Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Last Merry Christmas Game?

Sunday was the last home game of the year, which my summer family in Aisle 424 have dubbed the "Merry Christmas Game."  Generally, there is an excellent chance we will not see one another again until the next April, thus it seems appropriate to wish good tidings for the holiday season while we have the chance.

This year was a little different from past years.  In past years, there really was no debate about whether we were renewing or not.  Of course we were.  We didn't even have to ask one another.  It was just assumed.

This year things are different.  Priorities have changed.  Economic situations have changed.  Life situations have changed. And the Cubs have changed.

Of course, some things don't change.
(Photo by Kristin Peterson)

When I bought in to the nights and weekends plan in 1998, I was buying in because I thought the Cubs were heading in the right direction.  Kerry Wood was about to break into the league.  They had just acquired Henry Rodriguez and extended Sammy Sosa to go along with Mark Grace in the middle of the lineup.  They had essentially traded Jaime Navarro for Kevin Tapani.  They brought back rubber-armed Terry Mulholland and signed the new shut-down closer, Rod Beck.  Their farm system was finally starting to bear some fruit (remember this is what I thought when I purchased in February of 1998).

It was an affordable extravagance and I wanted to get in before the rest of the world figured out that the Cubs were good again.  I don't have many money-sucking indulgences, so the Cubs were going to be it for me.

Most of the other season ticket holders around me are fairly similar.  Their years of purchase differed, but we all bought in at one point or another because we thought the Cubs might finally be nearing the time when they might win a World Series.

Now, I don't think any of us believe it is going to happen anytime soon and we are merely trying to determine our ability to ride out the crappiness on both an emotional and financial level.

Afterall, when I bought the plan in 1998, the package went for about $750 per seat.  I believe the total for 2010 was $3,300 and I would bet everything I own that it isn't coming down in 2011.

So this Merry Christmas Game was a bit more somber than others in the past and the performance on the field didn't do much to increase optimism going forward.  When Bobby Scales is the center of your offense, you have major problems.

We don't know what 2011 will bring.  Some of us may be back, others may not.  Then again, we are all deluded, slightly insane people, so there is a decent chance nothing will change in Aisle 424 when push comes to shove.  But for myself, I'm looking at about a 90% probability that I won't renew.  I have until some time in November to figure it out.

I can't say what would make me renew.  I don't think any of the managers that are available (or even any of the managers that are not available) would be the magic pill for all that ails the Cubs.  There is no singular free agent that will suddenly fix anything.  I don't even think Jim Hendry can have a theme this off-season like "left-handedness" or "team chemistry."  I think the only theme he will have is "pray that these cheap kids from the minors are halfway decent so I can keep my job."

Maybe if Crane Kenney suddenly was fired and a real baseball man was brought in as the head of baseball operations, I might rethink things.  I could see myself rationalizing changes from the top that would eventually fix everything and make the Cubs a real organization that not only expects to win every year, but occasionally actually does so. Unfortunately, there is just as much chance of that happening as Jim Hendry hiring me as the next Cubs manager (Note to Jim Hendry: I would not make a good Cubs manager and I would like to remove myself from consideration.)

So the game came and went.  The Cubs lost, it was frickin' freezing out, and the game took something like eight million hours to actually end, but when it finally ended, I was sad since I knew it might very well have been my last game in my favorite seat.

With 115,000+ on the wait list, this seat won't be empty for long.
(Photo by Kristin Peterson)

There is still the possibility that I will have some sort of partial ownership of a plan, and I may even still be in Aisle 424, so this isn't like someone died or anything.  Still, it feels like a chapter is closing so I wish the game hadn't been started by Jeff Samardzija and ended by three grounders to Aaron Miles.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The View from Aisle 424

I'm working on a more lengthy post about the last day of 2010 (and possibly ever) as a season ticket holder in Aisle 424, but I wanted to share a really cool picture that Kris took as Samardzija was walking guys in front of Pujols yesterday.

I might have to work that into the banner somehow, but for now, I just think it's cool.

Anyway, more to come later including some other pics from Kris (or as you may know her, @speechgrl)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who Does Koyie Hill Have Naked Photos Of?

Last year, I was pretty rough on Aaron Miles.  Sure, he messed up everything he touched, and when he played, he somehow managed to disappoint expectations that were as low as the earth's molten core.

But the thing about Miles last year was that towards the end, he hardly ever actually played.  He was supposedly healthy and he still had a year on his contract left, so the Cubs had a guy they were responsible for beyond 2009 and they would never let him on the field for any more than one plate appearance.  Mercifully, he didn't start a single game after August 22

This year, the Cubs new poster boy for utter uselessness is Koyie Hill. The man has a .550 OPS which only sounds good compared to Aaron Miles circa 2009.

If he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, he would rank as the worst hitter in major league baseball this year. Juan Pierre is over 100 points higher than him.  Ryan Theriot is almost 100 points higher.  The corpse of Jason Kendall is batting 65 points higher than Hill.  Your friend and mine, Cesar Izturis (the guy who was pushed out of Chicago by Ryan Theriot), is at .558.

Maybe he is in for his defense.  Except he sucks at that too.  He has thrown out 16% of baserunners trying to steal on him.  The league average is 28%.  He has -.2 dWAR which is another way of saying his defense is actually costing the team wins when compared to the defense of a random AAA call-up.

Maybe the Cubs don't have anyone else for the position. Well, except for Welington Castillo who has only managed to get into 4 games despite having as many homeruns in 12 plate appearances (1) as Hill has in 193 plate appearances.  He had an .815 OPS in AAA this year.  His overall OPS in the minors is .726.  Sure that isn't the definition of awesome, but it is over 150 points better than what Koyie Hill brings to the table.

Castillo has thrown out one of the three baserunners that have tried to steal on him in the majors and has a career caught stealing percentage of 40%.

Why the hell isn't Castillo playing more now that Soto is done for the year?

Koyie Hill isn't Fred McGriff or Moises Alou that veteran managers gave playing time to so they could pad their career stats and maybe get another contract after leaving the Cubs.  Mike Quade is supposedly auditioning for his job and he is trotting Koyie Hill out there damn near every day.

