Monday, August 31, 2009

Rating the Hate

As I sat and watched someone named Nelson Figueroa mow down Cubs hitters, my hatred of the entire team took a couple of more steps forward. On Twitter, @hey_sue asked me to rate my hatred of Theriot on a scale of one to ten, assuming ten is Aaron Miles.

While I have ranted about my frustrations before, I thought I would try to quantify the emotions and Rate the Hate:

Ryan Theriot - 7.5 - I still give him some credit for being a better player than he should be given his lack of actual talent and height. It also isn't his fault he is playing shortstop, where he is utterly lacking instead of second base. That said, he is an idiot who thinks he is a real shortstop and a power hitter. His strikeouts are way up and he seems incapable of taking a walk anymore. These are fixable things, but he seems dimly unaware that there is even a problem.

Milton Bradley - 7.0 - If I could restrict my feelings of hatred to simply things that occur on the baseball field, I probably wouldn't hate Bradley nearly as much. His OBP is the best on the team, and the man does hustle. The problem is that he acts like he is earning that $30 million contract by drawing walks. If the Cubs could somehow switch Bradley's and Theriot's mentalities into each others bodies, we wouldn't have a problem. He is getting paid to be a run producer in the middle of the order, not as a slappy #2 hitter.

Derrek Lee - 0.0 - I don't hate Derrek at all. He has resurged further than I thought possible, and he has managed to do so while being the only viable hitter in the lineup for much of the season. His defense has saved so many errors that we still don't fully understand how shitty our middle infielders actually are.

Aramis Ramirez - 1.5 - He can't help that he got hurt while diving for a ball, and he would be on pace for a .330 average with 30-35 HRs and about 120 RBIs if he played a full season. Still, his staring at any ball he hits with authority pisses me off to no end. I look the other way when they are winning 97 games in spite of that crap, but when every game was crucial, Aramis appeared to be leading the league in being held to singles on balls hit off the wall.

Kosuke Fukudome - 1.0 - I can't argue too much with what he has done this year. He's not worth the money he signed for, but he doesn't say or do anything publicly that makes me think he is satisfied with not earning it. He plays a solid centerfield and its not his fault he is there instead of right where he actually is good instead of average. That spinning swing still angers up my blood enough for him to register on the hate scale though.

Alfonso Soriano - 5.0 - My hatred of him has actually come down as I make myself believe that he has been playing hurt for most of the season and might therefore improve next season. The Hop is disconcerting and I'm tired of watching him take bad routes to balls and take forever to pick up a ball that has rolled to the wall. I've also grown weary of watching him become the second coming of Shawon Dunston on breaking balls that end up in the left batters box.

Geovany Soto - 9.0 - This f---ing guy is the biggest disappointment in a season full of crap. He has gone from being one of my favorite Cubs last year to one that is exceeded only by Aaron Miles in my hatred. He isn't doing anything right and he doesn't seem to give a damn. He was caught smoking weed in the off-season, which I could care less about, but then he showed up to camp overweight and never got into shape. He has become so useless at the plate that I actually cringe when we don't start a guy with three fingers ahead of him.

Mike Fontenot - 8.5 - Fontenot is spared a lot of my wrath because he is only the second worst second baseman on the team and he still hustles when he's out there or he would assuredly be a ten. The problem is that he sucks as much at baseball as Jay Leno's new show will at making people laugh. He runs around on the field and dives for a lot of balls, but if he had any range at all he wouldn't have to dive. Never mind that if he actually came up with the ball, he has no arm with which to throw it. He is useless against lefties and hardly much better against righties. At least he is cheap and theoretically easy to replace.

Koyie Hill - 1.0 - He is doing pretty much what we expected of him, but that still doesn't make him any good at hitting, so he does register some hate.

Jake Fox - 0.0 - This may rise as the league figures out that they should never ever throw him a fastball, but otherwise, he has done nothing but hit when he is given a chance, and his fielding has dramatically exceeded expectations.

Jeff Baker - 0.0 - Realistically, I could give him a 0.5 for striking out too damn much, but I negate that by virtue of his presence removing any chance that I might ever see Fontenot attempt to play third base again this year if Aramis is out of the game. He has exceeded expectations since arriving from Colorado in a ho-hum deal and I remain baffled as to why he is not the starter at second at least five times a week.

Sam Fuld - 2.0 - My hatred of Sam Fuld is not really his fault. I hate him because I have to listen to people talk about how much better this team would be with Fuld instead of Soriano in the outfield. If the goal of this team is to start a lineup that sets a record for the shortest average height in the history of baseball, Sam Fuld is your man. He is this generation's Doug Dascenzo, not the solution to the Cubs' ills.

Aaron Miles - 11.0 - I know this is supposed to be on a scale of ten, but Miles takes sucking ass to a whole new level. The highlight of his season came a few games ago when he laid down a successful sacrifice bunt. I hate him because I'm not even f---ing exaggerating. If scientists could find a way to harness the power of my hatred for Miles and use it as energy, there would be no more wars over oil.

There is too much hate for one post. I'll get to the pitchers tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is What Happens When the Games Are Meaningless

Milton gets upset with Cubs fans for being racist:

Cubs fans are upset with Milton for accusing them of being racist and some tell him to shut the f--- up: WARNING: Do not play this at work without headphones

Milton made a puppet hand gesture on Wednesday, so maybe he wanted us to listen to the wisdom of puppets:

This is what the Cubs season has turned into.

Milton Gets an Audio Hug from Aisle 424

Strangely enough, Milton Bradley isn't feeling the love from the Wrigley faithful, which is shocking considering that with his 3 RBIs on Wednesday night, he has moved into a tie for 203rd in the majors in RBIs. Look out, Ramon Hernandez, he's coming after you next.

When you consider that Milton has not gone on the disabled list, takes a large number of walks to give RBI situations to teammates like Mike Fontenot and Koyie Hill, and almost always knows how many outs there are in a given situation, he really has done everything we could possibly ask of him for the bargain basement price of $30 million guaranteed over 3 years.

But Milton isn't feeling the warm and fuzzies from the fans at Wrigley.

"Bradley went 4 for 4 on Tuesday night with a homer but talked after the game about how difficult it has been to be comfortable 'when you don't get a hit and get booed every time.'"

He then followed that up with a homerun on Wednesday, after which he mocked fans with a little hand puppet gesture as he returned to the dugout.

Clearly this is a man who is starving for love in much the same way lonely twelve-year old girls are in junior high when no one has asked them to the spring formal dance. You know what always makes the girls feel better? Mix tapes!

Today's digital world makes the actual cassette tape obsolete, but the content, which usually consists of random songs meant to express the deepest of feelings to a pubescent female remains as solid an idea as ever.

So, I have compiled a playlist for Milton that should make him feel better as he falls asleep dreaming of a time when Cubs fans truly appreciate the man that has driven in as many runs (35) as Adam Everett and more than fan favorite, Jake Fox (34).

Milton, we love you man. You are everything a fan can hope for in a baseball player, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us for not recognizing how much you bring to this team. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It Just Doesn't Matter

Since there are still 23 games remaining at Wrigley Field before this season comes to a merciful end, I think it would be wise for ticket holders to listen to Cubs fan, Bill Murray, before heading to Wrigley for a game:

None of these games matter anymore. The Cubs barely even play any teams that figure in the playoff chase, so the Cubs don't even get to play the role of spoiler.

