

Now we get the news that Brian Urlacher is done for the year with a wrist injury. After the junk punch in Green Bay last night, you wouldn't think it would be possible to get more depressed about the Bears prospects for the season, but here we are looking at the leader of the defense going down after one half of football. Fan-f---ing-tastic.

I want it on the record that I do not own the Bears defense in any fantasy league. This is not my fault. Cutler is my fault though. Sorry again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Oh Snap! Jordan Roasts His Way to Hall of Fame

Michael Jordan was officially inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night. What should have been a fairly anti-climactic moment after all of the dazzling plays and thrilling victories he provided over his years in Chicago, was actually one of the most entertaining induction speeches I have ever heard.

If you thought Michael could trash talk on the court, he showed he still had that part of his game left when he brought some "A" material with him up to the stage. After wiping away the tears upon stepping to the podium to a standing ovation, he started a little blue when discussing his choice of former NC State player, David Thompson, to introduce him, "I shocked the shit out of him." I don't know if ESPN didn't think they needed a delay, someone was asleep at the switch, or they figured that Michael Jordan should be able to say whatever the hell he wants.

He then cleaned it up and moved on to skewering just about anybody that ever tried to stand in his way, or defeat him in any way. He took his biggest shots at at his former GM, Jerry Krause. As he talked about he Bulls, he acknowledged Jerry Reinsdorf and Phil Jackson, adding, "Jerry Krause is not here, obviously, I don't know who would have invited him... I didn't."

This was in response to the report that Jerry Krause announced that he would not be attending Jordan's Hall of Fame induction on principle because Tex Winter is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Now, I also think that Tex Winter should be in the Hall of Fame, but that is not a reason for snubbing the most important player on the teams he put together. That was one last "f--- you" to Jordan after years of butting heads in Chicago.

Naturally, Jordan was not about to let Krause get the last word in, "He said organizations win championships, I said I didn't see organizations play with the flu in Utah." He went on to add, "At the end of the day the players still gotta go out there and perform...you guys gotta pay us, but I still gotta go out there and play."

I've seen a couple of people have a problem with Jordan's tone in the speech, this guy thinks Jordan behaved like clown in calling out the folks who fueled his competitive fire. Adjectives describing Jordan thrown around on Twitter included, cocky, arrogant, and conceited. He was called a jerk, a dick, an asshole, and a trash-talking punk.

Yeah, Michael Jordan is kind of a dick. He was, by all accounts, the most competitive dick that has ever lived. He is the most talented dick I've ever seen play basketball. He is a funny and charismatic dick that knows how to hide his dickishness when called for. Most importantly, he is a dick that brought Chicago six championships.

CCD, at Waxpaperbeercup, called attention to a post on Ghost of Paul Noce that describes how big "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 opening round of the playoffs was in the history of Chicago Bulls basketball and the city itself.

"After 1991, the Chicago Bulls always had options late in games.

Before 1991, only one man took the shot. Everybody in Richfield Coliseum, the United States, and Dooley household knew that Michael was getting the ball.

After the inbounds play, Jordan was met by two defenders in front. As he jumped at the free throw line, one more would come from the back. As the ball went through the net, the defenders went limp.

In one fell swoop, the Chicago Bulls went from an unmanageable headcase of unfiltered talent to a budding championship squad with an leader that wouldn't be denied.

The moment changed Jordan's confidence. It elevated his team's confidence in him. It was the start of the Chicago Bulls dynasty."
Prior to Jordan's reign in the 90's, Chicago had only the Bears one-hit-wonder season of 1985 to look to in the sports world. Jordan's kick-starting of the dynasty with that shot in Cleveland gave Chicago a confidence in the sports world it had never had in my lifetime, and has been unable to regain back since.

From that time on, Jordan seemed able to simply will a team to victory. If you are that much better than your competition, you have probably earned the right to be be a bit of a dick. Of course, I probably only say that because he is Chicago's dick.

As he said to Tex Winter when reminded that there is no 'I' in 'team', "There is no 'I' in 'team', but there is an 'I' in 'win.'''

Thanks, Michael. Congratulations on your well-deserved enshrinement. And way to put that little prick, Isaiah Thomas in his place too.

---------------------------

The intro of Michael and his speech in full is below broken up into 3 sections. It is well worth the time if you haven't seen it yet:





Friday, September 11, 2009

Somehow Finding Humor in the Wreckage

Eight years ago, I sat on my couch as I got ready for work and turned on the television. I flipped it on to the Today Show just in time to see the second plane fly into the World Trade Center as Katie Couric tried to explain how a plane had just hit the towers moments before.

