Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tom & Ernie Go To Arizona

Election time is nearing and the Cubs are making their best effort to convince the people of Mesa, Arizona that Proposition 420 is something that would make their lives better.

According to Carrie Muskat:

Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, joined Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts to campaign to keep the team in Mesa, Ariz.

Banks and Ricketts were in Mesa on Monday, trying to rally support for Proposition 420, which would allow the city of Mesa to spend up to $99 million on a new Spring Training facility for the Cubs. Voters will decide on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The money includes $84 million for a stadium, practice fields and training facilities and $15 million for infrastructure. The Cubs' owners would fund a "Wrigleyville West" retail district around the complex, which would be built at the current Riverview Park site.

Tom is bringing out the big guns by bringing the always engaging Ernie Banks to whip up support.  How will he get the people of Arizona, 10% of whom are unemployed, to vote for such a large allocation of money?

Banks, a Hall of Famer who played for the team from 1953-71, said he recalled riding a train to the Cubs' Spring Training facility in Mesa in '53 but missed his stop. The team's traveling secretary, Bob Lewis, was waiting at the depot for Banks and when the train went by with the shortstop still on it, he chased it down with his car.

"They stopped the train," Banks told reporters in Mesa on Monday. "I didn't know where I was. I thought, 'Why am I here?' Mesa was a very small community. It's not anymore. It's grown and changed."

If you can figure out how that has anything to do with why the citizens of Mesa should vote for this allocation of funds, you are smarter than me.  I'm also not sure why Carrie included this little tidbit in her story, other than needing to fill a minimum number of words.

I can just imagine Ernie and Tom out and about meeting voters and rallying the people:

Tom: This development of the Riverview Park site is crucial to developing the Cubs into an elite team, and it can bring millions more dollars into your community.  It's win/win.  I hope you'll all support it as much as my good friend, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks does.

Ernie: When I trained here, this area was all nothing but cactuses as far as the eye could see.  Or is it cacti?  I forget.

Tom: I think it's cacti, but that doesn't matter today.  What does matter is how important Proposition 420 is to the community of Mesa, right Ernie?

Ernie: You know, I think this was the spot where we hazed Santo in his rookie year by dropping him with nothing but a jock strap so he had to find his way back to the clubhouse.  Like I said, there wasn't anything around then but those cacti.  Are you sure that's what it is? That sounds wrong to me.

Tom: I'm fairly certain it is cacti.  I am as certain as I am that Proposition 420 is good for the city of Mesa, for the fans that bring in all the tourist dollars that make your community thrive, and for the Chicago Cubs!

Ernie:  Heh heh heh, that's right.  I'm pretty sure this is the spot.  I remember because we spun him around a few times and I pointed him in the direction of that mountain over there so he wouldn't know what direction was what.  You should have seen him when he got back to camp.  He looked like a lobster!

Tom:  Yes. Well. Don't forget to vote YES on Proposition 420 on November 2nd!

Ernie:  He was a good sport, but he did get us back by putting cactuses in our beds one night.  Yeah, that sounds better.

Tom: (sigh)

Ernie: The Cubs will be heaven in 2011!  Let's play two!

Tom: Let's go, Ernie.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Wreck Not Associated With the Cubs

The bulk of the weather system that was being called the Great Lakes Cyclone is passing through the Chicago area this morning and the winds are still whipping through the area at 30-40 mph with gusts into the 50-60 mph range.

Supposedly, this weather system is more severe than the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald almost 35 years ago on November 10, 1975 on Lake Superior.  Since reading that factoid, I haven't been able to get the Gordon Lighfoot song out of my head, and now you can't either:

I know this doesn't have anything to do with the Cubs, but huge disasters always make me think of the Cubs, so there is your tie-in if you need one.

Also, can you imagine if the World Series were happening in Chicago with the wind whipping like that?  Of course, I'm speaking hypothetically.  We'll never really know unless Chicago somehow gets a neutral ground World Series at some point in the future.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cubs Pick Quade To Be Fired After 2012

Jim Hendry went with his gut and chose Mike Quade to stay as the manager of the Chicago Cubs.  My Twitter feed then proceeded to explode like it hasn't since Steve Stone made up trade rumors about Milton Bradley.

People are mad.

Some are mad that Ryne Sandberg didn't get hired.  Some people are mad that Joe Girardi got hired.  Some people are mad that neither Ryne Sandberg nor Joe Girardi got hired.  One person I saw was mad that Bob Brenly wasn't hired. 

I said they were mad, not rational or logical.

When it is all said and done, this is a lot of angst over a decision that probably doesn't matter that much.  Unless Ryne Sandberg had figured out a way to start the 1984 version of himself at second base, the overall results on the field by a Quade-led team probably won't be much different than a Sandberg-led team.  But since there is no way to prove that, let's just throw out that reason to calm down.

How about that there was no decision that Hendry could make that didn't screw someone?

By hiring Quade, he screwed Sandberg a bit.  Sure, nothing was ever promised to Sandberg, but when Hendry hired Lou, he basically told Sandberg he wasn't a serious candidate because he didn't have enough minor league managing experience.  So he went and managed in the minors for another three years and did pretty well at each stop.  He even won Manager of the Year this past year.  So, he did everything the club asked of him and he still got passed over.  Admit it, that would not feel good if that happened to you in your job.

But if he had hired Sandberg, Hendry would have ignored the job Quade did when given the controls of this team when they were in a nose dive that I thought would hit 100 losses easily.  Giving weight to 37 games at the end of the season (mostly with expanded rosters) may not be a prudent thing to do in evaluating managerial candidates, but the Cubs did that when they gave Quade the interim position and talked about how he was a serious candidate for the full time job.  It doesn't matter that this would be like choosing which cardiologist should do your heart surgery by comparing their SAT scores.  The Cubs made it a valid criteria in their job search by announcing that it was valid.  How could they then decide to ignore that criteria without Quade feeling screwed?  They couldn't.

If they had hired Joe Girardi, people would be too busy noticing the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse riding through the air to realize that such a hire would basically be screwing both Quade and Sandberg.

