Thursday, December 31, 2009

World's Greatest Fans

Last night I lay awake wondering about Steve Bartman. I have no idea what brought it on, but the image of him being escorted out of Wrigley Field through a barrage of trash and violent threats just seeped into my consciousness for several sorrowful minutes. And that got me thinking about what it means to be a Cubs fan and second-guessing whether I wanted to be one in 2010.

Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball. He was one of about ten fans (and one Cub) to do so on that particular play. He didn't catch it. Nobody did. He didn't even get to keep the ball. As the inning unfolded and the Cubs collapsed, frustration boiled into rage, and people wanted to kill him. Not euphemistically. Had security not stepped in, Steve Bartman probably would have been killed. By Cub fans. Greatest fans in the world.

People say they love their Cubs, but that isn't love. It's beyond even fanaticism. It's less excusable than insanity. That night, Cub fans (not a minority, mind you, but a significant bloodthirsty mob of them) behaved like savage idiots toward a guy who tried to catch a foul ball at a game of no real consequence. Greatest fans in the world.

I'm tempted to say that nobody wanted the Cubs to win that night more than I did. But I hope that's not true. I don't know. I've reacted to Cub tragedy in some pretty stupid ways. I've screamed, thrown things across the room, punched walls, beaten up furniture. I've behaved like a savage idiot, sure. So am I any better than the morons who wanted to tear Steve Bartman apart? Probably not at the time. I'll never know.

I hope the incident taught me something about how much the Cubs should matter in my life. I want very badly for the Cubs to win a World Series, but I recognize it would change nothing but the conversations. I wouldn't be a happier person in the long run. It wouldn't improve my quality of life. It would be a euphoric distraction from reality, but it wouldn't change reality.

Most fans, myself included, suspend disbelief in the truth that baseball doesn't matter. Some of us make that decision consciously; others hypnotize ourselves to avoid ever acknowledging it, creating a grotesque marriage of entertainment and self-actualization, which is sad . . . but not uncommon. Still, all of us really want the Cubs to win. Does that make us great fans, the degree to which we want them to win?

No. Neither does statistical knowledge, appreciation of opponents' skill level, color coordination, attendance percentage, or depth of loyalty. No, I think the best fans are the ones who maintain at least a basic level of human decency and perspective through it all.

The greatest fans in the world would have stopped security from ushering Steve Bartman away from the Game 6 madness. They would have demanded that his attackers—not the victim—be ejected from the scene. If that meant that half of Wrigley must be emptied, so be it. The greatest fans in the world would not be undone by a fly ball. The greatest fans in the world would react to blunders in the same way they would want their team to respond: with enthusiasm and hope. Are Cub fans the best at that? No, but we're getting better.

Let's face it, Cub fans have very little playoff experience. We're really good at staying loyal to bad teams, but we need a little more practice facing postseason adversity. I hope the '10s offer us plenty of opportunity, but as of now . . . we aren't the greatest. We're prospects at best.

Happy New Year . . . please.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cubs Moment of the Decade

Somewhere in between the hubbub over the Lee-Halladay mega-deal, the Tiger Woods reality show, and the announcement of the Chicago-Seattle exchange of disgruntlement, I overheard a sports talk radio segment that had nothing to do with any of that. The host (I believe it was Scott Van Pelt) asked listeners to call in with their favorite sports moments of the decade. I didn't hear anyone's responses because A) I had to get out of the car, and B) I immediately began mentally sifting through ten years of sports memories.

It didn't take long to lock onto the single best moment of the decade, and it was no surprise that it occurred at Wrigley Field. Another big shocker: it was bittersweet.

But there's no question in my mind that my favorite sports moment of the decade was the seven-and-one-third-inning stretch that preceded the worst sports moment of the decade. Game 6 of the NLCS between the Cubs and the Marlins.

Mark Prior on the mound, tossing a shutout. Sammy Sosa driving in Kenny Lofton with a double in the 1st. Sosa scoring in the 6th on a Dontrelle Willis wild pitch. Paul Bako coming home on a Mark Grudzielanek 7th-inning single. The eighth inning begins, Mike Mordecai flies out to Moises Alou, and the Cubs are five outs away from their first World Series appearance in almost 60 years.

My oldest son was not even a month old. I had just received a promotion at work. I was standing up in my living room watching the Cubs play in front of red ivy at Wrigley, and they were five outs away from the World Series. That was the most excited I have ever been watching a sporting event. It seemed unreal, like my life was being transformed. I could hear Whtiney Houston singing, "One Moment in Time." Best sports moment of the decade.

And then . . . you know. Horror. Pestilence. Weeping/gnashing of teeth. Whitney's voice changed to . . . well, it changed to pretty much what it sounds like now. Moment gone. Champagne, unopened. Suckville, population: me.

It's pretty pathetic that the moment I remember most (and even most fondly) is something that ended in tragedy. Such is the life of a Cubs fan.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hendry Should Brush up on French History

The Chicago sports media have been reporting ad nauseam that the Cubs can't make a free agent signing until they move Milton Bradley. Some say it's the money. Some say it's the uncertainty of the layout of the team. I say hogwash. We all know the Cubs have more money than you can shake Sam Waterston at. And it doesn't make a ton of sense for Jim Hendry to postpone free agent signings for fear of running out of holes on his roster. Right now, no one is offering the Cubs anyone for Milton Bradley, let alone any player worthy of occupying an everyday position.

