Monday, March 30, 2009

Note to Self: Write Something About the Cubs

It has been difficult the last week or so to make any meaningful posts because I am at the point where I just don't care. I just want the season to start already, and I really don't care who the closer is, whether the Cubs want or need extra night games, who ends up at the back end of the bullpen, or whether Mark DeRosa abusing Ted Lilly's pitches means anything.

For the love of God, can I just fast-forward a week so we can start playing the Houston Astros in a game that matters?

But alas, I have another week of hearing about whether Carlos Marmol is a whiny bitch or a disappointed competitor, debate about releasing an old crappy back-up catcher in favor of keeping a younger crappy back-up catcher with fingers held on by duct tape, and wondering which gasoline-tossing reliever we would most like to boo when he comes into a game.

This is usually the point in the year when it would be handy to have Ozzie Guillen step up and fill the void in actual news by coming out of nowhere and questioning a sportswriter's sexuality or threatening the life of Magglio Ordonez. No one is interested in a debate about whether Aaron Miles or Ryan Theriot is more worthless with a bat in his hand when Ozzie gets his mouth going. But its been all quiet on the Southern front so far.

Even my fantasy teams are boring right now. The biggest news to shake my teams is that Brandon Morrow, who I own on both teams, will now be a closer instead of a starter. Seeing as I was thin in the bullpen on both teams, this actually works out pretty well for me so far.

God help me, its only a matter of time before people start trying to talk about a Peavy trade again.

7 Days, 1 Hour, 46 Minutes until Opening Day.

7 Days, 1 Hour, 45 Minutes, and 30 seconds....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finger Crossing Time for Fukudome Fans

I've been listening a bit to the White Sox audio feed of the Cubs/Sox game this afternoon. Normally, I can't stand listening to the visiting teams' announcers because it makes me miss Pat Hughes too much. (I also like Ron, but I can add my own "Oh nooo!!"s when listening to a game.)

Today, I didn't mind so much because I've grown to appreciate Ed Farmer a bit as a broadcaster. He's got a bit of a dry sense of humor that gets easily missed, but its there. If he didn't broadcast Sox games, I might actually like him.

During the broadcast, I usually perked up a little when Fukudome came to the plate since this was his first game back with the Cubs after returning from the WBC. Unfortunately, a couple of the quotes from Farmer that I heard didn't sound promising for those of us hoping to see a resurgence in his numbers this season.

During his second at-bat (in the first inning - it was a good inning for the Cubs):

"Fukudome almost broke MY back with that swing."

In the 6th:

"Swing at a breaking ball... looked like he had never seen one of those before."

Again, I didn't actually see the game, and these were quotes taken from the opposing team's broadcaster, but I don't believe they were said with a vindictive anti-Cub sentiment. Farmer and Darren Jackson spent quite a bit of time talking about what a good team the Cubs have again this year, so there seemed to be at least professional respect from them.

If that is true, those are not the kind of descriptions that you want to hear about Fukudome at-bats. You want to hear about how he battled. He want to hear about how he was "right on" that pitch but fouled it off. You want to hear a description of a hard hit ball somewhere, even if it is foul.

You don't want to hear that he looks lost and/or awkward at the plate. We saw enough of that at the end of the year last year. Between the two Farmer descriptions and the analysis of his WBC at-bats at Cubs f/x, I'm not feeling very positive about Fukudome's ability to achieve even the lowered expectations we have for him.

Its the first game and he has a couple more weeks to learn what a breaking ball looks like, but if I'm Reed Johnson, I'm starting to get ready to play more than 100 games this year.

If I'm Jim Hendry, I'm making sure I have Jim Edmonds phone number saved in my cell phone.

As it is, I'm practicing writing "K" on a score card.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Needs Two? Easy Financing Available!

I looked at Ed Sherman's blog in Chicago Crain's Business and saw that the Yankees are selling front row tickets to a game against Oakland for just under $2,700... EACH.

I love baseball. I L-O-V-E baseball. But there is absolutely no way in hell that I would EVER purchase seats that cost $2,700 EACH.

Maybe when the Cubs are playing Game 7 of the World Series at Wrigley and my ticket plan has screwed me out of having tickets for that game. Then, and only then, would I start contemplating the idea of purchasing a seat for that price. That's when I start selling anything of value that I own in order to finance getting me into that ballpark.

In any other situation, I would assume that my $2,700 guaranteed me an at-bat in the game, or a chance to pitch. Perhaps, it includes a night on the town picking up women with Derek Jeter. Maybe the chair is made of gold and you get to take it home with you after the game as a memento.

Sherman does make the point that this ticket price level is not being aimed at the blue-collar Yankee fan families. They are being made available to the corporations who want to impress business clients. Lets face it, no one actually NEEDS to sit in the front row of a baseball game. I actually prefer my vantage point from up in Aisle 424 to any other seat in Wrigley for watching the game.

But those seats are not for watching the game. Much as a Rolex is not purchased so you know what time it is. You don't buy a Ferrari so you can have something to drive to the grocery store. These are items that are intended for showing off - and that comes at a heavy price.

It will be interesting to see how these new stadiums (the Mets' new facility is similarly structured to cater to the luxury-seeking fans) will succeed in actually selling the mega-priced seats.

Earlier this month, waxpaperbeercup hypothesized that scalpers might have a harder time selling the mega-priced seats already.

Today, I talked with a friend whose company had given up their seats for the Cubs games this year, and I wondered how many others have done the same. The Cubs claim that they had a 98% retention rate, but season ticket holders need to tell the Cubs they are renewing by the end of November.

At that point, the economy was bad, but the Dow was bouncing around in the mid-8,000s as opposed to the recent dip down into the 6,000s. The national unemployment rate in Q3 for 2008 was at 6.0, it now stands at 8.1 and rising.

This is not the time for anyone - corporate or otherwise, to be shelling out $2,700 for a single game ticket. Even if you can afford it, you are basically flipping the bird to all the hard-working fans that had to save for a month to be able to afford to take their son to a ballgame.