So I'm not too worked up over it, but here are the positive aspects of going with Quade:
  • He and Hendry's contracts now both end at the same time, so if they want to make a change after 2012, a new GM will then hire a new manager to start fresh all around.
  • Quade's deal can't be that expensive, so if the 2011 season ends up being the 100 loss season I think it can be, then both Hendry and Quade can be fired a year early without having to eat too much in salary.
  • The players supported Quade, which probably would have had an impact on how they accepted Ryne in the position to start out.  Again, maybe not a valid criteria for hiring a manager, but I'd rather the Cubs listen to players who have to play for the manager than fans who just watch on TV.
  • Nothing about this hire means the Cubs can't still hire Sandberg in the future. He may get hired somewhere else and maybe even be hired as a major league manager, but he probably isn't getting more than two years from anyone, and none of the openings are with teams that are likely to turn around so quickly that he'll get automatically extended.  In all likelihood, Sandberg will be available in 2013 when Quade and Hendry's contracts are up.
  • This was obviously not a PR move on the part of the Cubs intended to sell tickets.  Whether the choice was right or wrong (or whether their methods were flawed), the Cubs tried to make the right baseball decision and risked pissing off a significant portion of their fan base.  The Cubs have made too many moves where marketing and PR have been too big a factor in the decision process so this is a refreshing change.

I expect to see Quade in this pose quite a bit in 2011.

I'm sure Quade will do a decent enough job with the talent he has.  His big problem now is that people will expect him to continue working miracles with a roster that features ever-aging stars, a shallow bullpen, crappy defensive skills, and not much power.  For some reason, Cubs fans still think this is a good team.  It isn't, and expecting Quade to make it a good team is unfair to him.

Sandberg will find a job doing something and I'm sure it will almost assuredly be with a better team than the Cubs.  It may turn out that the Cubs simply followed the adage, "If you love something, set it free."

Monday, October 18, 2010

This Shouldn't Be a Tough Question

Shortly after Tom Ricketts sent us his letter where (in addition to rambling on about many other things) he announced that ticket rates would be flat, I got my season ticket invoice with almost a 3% mark-up.  Granted, I was not surprised by this at all as I predicted in my post about the ticket price adjustments:
"Anyone grandfathered into the Combo Plan (nights and weekends) isn't benefiting from all of their restructuring since the price drops will all be in games not included in their package.  I would gather this group will almost assuredly be in the group whose prices actually go up since they now have the Premiere-Ultra-Awesome-Happy-Fun-Luxury Tier games to pay for without [lower-tiered games] to offset that cost."

So, it's not like I didn't already know this was coming.

What was surprising was the timing of the letter and the bumped up time frame where the Cubs expected us to make our decisions to renew.  In previous years, the renewal letter didn't even come out until the end of November or the beginning of December.  They would then want our answer by the week before Christmas and the invoice would be due by mid-January.

This year, we have until November 1st to decide.  (Payment is still not due until January.)

Nevermind that the Cubs will be nowhere close to being able to tell us what the team is going to look like in 2011 by November 1.  Players can't file for free agency until five days after the World Series ends, so teams can't really talk specifically about players they want to target without violating tampering rules before that.  The World Series will end on October 31st if it is a four game sweep, so the earliest we could start hearing about who Hendry wants to target will be November 5th.

We may not even know who the manager will be before November 1st.  If the Cubs are holding out to speak with Joe Girardi before making their choice, there is a real possibility he won't be done with his season until after November 1 as the Yankees go deeper into the post-season.

Once again, the arrogance of the Chicago Cubs ticket office comes through.  They once again pointed out to us in the renewal letter (as though we had maybe somehow forgotten how much they have us by the short and curlies) that there are 116,000 people waiting for these season tickets, so we better make our decision NOW!  They are requiring their fan base make a leap of faith and trust that 2011 will be worth the expense, when they have provided little evidence that it won't be worse than 2010.

So why haven't I already faxed my form back in with a big "FUCK YOU" written on it?

I wish I had a sane and rational answer for you.  The only answer is that the Cubs are an addiction.

I fear the withdrawal of not being able to go to fifty-plus games per year as I have for the past 13 years.  I fear the remote possibility that the Cubs will find themselves in the World Series and I'll have to watch on television, when a little faith (and a nice chunk of money spent) would have gotten me the rights to see the Cubs play a World Series in Wrigley. But more than anything, I know I'll never be able to get them back.

I know my friends at ACB who read this will be (dying laughing) at the thought of a Cubs World Series team since they have shown pretty clearly that it is going to take a whole lot of luck and more money spent on the payroll than the Ricketts seem willing to spend to even come close to the post-season, but here I am about to lose sleep with a real anxiety that prevents me from just telling the Cubs to take their flat pricing and shove it up their noodle.  At some point, in the middle of the night, I fully expect to see the "Trainspotting" baby with Tyler Colvin's head crawling on my ceiling.

This is what the Cubs are counting on.  They know that all of those 27,000 tickets per game are held by people who have a similar irrational fear as me.  They know they could write a letter that says we have to agree to be nut-punched every day until Christmas in order to renew and we would do it.  And if a few season ticket holders decided not to get punched in the junk every day, there are 116,000 more people who will take the punches instead.

If the Cubs were any other team in the world, Wrigleyville would be a ghost town after 102 years of losing.  At least when the Red Sox got into the 80 year range, they started fielding consistently contending teams.  Every year, their fans went into the season thinking they had a realistic shot.  With only a few notable exceptions, Cubs fans go into practically every season with no real basis for the fans' optimism and there is still a huge crush to buy tickets. Remember how Cubs fans thought the projections had to be wrong when they all were putting the 2010 Cubs at 3rd or 4th in the Central with about 80 wins?

It is fascinating that the addictive behavior that is found in only a few of the crazier members of other fan bases is an epidemic within the Cubs fan base.  For some reason, the Cubs have joined the cigarette companies in openly pushing an addictive and harmful product on a populace that can't seem to use reason and logic when making a purchase decision.

Shouldn't the government be regulating Cubs ticket sales?  Clearly we are being led down a path of dispair and destruction by the Cubs and we can't be trusted to make the smart decision.  The State of Illinois could close their budget gap by putting taxes on Cubs tickets that rival cigarette taxes.  Cubs fans would pay it.  I'm shocked it hasn't already happened.

The deadline is approaching and I know what the smart decision is.  The only question is whether I have the willpower to make the right decision.

Hey! We get a baseball autographed by Castro, Colvin, and Cashner if we renew and pay by check!  What a nice gesture! That's pretty sweet!

... Damn it!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ricketts Letter: The Final Chapter

So, if you have been following along, Tom Ricketts' letter to the season ticket holders has now reached epic proportions.  He has used many, many, many, many words to explain things that really shouldn't be that hard to succinctly discuss:
  • Cubs fans are important to the Ricketts family
  • Families are important to the Ricketts family
  • The Cubs were disappointing in 2010, except for the end part when they were awesome
  • 2011 will be a continuation of the awesome part
  • Some ticket prices will go up for some games and seats, but not others, when they may go down, or not
  • The new ticket prices make it easier for families to go to Cubs games
  • Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings!, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree
After all of this, you may be asking yourself if you can expect to see any more major changes in Wrigley Field itself in 2011.  You will be happy to know that the answer to that question is... maybe.