Sure, when Castillo actually got in the game, he stabbed Tyler Colvin with his bat.  That was bad. But here's the thing - he didn't do it on purpose and he did it while hitting an RBI double.  Then he went and added a homerun with his new bat.  The only reason Koyie Hill never accidentally breaks his bat and stabs someone with it is because he hardly ever makes contact.  If he did, it would almost assuredly have happened on a weak pop-up.

Also, Welington Castillo never just walked away from a live base-runner and allowed him to score.

It just doesn't make any sense unless Koyie has photos of a member of Cubs management doing a Joe Morgan impression.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ryne Sandberg is a Quitter and a Liar

Yesterday, I wondered what an attack ad aimed at Mike Quade would look like, but I was thinking that if this really were like politics, something like that could never be aired without appropriate retribution. So here is how I imagine a response from the Quade camp aimed at Ryne Sandberg would go:


Voiceover:  Ryne Sandberg likes to talk about doing things the "right way"...

Voiceover: ...but since when is quitting on your teammates and the fans considered doing things the "right" way? 

"On the morning of June 11, 1994,
Ryne woke up and decided to quit baseball."

Voiceover: He claimed he was quitting because the Cubs were terrible and he didn't enjoy coming to the ballpark anymore. He even profited off of his giving up.

"I quit because I didn't like my job anymore....
The truth is my personal situation had nothing to do
with why I announced my retirement from baseball."
- Ryne Sandberg, Second to Home, 1995

Voiceover: Later, when he returned to the game, he admitted it had all been a lie and that his personal life did, in fact, play a role in his initial retirement.  Says one Sandberg associate:

 "You're a public figure looking at going through a public divorce.
You hate what's going on with the team,
and there's trouble with your wife.
What do you do? It was easy for him..."

Voiceover: "It was easy for him." Easy to walk away when the going got tough.  Now he talks about playing the right way and teaching the young stars of the Cubs farm system to do as he did... like quitting and never diving for a ball.

Voiceover: Great example, indeed. Support Mike Quade. He doesn't lie. He doesn't quit
when things get tough. He doesn't associate himself with raging alcoholics.

Voiceover: Paid for by the People's Front of Cub Nation.


Gosh, now I don't know who to support.  Maybe I'll throw my support behind a third party candidate!

Go ahead! Throw your vote away!
Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Colvin Stabbed, Wrigleyville Almost Blown Up During Quade Era

Elections are drawing nearer so we are seeing more of the fun attack ads on television with the really ominous voice-overs:

(NOTE: The political message in the video above does not reflect the attitude or opinions of Aisle 424)

Oh my God!  The world would surely end if Senator Bill Brady were elected.  Going by that ad alone, it seems the chances are excellent that Bill Brady would show up at a public school dressed as Rambo and blow the cafeteria to kingdom come.

I love ads like this.  They are endlessly entertaining and I think that the candidates for the Cubs' managerial position should start running similar ads to get the public support behind them.

You have to figure that Ryne Sandberg can't be all that comfortable as the presumptive front-runner anymore after Mike Quade has gone 17-7 to start out his managerial stint with the Cubs.  He is being discussed in association with Charlie Grimm, the last Cubs manager to take the Cubs to the World Series.  He has got some serious momentum at the moment.

If I were in the Sandberg camp, I'd want to start putting together some attcak ads to quell the Quade tsunami of support.  Think about it, what if you saw an ad like this during the ballgame (I don't have the time or the expertise to edit videos, so I'll just have to crudely storyboard it):


Voiceover: Mike Quade will tell you that everything is going great since he pushed Lou Piniella out of the Cubs manager position.

Voiceover: He'll point to his record and claim he has the ear of the players.

Voiceover: But he won't tell you that stabbings of his players are up infinity percent over last year.  In fact, there have been more stabbings of Cubs players under Quade than under any other manager in the history of the Chicago Cubs.

"Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin is at a Miami hospital, being treated for a
puncture wound to the left side of his chest..."

Voiceover: He also won't tell you that thousands were nearly killed when a terrorist tried to blow up the Wrigleyville institution known as "Sluggers" under his watch.

"Sami Samir Hassoun... was arrested as he placed a backpack
containing what he thought were high-explosives
in a trash can in front of Sluggers on Clark Street..."

Voiceover: What else is Quade not telling us?  Can you trust your children going to a Cubs game with a man with a potential drinking problem in charge?

Voiceover: Support Ryne Sandberg for Cubs' manager. He would never allow his players to be stabbed or Wrigleyville to be blown up.

Voiceover: Paid for by Citizens in Favor of Playing the Right Way.

That would be all kinds of entertaining.  Certainly more entertaining than listening to Dave Otto.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cubs Eliminated From Another Sadder Race

When Mike Quade took over from Lou Piniella, the Cubs seemed hellbent and determined to catch up to Pittsburgh for the worst record in the league.  At the very least, they would 100 games and probably get a top three pick.

Then Quade came in and did his best to continue the trend by giving playing time to Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir.  There have been games where the infield consisted of Baker, Barney, DeWitt, and Nady.  He gave a start to Jeff Samardzija for crying out loud. 

Despite all his best efforts, the Cubs managed to win ballgames at a pace that was unthinkable on that day when the Cubs finally broke Lou and he tearfully went into retirement.

Under Quade, the Cubs have now managed to guarantee they will not lose 100 games, and more importantly, they have been eliminated from the Race to the Top of the 2011 Draft.  Pittsburgh's loss last night made it mathematically impossible for the Cubs to get the number one draft choice next year.

So they can't win the division, they can't get the best draft pick, and as you can see from the last installment of the reverse standings (because there really is no point in tracking that anymore either), they are really going to have to work to do much better than the 8th pick at this point and they could pretty easily win their way out of the top 10.

So what is left to root for?  Well, if they win one more game, they guarantee they will not be the worst Cubs team (record-wise) that I have seen as a season-ticket holder.  The 2000 edition currently has that honor by finishing 65-97.

They can also technically still keep their string of .500 seasons alive by winning the rest of their games to finish 81-81.