This is the time to just enjoy Wrigley Field. Go and enjoy the day games as baseball was meant to be played. Go and take in the beauty of the ivy, the simplicity of the manual scoreboard, and the quaint atmosphere of a ballpark nestled into an urban neighborhood.

Just try not to take the game too seriously and don't get upset if the quality of baseball isn't quite major league caliber. The team doesn't, why should you?

It just doesn't matter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

To Those Who Will Soon Hate Tom Ricketts

The combination of the Cubs' sale and the Cubs' freefall in the standings has encouraged many people to write their suggestions to Tom Ricketts about how the Cubs should be run going forward. Below is a small list of places where you can go to read suggestions given with varying degrees of lucidity:

There really isn't much I can add to these lists. I think everything has been covered and there is no point arguing about the points I disagree with. The Ricketts are going to do what they are going to do. So I would like to instead address the Cubs fans themselves to prepare them for the new owner.

CCD at Waxpaperbeercup recently posted about how fickle Chicago fans are towards the professional sports owners in this town:

"Tom Ricketts and his family will become the new owner of the Chicago Cubs this November. On the day that happens, he will forever be changed. No longer will he be known as the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade, no longer will he be known as the successful Chicago businessman, no longer will he be the white knight riding in to save the historic franchise, he will on that date become the person where blame always falls…a Chicago sports franchise owner. He can’t escape it. Maybe he get’s lucky and has a long honeymoon period. (But, I doubt it) A losing homestand next April will end the honeymoon. This side of winning the whole enchilada in 2010 he’s not gonna win."

I left a comment that I thought that Cubs fans would give the new owner a bit of a break early on:

"I think he’ll have a nice honeymoon period. I think as long as he doesn’t come off as a douche who doesn’t care about the team any more than what revenues it can provide him, he’ll be a welcome change from the Tribune.

Plus, it’s not like Chicago loves its other owners. He’ll still be a flower growing out of the compost heap by comparison.

The McCaskey’s are considered cheap, and in Michael’s case, colossally stupid.

Reinsdorf feels a little more love since he’s the only one to bring any championship hardware into this town in the last 20 years, but his personality kills a lot of the warm and fuzzies before it even gets started.

Rocky Wirtz is in his honeymoon period now after replacing Dollar Bill and his no-TV policy. The blame for the off-season pratfalls seem to be falling more on McDonough than on Rocky for now.

I think that is how it will be for Ricketts for at least a season. Maybe two. I don’t think many except the ultra-reactionary (Kap, anyone on the Score, half the BCB readers) can expect Ricketts to clean up 100 years of crap in less than a full off-season."

CCD and another commenter, MB21, felt that the beginning to the Cubs season next year would be the key:

"If the team comes out strong like they’re currently more than capable of, it will be an extended honeymoon. if they come out flat like the 2009 team actually did, it will be over by the time April ends."

The more I think about that, the more I think CCD and MB21 are right and that makes me incredibly sad. Not because they were right and I was wrong (though it does bug me to be wrong), but because it is further evidence that Cubs fans can be pretty short-sighted and stupid.

Of course Ricketts is going to have a short leash. The frustration level is almost as high as the ticket prices, so a slow start next year (or, let's face it, a lackluster offseason) will have people longing for the return of Spendin' Jim Hendry and his Backloaded Contracts o' Fun (whether he is fired or not, the spending spree is likely over).

Folks, make no mistake, this team is in trouble in the near future. The farm system is bare for at least another year. I'm sorry to all you people who bought into the Vineline hype about Jeff Samardzija and bought the $150 jerseys. You should save your money and not go out to buy the Fuld jerseys either. Or Fox. Or (gasp!) Jeff Baker.

Yeah, I said it. Jeff Baker is not a jersey-ownable kind of guy. I think he can be valuable, but I think he's probably an average hitter, with average power, with decent defensive skills, and a propensity to strike out. He is God on this current team because our alternatives are Snap, Crackle, and Pop, but he is not going to make anyone forget Ryne Sandberg.

We won't be trading too many contracts away either. Most of those long, expensive deals include some type of no-trade clauses. So they would have to not only find someone who is willing to take on a bad contract, but who is willing to give up something of value in return AND be in a place where the player will agree to play. That's not going to be easy.

This is the thing to remember: NONE OF THIS IS THE RICKETTS FAMILY'S FAULT.

The Ricketts didn't sign Soriano through the end of time blocking our few decent AAA hitters in the process. The Ricketts didn't trade away a crapload of young pitching for Juan Pierre. The Ricketts didn't look at Milton Bradley and see a middle-of-the-order, run producer. The Ricketts didn't start the merry-go-round of left-handed right-fielders from hell. The Ricketts didn't pin the hopes of our middle infield on a bunch of immigrants from the Land of Oz.

I could go on, but you get my point.

This is a renovation that will make Extreme Makeover Home Edition look like a simple lightbulb change. It won't happen overnight and it probably won't happen the way you want it to.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but probably the most valuable and tradeable asset on the team is Ted Lilly. I know! It's not something I'm happy about either, but short of weathering next year and then resigning him to a bloated extension, he'll be gone soon anyway so we might as well get used to the idea that they may try to get something for him at the trade deadline next year (if not before).

Al at Bleed Cubbie Blue thinks the Ricketts should lower ticket prices as a goodwill gesture to the fans. That would be nice. It would also be nice if this blog offered me the opportunity to get a press pass into the stadium instead of having to fork over thousands of dollars a year on tickets. Neither is going to happen though.

We also need to start getting into a mental place where Personal Seat Licenses aren't just for football teams anymore. We need to accept that ticket prices will be going up to levels where only corporations and the rich can afford them. In a way, this is our own fault. By willingly paying secondary market prices, we have helped set primary ticket prices going forward.

The Cubs tried to buy themselves a championship in the last couple of years, failed, and now leave the mess for Tom Ricketts and his family to clean up. Let's not jump on their backs as they wade chest deep into the muck and then try to claw their way back out. At least, not yet.

Lastly, I will give my one suggestion: Please make the fat guy who works in the ticket office say "Thank you" when we drop off our checks for thousands of dollars each year at the Season Ticket buying deadline. He doesn't have to mean it. Just make him say it. Once. I don't think I'm asking too much.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cubs Sale Final Pending Last Rites

The sale to the Ricketts has finally been agreed upon by both the buyers and the sellers. When you measure the time on a geological scale, it actually didn't take very long at all. However, by normal human standards, the sale took longer than anything ever conceived of by man not located in a line at the DMV.

Chuck at Ivy Chat and CCD at Waxpaperbeercup would have you believe the time was spent lining up the financing and haggling over media contract value. I personally believe Zell was hammering out an iron-clad No Givesies Backsies clause.

When the Cubs sale process started, Lou was newly hired and talking about building up something called "Cubbie Swagger." They were defining themselves as a team that had both starting pitching depth and a robust offense. They marketed the W flag for all it was worth as a symbol of the new era in Cubs history. It was the dawning of a new age. The Cubs would finally cease to be the world's longest running joke.

That era died this weekend in Los Angeles and I'm sure Zell will be happy to not have to have a conversation with the Ricketts like this:

The difference between this death and others before it is that the Cubs have saved us the trouble of keeping our calendars clear for the month of October. We won't be having to write checks to the Cubs for World Series tickets that we will never use. They are being kind enough to not even bother with a rally tease that will distract us from the Bears.

