Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Acceptance

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 Fran├žais, 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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heated Cub Bromance Boils Over



You've heard about his clashes with the fans. His squabbles with the Chicago press are well documented. And, until now, it seemed Milton Bradley stayed aloof from most of his teammates, creating an awkward tension in the Cubs clubhouse and on the field.

According to sources behind the scenes, the shocking untold story bears no resemblance to the image portrayed in the media. Milton Bradley wasn't just close to his team . . . he got too close. The torrid bromance between Ryan Dempster and Bradley tore the clubhouse in two after a heated dispute over interpretations of the film He's Just Not That Into You.

Players were forced to take sides after the split, and Dempster's seniority and popularity earned him the lion's share of support. Naturally, the breakup was hardest on the little guys.

One diminutive player who refused to be named cited the strained relationship as the reason behind his own struggles. "What those two guys had was special. Since they split, I've only had one, two hits. I can't get my average above the Mendoza line, and I can't listen to Streisand anymore. It's just too painful."

With Bradley suspended for the remainder of the season and almost certainly headed for a trade, it may be too late to recreate the magic. However, the research team at And Counting has obtained an exclusive copy of a tribute video created before the pair split and will post it here as soon as it becomes available. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here it is, the video of star-crossed love and tragic despair:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Myth and Genius of Meaningless Games



Part of the grieving process of Cub fans is the ability to start to think positively again. Milton Bradley's suspension has made that a lot easier on most of us, but let's not lose ourselves by rejoicing in the negative . . . if we do, Milton Bradley wins.

I want to think instead about this last batch of remaining games in the 2009 season. Particularly, I'd like to focus on the phrase that pops up from the ground like a masochistic groundhog ready to announce six more months of baseball winter: "These games are meaningless." Allow me to strenuously agree and disagree.

Yes, these games are meaningless, and that's the point of a pastime! The word pastime originates from the English phrase "pass time," meaning to occupy ones attention so as to distract one from thoughts of those things that make life suck. Essentially, all we're trying to do by watching baseball is to better enjoy the journey of the big hand and the little hand in their circuit around the face of the big green clock in center field. We're not in this for the meaning.

If we wanted meaning, we'd do something important, like not call off sick or volunteer at a homeless shelter or throw bags of tea at people trying to pass healthcare legislation. Not all of our lives suck, but all of our lives do have meaning (some good, some bad) outside of baseball. Baseball transports us away from the meaning. It's guys with sticks and balls and more opportunities for sexual innuendo than any adult would ever need.

Cubs baseball particularly provides an escape like no other. Cubs baseball is Fantasy Baseball. The scoreboard that time forgot. The enchanted ivy cascading down the outfield's unscalable walls. The curse of a century. The men who become boys when they cross the magic white lines. Entire crowds erupting into song that would be entirely ridiculous in any other setting but here—in this movie, in this fairy tale, in this unending Disney flick—make perfect sense.

Meaningless? I should hope so. Yet, why do we care so much?

No, these games aren't meaningless, they mean everything! I like the fall. My wife loves the fall. Leaves changing colors. Bonfires. Hayrides that sound enjoyable but quickly turn to itchy, blotchy, irritated regrets. It's all wonderful. But world series championship or not, the end of baseball in the fall is the saddest point in my year. Because the game . . . every game, means something.

I love Darth Vader's speech in Field of Dreams. It captures the emotional lure of baseball, the way we are inexplicably drawn to it. It is as American as the Declaration of Independence. And as old-fashioned. But baseball's lore and history merely decorate the true meaning of baseball—the brick wall behind the ivy, the Vienna Beef beneath the pickles, relish, mustard, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and celery salt—relationships.

Like almost no other experience, baseball allows us to connect with friends, family, and strangers converging on a single, multi-faceted experience. The leisurely pace between each dramatic showdown allows us the time to talk, to listen, and to take in the richness of each other's company. The game is an excuse to be together and to block out the nonsense that would deprive our lives of meaning.

Every baseball game I've ever been to has featured at least one meaningful exchange with the people around me (usually dozens of them). With my sons, with my wife, with my dad (who hates baseball, but enjoys Wrigley), with my mom (who loves baseball and got me started on this lovely doomed ride), and with people I know I can trust simply because of the round red C on their caps and the smiles on their faces.

