Saturday, February 28, 2009

Can I borrow that bloody sock?

Curt Schilling is pondering a comeback, and he's got the Cubs and/or the Rays in his sights.

I don't know quite how to feel about this . . . yeah, it would be nice to have someone with that much experience on the playoff roster (because he's not starting the season with anyone). But that much experience comes in a 42-year-old package. And the way I see it, Schilling would still be the 5th starter, unlikely to see much or any starting action in the playoffs.

Of course, if any of the current aces were injured (or turned into deuces) I would majorly change my tune. I just don't know if I could ever get used to having his blog in this town. Do we need any more built-in controversy?

If it leads to winning a pennant . . . absolutely.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Man, He's Got Tight Quads

Milton Bradley left today's game with a tight quad after legging out a walk in his first at bat. I'm really not that alarmed, especially since it would give Micah Hoffpauir a place to play for awhile if Bradley did miss his customary 50 games.

Further allaying my anxiety is the fact that Bradley's contract is heavily laden with incentives for actually, you know, playing. I'm as excited as the next guy (overheard from Next Guy: "I'm actually kinda bored over here.") . . . Correction, I'm even more excited than the next guy that the Cubs are playing baseball again, but Spring Training games don't mean jack. The team results don't mean anything, and the individual stats don't mean anything. I still remember when Nomar set the Cactus League on fire, prompting Peter Gammons to predict an MVP year for the Cub shortstop. I think he wound up with a negative batting average in April. 

So, yeah. Not scared. Not scared. But still . . . um, let's not lose anybody else during the intense base-on-balls drills, mkay?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Promise

. . . and this isn't just based on his grand slam to open up spring training, Micah Hoffpauir will steal the starting first-base job from Derrek Lee. He won't win the job based on his performance in the spring, but Lee better pray for his own health. If Lee spends any time on the DL this year, Hoffpauir won't be giving the job back to him. And if the double-play parade continues for #25, he'll be grabbing some bench before the All-Star break.

It's beginning to look a lot like baseball.

Ladies, gentlemen . . . prepare to pee your pants. Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air. There's no need to type any further. Let's just all relax and soak in the moment.

Okay, that's enough soaking. Go change your drawers quick before the first pitch.

Play ball!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Starter 5 Watch: Sean Marshall

Look, there's not anything happening at this point in Cubs camp that is going to change the status of the Starter 5 Watch. But the announcement that Jeff Samardzija will be starting the Cactus League opener sets the table for a long, lively competition. 

But right now, Sean Marshall is the favorite, because the coaches say so. And they get to, so . . . yeah. I have to go with that right now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A-Fraud + A-Roid =


Terrible joke. Terrible photoshop. Terrible execution of a terrible idea. Yet . . . here it is, and I am laughing at myself.

Virtual Waiting Rooms

80. By my best count, that's how many Virtual Waiting Rooms I had open in my quest to enter the inner sanctum of the financial prison rape that is Cubs Ticketing. But since I entered into the relationship willingly, I'll never be able to press charges.

The exact cents come up a bit short, but the long and short of it is this: $5 per ticket convenience fee (which I find decidedly inconvenient . . . hmm, this post is turning into an extended allusion to the Shawshank Redemption), $4 processing fee, and a $2.50 "print at home" fee. Now, the sisters over at would have to force me to agree to that little twist, since receiving the tickets by mail is absolutely free. I know it would be cheaper just to show up at Wrigley and buy the tickets myself. But the sheer audacity displayed by the Chicago National League ball club should be expressly prohibited. It's insulting. It's demeaning. It's despicable.

Yet somehow I found myself submitting to it all like a frat pledge. And they say the people most likely to abuse are those who have been abused themselves--sure enough, I found myself on StubHub just a few short hours later, trying to see if some poor sucker would be willing to let me do the same to them.

How many more lives have to be ruined before we wise up?!?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cubs Have Gone Platinum, Baby!