So it is over. If they were losing well-played games, it would be one thing to hold out that the Cardinals could still stumble, but the Cubs can't score to save their lives. Derrek Lee's lost-in-the-sun double should have cost the Dodgers the lead, if not the game yesterday. Runners at second and third with one out and the heart of the order due up against a closer who has been prone to the late inning meltdown a bit lately is a recipe most teams would cash in. The Cubs did nothing. Aramis did hit the ball hard, but moral victories are worthless in the standings.

A few people have wondered why I have clung to the hopes of this season like a child clings to their security blanket. The reason is that I haven't been holding on to merely this season. I have been grasping at whatever hopes I ever had of being able to witness a World Series game at Wrigley Field in my lifetime.

The death of this season is also a realistic death of this particular team's chances of ever winning the World Series. There are going to be eight guys on the roster next year making eight figure salaries: Soriano ($19 million), Ramirez ($16.75 million), Lee ($13 million), Lilly ($13 million), Fukudome ($14 million), Dempster ($13.5 million), Bradley ($10.33 million). I count two on that list who have even come close to earning their money, and that is Lilly and Lee.

The good news for 2011 is that the Cubs will lose two of those massive salaries off the books. The bad news is that the salaries will be those of Lilly and Lee.

Further complicating a rebuilding plan for the new owners will be the impending arbitrations of several useful players that would be good to keep around. Soto and Hill can still be a fine catching tandem provided we ratchet down the expectations that we will ever see Soto put together a complete season like 2008 again. Hill gets a boost in salary next year, Soto in 2011.

Marmol, Marshall, and Guzman are all due for pay raises this year through arbitration as well (possibly Theriot too - not sure on that one). Obviously, we are all extremely disappointed in this team, but these guys are useful pieces for a team that can not just be tossed away like Wuertz, Gaudin, Hill, Pie, etc.

The new owners will not be seeing too much rise in revenue in the short term since it will be difficult to sell a dramatic rise in ticket prices again after two straight playoff sweeps and a mid-season collapse. The WGN TV and radio contracts appear to be locked into place for at least the near future, so no extra money there. I don't even know if PSLs would fly right now, so I don't see how this team can boost the payroll much more than what will happen to it naturally by honoring existing contracts, and keeping valuable players that no longer make league minimum salary.

But, let's say the team rolls out a personal seat license plan to raise the money. I'm out. I can't do it. My season ticket package is a luxury as it is now and I won't be able to continue to justify spending an even higher percentage of my salary on the rights to purchase a ticket package in the hopes that one day it will allow me to witness a World Series in person.

So, the Cubs will either be a bad team for the next few years, or they will improve by charging the fans even more money to fix all of the mistakes made by Hendry. Either way, it does not bode well for me as a fan.

That is why this year feels like there is no next year. I wanted it to last as long as possible. They couldn't even do that for me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Perhaps They Heard Me Wrong

When I said I wanted the Cubs to go into Los Angeles and kick some ass, I think what they heard was, "I want the Cubs to go and have Aaron Miles bat in a crucial situation and f--- up the entire game."

It's a common misunderstanding and I forgive you, just don't let it f---ing happen again.

Unfortunately, the crossed wires leads us into a situation where the only notice the Cubs served last night is that they can still bend over and take it as hard as anyone is willing to give it. So, I'll say it again: Hey Cubs, it's difficult to sneak up on someone from behind when they are busy kicking your ass all around the ballfield.

Lou, I don't know what Aaron Miles has on you, but even if he has pictures of you molesting baby seals while driving drunk to the dogfights through a crowded orphanage's playground and firing a bazooka at the White House, we will forgive you if you stop letting Miles do anything on a baseball field. Whenever Miles comes into a game, I start to envy this guy:

Soriano, that pitch that starts out on the outer half that looks like it might be a fastball, is almost assuredly not a fastball, and will soon break down low and away and you will miss it by two feet if you swing. I figured it out after watching you swing and miss at that pitch 8 million times this year.

Guzman, you're making us look bad for wanting you to close ahead of Marmol. I don't know what you did with the guy who has been lights out for us pretty much all year, but we would like him back now please. You've suddenly somehow become a worse option than Aaron Heilman, who has basically been the Aaron Miles of pitching.

I am sitting here supporting you people based on nothing but blind faith, insanity, and a healthy dose of stupidity. I'm about two more lost games in the standings from being completely shattered, disillusioned, and potentially psychotic. This is how Batman villains come to be. I'll be known as The Blogger.

I'll lurk in my mother's basement, trying to create the ultimate link that will control the world and occasionally wreak havoc on society through a particularly well-crafted post that contains many correctly spelled words.

You have been warned.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tim Loses His Grip On Reality and All Common Sense

I want blood. I want the Cubs to go down to Los Angeles and pull the Dodgers' hearts out of their chests and show them to them as they die. I don't want to hear about "Cubbie Swagger" either. That is so lame, I can't believe it ever caught on. Nothing about this should involve the word "Cubbie."

I want the Cubs to walk into Chavez Ravine and mercilessly beat the hell out of the Dodgers. I want them to do to the Dodgers what the Dodgers did to the Cubs last year in the playoffs times one hundred. I want them to feel like they've just been caught cheating in a mafia-owned casino.

People all over the radio and internet are calling time of death on the Cubs season. This is when it pains me the most to be a Cubs fan. We are so f---ing ready to accept defeat and humiliation that we run to whatever mode of communication serves us and declare that the Cubs are done, that we never really believed in them in the first place, and that we should have known they would suck. Just wait 'til next year!

F--- that. We are six games out of first with a month and a half to play! We're acting like nobody has ever come back from a deficit like that. Yes, it's unlikely. Yes, the Cubs have played with their heads so far up their asses they can see what they had for dinner last night. Yes, they STILL aren't totally healthy. I don't f---ing care.

I don't care how unlikely a scenario it is. I will not give in to the voices in my head that are screaming for rationality and common sense. When the hell has baseball ever been rational and predictable? How often do you go to a ballpark and see some of the craziest-ass stuff you have ever seen in your life?

When the Cubs finally ever win the whole thing, it will almost assuredly be crazy and unpredictable. In 1984, they were favorites and folded in the playoffs. In 1985, they were favorites to repeat, and folded. In 1989 they were the underdogs, but they were such overachievers that they really didn't have anywhere else to go. So then in 1990 when they were favorites again, they folded. Same thing in 1998, overachieve and crash and burn, fold in 1999 as favorites to repeat. They were favorites in 2003 against the Marlins, and in 2004 and 2005 to repeat. Folded. They were favorites in both the 2007 and 2008 playoffs. Folded. This franchise has folded so many times there are crease marks.

They have never in my life been the underachieving, dogged by injury and circumstance group that has fought through adversity to reach the playoffs. They are poised to be that team this year.

The Cubs are four games behind St. Louis in the loss column. Four. We have three games left with them leaving only one more loss to be handed to the Cards by someone other than the Cubs, but people are acting like its fourteen and there are only fifteen games left. Yankee fans wouldn't be giving up yet. They'd be talking about the "Yankee magic" and Bucky Dent and every other time the Yankees have pissed the hell out of New England by rising from the dead. They wouldn't be wishing and hoping and praying, they would be f---ing EXPECTING it.

So the Cubs have never done that before. Big deal. It's about f---ing time they did, and why can't it be now? We've talked all year long how this team has the talent. Did that talent suddenly disappear? I know the answer appears to be yes when watching Soriano flail at breaking balls, Soto attempt to move his massive girth from Point A to Point B, and Aaron Miles doing anything at all, but should we be shocked that these players could suddenly start playing like we thought they should for the last quarter of the season?