The Cubs don't lack the funds or the foresight to sign the players they want—Mike Cameron and/or Marlon Byrd, Joel Piñiero, and Alfredo Amezaga are among the candidates—but somehow they seem intent on broadcasting to the world that they lack flexibility.

Ever since "Milton Bradley" and "must trade" became redundancies, Jim Hendry has looked like a trapped coyote without enough fortitude to gnaw himself free from the jaws of Milton Bradley's contract. No GM who sees him in that light will ever want to A) take home a Milton Bradley steel trap, or B) help Hendry salvage any of his $21 million leg. The metaphor's falling apart, so I'll move on.

It's time for a French lesson. I give to you, Jim Hendry, the legend of Carcassonne:

In 760, “Pepin the Short”*, King of the Franks, took most of the south of France back from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne. True to its reputation, it remained an impregnable fortress. After a long siege, the Franks had good reason to think that the inhabitants of Carcassonne would soon starve and surrender. But Dame Carcas, the widow of the Sarrasin lord of the castle, devised a plan to save the city. She had a pig fed with the last sacks of grain the inhabitants could find. When the pig was fat enough, it was thrown over the city’s ramparts. At the sight of such a well-fed fat animal, the astonished assailants concluded that the inhabitants still had enough food in stock to stave off famine and weren’t about to surrender any time soon. And so they gave up and quickly lifted the siege. Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city all day long to celebrate the victory. Legend has it that Dame “Carcas sonne” (Dame “Carcas rings”) is where the name of the city came from.

If Hendry wants to change the way other teams view his situation, and if keeping Milton Bradley really is impossible, he needs to throw a big fat pig over the wall. Give a free agent way too much money. Make a trade for a guy you can't afford to sign to an extension. Do something no one not named Steinbrenner would be willing to do.

Hendry needs to show the rest of Major League Baseball that he has plenty of options, plenty of money, and no intentions of getting screwed over. A fat free-agent contract (something worth about 2 or 3 John Grabow's) would send a message that the Cubs can afford to keep Milton Bradley and they aren't preoccupied with moving him—even if the exact opposite is true.

Do that, and maybe then a GM who cares more about OPS than congeniality will extend his grubby little paws in the direction of Milton's death grip.

*Paul Sullivan shall heretofore be known on this site as Pepin le Bref.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Almost Lifelike

I was going to try to post a thoughtful introspective about the pros and cons of keeping Milton Bradley and the basic question of who is more detrimental to a team: an underperforming player or a so-called clubhouse cancer. That kind of talk will have to wait, because I found this video on ESPN, and I think it's hilarious.

I'll entertain arguments from just about anyone on just about any topic, but I refuse to believe anyone trying to convince me that those aren't Sid and Marty Krofft puppets. I'll resist the urge to comment on Levine's wardrobe. It really does a magnificent job of making fun of itself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does Dawson Belong? Not My Problem.

There are people who make a great case for Andre Dawson's Hall of Fame qualifications. There are those who don't, and I don't feel compelled to link to them.

The debate over what constitutes a Hall of Fame career is over my head. There are some magic plateaus that, in the past, have made the conversation pretty easy: 300 wins; 3,000 hits; 500 home runs. The advent of PEDs has rendered even those landmarks somewhat powerless. Mark McGwire can attest to (and Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens will soon learn about) the strange veil of judgment under which the Hall of Fame question is currently enshrouded.

I don't think there's one answer for what constitutes a Hall of Fame career looks like. Sometimes it's stats (Tony Gwynn). Sometimes it's championships (pick a Yankee). Sometimes it's superhuman skill emanating from your pores (Ozzie Smith). Sometimes it's just . . . fame (Jim Rice). But I'm approaching Dawson's candidate as a fan, not an objective sportswriter. So when you ask me if I think Dawson's accomplishments have earned him a place in Cooperstown, this is how I respond.

I don't care. I want Dawson there because I really, really like Andre Dawson. He gave me a lot of good memories at the expense of his knees. He picked the Cubs. Just gave them a blank check and said, "Sign me. Pay me what you want. I'm playing here." That may have been a stupid thing for him to do, but so is cheering for the Cubs. I mind-numbingly chose the Cubs three decades ago, and I'll do it again. I can't explain why I'm a Cubs fan, and I can't explain why Dawson decided he wanted to play here. But that decision (and the time he spent patrolling right field in Wrigley) is more than enough to command my loyalty.

And so he has it. Look, one of the things I remember most about Dawson as a Cub was the simple fact that his knees were already shot when they got here. I remember the media dogging him for being so hobbled. I remember the questions of whether he was too crippled by his swollen knees to keep playing professional baseball. I don't remember him as an unstoppable force on the North Side. I remember him like a kind of grandpa who showed more heart, grit, and bad-assedness than I had ever seen from a baseball player. Yeah, I remember him being awesome when he wore the Montreal elb* on his hat. But the bulk of my personal memories were of him struggling to walk as much as dominating.

I think Dawson deserves to be in the Hall, but that's not my decision. And it's not my job to be objective. I want him in. So I'll keep tweeting #Dawson4theHall, hoping it becomes a trending topic and a conversation item among voters. Will it work? I don't know, and I don't care.