Like you, we love Wrigley Field and are committed to winning a championship at the Friendly Confines. We all need to recognize, however, that our wonderful Wrigley Field is fast approaching 100 years of age and is in need of substantial improvements. We committed over $10 million to that effort last year, largely to improve restrooms, add new food options, recast concrete, upgrade steel and other general maintenance. We will continue this effort in 2011 but again the focus will be more tactical than strategic.

Yes, the urinals and the bison dogs, how can we forget?  Sounds like more of the same little tweaks that they will herald later as grand sweeping changes are in store for us in 2011.  Seriously, did anybody notice an appreciable difference in the bathrooms?  The one change I noticed was that the sign above the sink that said "sink" to differentiate itself from the troughs was not there when the season began and then re-appeared at some point in the middle of the season.

I honestly have no idea if this is a Before or After picture.

The bison dogs were tasty from what I remember.  I didn't have one after the month of May because I had stopped buying anything in the ballpark as a personal protest.  But whatever, they didn't suck, which was nice compared to what we were offered on the baseball field while we ate the damn things.

So who knows what will come next.  Ketchup and mustard packets instead of the dispensers that always cause a log jam at the condiment/napkin stations because everyone is trying to unwrap their food to be able to apply some mustard?  Miller Park and a few other ballparks have little kiosks that serve freshly roasted nuts with cinnamon and sugar.  Those are awesome.  Maybe something like that?  I might even buy some of those even if the team sucks next year.

Whatever it is they have planned, it doesn't sound like it will be of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, so you have to wonder why Tom bothered to bring it up at all, but he was on a roll.

We spent much of the 2010 season assembling a team of renowned architects, engineers, designers and project managers to develop a master plan for a more significant Wrigley Field overhaul and Triangle Building development. Our planning will continue in 2011 and your involvement through the quality assurance surveys mentioned earlier is very important. We look forward to completing the analysis phase and getting underway with the construction and occupation phase.

The Triangle Building!  Bet you had forgotten all about that with all the noodles and Toyota signs and the team sucking and all, but there it is still getting planned.  Look at them plan.  Plan, plan, plan.  They should charge money to have fans be able to watch them plan.

They are looking forward to turning the plans into reality though, as should you because there will be all kinds of different ways to separate us from our money in the Triangle Building.  They just have to finish planning how. Hopefully their plans for the Triangle Building are more solid than their plans for building a World Series contender.

I guess as long as it isn't the same people that designed the Soldier Field spaceship thing, I don't care that much, but it sure was nice of Tom to keep us informed that nothing specific can be divulged at this time.


We were in Year One when this started, what year is it now?

Thank you again for your incredible support of Cubs baseball and the Ricketts family. We have spent our adult lives sitting next to you cheering for our team. We now have the responsibility to improve not only the play on the field but also to protect and save our summer home, Wrigley Field. With your help we will accomplish both.

It is pretty incredible that so many people love this team so much when they never, ever fulfill that love and devotion by ending a season with a playoff win. 

Think about it, Tom openly admitted that payroll is going to go down (and therefore the realistic expectations of being a contender also go down), and at the same time they've said they'll pretty much be charging us the same rates as last year (which was supposed to be a contending team). I haven't seen much backlash about that.  We, as a fanbase, seem pretty much OK with it since they aren't actually raising the rates (except when they are for some people).

That is incredible.  It really is.

I did notice a slight clerical error at the end though.

"With your help money we will (hope, pray and ultimately fail to) accomplish both."

Fixed. You're welcome.


Thanks, Tom.  Do you take personal checks?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ricketts Letter: Ticket Pricing - Good Luck Figuring It Out!

If you remember from last week, Tom Ricketts sent a very lengthy letter and I've been breaking it down as best I can so it can be viewed safely by normal human beings without going insane.  By now we've seen that Tom has given a group hug to the fans, talked up the rookies to Corey Patterson levels, glossed over the disaster of the 2010 season, and made some leaps from small sample sizes to build up the hope for 2011.  At this point, he is counting on our eyes glazing over and nobody reading this far.  As one of my heroes,  Dave Barry, has pointed out, it is an age-old tactic dating back to Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence:

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that they should get some sleep.  Because I have been up for two nights now, declaring independence, and I may be a lanky Virginian but I am not a machine, for heaven's sake, and it just doesn't make sense to sit here scrawling away these complex-compound sentences when I just know nobody's going to read them, because nobody ever does read all the way through these legal documents. Take leases. You take the average tenants, and you could put a lease in front of them with a clause halfway through stating that they have to eat toasted moose doots for breakfast, and I'll guarantee you they never read it."

His betting no one is reading at this point so that it will be an optimal time to slip in some information that won't necessarily be popular along with some confusing plans that are being spun as good news for season ticket holders. Tom is crafty.  It is time to start talking about:

2011 Ticket Pricing

The other question I get regularly concerns our ticket pricing for 2011 and beyond. Overall, our average ticket price will be flat in 2011 compared to 2010. Before going into greater detail on that topic, let me provide some background.

Translation: The amount of revenue we generate from ticket sales on an average per ticket basis will remain the same, but it will change for you. I won't say how yet because I'm going to try to confuse you with more words here in a second.  (Hint: it probably isn't going to go down for you, but I'll try to make you think that it is.)

My family is committed to providing ticket pricing that allows families to enjoy Cubs baseball. In so many ways, our children represent the next generation in the Cubs family. We want to invest in providing families with opportunities to experience Wrigley Field, including such things as running the bases, which will be continued in 2011.

This is nice.  Families can come and watch the Cubs and enjoy the same experiences as the Ricketts FAMILY that now owns the team.  They understand the importance of families and they understand that giving children the opportunity to come to games at an early age is important so that they can get addicted and continue buying tickets for the rest of their lives.

To this end, we will continue the policy of keeping many of our tickets in the sub $10 range-in fact, we will offer a substantial increase in sub-$10 tickets next year compared to 2010.

As long as the families are content sitting in the 500 sections of the upper deck in the outfield (and like to see the Pirates a lot), they can get into the park for less than $10 per person.  I'm sure it is only a coincidence that these sections probably have the fewest season ticket holders since season ticket holders generally want a halfway decent seat if they are going to sit and watch a team lose 81 times per year.