If the Cubs make the playoffs, it won't be because they've overachieved. If the Cubs make it, they won't have burned out their horses just trying to get there. Most of them have spent significant time on the disabled list this year, so they should still be pretty fresh. Perhaps you remember how fresh Josh Beckett was in 2003? That's practically our whole damn team!

They play crappy teams almost the whole rest of the way and the few good teams need to understand that the Cubs shall not be taken lightly and they will not go quietly. I was right about Aaron Miles sucking, I was right about Milton Bradley being Mark Grace in a darker skin tone, I was right about Jeff Baker being awesome, and I even predicted a Soriano grand slam.

The Cubs are not done. Mark it down.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We Could Punish Gregg By Making Him Read Kaplan's Blog

I continue to be blown away by the mainstream media's reactionary coverage of the Cubs (and all Chicago sports teams, but today I'm talking about the Cubs). The game in San Diego was tremendously bad for the health of the Cubs season. There is no getting around that some losses are bigger than others, and that one was huge.

It reminded me a little too much of the Hawkins blown save at Shea in 2004. Its the kind of game that can start a death spiral.

So we all hate Kevin Gregg today. Many people have hated him the whole season, despite that he was probably the best reliever in the bullpen while Marmol was walking or hitting everybody he faced, Guzman was hurt (again), and the rest of the merry men were being who we thought they were. Marshall is the only guy who can make an argument for transitioning to a very useful LOOGY at the time.

But we didn't care about all of that last night as the ball left Kevin Blanks' bat on its way to the left field bleachers. All you wanted to do was reach through the television and gut Kevin Gregg like a fish. You wanted to have him drawn and quartered. You suddenly found yourself turned around on water boarding, sleep deprivation, and any other kind of torture that Dick Cheney can dream up.

It's natural. The Cubs had just slipped six games behind a surging Cardinals team, and lost ground on three of the four teams ahead of them in the wild card standings. We lost to the friggin' Padres after holding Adrian Gonzalez to an 0 for 4 night with a double play. We lost after Ted Lilly came back to us and pitched like he had never left (except on a pitch count).

It was just plain brutal.

I considered doing a post then and there, describing how I would kill Kevin Gregg and anyone who tried to stop me (please let it have been Aaron Miles). I would rant and rave and scream and shout to the interwebs until my fingers could type no more. But then I decided to sleep on it and see where I came out after a night of rest and reflection.

Mr. David Kaplan of WGN radio did not wait. He got right on his computer and blamed Lou Piniella for the loss in his blog. It is Kaplan's assertion that Lou should have known that Gregg was not a closer and that he should never be in the role, and that every loss from a Gregg blown save is Lou's fault.

Well, that is all well and good when you are cursing the heavens like a lunatic in a postgame venting of emotions, but seriously? Kaplan, you are an employee of the Tribune. You are a paid journalist and supposed sports expert. In the midst of your diatribe, did you even think for one tiny moment how you would have handled the situation differently?

Of course not. He just threw something together in the heat of the moment like he did after Gregg blew a save in Detroit in June where he demanded that Marmol be put in the closer role. Marmol proceeded to shit himself so badly on the mound that Kaplan finally had to post a reluctant admission that Gregg was the best closer for this team on the roster.

Now, Gregg is broken. Whether he is tipping his pitches, or was tipping his pitches, or the Marlins are just f---ing with his head, the Marlins series broke Gregg. He has been brutal since that fateful series in Florida. It doesn't matter anymore if he's tipping his pitches because half of them are straight down the middle of the plate.

So, in less than three weeks, Gregg went from closer who was locking down multi-inning saves because no one else could get out of a damn inning without walking everyone in sight, to a pitcher that Lou should never have trusted in the first place? Are you joking?

Who the hell else would be the closer, Kap? Before last night proved almost without a shadow of a doubt that Gregg is now damaged goods, the options were what? Marmol? Mr. Consistency. I call him that because he consistently finds ways to allow batters on base without having to swing the bat. That is always a recipe for success in the 9th inning.

Angel Guzman? This may very well be Lou's move now because he has no other choice, but making Guzman the closer rests the season on a rookie pitcher with the glass arm. That hasn't worked out too well in the past for the Cubs, but they're kind of due.

If Lou pulled the plug on Gregg after the Florida series, he would have sent a message to the team that they are desperate, which is exactly what you want going into a series with the defending World Champions. Using the gift of hindsight, its obvious it wouldn't have mattered in the slightest, but at the time, it would have been like putting all of your life savings on black seventeen in roulette.

Now the Cubs are desperate. Six games behind a Cardinal team that doesn't seem to be phased by playing the NL leading Dodgers in their home park is quite a mountain to climb. Getting past four other teams for the wildcard is not going to be easy. It's time to go all-in and Lou is doing it with his announced change in the closer role.

Whether it works is any one's guess, but the timing of it is correct. Making that move prior to now would have been panicking before it was time to panic. Of course, you would think that Dave Kaplan, sports talk host extraordinaire would know that. People wonder why Cubs fans are depicted as morons, it has to be in part due to the fact that people who are paid to inform the casual fans are clearly reactionary idiots themselves.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Still Believe (as long as Ramirez stays healthy)

My friend Augie and I were chatting last night on Facebook, and he asked me if I was still optimistic about the Cubs.

This came from a conversation shortly after Ted Lilly went down with the bad shoulder, when Augie declared the Cubs' season dead. I told him there was a lot of season left and if he got off the Cubs bandwagon, I wouldn't let him back on when the Cubs got hot. At this point, the discussion degraded to some name-calling and discussion of things that we could do to each others mothers, so I'll leave it at that.

I didn't hear from Augie for awhile as the Cubs built up the best post-All Star record in the league, erased the Cardinals' lead in the division, and actually spent a few days alone in first place in the Central Division.

Then, as we know, things turned a bit. The Cubs blew a couple of games in Florida that they should have won, and got pretty much manhandled by Philadelphia while St. Louis found their groove behind the triumvirate of their newfound heros, Holliday, DeRosa, and Lugo.

Suddenly things looked bleak again. The Cubs were down 4 1/2 games (now five) in the division, and about to head out west on a difficult roadtrip that can submarine their season.

This is when Augie decided to take my temperature again. While I refused to believe last year while everything was going right, I refuse to give up when practically everything is going wrong this year. I'm a contrarian. I am still imploring the Baseball Gods to bring it with everything they've got because whatever doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.

I still believe that if this team can manage to start the lineup they envisioned in the spring for more than two games, this team will score runs. If the pitchers can get back to health, the rotation is as strong as any team. God help me, I still even think the bullpen is capable of putting together a stretch of dominance that can close out victories on a regular basis.

By far, the biggest key is to get Aramis Ramirez back on the field as much as possible. The team is 27-17 (.614) when he plays. They are 33-38 (.465) when he does not. How can one player have such a dramatic effect on a team's record? Is even Albert Pujols worth almost 150 percentage points in the standings? Probably not unless the absence manages to take its toll on another major part of the offensive puzzle.

Alfonso Soriano apparently really misses Ramirez being in the lineup. The splits between when Ramirez plays and when he doesn't are staggering. When Aramis plays, Soriano's BA/OBP/SLG/OPS line is .290/.375/.556/.931. That .931 OPS would rank him first on the team in players who qualify for the batting title and 18th in the entire league. He would be damn close to actually earning all of that money he makes.