While there are plenty of douchebags out there who have absolutely no problem with flaunting their money in a time of economic crisis, the number of potential buyers has to be reduced overall.

I'm curious what the atmosphere at the ballpark will be this year. Will there be a lack of families? Will the college fratboys be able to afford the secondary market prices for the bleachers? Will beer sales be up or down? Beer sales in Q4 of 2008 were down 9.3%, but that is a historical anomaly as shown here. So how many drunkards will there be?

So many previous factors in driving the ridiculous demand for Cubs tickets have changed in the short time from the last out of 2008. I've complained before about the Cubs' lack of any customer service savvy before, but this year they should probably watch a self-help video or something because people aren't going to be as forgiving of a rude security guard, a clueless usher, or a mind-numbingly slow concession vendor when they are spending money they no longer take for granted.

I'm not sure what the Yankee's will have to do to justify the $2,700 seats for their customers. I mean, I can guess, but its usually the kind of services you associate with Craigslist.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Aisle 424 Fantasy Curse

It's fantasy baseball time and while I will not bore everyone with a blow-by-blow description of the recent auction and draft in which I participated, I feel that in the interest of honesty and transparency, I must disclose a few items about my teams.

First off, it is important to remember that I value actual success over fantasy success, so my owning a non-Cub does not incline me to cheer for that player against the Cubs. However, if the Cubs are going to get beat, I would like it to be due to the accomplishments of my fantasy player so I can at least have a consolation prize.

Also, as a believer in curses, I will tell you that the the Aisle 424 Fantasy Curse is alive and well. Any player that becomes a member of "Boom! Roasted" or "I Love Lamp" will inevitably experience an inability to play baseball well, be unable to stay physically capable of playing, or a combination of the two.

The good news is that only two players from the Cubs will be hit with the Aisle 424 Curse: Rich Harden and Mike Fontenot. I'm not saying they are doomed for sure, but Rich Hill was a viable pitcher before I picked him up last year. Other players with meteoric declines over the past few years while residing on my teams include Travis Hafner, Adrian Beltre, and Eric Chavez.

I hated to do it to two Cubs that I genuinely like, but I simply couldn't pass up Fontenot in the late rounds, and I kept Harden from last year after he managed to beat the curse by exceeded my expectations in staying healthy for a large percentage of the year.

The good news is that I damaged both Chris Carpenter's recovery and Jason Motte's emergence as a closer in St. Louis by making them part of the "I Love Lamp" roster. Southsiders should not be expecting a great season from Alexei Ramirez, because he's my shortstop. I also decided to punish James Loney for that grand slam off of Dempster in the NLDS by picking him up in the late rounds.

"Boom! Roasted" (Nothing beats a good Steve Carell quote for a team name) does more damage in the NL Central division (and should therefore help the Cubs). Every team but Houston is represented in my lineup in some way. Albert Pujols cost me $44 to keep so he is almost assuredly due to break a leg or something.

Meanwhile, Ryan Doumit, Corey Hart, Joey Votto, and Nate McLouth should all be talking to their teams about long-term extensions now because they won't be in as enviable a negotiating situation come the end of the season.

So I apologize ahead of time to Fontenot and Harden. I know how hard you both worked to get where you are today and I wish you both the best of luck.

Poor bastards have no idea what is about to hit them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

The slow Spring Training is really taking a toll on the Chicago baseball writers. They are no longer able to write the same old stuff about what little is actually happening, they are forced into having to speculate on what might happen in our worst nightmares. The other day, the Tribune's Paul Sullivan presented his 9 Reasons to Worry About the Chicago Cubs.

The Cub Reporter has a more tongue-in-cheek version of the many worries that haunt us Cub fans in the middle of the night.

I guess I'm just not that worried about the Cubs this year. I'm not sure where it is written that a Cub fan must be a faithful, drinking-the-Kool-Aid, pro-Cubs zombie who believes every piece of propaganda published in Vineline or a paranoid, conspiracy theorist, bundle of nerves who not only sees the glass as half empty, but sees that the glass has deadly poison in it instead of water.

I'll admit that I tend to be more of the latter, but I'm not crawling up into a fetal position over any of the worries that Mr. Sullivan outlines.

"Harden's shoulder: The Cubs decided to take it slowly this spring with Rich Harden, who suffered a shoulder tear last summer and rehabbed all winter. He has thrown only 4 2/3 innings, or about the same amount as a pitcher in the second week of spring training. After being scratched Friday with the flu, Harden has three starts remaining to get prepared for the season. That's unlikely to be enough time, so expect the bullpen to be taxed if Harden starts the season in the rotation instead of on the disabled list."

We knew Harden has had arm problems since before he was ever a Cub. His injury history is no secret and both the Cubs and their fans knew what they were getting themselves into by acquiring him. If the Cubs had pinned all of their hopes on a rotation anchored by Harden, as they did with Wood and Prior, then not only would I worry, but I would be pissed as hell that Hendry doesn't learn from his past mistakes.

But that is not the case here. Harden is the #4 starter, and in all reality, he will be the #5 because he will most likely have starts skipped instead of Sean Marshall.

Even if he goes down for an expanded period of time, the Cubs have Aaron Heilman waiting for a shot at the rotation and he should perform as well, if not better than most teams' #5 starters. Failing that, Jeff Samardzija can be handed the ball for a start or two

It is shocking to see that the Cubs have more than one contingency plan, but they do, and I'm not overly concerned.

"Lee's age: Derrek Lee is 33 but looks much older this spring. A quad injury has slowed him down, and he was hitting .179 going into the weekend. Lee also had a poor spring last year but hit .364 with eight home runs in April. The problem is he hit only .275 with 12 homers the rest of the season. Lee must prove his poor second-half was an anomaly, not a trend."

Derrek Lee is a victim of his own success with the Cubs. His 2005 season raised the bar of expectations for him. While the lack of power outside of the month of April is a bit troubling, Lee has always been a streaky hitter. Again, we knew that (or should have known that) when we acquired him from Florida. Anybody who played fantasy baseball at all knew that Derrek Lee finished his seasons with an average of about .275, 20+ homeruns, and around 80 RBIs, but that he would have maddening stretches of no production at all along the way, and he would kill your team if you kept playing him during those stretches.