For a split second, I thought they were showing a replay of some video they happened to get of the original plane crash, but it became obvious very quickly that I and millions of other viewers had just watched hundreds of peoples' lives end in real time.

The day got worse as a plane crashed into the Pentagon, both towers and a couple other buildings in the WTC complex collapsed, and another plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended target.

When the first tower fell, people were pulling over to the side of the road and just staring at their radios in disbelief. People started checking the skies for airplanes and wondering if anywhere was safe. The entire country was gripped by shock and fear, and you wondered if anything would ever seem funny again.

Then, two weeks later, The Onion published the Holy F---ing Shit!: Attack on America issue that just nailed every aspect of the events in a humorous and surprisingly empathetic tone. With articles like, Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake, Point/Counterpoint: We Must Retaliate With Blind Rage vs. We Must Retaliate With Measured, Focused Rage, and Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell, The Onion managed to capture the shock, the fear, and the anger of the nation and somehow, someway the laughter we all needed.

The entire issue is worth reading, but my favorite is still the article entitled, God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule.
"I don't care what faith you are, everybody's been making this same mistake since the dawn of time," God said. "The Muslims massacre the Hindus, the Hindus massacre the Muslims. The Buddhists, everybody massacres the Buddhists. The Jews, don't even get me started on the hardline, right-wing, Meir Kahane-loving Israeli nationalists, man. And the Christians? You people believe in a Messiah who says, 'Turn the other cheek,' but you've been killing everybody you can get your hands on since the Crusades."

Growing increasingly wrathful, God continued: "Can't you people see? What are you, morons? There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. But the basic message is always the same: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism... every religious belief system under the sun, they all say you're supposed to love your neighbors, folks! It's not that hard a concept to grasp."

"Why would you think I'd want anything else? Humans don't need religion or God as an excuse to kill each other—you've been doing that without any help from Me since you were freaking apes!" God said. "The whole point of believing in God is to have a higher standard of behavior. How obvious can you get?"

"I'm talking to all of you, here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore—ever! I'm f---ing serious!"

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God's shoulders began to shake, and He wept.

I don't know how anyone could find the funny so soon after the attacks without being unfeeling, but there it is. Eight years later, it remains one of my favorite humor pieces ever written.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Math Hasn't Killed the Cubs Yet

A few observations about the schedule and the standings:

--the Cubs play only one team that is ahead of them in the wild card standings (and not currently in first place) from here on out: the Giants, on the road, for a 4 game set from September 24th through 27th.

--the Giants series is the end of a 10 game road swing (the other two series are 3 game sets with the Cardinals and Brewers); these are the only remaining road games on the schedule; there is a possibility that the Cubs will be mathematically eliminated during this road swing

--the Cubs are now 31-40 on the road

--at home the Cubs play Cincinnati 3, Milwaukee 4, Pittsburgh 4 and Arizona 3. All of these teams are below .500. Cubs are currently 8-4 vs. the Reds on the season, 6-4 vs. the Brewers, 8-2 vs. the Pirates and 1-2 vs. the D-Backs (in Arizona).

--Colorado has 11 home games left and 12 road games. In addition to the Giants, they also play the Cardinals 3 times at home and the Dodgers 4 times on the road. Everyone else on their schedule is below .500.

--SF has 22 games left, 9 on the road and 13 at home. They play the Dodgers 6 times (3 home, 3 away), Colorado 3 times at home and the Cubs 4 times at home. The rest of their games are against below .500 teams.

--Florida has 24 games left, 9 home and 15 on the road. They play 3 at St. Louis, 6 against the Phillies (3 home, 3 away) and 3 at Atlanta. The rest of their games are against below .500 teams.

--Atlanta has 24 games left, 13 home and 11 on the road. They play the Cardinals 3 times on the road, the Phillies 3 times at home and the Marlins 3 times at home. The rest of their games are against below .500 teams.

--Of course, when you look at the wild card, you need to keep in mind that the first place teams could be back in the mix. I don't think that's likely for the Cardinals, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Dodgers (currently 3.5 games up) or the Phillies (currently 6 games up)

--Cub fans need to root for the Cardinals, Dodgers and Phillies to win against the Rockies (7 games), Giants (6 games), Marlins (9 games) and Braves (6 games).