In addition, we are increasing the number of bronze games (our lowest ticket pricing tier) from 6 games in 2010 to 15 games in the bleachers and 11 games in the grandstand in 2011. As a result, there will be 77% more tickets priced at $20 or less in 2011 than there were in 2010. Stated differently, a total of more than 550,000 tickets will be available for $20 or less next year.

This is great news to the single-game ticket buyers because there are now cheaper options available to the games that the Cubs had trouble selling at the end of the year last year (and therefore would probably be a tough sell in 2011).  It could also end up lowering a season ticket holder's cost overall as long as they don't jack up prices to the games they know they are going to sell out anyway.  Let's cross our fingers.

Again, our average ticket price next year will be essentially flat compared to 2010 (actually it is fractionally down vs. 2010). This does not mean all ticket prices will be the same as last year however, as pricing was adjusted based on location and our schedule. A little background might be helpful.

See what I mean about a bunch of words? He already said this, but he really wants to hammer home the message that the average ticket price won't be going up so he'll repeat it again here and then go into some more background (translation: more words to distract us).

To set our pricing in 2011, we examined approximately 5 million transactions from our primary and secondary ticket markets from 2005 through 2010. Our goal was to keep our average ticket price flat overall but improve the alignment of pricing for games and seating sections with actual demand. The result is a market-based ticket model that reflects our fans' buying patterns.

They are segmenting their fanbase based on past ticket buying patterns and splitting the stadium and games into appropriate categories to maximize their profit from every segment. There is nothing sinister about this and they are actually being very smart in not lumping all Cubs fans into one massive group. The duplicitous thing they are doing is talking about a few segments being helped by their price adjustments as if it was benefiting a large percentage of the season ticket holders, which is just not true.

The highlights include: (1) reducing the average ticket price for all gold, silver and bronze games, (2) separating the bleachers and grandstands in the pricing tiers, as the buying patterns vary significantly for each area, and (3) adding a new fifth tier of pricing (Marquee Tier) for our highest demand games.

1) Yay!
2) That's a highlight?
3) Uh. Oh.

Cutting through it all, the net result for our season ticket holders is that some will see a slight (in all cases, less than 3%) increase, others will see a reduction as much as 6% and some will see virtually no change at all.

Oh ho!  There's the increase snuck in there amongst all the good news and tier talk.  You have to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak that by us in Aisle 424, Tom.

So let's take Tom's approach and cut through it all.  I would be shocked if the percentage of season ticket holders that actually see a drop in their overall price from 2010 is over 20%.  I'd actually be surprised if it was higher than 15%, but I'm being conservative.

Folks holding tickets in the infield portion of the stadium are mostly full plan holders, so they will benefit slightly from an increase in the number of cheaper Crappy Level games, but that will get negated by the boost of including the new Mega-Maxi-Super-Duper-Snazzy-Marquee-alicious Tier in the package.  They also will not benefit from those 550,000 tickets that are under $20 that Tom mentioned before.

Anyone grandfathered into the Combo Plan (nights and weekends) isn't benefiting from all of their restructuring since the price drops will all be in games not included in their package.  I would gather this group will almost assuredly be in the group whose prices actually go up since they now have the Premiere-Ultra-Awesome-Happy-Fun-Luxury Tier games to pay for without anything to offset that cost.

The folks who will benefit are the Bleacher season ticket holders (Yellon and his three friends), and the folks who sit way down the lines and/or far under the upper deck in the Terrace Reserved sections.  Like I said before, the percentage of season ticket holders in these sections are small.  This new pricing structure is actually much more beneficial to the single game buyers like the families Tom talked about a million words ago.

It's all very simple.  Oh, there's a separate pricing structure for bleachers now too?

But Tom, always crafty, has packaged this into his announcement to season ticket holders, and tried to bury it as best he could.  Now he's going to talk about a bunch of stuff that has little to do with the baseball team being good as a way to continue to sell us on what a good deal season tickets are.

Other changes in 2011 include new season ticket holder benefits. Over the years, we have added significant benefits to being a Cubs season ticket holder, such as a dedicated area within our website, early access to Spring Training tickets and other special events (such as the very popular Dave Matthews concerts and Allstate Wrigleyville Classic football game coming in November), and last year's open house.

Dude, we just want the team to fucking win.  Seriously.  Do that and I'll volunteer to let any member of the Cubs organization punch me in the ding and take a dollar from me.  You can form a line.  It will be totally worth it.

For 2011, there are a number of new benefits that I think you will find interesting. Among them is exclusive access to our players, coaches, manager, front office and ownership through Cubs Insider Webcasts that will occur throughout the year. In addition to updates on everything happening inside the ballclub, these webcasts will provide you the opportunity to ask questions on topics of your choice. A Season Ticket Holder Benefit page follows this letter and you should ask your Cubs representative about any of the items listed there.

Finally!  A chance to have my question about what brand of chewing gum Justin Berg prefers answered! 

Actually, as a Cubs blogger, the Webcasts would probably be pure gold as they shove more contrived crap into our consciousness than the people at Vineline could possibly dream.  Get ready to learn way more about Starlin Castro than any normal human being should ever want.

The long and short of it is: the Cubs have lowered prices on games you either don't want to see or can't see because you have a job, and on the seats that you don't want to sit in unless you have to because all of the other good seats are sold.  They have raised ticket prices on all the really good games because they know they can and they will still sell them out.  I'm actually shocked at their restraint in how much they've bumped them.

They can talk about families all they want and how much they care about us, but when it comes down to it, this was about adjusting the single game pricing structure to maximize those revenues while still collecting the full amount of revenue from season ticket holders that they count on each and every year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ricketts Letter: 2011 Preview - Things Are Looking Up!

So far, Tom has told us how valued we, the fans, are and how the 2010 season had a whole bunch of silver linings if you looked hard enough.  But enough about all of the lovey-dovey crap and going over things in the past nobody can change.  Let's talk about the future!  What about 2011?  Tom?:

We are early in the process of building the club for 2011. The first order of business is hiring our manager. Jim Hendry has identified a strong group of candidates and we are currently completing our interviews. This is a critical decision and I am confident we will find the right person to lead the club.

When the list of candidates involves Bob Melvin it can't really be that strong.  Ryne Sandberg has name recognition, Mike Quade has a month of major league experience with an expanded roster,  and Joe Girardi isn't even officially interested in the job.  Bob Brenly said thanks, but no thanks.  The only way the list gets less impressive is if Dave Martinez is added to it (and he's interested!).