So they can't be best and they can't be worst, but they are still alive to be mediocre(ist).  That probably won't sell many t-shirts.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will Cubs Take Us to Mt. Splashmore? Will Cubs Take Us to Mt. Splashmore? Will Cubs Take Us to Mt. Splashmore?

So now that the probable highlight of the Cubs' season has occurred down in St. Louis, it is time to look ahead to... the Marlins?  Wow.  I bet there are more people on a single rooftop watching Dave Matthews than there are in the entire stadium in Florida this weekend.  Pat & Ron's attendance guess won't even require them to carry a one to add up all the fans.

So it might be a good time to check in on how the Cubs are doing with upgrading their Spring Training facilities.

It seems that the Cubs have narrowed their focus to a single location as their first choice to develop.  Riverview Park in Mesa was originally going to have a waterpark and a resort developed on it, but now the plans for that have scaled back so there may be an option to have a waterpark without the resort, but with a new stadium and training complex instead.

According to the East Valley Tribune:

The team would share the area with the proposed Waveyard water park and resort, which is scaling back its plans to only include the water park.

The team’s search had been narrowed to three sites until Thursday. City officials said they felt it’s important to develop plans for a specific site in advance of a Nov. 2 election to approve funding for the complex.

“You can only go so far until you have a specific piece of dirt that you’re looking at,” [Mesa] Mayor Scott Smith said.
It wasn't explicity mentioned whether Mayor Smith was speaking about the development plot or his opinion of how the Cubs approach free agency, but we'll assume he was talking about the development.
The Waveyard people apparently would like to be in business with the Cubs:
Waveyard pitched a joint project at Riverview to the Cubs and its owners, the Ricketts family. The team declined that suggestion and hasn’t spoken with water park officials recently. No specific plans have been drafted yet to define how the two projects would split the space.
To think of all the times I have laid awake sleepless in my bed as I lamented the lack of waterslide facilities next to baseball stadiums.  Finally!  My prayers have been answered! 

Well, almost answered.  There are still lots of logistics to iron out:
  • Do Cubs players get to use the hot tubs for free?
  • Who is responsible when the players fall and injure themselves while using the hot tub?
  • Will the attractions be able to have Cubs themes like the Aramis Ramirez Lazy River?
  • Can players go right into the water after making an error, or should they wait an hour to reflect?
  • Will there be misting stations in the stands for fans?
  • Does Starlin Castro get in for the child rate?
  • What if Carlos Silva gets stuck on a slide?
  • How do waterslides and baseball go together again, exactly?
Also there is the not-so-small task of getting the blessing of the voters in Mesa to dole out the cash for the project:
Mesa residents will consider the complex in November when voting on Proposition 420. That would satisfy a city charter requirement that voters approve spending more than $1.5 million on facilities such as sports facilities.
Wait.  The voters should vote yes on 420?  Is this a joint venture or isn't it? (rimshot)
Just to be safe, the Cubs should probably look into lots of campaign signs around White Castles, Jack in the Boxes, and Denny's since the stoner population might be tricked into thinking they are voting yes for something else.  That could really boost the chances of sneaking extra expenditures of public money past an electorate that is tired of giving more and more of its money to the government.
I'm excited for this plan if for no other reason than I will have a more convenient place to drown myself after watching the Cubs.

If I can't have a World Series, is it too much to ask for a wave pool and a flume or two?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cubs Fans Care Too Much and Cards Fans Insist They Don't Care at All

The Cubs have sucked the fun out of most of this season, but seeing them get an opportunity to sweep the Cardinals and put some more nails into their post-season coffin is a little fun.  Many is the time the Cardinals have enjoyed a hearty laugh at the Cubs' expense, so a sweep over their "Big 3" starters would be awfully nice.

We shouldn't get too excited about it though.  The Cubs are still the Cubs and they still haven't won anything of substance in any of our lifetimes, so there is no reason to go down there and start waving a W flag around like they won the World Series.

This is why every other team makes fun of Cubs fans.
(h/t Rice Cube)

Seriously, why do Cubs fans insist on bringing ridicule and scorn on themselves (and me by association) every time some crap team manages to win a couple of games?

This is why everyone hates Cubs fans.  It is why I hate being lumped in with this shit.  They won a game against a team that has lost series to just about every sub-.500 team they have played recently. Whoopee.  Let's remember that if the Cubs suffer one more loss before the end of the year they are guaranteed a losing record to break their three-year string of being at least .500.  Three years.  That is the staggering success we want to parade around in rival ballparks?

We go around acting like immature jerks over a meaningless win or two when our greatest sustained success in my lifetime is the past three seasons of being over .500 and then not winning a single post-season game.  That is really something to be proud of.

Why can't we just enjoy the wins?  Why can't we just enjoy the series for what it is and be happy that the Cubs aren't letting the Cardinals stomp all over them as they usually do?

Why can't we just let the St. Louis media insist that it doesn't bother anyone in St. Louis to maybe get swept by a shit team because the Cardinals and the fans just don't care?  Wouldn't seeing Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Dispatch write this to kick off tonight's game preview be fun enough?:

THE STAKES: The Cubs are trying to sweep the moribund Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Normally that would get a rise out of The Home Team, but these guys have been finished for a couple weeks now.

I get it.

"If we don't hear it or see it or talk about it, it didn't happen!"

Seriously, this one link (brought to my attention by Kris) has enough comedy gold in it to last awhile without having to make asses of ourselves by over-inflating the importance of this meaningless series.

Check out the comments.  There were only three as I wrote this, but all three are awesome.

Orval says:
stop dwelling on what lopez has done in the past he is doing nothing now help him pack his bags so he don,t miss the last bus out of town

Let's forget the unwillingness to use capital letters, not knowing the difference between an apostrophe and a comma, and a seeming ignorance of any other punctuation marks.  Let's just applaud his recognition that Felipe Lopez sucks.

Scottb says:
Too many bad decission by their leader for them to care. I thought the Girls basketball was a batter watch.

Orval is freaking Ernest Hemingway compared to this guy.  He is repeating the meme that nobody cares and he wasn't paying attention anyway.  Plus he seems to admit that he is the creepy guy in the stands at girl's basketball games that isn't related to the participants.