It made him a very good #6 hitter in the Florida lineup, and a poor candidate to be a #3 hitter in the Cubs lineup. Fortunately, he stepped up his production and minimized his stretches of ineptitude with the bat when he came to the Cubs. But now that is the expectation. He is 33 and probably will start having seasons similiar to the .275/20/80 player that we originally acquired.

The solution is to move him down in the order where he becomes a very good #6 hitter again. Ramirez, Bradley, Soto in the 3, 4, 5 slots in the order will provide balance, power, and consistency to a part of the order where consistency is key.

Plus, Sullivan doesn't point out that the .275 "the rest of the way" after April included a .234 mark in May. After May, Lee hit .283 in June, .292 in July, .301 in August, and .274 in September. Lets not put him in his grave quite yet for having one bad month last Spring

"Marmol's psyche: Carlos Marmol said he doesn't even think about his blown save for the Dominican Republic in their elimination game in the World Baseball Classic, and if it bothered him what value would he have as the the club's most valuable reliever, whether in a closing or setup role. It's imperative Marmol has a clear head and confidence in his stuff. As Marmol goes, so go the Cubs."

I'm not sure why Marmol's psyche suddenly is so fragile. Marmol has always worried me a bit because he seems to be so much raw talent and so little baseball instinct. The high-talent, low-instinct guys tend to fall off the table pretty quickly once whatever it was that made them special starts to fade. I don't see any reason why Marmol's talent would start to fade this year in particular. He's young and the league really hasn't shown they have figured him out yet.

He even survived a stretch last year where it appeared he was imploding before our eyes. He hit the All-Star break and came back the dominant guy we had seen through the beginning of the year.

Again, the Cubs come armed with a back-up plan if Marmol falters. They have Kevin Gregg, who has been superb so far this Spring, and is more than capable of filling the closer role.

"Soriano's legs: The Cubs were 69-38 with Alfonso Soriano starting in left field last year. They were only 28-26 when he didn't start because of a leg injury or rest. Soriano began training early this winter because he was disappointed in himself for being injured, and the dividends appear to be paying off. Keeping Soriano healthy is of utmost importance."

The Cubs have been fine the last two years with Soriano's legs not being what we thought we were buying when he signed his contract. The Cubs have outfield depth whether in the form of Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox, who both deserve a shot at real major league pitching in a real major league game. The fact that only one (if any) of them will be on the roster when the Cubs break camp in Mesa speaks to the depth this team has at corner outfield.

While neither Hoffpauir nor Fox are going to impress anyone with their defensive prowess, they don't have to because the man they would potentially replace is a brutal outfielder. It would be difficult for them to get worse.

"Fukudome's head: Kosuke Fukudome, the $48 million outfielder, failed to live up to the hype after a good start in April and May. Fukudome hit .235 for Japan in the WBC, failing to show progress from his '08 slump. The Cubs appear intent on keeping him in the majors instead of sending him to Triple-A Iowa, so hopefully he wakes up by Opening Day."

Fukudome will be given opportunities to earn the money in his contract, but if he doesn't show any improvement over the end of last year, Lou will lose patience and you'll see Reed Johnson patrolling centerfield on a regular basis and Jim Hendry on his cell phone asking other teams if they have any centerfielders they might like to trade. Hell, he may give Jim Edmonds a jingle to see whats up. Given the offense that the Cubs have in the rest of their order, having Fukudome or Johnson batting 8th with a collective .260 average will probably be enough to get by.

"Bullpen depth: After Marmol, Kevin Gregg, Aaron Heilman and Neal Cotts, the Cubs' bullpen is shaky at best, meaning more trips to the mound for pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Veterans Chad Gaudin and Luis Vizcaino have had poor springs, and the Cubs may bring up Rule 5 pick David Patton, who never has pitched above Class A. The decision to wave goodbye to Kerry Wood could come back to haunt them."

There are few bullpens in the league where you feel confident handing the ball to guys who are fifth, sixth, seventh deep in a bullpen. As much as the specialists have been developed by the modern game, no kid dreams of growing up to become a left-handed relief specialist in a bullpen. You dream about starting or you dream about closing.

Bullpens are inherently filled with failed starters and failed closers, and those guys are generally only around until someone cheaper shows up to replace them.

If the Cubs get anything useful out of David Patton, its a bonus because they do have some other young guys (Wells, Waddell) and veterans (Fox, Stanton) that have pitched effectively in the spring and could easily fill less pressure-packed roles in the bottom part of any bullpen.

"Soto's durability: With Henry Blanco gone, catcher Geovany Soto will be called on to start 140 or more games, after starting in 131 last year. Soto proved his endurance in 2008, but the Cubs don't have a backup who is a proven hitter at the big-league level. Piniella can't afford to wear him out."

I know there is a lot of Hank White love out there, and I did like him in a backup role, but projecting that Soto will have to catch more this year because Henry Blanco isn't on the roster anymore seems like an awful stretch for something to be worried about. I find it hard to believe that Paul Sullivan really feels that Hank White is so irreplaceable that it will torpedo the Cubs entire year. I think he just needed to fill some space.

"Infield depth: There still is no viable backup third baseman on the roster if Aramis Ramirez misses any extended time. The Corey Koskie experiment was doomed from the outset, and Esteban German isn't the answer either. Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles can be used in a pinch, but not long term."

OK - finally a real concern. Yes - the Cubs do not have anyone to back up Aramis Ramirez at third base. The problem with this being a real problem is that he is concerned about a long-term answer at third base. Well, its hard to have a long-term replacement set and waiting for your offense's most potent weapon in the unlikely event of something catastrophic happening.

This would be like me worrying that I don't have a parachute for when my plane explodes in mid-air. If something truly bad happens to Ramirez, the Cubs are in trouble. There are no ways around it, but I have dedicated this season to not worrying about the one set of circumstances that could blow up the season.

