Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bye Bye 2009 (for real this time)

I was bumbling around the tubes of the interwebs and stumbled upon this video of a Cubs parody of Don McClean's American Pie. This would have been more appropriate closer to New Years, but I think it still seems like a good way to once and for all put the past season behind and start gearing up for new disappointment in 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Our Winter of Discontent

Two years ago, the off-season was spent obsessing over Brian Roberts.  Last year, the topic of obsession was Jake Peavy.  This season, the laser-sharp focus of the Cubs fan base has lost its accuracy more than Carlos Marmol.

This season, we are all over the place in off-season trade rumor mongering and debate.  With less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers finally report to Mesa, we have discussed the following players at varying length:  Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli, Heath Bell, Eric Byrnes, Kiko Calero, Mike Cameron, Jose Contreras, Jermaine Dye, Jonny Gomes, Curtis Granderson, Reed Johnson, Adam Kennedy, Mark Mulder, Chan Ho Park, Joel Piniero, Scott Podsednik, Ben Sheets, Ryan Spilborghs, Oscar Villarreal, and many, many more that were dismissed as quickly as they were brought up.

The actual acquisitions of Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady, and Carlos Silva are not much more worthy of our discussions either.  So we are left sitting here talking about Andre Dawson's hat and jersey number or whether the Cubs would be better off training in a swamp or a desert for six weeks per year.

We try to find other ways of distracting ourselves, but the Hawks taking off their shirts, the decline and fall of Favre and the Vikings, and Derrick Rose growing up before our eyes can only do so much as we stare at the clock and count down until pitchers and catchers report.

Even Lovie, Jerry, and Ted bludgeoning a legendary football franchise into a bloody unrecognizable pulp is barely enough to make the time go any faster.

I'm not sure which is worse, the monotony of a singular topic dominating an off-season or nothing worth talking about until we are blue in the face.  What I do know is this has been one excruciatingly long off-season.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hall of Fame Chooses Expos Cap for Dawson (Temple de la renommée choisit chapeau Expos pour Dawson)

That roar that jarred you out of a sound sleep last night was the sound of jubilation breaking loose in Quebec as Fred Mitchell broke the news that the Baseball Hall of Fame would be announcing that Andre Dawson will be inducted as a Montreal Expo.

Almost three people took to the streets in celebration when they heard the much anticipated news.  Joyous shouts of "Qui est André Dawson," "De que parlez-vous" and "Le base-ball est un jeu stupide" were heard throughout the streets for upwards of five minutes following the report.

It is truly a great day for Canada.  Congratulations to our friends to the North, or as they might say, Rien n'est meilleur que l'hockey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gamblin' Jim Hendry Strikes Again

Say what you want about Jim Hendry, but the man has to be the most optimistic person on the face of the earth.  He doesn't just see the glass as half full, he sees it as a glass half full of liquid diamonds.

I made a comment on Twitter today that Hendry loves reclamation projects as his reasoning to sign Xavier Nady.  Afterall, he's the one who took guys like Mark Grudzielanek, Eric Karros, Jim Edmonds, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, and Ryan Dempster off of the scrap heap and made them into useful members of the team (at least for a little while).

Of course, the flipside to that is he also picked up Todd Van Poppel, Neifi Perez, Ismael Valdes, Kevin Gregg, Cliff Floyd, Wade Miller and many other depressing failures that caused Cubs fans to moan and wail the he should have known better.

But he also likes guys coming off of career years.  Aaron Miles, Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Mark DeRosa, Todd Walker, and Ted Lilly were all inked to deals following seasons that were either at or near that player's best year prior to the contract.  The results of these signings are more all over the place than a member of the Cardinals heading home from the bar.

So, when Jim sees a player playing the best baseball of his life, he thinks, "Great! I can sign this player who has figured it all out so he can step right in and be an immediate asset to the team and we will win the World Series!"

When he sees players struggling to find a team because they have body parts hanging off of them, he thinks, "Great! I can sign this player to a deal that will be viewed as fantastic as soon as he gets healthy and productive again so he can help us win the World Series!"

So how is the same man capable of making such seemingly polar opposite moves throughout his career?  I've likened Jim Hendry to a gambler before and it seems to be the only thing that fits all the scenarios.

To enjoy gambling, you have to have a sense of optimism and you have to have a certain tolerance for risk.  You would not place a bet at all if you knew for sure you were going to lose.  What the hell would be the point?  You have to have some sort of optimism that your bet will get paid off.  Hendry had a blinding sense of optimism that Aaron Miles was useful in some way. He thought for sure that Milton was not truly insane and good at producing runs in the middle of the lineup.

At the same time, you have to be prepared for the fact that you will indeed lose that bet. Again, if you can't handle the possibility of losing a wager, you would never make a bet.  It wouldn't be fun for you.  In looking at his roster moves, you almost have to think that Hendry's love of risk is approaching fetish levels.

Jim likes to gamble and he doesn't like to stick to just the penny slots.  He's plunked down $30 million on Bradley, $40 million on Lilly, $75 million on Aramis Ramirez, and $136 million on Soriano just for starters.  So the question is how much is Hendry's raging sense of optimism affecting his evaluation of his hand before making a bet.

The difference between decent poker players and the professionals is that a professional is really good at evaluating the value of his hand versus what his opponents are holding.  A professional will lay down three of a kind at the drop of a hat if he thinks the guy across from him has a straight that beats him.  At the same time, a professional will have no problems throwing down big money on a pure bluff if he knows that his opponent also has nothing.  It is all about reading the landscape and understanding the situation as it relates to the ever-changing ebb and flow of a game.

Evaluating baseball talent and determining value in the marketplace is similar in many ways. The market changes all the time (Carlos Beltran makes more money than Albert Pujols), much like a hand of poker changes as each card is revealed.

Over the last few years, Hendry has seemed like the guy at the poker table that will bet everything he has as soon as he gets a pair of aces in his hand.  Sure, it will probably work out a fair number of times, but that pair is going to get burned an awful lot as well.  Jim has had his successes, but he has lost some awfully large pots too.