This can be a lonely world. But not at Wrigley (unless, Mr. Bradley, you decide you want it that way). If that doesn't mean something, then I don't know what does. So excuse me if the lack of trophies, champagne showers, pennants, and parades doesn't void my Cubs watching of its meaning.

As bad as this season has been, I don't want it to end. Do you?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Milton's Gone, and So Are Cubs' Playoff Hopes



There are some facts about the Cubs that don't need to be said. I've rounded them up here so they can huddle together in their unspoken misery.

  • Signing Milton Bradley was a mistake.
  • Suspending him was not.
  • The Cubs aren't going to the playoffs.
  • Even the most jaded Cubs fans still harbored a tiny vigilante voice of hope deep in their hearts that was saying, "Let's just wait and see how we* do this weekend in St. Louis."
  • That voice is now muttering obscenities.
  • No matter the standings, it's always nice to beat the Cardinals, especially after watching them prematurely rush the field in jubilant, firework-lit celebration.
  • Aaron Miles has had a bad year.
  • The Chicago media don't like Milton Bradley. (Lesson to high-school jocks: Be nice to the nerds who don't make the team and have to settle for praising you in the school paper; they will one day have the power to torture you.)
  • Jake Fox is a man's man.
  • Only time will tell who overpaid more absurdly: Jim Hendry for Milton ($30 million) or the Ricketts family for this team ($845 million).
  • This season has been a disaster.
  • Someday we'll go all the way.
*Yes, the voice deep inside the heart of skeptical Cubs fans refers to the team as "we."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cubs Twitter All-Stars

If we can't win it this year, might as well irritate some Cardinals.

UPDATED 9/25 (this should probably be in alphabetical order. Instead, it's in the order that I entered names. Sue me.)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Twitter makes winning fun and losing a little bit more palatable. If you tweet, you're familiar (perhaps to the point of contempt) with the concept of Follow Friday. You also know that Tony LaRussa tried to sue Twitter. And you probably also know that these Cubs fans (among a plethora of others) rock, but here are some reminders why:

@ehudmh This is one funny (and insightful) dude. Never met a tweet of his I didn't like.
@cubsjunkie Fun, feisty, and full of fascinating tweets. (Do not cross this woman: the animals obey her.)
@hey_sue She's got a dry wit and a wry sense of teeny-bopper button pushing. #lovehertodeath
@jmkobus You never know where his tweets might lead you, but that place will be awesome.
@TweetsByDina High Queen of Haiku, wordsmith extraordinaire, and purveyor of sweet tweets.
@fuzzed18 An engaging and delightful fan who really keeps the social in social media.
@trishkaa If your life needs more sass and spunk (and it does) you need more of her.
@aaronswray His tweet stream will cleanse you from boredom. I swear.
@aleagueofherown Phenomenal tweets are just the tip of her awesomeberg. Twitter can't contain the glory.
@ggci You want tweets with class and substance, he's your guy. Then he'll make you laugh til you puke.
@tom_reutebuch He's all kinds of deep-fried awesome.
@wrigleygirl Like the stadium that serves as her Twitter namesake, she's a national treasure.
@c1t1z3nx You know what that name stands for? It stands for fun and hilarity, that's what.
@Aisle424 I miss Mike Royko. His tweets and blog posts are reminiscent of the genius of old.
@dwag29 She might live closer to Citi Field, but her heart is lost in the ivy.
@TheCubsInHaiku The finest Cubs tweets / Seven and ten syllables / Wit, faith, fun, and hope
@MOgulnick When she's running the world, you're gonna wanna say you followed her when...
@wpbc If it's relevant, original, and memorable, there's a good chance you heard it from him.
@CubsMagicNumber If you aren't following her, your days should be numbered. Get it together.
@nearlynextyear He's blessed with Evanstonian Eloquence and cursed with, well, the Cubs.
@herlihy If you could plot a person's way with words on a map, his would be the Oregon Trail.
@cubscasthosts The only Cubs podcast I listen to. Their tweets will tell you why.
@Aaliyoda If you don't like being informed, entertained, and engaged, stay the heck away.
@onetwittedcubs Author of One-minute Cubs blog (aka best minute of your day)
@Thankphil He's an Iowa Cubs fan with major-league talent. Quietly one of my absolute favorites.
@areyoudrunk Only took 11 characters to prove this was one tweep I couldn't help but follow.
@SarahSpain Yes, her picture is real. She's also a sideline reporter for the Big Ten network & the funny and insightful host of Fantasy Players Minute.
@TheCubsGuy You must prove yourself worthy to read his Cubs tweets. You should be that lucky.
@hirejimessian Even more sarcastic than the name implies, his tweets and blog will leave you rolling.
@Purpl0704 A genuinely delightful Cubs fan and all-around fun person.
@CarrieMuskat We like to give the cubs.com writer a hard time, but her tweets are first-rate & informative.
@rudym55 His Cubs tweets are so good, you'll be tempted to carry him off the field on your shoulders.
@blicdh Quick draw Kevin McGraw cheers for all the right teams and says all the right things.
@TheBlogfines If you're a fan of Sharapova's Thigh(s) . . . I don't even know how to finish this. Go here.
@thezoner The dude is a Chicago sports blog factory, with best blog title ever: Pippen Ain't Easy
@rpringle I won't say I've got the fever for his flavor. I do, but I won't say it. He's much too classy for that.
@talkchibaseball Baseball bipartisanship at its very best. Truly a worthwhile follow and read.
@kerrence Constant flow of self-indulgent, attention-seeking crap.
@dat_cubfan_dave Puts a lot of thought and meaning into his tweets, good links, great follow.
@bleedcubbieblue If you don't know Al Yellon or his powerhouse blog, welcome to the outside of the loop.
@martisnow Cub fan and Red Sox fan. Her heart is only half healed, but her posts are wholly awesome.
@proseandivy A fine Cubs blogger, funny tweeter, and fan.
@harrypav If ever someone tells you Cubs fans are stupid, point them to cubsfx and bask in the glory of Harry Pavlidis proving them dead freaking wrong.
@GatoradeMachine This tweep capitalized on a couple dugout incidents and was catapulted to fame. The fact that he's hilarious (and real) didn't hurt either.
@DietRite She (not her account) is named after Jody Davis. Need I go on? I should. She's awesome.
@terilou6983 She's smart, funny, and worth following for all kinds of non-Cub reasons, too.
@Eukadanz Follow Eukadanz if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Cuz your friends don't danz and if they don't danz then they're no friends of mine.
@Ernesto_H Very fun and funny Cubs/Bears fan whose in-game tweets make me laugh regularly. And sometimes irregularly.
@ari_bo_bari Although her stat-loving allegiance spreads across four different baseball teams, I can only remember one . . . and the fact that every tweet is exquisite.
@TorturedFanBase There are some Twitter names that tell you everything you need to know about the genius behind them. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
@BluntChick I don't even know if she's sold-out as a Cubs fan, but she's awesome enough to include regardless.(She actually is a Cubs fan and Hawks fan and growing steadily more awesome with every passing moment.)
@plamorte This dude is a deadly combination of wit, smarts, and Cub fanaticism. But don't worry. Do not hold me accountable if you die laughing from reading his tweets.
@itsjenjen She describes herself as goofy, but I've found her to be elegant, delightful, and witty.
@ataccini She's one of those people who you just know is way smarter than you, but she's nice enough to pretend she doesn't realize the discrepancy—and she's way fun, too.
@acforever The name might imply he never shuts his windows, but he also never stops being edgy, funny, and bloggy: Check out the Cubbies Crib
@KariGoCubsGo She's a nurse and a Sooner, and that's OK with me. Bright, fun, and brimming with spunk.
@AngryHack This dude is out there in all the right ways. His avatar is green, I think, in support of Soto.
@adaveyouknow He's Dave. You know? Nice and witty with a smooth layer of sarcasm.

There are many (seriously a whole lot) more Cubs fans I'd love to recognize, and I'll add them as they come to mind (and as time allows). If you'd like to add anyone, please mention them in the comments, on twitter, or to your grandchildren. Just spread the love as you see fit.

More than anything, thanks to all of you who have added so much to A) the Cub game viewing experience, B) the magnificent world of Twitter, and C) my life in general.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shawon-O-Meter: The College Years



People tend to overuse the phrase "you can't make this stuff up," generally to describe stuff that sounds made-up but isn't. There are a lot of creative minds in this world perfectly capable of making up some really strange shtick. This USA Today story about the latest snag in the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family . . . I don't care how creative you think you are, you can't make this stuff up.