Craigm48 says:
It's a sad state of the Bird but I have been numb to it for several weeks now. The Cards will finish 10 games out at .500 for a much hyped season with no substance. Could the MVP or Cy Young have less meaning? It was a pleasure to have Albert but financial expectations just do not make sense for the future of a competitive team. As great as he is, he doesn't have the body type to play a long time

I haven't watched for 3 weeks now and prefer Andy Griffith episodes. They're more consistent.
This contains many correctly spelled words and some punctuation, so somebody obviously has earned their GED. Craig also doesn't care about a potential Cubs sweep since Pujols is probably gone soon anyway and that is good because he doesn't have the body type to stand at first base for long periods of time.  How the hell did Pujols win all those MVPs by having such an awful body?  Craig skips the girls basketball and prefers to fantasize about Aunt Bea instead of watching the Cardinals.
So Cubs fans, let's not act like the Cubs are suddenly awesome because they won a few games at the end of a losing season.  Let's just enjoy the denial that is going on downstate and across the Mississippi and act like we've been there before even if we never have.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Godspeed, Little Noodle

Cubs fans have clearly decided what is and what is not important.

Last night, friend of Aisle 424, @CubsInsider, tweeted out the following message:

In his first start for the #Cubs this season, Jeff Samardzija tosses 5.2-shutout innings in Chicago's 5-1 victory over the #Cardinals!

That is really good news.  It may or may not be a harbinger of things to come, but 5.2 innings of shutout baseball from a prospect most of us have pretty much given up on is certainly better than what we were expecting out of him.  Should we pencil him in to the rotation for 2011?  No, but at least he wasn't out there throwing batting practice and allowing hits to guys like Brendan Ryan, Pedro Feliz, and Aaron Miles.  (I'm kind of amazed LaRussa isn't batting the pitcher sixth in a lineup like that.)

So Cubs fans had to be pretty psyched about Samardzija's nice outing, right? Well, if two retweets of the message is a representation of a fanbase being psyched, then yes,we were psyched.

Today, @CubsInsider tweeted out this message along with a twitpic:

Farewell to the Kraft Noodle, it is leaving Wrigley Field today. http://twitpic.com/2oekb1

In less than 3 hours, the message was retweeted at least 24 times in various forms, plus additional commentary and smart-ass responses from followers (yeah, I was one of the smart-asses).  The best was from @kofchicago:

Godspeed, little noodle!

I think the looks on Bart, Homer, Ned and Todd's faces pretty well sum up how Cubs fans feel about the season and that little comment is probably the best we can muster.

If the Cubs wanted to create a buzz, the stupid noodle thing certainly did do its job.  People noticed, they talked about it and mainstream media and bloggers went on the interwebs and talked about it even more.

Kraft may be the only people happy with the Cubs right now.

Oh, and the Cubs were officially eliminated from post-season play last night with Cincinnati's victory.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jaws V: Samardzija Bites Hard

In the battle to accidentally win the National League Central, the Cubs travel to St. Louis in a series that actually has a couple of relevant points of interest.  And by "relevant," I mean I haven't made a post in awhile and by "interest," I mean I get to make fun of Jeff Samardzija again.

For one, the Cubs elimination number is now 1.  So any loss the rest of the way (or win by the Reds the rest of the way) will mathematically eliminate the Cubs from a race they haven't really been participating in since April.  The actual death of the playoff possibilities has lingered for so long without final resolution, the Cubs placed a call to Dr. Kevorkian to help them out.  He was unavailable, so they are going to let Jeff Samardzija start as the next best thing.

By the way, does anyone know where the nickname, "Shark" originated for him?  If he goes by what seems to be used in the stands most often when he pitches, his nickname should probably be "Son of a Bitch."

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been busy losing to crappy teams themselves so they have successfully avoided catching up to Dusty's Reds that are doing a spot-on imitation of the 2004 Cubs' final two weeks (minus the bitching at the broadcasters, of course).  The National League Central is a pathetic joke and the fact that the Cubs can't win it every year is justifiable grounds to eliminate them as a franchise, but I digress.

For this series, the Cards seem hellbent and determined to finally step on the Cubs' throats and make a move on the Reds by starting Rookie of the Year candidate, Jaime Garcia, and perennial Cy Young candidates, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter up against Samardzija, Wells, and the now dormant, Mount Zambrano.  The next thing you know, Matt Holliday will try using his glove instead of his crotch to try to catch fly balls. The rivalry really brings out the best in everyone.

Since the Cubs managed a total of five runs over the weekend against the Brewers dominating trio of Dave Bush, Randy Wolf, and Yovanni Gallardo, I estimate that they will manage -10 runs against the Cardinals.  But since the Cardinals offense now features both Pedro Feliz AND Aaron Miles, that might still be enough for the Cubs to get a victory or two.

In addition to approaching mathematical elimination with a loss, a win will guarantee that the Cubs can't lose 100 games, which seemed to be an inevitability just a few weeks ago.  Five more wins will prevent the 2010 team from being worse than the 2006 version, except there won't be $300 million spent in the off-season to fix this version so I hope that is good enough for everyone.

So there you have it.  Much is at stake as they get ready to battle under the arch.  The real question is whether we care about any of it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brewers Attempt at Comedy is Funny, But Not Ha Ha Funny

Oh, meaningless baseball and the hijinx that come along with it.  Apparently,the Brewers have decided to kick off the crapfest between their team and the Cubs by circulating a fake press release around the press box at Miller Park talking about a fictional book supposedly authored by Jim Hendry.

According to Paul Sullivan:

The release said: "Read in Jim Hendry's own words how the Chicago Cubs managed to finish near the bottom of the National League Central; Division with the highest payroll in the National League."

It also said the chapters included:

"Why I signed Milton Bradley!"

"Why I released Casey McGehee only to see him hit 20 home runs and drive in nearly 100 runs for a division rival!"

"Why I hired former Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield, the man who helped make the Pirates what they are today, as my special assistant!"

"How I botched the recall of Micah Hoffpauir from our minor league team in Iow by losing track of the number of days that he was in the minors!"

"Why I signed players to long-term contracts with limited trade options!"