--The Giants have two series (7 games) against the Cubs or teams tied with or ahead of the Cubs in the wild card standings. The Rockies, Marlins, Cubs and Braves all have just one series against another wild card contender; the Cubs have a 4 game series and the other series are all 3 games

--on the ESPN standings page, the Cubs' playoff probability is 1.2% at this point. Their destiny has not been in their hands for a long time. At this point, short of perhaps winning out (which would give them 95 wins and an unprecedented 27 game winning streak to end the season) they will need substantial help and a lot of luck to make it in. Out of principle, I have refused to give up until the team is mathematically eliminated, but this is tough.

I'm sure the percentage is slightly lower now since the Reds blew a 9th inning lead in Colorado last night, but that gives a pretty good indication of exactly how dire the Cubs situation is and how many different dominoes have to fall just right for the Cubs to achieve a miracle finish to the season.

Go Cubs Go. And let's go Dodgers, Phillies, and Cardinals (clap, clap, clap clap clap).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why Everyone Will Soon Hate Jay Cutler

Fantasy Football season is upon us and I will be juggling three teams over the course of the year. Two of them are free leagues done for fun, and one is a money league with a fairly decent investment of money that involves a trophy and everything.

In my two free leagues, I wound up with Aaron Rodgers as my quarterback, taken in the 5th round of each draft. In one of them, I have Matt Ryan as the backup and in the other, I took a shot on Favre in something like the 15th round. I'm feeling OK about my depth heading into the season.

Of course, in my money league, Aaron Rodgers was not available (keeper league), and the quarterbacks were disappearing off the draft board before I felt they should go, so I bulked up on awesome running backs and receivers. As the 8th round approached, Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler remained on the board, so I hoped I could snag one and then grab the other when it snaked back to me in the 9th. Unfortunately, McNabb got taken two picks before me, so I reluctantly took Cutler with my pick.

I was reluctant to take Cutler because I HATE having Bears players on my fantasy teams. Normally, this is not a problem since hardly any Bears players have been very significant in the fantasy world. Especially Bears quarterbacks. I think the last fantasy relevant quarterback was that one year when Jim Miller threw for a million yards before the league figured out that lining four wide receivers up on one side meant that Crowton was calling for a wide receiver screen.

So now I'm looking at a fantasy squad with a shallow bench, so I have no backup QB at the moment. My fantasy season is riding on Jay Cutler. This is so not good.

The Curse of my Fantasy Team tends to be stronger than the Madden Curse, Sports Illustrated Curse, Curse of the Billy Goat, and Curse of Tutankhamen combined. I feel bad for Cutler because this should be a nice fresh start in a city that will be comparing him to Neckbeard and Rex the Wonderbear instead of John freakin' Elway. No receivers or not, this should be a better situation for him.

Or so one would think before the poor bastard ended up on my fantasy team. I ruined Marvin Harrison's durability by taking him a couple of years ago as my #1 receiver. Lawrence Maroney would probably have been a pretty good running back if not for me. Jeremy Shockey wouldn't have been run out of New York and Shawn Alexander would probably still have a job somewhere.

So, Bears fans, I apologize in advance and I will be working to find another quarterback I can ruin instead of Cutler as soon as the season starts.

PS - I had nothing to do with Kevin Gregg, Carlos Marmol, Alfonso Soriano, or Geovany Soto sucking ass this year. I did trade for Milton Bradley, but that was in July, so his start wasn't my fault.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who's on First?

I was reading Kurt's latest post at GROTA about Derrek Lee and it brought back a conversation I had in Aisle 424 a couple of weeks ago about the Cubs' corner infielders.

It will be interesting to see how the new owners deal with Lee's impending free agency and the aging of Aramis Ramirez on the other side of the diamond.

In theory, a third baseman that one is trying to keep healthy could be moved to first base. It's been done numerous times before as athletes age, so the possibility of a transition for Ramirez could be plausible with Lee moving on and Josh Vitters hopefully able to take over at third in a couple of seasons.

The problem is that Ramirez has played exactly one game (and it may have been a partial game) at any position on the diamond in his professional life. He played shortstop for AAA Nashville in 1998 and had zero fielding chances. So, moving him won't necessarily be as successful as moving say, Ernie Banks or Pete Rose.

Also, Lee is the consummate professional. While I'm not going to blame this season on the departure of Wood and DeRosa, there has got to be some thought given to who runs the clubhouse as player leaders. Lee and Lilly are probably two of the best clubhouse guys they have left and they will be the first ones to see free agency in 2011. This is not an ideal situation for building/maintaining a clubhouse of guys who give their all for the success of the team.