As for the Nady signing, he could have saved some money and signed a less talented player that would have a more predictable outcome, but the risk Jim is taking here is not too terrible.  For one, the deal is only a year, so it won't be a mistake that hamstrings moves for next season.  Second, the base salary isn't terrible and if Nady produces like we all hope he will, the incentives will be well worth the extra cash spent.

Maybe Gamblin' Jim has started to learn the art of value betting.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Geaux, Saints, Geaux

The New Orleans Saints' victory over the Minnesota Vikings last night in the NFC Championship game was entertaining on so many levels. 

First, it was absolutely hysterical watching the Vikings literally fumble away a trip to the Super Bowl.  Let's not kid ourselves, the Vikings are a helluva football team and their defense was doing a very nice job keeping the Saints and their high-powered offense in check.  If not for fumbling on seemingly every offensive play, the Vikings win the game easily.  Brett Favre would not have been driving against the clock as time wound down, and probably never throws that stupid interception.  All they had to do was hold onto the football, but instead you would have thought they were getting electrocuted if they tried to hold the ball for more than two seconds at a time.

Secondly, watching the absolute pounding the Saints defense put on Brett Favre was a lot of fun and I'm almost certain it led directly to that final interception that was taken straight out of Jay Cutler's Big Book of Stupid Passes (co-authored by Rex Grossman).  As a Bears fan, I love defenses that can pound a quarterback into submission like the '85 team could, but in this day and age, it is practically illegal to look at the quarterback funny. Seeing Brett Favre's teammates having to pick him off the ground with a spatula after practically every play was absolutely delightful to me.

People have been wondering aloud on talk radio all day long: Why didn't Brett just tuck the ball and run?  He could have picked up a few yards and then they kick the field goal and go to Miami.  Why, Brett?  Why?

I don't know for sure, but my thought is that he didn't want to get hit again if he could at all help it.  He was trying to get that ball downfield into someone else's hands so that they could take the hit for once in the game.  Once that mentality took over, all good sense and reasoning went out the window and there he was flinging the ball off-balance and across his body Grossman-like into the middle of the field.  That pass was in the air so long, I almost had time to catch a flight to New Orleans and run out onto the field myself to pick it off.

It was particularly sweet to me because I hate the Vikings.  I hate the Vikings probably more than any other professional team in sports.  The Cardinals piss me off and I despise the belief that their fan base is somehow smarter than everyone else.  The White Sox are right there on the hate scale, but the Cubs don't play them enough in games that matter to put them over the top of the Vikings.  I have no desire to see Albert Pujols or Mark Buerhle being carried off the field on a stretcher.  I can't say that about Brett Favre, Jared Allen, and just about any other Viking from the past or present.  I am in awe of Adrian Peterson's skills at running back, but if he blew his knee out, I would probably laugh heartily and not even feel too badly about it.

The Vikings' dreams of a Super Bowl came crashing down around them in a sequence that had to be as bad for a Vikings fan as the 8th inning of Game 6 was to Cubs fans.  It was supremely entertaining.

However, the flipside to the Vikings crash and burn, and the lasting joy of the game that will be remembered by me long after the memory of the interception and fumbles fade, is the roar of the New Orleans crowd the moment the ball left Garrett Hartley's foot towards the uprights.  He nailed the kick straight down the middle and there was no question that he had the distance.  I only watched on television, but the sound had to be deafening in the dome.

As a Cub fan, I don't have many points of reference, but I can only imagine the raw emotion that was set loose in that moment.  The hardship that the Saints fanbase has suffered both on and off the field was alleviated in one glorious moment of triumph as they reached a height they had never reached before.

It is moments like last night that keep me watching the Cubs despite the cynicism and fear that they will never have a moment like the Saints had last night.  Saints fans had to feel similarly at numerous points in their lives as they sat in the stands with bags over their heads watching a team play something that resembles the game of football, but not quite.  They were rewarded for their loyalty and love with at least one night of euphoria before the realization that the quest is not yet complete. 

Another future Hall of Fame quarterback with a championship pedigree team surrounding him will await them in Miami.  It is slightly Cub-like that Peyton Manning, looming as the potential destroyer if dreams, is the son of the elder statesman and long-time face of the Saints franchise, Archie Manning.

I'll be rooting for the Saints, if for no other reason than to fuel my belief that my own dreams of experiencing a similar euphoria with the Cubs can be possible in my lifetime.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cubs Not Moving But Having a Lawn Sale Anyway

There sure was a lot going on in the stange world of the Cubs offseason today.    Despite growing a DeRosaesque crop of sexy stubble and showing up as a panelist in practically every fan session at the Cubs Convention, Micah Hoffpauir's days as a member of the twenty-five man roster appear to be numbered. It seems that Jim Hendry has added yet another name to the list of players he is considering as a replacement for the player fans once favored to replace Derrek Lee.

We can add Jonny Gomes to the list that includes such illustrious stars as Xavier Nady, Jermaine Dye, and Reed Johnson.  Gomes is statistically most similar to Jack Cust and Marcus Thames as a batter.  As a fielder, he is most likely going to be mistaken for the Harry Caray statue.

Meanwhile, Fergie Jenkins is the latest to be pissed at Mark McGwire for hitting lots of steroid-fueled homeruns off of his pitching brethren.  I guess he can be so indignant because the illegal drugs he used probably didn't help him strike out more batters. 

It also appears that a mass happy dance is in order since it seems the Cubs were simply taking a page out of Jerry Reinsdorf's playbook and flirting with Florida so that Arizona would get jealous and buy them lots of pretty expensive things to prove their love.  Cub fans can relax in the knowledge that the Cubs will most likely not be adjusting their highly successful training plans honed in Arizona that resulted in the legacy of championships that have made the Cubs so popular.