The Brewers are bad at baseball and they are apparently also bad at humor.  It's apparent that whoever is responsible for writing this fake book has never actually read a real one.  What book has chapter titles that are 29 words long?  This would have been too hard?: "Hiring the Genius Behind the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Also, when you have to explain the joke within the telling of the joke: it isn't a funny joke.

Simply adding exclamation points to the ends of every joke don't make them funnier than leaving them off!  (See?)
I will give them that Casey McGehee is funny, but only because I've seen him try to field a ball.
And seriously, a recall of Micah Hoffpauir joke?  Really?  Someone put that down on paper, read it to themselves and chuckled?  If that joke were a Brewer it would be Jody Gerut.
I shouldn't be too hard on the Brewers though.  Afterall, I know it must be hard to find the funny when you have to live in Milwaukee and you are constantly in the presence of Captain Jagoff.

Cubs Might Drop Ticket Prices! (in 2021)

I apologize to anyone who is sick of the attendance and ticket price debate already, but this will be the last post on this subject for awhile (probably).

I got into it with Yellon over on his site yesterday about whether Cubs fans would abandon the team at the rates he seems to think is possible.  Now, I have stated numerous times that the absolute floor for announced Cubs attendance is the number of season tickets that are sold during the season.  Whether the fans who bought those seats show up or not, the announced attendance can not be lower than the total number of season tickets.

I asked the Cubs what that number is and they said they do not make that information public. I also asked the Astros about their season ticket base and got a similar answer and I bet most teams (if not all) would not disclose that sort of information.  Nevertheless, without a number provided by the team, we have to guess and Al has guessed 27,000 or so season ticket sales per year and that sounds reasonable to me, so we'll go with his number.

Al also took a poll of his readers which was kind of a jumbled mess, but there is some information in there which we can use to come up with some base assumptions.

First off, of the 60 season ticket holders to respond, 24% said they would be declining to renew in 2011.  That is an awfully big percentage considering last year only 2% declined to renew for 2010.  But what the hell, let's say that number is representative of the entire season ticket holding group.  That means 6,480 tickets will go back into the pool for the people on the waitlist.

According to one of Al's readers, the waitlist stands at about 115,000 people. Now for the sake of simplicity, I am going to assume that each person who declines and each person who accepts will drop or buy only 1 ticket when given the chance.  Of course, this is not true and the actual number would probably be about 2, but I want to keep things simple.

Al also asked if people currently on the waitlist if they would accept or decline if the Cubs called them this offseason with a chance to purchase. Of the 139 that responded, 82 said they would purchase if given the opportunity.  That is a 59% acceptance rate.  Pretty low, but again probably within reason of what we could expect from the entire group.

So now we have to figure that only 59% of that 115,000 are actual customers waiting to buy tickets, so lets adjust that number accordingly to 67,850.

So 6,480 people will theoretically drop their tickets, but the total tickets sold will stand at 27,000 leaving 61,370 on the waitlist in 2011.  We'll call that the Buffer Zone.

So what happens in 2012 and beyond?  Well, lets assume that Cubs fans' anger grows by 10% every year as measured by a 10% increase in season ticket drops as well as a 10% decline in waitlist acceptance.  Basically, I am fixing the formula to assume that more and more people give up their tickets, while fewer and fewer are willing to take them.

Using those assumptions, another 7,128 people will tell the Cubs to screw off after 2011.  That means that by the end of next year, 13,608 people will have dumped season tickets.  That is over half of the estimated 27,000 base.  Anybody think that will actually happen?  I didn't think so, but we will say that it does.

Also, the acceptance rate will fall to 53% so only 57,624 people will be available to take those tickets.  But since that is still about eight times more than the Cubs need to sell out again, they will.  So the total season ticket base will stand at 27,000 again and the Buffer Zone will be down to 48,455.

In fact, if you extrapolate out the assumptions (as shown in the chart below), the Cubs still won't run out of people on their waitlist by 2020.  It means they will average 27,000 fans every year without selling one single-game ticket.  They can average almost 30,000 per year just by selling out Opening Day and games against the Cardinals and White Sox and then nothing else.  That is a hell of a Buffer Zone.

So, realistically, the only variable the Ricketts have to contend with is the single-game tickets.  Season tickets, even when we assume increasing levels of anger, will sell out throughout the decade without any problems at all.

So again, you have to ask yourself, why would the Ricketts go with dynamic pricing, or lowering ticket prices for everyone?  They could introduce dynamic pricing, but the base rate where season ticket holders would have to lock in would be where the price levels are now or possibly even higher.  Why?  Because there is no reason not to.

They could lower some prices for the 500 level corners.  They might bring down the prices for the seats in the back rows of the Terrace Reserved seating.  Those are generally where most of the single-game tickets are.  But the Ricketts do want to win.  They are fans, that much is clear.  They aren't just interested in making money, so it isn't like they will purposely field a crappy team.  Whether they have the ability to win is irrelevant, they are going about business in an attempt to win the World Series.

So we have to assume that the team isn't going to suck as badly every year going forward as it has this year, but for the sake of my model, I am assuming that and the Buffer Zone still doesn't disappear for ten years.

This is why Al is just plain wrong.  The Ricketts don't have to do anything to win the fans over, much less purposefully reduce their guaranteed revenue stream to continue getting healthy crowds out to Wrigley.  But 2021 is just around the corner for those who are patient.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Undercover Brother

So as the 2010 season grinds down to the last few painful moments, the Ricketts are busy doing reality TV.  That seems about right.

Adam, Julie and I joked on our last podcast about how the Cubs managerial search should be a reality show.  It would involve a rose ceremony where one candidate is ousted per week, challenges for the contestants like teaching Koyie Hill to hit a baseball, and maybe even a public voting component where the Cubs could get a portion of the $1.99 per call or text.  We agreed that it is a winning idea and plan on suing anybody who goes forward without cutting us in on the profits.

But the Cubs were already one step ahead of us in getting in on the reality show trend.  It turns out that Todd Ricketts, youngest brother of Tom, disguised himself to participate in the show, Undercover Boss.  According to Paul Sullivan:

Ricketts grew facial hair and donned glasses during the nine-game homestand, where he was followed by film crews while working on the grounds crew, as a vendor, in the Captain Morgan Club and even emptying trash outside the ballpark.