I do like his confidence and wish I had that sort of optimism regarding the choice Hendry is about to make.  I wonder where that comes from...

Oh yeah.

The strength of our team in 2010 was our starting pitching, as we led the National League with 96 quality starts. We expect that to continue. We are excited to see the continued development of our young players and the strong bullpen work anchored by Carlos Marmol (38 saves and a reliever-franchise record 138 strikeouts) and Sean Marshall (2.65 ERA, 22 holds).

I really like this paragraph because he starts out talking about the quality of the starting pitching and finishes by talking about the youth again (particularly Marmol and Marshall - who aren't starters).  This would lead many people to believe that the starting pitching that was so successful this past year is young and that we can expect that kind of success in the future.  It's a great marketing message.

Unfortunately, it is also wishful thinking at best and flat out not true at worst.  The leader in quality starts this season was Ryan Dempster, age 34 next year.  Next comes Randy Wells (age 29), Carlos Silva (age 32), and Carlos Zambrano (age 30).  That isn't exactly a kindergarten class out there.  What's more, Dempster and Silva will be in their last years of expensive contracts, and the Cubs would really like to get rid of Zambrano's big contract.  This does not bode well when the two regular starters with the lowest percentage of quality starts (Wells and Gorzelanny) are the only ones under 30 years old.

The only other starters besides the aforementioned Casey Coleman that pitched for the Cubs this year under the age of 30 were Jeff Samardzija and Thomas Diamond. This does not make me feel optimistic.

Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. We need to improve our offense and become more efficient in both moving runners and hitting with players in scoring position. It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves, trades or through free agent acquisitions. But we know we must improve in these areas.

This paragraph sounds like he is running for something and he is addressing a room full of Cubs fans all waving "It's Gonna Happen" signs.  He talks about changing what needs to be changed and offers absolutely no solutions.  Here is how I imagine it would be written on a teleprompter:

"Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. (wait for applause)
We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. (wait for applause)
We need to improve our offense (pause)
and become more efficient in both moving runners (pause)
and hitting with players in scoring position. (wait for applause)
It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves,
trades or through free agent acquisitions.
(pounds fist on podium) But we know we must (pounds fist)
improve in these areas. (wait for standing ovation)"

Add a "God Bless the Cubs" and maybe a "Think of the children" and you've got a really good start to a stump speech.

Given that we had the highest payroll in the NL in 2010, I get a lot of questions about our payroll commitment for 2011. As I said earlier, we are still working on our 2011 baseball plan, so it is hard to be too specific at this time. What I can tell you is that our overall baseball budget (scouting, player development and payroll) will be about the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. Continued long term success will come through superior scouting and player development, and we are committed to improving that facet of the organization. As a result, this likely means a shift of some of our resources from the major league payroll toward scouting and player development, but we are still very much in the evaluation phase.

This is what Tom has been working towards with all the youth talk.  Young talent in baseball is cheap talent, thus the major league payroll is most likely going down.  This means there will be veterans traded away if Hendry can find takers who are willing to pay a decent portion of the contract.  This means that the team is most likely going to be crappy.  Tom is trying to sell the notion of a rebuild, but he's framing it so that we think that the youth can carry the team as soon as next year.

The thing is, most of the superior talent down in the farm system probably won't be making significant contributions until the rosters expand again in September.  If there was talent that close to being significant on the major league level, we surely would have seen it down the stretch in 2010.  Instead we got Thomas Diamond and Jeff Samardzija.

Trades probably won't boost that major-league ready talent unless they are willing to part with pieces like Marmol and Marshall.  Otherwise, all the Cubs get back is salary relief in any trades that occur of players like Fukudome or Zambrano (not that he would waive the no-trade clause anyway).

So Tom is doing his darndest to put the best face on 2011, but when it all comes down to it, it really has no more substance than this:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ricketts Letter: 2010 Review - It Wasn't All Shitty!

Tom Ricketts opened telling us how important Cubs fans are to the team, so now that we are still basking in the warm embrace of our new fan-friendly owners, it's as good a time as any to slap us in the face with the cold, hard reality of the:

2010 Review

The 2010 season was a disappointment for all at the major league level-for my family, for the organization, for the players and for the fans. The team showed signs of its potential the last quarter of the season, but the 75-87 record fell well short of our goals. My family is committed to winning a World Series and though it may not be entirely evident from this year's performance, there are encouraging signs.

Well that sure doesn't sound like the season was as big of a cluster-fuck death march as I thought it was.  Maybe I'm all turned around about the Cubs. Maybe I'll get a DVD to commemorate such a successful season:

Oh... right...
(h/t The Heckler)

If the potential of this team was shown by lots of playing time for Koyie Hill, Darwin Barney, Bobby Scales, and Micah Hoffpauir, I'm not sure what the encouraging signs are.  However, Tom nails it on the head when he says that his family's committment to winning a World Series is not "evident from this year's performance."

The 2010 highlights revolved around our home grown talent. Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner developed into budding stars, with Castro and Colvin in the NL Rookie of the Year discussion. That young group was enhanced by the August promotion of Casey Coleman, who went 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his last four starts. All need to take the next step in 2011, but we are very encouraged to have a group of young, home grown players emerge as regulars in 2010.

There is the silver lining.  Castro, Colvin, and for some reason, Cashner, get prominent billing.  Youth shall save us! The Cubs seem hellbent on turning Cashner into a middle reliever so even if you followed him through the minors and are excited about his power arm, no team should hype a middle relief prospect in its top three "encouraging" signs.  Throwing Casey Coleman and his small sample size is just grasping for straws.

We also have to recognize the superb job done by another one of our own-Mike Quade. During the final 37 games, the team played at a .649 clip (24-13), the second best record in the majors over that timeframe. Making this even more significant, we played largely against teams fighting for playoff berths.

This last part is particularly interesting since Tom seems to be selling Quade to the fans.  He could have mentioned the strong finish and left it at that to build the hope train going for next season, but he practically equates Quade to a prospect that is coming into his own at the major league level that we can enjoy in future seasons. Huh...

Plus, he gets a little liberal with his definitions again when he states the Cubs finished "largely" against teams fighting for playoff berths.  Even if I include the last three games against the Cardinals as a team "fighting for playoff berths," only 16 of Quade's 37 games came against such playoff contenders.  In those 16 games, the Cubs were 9-7.  That is nice, but it isn't like they kicked good teams' asses and took names.  But yes, Quade did a nice job overall.

It is my strong belief that, in the end, it is organizations with strong farm systems that win championships and I am convinced that our organization is making progress.