If the Cubs can get Ramirez to a place where he can play some first base if Lee goes down next year, then a signing of someone like Chone Figgins (who can play second, third, and any of the outfield positions) would allow one of our big bats to go down (or get a break) without losing a ton of production and/or defense in the process.

Then, if short term stints at first give the Cubs confidence Ramirez can handle it on a regular basis, it gives them the freedom to allow Lee to go elsewhere in 2011 as Vitters would essentially replace Lee in the lineup. To me, this would be ideal, because as good as Lee has been this year, Ramirez has been better when he's been healthy. If the Cubs can keep him healthy, he could retire after his next contract with the Cubs and they could get as much value from him as possible by keeping him on the field, while going younger and cheaper by not blocking their #1 prospect at the big league level.

Of course, the Cubs have never been big on long-term strategy so I'm not actually thinking this is going to happen. I also have no idea how Ramirez would react to being asked to change sides of the diamond after an entire career on the hot corner. This is just me and my Aisle 424 family passing time as the Cubs season drags on.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So... How 'Bout Them Bears?

When I first started this blog all those many months ago, I told my reader that the inspiration for starting a blog in the first place was to provide a representation of what it is like to sit in Aisle 424 with my summer family. Of course, the main topic of conversation is the Cubs and how they are likely crushing our dreams at any particular moment. However, when the Cubs are getting their asses handed to them and the game becomes secondary to the experience of Wrigley Field, we do hit upon other topics.

As I wrote more content and my readership climbed to three, I found that the people who found their way here didn't really care too much about my thoughts on Rod Blagojevich, snow removal in Chicago, or the Super Bowl, so I pretty much stuck with the Cubs (though it's debatable how much they cared about my thoughts on the Cubs either). Lately, I have found myself at a loss for many further words about these Cubs.

The season trudges on with meaningless game after meaningless game. It will be marginally interesting to see what guys like Bobby Scales and Sam Fuld do with increased playing time, but lets call a AAAA player a AAAA player and understand that Bobby Scales, Sam Fuld, Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox, and probably even Jeff Baker will not be playing any major role on any Cubs team that is truly built for attempting to win the World Series.

So what is there to say? Speculating about potential moves before the season even ends is generally pointless, though occasionally fun, so there will be some time dedicated to that. Of course, being repetitive and stale can drive people away as easily as being repetitive and stale. I'll also need to be wary that this could get repetitive and stale.

Otherwise, there is actually more going on in Chicago than just the Cubs failing at playing baseball like grownups. The Bears season will be starting soon with something new and exciting called a "franchise quarterback." I don't know what that is, but I'm pretty sure it could lead to the Bears achieving something we have only recently dreamed about in Chicago: a "touchdown."

The Blackhawks will soon be hitting the ice after a run deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They've had a bumpy offseason. It began with signing a player who is injured to a contract that makes Soriano's seem reasonable. It most recently involved a star player beating up a cabbie in Buffalo over twenty cents change in cab fare. (In his defense, I've lived near Buffalo and there is so little happening there, the residents resorted to eating obscure chicken parts in hot sauce for fun, so it's entirely possible he was legally insane with boredom at the time.)

The Bulls shocked everyone by almost beating the defending champion Celtics in the playoffs in a series that stopped my heart about fifty separate times. Derrick Rose will attempt to take the next step forward in his development as a superstar, and Joakim Noah will try to learn how to use a comb.

Mayor Daley is attempting to build his legacy by bringing the Olympics and its enduring spirit of crushing the local economy to Chicago in 2016. Oprah is taping episodes of her show wherever the hell she wants. Chicago children will return to school tomorrow where President Obama will attempt to brainwash them with a speech that none of them will pay attention to because it won't be restricted to 140 characters.

So, here at Aisle 424, you'll still get more about the Cubs than you probably care to read, but there will also be a bit more about non-Cubs topics than you care to read as well.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Built This Citi (poorly)

Over the years, we have heard ad nauseum about the Cubs' plans to build the Triangle Building and improve the structure of Wrigley Field to make it viable going forward as a major league facility. One can only hope that the Cubs do not use the same people who built Citi Field for the Mets.

A story in the New York Post details a number of problems that the new ballpark has had before its first birthday. In addition to water leaks damaging luxury suites of Jerry Seinfeld and others, the laundry list of issues include:

"* A nonworking elevator last week that forced Mets owner Fred Wilpon to climb four flights to his office.

* An outfield section known as "Mo's Zone" flooding in a rainstorm three months ago because drains were clogged. The backup was caused by 20 feet of pipe collapsing in the bullpen.

* A 4-by-6-foot illuminated sign falling in the field-level promenade during an off day.