However, it was the last bit tacked onto the Mesa story that caught my eye.  It seems the Cubs will be holding a different kind of lawn sale:

While some fans might prefer grafts from the outfield vines, they soon will be able to buy the exact grass seed mixture used at Wrigley Field.

Because of a marketing agreement with Scotts Co., baseball fans in various cities will have a chance to plant what is being called the same grass used at various ballparks.
"A chance for fans to bring the Friendly Confines home to their own field of dreams," said Wally Hayward, the Cubs' new marketing vice president.
The bags of seed — designed for the Red Sox, Phillies and Reds — will cost about $21. They will be blended for each city, including an autograph from groundskeeper Roger Baird in Chicago.

The story doesn't indicate how many pounds of seed come in one of the bags, but a quick perusal of grass seeds at Ace Hardware leads me to believe that it would normally cost about $12 to $15 for a standard three pound bag of grass seed.  My guess is that the Cubs will be selling three pound bags for the listed $21.
So for a mere 60-75% markup, die hard Cub fans can live the dream of seeing what Wrigley Field grass would look like on their front lawn all covered in crab grass, dandelions, and the neighbor dog's feces.  Plus, the lucky customers will also get an autograph from the groundskeeper that could go really well displayed with autographs by one of the geriatric ushers, a pimply-faced peanut vendor, and the bathroom valet from Yak-zies.
This offseason blows.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Talkin' Baseball

This afternoon, I had the experience of participating in a podcast for the first time on Julie DiCaro and Alex Quigley's Excellent Sports Adventure Podcast.  While I am not going to ever replace even the dismal Chip Caray in a broadcast booth, I had a good time discussing our adventures at the Cubs Convention and somehow came out as the optimist in the group about the season.  I hadn't even been drinking, though I suggest you do before listening to my rambling.

In other breaking news found by Rob G. over at The Cub Reporter, Ben Sheets is still not a Cub despite promises made by Canadians.  Those hosers got me all excited for nothing, eh.

Also, it appears the Cubs are doing their damndest to undo every bit of the last offseason by getting as right-handed as they can by looking at Jermaine Dye and Xavier Nady as their fourth outfielder.  This would presumably bump the lefty, Micah Hoffpauir, off the roster and tilt that lineup further to the right than Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

This is the point in the year when I really wish football would do a better job of distracting me, but I'm not the biggest fan of blowouts and poor place-kicking, so I'm kind of out of luck there.   Do the hockey playoffs start soon?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

25th Cubs Convention and a Million Stupid Questions

The Cubs Convention in its 25th iteration clearly shows that the Cubs know what they are doing in highlighting the positives and sweeping the negatives under the rug.  It also helps that this is a gathering that would cheer a giant turd if it was introduced as a member of the Cubs.  How do I know that?  Carlos Silva got quite an ovation at the Opening Ceremonies.

So here are a few highlights from my perspective from this weekend:
  • Before anything got started, this guy started the first "Let's Go Cubbies" cheer of 2010. 

He was clearly very excited to be at the Cubs Convention and the Tribune managed to capture the moment and a few others here.
  • The Pre-Convention Slidwshow (as per the first slide) was about half advertisements for Vineline, the Luxury Suites, the Ice Skating, Wrigley Tours, etc. etc. etc.
  • Crane Kenney was greeted with an awkward quiet, a few boos, a smattering of claps, and more than one hearty sarcastic laugh.
  • Jim Hendry got booed, but not overly vociferously.  I'm guessing that he signed a bunch of fans to three-year deals to not boo him at the Convention.
  • Tom Ricketts got a long ovation and seemed genuinely thrilled to be a part of the Convention.
  • Each member of the Ricketts family tossed a ball for the Ceremonial First Pitch to kick off the Convention.  Pete Ricketts tossed his almost to the back of the ballroom and Hendry immediately gave him a three-year contract with a no-trade clause.
  • Ricketts announced they had set up a booth for fans to make donations to help out the earthquake victims in Haiti.  Both the Cubs Charities and the Ricketts Family will match every dollar donated.
  • I was standing behind the quintessential douchebag dumbass Cubs fan who felt the need to fist-bump his buddy every time a former or current player he liked was introduced. The following players were deemed worthy of the fist-bump: Bobby Dernier, Gary Matthews, Tim Stoddard (I'm not kidding), Lee Smith, Pat Hughes reading a letter from Ron Santo, Ryan Theriot, Sam Fuld, and Marlon Byrd.  Among players that did not warrant a fist-bump:  Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano, and Andre Dawson (adding that Dawson's Hall of Fame induction was horseshit).  This fan does not know how close to being sucker punched he came.
  • Marlon Byrd is the perfect centerfielder if you envision your centerfielder being short and squat.
  • Geovany Soto looks to be in fantastic shape.  Hope that means he'll be able to hit again.
  • Ted Lilly was smiling and sending shivers up the spines of everyone in the room.
  • Randy Wells and Micah Hoffpauir took a page out of the DeRosa playbook and sported new sexy stubble for the ladies.
  • Unfortunately, Ronnie Woo was also in attendance in all of his batshit-crazy glory (yes that is a splangly Michael Jackson glove and a Santa hat he is wearing): (Photo by @adaveyouknow)