I can't tell you what a thrill it is to take that first look at the Cubs pocket schedule every year. These days you can see the schedule long before the printed copies roll off the presses, but holding the schedule in my hands takes me back to when I was a kid. I remember poring over that thing every year, seeing what team (if any) the Cubs played on my birthday. I'd look for the scheduled double headers, the five-game series, the hated Mets . . . the thing was filled with wonders.

This year brought a brand new surprise. Four tiers of games! Bronze (el cheapo), Silver (you're gonna pay), Gold (too rich for my blood), and Platinum (dude, don't even ask). I guess those translate into four levels of desire: 1. I'll go if you have an extra ticket. 2. Yeah, I'll call in sick. 3. I'm going. That's all there is to it, I'm effin going. 4. If it was 40 below and staying home from that game was the difference between a long, satsifying life and a cold, horrible death from hypothermia, I still wouldn't give you the satisfaction. Go Cubs! (Yes, I did allude to Pulp Fiction and The Cutting Edge in succession--deal with it.)

Cub ticket pricing has reached satirical levels. They really are just making fun of us with what they charge to watch a game at Wrigley. The fact that they added a platinum level of game, that they expect us to swallow (and Cub fans will, with glee) the notion that some of the 81 home games are just too precious to miss, games that will make normal Cub games look like business meetings . . . it's just a little insulting.

Still, I'm ready to order tickets tomorrow. I just don't see platinum in my future.


Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez has replaced the late, great Jose Uribe as the Player To Be Named Later. He also aged four years in just one day.

It's not at all uncommon for players born outside the U.S. to falsify their birth records. But the hopping-mad Nationals claim this was more than a fudged birth certificate. They took the fraud to another level, bribing officials, fabricating hospital records, and even creating a brand new identity for the lightning-quick shortstop who isn't as brand-new as previously thought. When the club signed him at the supposed age of 16, Carlos David Alvarez (as his mama named him) was actually 20 years old. 

My question: does any of this really matter? When you factor in the Chinese gymnasts with the Dominican baseball players, it all pretty much evens out.

I'm just amazed that they made up a name that sounded like "Smiley" to make the nickname seem doubly relevant. Man, I love baseball.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Rick Reilly

Dear Rick,

Dude, you know what the problem is with that column about giving MVP trophies to their rightful owners. That's not a question. You know. Because you know that the MVP winners didn't steal money from banks or upstanding citizens. The MVP winners stole their trophies from other 'roid users (or at least suspected ones).  

Now, you're quite the humanitarian, I know. I appreciate you playing 'roid judge and deciding on behalf of baseball fans everywhere exactly who played clean and who was riding dirty. But the fact is, you don't know. You don't know, because you didn't do your job.  

While I agree with you that the BBWA should be ashamed for letting the steroid era go by without a single journalistic investigation, what were you doing at the time, covering tea parties for NPR?  

Oh, that's right, you broke the big story (after Jose Canseco did your job for you): Sammy Sosa wouldn't pee in a cup when you asked him to. That wasn't journalism, Rick, that was a publicity stunt, a juvenile prank, a journalistic hack-job mugging. Yeah, a member of a union that has collectively argued for decades that drug testing is a violation of their rights should betray that agreement because you, Rick Reilly, sports writing god, have so graciously offered him the opportunity to clear his good name by filling up thine cup with urine. Surely the only explanation for his refusal is that he was on steroids at the moment of your grandstanding sneak attack. (Who knew it was possible to grandstand and wage a sneak attack in one fell swoop . . . congrats!)  

Now, I have no proof that Sammy Sosa never used steroids. But your charade proves nothing either . . . well, except that you're a tool who used his standing as a sports writer to make himself the story. Well, Rick, if the story is cheap-shot artists who are too lazy and/or cowardly to ask the tough questions in private, congrats again, because you're it. In the meantime, if I were you, I would at least step outside of my glass house before I threw any more stones.  

For now, you have two options. 1) You can sneak back into those houses and return the trophies, or 2) You can dig a little deeper and see if you can find old urine samples from every player in the league for every year that is in dispute.  

Good luck with that, Rick. Yours sarcastically,


P.S. If Sosa's attempts at medicinal performance enhancement were anything like his bat-corking skills, he'd be dead by now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Steroids or No, Still Five Outs Away

The Cubs' Web site has a surprisingly revealing story featuring Cub reactions to the reawakened steroid saga.

Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez all weigh in on the topic, but the most fascinating quote, to me, is buried at the very end of the article. Since Lee was a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins, yes the Floridian fish who dismantled the Cubs' World Series dreams, his thoughts piqued my interest greatly. Here's the excerpt

He has thought about players he knew from the 2003 season -- he was on the Florida Marlins at that time -- and wondered about them.

"I can say I know guys who did it and their names haven't come out," Lee said.

Don't expect them to voluntarily identify themselves.

"I don't think they're going to come bragging to you," he said.

So . . . Derrek Lee knows some guys from the 2003 World Champs were on steroids? If Sammy Sosa had not been on the Cubs team that lost to them, I would cry foul. Not that Sammy has ever been directly implicated by any testimony or evidence, but there's no point in barking up this tree.

Still, I'd be fascinated to know who was using on the team that thwarted the '03 World Series train. Oh, what might have been. Do you think Bartman was on HGH?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Starter 5 Watch: Sean Marshall

I still have a hunch that Aaron Heilman will wind up as the Cubs' #5 starter before Spring Training is over, but when the manager says that Marshall "has a leg up" on the competition (Heilman, Jeff Samardzijia, and Chad Gaudin), you've gotta take the word of Sweet Lou seriously.

No matter who winds up in the five slot, I can't help but feel good about the state of the Cubbie pitching staff. When you have four legitimate candidates for the fifth spot, you really do have an embarrassment of riches in the bullpen.

Right now, I can't complain. We'll see how long that lasts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Lineup Card

Mistress of Prognostication that she is, Carrie Muskat has projected that the Cubs everyday lineup will look like this:

1. Soriano
2. Miles
3. Lee
4. Ramirez
5. Bradley
6. Soto
7. Fukudome
8. Theriot

Ugh. Personally, I've never understood the commonly held belief in baseball that you should put a sucky hitter in the number 2 slot. Considering that a primo leadoff hitter (which we don't have) reaches base only 40% of the time, why do managers insist on placing someone who can "move the runner over or work the count to allow him to steal" in the number two hole? Does any team ever sacrifice bunt in the first inning with the second hitter of the game? No!! Do you know who is great at moving the runner over and taking pitches? Ryan Dempster! And that's why he hits NINTH. I want my best hitters at the top of the order, plain and simple. But most big league skippers continue to insert the human sacrifice bunt into the #2 slot. Makes no sense.

Here's another way of summarizing the theory: Your leadoff hitter can have some power (Biggio, Roberts, Henderson, Soriano). Your 3 and 4 hitters need to have power. But if your #2 guy has power, you're a moron. I know no one actually says that, but their actions say it for them. To me, the ideal #2 hitter is Ryne Sandberg. I know we don't exactly have extra Ryne-O's laying around, but I think you ought to put one of your best hitters in the #2 slot. I would suggest this order:

1. Alfonso Soriano (not because it's best for the lineup, but because I think you get Alfonso Soriano at his best when he's leading off . . . hate that if you want, but it's true)
2. Derrek Lee (even if his power is waning, the dude is a hit machine)
3. Milton Bradley (need a lefty in the top 3 to guarantee the starting pitcher has to change his approach at least once in the first inning)
4. Aramis Ramirez (boom)
5. Geovany Soto (If I'm a pitcher, I hate the Cubs by the time I see Geo standing in the on-deck circle)
6. Ryan Theriot (to me, the 6 hole is a better fit for the prototypical get on base, low-power option--I want 7 and 8 hitters who can drive in runs, not draw a walk in front of the pitcher)
7. Kosuke Fukudome (the addition of Milton Bradley is, in effect, the subtraction of 90% of the pressure on F-dome)
8. Mike Fontenot (I'd love to see him playing every day . . . I think we'd end up seeing a lot of pitchers hitting with two outs and the bases empty after Baby Babe Ruth touches 'em all)

Now, if Soriano ever proved he could hit somewhere other than leadoff, I'd move him down to 5th and have Theriot lead off. I love him there, because I think he brings an energy to the lineup that the rest of the team feeds off of. But I don't like him hitting 2nd nearly as much (no power, and in most cases he's coming to the plate with the bases empty . . . I want someone who can generate a lot of doubles, a la D-Lee).