*Yes, I know it was a letter M. But it freaking looked like it said elb.You know it. I know it. The Canadian people know it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

AL vs. NL Smackdown

I posted today at LOHO about the supposed AL supremacy over the NL. After looking at the numbers, it seems the supremacy has been very real the past several years. I hate to say it, but I don't see it changing any time soon, either.

Also, be sure to check out the campaign launched by Cubscast to voice support for Andre Dawson's election into the Hall of Fame. And there has never been a better time to visitHawk4theHall. There's a lot of cool information on that site about Dawson that makes a strong case for Hawk.

Personally, I just really want the guy to get in. One of my favorite Cub memories was going to a game in '87 when Dawson came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with two men out, two on, and the Cubs down three. Even from some pretty mediocre seats I had a great look at Dawson icing the pitcher with his trademark badass stare. And then he crushed one to send Wrigley into hysterics and the game into extras.

After that it got pretty boring. Seeing Harry sing a second 7th inning stretch was fun, and then Thad Bosley drove in the winning run . . . or something like that. I was 10, that's pretty much all I remember.

Anyway, just thought I should post something finally. Didn't want to keep you both waiting.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Meet the Ricketts

You can watch the Ricketts (presumably Tom) hold their first press conference as the new owners of the Chicago Cubs here. Feel free to join the mocking praise virtual tomato throwing monologue discussion in the comments section or the twitter sidebar.

I won't pretend to know what they'll talk about it. Nor will I pretend to love it.

NOTE: I'm sure the discussion will be lively here at LOHO, so be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What If?

Could we handle this in October? I'm not so sure.
Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez / June 20, 2008

Every year. Every single year at some point I imagine what it would be like for the Cubs to win it all. This year of all years it seems stupid, because I never had a legitimate right to imagine such a thing in 2009. Still, I'm doing it now. What would it be like to cheer with gusto in late October for the only team that could make me mean it?

One of the questions forced upon Cub fans this season, juxtaposed against consecutive division championships and the subsequent NLDS sweeps, was the hypothetical quandary of would you rather—advance to the postseason only to have your dreams summarily dashed by the NL West, or wallow through a puddle of disappointment and underperformance? Up until this moment, I've wavered back and forth between longing for the acute, piercing pain of playoff horror and acceptance of the dull, chronic ache of mediocrity. But today it hit me: I can deal with this.

Last year at this time (and in 2007, 2003, 1998, 1989, and 1984) I was in serious emotional anguish. You know, the Cubs part of me—let's not confuse Cubbie woes with real problems. Anyway, as I get ready for the World Series to commence, I'm suddenly aware of how little I care and how perfectly comfortable that feels. I don't care because the Cubs aren't in it. I can think clearly (for me). My heart rate isn't racing into the mid-to-upper 200s. I'm not swearing at my TV. My furniture isn't in danger of being pummeled. I don't have James Ingram on repeat. It's . . . nice.

If the Cubs were in this, I would be excited. Happy even. But make no mistake, the next week would hold the potential to send me into a catatonic state. 2003 nearly ended me, and I'm not talking about Bartman. Game 1 of the NLCS made me so over-the-edge angry, I didn't even cheer when Sosa's homer sent the game to extras. I had nothing left in my emotional reserve by the time games 6 and 7 rolled around.

I try to fool myself into thinking a World Series would be different, that I'd be so happy to see the Cubs there I wouldn't really care if they won or lost. But that's a lie from hell. A World Series loss might very well kill me.

So as much as I'd love to see the Cubs in the Phillies' place right now, it's probably for the best that they're not. When they finally do advance to the Series, I need to make sure my affairs are in order, just in case. Update the will. Write out an obit. Reevaluate our choice of godparents. Make amends with those I've hurt or who have hurt me. And I'd have to finish up all my jobs or at least arrange for a backup in the event of my demise. Then I'd be ready.

For now, bring on the Yawnees and the Pheelnothings. I couldn't care less, and for that I'm thankful.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Will the Cubs Do a Complete 160?

There's a fine post over at Cubscast in which Lou (the podcast host, not the manager) delves into the Cubs' payroll numbers. It's not real encouraging, especially if the Ricketts are at all financially strapped in 2010.

What remains unknown are all of the arbitration-eligible players including Carlos Marmol, Soto, Theriot, Fontenot, Jeff Baker, Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Heilman, Koyie Hill, and Sean Marshall. That’s 1/4 of our 40-man roster.

Add in those potential numbers to the running total and if I were Bradley or Zambrano, I’d start packing.

I’m sure they knew it, but the Ricketts family did not inherit a 134 million dollar team payroll. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s over $160 million next season, and of course this is without the addition of any outside players.

I've said before I think the Ricketts should be just fine since they bargained their way to a better purchase leveraged transfer price on the team. But still, they didn't get rich by throwing money away. This offseason should be pretty interesting, though I don't see Zambrano wearing anything but Cubbie blue in the years to come.

Milton, on the other hand, isn't likely to stay. Most of the rumored trades would hurt the Cubs financially and on the field, although Ken Rosenthal believes many teams have interest and that the Ricketts won't pay too large a portion of his contract. I just can't see Hendry, Lou, or the Ricketts wanting to deal with the head-case headaches.

The winter meetings will tell us a lot. Or drive us all crazy, either way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Say it With Me: Jaramillo

Will Rudy Jaramillo make a bit of difference for the Cubs? Dunno.