That is a pretty good disguise since there are tons of bearded white guys who work at the ballpark that get followed around by camera crews.  I'm sure he blended right in.

I guess something like this could end up improving customer service, but didn't they hire a Director of Fan Experience for just that purpose?  Why does Todd have to skulk around looking like Joaquin Phoenix to find out what the team is doing wrong?

In the end, I'll watch out of morbid curiosity and the Cubs will end up succeeding in distracting everyone from the product on the field as Todd will almost assuredly learn valuable, poignant, and well-edited lessons about working in the trenches at Wrigley.

Meanwhile, Adam, Julie and I are available to take meetings on the production of "Who Wants to Be the Cubs' Manager?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome to Wrigley! (and Then Get the Hell Out)

Pop quiz time! Let's say that you have tickets to a Cubs game and you get to the gate and see something like the following scene:

Let's also assume that you are carrying a bag that you want to bring into the park.

What do you do next?:

A) Go in Gate D because you can't read and just follow the crowd.
B) Show off your 2nd grade reading skills and go to the Bag Inspection line.
C) Turn around and ask why the Harry Caray statue looks so much like Billy Williams.

The answer is, of course, secret choice D) Just kill yourself and forgo the obvious hassle you are about to go through to watch a shitty team lose to another shitty team.  I know this because Kris and our friend Nancy took the live version of this quiz at the game tonight and failed miserably.

A buddy won a couple of free tickets to the game when he already had tickets he couldn't get rid of so he gave them to Kris and Nancy.  We headed to the gate over by the new Billy Williams statue and I went in Gate D while they went to go have their bags inspected.

I already considered this a colossal waste of time seeing as their bags were actually wristlets that can barely carry a container of Tic Tacs, much less anything that would be a threat to a stadium full of people, but security is security and if I understand Fox News correctly, the jihadists could be anywhere.  So they obediently went to the usher standing directly underneath the Bag Inspection line (choice B) that was separated from the rest of the gate entrance by a series of metal barriers.

When they got to the usher, this exchange took place:

Usher: You can't come in this way.
Kris: Why?
Usher: You have to go in over there. (Pointing to the rest of Gate D on the other side of the barrier)
Kris: But we have to go through the Bag Inspection line.
Usher: That's over there. (Again points to the rest of Gate D)
Kris: But you are standing under the Bag Inspection sign.
Usher: (Looking up) Oh yeah, I am, but you have to go over there.
Kris: Then you should go stand somewhere else or move the fucking sign.

(Editor's note: I love her.)

At this point, Kris and Nancy gave up and found the actual bag inspection lines that were adjacent to the area that was marked as the bag inspection area.  The actual inspector saw their wristlets and just waved them through.  I expect that inspector to be fired for showing a shred of common sense and judgement.  At the least, he will be sent to bed without his dinner to reflect on his mental lapse.

The game started, the Cubs lost, and I had to sit through four at-bats by Koyie Hill before the damn thing ended despite the fact that the Cubs are now carrying two other catchers on the roster that are all theoretically capable of playing better than Koyie even if they were blindfolded.  They must have done something bad that they need to reflect on before they are allowed to play again.

After the game, we were saying good-bye to one of our buddies, a 71-year old man that has spent his entire life watching this team suck.  Chances are excellent that this would be the last time Kris and Nancy would see him this season so they didn't want to just rush off.

The Cubs had barely left the field when Cubs security was telling us we had to start heading out. He acted like he was afraid we might try to set up a base camp unless he shooed us out.  Note to the Cubs: We aren't interested in spending any more time in the park than is necessary, we just happen to like our friend enough not to sprint away from him the moment the last out is made.

Of course, this was one game after I got a stern talking-to by a Cubs usher because I was saying good-bye to a few people as I stood up to leave a game during a pitching change, so I don't know why I'm surprised by anything anymore.

At least I don't carry a bag into the ballpark.  They'd probably beat me with a sack of oranges.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Am I a Bad Cubs Fan for Not Hating the Mets Anymore?

Adam Kellogg and I sometimes seem to share the portion of our brain that thinks about the Cubs.  Perhaps we have always been kindred spirits in Cub fandom and we are just now realizing it through the interwebs.  Perhaps our collaborations on Wrigley Talk Friday have put us in some sort of cosmic synchronization like when women all get on the same monthly cycle as their friends.  Perhaps it's just something that can be chalked up to earning me my own self-given Jersey Shore nickname: The Happenstance.

Whatever it is, Adam wrote a post earlier about why he hates the Mets and here I am writing about how I don't hate them anymore.

I don't like them.  I actually could really care less about them anymore.

When I was growing up, I hated the Mets.  I HATED the Mets.  I hated Keith Hernandez because he was a former Cardinal.  I hated Gary Carter because he was Gary Carter.  I hated Darryl Strawberry. I hated Lenny Dykstra. I hated Howard Johnson. I hated Jesse Orosco. I hated Wally Backman. I hated Ron Darling. I hated Davey Johnson. I really fucking hated Dwight Gooden because no matter how many homeruns Tuffy Rhodes hit off him, he still always fucking won.

When I started watching the Cubs, 1969 was still pretty fresh in the public consciousness.  Until 1984, that was the most recent and spectacular collapse in the Cubs history and the Mets were tied to it.  Then after years of both teams sucking, they both got good in 1984, but the bitch was that the Mets then stayed good while the Cubs collapsed back into their usual spot at the bottom of the standings and I hated them for their success.

But now the Mets aren't as good as often anymore, and even when they are decent, it doesn't matter much since they aren't in the Cubs division anymore.  They are second class citizens in their own hometown behind the Yankees and the Yankees don't care enough about them to be their chief rival.

I even like Darryl Strawberry a little more now since he was such a good sport appearing on the Simpsons. 

Hell, Keith Hernandez has earned less hatred for his contribution to the genius of Seinfeld.

Dwight Gooden is too pathetic to bother hating him anymore.  I still hate Gary Carter, but you hardly ever see him around.  Sometimes at Denny's.