After the Opening Ceremony, I headed down to the WGN SportsCentral broadcast for a bit:
  • Speaking of fashion, I don't have a picture of Dave Kaplan's bright orange sports jacket, but that is probably good since I wouldn't want any of my readers to be blinded by the glare.
  • Theriot spent the bulk of his time behind a microphone talking about how important team chemistry is, and my desire to see him set on fire grew exponentially as he spoke.
  • After his obligatory Harry Caray impression, Ryan Dempster said to Kaplan, "I appreciate you giving Theriot a microphone so he doesn't have to chase around a reporter to interview him."
  • Rick Sutcliffe made a point of saying someone from the Orioles training staff told him that Marlon Byrd is tougher than Cal Ripken.  This is so hard to believe that I have to surmise that there has to be some sort of misunderstanding somewhere that may or may not be alcohol related.
On Saturday, the Ricketts family met a sampling of Cubs fans and most likely had to wonder what the hell they have gotten themselves into:
  • The first "question" was from a fan who wants the Cubs to stay in Mesa.  Ricketts talked about the respect he has for the history and tradition of Spring Training in Mesa and wouldn't rule out a return, but the Cubs have to go where they can have the best possible facilities to prepare the team for winning.
  • Someone asked if the Ricketts would consider buying the Bears, to which Laura Ricketts replied, "I didn't realize that was a serious question.  One team at a time.  Really, we haven't done anything [with the Cubs] yet."
  • Cubs security somehow let Ronnie Woo take the microphone.  I honestly couldn't tell you what he said because it was mostly nonsensical rambling.  Something about bringing back Ladies Day.  Then he wooed for awhile as I sat and seriously considered becoming a fan of another team.
  • The very next person to take the mic was the guy who dresses as Billy the Cub outside of Wrigley on game days asking if the Ricketts would want to hire a mascot.  I'm dead f---ing serious.  Tom dismissed the idea quickly and had to be trying to think of a way to create a diversion that would allow his family to sneak away unnoticed.
At that point, I headed over to the Meet Cubs Management session that included Jim Hendry, Lou Piniella, and for some reason, Randy Bush.  The wireless signal for the Hilton wasn't allowing me to log in and I wasn't getting a great signal on my phone so I had to go to the notepad to try to capture some of the nuggets from this session so I apologize if some of them are a bit incoherent:
  • Murphy, you are an elf, you think...
  • More than one person asked about what Hendry was thinking with the Milton Bradley signing and he stuck to his talking points pretty well - he was a good hitter, we shot for the moon and it didn't work out.  One person pressed him on contract length and Hendry said that there were other three-year deals being offered to Milton.  When the person countered asking if anyone else was offering Aaron Miles two years, Hendry also replied that there were.  These comments made me raise my eyebrows a bit.
  • Hendry revealed that he had spoken with Greg Maddux about a front office position at the number retirement ceremony, but Maddux had told him he wasn't looking for anything for a couple years.  Hendry kept in touch and Maddux decided he was ready and Hendry jumped to bring him back.
  • In the course of discussing the lineup, Lou talked about Theriot leading off with Fukudome batting second.  He also said they will slot Byrd in the fifth spot and Soriano will stay in the sixth where he seems to have settled in.  This leads me to believe the presumptive lineup on most days will be: 1) Theriot 2) Fukudome 3) Lee 4) Ramirez 5) Byrd 6) Soriano 7) Soto 8) Baker/Fontenot.
  • There were obligatory questions about bringing back DeRosa, complaining about not getting Peavy, asking about the possibility of acquiring Ben Sheets, Heath Bell, and inexplicably, Doug Davis.  Hendry and Lou gave the standard answers we have heard before intermixed with reluctance to talk specifically about players that are owned by other teams.
  • One woman, who I assume was Tyler Colvin's mother, was very upset at the lack of playing time by Tyler Colvin and other Cubs prospects at the end of the year last year.  Hendry and Lou talked about the balance of trying to win the games and give the young players some playing time, but Hendry warned, "You don't want to anoint prospects [as saviors]."  Note to Vineline: See statement by Jim Hendry.
  • Lou said the Cubs asked Geovany Soto to lose some weight in the off-season, thinking he would drop 10-15 pounds rather than the 40 pounds he actually lost. Lou added, "When I saw him, he looked like a jockey."
  • With about five minutes left in the session, Dave Eanett, one of the moderators, asked Randy Bush a question because Randy hadn't said a word for about 45 minutes. I don't recall what it was about and I'm almost certain it was not worth noting.
Then it was off to the session with the Cubs coaching staff being second guessed by fans who have trouble knowing the difference between asking a question and delivering a soliloquy:
  • The staff answered almost every question with some variation on the theme of "We really want to win, and we really hate losing.  Probably more than the fans."
  • In discussing Marlon Byrd, Rudy Jaramillo described the Ballpark in Arlington as huge.  That is like calling Sam Fuld tall or Aaron Miles useful.
  • One fan asked if chemistry creates winning or winning creates chemistry.  Lou stated emphatically, "Winning creates chemistry."  Did you hear that, Mr. Theriot?
  • Larry Rothschild looked like he had some severe intestinal disorders going on, but listening to stupid questions about whether Reed Johnson would be back again was making me sick too.
  • Another fan thought that the bullpen woes could be attributed to the relievers having to sit out in the sun on uncomfortable chairs.  Lou: "We'll get them some lounge chairs and pina coladas."  I have nothing to add to that.
  • One guy wanted Lou to get angry more during games. Lou: "I'm 66 years old. You want me to have a damn heart-attack on the field?" Lou was clearly on his game.
  • Lou was asked who he would ideally have succeed him when he is eventually done as Cubs manager.  He was merely being diplomatic when he said, "A lot of people right here on my staff," but I'd like to point out that Ryne Sandberg is not on his staff.  Coincidence?
  • Someone complained that the Cubs always lose when they go to Cincinnati, where he lives and is able to see the Cubs play.  Bob Brenly stepped in and pivoted the question to be, "How do we get Joey Votto out?"  Lou responded, "Yeah, Joey's had some success against us... Larry?" Larry said something about how Votto hits a lot of good pitchers pitches.
  • One guy asked why players like Soriano and Soto kept getting on the field when they weren't performing when Lou had previously stated that the hot hand would get chances to get more playing time.  Lou pointed out that the roster flexibility was not what it should have been because of the injuries.  He then listed them off, but capped the list with Aaron Miles for some reason.
  • A fan complained that Lou would stick with pitchers too long when they didn't have their stuff.  Luckily the session was nearing an end because Lou was starting to lose patience: "I tell you what - anytime a pitcher gives up a hit after the 6th inning, we'll get him the hell out."
In addition to the planned sessions, I had a chance to meet a few tweeting Cubs fans thanks to a little get-together organized by @aleagueofherown, including: @TweetsbyDina, @adaveyouknow, @klyph, @312sports, @TheCubsInHaiku, @BlackhawksHaiku@oneminutecubs, and @ataccini (I'm sorry if I missed someone - I didn't catch everybody's Twitter name).