What about you? If you had to post your lineup, what would it be?

1st spring training game is just two weeks away!!

Aceless Accusations

Justin Baumann over at the Bleacher Report argues that the Cubs have no aces on the pitching staff and therefore need Jake Peavy. 

I contend that the Cubs have three aces and only need Peavy if they want to make it embarrassing. 

His evidence is last year's playoffs, when no Cub pitcher was able to shut down the Dodgers.

I prefer not to talk about last year's playoffs. 

Seriously, though, I have always hated the use of postseason performance as evidence for a baseball argument or the legacy of certain players. I know, I know, the playoffs are the absolute most important time to come through in the clutch and the worst possible occasion to choke. But it's such a small sample! Especially when you choke and choke hard.

You could take a three- or six-game window of any Hall of Famer's performance and find it abysmal. And you could find a 10-game stretch where Henry Blanco was absolutely on fire. And if that completely unrepresentative sample happened to take place in October, some people would wind up labeling Joe Morgan as a choke artist and Henry Blanco as a critical component to any championship roster.

But nobody really has the ability to just "switch it on" in October. If they did, what was wrong with them in the third week of June when they went 0-12 against the Reds? I just don't buy these "clutch" labels we throw on players who have had fortunately timed hot streaks over which they had no control.

The same goes for pitchers. While you definitely can judge their playoff potential by examining their stats against playoff-quality teams, it's completely unreliable to talk about their past playoff experience when that amounts to no more than a handful of starts. Any pitcher can have a bad game--at any time. To judge any of them on the basis of two or three games would be ignorant of the unpredictability of baseball. 

In my opinion, Zambrano, Harden, and Dempster (if he duplicates the marvel that was the 2008 season . . . and ignores that little LA train wreck) all qualify as aces because any of them would be at least considered as the Game 1 starter for any number of playoff contenders.

There's no way I'm saying that Jake Peavy would be "the guy" to ensure the Cubs at least one playoff win. It would be nice to have him.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Starter 5 Watch: Aaron Heilman

Some sites are projecting Sean Marshall as the #5 guy. Not me. I'm still banking on Heilman to win the job and Marshall to become the situational lefty/injury fill-in. 

Either way, I'm loving the rotation at this point . . . this meaningless point.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just so I'm clear . . .

  • 104 Major League Baseball players tested positive for steroids or other banned performance enhancing drugs in 2003.
  • Federal investigators seized the results, including the names of all 104 players with positive tests.
  • That list (although somehow defined as "sealed") has been seen by just about every judge, lawyer, court official, and investigator in the BALCO trials, as well as high-ranking officials in MLB and the players union.
  • MLB notified each and every one of those 104 players that they had tested positive for steroids and that those results had been leaked (my favorite pun in sports, at the moment).
  • It took the Baseball Writers of America five years to discover any of this.
And we let these people determine who enters the Hall of Fame, why exactly?

Starter 5 Watch: Aaron Heilman

Pitchers and catchers report to camp in four days. What the day after Thanksgiving is to Christmas, this Friday is to Opening Day. And the big question heading into spring training is the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation.

The first four spots are decided, even if the exact order is in limbo. Carlos Zambrano. Ryan Dempster. Rich Harden. Ted Lilly. Arranged in any fashion, that quartet is enough to take the Cubs through the lowlands of the N.L. Central and into October. But as things don't always never work out as Cub fans hope or expect, the matter of the fifth starter weighs heavily on all our minds.

There are plenty of viable candidates: Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin . . . or even the much-hyped and hoped-for possibility that Jake Peavy would bump one of the aforementioned Gang of Four into spot number cinco. 

But for right now, I'm instituting a daily watch over the situation and reporting what I believe to be the most likely (although not necessarily best) solution the Cubs will employ. And today, the magic 8 ball tells me, all signs point to Aaron Heilman.