Plus, the Cubs aren't totally screwed in this area because they are more than capable of making a deal for a veteran third baseman in the case of an emergency. They won't get Evan Longoria, but they might be able to get someone like Scott Rolen or Chipper Jones if they have anything left in their tank.

"Piniella's demeanor: The Cubs manager has been way too calm this spring, meaning the next outburst could be a major eruption. Piniella has not been ejected from a game since June of 2007. Will the old Piniella ever return, or has he mellowed for good?"

I'm not even sure how Piniella not being a frothing lunatic is a reason to worry. I'm not sure why Paul seems concerned that Lou hasn't been throwing bases around in Mesa during games that don't count. It seems to me he has called out his hitters when they weren't giving him decent at-bats so I'm not quite sure what else he would like to see. Piniella has been in baseball for quite a while and I'm sure that we will not all be sitting around a bar in the winter of 2009 cursing Lou Piniella for being too lax in the clubhouse.

Of course, any combination of the horror stories detailed by Sullivan could submarine the Cubs season, and of course, that is why they play the games. But I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I will however be losing sleep over my continuing nagging cough, but that shouldn't have any effect on the Cubs, so the the rest of you can rest easy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'm Not 100%, So I'm Benching Myself

The flu-like symptoms that have hit the Cubs' two most fragile players, Milton Bradley and Rich Harden have traveled all the way to Aisle 424. It seems no one is safe from the Cactus League Flu.

Of course, I don't actually have the flu, but there are certainly some symptoms, so I feel that is enough to justify holding myself out of all blogging activities in order to be able to get back into it when it really counts. I feel confident in this diagnosis as I have worked closely with physicians in my actual working life and I think I have acquired some advanced medical training through osmosis.

Also, I used to watch ER on a regular basis, so I am comfortable asking my girlfriend to run an MRI, chem-7 and lights - stat. She usually will just scratch her nose with her middle finger whenever I make this request of her, and she generally doesn't like when I compare her nursing skills unfavorably with those of Carol Hathaway or even Chundi.

Today I am feeling better and as you can see, I have begun posting, though I stayed away from any linking or formatting that may cause a setback. I have also started simulating typing and mouse-clicking with a towel. My index fingers have not felt this good this early in a season for quite some time. I credit my off-season strength and conditioning program involving watching a lot of the MLB Network and playing Baseball Tycoon on Facebook.

If I stay on schedule, I am confident that I will be ready to go full-speed very soon and, God willing, I will not miss any of the regular season. I'm anxious to get back to posting regularly and playing a major role in Cubs blogging during the upcoming season.... cough, cough, hack......wheeeze... cough....

Excuse me......... Thanks for your patience.... cough....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

The World Baseball Classic is probably not taking off in popularity the way Bud Selig would have hoped. The United States has met the WBC with a combination of oblivion, boredom, and animosity that it even exists.

A decent post addressing some of the WBC issues and potential solutions can be found here at the Bleed Cubbie Blue site (though there has been a charge from the anti-BCB site, Fire Al Yellon, that the post is plagiarized). For my purposes, I don't really care who wrote it first, the post serves as a good summary so I don't have to bore my three readers by rehashing it.

Obviously, I have not been following much of the WBC on purpose, despite its best efforts to get me engaged. First, Italy, featuring a roster whose best known name belonged to hitting coach, Mike Piazza, took down the Canadian team featuring Justin Morneau, Russel Martin, and Jason Bay.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands starring such baseball superstars as Sidney Ponson and Randall "Sausage King of Chicago" Simon knocked off the highly favored Dominican Republic with Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, David Ortiz and others. But I still didn't care all that much.

I found myself tuning in to the game between Puerto Rico and the United States last night because A) Ted Lilly was starting for the U.S. team and I hadn't seen him pitch yet this spring, B) it was an elimination game so I hoped there would be some drama, and C) there really wasn't anything else on that was worth watching - which was ultimately the deciding factor.

The game went back and forth early on. Lilly gave up a couple of homeruns, Kevin Youkilis hit a monster homerun of his own, Carlos Beltran made a great catch that appeared to steal a homerun away from Brian McCann (the replay shows pretty clearly that it would have stayed in the park), and Derek Jeter's lack of range at shortstop allowed an insurance run to give Puerto Rico a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the 9th.

All of that was fine and enough to keep me from actively turning the channel as I played around on my laptop. I also noticed that someone in the stands had a whistle that they would not stop blowing throughout the game. How they didn't end up hyperventilating and passing out, I will never know. It was a standard of annoying fan behavior that is unmatched by even our own Ronnie Woo. (This is not to be interpreted as a call for Ronnie to step up his Wooing capabilities.)

As the game turned to the bottom of the 9th inning, it reminded me why I love baseball.

Shane Victorino opened with a single to right. Brian Roberts quickly went down two strikes but fought back with a line drive into center for another single. Suddenly, the tying run was on base with Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Kevin Youkilis due up.

Jeter also worked the count and hit a hard line drive deep to right that allowed Victorino to tag and head to third base, which seemed unimportant at the time, but when Jimmy Rollins stepped up, Brian Roberts stole second base (barely) and put the tying run in scoring position. The Puerto Rican pitcher, J.C. Romero, responded by walking Rollins and that was the end of his day.

As Puerto Rico brought in Fernando Cabrera to try to end the rally, I found that I was no longer messing around on the computer and was actually invested in the game. Cabrera was in way over his head in that situation, promptly walking Kevin Youkilis to force in a run and bring the score to 5-4 with still only one out.

The U.S. lineup got no easier with David Wright coming to the plate next. Wright ended the game by taking a 2-1 pitch and lining it just inside the right field line to drive in the tying and winning runs.

The U.S. team flooded the field and they celebrated like they had won the pennant. Youkilis came very close to decapitating Wright in a celebratory headlock that probably would have killed a lesser conditioned person. It was the kind of finish that could build up some real enthusiasm for the WBC.

Unfortunately, it was only aired on the fledgling MLB Network, so only a small percentage of people probably had an opportunity to watch it, which is a shame.