I also had a chance to meet Bad Kermit from Hire Jim Essian, Brad Zibung from The Heckler, and Sarah Spain from No Spain, No Gain.  It was good to at least briefly meet people I had before only known online and made up for the fact that I missed Paul Sullivan asking bloggers why they don't like him.

My Cubs Convention experience ended with a stop by the skills area where a friend of mine was trying to get last year's first round draft pick, Brett Jackson's autograph.  Mike Quade and Jackson were playing a scaled down game with the kids with Quade pitching and Jackson playing centerfield.  One kid, who looked to be about seven years old, hit a pop-up.  Jackson smoothly glided over to the routine fly and promptly dropped the ball.  That seemed about right.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cubs Packing 'em In

The Cubs Convention starts tomorrow and I'll be one of the thousands of people packing into a facility that, in my opinion, has become too small to hold an event of this popularity.

Cubs Convention passes sell so quickly that the Committee of Similes and Metaphors is currently debating a motion to change the phrase, "selling like hotcakes" to "selling like Cubs Convention passes."  The passes may be the only things that sell faster than bleacher seats to the Saturday afternoon Cubs/Sox game each season.  In other words, demand is really high for these things.

In the current location at the Hilton downtown, the Grand Ballroom has become too small for the Opening Ceremonies and they have to have overflow in the outside hallways with TVs set up to see what is going on inside.  The side rooms are always packed for the various question and answer sessions, and the lines for autographs are so monstrous that they have to designate an entire half of the basement square footage to nothing but rope line mazes that would make Walt Disney proud.  As a result, the vendors they bring in have tiny booths where it is virtually impossible to have more than one normal sized customer at a time looking at their merchandise.

As ccd surmises at wpbc, it is growing more and more apparent that the Cubs are all but officially members of the Grapefruit League in Florida. All that is missing is an official announcement that will undoubtedly come as soon as the throng of fans in blue have dissipated and become less likely to morph into a mob with flaming torches upon hearing the news.  Clearly, nothing is sacred if the Ricketts think they can increase the revenue streams.

I'm guessing that the Cubs could find a spot at least twice the size of the Hilton either at McCormick Place or out in Rosemont to spread out the displays and the interactive lessons with former coaches and players could take place in a space larger than my closet.  I really don't know why they haven't already done it.  Maybe they think cramming people in like sardines makes the cramped walkways of Wrigley roomy by comparison.

But at the end of the day, the Ricketts are going to want to take as much money from this fanbase as humanly possible so I have to think the days of being pinned against the back of a crowded hotel elevator by Tim Stoddard have to be nearing their end.  I know.  It's sad to even think about.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yesterday's Other Obvious Revelation: Greg Maddux is Classy

After almost being drowned yesterday by a wave of media frenzy in a sea of Mark McGwire's giant mutant tears, it is time to move on from the "revelations" from the Cardinals new hitting coach to something that is actually relevant to our Cubs:  Greg Maddux is back.

Again, this happened yesterday so I will not rehash all of the jokes about how he should pitch ahead of Carlos Silva in the rotation and simply applaud the move.

I don't know what Greg Maddux can or will bring to the table as an Assistant TO THE General Manager, but having his knowledge somewhere in the organization can't hurt.

I had never heard he had aspirations on the administrative side of baseball before, but as in most things that Maddux has done in his baseball life, he has made this move with class.

He didn't come waltzing into Chicago and begin openly lobbying for a position that is already being held by somebody (cough cough RYNO! cough).  He didn't get all pissy when he wasn't given the big General Manager chair immediately and become strangely obsessed with those who rejected him (cough cough STONE! cough).

Instead, as Gordon Wittenmyer reports:

Maddux, 43, has been out of baseball only one year since retiring from the San Diego Padres and said he viewed the new job with the Cubs as an opportunity to return to the game he missed while possibly becoming a steppingstone to a second career in baseball.

''I'm just happy to be back in Chicago,'' said Maddux, a 1992 Cy Young winner in Chicago before being allowed to leave for Atlanta -- where he won three more -- as a free agent. ''I've always loved the organization, loved the city and love Wrigley Field. I played for Jim three years awhile ago, and I'm looking forward to getting back with him and working for him and learning from him and helping players on the field and the organization.''

See that?  He wants to work with Jim Hendry, learn things (hopefully not how to give a three year deal with a no-trade clause to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that knocks on his door), and help the team however he can.

Who knows?  Maybe his master plan is to eventually replace Spendin' Jim.  Maybe he envisions the day when a team assembled by him will finally win the World Series and he can make a late-night phone call telling Larry Himes to suck it.  Maybe he just wants to stand on the balcony at the Cubs Convention and various other fan gatherings and get paid for it.  At this point, it's hard to say for sure.

Whatever the reason he wanted back in and wherever he wishes to go from here, I say, good luck and welcome back, Greg.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mark McGwire Shocks the World with Steroid Admission

While we all gather our wits about us after the earth-shattering news that Mark McGwire used steroids, we should similarly brace ourselves for the:

Top Ten Other Things Mark McGwire Has Admitted To

10.  He is of Irish ancestry.

9.  He is Sammy Sosa's skin cream supplier.

8.  The carpet doesn't match the drapes, if you know what I mean.

7.  Wanted the lead role in Tooth Fairy, but that bitch Julie Andrews is apparently a Roger Maris fan.

6.  Also believes that Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time, but didn't want to be such a dick about it.

5.  Tony LaRussa can drink him under the table.

4.  He always cries at the end of Armageddon.

3.  He prefers Jay Leno over Conan.

2.  He recently updated his Facebook status to "Pink"

1.  Deep down he doesn't believe he should get into the Hall of Fame either.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Can I Get a "Thank You"? Please?