Today the Mets are just another National League team with a bloated payroll and under-performing players that is no more worthy of my hatred than the Rockies or the Nationals. 

It was fun while it lasted though.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meet the 2011 Scapegoat: Jim Hendry

One of the nice things about removing oneself from the everyday hubbub of watching the Cubs lose to nondescript pitchers of questionable talent is that you get a chance to take a step back and see the bigger picture.  I mentioned yesterday how I don't think the ticket prices are going to move downwards next year because ticket revenues won't go up by filling more of the stands because the season ticket holders aren't going anywhere.

Doc Blume commented and made an excellent point about ticket sales not being the only factor:

But getting people to actually attend the game (and avoiding 10,000 no shows) is something that needs to be a high priority as well. The Cubs have lost a ton of revenue this year in concession sales, and on top of that, television rating have plummeted. In order for the Cubs to continue to have high revenues, they will need to not only sell the tickets, but get people in the stands...the last part of the plan that I felt was important to solve the Cubs current "people problem" was to get a superstar of some sort. There isn't any draw at Wrigley right now...no Sandberg, Dawson, Sosa or Caray.

He is right, but all the Cubs have to do is get through 2011 and have a plan to build up the hope again in 2012.  It would be nice if Hendry's three or four moves actually turn the team around and make them contenders, but it isn't essential.  Not with the Cubs' fan base. 

Like I said, the season ticket holders are locked in and as long as the Cubs don't come right out and literally hold season ticket holders' heads in the toilet, they will keep coming back.  They have more than a big enough buffer zone.  Think about how long it took for the Bears' season ticket waiting list to erode away.  Years of McCaskey meddling, Wannstedt trading away first round draft picks for Rick Mirer, and a dependency on "core" players like Alonzo Spellman (who makes Carlos Zambrano look measured and reasoned), not to mention an inability to work with the city to improve the stadium amenities.  And Bears fans are nowhere close to being as blindly loyal and addicted to the suckitude as Cubs fans who wear it as a badge of pride.

MB21 over at Another Cubs Blog has a theory that the Cubs actually could literally hold fans heads in the toilet and they would come back every year for more.  I won't go that far, but he's not as wrong about that as I'd prefer.

If things don't go miraculously well next year, the Ricketts can then entertain the thought of discounting unsold seats.  They don't care that season ticket holders can't sell their seats at face value because the Cubs already have the full price of the ticket in their coffers.  They might care, however, that they have bunches of unsold tickets.  So maybe they do some group discounts in certain sections (buy 3 get 1 free).  Maybe they just do an outright sale again like they did with the $10 bleacher tickets that pissed off Yellon (though not enough to make him consider telling his new best friend to find another sucker to buy his season bleacher seats).

Many people have wondered why the Cubs are keeping Jim Hendry around.  Wouldn't it make more sense for him to be sent away at the same time that Lou walks away?  Wouldn't it make the most sense to have a new general manager hire the new manager?

Sure, Hendry has made some nice moves.  Hell, I was ready to build a statue of him after he acquired Nomar Garciaparra and the highest rated prospect involved in the deal (Matt Murton) in exchange for Alex Gonzalez, Francis Beltran, and Brendan Harris.  This after getting Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi, and Aramis Ramirez (and Kenny Lofton) for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill, and Matt Bruback. But I don't think he is sticking around because of his job performance.

He has two years left on his deal, but eating his salary would be like eating the amuse bouche before choking down the all-you-can-eat buffet of Zambrano, Fukudome, and Soriano's salaries, so I don't think he his hanging on because of his contract status.

I'm guessing that the Rickettses need a scapegoat for 2011.  If things go horribly wrong (or, rather, as I expect them to), they won't be able to blame the Tribune as much as they were able to this year.  They will have a brand new manager, so they can't really blame him since he inherited this team of misfits.  They need someone to throw to the masses, so it might as well be Hendry.

Otherwise, there is no reason why he is being allowed to hire the new manager.  Hardly any general managers get to hire three different managers under three different rebuilding plans.  It is practically unheard of.  Bruce Miles provides us with some tidbits that make me think that Ricketts is already setting the trap to nail Hendry:

"It's Jim's responsibility to go out and find a new manager," Ricketts told Cubs beat writers during a brief chat after the rededication of the Harry Caray statue. "What he'll do is he'll create a shortlist, and I'll meet with him on the shortlist. 

"Jim's out there. It's his responsibility to bring us the shortlist and talk the names through and come up with the right answer."

Got that, Jim? 

Allow me to translate the Cubs-speak again for the rest of you: "This is on YOU, Jim.  2011 is YOUR responsibility.  Win or you're out.  Oh, you want to eat a bunch of money in existing contracts and get some extra money to sign free agents?  Here's a dollar.  Don't spend it all in one place.  Good luck!"

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it until something indicates otherwise.  Cubs fans WANT to believe that every year they have a chance.  It does not matter what common sense and good reason tells us.  It does not matter that projections told us that the Cubs were going to win 78-83 games this year. We wanted to believe that the margin of error could only favor the Cubs.  It did not enter our darkest dreams that a 78-win season at this point would be a ridiculous long shot.

If Hendry pulls some rabbits out of his hat and the Cubs can stay even reasonably close next year, the no-shows won't be as big a problem.  Good weather will get nice walk-up sales.  Series against good opponents will be interesting and they will sell.

If not, they will still be announcing crowds of 32,000 when there are probably half of that in the stands, but it doesn't matter for 2011 because the Cubs will have their money.  They will just offer up Jim Hendry as the sacrificial lamb and move to building up the hope again for 2012.

All the Cubs have to do is get to 2012 with their fan base intact.  By then, most of the horrible salaries will be off the books and they can start clean.  Silva is gone with a small buyout.  Ramirez is gone. Fukudome gone. Grabow gone. Dempster will be in his final year and potential trade bait.  Same with Zambrano, though I expect he'll be gone long before 2012.

Only Soriano will have unmovable money left on his contract, so that is virtually like starting clean.  A new general manager could really come in and make a difference.  It would certainly raise expectations and hope again, which is really all the Ricketts need at this point to keep ticket prices where they are.