If the WBC can continue to provide the upsets and last at-bat heroics that peppered the first two rounds, this could become a much more important event every four years. We shall see, but it certainly has made me anxious to see some real baseball where the outcome matters.

How many more weeks until Opening Day?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Its a Beautiful Day for Baseball

Most of my co-workers and friends in the Chicago area are loving the weather the last couple of days. Temperatures in the 60's and 70's and sunny. The weather is perfect for baseball.

The problem is there is no baseball in Chicago right now. Its all happening down in Arizona, Florida, and the various WBC locations. So here we are having perfect weather to sit at Wrigley to enjoy a game, and its being wasted.

Good baseball weather during the offseason is a waste, and I hate it. Chicago only has so many nice days in a given year, and wasting them on non-baseball days is dumb.

The worst part about it is that I KNOW I am going to be freezing my ass off at Wrigley on Opening Day. Why? Because I ALWAYS freeze my ass off at Wrigley on Opening Day. You can bank on it. It is almost always cloudy, rainy, snowy, windy, or any combination of those. And it is always cold.

Even when the sun is shining (which is rare), it is cold. There have been a few tolerable Opening Days for those who sit in the sun for even part of the day, but Aisle 424 is like the North Pole in the winter, there is no sun at all up there.

That is a nice attribute in the middle of summer when it is blazing hot and humid, but it is a real drawback until about June of every year.

So I'll sit up there bundled up like an eskimo, drinking over-priced Tepid Chocolate, and trying to fight off frostbite as I try to record the latest 6-4-3 doubleplay for Derek Lee on my scorecard, while thinking back to mid-March when I was wearing short sleeves outside and wishing there was a baseball game going on in front of me.

Not that I'm bitter.

Monday, March 16, 2009


You may have wondered, as I often have, if there is a link between the Curse of the Billy Goat and Colonel Sanders. I am happy to report to you that, yes, there is, because apparently, Kentucky Fried Chicken is interested in corporately sponsoring the Cubs curse.

Of course, when one thinks of baseball and curses, one is naturally inclined to think of fried chicken, so it seems strange that such an obvious parallel has gone unnoticed before now.

According to the article in the Sun-Times:

"Fans of Japan's Hanshin Tigers blame their decades-old drought on a Colonel Sanders statue that was uprooted from outside a KFC in Osaka and tossed into the nearby Dotonbori River by overzealous fans after a Tigers title in 1985.

Fans thought the Colonel looked like Oklahoma-born slugger Randy Bass, who played for the Hanshin Tigers at the time."

First off... 1985? Really? Twenty-four years without a title constitutes a curse? I guess we can start talking about the Curse of the Super Bowl Shuffle or the Curse of Buddy Ryan afflicting the Bears. Better yet, Walter Payton never scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XX, so now, as punishment for giving the ball to The Fridge instead, the Bears are cursed! The Sweetness Curse! Start selling the t-shirts now (I want royalties).

Also, if twenty-four years equals a curse, then the list of cursed franchises in baseball alone include the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, and San Diego Padres. That is a truckload of hexes. The baseball gods are busier than I thought.

Finally, how is a statue that has nothing to do with your sport, team, or city capable of the kind of cosmic power necessary to inflict such a curse? Someone was really grasping at straws when they were trying to explain the Hanshin Tigers' incompetence on the field.

The statue of the Colonel had not been found until last Tuesday, and apparently this is a sign to the Hanshin faithful that their long suffering could come to an end. Seeing an opportunity to sell some unhealthy chicken products to baseball fans, KFC quickly has reached out to the Cubs to see if there is room on their curse-busting bandwagon.

"In a letter sent to the Cubs on Thursday, KFC inquired about bringing the statue to Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

'We -- at Kentucky Fried Chicken -- want to help,' the letter reads.

'We are working desperately with our Japanese colleagues to bring the curse-breaking Colonel Sanders statue to your field by Opening Day. While we can't promise the statue will snap curses of billy goats, black cats or even a foul-ball-interfering fan, we figure it can't hurt.'"

Keep in mind, the statue being recovered hasn't actually broken the "curse." The Tigers haven't won anything yet. If I were a baseball god, that kind of hubris would make me inclined to come up with some really nasty surprises in retribution, so I don't see how such a stunt could possibly be successful.

Thankfully, the Cubs (as of the writing of the piece in the Sun-Times) have not made any moves towards taking KFC up on their offer. Usually, the Cubs can't stay away from a marketing stunt involving the curse, so I can't be sure if they actually are in agreement that it is a ridiculous premise, or if it is just because they didn't think of it first.

Regardless of the reasoning, I applaud the restraint. I've said it before, and I'll continue to say it until I am blue in the face, the Cubs need to own the fact that they are cursed and welcome it as a necessary obstacle to overcome. Breaking the curse will only happen by actually winning the World Series in spite of the curse. Until then, any stupid attempts to lift the curse in order to win the World Series will be massive failures, and will serve only to strengthen the psychological grip that it already has on the team and its fans.

So, KFC, unless you want to have your corporate icon performing an obscene gesture and telling the baseball gods to suck it, you can just stay in the business of clogging our arteries and stay away from Cubs baseball.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rick Telander Has the Only Opinion That Matters (according to him)

I opened up my laptop this morning to read a bit about what is going on with the Cubs and sports in general, and found myself getting slapped around by Rick Telander. In his Sun-Times column this morning, Telander decided to put athlete twitterers and bloggers in their place by making sure everyone knew that the items that come across celebrity blogs and tweets are generally self-serving hype, spin, or combination thereof.

But in the midst of taking down such an influential cele-blogger like Maurice Clarett - or in Clarett's case, cell-e-blogger (rimshot) - Telander decides to open up his attack to slam down anyone on the internet who has the audacity to express their opinions about sports in blog form:

"Clarett has lots of time on his hands -- a function of being incarcerated -- and he has the ability to type, as do seals and small donkeys. And he does, indeed, understand our new, connected, self-publishing world perhaps better than any sports blogger I have read -- or snoozed to."