Last year at this time, my annual quest to get a "thank you" from the Cubs in return for me handing them thousands of dollars went unfulfilled.  However, what was surprising is that my check was not taken by the surly fat guy I had previously grown accustomed to getting attitude from.  It was taken by a pleasant woman, who did not say "thank you" but who was at least cordial.

So the Cubs are trending upward ever so slightly in the customer service area of their business, and my hope is that the Ricketts will continue this upward trend.  There is still a long way to go in making us feel that the money we turn over in exchange for no championships is appreciated even a little.

For instance, let's say that the best customer service in the world would be represented by the new tallest building in the world located in Dubai, that reaches over 2,600 feet tall.  Let's also say that the absolute worst customer service possible would be represented by Aaron Miles.

Here is a representation of where the Cubs are based on last year's experience:

Obviously, this is not drawn to scale.  In reality, Aaron Miles would be much smaller than the amoeba.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap to be filled and we'll see where the Cubs customer service (and plain human decency) stands in the first year of Ricketts ownership today at lunch. 

To be continued...

UPDATE:  I am now $3,300 dollars poorer and the Cubs are $3,300 richer.  In reality, I don't want to know how much money got passed to the Cubs in some form today because it will only make me angry.

You may be wondering if i got the elusive "thank you."  Those who are familiar at all with the Cubs ticket department will not be surprised in the slightest that the answer to that question is: No, I did not.

Nor did the two people just ahead of me in line.  I paid close attention, and neither got it.

In fairness to the guy working, he was polite.  He didn't make it seem like it was a chore to take all of our money.  He even made a couple of attempts to answer questions from the people in front of me.

One woman asked where the location was to mail in the checks because it is different now that the Tribune doesn't own them anymore.  Answer: "I don't know.  All I know is it's some bank."

Now, he may not know this information because someone above his pay grade deemed that he doesn't need to know, so he may not be actually be able to provide the simple information this woman was looking for.  But regardless of why he doesn't know, it is absolutely something that he should know.  This is an address where Cubs fans are blindly sending checks for thousands of dollars and the representative for the team that interacts with the public can't tell you anything about where those checks are going besides that it's some bank?  Way to build the trust, guys.

One guy asked if there was any news about his upgrade request he had sent in last month, and should he call his assigned season ticket representative directly.  Again, I give credit to the guy behind the counter because he did not openly fall out of his chair in a laughing fit.  However, his answer was "I wouldn't call for at least a week.  They're not even to your year yet."

I understand what he was trying to convey - there are a lot of requests to upgrade and they give priority to those who have held their tickets the longest.  I also give another bonus point for actually answering the question despite the fact that the answer was assuredly not what the customer was wanting to hear and it would have been easier to just say, "Yeah, you should call your season ticket rep."  But couldn't he have explained it so that the customer might still believe that the Cubs were diligently working behind the scenes to accomodate him?  My earlier explanation probably would have worked.  Instead it came off sounding like the Cubs will get to his request whenever they are good and ready.

The Cubs are really good at the Machiavellian/used car salesman double-talk in their written communications (check out Andy Dolan's analysis of this year's letter to the season ticket holders), but then there is nothing in the live interactions that even hints at them being interested in helping you enjoy the experience or making sure you are pleased enough to return as a customer.

When it was my turn,  I said hello and he also said hello.  It was admittedly a good start.  I handed him my invoice and my check.   He made a couple of markings, stamped the check and said, "You're all set."  That was it.

He was courteous.  He smiled.  He seemed to be doing his job with efficiency.  He did not say "thank you."

Last year, the pleasant woman also said, "You're all set."  So I began thinking that this was maybe Cubs code for "thank you."  Maybe I've been judging the Cubs wrongly all these years when they have been expressing gratitude for my business all along and I just somehow never got my decoder ring.  Maybe they could send me one of those along with the pocket schedule this year.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Most Debate About a Hat Ever

Now that Andre Dawson will have a plaque in Cooperstown, all is right with the world and no one has anything to bitch about.  Nope.

Somehow, the hat that Dawson's plaque will have engraved on it is quite a source of contention on the interwebs.  MB21 at ACB does a good job of representing the side that believes Andre should go in wearing an Expos hat:

"Andre Dawson’s best years were long over before he joined the Cubs.  In fact, his 5 best seasons and 7 of the 8 best were in Montreal.  Below is the WAR for each team Dawson played for. 

Montreal: 43.6
Chicago: 16
Florida: -1.1
Boston: -1.5"


"Dawson’s 4 best seasons were near or above 7 WAR.  His next best season was with the Expos at 4.2 (1988 Cubs was also 4.2).  He was nearly 3 times more valuable in Montreal."

Since I don't delve too heavily into the stats here in Aisle 424, for those who don't know, WAR is Wins Above Replacement.  Simply, a replacement player is a fictitious average player that would be called up from AAA to replace someone because of injury (for example), and the WAR is how many more wins a player would contribute to a team than the replacement player.

To give you an idea of a typical replacement player, think Doug Dascenzo in 1991, who had a WAR of exactly 0.  Oddly enough, Aaron Miles' career prior to his bonanza year with St. Louis (1.8) and his disaster year with the Cubs (-1.4) was practically the definition of a replacement level player (translation: replacement level players suck).  Again, Jim Hendry should be fired for that stupid-ass signing alone.

So getting back on target, if you believe in the WAR valuation of a player, then my original assumption that I tweeted yesterday would be true:

"Sorry Cubs fans, Andre should wear an Expos hat in the Hall. 1987 aside, his best seasons came in Montreal. Him getting in is enough for me"

However, not too many people understand WAR or use it in comparing a player's stats.  The traditional stat line of batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/on-base plus slugging is more likely to be used to compare.  Also, comparing a player's OPS to the average OPS of a particular season (OPS+) has come into more popular use now as well (Average OPS+ would be 100, above is better, below is worse).