* Electricity in the kitchen above the ticket booths near the rotunda shorting out. One outage caused the refrigerators to fail and water to leak into the ticket booths.

* A piece of concrete breaking off; it's now sitting in a field crew's office.

* Air conditioning and heating in the maintenance crew's locker room that hasn't worked since Day 1.

* Improperly installed electrical outlets. There is only one socket in the team's laundry room, so a power strip is needed to plug in all the washing machines.

* A black granite capstone on the stadium's ground-level fa├žade falling off. Yesterday, Mets workers were spotted fixing the broken tile.

* Soaked seats in another luxury suite caused by a leaky ceiling during a rainy Mets-Yankees game. Crews carrying buckets, mops and towels paraded into the suite all night to stem the tide."

Criticism of the new park's problems are overblown, say the Mets:

"Dave Howard, the Mets' executive vice president of business operations, acknowledged some of the problems, but called them minor and not unexpected.

'Any suggestion that Citi Field is less than an elite, world-class entertainment facility is flat-out inaccurate and unfounded,' he said."

I guess that's true in much the same way the Cubs are an elite, world-class baseball team.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rating the Hate 4: Live Free or Suck Hard

We've hated the position players, the pitchers, and the coaches, but the hate probably most deservedly belongs with the guys who wear the suits, or in Jim Hendry's case, the rumpled sports jacket.

Jim Hendry - 8.0 - As much as everything that Hendry touched turned to gold last season with resurrecting Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds off the scrap heap, rolling the dice and winning on a rookie catcher, acquiring a front line starter in Rich Harden to counteract the blockbuster acquisition of Sabathia by the Brewers, and flip-flopping the roles of Dempster and Wood, the exact opposite has occurred with just about every move he has made this season.

Obviously, the acqusitions of Bradley, Gregg, and Miles could have worked out better, but those acquisitions are just the tip of the iceberg. Suddenly all the extensions he has given the veterans have turned into the worst contracts known to mankind. Soriano has been a disaster and I cry whenever I look up how much money the Cubs still owe him, so I'm just going to say its about twenty times more than I'll ever make in my lifetime and leave it at that.

Fukudome and Bradley are both untradeable without eating most of the money owed them, and even then its debatable whether they can be moved. Guys with value like Lee and Zambrano have no-trade clauses. It is very difficult to see how this roster can be much different next year given that the new owners can't be ready to eat millions of dollars in salary with almost nothing of value in return that would keep the people in the seats.

My big problem with Hendry is that he failed to build up the farm system as both the Director of Player Development and then when he was elevated to General Manager. When the Tribune allowed him to spend money that they thought soon would be on a different owner's books, he failed to build a team that could close the deal when the playoffs started.

Yes, Lou Piniella felt that the team needed more left handed balance in the lineup, but it was Jim Hendry who settled on the brittle, angry, over-rated Bradley as that left-handed bat. He was the one who made the decision to make Mike Fontenot an everyday player. He is the one who gave $5 million dollars to Aaron Miles for having one freak season in his entire career of being a shitty hitter and crappy fielder.

Hendry has been given every opportunity to build this team from the inside and by spending like a maniac and neither plan has worked.

It would be one thing if he was never right. If he was just a terrible General Manager who botched everything, we could just be pissed that Hendry even has a job, but this is the guy who stole Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. He did resurrect Dempster's career, and Ted Lilly could be one of the best free agent signings in the history of the Cubs. He managed to undo Lynch's albatross around the club's neck named Todd Hundley. He has had great moments.

Those teases make us want more. They make us want to believe that this is the guy who will answer our cries and end the years of championshipless baseball. But then he gives Aaron Miles $5 million and i start to think he must have done it while he was really drunk.

It makes one wonder whether he can do anything to correct this mess and get a team that isn't such a mediocre, fundamentally baseless team out on the field. My hate level is higher than maybe he deserves, but he has done almost nothing right this year at all.

Crane Kenney - 8.5 - The problems in the Cubs organization start at the top, and that, right now, is Crane Kenney. Kenney is the one who greenlighted Jim Hendry's spendathon, and it will be Crane Kenny that will continue in his role and expect us to pay for all of Jim's mistakes while the roster doesn't improve and the window for this team closes completely.

He hasn't been in the job long enough to be blamed for the the entirety of the Cubs' failure this year, but he hasn't done anything to correct the fundamental flaws in the Cubs' system. He is more concerned with developing revenue streams than players in the farm system. The Cubs can't seem to evaluate talent with any degree of proficiency, but Crane gets on the radio and talks about the Triangle Building and improvements to Wrigley Field.