You wondered how Hendry still has a job after all that has gone wrong in the last two years.  This is why.  And us season ticket holders are the ones who allow it to happen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why the Cubs Shouldn't (and Likely Won't) Lower Ticket Prices

Yesterday, I was perusing a few of my regular Cubs blogs in an attempt to get reacquainted with a team I had all but ignored since last Thursday.

I noticed a post by friend of Aisle 424, Cubbie Doc wherein he outlined his plan for the Ricketts to boost attendance next year at Wrigley. 

One part of his plan is to lower ticket prices:

Slashing prices by about 10% would seem appropriate. It might not hurt to lower prices of the bleachers even more than that, and possibly even reduce the cheapest seats (the top part of the upper deck) even more.

While I agree that reducing ticket prices might result in a bit of a boost to attendance next year, the question is whether it would help their revenue stream, which is what the Ricketts care about (and so would you if you had a $450 million credit card bill that needed paying).
Let's say that his assumption of about 25,000 season tickets is true (and I think he's probably pretty close with that guess since I've seen guesses range as high as over 27,000).  Those 25,000 seats are sold next year whether the Ricketts lower the prices, keep them the same, or even raise them.  When you have over four times as many people waiting for your product as you have product available, it tends to push the price up pretty high and the Cubs have over 100,000 on their waiting list.

Think about it. I might be about done with forking over my cash year in and year out to a loser team that doesn't seem to have any tangible sense of direction or strategy that doesn't involve revenue streams, but there are over 100,000 people looking over my shoulder waiting for the opportunity to buy in.  Those tickets are sold.  There may be some turnover in who they are sold to, but they are sold and you can put that in the bank next to all the money the Cubs will collect in January from season ticket holders.

So now what do they do to sell those single game tickets?  Let's say that demand for tickets declines next year.  There are still many games where they are going to sell out, or get at least the 15,000 or so tickets that remain unsold to season ticket buyers.  The Cardinals series, the White Sox series, and generally all the interleague series in the middle of summer will sell and they will sell early. So let's suppose that given all of those virtual sellouts, the Cubs can expect to sell about 5,000 single game tickets per game over the course of a season to bring average attendance to 30,000 per game.  That would be a precipitous drop of over 20% from the current average of 38,217 they are averaging so far this year (which is down about 3.5% from last year).

Let's also assume that dropping the price of tickets 10% from $52.56 to $47.30 increases single game demand by 20% (which I think is considerably more than it actually would).  But lets see what that does to the revenue stream:

So under the new price structure, the Cubs would average 31,000 per game instead of 30,000, but they would bring in about $9 million less in ticket revenue.  Those extra 81,000 fans per season would have to each spend over $110 on concessions and memorabilia to just break even in revenue, and I find that unlikely.

In order to break even at about $129 million in ticket revenue, a 10% drop in average ticket price would have to result in a 67% increase in single game ticket demand.  That is also unlikely without a dramatic increase in team performance, but if we figure that in, then there is really no reason to even consider a price drop since better performance will sell more tickets regardless of price.

So while I appreciate Cubbie Doc's desire to keep ticket prices in check, the only way to really make ticket prices go down is to make season ticket holders stop buying. I don't think that is going to happen as much as I thought it might earlier this year.  I took a poll in Aisle 424 last night and when posed with the question, "Will you renew next year?", most thought long and hard about it and said they probably would end up renewing.  I know Yellon has stated that not even the crime of the Cubs selling $10 bleacher seats to games he paid $60 for will keep him from renewing.  It doesn't sound like Cubbie Doc is going to stop buying.

Look what happens if the Cubs decide to raise the average ticket price by 10% next year and that causes single game ticket demand to fall of a cliff by 50%:

Despite lowering the average game attendance to 27,500, they would still come out ahead in revenue from our baseline assumptions.  Granted, they will burn through that 100,000 wait list like it was set on fire by the Cubs' bullpen, but if they really wanted to raise ticket prices while hoping and praying that the on-field team performs well enough to justify it for future seasons, they could probably do that and get away with it.  That is the kind of cushion they have and that is the reason they had representatives in their ticket office brazenly talk about how Cubs tickets are practically recession proof.

As long as the season ticket waiting list exists and season tickets sell out every year, all the Cubs technically need to do is find out how much pain their most loyal fans are willing to endure every year, both on the field and in their pocketbooks.

Today, Bruce Miles reported on a pow-wow between Tom Ricketts and the beat writers on a few things, but included these bits about ticket prices and ticket sales:

--On whether the Cubs would hold the line on ticket prices for next year, Tom was noncommittal, saying the Cubs hadn't formulated their pricing strategy yet.

--On attendance being down this year and thousands of seats being empty of late, Tom said: "Obviously, we want every seat full every game. The attendance has been very, very strong in the grandstand. But certain day games and then the last couple of night games, the bleachers have been softer. We've got to put a winning product on the field to make sure all the seats are full every year."

Allow me to translate the Cubs-speak that was being fed to the reporters: 
  •  "Hadn't formulated their pricing strategy yet" = ticket prices probably aren't going to move in the downward direction much, if at all.
  • "Attendance has been very, very strong in the grandstand" = We love that our season ticket holders keep coming back for this shit.
  • "The bleachers have been softer" = There are only a few fools who buy those ridiculously bad seats in full season packages at secondary market prices.
  • "We've got to put a winning product on the field to make sure the seats are full every year" = We've got to get our smoke and mirror tricks down pat to fool people into thinking this roster is going to contend next year.
The Cubs know they have us. They know it because we have never given them any indication as a fan base that we are fed up. Sure, there were tons of empty seats last night, probably something like 17,000 in attendance, but the announced crowd was over 31,000.  Apparently, they announced over 33,000 for today's afternoon game. That is because no matter how shitty the opponent, how bad the weather, or how many losses the Cubs pile up while playing guys like Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir, you won't see any attendance figures below 25,000 this year (or next year) because of season ticket sales.
As long as the season ticket holders continue to line up like cattle, ticket prices aren't going anywhere but up, and as business-people, the Ricketts would be foolish to do anything otherwise.