Oh, snap! Take that, you amateur, piece-of-crap, how-dare-you-contribute-to-the-downfall-of-my-profession-with-your-exercising-of-freedom-of-expression bloggers!

"I find it interesting that the Internet comments I get at the bottom of many of my columns are of the ''You suck! What a waste of time!'' variety."

Hey Rick, I know you are pre-emptively trying to spin any response to this assault on the non-professional sportswriters as childish and petty, but I would like to point out for the record that I have not resorted to any such usage of that phrase at any time in this response. So bite me.

"But I can tell you this: I have studied writing and reporting and the sciences of each for virtually my entire life, been diligent and passionate in my subservience to them. If you think you can do better at writing nearly 200 research-driven, hopefully informative and entertaining sports columns a year, welcome to it."

Remember when he was criticizing bloggers for being self-servient just a few paragraphs before this one? We're all very impressed with your dedication and diligence you have shown to a job you are paid to do, when most of us who are sullying your profession with our self-published opinions do it out of nothing but love of whatever it is we are blogging about.

So yes, there is plenty of crap out there that is worthy of a hearty "You suck," but there is plenty of stuff out there that I would rather read on a regular basis than Mr. Telander's "research-driven" columns. (In this case, his research involved looking at a couple of blogs and deciding that all blogs everywhere are useless.)

While I may not have dedicated my life to the advancement of journalism in accepted formats, I nevertheless have found some very worthwhile Cubs-oriented blogs that blow Rick Telander and others over at the Sun-Times out of the water.

Cubs f/x is not for those of you who did not like me throwing out statistical information in each sentence. Harry Pavlidis provides some fantastic pitching breakdowns as well as other insights that are, frankly, out of my league. However, if you want to see breakdowns and analysis of pitch trajectories, release points, pitch sequences, and pitch locations, this is the place for you.

Meanwhile, another very smart and enjoyable read is over at waxpaperbeercup. Apparently one of the contributors of the now defunct 1060west blog has started a blog of his own. If you are looking for some takes on the Cubs, the city, or baseball business items like Cubs ticket sales, other teams' stadium deals, and the on-going sale of the Cubs, wbpc has provided some great material. Otherwise, if you just like beer and the Cubs, he has a portion of the site dedicated to his Beer of the Week that one can enjoy while watching the Cubs (probably not at Wrigley though).

If you are looking for some humorous takes on the Cubs and Cub fan culture, I have enjoyed Hire Jim Essian and Goat Riders of the Apocalypse. They skewer everyone from ex-Cubs, current Cubs, the bandwagon-jumping fans, and the lemmings in the "acceptable" media.

There are plenty of others (see links to your right), but I think I have made my point that not all bloggers can be thrown into the same heap, much as I would never defame all newspaper sports columnists by suggesting they are all as smug and self-righteous as Rick Telander.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yesterday's News

I spent the day traveling yesterday so I missed Rich Harden's Spring debut, but was glad to read it went well. I think half of the media was kind of hoping that his arm would come flying off as he made a pitch so they would have something else to write about, but it was fairly uneventful, which in Spring Training is a good thing.

I also missed the Dominican Republic get eliminated from the World Baseball Classic courtesy of its second loss to the Netherlands, thanks, in part, to a blown save by our very own Carlos Marmol. Apparently, Ken Rosenthal is ready to hijack the Curse of the Billy Goat to explain the implosion and resulting Dominican Republic loss.

Hey Ken - hands off the curse. It is ours. Period. The fact that Marmol is a Cub is coincidental and nothing more. The baseball gods have nothing against the Dominican Republic. It is not their fault that All-Star calibre players like Albert Pujols, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano decided not to play. They got over-confident and caught a team playing over its head. It happens.

Also, it turns out that Milton Bradley may have been a bit selfish in removing himself from games last year instead of playing through nagging injuries. I am shocked. Shocked and appalled. Who would have thought that Bradley's normally exemplary behavior and attitude would all simply be a charade? This is like breaking a story about Michael Jackson having undergone cosmetic surgery.

To anyone who is asking how Cub fans will react to Milton Bradley now given this latest revelation that he may not be a team-oriented, self-sacrificing player: we will react the same exact way would react before this story "broke."

If he hits the ball well and drives in runs and stays out on the field for 120 games or so, we will like him very much and he will get plenty of adoring love from the right field bleachers.

If he sits himself out every other day, picks fights with the bleacher fans, and/or manages to underwhelm us with his playing ability, we will not take kindly to him.

What Milton Bradley did for another team last year is of no consequence this year. It is a good reason to not sign him in the first place, but that deed has been done and there is nothing anyone can do about that now.

Lastly, both the Sun-Times and the Tribune made mention of the fact that Harden will be the fourth starter and that the fifth starter (Sean Marshall unless something goes very wrong for him down the stretch) might get skipped in the rotation early in the season due to days off.

I find that interesting since it seems to make the most sense to skip Harden every now and then if they are really concerned about his shoulder. So does this mean that they are now not as concerned about Harden's shoulder? Are they simply more bold because both Heilman and Marshall are throwing quite well and they have confidence an injury wouldn't derail their season?

Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Expectations Game

Sometimes it seems that Cubs fans are starting to learn lessons about over-valuing their own players abilities. For instance, Rich Harden is a phenomenal pitcher when he is healthy.

But there is almost no buzz about Harden leading the Cubs to the promised land. There is only hoping and praying that he can stay healthy enough to be a factor in the playoffs.

I'm not quite sure why the expectations for Harden are so much lower than they were for Prior or Wood. Perhaps Cubs fans have had their fingers burned over the years too many times to give their hearts over to a guy with tons of promise?

It would seem that would be the case, but there has been an awful lot of love for Mike Fontenot this Spring. Don't get me wrong, but I'm still not 100% sold on Fontenot just yet. He has yet to accumulate enough major league at-bats to get a real read on his abilities (especially since he has never been a regular player). I'm pulling for him to win the job, because I DO NOT want Aaron Miles playing any roles on this team other than defensive replacement, pinch runner, and injury insurance.