Obviously, putting butts in the seats and being creative in finding revenue streams is important to anyone who doesn't want to be hiking out to Schaumburg or some other suburb to watch the Cubs play in a new stadium with a jumbotron, skyboxes, swimming pool, and whatever other crap they throw into ballparks nowadays. My point is that he should occasionally sound marginally concerned about the actual product that his entire organization is producing, and not just what is on the field that very moment.

Crane Kenny is not a baseball man. He is, at best, a casual fan in a position of power. He thinks it would be great if the Cubs win the World Series, but I don't get any indication that is what drives him when he goes into work each day. A baseball man probably would have questioned Hendry's acquisition of Soriano, and I'm not 100% convinced that Hendry didn't receive orders to sign the star power of Soriano as a marketing tool meant to make people forget about the stench of 2005 and 2006.

Even if that isn't true and he hasn't been around long enough for the hate rating to go into Miles territory, its up there pretty high because I still can't forgive him for bringing in a f---ing priest to bless the Cubs dugout before the playoffs last year. That was ridiculous and unforgivable of a man that is supposed to set the tone for the organization.

Sam Zell - 9.0 - Zell's purchase of the Tribune and subsequent announcement of the sale of the Cubs coincided with the beginning of the 2007 season, and the drawn out sale of the team has been the elephant in the room ever since.

His desire to avoid taxes and extend the bidding process to draw out the largest value for the team completely backfired as the economy tanked, banks stopped loaning money to anyone, and the intrinsic value of the franchise declined precipitously.

There was a time when Mark Cuban thought he would have to bid $1.2 billion on the team to even be taken seriously and now it looks like the Ricketts may have seriously overpaid at $845 million.

Now the team is faced with having about $450 million in debt. Its not hard to envision a dismantling of the team and its high-priced talent in order to allow the Ricketts to pay down that debt faster.

So, instead of selling the team quick, he allowed a spending spree to financially screw the team long-term because he didn't think it would be his problem for long. Then, when they had dug themselves a hole that only spending more money would fix, he froze the salary level and tied Jim Hendry's hands as injuries and general crappiness beset the team.

This is what happens when your owner could give a flying f--- about baseball. This is the sort of shit that only happens to the Cubs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rating the Hate 3: Tokyo Drift

I've hated the position players and I've hated the pitchers, but there is still a whole lot more hate to be dished out. This season has been so incredibly frustrating that the hate is not restricted solely to the players on the field. So let's Rate the Hate for the off-field contributors to the debacle that is the 2009 Cubs. Let's start with the coaches.

Von Joshua - 2.0 - The fact that Von Joshua is the second hitting coach that couldn't get this team to hit leads me to believe that much of the blame for the anemic offense has to lie with the players themselves. Nevertheless, I still hate seeing these guys all swinging for the fences when they are down by a run or two after the seventh inning.

Either nobody is telling these guys that they can't hit 2 and 3-run homers with nobody on base, or the players aren't listening. Either scenario is a problem.

In his favor, Joshua has overseen Milton Bradley becoming an actual useful hitter from the left side again despite the distraction of his having to listen to Klan meetings in the bleachers behind him. He also seems to be a magic elixir for Jeff Baker who was hitting worse than Aaron Miles with Colorado, but is now approaching a .900 OPS in his time with the Cubs.

Larry Rothschild - 6.0 - This is a bit high for this season, but it is also reflective of the years of hate I have built up for this guy. He has survived three separate managers, three playoff failures, an end-of-season choke job, and this year's pile of mediocrity. I think if you checked his family tree, you would find that he is descended from a bizarre mating of Rasputin and a cockroach.

This is the eighth season of Larry sitting in the dugout with an uncomfortable look on his face like he's having the worst case of constipation in the history of the world, followed by a slow trudge out to the mound where he says something like "throw a damn strike," leaves and watches the next pitch get deposited into the bleachers.

You see pitching coaches like Dave Duncan and Don Cooper actually fixing pitchers and getting something out of guys like Joel Piniero and Jose Contreras. God help the world when the pitcher is actually already pretty good. Then you get Carpenter and Wainwright doing their Schilling/Johnson impression just in time for the playoffs or an entire rotation turning a bullpen into nothing but a cheering section in the World Series because they aren't needed at all.

Those are guys that should stick around through managerial changes, not Larry the Wonder Mope, who can't figure out how to get one of the best relievers on the planet to throw a damn strike.