A formal objection to the Tribune Company's sale of the Cubs has been filed with Delaware's bankruptcy court. That objection was filed by former Cub shortstop, Shawon Dunston.

The one-paragraph document was handwritten (I'm presuming by Dunston himself). The crux of his objection is that the Cubs owe him money. The money they owe him is for a college scholarship . . . a college scholarship he has yet to use.

Before I go on, you should know that, if I'm being honest (which sometimes I am, but, in all honesty, not habitually) I'll tell you straight out that Shawon Dunston is my all-time favorite Cub. If I get to pick a uniform number for anything, I pick 12. Not because of Dusty. Not because of Fonzy. Not because of Ricky Gutierrez. I pick 12, because when I was growing up, I tried to emulate Shawon Dunston. I loved his hustle. I loved his flair. I loved the way he'd try to check his swing by just letting go of the bat. As much as it is possible to love a baseball player you've never come close to meeting or seeing or communicating with in any way, shape, or form, I love Shawon Dunston.

That said, this is the craziest thing I ever heard. But I support Shawon in this. I don't care if the Trib owes him the gum from a 20-year-old pack of Topps baseball cards, he has a right to make sure he gets what is coming to him. But this . . . a retired shortstop who hit .750 for his high school team in Brooklyn standing in the way of the sale of a storied baseball franchise and the most revered structure in sports for a deal that's a 15% off coupon away from a billion bucks, just so he can be assured of free tuition if he so desires . . . that's some crazy crazy right there.


I've seen Shawon Dunston make some amazing plays in the hole at short. I've seen him rifle fastballs that might have killed anybody but Mark Grace. I've seen him catch knuckleballing windblown pop-ups in old Candlestick Park that no human being before or after him could have tracked down. I've heard that Matt Williams could field ground balls with ping-pong paddles on his hands. Legend has it that Ted Lilly can stop a speeding bullet with a stern look. But if Shawon Dunston stops or even delays the sale of the Cubs over potential college money, it will be the greatest defensive gem in the history of sports, law, and butt pain.

Yes, having the Neverending Cubs Sale delayed would be frustrating. But if Shawon can do it, I will love him even more for it. Because right now, laughter is all we have.

Go, Cubs. Just . . . Go.


Another Cubs loss, another step toward reality. The elimination numbers (WC and NL Central) are still in double digits, so mathematical hope lives on. But you can feel 2009 slipping away, a fragment of what it once was.

Maybe it's time for you to slip away into the "reflection" stage of grief. It's okay to feel alone, to walk that finely stitched seam between loneliness and solitude. It might be sweet joy to linger after a win with 40,000 friends singing or just tolerating "Go, Cubs, Go," as you all bask in the glee of your collective fortune. But after a loss that only serves to confirm the imminent dread crashing all around you . . . that's not the kind of misery you want company for.

I always think it helps to step outside. Enclosures are just containers for the pain. Step into the open air and let out the 2009 version of your hurt. Breathe in the air too new to know suffering or too ancient to care. It doesn't matter. You're unbound by walls or losses or underperforming millionaires. You are free.

I also find it helpful to hold a baseball in your hands. Resist the urge to throw it through a window. Just let its tactile spherical elegance take you back to the moment when you and baseball first fell in love. Don't worry about what went wrong. Just remember the joy of the best baseball moments and the people you shared them with. Remind yourself that baseball, particularly Cubs baseball, isn't about winning.

Oh that it was, but who are we kidding?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sandberg the Solution to Cubs' (heck, all of baseball's) Problems



Ryne Sandberg needs to be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs. I don't care about, nor do I take seriously, the rumors that Lou is going to leave his post or get run out of town. This might be Lou's last year. It might not. This isn't about Lou. There is simply no better baseball man than Ryne Sandberg. He has the potential to transform the culture, not only of the Chicago Cubs, but of the game of baseball in general.