The guy is a reliever, but as Steve Stone always says, inside every reliever beats the heart of a starter. There's no question, Heilman would jump at the chance to start. And I've got a hunch that Jim & Lou intend to give him every opportunity. As Tom Koch-Weser at Stats Blog explains, Heilman has three nearly unhittable pitches. Only problem last year was, when those pitches were hit, they were hit hard, they were hit far, and they were hit at the worst possible moments. 

But that doesn't point to an unreliable pitcher. It just shows that Heilman is better off as a starter. It is extremely rare that a relief pitcher will consistently use (or need) three different pitches, especially in short relief. They don't have the time to get their bearings on that many pitches in a short amount of work. The probability that they'll make a mistake is high, and the margin of error late in the game is minuscule. As a reliever, if one of your pitches isn't working, your team just lost. But as a starter, if you're struggling to locate your slider, you can still eat up a lot of innings relying on your fastball and splitter. An early mistake or two won't kill you.

So at this point, as long as the Cubs remain Peavy free, Aaron Heilman is both the logical and the probable fit for the fifth starter job. We can only hope he has as much success with the transition from bullpen to rotation as Ryan Dempster did last year.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


At this point, no revelation in the Major League Baseball steroid scandal can come as a shock to anyone at all familiar with it. In fact, the parade of new names being linked to performance enhancing substances in sports has drawn on to the point of tedium.

So Sports Illustrated's breaking news about Alex Rodriguez testing positive for anabolic steroids and testosterone in 2003 (and this is breaking news . . . really?) has failed to unearth the foundations of my own personal grasp on reality. The guy used to be a bean pole, albeit a very talented one. Then he turned into a very talented hulking specimen of a man. Judging by the photos and the stats, it's not at all difficult to believe A-Rod was on the juice. And Jose Canseco warned us it was so; we'd be fools to ignore his word.

Perhaps the biggest news of all in the report is the simple fact that the 2003 drug tests were supposed to be anonymous. That was the agreement between the players' union and MLB--nobody gets named. It was a drug test test, supposedly. MLB wanted to gauge how many players were raging with 'roids, and if it was more than 5% of guys on the major league level, both sides would agree to mandatory testing across the board.

But when federal investigators searched the lab containing the records, they were able to name names--this never should have happened. In a true anonymous test, there should be absolutely no record of whose sample is whose. Both MLB and the union should have insisted on providing their own clinicians to monitor the analysis to ensure accuracy and anonymity. They should have stipulated that the results of the tests be destroyed after a judgment was made on their results.

They should have, if they wanted to get away with their organized criminal fleecing of the sports world, been a little bit more organized in their crime.

Alas and alack, just like any crime movie worth its bloody betrayal scenes, the players, their trainers, and the owners and commissioner of Major League Baseball never really trusted each other enough to collude effectively on the steroid issue. They tried, though. 

As SI's story points out, Union chief Gene Orza allegedly tipped off A-Rod about upcoming steroid testing, just in time for him to get clean when it was his turn to step up to the cup during the 2004 for-real-this-time tests. And who tipped off the head of the players' union? Only MLB people knew about it, so . . .

And the idea of anonymous testing in 2003, that was a brilliant bit of PR chicanery. "Hey, we're working together to get a program in place . . . one that gives everybody one last chance to use substances that have been banned since 1991! Yay for us!"

Because let's face it: the steroids era worked out for everybody for about 15 years. More homers. More fans. More money. Same primo level of zero accountability, as long as we stick together. They almost got away with making the public believe testing was serious while allowing it to continue (as long as you were a Messiah-level hero who, with a little chemical assistance, had the talent to rescue baseball from the anabolic mire, of course).

But they didn't stay together. MLB had the testing done . . . nymously. Several people armed with either a conscience or a monetary motivation have leaked all kind of information: about Bonds' grand jury testimony, about the NY Mets clubhouse, about A-Rod's name being on this list of 104 players who tested positive in '03, and about everyone Jose Canseco ever shared a stall with . . . the leakage goes on and on. Many people were smart enough to document their roles in the conspiracy that likely included everyone from the commissioner of baseball to the beat writers covering the Royals. There is a paper trail, a syringe trail, a urine-filled vial trail, that tells a story much more detailed than the Mitchell report. 