Can they really afford to pay him $800 grand a year? Maybe.

Will I keep my sanity if we can't all agree on how to pronounce his name? No way.

I was worried about the prospect of Cub fans and broadcasters botching Chone Figgins's name a la Kerry Woods, Ryan Sandberg, and Sha-Waaaaaahn Dunston. We cannot let this happen again. So here's a tutorial, courtesy of inogolo:


Thank you very much. Class dismissed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The (Off) Season of Sharing

While things have been fairly slow on the Cubbie front, it's been anything but in the offices of And Counting. Don't let the recent post stoppage fool you. I've been working like a dog (mostly on things of no interest to you whatsoever). And I've also been lending my services to a couple of other blogs I think will be of interest to you.

First there's the Cubs blog of epic renown, A League of Her Own (affectionately known as LOHO or Cubhalla). I'll be posting there on my patented irregular basis, beginning with this weekend's look into potential candidates to join Rudy Jaramillo on staff with the Cubs. There's an inspiring cast of regular contributers and discussion generators over there, and I highly recommend making it a regular stop on your quest to flee productivity.

I've also begun contributing to a growing Chicago sports site, 312 Sports, where I just posted a somewhat statistical look at Rudy's effect on Soriano while in Texas.

I'm thrilled, honored, and falsely humbled to be a part of both blogs and to expose even more people to my verbose rants and musings. I won't stop posting unique content here, but in the spirit of sharing I thought I'd begin a new trend of highlighting great content from other Cubs sites. Here's a link from a blog I thoroughly enjoy, waxpaperbeercup, who offers some encouraging news on Starlin Castro, a rising star in the Cub farm system (who also is one letter away from being named after two dictators).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Positive Postseason Awards

Is it really worth it to suggest any kind of positive postseason awards for this 2009 Cubs team?

I got nothing. Yes, they had a winning record. Yes, Derrek Lee looked great. Yay, I was pleasantly surprised by Randy Wells. But man, this season was annoying.

Right now I can only think to hand out the trailing ellipsis award to . . .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Worst Move of the Season WINNER: Milton Bradley

In purely baseball terms, the Milton Bradley signing didn't hurt the Cubs nearly as much as is being reported. And signing him wasn't the worst move of the season. Not benching him earlier or more frequently was not the worst move. Neither was the refusal to put him on the DL. This award goes solely to Milton Bradley himself.

The reason all the other baseball moves pale in comparison to Milton's actions and attitudes is the simple fact that all the other moves could have worked out. Aaron Miles's stats have never been as bad as they were this year. Milton's numbers should have been better. The Cubs overall should have scored more runs. Relief pitchers can be unpredictable fellows, and the bullpen was far from being the biggest problem on this team. The one personnel move that had no chance of helping the Cubs immediately was the Mark DeRosa trade, securing its position as runner up.

But Milton turned on the fans early and often and withdrew from his teammates maybe as far back as spring training. He conducted himself like an angry child, not just in the heat of the moment but also in the daily grind of the season. That never works.  Its effect on this Cubs team is often exaggerated, but the effect it had on Cubs fans is inarguable. He made this season suck more, and he alone is responsible for his actions. Awarding the WMotS to anyone else would fail to hold him accountable for his egregious conduct.

So, Milton, take this award and put it on your mantel*.

*and by on your mantel I mean up your self indulgent ass

Friday, October 9, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Milton Bradley

I debated this last nomination. I have defended, advised, and mocked Milton Bradley ad infinitum. If all I knew about Bradley's 2009 season came from box scores and stats, I'd say he had a down but not dreadful year. Obviously the 40 RBI total is way too low. But the stats themselves don't scream "Train Wreck!"

Unfortunately for . . . humanity, the stats don't tell the whole Milton Bradley story. A Lifetime movie of the week very well might. A lot of media members saw a Milton meltdown coming (and some did their best to fulfill their own prophecies). Cub fans in general were suspicious of the signing (a 3-year, $30 million deal, the math of which never seems to add up; he's making $7 million in '09). So you could blame Jim Hendry for signing Milton in the first place. But I don't think that decision is in the running for worst move of the season.

You could easily put the blame on Lou, too. As I've noted, his lineup shuffles probably didn't do a lot to help ease what has become a standard rough adjustment period for big-money free-agent Cub outfielders. I doubt sending him home and calling him a piece of tin worked motivational wonders, either. But in regard to Milton specifically, I seriously doubt Lou is to blame for Milton's inability to handle life as a Cub.

I didn't want to blame the fans or the media because, contrary to what either group might think, the Cubs don't rise and fall according to the comments made about them. And just when I was about to give up on a Milton-related nomination, I suddenly realized who in this picture may have made the worst move of the season:

Milton Bradley. Duh.

The worst move of the season just may have been Milton's decision to pour out the crusty contents of his heart to Bruce Miles (who, in one of the best pieces of sports journalism Chicago has seen in years, relayed the story in all its lamentable context to us); about how he doesn't enjoy playing at Wrigley, how he understands why the Cubs are such losers, and how the management, the players, and the fans all breed on negativity. That move was stupid, ignorant, selfish, mean-spirited, pathetic, pitiful, and also not much good.