Stay with me.  I can sense the eyes glazing over as you reach for the mouse to click to another, more interesting site, so here is something to keep you interested:


And just to show that I can pander to any demographic:


(H/T to cubbiejulie)

So anyway, I looked at Andre's stats and saw he batted .280/.326/.476/.802 with an OPS+ of 122 while a member of the Expos.  He batted .285/.327/.507/.834 with an OPS+ of 125 with the Cubs. So if you look at the traditional stats, it looks like he had better years in Chicago than in Montreal.

Additonally, a commenter on ACB going by Wrigley made some good points:

"Dawson's career highs in HR, RBI, and BA all came in seasons he spent in Chicago. He also won his only MVP with the Cubs in 1987, and considering the fact he won 2 gold gloves with the Cubs, he was obviously viewed as the same premium defender in Chicago as he was in Montreal. Those are all pretty superficial ways of evaluating a player, but-- ya know what?-- that's what the people who make these decisions care about. And taking all that into consideration, is it really such a surprise that a lot of people would remember Dawson as a Cub?"

So, true valuation would seem to indicate that Dawson should wear the Expos hat on his plaque in Cooperstown.  However, I don't think that the people at the Hall of Fame consider WAR very highly in their comparisons and they are the ones who make the decision (thanks to Wade Boggs trying to go in as a Devil Ray).

I have to believe that the traditional stat lines, the fact that there aren't any Expos fans who are going to raise a stink about it (or attend the induction ceremonies), his national prominence growing as a result of being on WGN as a Cub, and the probability that Dawson's preference is the Cubs (the Hall still considers a players' wishes in making the decision) would lead to a Cubs hat on the plaque.

UPDATE:  Bruce Miles reports that the fondness for Cubs fans that Dawson exhibited today in his press conference leads one to think his preference is to go in as a Cub:

"I'm grateful that both of those organizations gave me the opportunity to wear their uniform," Dawson said in New York Thursday, one day after receiving word of his election. "I played a little bit longer in Montreal. Of course, that's where I got my initial start.

"But, I tell you, going to Wrigley Field, playing in the 'Friendly Confines' amongst the Cubs fans, that was amazing in itself. That really rejuvenated my career, I think, and put me at a point in time where I was unsure about myself and the game and how much longer I was going to be in the game. The way the Cubs fans embraced me that first year pretty much propelled me on to winning the National League MVP award. 

"I owe that organization a lot for believing in me."

Additionally, Andre seems to be more of a winter, so the blue of the Cubs hat would really bring out the color in his eyes. 

But either way, I'm fine with it.  He's in.  I don't really care what hat he is wearing.

UPDATE 2.0 - Apparently, the hat conundrum will last at least another day.  According to the AP: (h/t @burke400h)

"The Hall of Fame has not decided which team's logo will go on Andre Dawson's bronze plaque.

Hall president Jeff Idelson says that while the museum has final say, the Hall makes its decision with the player. Dawson arrived in New York too late after his election on Wednesday to begin discussions."

What time did Dawson arrive where there wasn't time for this conversation?:

HOF Rep: Welcome to New York, Mr. Dawson.  Congratulations again on your impending enshrinement.

Dawson:  Thank you. It's been a great day.  Tiring.

HOF Rep: Yes, I would imagine.  We wanted to get right to work on making your plaque, so which team would be your preference for the hat?

Dawson: Well, I had some great years in Montreal, but then the Cubs were where I really got noticed nationally, but I really had some great years for the Expos, but the Cubs have such great fans...

HOF Rep: Mr. Dawson?

Dawson: Yes?

HOF Rep:  There aren't any press members here.

Dawson: Oh... right.  Cubs then.
HOF Rep:  That's all we needed to know.  Have a good night.

UPDATE 3.0 - Paul Sullivan includes a bit in his latest piece about Dawson's hat preference and he doesn't even throw in a dig at Carlos Zambrano in the process:

"A source told the Tribune's Fred Mitchell that Dawson would prefer to go in as a Cub."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Andre Dawson is Finally a Hall of Famer

Andre Dawson has finally been deemed worthy of the Hall of Fame by a bunch of people who sit at computers and write about how he didn't walk enough to be considered truly great.  I had been building myself up to write yet another post about how Andre had been snubbed and how the world does not appreciate how good he was at the game of baseball.

Instead, I am like a little kid today.  I'm almost as giddy as I was when I first read in the newspaper that Andre was negotiating to come play for the Cubs as a free agent in 1987.  It was right there in the newspaper, but I didn't believe it.  He was too good to want to play for the Cubs.  Surely, the Cubs would figure out a way to screw that up.  Today feels much the same way for me.

I watched the announcement live on, and as whoever that was from the Hall was reading about a true five-tool National League outfielder who had won Rookie of the Year, an MVP, and eight Gold Gloves, my fear was that somehow he was talking about someone else.

But then he said Dawson's name and there was no denying it anymore.  The Hawk is in the Hall of Fame and I can't wait for the induction ceremony.  He'll most likely have to ice down his knees in order to be able to walk all the way up to the podium for his speech.  It is guys like Dawson who make us jaded in our view of someone like Mark Prior, but the fact is that Andre must have had an almost super-human pain threshold.

Now all that pain and all the work he did to go out on the field every day is being rewarded.  Congratulations, Andre.

UPDATE:  Carrie Muskat has tweeted that Andre will be in attendance at the Cubs Convention next weekend.  Time can not pass fast enough.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rosenthal is Full of Sheets

It seemed that after the Marlon Byrd signing, there would be very little that we could speculate about the Cubs roster that would amount to much.  There is no way they can get in on the Matt Holliday negotiations, they seem content with going with Theriot and Baker/Fontenot up the middle with Starlin Castro as a dark horse, they are supposedly still interested in signing another reliever, but it won't be anyone of any real consequence. 