When Aramis is out of the lineup, Soriano puts up a line of .215/.276/.353/.630. Holy crap, that is entering Aaron Miles territory (Well, not really THAT bad, but you get my point). That OPS would put him 6th worst in the league among qualified players. He would be behind the recently demoted J.J. Hardy and Chris Young, and just ahead of such offensive luminaries as Edgar Renteria, Kaz Matsui, Emilio Bonifacio, Jason Kendall, and Willie Taveras.

Now, there is no clear-cut evidence that Soriano's fortunes are actually tied to whether Ramirez plays or doesn't. The splits could simply be coincidental, but I don't think they are. I think Soriano has tried to be Superman when Ramirez is not providing his steady bat in the middle of the lineup. He has pressured himself into trying to do too much. I think it is something along the lines of Sosa Syndrome.

Remember when Sosa first came to the Cubs and then again right before he was pushed out? You could smell a Sosa strikeout coming a mile away when he came to the plate in a pressure situation. He would grip that bat so tight, you could see the sawdust grinding between his fingers. He would try to hit the ball 800 feet and end up striking out more often than not.

When he came up in a situation that would not be impacted dramatically either way by his at-bat, he would relax and crush a ball somewhere. I won lots of bets in the stands by recognizing this phenomenon.

Soriano seems to have been afflicted with some variation of the Sosa Syndrome. It doesn't appear to be tied to specific game situations as it is to whether the big dependable bat at third base is in the lineup to act as a safety net. Soriano was as hot as anyone at the beginning of the season, his epic frozen stretch popped up during Ramirez's fifty game absence, and then he heated back up when Ramirez returned.

This could easily be a coincidence, but now as Ramirez has missed a few more games in a row, Soriano's period of resurgence has likewise come to an end. At some point, the coincidences start developing into a pattern.

So lets all say our prayers, light candles, or whatever else you think might help in pleasing the universe enough to allow Ramirez to stay healthy for the last 47 games. Apparently, his injuries remove two of our players from the lineup at once and I doubt even Jeff Baker can counteract that.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hendry Era Should End Soon

I was looking over CCD's latest post this evening at Waxpaperbeercup, and I got stuck on one particular paragraph (no, not the one where he links to my blog - but it is appreciated):

"The complaining about Piniella and Hendry is now being heard throughout the fandom and the media. I’ve gotta be real honest here, I wouldn’t fire either one over this season. Yes, the team has not lived up to expectations, but they have not been awful either. After the success of 2007 and 2008 I think both Hendry and Piniella have earned the opportunity for a mulligan."

I'm with CCD on not firing Lou. This team would have gone the way of the 1985 or 1990 Cubs long before now with almost anyone else at the helm. With all of the injuries, and all of the piss-poor performances from guys all over the roster, it is simply amazing that the Cubs are still only 4 1/2 games out of first.

As for the reprieve for Jim Hendry, I can't agree. Jim has used his mulligan. He's actually used a few. I have defended Hendry for years, but the mounting indictments against him have grown to where I can't argue for retaining him with a straight face. It seems that for every right move he has made, there are three that need to be corrected later, usually by either eating a ton of salary or overpaying for a free agent that is meant to correct the mistake.

It took him at least a year longer than anyone else to come to grips with the fact that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were never going to lead this team anywhere besides the All Injury Hall of Fame and we lost two prime years of Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee's careers as a result. He was fooled, not once, but twice by lefty toolsy little centerfielders who were supposed to be keystones in the organization for years.

He caved to whatever marketing-side pressure he got in not moving Sammy Sosa before he fell off the table (and yes, I was screaming for him to trade Sosa to the Yankees for a package of players that included a young and productive Alfonso Soriano). Then he caved again after the Dusty debacle to sign a name and gave the aging Soriano a ridiculously long deal that seemed foolish even before Soriano lost any semblance of being a 40-40 guy.

Hendry was incapable of filling the holes in right and center as a result of his mismanagement of the roster, despite being given ample money to sign free agents to do so. He gave $48 million to a player that the Cubs hyped as a mix of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. I took that to mean that Fukudome wasn't as fast as Ichiro and didn't have Matsui's power, and would therefore be quite mediocre. That has, unfortunately, been proven quite true.

To fix that error, he went out and signed Milton Bradley because he drove in a career high 77 runs last year. Forget the malcontentedness and propensity to get injured. Jim Hendry thought a guy who drove in less than 80 runs in one of the most offensively friendly ballparks possible outside of the Rockies, and surrounded by an absolutely stacked lineup was worth $30 million. I said in February that the best case scenario was that we get the equivalent to Mark Grace, and here we are with his high OBP and hardly any other run-producing accomplishments. Who is the novice and who is the expert here?

Granted, the man had limitations this year, but it is these limitations that has exposed his exceedingly inconsistent decision-making ability when it comes to improving the roster. In past years, it has been masked by making splashy, expensive deals to improve the roster. This year, with the ownership question lingering over him, he has been unable to unmake what he made.

I'm sure he knows that signing Aaron Miles was a colossal mistake. I'm sure he's wishing he had just taken a big pile of money and burned it instead of handing it to Miles. But he can't do anything about it. He's already eaten so much salary this year with his other bad contracts that he probably can't go to his bosses and explain again how he pissed away $5 million for no gain and that the roster spot is more valuable than Miles' warm body occupying it.

The Cubs have had bad luck this year. There is no doubt that no GM could have foreseen all of the crazy shit that has happened to the Cubs since they broke camp in Mesa. Nevertheless, this year has done nothing to show that Hendry has any clue how to build a consistent winner short of tossing money around.

This organization needs a plan, and all levels need to work to that end goal. In the Jim Hendry era, the Cubs have nobody developed in their system that can be considered a key building block. Geovany Soto may still be if he can stay off the weed and lose some damn weight, but his rookie season is looking more like the aberration than the rule.

Ryan Theriot is not a shortstop. He is a mediocre second baseman playing out of position because Hendry failed in every effort to fill the shortstop position by other means. He has performed admirably given his lack of height, talent, and intelligence, but he is not an All-Star and he never will be.

Jim Hendry stole Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. He managed to acquire two halfway decent players in exchange for Todd Hundley when it seemed unlikely anyone would be willing to part with a bucket of spit for him. He signed Ted Lilly from a hospital bed. He rolled the dice on Mark DeRosa, Ryan Dempster, Jim Edmonds, and Kenny Lofton and won.

He has done good things, but he can't seem to oversee a farm system that can produce any players better than the occasional flash in the pan. He can't keep the payroll from climbing through the roof without seeing results on the field. He can not close the deal.

If this team can't manage to reverse its fortunes and climb into the playoffs, Hendry needs to go. Assuming the new owners are in place sometime before the end of the year, I would argue that anything short of a miraculous World Series run should mean a change for next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Waveland and Sheffield Should Be Hard Hat Areas Tonight

There has been a lot of chatter on Twitter and talk radio about Jeff Samardzija making his first major league start for the Cubs tonight. The radio hosts are talking about how many tickets he has to set aside for this great occasion. Twitterers are hopeful he can end the Cubs losing streak by beating Pedro Martinez.

I'll put it another way: People are hopeful that a rookie who hasn't shown any real ability to throw strikes or get people out regularly since his first couple of weeks in the majors can outduel a certain Hall of Fame pitcher with 214 wins, a .684 winning percentage, 3,114 strikeouts, 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and three Cy Young awards in his career.