That interview was the culmination of a bad attitude that had been stewing within Milton from the day he first set foot in the left-handed batter's box at Wrigley field as a Chicago Cub. He was ejected on a bad call, the first in a series of admittedly bad things to happen to him as a Cub, none of which outweighed the childish behavior exhibited by him all season long.

Plenty of Milton's adversaries this year have been jerks worthy of criticism. But their collective wrongs do not make Milton right. And when Milton Bradley, in talking with Bruce Miles, turned once and for all on the fans, the city of Chicago, and the Cubs organization in general, he blamed me for this mess. He blamed you.

Bad move, Milton. Bad move. Was it the worst? I doubt Milton thinks so. What do you think?

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Bullpen Design & Management

I don't know a single Cub fan who was excited about any of Jim Hendry's offseason decisions, particularly his reconstruction of the bullpen. Kerry Wood was a (frustrating at times) fan favorite and a lifetime Cub who was allegedly willing to give the Cubs a hometown free-agent discount. Out of the kindness of his heart, Jim Hendry refused to entertain the offer. Kerry struggled with the Indians, but he, like DeRosa, may have been playing through a broken heart [cue the violins . . . and scene]. Michael Wuertz was dealt to the A's for yet-to-be-called-upon prospects, a move I consider to be one of the worst deals of the offseason. He shined in the Oakland bullpen. Bob Howry was mercifully allowed to walk. Hendry held on to Neal Cotts.

So, in the poor economy that was the Cubs in ownership transition, Hendry traded Ronny Cedeno ($822,500) and Garrett Olson (acquired in the Pie deal) for Aaron Heilman ($1.625 million). He traded Jose Ceda ($dirt) for Kevin Gregg ($4.2 million). This was during the same offseason in which Hendry needed to trade Mark DeRosa ($5.5 million) to save money.

Still, with Marmol looking like the closer of today, I was willing to live with the new-look bullpen. I even suggested Heilman would make a better 5th starter than a reliever. But everything kind of went to pot in spring training. Not only did Heilman miss out on the starter job, so did Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija . . . and they were left out of the bullpen plans too. Gaudin was released and Spellczech went to Iowa. And Marmol looked awful as a closer. He looked to be an ajar-er at best. Gregg landed the closer job and proceeded to hold onto it long enough to ruin all our lives while Marmol did his best to induce cardiac arrest in lesser innings.

The whole ordeal, all season long, was collectively one of the worst moves of the year. Was it the worst? No.

Setting aside ERAs and WHIPs, let's look at the results. The Cubs finished 5th in the National League in save percentage. A mere 4 blown saves separate them from the Cardinal pen, who finished 2nd. The Cubs were, however, 10th in save opportunities. This, fellow Cub fans, is what made Heilman, Marmol, and Gregg look like the three Suckateers. With minimal opportunities, failures felt all the more painful.

I'm not letting Hendry or Lou off the hook here. I'm just saying, the moves that weakened this offseason were far more egregious than the bullpen fiasco. It's also a slight reason for hope if Hendry doesn't wind up overhauling the pen again this year. With an offensive upgrade, we just might be okay.

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Milton Being Milton

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Incessant Lineup Changes

If the 2009 Chicago Cubs seemed frustratingly inconsistent (or even consistently erratic) that could be because they were never the same team twice. Okay, that's a lie. In 161 games (the final game against the Pirates was cancelled) the Cubs fielded an unoriginal lineup 30 times. And that's without taking the starting pitcher into consideration.

Now, I love originality. I'm somewhat obsessive compulsive about it. I don't even like telling the same joke twice. Sometimes I'll think of something funny at home and will intentionally avoid saying it to anyone so I can include it on a blog or an email or a tweet or something. It's a problem, I know. I'm not working on it. The point is, I can't remember ever criticizing someone for being original. But this time (and for the sake of consistency, why don't I make it the first and only time) I'll make an exception.

Lou, what the hell? There were only 22 lineups you considered worth repeating. Of those, only 5 were used more than twice. Three different lineups were so magical as to warrant 4 appearances. None were used any more than that. A total of 131 completely distinct batting orders (again, that's not even counting the pitcher). Like me, Lou, you've clearly got issues. Mine are annoying. Yours may have lost your team a chance at the postseason.

I'll give Lou a bit of leniency, though. There were certainly a lot of nagging injuries to account for. A lot of underwhelming performance from hitters. But the sheer variance throughout every stretch of the season has more to do with a stubborn affinity for change than overall roster changes and DL stints.

More than a few Cub fans share my ire in seeing hot hitting players inexplicably pulled from the lineup. I've already expressed my rage at seeing Bradley and Fukudome shuffled from the spots in the order that favored their strengths (2 and 1, respectively). And I believe I recall a few fans here and there mention some disdain over Soriano's tenure as a leadoff man.
If you look through the different batting orders (which I have) it appears as though Lou was trying his hardest to avoid any repeats. Lou could have drawn names out of a hat and produced a more consistent lineup. But he just kept juggling, shuffling, switching, and experimenting. I can't imagine any big league player thriving under those conditions. The only consistent part of Lou's lineup cards in 2009 had to be the WTF? expressions on the Cubs' faces as they stared at it every day.

I didn't realize how scattered and random the batting order really was until today. But now that I know, I wonder if this trend collectively was the worst move of the season.

Bad move, Lou. Bad move. Was it the worst? You tell me.