Our success in producing talent from within our system can be attributed to a number of factors, including a commitment of financial resources. We believe we have one of the best scouting directors in baseball in Tim Wilken (now 4 years in place) and with a strong farm director in Oneri Fleita and a very productive international effort, we are making progress in what had been a weak spot in the organization.

He's talking about good young talent more than a popped-collar guy at Casey Moran's.  It's like he's wearing beer goggles when looking at the state of the team...

Well, that explains the optimism.

Our farm clubs performed very well in 2010, playing to a collective 374-316 record, with first place finishes at both the Triple-A level in Iowa (tied) and Double-A level in Tennessee. The overall .542 winning percentage was second among all major league organizations and our 374 wins were the most for the Cubs organization in 15 years. As I said at our opening press conference about a year ago, we are committed to winning the right way---with our farm system. We believe we are on the right track.

Notice he didn't mention what a great job Ryne Sandberg did to lead Iowa to that first place tie.  Maybe because they blew a post-season berth in their last game.  Maybe because Ryne suddenly finds himself on the outside looking in?  At least there is a head-fake towards Ryne with his mention of "winning the right way."

Besides the absence of Sandberg being discussed, some other noticeable omissions were: Every veteran player on the roster.  No mention of Zambrano's strong finish, no mention of Byrd's All-Star appearance, no mention of Soto's rebound season.  It makes you wonder if a full fire sale may at least be on the table as an option.

So, in short, the season was disappointing, but check out all those rookies!  That makes a nice segue into the next segment:

Part 3 - 2011 Preview - Things Are Looking Up!

Letter from Tom Ricketts: Intro (We're Not Worthy!)

As you may have already heard through the Twitterverse, I received a nice letter from Tom Ricketts today in my e-mail that addressed the 2010 season, the managerial search, plans for 2011 and beyond, further improvements to Wrigley Field, and ticket pricing.  The letter is shorter than Moby Dick, but only a little bit so I'll address the components in separate posts to keep you all from dying of exhaustion from reading both the actual text and my accompanying commentary.

Part 1 - Introduction

Dear Mr. McGinnis,

OMG! OMG! OMG! He knows my name!

It has been an incredible year for my family in our first season as stewards of the Chicago Cubs. Of all the new experiences, none was more enjoyable than the opportunity to meet and spend time with you---our season ticket holders.

We met many of you during our game day walks through Wrigley Field. Over the course of those games, you welcomed me and my family, you shared your thoughts and suggestions on improving the team and the ballpark, we celebrated some wins and, unfortunately, suffered too many losses.

Tom brought the shovel out pretty quickly because I can't imagine hearing opinions on middle relief from guys wearing Ryan Theriot jerseys was actually the most enjoyable part of owning the Cubs.

One of the highlights of the year was our first ever season ticket holder "open house" on July 8th. On that day alone I met more than 2100 of you, as we spent a day together in the greatest ballpark on earth. (For all who have inquired---yes, we are going to host that event again and in fact we will double up with a night session as well).

I wonder if he is counting his speaking to a large group at the beginning of each session as "meeting" the fans.  I think there were six sessions that day that all lasted an hour, so if he is counting the people he individually met, he would have spent about 10 seconds with every fan (which I know isn't possible because he was actually engaged in conversations whenever I looked over there). So, he's definitely playing fast and loose with the definition of the word "met."  It reminds me of the time I "met" the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.

As our most highly valued customers, your opinions are invaluable as we move our organization forward. In fact, you will soon be contacted to participate in a quality assurance survey as we consider amenity upgrades and look to identify ways to improve your experience at Wrigley Field.

As long as they are only taking opinions from fans regarding the amenities in Wrigley Field, that is fine with me, but I do not want the fate of the managerial position or any roster moves based even a little bit on what the fanbase thinks.  Jim Hendry and the rest of the baseball operations team get paid a nice sum to evaluate baseball talent and our stupid opinions shouldn't matter for shit to them.  The ONLY time I want a fan's opinion taken into account in a baseball decision is when there is a decision between two players that basically are the same level player, but one is a dick and one is a scrappy fan-favorite.  Then sure, go ahead and let the fans be the tie-breaker in that all-too-rare circumstance.

On behalf of my entire family, thank you for your warm welcome and your incredible support of the Cubs organization. You are truly our partners and we respect your contribution and insights.

We're not worthy! We're not worthy! We suck!

OK, Tom, we get it.  We're valuable, we're part of the team, you respect us, we shouldn't stop spendinng our money on your crappy product, you love us, you'd name your children after us if you could somehow have 3,000,000 children.  Groveling is not becoming of a major league owner.

Up next, Part 2 - 2010 Review (It Wasn't All Shitty!)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First Annual Aisle 424 Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence Awards

The 2010 season finally ended and I can't really call myself a Cubs blogger unless I do some sort of end-of-season reliving of the misery.  Grading the players is subjectivity passing itself off as objectivity at best and stupid at worst, so I don't feel like doing that.  I Rated the Hate last year, but I didn't really muster enough emotion to hate this team, so that seemed lame to try to force it. 

So instead, Aisle 424 is proud to present our own individual post-season awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.  Winners get a free subscription to Tales From Aisle 424.

Position Player of the Year: Starlin Castro

Starlin won this running away as he quickly became the only watchable player on the team from the moment he got called up.  He made some errors on the field and on the bases, but he is twenty freaking years old and I'm not concerned that he won't learn from his mistakes.  He is simply doing it at the major league level instead of AA where he started the year. His adjustments at the plate made you forget his youth and I really loved watching him throw guys out from the hole like it's an easy thing to do.

When it is all said and done, the great players make baseball look easy and Starlin makes an awful lot of things on the baseball diamond look easy.

Pitcher of the Year: Carlos Marmol

Carlos was historically ridiculous this year.  He destroyed Eric Gagne's pharmaceutically enhanced single-season record of strikeouts per nine innings.  Marmol struck out 15.99 per nine innings to leave Gagne's 14.98 in 2003 in the dust.  To give you an indication of how impressive it is to improve on the record by more than one strikeout per nine, Gagne broke the record held by Billy Wagner by beating his 1999 mark of 14.95.

Additionally, Len and Bob made a point in the last broadcast that he also destroyed the record for balls put in play over the season.  Even in an era of increased strikeouts, most at-bats will end with a ball being put in play somewhere, whether it is a hit or an out.  The league average for balls in play is 70%.  In Pedro Martinez's best year, 56% of batters put the ball in play.  Randy Johnson's best year was 51%.  In Gagne's record-setting year, he only allowed 46% of batters to put the ball in play.