So they are pretty much done with this off-season, right?  Just a few t's to cross and lower-case j's to dot and Hendry can relax in his efforts to play with the roster this winter and start working out trades he can make as the deadline approaches.

Not so fast, says FOX's Ken Rosenthal.  He predicts that Ben Sheets, most recently of the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers, will sign with the Cubs.  This would be very exciting news if I had any belief at all that it could or would happen.  First, Rosenthal is making this prediction using faulty logic.  He says,

"He still makes the most sense for a high-revenue club that can absorb the risk, but the Yankees and Red Sox do not figure to spend more on starting pitching."

I'll agree that a higher revenue club makes the most sense to take the risk, but he eliminates the Yankees and Red Sox because they probably won't spend more on starting pitching.  OK, but what makes him think the Cubs will spend more on starting pitching?  Last I checked, the Cubs had spent the money they got from the Mariners on Marlon Byrd and they gave $7.5 million to John Grabow. The payroll isn't supposed to increase this season because Ricketts has a crapload of debt he needs to start paying down.  How is there room for signing a starter, much less a starter of Ben Sheets' talents?

For someone who doesn't like bloggers sitting in their mothers' basements making stuff up to post online, this "prediction" seems pretty unfounded and unlikely.

I think most people would agree that Ben Sheets would make an excellent addition to the Cubs' rotation if he was healthy.  I think we can also all agree that the Cubs can not afford to sign him at a rate he would go for if he hadn't just spent all of last year recovering from elbow surgery.

Right now Sheets' agent is supposedly looking for guaranteed money and the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles doesn't believe that is going to happen with the Cubs and goes on to say:

"If Sheets hasn't signed with somebody, say, by Valentine's Day, I can see the Cubs offering some sort of a deal with a low base plus incentives."

Of course, if Sheets hasn't signed by Valentine's Day, and is open to talking about incentive-based deals, then why would the Cubs suddenly be the front-runners to land him?  There are probably any number of teams that would love to have Sheets at a low base price and would have no qualms in paying out his incentives as he met them.

Rosenthal needed to pick a team for Sheets to land with and he picked the Cubs.  That's pretty much all that means. 

Though just to be safe, Hendry is probably being physically restrained from slapping a guaranteed three year deal down in front of Ben.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Aisle 424!

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to start a blog and came up with the idea to re-create the conversations I have each summer with my summer family up in Aisle 424 at Wrigley.

I fiddled around with the template, wrote my first post, and announced the blog's existence in an e-mail to friends and family and got a response from a friend who has been blogging for years: "Welcome to the dark side."

It was an appropriate comment because I really had no concept what to expect.  I figured that maybe a few friends and family would read my nonsense every now and again, but that would probably be it.  It turns out that has pretty much been correct.  But, to my surprise, there have been others who have found their way to this tiny corner of the interwebs.

It has been very interesting to see how people have discovered this blog.  According to Google, the top draw has been people searching "Sammy Sosa cream" or some variation that ultimately draws them to a very silly post I put up on the spur of the moment.  Other popular searches that have led here are:
  • Variations of "Cubs song" or "Go Cubs Go" because of a post where I wish the Cubs would play something else after a victory.
  • "Wrigley seat location" and other similar queries draw up a frustrated post about the ushers at Wrigley.
  • My interview with the baseball gods, and an earlier post where I defiantly tell them to suck it have attracted more than a few folks searching "baseball gods."
  • An offhanded mention of Alyssa Milano and an accompanying picture has brought any number of folks searching for images of Ms. Milano - though it wouldn't surprise me if those people didn't leave my site extremely disappointed in the amount of clothing she is wearing in the photo I used.
  • Oddly enough for a mostly-Cubs blog, Michael Jordan and his Hall of Fame speech drew an inordinate number of people looking for "jordan speech" and such.
Over the past year among many topics, I have hated Aaron Miles, grew an unhealthy man-crush on Jeff Baker, got called stupid by Dave Kaplan, created a mix-tape for disgruntled Milton Bradley, mocked Steve Stone, called a walk-off grand slam, found that some curse-related antics are too stupid for even the Cubs marketing department, watched Chicago's Olympic dreams end in a spectacular crash of Cub-like proportions, unleashed my inner fashion critic, did what I could to make the term "fisted" a part of our vernacular, and blatantly stole from Obama's speechwriters.

Somehow, the number of people who follow this blog has grown into the double digits, which is a whole extra digit than I anticipated.  Additionally, I have managed to accumulate over 650 followers on Twitter, of which at least ten are not spambots trying to get me to look at a video of Britney having sex.

It is crazy to me that there was an entire world of Cubs blogs I knew nothing about when this started.  Of course, if I had known that blogs like Hire Jim Essian, The Cub Reporter, Wrigleyville23, waxpaperbeercup, A League of Her Own, and many, many others (see the Reading Material section on the left) existed, I may have never started this one for fear of being horribly inferior.  There have been occasions when other established Cubs bloggers have linked to me, commented on a post, or sent me kind words via e-mail and I'm always a little surprised that they have not shunned me from the club since I have never been banned from BCB.  It was another form of validation that I never expected to receive when I started writing.

When I kicked this off, I had visions of chronicling a march to the playoffs again and a hopeful World Series title that I could celebrate with my Aisle 424 brethren.  Of course, now I'm fairly certain that we won't be celebrating much beyond a hopeful season-ending elbow injury to Carlos Silva anytime soon.  But while the disappointment of the nonexistent celebrating lingers, the fact that I have been able to share the pain and commiserate with others in the sorrows of Cubs baseball has been fun for me, and I hope it has been fun for those who have been reading.

I appreciate everyone who stops by and I hope you will keep coming back as Aisle 424 moves into its second year of existence.  I'm looking into options to make commenting easier without overhauling the whole site.  I may eventually decide to try to move off of Blogger, but that is not coming anytime soon.  I expect the Triangle Building will be built before that happens.

Thanks again for stopping by and Happy New Year!