Lou Piniella - 3.5 - I will state again for the record that I still like Lou Piniella, but his insistence on using Aaron Miles in any situation other than as a human shield in a terrorist attack is maddening. People think that Lou isn't as interested or "fired up" about winning as he used to be, but I think that is crap.

He might not throw bases around anymore, but you can see in his eyes that he is seething when the Cubs keep leaving men at third with less than two outs and walking every batter in sight.

My problems with Lou (besides not tying Miles up in a clubhouse locker) include him planting the idea in Ryan Theriot's head that he can hit for power, teasing us with Fukudome excelling in the lead-off role and then suddenly going back to the now power-happy Theriot, and batting Aramis Ramirez fifth for most of the time before he tore his shoulder out of its socket.

I am not upset with Lou for awarding the closer role to Kevin Gregg, sticking with Soriano, Bradley, and Soto as long as he did, or being reluctant to throw Jake Fox onto the field at third base as soon as Ramirez went down. Those are decisions that were perfectly understandable and reasonable given the information at hand when the decision was made.

Lou is still the best manager the Cubs have had in my lifetime and he deserves a chance to erase this year's stinkfest with a season we can all cherish in 2010.

Coming next, hating the administration.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rating the Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo

Yesterday, I hated on the position players and lest you think I have spared the pitchers, I present the latest installment of Rate the Hate:

Carlos Zambrano - 4.5 - Obviously, I don't hate Zambrano nearly as much as Phil Rogers or Dave Kaplan, but my frustrations with him are getting up there. Carlos' personality is extremely polarizing. When he pitches well, everybody loves the fist pumps, the pointing, the yelling into his glove, and belly-flopping slides into third. When he isn't pitching well, everybody just wants him to shut the hell up and pitch like a staff ace and stop trying to be a hitter. Personally, I have worried for the last couple of years that all of the innings and pitches were piling up on Zambrano and he would have a season like this where he struggles to stay healthy and doesn't pitch like a dominant pitcher when he is in there. I don't completely hold that against him. I also don't get as riled up as some people when he said he was "lazy" and he didn't do his core training as much as he probably should have.

Of course it is frustrating to hear a top pitcher admit he hasn't worked as hard as he could have on keeping himself healthy, but the flip side is that by saying so to the media, he was owning up to it and vowing that would change. I have a certain amount of respect for that.

I hate him because he should be so much better and it was within his power to be better, but I give him a break because he appears he may be learning from the experience. I am restrained from wanting to smack the hell out of him by my hope that the lesser innings this year, coupled with a more diligent workout routine on his part, will return him to the type of pitcher that earned him his rich contract.

Ted Lilly - (-8.0) - Ted Lilly is just plain awesome. I heard a rumor that he was the one who smashed the pipe in Dodger Stadium last year in the playoffs, and my admiration of him has grown ever since. Not only is Ted consistent when he takes the mound, but he was pissed as hell when he got hurt and couldn't go out there every fifth day. You know this losing is killing him, but you don't hear word one from him in the press. He just takes the ball and goes out to the mound and gets outs. Ted would be a negative ten on this scale, but his presence in the city makes me fear that Kris will eventually leave me for him. In theory, the only way he could get any more awesome is if he killed Aaron Miles with his bare hands on the field during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley.

Ryan Dempster - 2.0 - Dempster has had a tough year off the field. I'm not indifferent to how much something like a newborn daughter being very ill could affect concentration when on the mound. Despite the problems, and the fact that the problems became public against his wishes, he has pitched decently. The problem is that he is not getting paid to pitch merely decently. We had to know that he would take a bit of a step back this year after his career year last year, but dropping from a 2.96 ERA to a 4.15 ERA is more like falling down the stairs.

Speaking of falling down, Dempster still might have redeemed his season more if he knew how to jump a fence without breaking a toe. He's a good guy, and I think he'll be better next year, but this year I have to hate him a little bit.

Randy Wells - 0.0 - He has not only been very consistent this year, but his ascension into the rotation allowed the Cubs to rid themselves of Neal Cotts, who was so bad that we all overlooked Aaron Miles for the first month of the season. There was talk of Rookie of the Year for Wells, but I'm fine if he doesn't win it and he keeps flying under the radar as a very good pitcher.

Rich Harden - 4.5 - Harden has just plain filthy stuff and he has managed to stay healthy for the bulk of this season, which, in theory, means he should be kicking ass and taking names, but he has been incredibly inconsistent this year. I'm hating him a bit more right now after witnessing his latest stint where he couldn't throw strikes during his warm up pitches. I ended up losing count (and I don't care enough to look it up), but at one point, he had built up 61 pitches in 2 1/3 innings.