I know what you're going to say, "But Tim, you're just pissed about losing a 12 inning ballgame last night despite allowing only 3 hits all damn night. Pedro isn't that level pitcher anymore. He had a 5.69 ERA last year and he hasn't pitched in the majors since last September."

To that I say, April 21, 2002. What happened on that day? A Cubs team with a crappy offense went up against the Cincinnati Reds, who dug Jose Rijo out of mothballs to start for them. Rijo had not started a game in almost SEVEN years at that point, and he held the Cubs to one unearned run in 5 innings that day, and the Cubs lost 5-3.

The Cubs started Juan Cruz against Rijo, another Cubs pitching prospect with lots of promise who never really worked out for the Cubs, and has had varying degrees of success since with other clubs.

I am scared out of my mind about this game tonight and the similarities to that 2002 game. I can not make myself believe that Samardzija and his slightly better-than-average fastball, no ability to throw a second pitch, and lack of control will come out victorious simply because he is accustomed to playing in front of large crowds at Notre Dame. That seems to be the best thing people can say about him. He won't get flustered. Oh goody.

He won't get flustered as Howard, Utley, Ibanez and the rest of the Phillies high-octane lineup break windows in the buildings across Waveland and Sheffield. He won't get panicky as they put up double-digit numbers against him. That is awesome news.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense continues to work under the misguided notion that getting runners into scoring position in almost every inning is good enough. They seem to feel that actually having runners cross the plate would be piling on and uncalled for. Pedro is going to eat them alive if he has anything left at all.

I'm bringing the Rally Hat tonight to try to counteract the suckiness that has found its way back onto the Cubs roster. I don't know how much mojo this hat actually has, but it will almost assuredly be taxed to its limits tonight.

But if Aaron Miles plays, I don't think there is a talisman strong enough in the world to counteract that level of ineptitude.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't Be the Fan That Texted Wolf

I have complained a few times about the Cubs' customer service or lack thereof, so I want to take this opportunity to share when they do something good for their paying customers.

I received an e-mail the other day from my Season Ticket Representative announcing the unveiling of a text-messaging service that will allow fans in the stands to alert the Cubs' stadium personnel of inappropriate fan behavior. Below is the text of the e-mail:

"Today, with the assistance of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the Cubs have unveiled a new Fan Behavior Text Message service to our season ticket holders. This service will allow you to directly text our Event Operations department when you witness a fan behavior incident while attending the game.

This system will provide instant two-way, text messaging communication between you and the event staff allowing for improved guest services. It allows you to alert us on all issues in the stands without you having to leave your seat to find an usher or security employee. It also will allow you to stay anonymous while reporting a problem in the stands without the fear of reprisal from the offender, in the case of an intoxicated or obnoxious fan.

To send a text message to us you will need to text “CUBS” & your Message & your Location to 78247.





Once we have received your message we will have a member of our event operations staff handle and respond to the incoming request. The staff member can send reply messages directly to your phone to help answer questions or obtain more information. If necessary the staff will be able to quickly dispatch safety/security, medical or event operations staff."

I can't tell you how many times I have seen a fight percolating near me where I've had to wonder where the hell security could possibly be.

I e-mailed my representative back and asked him if this service was restricted for use by season ticket holders (as the language in the e-mail suggests), but he assured me that the service is for all fans.

This is such a fantastic idea. Finally, fans can easily notify the Cubs when something is amiss without having to miss part of the game they paid a crapload of money to watch, and without fearing an ass-kicking for reporting the bad behavior of someone who can't watch a baseball game without a certain measure of civility.

On the flipside, I'm hoping that our more tight-assed fans aren't going to overuse this system to the point where the Cubs have too much trouble filtering out the real reports from the reports of people who want the sit-on-your-hands mentality of a mezzanine suite while only paying for Upper Deck Reserved seats.

Folks, please don't text the Cubs complaining that the guy next to you keeps shuffling past you to get more beer. If he's doing it courteously and without vomiting on your shoes, thats part of going to a game.

Don't text the Cubs to notify them that the kids in the Wood and DeRosa jerseys in front of you keep standing up whenever Carlos Zambrano gets two strikes on a batter. Yes, I agree that is annoying as hell to get up and down for every little thing that happens on the field, but unless they are standing up and yelling racial epithets at the umpire, you should probably let it go.

Other things that probably don't warrant a text to the Cubs:
  • Peanut shells accidentally getting in your beer
  • Old men behind you loudly discussing their health issues
  • Frat boys wearing "Horry Cow" and "Shut up and drink your beer" t-shirts
  • Someone in the condiment line putting ketchup on a hotdog

You get my point. We don't need a stadium full of people crying wolf so that when the inevitable drunken moron starts hurling f-bombs and beer at a family of four, the Cubs staff will actually respond quickly enough to prevent anything from getting violent.

The Cubs are trying to do their part. We need to do ours as fans.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Roasting the Cubs

I watched the roast of Joan Rivers tonight on TV and found myself thinking in one-liners. So imagine a dais with a bunch of minor celebrities telling dick and gay jokes with me as the Master of Ceremonies:

Good evening. It's great to be here to pay honor to the 2009 Chicago Cubs. Before we get going, I'd like to announce that the Cubs have a new homepage at (h/t to Whitney Cummings).

Watching this Cubs team has been like watching the first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" in slow motion. Aramis Ramirez is still wandering around the clubhouse in a daze looking for his missing arm.

I never thought I would look back fondly on the days when it was only Kerry Wood and Mark Prior getting hurt.

You know your team has problems when the team trainers refer to Rich Harden and Milton Bradley as the healthy ones.

The Cubs are so concerned about more injuries, they've asked the broadcast teams to not be too critical of Aaron Miles because they're afraid he'll have to go on the DL with hurt feelings.

That is actually going to be pretty difficult because Aaron Miles sucks so much that even light can't escape.

Aaron Miles sucks so much that if his baseball talent was converted into money, we would have to invent a way to make change for a penny.

MLB officials recently took a sample of Aaron Miles' blood. They didn't take it to test it for steroids, they took it to synthesize an antidote they can inject into juicers who are caught.

What do we have coming up to look forward to? Jeff Samardzija versus Cliff Lee. Holy shit. The New Jersey Generals have better odds of winning.

Samardzija is like Kyle Farnsworth without pooka shells or a dominating fastball. He has less control than Lindsay Lohan.

The Cubs are contemplating giving him another $10 million to go back to playing football.

None of this would be possible without Jim Hendry, the Bob Vila of general managers. Jim never saw a reclamation project he didn't like. His biggest off-season goal will be signing Dave Dravecky.

Jim Hendry somehow managed to acquire all of Snow White's dwarves' retarded cousins to play second base: Shitty, Crappy, Dumpy, and Stupid. At one point, they had to resort to having Bobby Scales play there. Bobby Scales has been in the minor leagues so long he remembers when they were known as the Negro Leagues.

Most of these guys are so talentless that the Cubs wouldn't even ask them to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The Cubs actually only have two people they would never ask to sing in the seventh inning: Kim Jong Il and Steve Stone. Not because the Cubs object to them as human beings, but because their egos wouldn't fit in the broadcast booth.

The only thing in the universe bigger than Steve Stone's love of himself is Geovany Soto's ass.

Speaking of things that stink like shit, we have to be thankful for the other teams in the National League Central. They are so bad they can't even pull away from a team that would have a hard time fielding a healthy squad in the Wheelchair Games.