Sandberg's Hall of Fame speech is easily one of the top 5 speeches of my lifetime (right up there with Bono's speech honoring Frank Sinatra at the Grammy's). I recommend reading it and bookmarking it for any time you need to resurrect your hope in the Cubs, baseball, and all of humanity. There are so many perfectly poignant points in his speech, but I want to draw attention to this one in particular, because it gives you a glimpse of how things would change from day one with Ryno at the helm:

When we went home every winter, they warned us not lift heavy weights because they didn't want us to lose flexibility. They wanted us to be baseball players, not only home run hitters. I played high school football at 185 pounds and played big league baseball at 182. I'd get up to maybe 188 in the off season because every summer I'd lose eight to ten pounds. In my day, if a guy came to spring training 20 pounds heavier than what he left, he was considered out of shape and was probably in trouble. He'd be under a microscope and the first time he couldn't beat out a base hit or missed a fly ball, he was probably shipped out. These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third, it's disrespectful to them, to you, and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up. Respect.
I want that man coaching my Cubs. All of baseball needs that man in the game, in the big leagues. Would that kind of approach sell tickets? Ask the New York Yankees how professionalism as a brand is working for them. I'm telling you, the Cubs need Ryne Sandberg not because Lou is doing a bad job but because Ryno represents the most exciting qualities a team could ever want in a manager.Ryno embodies everything good about the Chicago Cubs and renounces all that is bad about the franchise.

And just imagine being a baseball fan in a city with Ryno managing the North Siders and Ozzie managing the South. How perfectly iconic would that be? Ryno with his straight-laced intensity, Ozzie with his no-holds-barred passion . . . the thought is giving me shivers.

As a player, Ryno was the quietest. As a manager, Ryno is nothing but. He was just ejected in Game 1 of the Southern League Championships (and in three years of minor league managing, Ryno's teams are always in the championships . . . go figure). Ryno knew what his role was as a player, and that was to do his job, show respect, lead by example, keep his mouth shut, and kick ass. As a manager, he knows his role: he leads by example, respects the game, speaks with passion, and kicks ass.

Where do I sign to bring him back to Wrigley?

Cubs Have Bases Loaded with Off Season On Deck


The Cubs do this all the time in games, and now they're toying us on a doom-defying playoff level. You know those games where the Cubs urge you to change the channel early? They give the opposition a 9-run lead, swing at the first pitch every at-bat and look categorically awful in every aspect of the game . . . for 8 innings.

Then the 9th inning rolls around, and the first two guys make outs (think "Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same") and whatever totally unrealistic comeback hopes you may have entertained you then send packing on their dreary way.

Then a couple guys get on. Then a double. A walk. Two hit batsmen and a dropped popup. Suddenly the bases are juiced and the tying run is on deck. You swore you wouldn't do it, but you're now beckoning hope to come back and sit next to you on the couch. You let the thought of a miracle creep into your head and tickle your occipital lobe.

Invariably, someone Santo's described as having "the power to tie it up, no doubt" flies out lazily to left, leaving you feeling like a grade-A sucker. Your head might actually assume the form of a sucker a la Woody Woodpecker.

Welcome to the 2009 Chicago Cubs. They're trying to mess with us using the same illusion on a grander scale. Instead of making their lovely assistant disappear, they're telling us the Statue of Liberty will vanish. Instead of staging their comeback down 7 in the 9th, they're doing it down 5 1/2 on September 16. Well, I've seen this trick before, and I'm not falling for it.

Unless . . . well, unless they can sweep the Brewers and the Giants. Then . . . well, maybe then there'd be a chance. Aargh, Curses!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Someday, We WILL Go All the Way


You remember. Last year at about this time the collective emotions of Cubmania were being swept away heavenward by the Pearl-Jammiest Cubs song ever. Eddie Vedder, the consummate celebrity Cubs fan, was commissioned by Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub himself) to write a song about the Cubs. He did, and he released it in what felt like the climactic throes of a 100-year "will they or won't they" love affair with the World Series.

Last September, that song (whether it's called "All the Way," "Someday We'll Go All the Way," or "We'll Go All the Way," I can't be exactly sure) evoked the best of feelings in me. The Cubs had the division wrapped up. The National League looked really bad and the Cubs looked really good. Maybe even 100-win good. I couldn't listen to that song without imagining the celebration of the Cubbie Championship Centennial.

Every time, the scene in my mind is the same. I run out my front door and start screaming. I run all around the neighborhood. I complete the Forrest Gump cross-continental circuit in about 30 minutes, shouting "Yeah!!!!!" for everyone in America to hear. I wind up on a mountain top where a shaft of light shines down on me, kneeling, arms extended toward the manifest glory . . . crying and covered in beer.

When that song was playing, that image overtook my brain. It was exquisite bliss. I didn't even feel like an idiot entertaining the thought of the Cubs winning it all. It felt almost real.