This aspect of Rich Harden is the real root of any hatred I have for him. The man can't seem to go more than six innings, no matter how well he is pitching. He would work a full count on a corpse propped up in the batters box. He would even go full on Aaron Miles. Meanwhile Joel Piniero is completing games with fewer pitches than Rich makes to a single batter. It makes me want to kill someone.

Sean Marshall - 0.0 - Marshall has pretty much done everything Lou has asked him to do this year. He functioned decently as the fifth starter when given a chance after the trade of Jason Marquis. He got bumped from the rotation by Randy Wells and proceeded to replace Neal Cotts as Lou's only left-handed option in the bullpen. Now, he has been bumped from that role and has to share the left-handed long reliever role with Tom Gorzellany. None of these demotions were brought about by anything Marshall did wrong. He has gone out and pitched (and usually pitched well) and he hasn't bitched at all to anybody that I have seen. If it turns out that Harden leaves via free agency, Marshall has earned a spot in the rotation next year until he does something to lose it.

Tom Gorzelanny - 1.0 - The Pirates gave up on Tom Gorzelanny, so he comes to Chicago with extremely low expectations. He has been good, he has been bad, and when he tried to field a bouncer in front of the mound in Colorado, he stumbled, fell down, threw awkwardly to the plate, and left with an injury in what turns out to have been a perfect microcosm of the Cubs season.

John Grabow - 0.0 - Grabow was supposed to solidify the Cubs bullpen, and for the most part he has. We are no longer treated to Aaron Heilman in any situation that means anything. That, in and of itself is enough for me to not hate John Grabow at all. though the Cubs did start playing an awful lot like the Pirates when he joined the team.... nah. Has to be a coincidence. Right?

Aaron Heilman - 8.5 - Aaron "Miles" Heilman has been almost useless to the pitching staff. He walks people. He gives up crushing homeruns. He allows inherited runners to score. He basically does everything that you ask your relievers to not do, and he does them on a disturbingly frequent basis. So, why do I not hate him more than I do? Because I had very low expectations from him to start the season. I didn't think that he would be good, yet I hate him because he still somehow managed to come in under expectations. He doesn't hit the Aaron Miles level of hate because I can think of some games where he came in and actually performed well - there are just too few of them.

Angel Guzman - 3.0 - Guzman was at zero for most of the season, but when Gregg flamed out in the closer role, I backed him as the guy who should get the shot at closing because he was the guy who had been getting the job done most consistently and effectively. Lou went with Marmol instead, and Guzman did his part to solidify Marmol in the closer role by going out and pitching like Marmol (and not in a good way). All of a sudden, Guzman couldn't throw strikes, and when he did, they got hammered somewhere. He can still win me back by showing that was an unfortunately timed bump in the road, but for now, I hate him more than I probably should.

Carlos Marmol - 9.5 - I don't know what the hell happened to Marmol in one season, but I do know that if Marmol was trying to hit me with a baseball, the safest place to be would be where he is aiming. Everyone is pissed at Kevin Gregg, but I blame Marmol for the end of the bullpen nonsense more. He got outperformed by Gregg in spring training, bitched about it, then proceeded to Nuke Laloosh his way through an entire season.

When Gregg had issues (as we all knew he would), Lou had no one else to turn to because he couldn't trust Marmol. Lou had to let Gregg completely implode and start the Death March of 2009 in Florida and San Diego before he figured he had nothing else to lose by giving the ball to Marmol despite the fact that he still walks almost a batter per inning (and if he doesn't walk them, he hits them with a pitch). His WHIP went up almost 60% from last year despite having a batting average against of only .162. That is mind boggling.

Whenever he walks someone, I want to tear off his gigantic ears and beat him to death with them.

Kevin Gregg - 6.0 - This hate rating is going to get the most disagreement because most everybody hates Kevin Gregg more than anyone else on the team (and I include Aaron Miles in that statement). I still think we set Gregg up to fail by forcing him into a closer role, and I'm not sure what other options there were in this bullpen other than Gregg. There were extended periods where Kevin Gregg was getting it done better than anyone else besides Guzman out there. Lou was sending him out there for multi-inning saves and he was closing those games out.

Unfortunately, we can pin an entire season turning on his blown saves in Florida and San Diego. There is no getting around that those losses were crushing and probably damaged the team's confidence and psyche. For that, I hate him, but I still hate him less than Heilman and Marmol, who, in my eyes were the real culprits in torching the season.