But we only roast the ones we love and when it's all said and done, we'll always be there for the Cubs because they are in our hearts, like a clot that will surely kill us.

Thank you, good night, and tip your waitresses.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hating Aaron Miles

The day we have been waiting for, the return of Geovany Soto is upon us. All will be right with the world, right? Well, only if you don't have any special affinity for Sam Fuld, Micah Hoffpauir, or Jake Fox. Ace at Bleacher Nation details how the choice of who goes away to make room for Soto will almost have to be one of those three.

I simply don't understand how Aaron Miles can possibly be considered one of the best 25 players in the Cubs' system. I have called him useless in the past, but that is an insult to useless people everywhere.

The man has a .489 OPS. That is his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage ADDED TOGETHER! Average players have an OPS around .700 and he can't even break .500.

Rich Harden has an OPS of .572. Miles' OPS makes the other Cubs second basemen seem simply gargantuan by comparison: Fontenot (.691), Baker (.663), Blanco (.620).

It would be one thing if we could just say that Miles is having a bad year, but since his career OPS is .682, we really can't expect much out of him even if he returned to his normal rate of production.

He brings nothing to this roster at all. He can't hit. He can't play defense. He is not fast. I'm not sure what else there is besides pitching and he has a 6.00 ERA in 3 innings over his career so there isn't even a facetious argument to me made that he can do that.

The money the Cubs owe him is lost. It is gone forever. He can't possibly be traded since I'm having a hard time thinking of other major league teams that have a retarded chimpanzee as a General Manager that would think Miles could provide anything to any team that a crappy minor league prospect could provide at league minimum salary.

I'm not ready to build statues to the Cubs AAA caravan that has been used much more heavily this season than we are comfortable, but there is not a single player that has been on the major league roster this year that I would dump in favor of Aaron Miles.

I hate that Jeff Samardzija is on this roster, but if there was a ever a choice between the two of them, I would throw a ticket tape parade if the Cubs chose to keep Samardzija.

I really don't have the time or the energy to fully explain the depths of my hatred of Aaron Miles. I'm sure he is a fine person, and its not his fault that Hendry stuck a piece of paper in front of him guaranteeing him $5 million over two years, but I have never wished a player would blow out a knee more.

I don't even care if that sounds callous or just plain evil. I hate Aaron Miles.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

One Brief Encounter with Dusty

Earlier, I dedicated an entire post to Jim Riggleman, who was a Cubs manager that I simply did not dislike, so I suppose I should share my Dusty Baker story since I actually did think he could stop the revolving carousel of managers for at least longer than his first contract length.

I didn't go out and buy "In Dusty We Trusty" t-shirts or anything, but when Dusty was hired after the Don Baylor debacle, I was thrilled. Dusty was a winner. Dusty was a players' manager who knew how to get the best out his guys. Dusty knew how to handle the huge egos in a clubhouse. Dusty would FINALLY take the Cubs on the road to a World Series victory.

Well, that all turned out to be a crock.

It turns out that Dusty is a pretty cool dude, but it also turns out that being a cool dude does not automatically translate into being a good manager.

Nevertheless, I was a big Dusty supporter in early 2004, even though I did blame him most for the implosion in Game 6 of the NLCS the year before.

A few friends and I went down to St. Louis to see the weekend series with the Cardinals that year and we were very excited about it. The Cubs had handled St. Louis the year before and the 2004 team seemed poised to win the NL Central again with added weapons like Aramis Ramirez (for a full year), Greg Maddux, and Derrek Lee.

The season had already started out a bit strangely for Dusty because the players were already bitching at umpires and Dusty himself had been chastised by the league for using course language while arguing with an umpire on the field. It seems that the new seats behind the plate afforded some rich folks and their kids the opportunity to hear an in-game argument and had voiced their displeasure about Dusty's saucy language to the league office.

The game in St. Louis was close all the way through and the Cubs went into the bottom of the ninth inning tied 3-3 with the heart of the Cardinals batting order coming up. Kyle Farnsworth, summoned to replace Kerry Wood, promptly walked the first batter he faced, Mr. Albert Pujols. Jim Edmonds came up next, so Dusty brought in Kent Mercker to face him. Mercker walked Edmonds.

Now, here came Scott Rolen. Dusty popped himself out of the dugout and called for LaTroy Hawkins. Rolen promptly laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up to second and third, and Dusty ordered the intentional walk of Edgar Renteria. This brought up Reggie Sanders with the bases loaded and only one out (which was handed to the Cubs by way of a sacrifice).

Hawkins induced Sanders to pop up a foul ball for the second out and I began to think the Cubs might live to battle in extra innings. Mike Matheny the all defensive, no-hit catcher came to the plate. Hawkins immediately had him down 0-2 in the count and I really thought they would get out of the mess. Then came ball one. Then ball two. Then ball 3.

Everyone in Old Busch Stadium was screaming something. The Cardinal fans were yelling encouragement to Matheny and jeering La Troy Hawkins. Cubs fans were jeering Mike Matheny or yelling at Hawkins to throw a motherf---in' strike. Ball four. Game over.

I was livid. I am not one of those guys who gets into fights at baseball games, but that night I came as close as I've ever come. If one more dickhead in a Pujols jersey had yelled "1908!" in my face, that dickhead would have been bleeding shortly after and I probably would have gotten to see what the inside of a St. Louis jail looks like.

My friends wanted to go out drinking afterwards and I was fine with that, but I was in no mood to be making decisions. I told them I would go wherever they wanted, but I would not be participating in the decision-making process. As a result, we headed off in a direction I would not have chosen as a starting point, but I followed along as I said I would.

We walked for awhile and after much hunting around, we discovered a couple of places. One, a cool little club with live jazz music and a beer garden, and one was a little hole-in-the-wall, old man bar next door that featured a pool table and a color television above the bar. The little club had a cover charge, so the decision was made to go to the hole-in-the-wall for free.

Again, this would have not been my choice, but I was still not participating in the decision process, nor speaking much at all at this time.

We grabbed a table and a few drinks and started to imbibe, and slowly the pain of the game started to subside. At about this time, I looked up and saw two African-American gentleman talking with a couple of people by the door. I didn't think much of it, but then my friend said, "Is that Dusty?"

I looked again and sure enough, it was Dusty, who had moved to the bar and was talking with the bartender. His buddy had his back to me so I couldn't see who it was, but it was definitely Dusty.

I didn't know what to do. I'm not an autograph guy and I don't generally run into celebrities so I had no idea what to say or do. As I sat there trying to figure out what I would do next, Dusty and his buddy headed out the door, and I thought I had blown the opportunity. But then, Dusty came right back in and was walking straight towards our table.

He approached closer and closer and I had to say something or I would completely blow the chance to meet one of my favorite Cubs at the time, so I dug down deep and came up with, "Hey, tough game, Dusty." I know, its hard to believe that someone could be so witty and articulate on the spot like that.

Dusty looked over and reached out his hand for mine and said, "Yeah - we thought we were going to get them." Then he looked over at my friend, who was wearing a Red Sox hat and said, "Boston B? You're in the wrong town!"

As my friend started explaining that she was a Boston fan but also loved the Cubs and had come down from Wisconsin, I looked over and saw one of my other friends in a conversation with Dusty's buddy, who I could now recognize clearly as Gary Matthews. So there we were chatting with Dusty and Sarge when the television above the bar started playing highlights of that nights game.