But, as you also remember quite well, that dream was shattered in the three ugliest baseball games ever played.

If your experience has been at all like mine, it's been hard to hear that song ever since. Not too many Cubs fans I know have that song on repeat since October 2008. Nobody was writing bonus stanzas about Milton Bradley and the Aarons Heilman and Miles during Spring Training. The pain was too fresh. The cut was too deep.

But I want to encourage you to give that song a fresh listen. When we wanted to feel hopeful last year, Eddie's ode to Cubdom was up to the task. Let me tell you, it can be equally mournful as the funeral dirge to this year's hopes. It has actually helped me grieve a little better and breathe a little easier.

Take a listen. Let the tears flow. The healing can't begin until the grieving is complete. There you go.


All the Way
Eddie Vedder

Don't let anyone say that it's just a game
For I've seen other teams and it's never the same
When you're born in Chicago you're blessed and you're healed
The first time you walk into Wrigley Field
Our heroes wear pinstripes
Heroes in blue
Give us the chance to feel like heroes too
Forever we'll win and if we should lose
We know someday we'll go all the way
Yeah
Someday we'll go all the way

We are one with the Cubs
With the Cubs we're in love
Yeah, hold our head high as the underdogs
We are not fair-weather but foul-weather fans
We're like brothers in arms in the streets and the stands
There's magic in the ivy and the old scoreboard
The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score
In a world full of greed, I could never want more
Than someday we'll go all the way
Yeah
Someday we'll go all the way
Someday we'll go all the way
Yeah
Someday we'll go all the way
Someday we'll go all the way

And here's to the men and the legends we've known
Teaching us faith and giving us hope
United we stand and united we'll fall
Down to our knees the day we win it all

Ernie Banks said "Oh, let's play two"
Or did he mean 200 years
In the same ball park
Our diamond, our jewel
The home of our joy and our tears
Keeping traditions and wishes made new
A place where our grandfathers, fathers they grew
A spiritual feeling if I ever knew
And if you ain't been I am sorry for you
And when the day comes with that last winning run
And I'm crying and covered in beer
I'll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we'll go all the way
Yeah
Someday we'll go all the way . . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rotten Miracles


Most Cubs fans have given up hope, at least for 2009. And rightly so. We've made our peace with this season. We're in fall mode. We're ready to watch the Bears and Jay Cutler make us forget all about the misery of . . . oh. No. Still here in the misery. The Bears are still the Bears. Chicago sports are still Chicago sports. Old Yeller's still dead.

Well, guess what: the ivy's still green. I guess it serves us right for trying to rush through the grieving process. A wise man once said, "Never rush a miracle. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles."

In the days and weeks to come, I'll be posting some things to help with the grieving/miraculous hope process. You know, to make it less rotten. For today, I offer you the words of the great Langston Hughes:

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Nightmare 9 (and a closer to choke on)

On Wednesday, MLB took advantage of 09/09/09 by inviting me (and millions of other people, but whatever) to come up with my dream lineup of 9 Cubs. Tonight, the dream is over. This is my all-nightmare team. The worst possible lineup I can conceive. The team I couldn't bear to watch (and I have watched some real crap over the years).

For this list, I didn't go old school. I'm limiting the squad to players I've watched play, because as fabulous as the baseball historians are at waxing eloquent about the greats of yesteryear, they don't quite pack the emotional punch with their yarns about the Aaron Mileses of long ago. I need to remember that punch-to-the-gut feeling I'd get when Todd Hundley would strut to the plate, top two jersey buttons flapping in the arrogant wind. The stats alone don't tell that story. So here they are. The worst team I can imagine, and the reliever who would blow the few leads he ever could inherit from the Sultans of Suck:

Leading off, playing CF, it's Corey Patterson, 2005. .215 AVG / 13 HR / 34 RBI / 15 SB
This was the year that the Cubs uber-prospect, lead-off man of the ever-loving future posted an OBP of .254. Regardless of how bad this team might look, the potential in the leadoff spot would forever be through the roof.

Hitting second and playing 2B, everyone's hero: Aaron Miles, 2009. .180 AVG / 0 HR / 5 RBI / 3 SB
Do I need to write anything here? I'm kind of shocked by the 3 stolen bases. I'm still waiting for the official scorer to change them all to defensive indifference, but hey, I'm glad there's a stat that likes this guy. He's got a 1.000 SB average. Yaaaay!