So Cub fans are jumping on the Lil' Mike Fontenot bandwagon when everything that is being projected is based purely on projection and speculation from what we have seen from part-time playing and his good Spring Training showing so far.

Meanwhile, hardly anybody is hitching their wagon to Rich Harden. Normally, I would be finding myself compelled to remind folks, that Harden has actually never won more than 11 games in a season (remember that people used to disparage Wood for never having won more than 14), and started as many as 30 games only once as well. But there has been no need.

Maybe Cub fans, as a group, react to what is in front of them at the moment because that is what the media writes about. The media has pretty much only been discussing Harden's past injuries and a shoulder that probably needs surgery trying to get through one more year by doing more strengthening excercises.

Perhaps after today's Spring debut from Harden, the Rich Harden Bandwagon will join the parade behind the Ragin' Cajun Fontenot Fans and the Micah Hoff-POWER Man-Crush Express.

It will be interesting to see, but maybe we are taking baby steps to get away from crowning Cubs Messiah's every year. Perhaps we have stopped swallowing every sugar-coated puff piece that Vineline runs about their players. Maybe, just maybe, Cubs fans are becoming more pragmatic about giving over their full love and loyalty.

Now please excuse me, I have to start building my gold statue of Sean Marshall. 1.80 ERA this Spring! Put him down for AT LEAST 16 wins. WOOOOOOO!!!! Sean Marshall!!!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

If Wishing Made It So, Milton Would Have Killed Someone by Now

Its hard to know that real baseball is still a month away. Its even harder when I look out of my office window and see college kids playing frisbee in short-sleeve shirts and shorts out in the nice, sunny, warm, perfect-for-baseball weather. It is harder yet when Spring Training has been about as exciting as a game of tic-tac-toe.

Those in the Chicago media really want something exciting to happen so they have something besides Aaron Miles to write about. Rick Morrissey has been reduced to writing about the 1985 Cubs team and the shoulda-woulda-coulda beens of that year. I won't go into it in any detail because Hire Jim Essian does a better job ripping him a new one than I could.

Meanwhile, Dan McNeil has had some time on his hands since leaving the Mac, Jurko, and Harry show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, so he has been writing a bit for the Sun-Times. He is also less than thrilled about Spring Training in Arizona.

But you know what? Boring in Spring Training is a good thing. A yawn-inducing snooze-fest in the Spring means that there aren't too many holes on the roster to be filled. It means the injuries are being kept to a minimum. It means that players and coaches are happy.

McNeil laments the quality of play in the Cactus League games. What the hell did he expect? More than half the time, the guys on the field aren't major leaguers. Even the ones that are major league talent have been sitting around for four months gathering rust.

Spring Training isn't about excitement (or at least it shouldn't be). Its about preparation, practice, and repetition. None of those things are inherently exciting. It is RELAXING for the fans. They get to see their favorite players, maybe get an autograph or picture, and sit out in the nice, sunny weather and watch some baseball being played (for a fairly reasonable cost).

I'm glad that Terrel Owens got released because now the sportswriters can have their debates about whether the Bears should sign him or not. That will be preferable to having a daily Bradley Tantrum Watch that will only serve to antagonize the man:

"Hey Milton, you pissed yet? How about now? A little angry? Even a little? Seriously? Everything is good and happy? You think you'll get pissed? When do you think? Now? How about now? No? OK..... BOOOO!! How about now? 'Cause if you don't get off to a good start, you'll be hearing some of that from the bleachers. Ask Jacque Jones. Does that piss you off? Hypothetically? Still all good? OK - see you tomorrow. Unless, you know, you want to get something off your chest now. No? OK, then. You should talk to Jacque though, he'll tell you. Maybe Corey Patterson. They'll both tell you how it is. Want Todd Hundley's number too? I have to tell you, you seem like you are a bit agitated. Is it because you're hurt? You know, because you're always hurt? I know I'd be frustrated. You know what helps with that? Talking it out. Just vent it all out. No? Alright then. Hey! Oh, sorry... you just wanted to shake my hand. I thought you were going to take a swing at me. You don't want to do that, right? Yeah - my bad. Sorry. OK, this time I really have to go. Here I go. Now. Nothing? Damn...."

It is the first week of March. There is a month of pre-season yet to go. We have plenty of time for things to go sour. The baseball gods are assuredly cooking up some fun twists and turns for our season, so there is absolutely no need to go WISHING they would happen before the regular season even starts. Enjoy the peace and serenity while it lasts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Misunderstood Milton

Milton Bradley returned to action yesterday and, as far as we know, managed to get through three at-bats as the designated hitter without hurting himself. On a day when the Cubs lose two games, you have to take whatever small victories there are.

The occasion gave both major Chicago newspapers a chance to run their own versions of basically the same story about how Bradley has been misunderstood in his career.

According to the piece in the Chicago Tribune by Paul Sullivan, Bradley likened himself to Paul O'Neill, formerly of the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.

I understand he has some spinning to do about his checkered past. He understandably would like to move on from past indiscretions, but he does not really seem to have a grasp on how disruptive he has been with his past incidents. He dismisses his past behavior as, "Childish and immature" rather than "violent and volatile":

"The way they made out things I've done in the past … I haven't done anything malicious or violent," he said. "If anything, it was more childish and immature, my actions. … I'm not violent or volatile or all this stuff I hear. Intense? I have a lot of pride and integrity. I expect more out of myself than probably other people do."

Just call it like you see it. I haven't really done those things. [The media] have a tendency to use the same words to describe me over the years—sullen, melancholy. … That's not me."

He goes on to say:

"People tell me Paul O'Neill was hustling, he was intense, he was fiery, a competitor," he said. "Whereas, early on in my career, I was [labeled as] volatile, angry, temperamental … [that] I had an attitude, was not coachable. … Everything that's pretty much the antithesis of what I am.

The problem is that while Paul O'Neill was known to throw some Gatorade coolers, bats, helmets, and other paraphernalia around after a bad play, his anger was directed mostly at himself. That is true childish and immature behavior. I can say that for sure, because I have been known to toss a number of items around softball fields, volleyball courts, and bowling alleys while cursing up a storm about what an idiot I am for taking a called third strike, spiking a ball into the net, or leaving a seven-ten split. There is nothing mature about it, as I am reminded quite often by friends and family.