We all craned our necks to watch and as Sportscenter showed Farnsworth, Mercker, and Hawkins issuing their walks, Dusty turned to Sarge and said, "Farns, Merck, Hawk... you think someone could throw a f---in' strike."

This immediately elevated Dusty in my eyes because I had been raging on about that very same thing to anyone who would listen just a short time before. It also probably made me stick with Dusty longer than most folks because I knew he was seeing what we were seeing, and he wasn't happy about it. Just because he didn't bitch out a player in the media like Don Baylor didn't mean he wasn't addressing the issue. I'd later realize how foolish that was of me to believe.

We chatted a little more and when their pizza came, they said their good-byes so I shook his hand one last time and said, "Good luck tomorrow and try to watch your mouth around the children, huh?"

He looked me square in the face and said, "Ain't that some f---in' bullshit? What the f--- is that anyway? I'm out there defending my players and I have to deal with that shit?"

"You gotta do, what you gotta do, Dusty," I said.

"F---in' right." He then smiled, turned and headed back to their hotel with their pizza.

That night remains the longest conversation I have ever had with anybody of any degree of fame, and I still count it as one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Of course, everything went downhill for Dusty and the Cubs later that season, and the next, and the next, and most fans hate his guts now. I am not sad he is gone, but I still don't hate him because he was very cool in hanging out with us briefly that night. It's a shame that cool doesn't help you win baseball games.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's Gonna Happen

There are many great things about being on vacation. There are the obvious benefits of the sun and long periods of relaxation away from school work and actual work, and this time, it appears, there is an added benefit of not being tied into the Cubs as closely as I normally am.

The Marlins series was highly stressful and depressing as we saw the Cubs bullpen forced into overuse and eventually fail in their efforts to hold the Marlins down late in each game.

There were many culprits. Marmol imploded on Friday. Gregg blew up on Saturday, but was saved much ire and hatred from Cubs fans by Derrek Lee and Aaron Heilman.

Unfortunately, Heilman was not as good the next night, blowing the slim 1-0 lead provided by a resurgent Ryan Dempster. Jake Fox did his best to be the hero, but then Gregg gave up back-to-back homeruns in the bottom of the 9th to lose the game and the series.

I was getting my information largely from Twitter as I enjoyed my fresh gulf shrimp dinner while overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, so when I saw what had happened, I was comforted almost immediately by my foofy frozen fruity drink sitting before me.

Judging from the tweets I read later, Kevin Gregg should probably hire someone with secret service experience to make sure he lives long enough to pitch again. Hiring a couple of food tasters probably wouldn't be the worst idea in the world either.

I'm not quite as worked up about it. Gregg isn't a lockdown closer and we all knew that. The reason I have a hard time being pissed at Hendry about that is that there weren't that many options in the offseason to address the closer question.

Anybody who lobbied for Marmol in the closer role has to admit that Marmol has taken a giant step backwards this year and would have been absolutely disastrous as a closer. The Kerry Wood backers have no argument because Wood has been worse than Gregg and more expensive in Cleveland.

The other option was Trevor Hoffman. Using hindsight, it appears signing a 41-year old would have been the prudent thing to do, but at the time, it would have been a case of Hendry putting on the Gaetti-glasses and wishing he was signing the Trevor Hoffman of five years ago. It would have been the lightning-in-a-bottle approach that has sickened many a Cubs fan in the years prior.

As for me, I still don't hate Kevin Gregg. I'm not going to pretend that my confidence soars when he enters a game, but I'm not overcome with feelings of dread either. Maybe it's because I know that a closer's position is tentative at best in most cases.

I'm willing to bet that Cubs fans everywhere would have rejoiced if Hendry had managed to trade for Brad Lidge or Bobby Jenks in the offseason. Both closers have World Series experience, both have been considered elite in their careers as recently as last season, and both are currently on the outs with their teams for not living up to expectations.

Before his run-in with his former team, Kevin Gregg had sported an .875 save percentage this season, which is about league average and would have ranked him almost dead in the middle of the closer save percentages. Thats pretty much what we should have expected out of Kevin Gregg. Anybody expecting a 90+% save percentage out of him is delusional. I, personally, think it's delusional to expect 90+% out of any closer, given the numerous factors that can contribute to a blown save that aren't always entirely the pitcher's fault.

Gregg had saved 10 straight games going back to his last blown save on my birthday. He had been forced into a few multi-inning saves and into games he should not have had to enter at all but for the inability of the other members of the bullpen to close out a game with a large lead. I think he is more capable in the role than I thought he would be, and would gladly rather see him than someone like Marmol who seemingly teeters on the brink of disaster in the best of his outings this year.

This is not to say that giving up back-to-back homeruns to lose a game in the ninth is acceptable. I'm sure Kevin Gregg will be the first to tell you it is not. However, the signs and bracelets and t-shirts that say It's Gonna Happen might as well be referring to the fact that saves are going to get blown. The measure of a team and the measure of the closer is how they react to these disappointments.

Gregg's confidence has undoubtedly been dealt a serious blow. The team has to be a little bummed about losing two of three very winnable ball games in Florida. They continue on tonight in Cincinnati and face a team they manhandled fairly well at home. We'll see how they come out in this series

I fully expect to see Gregg in his closer role as usual, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. Blown leads happen. Its over. Move on.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nobody Saw Nothin'

During the game last night, the Marlins mascot came out onto the field between innings with a billy goat, in the kind of subtle, wry humor made popular by Carrot Top.

I am fully expecting they will be passing out walkmans and glasses tonight and Sunday will involve the scoreboard depicting a bag of cocaine rolling between Leon Durham's legs. Clearly, the people of Florida are hilarious and original.

I can only then surmise that a fair number of ESPN executives are from Florida because they are dredging up the Bartman shit again for a documentary. I would rather have papercuts on my eyes than watch whatever crap they pull together on this poor bastard.

To the best of my knowledge, Bartman has refused every offer to capitalize on the longest fifteen minutes of fame this side of Ryan Seacrest. He has not agreed to any interviews, he won't make public appearances, and he won't even autograph anything. He has done everything he can do to put the incident in the past, and I am sincerely hoping that he continues his media silence as ESPN tries to throw their little documentary together.

I hope he has a little discussion with his friends and family instructing them to do likewise in refusing to cooperate.

But mostly, I want the Cubs to respond to any questions about Bartman with this statement:

"It is our policy to not comment on an incident that occurred six years ago, involving a person who is not a member of the Cubs organization. We consider the matter closed."

This should come from any player, executive, security guard, usher, or concession stand attendant that ESPN can ever try to interview.

Ideally, I would also want every fan in Wrigleyville to tell anybody with a camera:

"We are not concerned with something that happened six years ago. We are focused on the current team that has won two straight National League Central titles and is vying for a third."

It would amuse me to no end if the entire community with an interest in the Cubs would band together in a cone of silence on this matter that would make the most tight-lipped organized crime syndicates jealous. We didn't see nothin' and it would displease us tremendously if ESPN were to pursue this matter further. Capeesh?

I'm not foolish enough to believe that the idiot t-shirt vendors and the people that can't walk into or out of the stadium without reading the bricks won't run their mouths when given the opportunity to be a part of a "major television project" like this. ESPN will get plenty of footage, but I'm hoping that the documentary will consist of a conglomeration of people who have no connection to Bartman other than knowing his name and that he was the unlucky shlub that had one split second of bad judgement six years ago.