Batting third in RF, Roosevelt Brown, 2002. .211 AVG / 3 HR / 23 RBI / 2 SB
I didn't dislike Roosevelt Brown, but like Corey Patterson before him, he epitomized the never-blooming prospect mentality of the Cubs organization in the '90s and beyond.

The cleanup hitter on this sinking ship would be 1B Ron Coomer, 2001. .261 AVG / 8 HR / 53 RBI / 0 SB
This one is hard because the Cubs first basemen during my time as a fan, while not powerhouses, haven't been too bad. Grace was great. I love Lee. Hee Seop Choi and Julio Zuleta were kind of fun. Leon Durham and Bill Buckner were both good hitters, even if both had their fair share of colossal hope-crushing ground balls in the postseason. Coomer wasn't even predominantly a first baseman in his one year as a Cub, but whenever he was there, I knew what to expect. Stank.

In the five hole and out in LF, it's the 1992 version of Luis Salazar. .208 AVG / 5 HR / 25 RBI / 1 SB
Like Coomer, Salazar actually played the most games as a third baseman, but the competition at third for worst I've ever seen is heavier than a Hector Villanueva lookalike contest. I award this spot to Luis because I once attended a game in which Salazar watched a line drive sail over his head, turned the wrong way as the ball ricocheted off the wall behind his back, and then threw up his hands to signal for a ground rule ivy-eaten double. He realized that the ball had trickled toward the infield, picked it up, and threw the ball in too late to prevent an inside-the-park home run. Welcome to the team, Luis.

Todd Hundley, C, 2001. .187 AVG / 12 HR / 31 RBI / 0 SB
Todd Hundley had been good with the Mets. He was Cubs family, Randy's son. We weren't supposed to boo him. But he was a tool. On his best day, he was as likable as Milton Bradley on his worst, just without the 2nd half surge. I remember going to the game on Todd Hundley key chain day. I'm still saving it for the worst white elephant gift in the history of Christmas.

Jeff Blauser, SS, 1998. .219 AVG / 4 HR / 26 RBI / 2 SB
The Cubs wanted the Cub killer. They got him, and he lived up to his reputation.

Gary Scott, 3B, 1992. .156 AVG / 2 HR / 11 RBI / 0 SB
Gary "Great" Scott didn't play in a lot of games, but his Cubs career spanned two seasons of hopeless potential that he would be the one to break the since-Santo 3B drought (the one that is so long, it made this the toughest decision in the lineup). He didn't end the drought. He was a goatee away from being Aaron Miles. The list of dishonorable mentions is legendary.

Mike Morgan, P, 1994. 6.69 ERA / 2-10 / 1.810 WHIP / 1.3 HR per 9 innings
I liked Mike Morgan. I did not like seeing him on the mound to start the game. As tough a century as the Cubs have had, the 1990s was a brutal decade and Morgan's 1994 season pretty much defined the era of futility.With Morgan, expectations were never as high as his ERA and WHIP.

Pointless Closer: Mel Rojas, 1997. 4.42 ERA / 0-4 / 13 SV / 6 BLSV
Kevin Gregg doesn't really hold a candle to Mel Rojas. In '97, the Cubs very rarely had leads to begin with, so acquiring 6 blown saves by mid August was no easy task. But God bless him, Mel got the job done. The job, of course, was sucking, and he pretty much taught that freaky German Dyson dude everything he knows about never losing suction.

I would ask you to include your own suggestions for your own Nightmare 9, but I must warn you: this exercise took a lot out of me. I had to relive a lot of pain, and I was not ready. Don't face those demons unless you're willing to let them inhale your soul just one . . . more . . . time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Cubs 9

MLB is celebrating 09/09/09 by inviting all baseball fans to select their team's top 9, the dream lineup from their team's all-time roster. They have you select individual seasons rather than the player on the whole, which actually makes it tougher in my opinion. How do you pick Andre Dawson's 1987 post-astroturf knees over Sammy Sosa's 1998 pre-drug-testing bat? Would you really rather have a 1990 Sandberg (.306, 40 HR, 100 RBI, 116 R) over a 1929 Rogers Hornsby (.380, 39 HR, 149 RBI, 156 R)?