Oh, and I'll award a signed photograph of all of Aaron Miles's home runs in 2009 to anyone who can correctly name any of the three batting orders (1-8) that were used 4 times each.

Other Nominees:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Trading DeRosa

Before 2009 had a chance to greet the world, Mark DeRosa was greeted instead by a call from Jim Hendry, interrupting his round of golf and his career with the Cubs. It wasn't as if anybody needed an excuse to drink on New Year's Eve (or that Hendry had an explanation for starting so early—he also signed Aaron Miles that day) but Cub fans had an extra load of sorrows to drown after hearing one one of their MVPs had joined a new Tribe.

A day hasn't gone by since then without discussion of this deal among the Cubs faithful. His departure and consequent performance with other teams escalated to near Favresque proportions. We all know the Cubs missed him. We all know he didn't do that great in 2009. Most statistically minded folks know that DeRosa's 78 RBI would have ranked 2nd on this Cubs team. Granted, Aramis Ramirez was hurt for half the season . . . but that reminder just rubs salt in the wound, doesn't it?

De-Ro's defense is acceptable, not great. His speed is par for the slow Cubbie course. His average with runners in scoring position was nothing special (.256). The single biggest observable difference between DeRosa and the guy many viewed as his replacement (you know who) was his rapport with the media and fans. Okay, we really could have used that difference. I should say, you can't track a guys stats with other teams and assume he would have performed the same way with the Cubs. Maybe DeRosa would have had another career year if he'd stayed on. Maybe he would have suffered a career ending injury. Sometimes your stats take a major hit when you change teams (Exhibit A: you know who). So let's just throw the stats out the window for a second.

At the time of the deal, I thought DeRosa was a stepping stone to a Jake Peavy deal, the only thing that could have justified the move for me. But we ditched the DeRosa marijuana and never moved on to the Peavy cocaine. All we got was dirty crack (you know who). So why trade DeRosa?

Here are the numbers I care about: DeRosa made $5.5 million this year, the last in his contract. Kevin Gregg made $4.2 million. Aaron Heilman made $1.625 million. Aaron Miles made $2.2 million. Hendry even signed a free agent who made $7 million this year (you know who). Say what you want about not needing DeRosa, but who among the aforementioned players are you glad we had instead of him?

There's always the argument that we don't know how much we'll be helped by the three pitchers coming from Cleveland in the DeRosa deal. I counter that argument by saying . . . we don't know how much those pitchers will help the Cubs. We do know the help didn't arrive this year (Jeff Stevens made a negligible impact). They probably won't help us in 2010. If the GM of your $135 million team is making bad deals in 2008 at the off chance it will help in 2011, it's time to think about restaffing your organization.

Bad move, Jim. Bad move. Was it the worst? You tell me.

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management
Milton Being Milton

Monday, October 5, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Firing Perry

The postseason leaves me few options: jump ship, whine and moan, or hand out postseason awards. For those who want to cheer for a winner this year, I highly recommend joining the bidding at A League of Her Own's campaign to pimp out their fan services to a team that's actually in the postseason. But each week I'll be awarding some postseason hardware preceded by a daily rundown of the nominees. This week, it's the quest to pinpoint the worst move of the season, a herculean task if ever there was one.

Inspired by the latest news about Von Joshua's demotion, the first nomination might come as a bit of a surprise: the June 15 firing of Gerald Perry as hitting coach. The stats won't back this claim up, since the Cubs hit .246 and averaged 4.2 runs and 7.5 LOB per game before the move and .260 with 4.5 runs and 7.5 LOB after Von Joshua took over. Statistically, the move didn't make very much difference either way (certainly not enough to save Joshua's job).

But this move, in retrospect, strikes me as decidedly poor because of the way the team responded mentally and emotionally in the ensuing weeks.  Lou erupted on the field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse soon after. Milton Bradley produced a few more hits and runs after the switch, but a lot more negative headlines as well. Looking back, it's no surprise this move made both men a little extra moody.

Gerald Perry was Lou's guy. 2009 was his sixth season coaching under Lou after spending 2000-2002 as Seattle's hitting coach and the past two seasons here with the Cubs. Lou has said in interviews that clubhouse atmosphere is even more important than team chemistry. Well, Hendry's decision to fire Lou's buddy (instead of telling him to bench guys who weren't hitting) may have burned a hole in the Cubs' ozone.

Milton Bradley would agree. Gerald Perry, who coached Milton in Oakland in 2006, was The Accursed One's biggest apologist before the season began. It was his assurance that Bradley was an outstanding teammate that did more than any other statement to allay the fears of Cub fans (and possibly Hendry as well). Maybe that's why Hendry fired him . . . revenge for the bad advice.

All I know is, if I want to make the Cubs' clubhouse a happy place, anything that would piss off Bradley and Lou would be at the very bottom of my list of options. Who knows, Gerald Perry could have played Jack Haley to Milton's Dennis Rodman, but Jim Hendry fired the babysitter. Then Milton wound up brawling with the new one.

Bad move, Jim. Bad move. But what is the worst? You tell me.

Other Nominees:
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management
Milton Being Milton

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Are You Feeling Randy, Baby?

Somebody else is going to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The conventional Cubbie wisdom is that Ted Lilly is the clear-cut MVP of the staff. Ask most Cub fans about the biggest bright spot of the year, and they'll probably tell you Derrek Lee's return to form as a power hitter and RBI machine was the crowning jewel on this otherwise thorny season's head gear.