From what I have read, Paul O'Neill never went after a fan, stalked out a broadcaster, or got into a race war with his teammates. I'm sure he had numerous run-ins with umpires, but to the best of my knowledge, he never blew out his knee in the course of being restrained from physically fighting an umpire. (For the record, I have never done any of those things either.)

Milton Bradley is guilty of all of those transgressions that go above and beyond the tossing of some equipment around a field or dugout in the heat of competition. Those actions do suggest a person has some violent and volatile tendencies.

Now, from what we have seen so far, Bradley is on his best behavior. Its possible that he has learned from his past rage issues and taken a more zen approach to his anger management. But in discussing how he and Lou Piniella are similar as well, he said:

"He wants his players to play with the same intensity and fire he was showing when he was tossing a base or getting in an umpire's face, because he means business.

''I understand that. I can respect that. I think they're crazy when they can just struggle and make errors and strike out and give up runs, and then they go get on their cell phone and kick back like nothing ever happened. I can't live like that.''

So he has no intentions of dialing down his "intensity and fire" which I fear is interminably tied to the outbursts of rage that he has little to no control over. He doesn't seem to see a difference between smashing an inanimate object and hunting down a broadcaster who was critical of him.

I'm guessing the fireworks will not be limited to just the South Side this summer. The question is whether they are an entertaining diversion or if they blow up the entire Cubs' season.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Most Boring and Pointless Speculation Ever

I was a bit perplexed by a small item at the end of Paul Sullivan's story about Sean Marshall keeping his edge in the race for the fifth starter spot. According to the "Extra Innings" section:

"The Cubs are scouting Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby, who suddenly is expendable after the A's signed Orlando Cabrera to play short. The problem is Crosby makes $5.2 million, well above his market value, especially for the utility role he would fill on the Cubs."

I'm not real sure what the reasoning would be to investigate Bobby Crosby as a part of this team. He has been almost constantly injured since his Rookie of the Year season of 2004. He has a career batting average of .239, and after showing some power with 22 homeruns in 2004, he has not hit double digits in homeruns since.

He's not a sure defensive upgrade to Theriot since his fielding percentage is actually worse than Theriot's, but he does have better range (which is hardly surprise). He is not suited for a super-sub role since he has never played any other position but shortstop in his career.

Its hard to imagine where he would fit on this roster, especially considering his $5.2 million salary and his feelings about not wanting to play a back-up or utility role in Oakland, as quoted to Mychael Urban, who covers the A's for

"I love playing here, but obviously they're going in a different direction, so I think it's best for everyone that I do the same thing," he explained. "I'd like the opportunity to play shortstop somewhere else."

I'm not sure why he'd want to play a utility role in Chicago if he thinks he should still be a starter. Probably a bunch of nothing and an effort by a reporter to fill some space. Not that I would ever do such a thing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Everybody Take a Breath

Nothing perks up a fairly boring Spring Training season like some over-reaction to something that Curt Schilling says. There has been some heated debate in Cubs Blogland about the possibility of Curt Schilling pitching for the Cubs. There have been some nasty exchanges over at Goat Riders of the Apocalypse and a bit more civil debate over at Bleed Cubbie Blue.

There is clearly a camp that wants to have someone with the playoff experience and talent of Curt Schilling on the roster when the playoffs roll around. The Cubs' withering under the glare of the playoffs in the last two seasons is undoubtedly a large consideration for those in the Pro-Curt category.

The Anti-Curt folks point to his age, his lack of pitching in a major league game since 2007 because of injury, and his overall dick-esque personality as the main reasons to not want him on the roster.

It is important to note that the signing of Curt Schilling is not as imminent as the signing of Jim Edmonds was last May. Its not like he is anywhere close to joining the team, so nothing about the spring training race for the fifth starter spot is going to change.

He states himself in his own blog that he has not even decided if he wants to pitch again. If we make the assumption that he will eventually decide that he does want to pitch, there are a few things we can assume about the situation:
  1. Hendry will not throw bags of money at Schilling like the Yankees and Astros did for Roger Clemens - Clemens had not had any significant injury issues, had a longer and better track record of being durable than Schilling, and Roger was still a gate draw.
  2. No deal will be struck with Schilling until a few different eyes see him throw from a mound at least once - whether it is Hendry himself, Randy Bush, or a few other scouts, the Cubs aren't going to sign a guy who hasn't thrown a baseball since 2007 without someone seeing some room for getting him back to close to his pre-shoulder injury capabilities.
  3. If Schilling is going to pitch for anyone this year, it will be someone in a major market - I'm sure he threw Tampa out as a possibility to give himself some negotiating leverage when talking to other teams (he mentions the Red Sox are also always a consideration). Schilling knows he will make the most money in someplace like Chicago that has both the payroll resources to pay him his salary, and will also provide more lucrative endorsement possibilities to supplement that salary.
  4. If Schilling is signed, it is because the Cubs want an insurance policy -does anyone think that Schilling would start any game of the playoffs if injuries aren't a major factor? Does any sane person start a 42-year old with declining velocity over a healthy Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, or Lilly? The only way he sees the light of day in the playoffs or anywhere else this year for the Cubs is a season-sending injury to one of the Big Four.

Personally, I did not want Jim Edmonds last year because his skills seemed to be gone, he was having injury issues, and he has always been kind of a dick. That worked out pretty well (for awhile).

I don't think the Cubs are as interested in signing Schilling as they were in getting Edmonds, so it seems to be a lot of worrying over nothing. But if they do, it doesn't really hurt the team in any significant way, and could potentially help them significantly.

But after all of the hemming and hawing, name-calling, and statistical analysis supporting both the Pro-Curts and the Anti-Curts, the ball is still ultimately in Schilling's court to decide whether he will even look to join any team at all. That is exactly how he likes it, so I'm not expecting a decision anytime real soon.