Marmol was at 40% this year. Forty freaking percent.  That is just filthy.  Sure, there are a lot of walks that make up the 60% that failed to touch him, but it also shows why so few of those walks ended up coming around to score.  It's a damn shame he didn't have more leads to protect this season.

Best Defensive Play: Starlin Castro

This is what I'm talking about with Castro making ridiculous difficult baseball plays look easy.  That is a full on headlong dive that pretty much saved the game against the Marlins.
Best Defensive Play That Had More to Do With Luck Than Anything Else: Marlon Byrd

There really isn't anything else that needs to be said that watching it won't explain:

Mark DeRosa Award for Causing Fan Angst Over Departure: Ted Lilly

We missed Ted at the beginning of the year, then he came back from his shoulder surgery and didn't seem to have his velocity anymore.  Then he found his giant bag of awesome and started smacking other teams around with it.  He was the price we had to pay to get someone to take Ryan Theriot and still get something of any value back at all.  Sure, we all like DeWitt right now, and we agree he has more potential to improve than Theriot did, but as the Cubs flailed away, there was Ted out in Los Angeles kicking ass and taking names.

I know the reason the angst over his departure has been quelled by rumblings that the Cubs could sign him again as a free agent in the off-season, but get prepared for disappointment, Lilly fans.  A new contract for Ted does not go along with Rickett's latest mantra of going younger (and cheaper).

Best Tirade: Carlos Zambrano

Again, not a lot of competition here.  These Cubs didn't attack Gatorade machines on a regular basis, so when Zambrano went into the dugout screaming at everyone, it kind of stood out even though it really wasn't even among the three best Zambrano outbursts.

The best is still when he ejected the homeplate umpire last year, followed closely by when he kicked the crap out of Michael Barrett.  I'd even put the time he drilled Jim Edmonds twice for showing him up on a homerun ahead of this year's tantrum because that could have hurt someone (even though it would only have been Jim Edmonds).  When it came down to it, that was all this outburst was - a tantrum.  But it was the best we got in 2010.

Best Head Up the Ass Moment: Koyie Hill and Justin Berg

We've seen it a million times by now as it really does capture the feeling of the entire season in one play, but if you really want to watch Koyie Hill tag out one runner and then walk away from another runner standing at third, who then takes off for home because Justin Berg is wandering around instead of covering the plate, well you can here.  Maybe Berg was checking out some girls in the stands or something.

Notice that Xavier Nady managed to get all the way to the plate to take the throw before Berg seemed to even know what was going on.  Well done, gentlemen.

Best Small Sample Size: Mike Quade

(photoshop courtesy of @plamorte)

Best Performer in a Comedy: Jim Hendry

(photoshop courtesy of @plamorte)

Injury of the Year: Tyler Colvin

What else could it have been? Aramis' hurt thumb certainly played a role in his playing like Aaron Miles in the first half and contributed heavily to the Cubs poor start.  Carlos Silva had heart surgery, so that is a little weird, but it was already done by DeRosa a couple of years ago. Colvin got STABBED IN THE CHEST resulting in a collapsed lung.  And he still scored on the play.

Best Sexy Stubble: Blake DeWitt

I could have gone with a number of Cubs for this category as they all seem to have discovered the key to Wrigleyville ladies' hearts is by ignoring a razor for a couple of days.  Koyie Hill, Justin Berg, James Russell, Sean Marshall, and Xavier Nady all went with the stubbly look at some point this season.  Hell, even Lou Piniella went with the sexy stubble look for awhile, but int he end, the sexy stubble look originated at second base with Todd Walker, was brought to God-like heights with DeRosa, and it should stay there with DeWitt.
Best Arsonist: John Grabow

In a bullpen full of firebugs that have a lifetime supply of kerosene and matches, John Grabow really set himself apart from the field. Not only did he burn leads in late-inning situations on a disturbingly consistent basis, he also might as well have set the $4.8 million he will make next year on fire for all the good it will do the Cubs.

Best Time Spent Reflecting On What He Did: Carlos Zambrano

Carlos staged a nutty, got sent to his room without dinner, journaled about it, and then came back to the rotation and pitched like he had found Ted Lilly's giant bag of awesome left behind in the locker room.

I have to think that the little renaissance period Zambrano experienced is probably being viewed internally as one of the worst things that could have happened.  They want to trade him.  It sounds like they are ready to eat a large percentage of his salary to be rid of him.  His performance down the stretch might have made more teams more willing to take on Zambrano and his intense personality, but I doubt it moved how much they would risk financially on such a transaction. 

So the Cubs might have an easier time trading him at pennies on the dollar, but now the fans all love Carlos again.  Meanwhile, Carlos is talking about exercising his no-trade clause so his performance on the field makes it harder for the Cubs to smear him as they like to do when they are done with a traditional fan favorite player.

Carlos Zambrano should contact Dos Equis about endorsement possibilities since I think he is truly The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Best Ricketts: Pete Ricketts

You know who I never saw mentioned talking about Year One, A Way of Life, or urinal troughs? Pete Ricketts.  You know who I never see signing autographs for balding, middle-aged men who ask for the ball to be personalized for their "son," Herbert? Pete Ricketts.  You know who didn't go on a freaking reality television show? Pete Ricketts.

I really like Pete Ricketts.


That about covers it for the 2010 season.  Don't forget to tip your waitress.  Stay tuned for more Who Wants to Be Cubs Manager?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Everybody Loves Quade

The groundswell of support behind Mike Quade being retained as Cubs manager is growing by the moment.  The players seem to be stumping for Quade to stick around at every opportunity.  Today, Gordon Wittenmyer brings us the enlightening news that the players really enjoyed this recent stint where they went 24-13 over the last six weeks.

WOO!! Almost 4th place!

Well, duh.

Who wouldn't enjoy a .649 winning percentage?  Baseball teams that win 65% of their games but still hate their manager are few and far between now that Billy Martin is dead.  Plus, (and I think this is what is really bugging me) every time a player lauds how great Quade is to play for, I feel like they are giving the finger to Lou Piniella, and that's just wrong.

I understand that Lou was asking a lot of his rookie pitchers when he said, "Don't walk people."  He may not have been clear, so he would follow up with them by telling them to "Throw fucking strikes."  Sometimes he would make Larry Rothschild walk out to the mound (looking like he hasn't been able to take a crap since Riggleman left) to remind a pitcher to "For the love of God, throw motherfucking strikes."