But for me, Randy Wells has been the 2009 Cubs' ace and its most significant agent of redemption. (He's not the NL Rookie of the Year, but he's in the top 5, for sure.)

Looking just at the numbers, you'll see that Wells and Lilly are tied with 12 wins (Ryan Dempster could join them with a win in the finale). They each have 27 starts. Lilly has pitched 11 2/3 more innings.Wells has the edge in the ERA column (3.05 to Lilly's 3.10). Lilly has one less loss (9) than the rookie, and a lower WHIP (1.06 to Wells's 1.41). But Wells also yields a lower slugging percentage (.365) than TRL (.393) and has given up 8 fewer homers (14/22). I'd say you can call the stats a draw.

The reason I give the (very slight) pitching edge to Wells is the simple fact that he didn't miss starts. After the All Star break and in late September, Lilly missed some starts, had some surgery, and probably saved the free world from a terrorist attack. Wells missed games until late May because he wasn't on the team. In the end, I award the better excuse trophy to Randy.

But more than that, Randy Wells really saved the emotion of this season for me. When he first took the mound, I severely doubted his potential. He just didn't look like a guy who was going to win you many games. Once he started willing his way through lineups, attacking the strike zone as if to say, "Screw this paint the black garbage, I'm hungry for outs," he looked like a winner. But he didn't win.

Despite giving up just 12 runs in his first 7 starts (good for a 2.55 ERA) Wells didn't notch a win until his 8th start of the season. But he didn't let it bother him. He never allowed the failures of his bullpen and offense disrupt his consistent pitching performance. And he now has a share of the team lead in wins to show for it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Derrek Lee this season, don't get me wrong. But every time Wells pitched, I was particularly excited to see what he might do. He impressed me well above my expectations. So did Lilly. So did Lee. But the excitement level of seeing the kid do it--after not even knowing his name heading into spring training--will be the single most positive memory I hold onto from this season.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Was Paul Sullivan Ejected?

According to his Milton Bradley diary torrent of lies hatred font twitter stream, Tribune Cub beatdown artist beat writer Paul Sullivan was ejected from his Wrigley Field bleacher perch less than an hour into Game 1 of yesterday's Dante's Inferno Circle 6 dungeon of retribution doubleheader against the Pirates. Here's a sample of his tweets from yesterday's game (in reverse chronological order):

  1. Unahppy totals from 13 hours at Wrigley Field: 18 innings, two Cubs losses, 3 cups coffee, 2 diet pepsi's, one bleacher ejection.

     from web

  2. Guy in D-Lee shirt in RF bleachers catches throw from Fuld, falls into basket. Bleacher security promptly escorts him out. I feel his pain.

     from web

  3. Sitting in the Bill Veeck seats in top section of CF bleachers. Plenty of room to stretch out for Game 2. Stop by and say hi.

     from TwitterBerry

  4. Craig Lynch, legally blind reporter for Sun-Times, was asked about Fukudome's error, which was somehow ruled a double: "I didn't see it."

     from web

  5. Cubs announce crowd of 34,362, though only about 9,500 showed up and only one was escorted out of the bleachers.

     from web

  6. Uh oh. Ronnie Woo spotted me. Now he's yelling He Was Out Woo in my ear after Blanco tag at second. Bad day gets worse.

     from TwitterBerry

  7. It's 2 p.m. and Ronnie Woo is in Section 216. Avoiding Section 216.

     from TwitterBerry

  8. Ejected from Wrigley Field bleachers and it's only 1:38. Cubs security escorts me out in front of eyewitnesses. Oh the indignation.

     from TwitterBerry

In his twitness, Sullivan didn't give an explanation for what actions, words, or evil spells may have prompted the ejection from the bleachers, nor did he allude to his removal in his rundown of the doubleheader sweep. And considering it was Paul Sullivan who wrote all these tweets, there's a very real chance it's all made up to begin with.

So I'm begging anyone who was at game 1, all 7 of you, to please provide details. But in tribute to Paul Sullivan's propensity for quoting unnamed sources, don't let the facts stop you. I'd love the truth, but I'd do the dance of joy for a good unfounded theory on what he may have done to get booted.

Thank you in advance for helping me take out some frustration on a guy who helped make this season much less bearable.

We Can Get Through It . . . Just Once

Nothing drives home the reality of a season's demise like losing a double dip to a team that's been below .500 since Barry Bonds' head was normal-person size.

To help ease the pain, I want to introduce any newcomers to a song that has become an annual tradition in the offices of And Counting. The above clip has nothing to do with baseball. It has everything to do with the inability to ever get it right. So if you're as upset as I am that the Cubs' best wasn't good enough (cuz here we are back where we were before), I give you Mr. James Ingram.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The 2009 dream is over. Thankfully, we still have games to watch. But it's time to face facts. There will be at least 102 years between Cubs World Series Championships.

The standard denial is to lower that number by one. It comes with the silly notion that a championship lasts for a year. Sorry. The sad truth of the Holy Grail for which all Cub fans pine is that a World Series victory is locked inside an instant. As the old French ballad goes, "Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment / Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie." For you who don't parlez Français, it means the pleasure of a World Series lasts for but a moment, but the pain it causes lasts your whole damn life.