This is a Clint Eastwood film where no one is clean, but not everyone will bear the consequences. So why does this Cubs blogger care about it? Because it's only a matter of time before some Cubbie names show up on someone's records somewhere . . . probably starting with that list of 104 positive tests from 2003. The players' names will continue to generate the buzz, distracting our attention from the really wicked ones who continue to get away with their sins.

The writers are the cowards . . . they're about 10 years too late with this story that has been bulging for the taking, untouched for far too long. The government . . . idiots. They have allowed baseball and the sporting world in general a colossal free pass that has just pulverized the trust of fandom in general. And the owners . . . oh, the owners are the evil geniuses (comparatively) and Bud Selig is the mastermind. To hear him say it, MLB came down swiftly on the steroid issue the moment they first sniffed the clear on Barry Bonds' breath. But I'd be shocked if he wasn't pulling the strings of the entire operation a la Vince McMahon, the WWE CEO who practically forced his superstars to juice up--and got away with it, free, clear, and rich.

The only members of that group who could possibly redeem themselves are the writers. If they could somehow expose Bud Selig for who he is . . . if they could stop bowing down to his throne long enough to investigate his and the owners' roles in allowing and even encouraging substance abuse . . . then I would forgive them. Then the Hall of Fame credentials they bestow on former players might have some meaning. Then, and only then, would I begin to trust a single word written or spoken by a Baseball Writer of America.

Maybe then, when baseball's terrorists are brought to justice, I could begin to trust this game for the first time since I was a boy. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Should the Cubs Add Some Pudge?

Over at the Cubscast message board, fan desperation has gotten to the point of debating light-hitting backup catchers. The Cubs let Hank White fly (along with this $3 million option el grande) and instead took a flyer on Paul Bako. Both catchers are now making $750,000 in one-year deals, Blanco signing with the Padres. Neither catcher is an accomplished hitter. Both are getting up there in age. Blanco is clearly the better defensive backstop. But all in all, neither one screams "difference maker" in what is already a backup role.

I agreed completely with Hendry's decision to decline Henry Blanco's option. In world of constricting financial belts and pending mega-franchise sales, every last million bucks is critical. But one story had me wondering if the Cubs didn't jump the gun on signing Bako's three-quarter million contract. 

Word on the Hot Stove Blvd. is that the Marlins are pondering a $1 million deal to Pudge Rodriguez. Florida, whose entire team payroll could barely pay Mark Texiera's taxes, have a chance at landing a perennial all-star catcher (who is, admittedly, pretty much all out of ennials) for a cool million. But the Marlins have to turn over their couch cushions to see if they have the money. The Cubs, on the other hand, could snatch up Pudge in a move that, compared to the Bako signing, would be an absolute steal (and if Bako was behind the plate, there's no risk of getting caught).

So why not? Why not make an attempt to sign his Pudgeness? Even if Hendry had to eat Bako's contract (and, let's face it, he could eat it for breakfast and still have room for crullers) the move would still be well worth it.

The Cons: His bat has slowed down, his arm is not the cannon it once was, and who knows when the after effects of 'roids will do in his kidneys. Plus, he might not show the Cubs the same generosity that the Marlins could expect. And after this winter, wouldn't you give someone a discount in exchange for 90-degree weather?

The Pros: Every aspect of his game is still twice as good as Bako's (although Paul reportedly has impeccable kidneys, some insiders calling him a nephrological marvel, a true renal genius). Rodriguez admits he can't play more than three or four times a week. 

I've weighed both sides, and while the cons win by word count, the pros take it in a landslide in terms of baseball sense. I would love having a backup that can actually hit and that could spell Geo on a more consistent basis down the stretch in a season. Make the move, Jim. To make the Bako contract easier to swallow, I will send you $5 myself. I know, generous. That's how bad I want this championship.