So maybe when the rookie pitcher proceeded to walk everyone in the ballpark before throwing a batting practice fastball down the middle of the plate to some crappy rookie named Drew Stubbs and saw the ball get launched the ball into orbit, Lou got a little curmudgeony.  What Lou didn't understand is that the pitcher's inability to throw a ball anywhere near the plate was merely a cry for attention and maybe a hug.

I guess Quade gives a lot of hugs?  He promises candy and ice cream to pitchers who don't walk batters with a one-run lead?  Maybe the pitchers who can retire the side in order get a pony?

Maybe when Koyie Hill turned his back on a base-runner and Justin Berg didn't bother to cover home plate, Lou threatened to castrate them so as to prevent them from ever passing on their baseball incompetence to an innocent child.  Lord knows that's what I would have wanted to do.

Maybe in the last game when Koyie Hill tried to pick up a rolling ball that looked to be heading foul, bobbled it, fell down, and then threw it into foul territory allowing a runner to score from second because he was halfway up the line on his ass and no one was covering home (again), he expected to have Mike Quade waiting for him with a weed-whacker in hand.

But may in contrast to Lou's heavy-handed insistence on not absolutely sucking, Quade instead told a nice fable called The Fox and the Slowly Hit Ball, where the moral of the story is to let the ball go foul, and if you think the ball isn't going to go foul and you pick it up, don't drop it, but if you do drop it and then fall down and lose all chance of getting the out at first, don't throw the ball into the runner's back where the first baseman has no chance, but if you do throw it into the runner's back and it ends up behind first in foul territory and a runner is trying to score from second, get your ass back to home plate instead of flailing away on your rear end.  It is a classic tale that is sure to be turned into a major motion picture trilogy (in 3D!) and more importantly, Koyie learned a valuable lesson without having to lose another appendage to a power tool.

It earned Koyie's endorsement:

''I don't think it's a secret that everybody in the clubhouse, speaking on behalf of the rest of the team, would like to see Quade get the job,'' Hill said.

Aramis Ramirez also chimed in with a personal endorsement as well: 

''I don't know how much better anybody could do than what he did,'' said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who noted the compromised roster Quade inherited after trades of Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot.

Nevermind that it is entirely possible that the Cubs were better off without three of those guys whose names don't rhyme with Schmed Philly.

Ryan Dempster loves him so much he won't shut up about what a great job Quade has done:

In addition to the personal and communication skills, ''Q does as good a job during the game as any manager I've ever had,'' Dempster said.

Quade managed an expanded roster with what seemed like eight billion players that all went to the DeRosa school of sexy stubble.  It is virtually impossible to run out of players in September without your manager being a complete dumbass.

The starting pitcher is getting lit in the 2nd inning?  Go get him and let the twelve Justin Bergs and James Russellses finish out the game as you use a pinch hitter every time the spot comes around in the batting order.

Defensive replacements are everywhere you look. A Sam Fuld here, a Darwin Barney there.  It really isn't hard when you have the entire Iowa roster on top of your normal allotment of guys to have decent in-game strategy.  There is no need, in a lost season, to think too much about whether you should bring in Marmol for the fourth day in a row after a combined ninety pitches in his last three outings or whether you give Cashner a shot to close once.

What it comes down to is a fairly simple formula:

Players love winning + Quade won a lot = Players love Quade

The problem is that the fans, the media, and now the players all seem to be looking at how the Cubs finished off the season and marveling at how this could possibly be the same team that was on pace to lose 96 games when Quade took over.  I'll agree that the little post-season surge sure was nice and everyone really loves Quade, but I keep thinking of this scene:

My fear is that he's the 2010 version of Gary Gaetti.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Zambrano Wants to Win in Chicago

Apparently, Carlos Zambrano isn't going to flee the sinking ship of the Cubs just to save himself.  He wants to win a World Series and he wants to do it in Chicago for the Cubs.
According to Bruce Levine, Zambrano will use his no-trade clause to block any trade in the offseason:

"Because I'm on a mission, and until I accomplish this mission, I'll be right here," Zambrano told on Friday.

The mission Zambrano speaks of has kept Cubs owners and managers up at night for 102 years.

"Of course, to win the World Series here," Zambrano said. "It's not just me, I have confidence in my teammates that we can do it."

Carlos will probably need help from The Big Guy Upstairs
 to fulfill his goal, but he's set on trying anyway.

I still don't understand how people don't root for this guy through thick and thin.  Isn't this exactly what you want your favorite players to say?

This isn't even a new angle for Zambrano.  He has always talked about loving Chicago, loving the fans (who only seem to love him back when things are going well), and wanting to bring a World Series to Chicago.  He wants to be a part of it and he thinks he can be a key to a pitching staff that accomplishes that goal.

That is exactly how I want athletes to view their jobs with my favorite teams.  I want them to want it, and I don't want them planning on taking their talents to another location where the goal might be a little easier (*cough* LeBron *cough*).

But I have a feeling that people will view this statement from Zambrano like he's the selfish one because everyone just wants to be rid of him.  It will be like when Derrek Lee didn't want to be traded to a team across the country that was just as far out of first place as the Cubs.  Selfish bastards.

Meanwhile across town, I haven't heard any uproar about from this statement from a prominent member of the White Sox rotation:

"As I sit here now, I'd love to just go home and be with the family and kids and go from there."

Yep, Mark Buerhle is publicly considering retirement after his contract runs out in 2011.  He'll be 32 years old at that time and will have spent 12 years in the majors.  Where is all the backlash about what a lazy, selfish asshole he is for wanting to spend time with his family?

Meanwhile, Zambrano talks about retiring when his contract is done after 2012 when he'll be 31 years old, and will have spent 12 years in the majors and everyone questions his dedication to winning.

I am thrilled to death that Zambrano wants to come back because he is one of the only fun players to watch left on the team.  He busts his ass in every game and every at-bat.  He cares so much that he sometimes can't control himself, but he is working on that.  I would rather have a guy who cares too much than someone who could give a damn (isn't that why we were all so happy to see Sammy run out of town?)

Hell, he was calm, cool and collected after getting pasted on Opening Day and everybody was pissed he didn't show any emotion about it.  Then the Cubs ended up humiliating him by tossing him in the bullpen.  I'm shocked his implosion waited until June.  If I was Zambrano, I probably would have lost my shit right then and there when Lou told me I was going to be a freaking set-up man because fat-ass Carlos Silva was having a lucky streak.

So it looks like I'll be losing my bet with Row 6 Mike in Aisle 424 afterall.  I bet him dinner that Zambrano would be gone by Opening Day next year.  I've never been more pleased to lose a bet in my life.