The Cubs won in the fall of '08. The soonest they'll win another is '10. That's the nicest way I can say the wait will be 102 years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Brink

Lose tonight, and the foregone conclusion becomes plain old reality.

If the Rockies win tonight, 100 Cubbie runs won't matter.

But if the Cubs win . . . and the *gulp* Brewers win, Chicago's playoff chances live on in blatant desperation.

A lot of other people have a lot of opinions about a lot of other Cub-related issues. Right now, I'm just contemplating the moment and leaving rational thought for another day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Cubs' Last Gasp

There is one last step in the grieving process: acceptance. I just want to say, I'm not quite there.

I don't pretend to think the Cubs have a realistic chance of winning the rest of their games. Or the Rockies losing the rest of theirs. Or the Braves cooling off dramatically. Or the Giants and the Marlins both failing their way through the final week. Obviously that's way too many individually far-fetched and collectively impossible contingencies to hope for.

But the off day shared by the Cubs and Rockies has given our playoff chances one more day on life-support. However faint the pulse, however rattling the breaths, this dying vegetable of a season is not yet clinically dead.

I've gone through all the other stages of grief. I can't deny the fate of this team. I lack the strength to appropriately arouse my anger at Paul Sullivan's feeble excuses for journalism. I have lost all bargaining power. I'm done trying to be positive. But I'm just not ready to check the box next to Acceptance.

I'm going to enjoy the gigantic deep breath that is this off day. And on Tuesday, I'll hope the Cubs can make it through one more day. I won't even think about Wednesday.

Holler if you're with me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trade This: Z Shouldn't Swap Teams. Catchers Maybe

For one night at least, Carlos Zambrano looked like a guy who deserved every penny of his $91.5 million contract, let alone the right to stay on this Cubs team. He might not be that guy, but he sure looked the part as he outpitched de facto Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on Friday night. Carlos matched the Giants' two hits and drove in two more runs than they did during his complete-game shutout. And it left Len, Bob, and the depressed Cub faithful wondering why he couldn't look like that more often.

As Koyie Hill congratulated him on the too-late gem, I wondered how much difference Koyie Hill makes for Zambrano and if he should become Z's personal catcher. Baseball-Reference had some fun answers for me.

Geo has caught Z 14 times to Koyie's 13 proving at the very least that Z does NOT have a personal catcher. The rest of the stats suggest he should. (Note: I don't know the number of innings pitched or ERA, but what's there is pretty telling.)

With Geo catching: 2.09 SO/BB; .273 BA; .351 OBP; .414 SLG; .765 OPS
With Koyie: 1.88 SO/BB; .215 BA; .315 OBP; .278 SLG; .593 OPS

The only number that's more favorable with Geo behind the dish is the strikeout-to-walk ratio. Everything else points dramatically to Koyie being the ideal Big Z handler.

I just hope Lou (or whoever the manager will be) glances at these numbers at some point in the offseason.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Could All Learn a Thing or Two from Aaron Miles

I've been pretty rough on Aaron Wade Miles this year. Heck, this year has been pretty rough on Aaron Wade Miles. He has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the 2009 Cubs, which, considering the number of Cubs having down or deplorable years, really tells you something.

But Miles hasn't lost control of his emotions on the mound. He hasn't spouted off to the media. He didn't get busted for smoking weed at the World Baseball Classic or put on extra weight. He didn't trade Mark DeRosa. He doesn't hop before he catches fly balls. He wouldn't hurt a fly on a Gatorade Machine. The only reason I and a teeming throng of others have lambasted him with gleeful mockery is that these are his stats.

I was thinking of listing some of the things I've said about him, but that would betray my genuine intentions for this post (which is why I didn't make a joke about whether or not he could hurt a fly on a Gatorade Machine . . . from now on, I'm just going to insert asterisks * in places I feel tempted to mock him). I want to commend Aaron Miles for conducting himself like a professional and, frankly, like a good man during this, the worst year in his career.

You can make fun of Miles for his size, but he's probably the same height as I am. So I can't make fun of him for that. And yes, his hitting has been miserable, although marred somewhat by injury for the first half of the season . . . second half, too, maybe? But other than that, he's done nothing wrong*.

When Miles fails on the field* he never shows his frustration. Do you know how hard that is to do*? To keep your composure when you ******. Well, it's not easy. But it is commendable. And I've just never detected anything in the way he carries himself (and believe me, I look for these things) that would identify him as the jerk I've secretly wanted him to be.

With a guy who isn't producing, you want him to give you the Todd Hundley total package. If you're gonna stink, you should be a jerk—it's just proper baseball etiquette. But Aaron Miles is not that guy. He tries hard. You can tell he wants to succeed. He just doesn't compound his baseball troubles* by making an ass of himself.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation when you're less than your best (or less than your mediocre) ask yourself this simple question: What Would Aaron Miles Do? I'm so printing up WWAMD bracelets right now.


UPDATE: I was trying to think what the best way to handle Aaron Miles at this point in his two year contract would be. Although it would mean eating $2 million, I wouldn't mind seeing him released. But as long as we have a couple weeks of games with no playoff implications, it might not hurt to give him the everyday job at second—or at least a handful of starts. As terrible as he has looked, I'm sure it's next to impossible to get better on the bench. If the experiment went terribly, though, I'd have to continue the barrage of insults . . . no reason for all of us to suffer.