I decided to go with 60% heart and 40% brains on these decisions. If I went total heart, Jody Davis and Shawon Dunston would be on the squad. If I went all brains, I might not recognize half the team. So here's my squad:

Leading off, playing 2B, Ryne Sandberg. 1990 .306 / 40 HR / 100 RBI / 116 R / 25 SB
This team doesn't have a lot of speed, and Sandberg easily leads the stolen-base category. That's why he's hitting leadoff. But that's not why he made the team over Hornsby. Sandberg's here because I love him. There. I said it.

Hitting second, playing 1B, Derrek Lee. 2005 .335 / 46 HR / 107 RBI / 120 R / 15 SB
Ernie Banks could have played two positions on this team, and if the rules allowed multiple manifestations of the same player, Mr. Cub would finally get his wish and "play two!" But he wasn't an option, and Lee was the obvious winner. He's also a luxury in the #2 spot in the batting order. I like it.

Batting third, the SS, Ernie Banks. 1958 .313 / 47 HR / 129 RBI / 119 R / 4 SB
The only tough part about this decision was where to put Ernie in the lineup. But in an all-time Cubs scenario, Ernie Banks is hitting in the first inning. End of discussion.

At cleanup, the LF, Hack Wilson. 1930 .356 / 56 HR / 191 RBI / 146 R / 3 SB
The outfield situation is a bit muddled. I would have like to put Kiki Cuyler out there in center, but this is a dream lineup. None of my dreams have Kiki Cuyler in them. Hack Wilson was a terrible outfielder, but I think I can get used to a poor fielder in left. Something tells me I don't have to dream to find that. Hack drove in 191 RBI. He's on the team, and we'll just tell Fergie to pitch the right-handed hitters away.

My #5 hitter and CF is Billy Williams. 1970 .322 / 42 HR / 120 RBI / 137 R / 7 SB
Sweet swinging Billy needed every ounce of sweetness to make this team. He did, and I'm at peace with it.

Hitting sixth and playing RF, it's Andre Dawson. 1987 .287 / 49 HR / 137 RBI / 90 R / 11 SB
Sammy Sosa would have been a much more powerful hitter in this lineup. And Sammy still holds a special place in my blue-blood-pumping heart. But all of Sammy's showmanship can't steal the spotlight from the toughest hombre I ever saw hit a baseball, and that's the Hawk. The dude could throw guys out at 1st on a would be single to right. He had no knees and still stole 11 bases. He was the scariest looking hitter to ever stand in the box, and when Eric Show hit him, I thought Eric Show was gonna die. I just hope the dream-team field is easier on the cartilage.

Batting 7th and catching, it's Gabby Hartnett. 1935 .344 / 13 HR / 91 RBI / 67 R / 1 SB
Another old school pick and one of the greatest catchers of all time. Jody Davis, Geovany Soto, and Rick Wilkins were the only other choices. This one was a no-brainer, although my heart would have been singing "Jody Davis" if I let it.

In the 8th spot is the heel-clicking 3B, Ron Santo. 1964 .313 / 30 HR / 114 RBI / 94 R / 3 SB
Statistics aside, Ronnie's on this team because I think he would have enjoyed playing this game (albeit on an alternate theoretical metaphysical plane) more than anybody. And I would love to watch it.

For some strange reason, MLB only posted the batting statistics of the Pitcher nominees. I'm assuming the guy would have to pitch too, though, so I'm going with Fergie Jenkins, circa 1971. .243 / 6 HR / 20 RBI / 13 R / 0 SB.

You can't go wrong with Fergie, at the plate or on the mound.

So, what do you think? What would you have changed? You can vote here on the All-Time 9 site or just post your dream 9 in the comments or tweet it to the left.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

M.V.Lee


Derrek Lee will not win the 2009 NL MVP award. Barring a completely unforeseen positive test of some kind (like discovering he's half machine) the name Albert Pujols is already engraved on that trophy. So don't take this as an argument that DLee deserves it over his 1B counterpart in St. Louis. However you define "MVP," whether it's the league's best player, the best player on a winning team, or the most indispensible player for any team, Albert Pujols is pretty much the runaway winner in every category. Heck, Prince Albert even wins the contest of which player makes his teammates better. Look at Matt Holliday's stats before and after joining the Cards this year, or check out Aaron Miles' 2008 numbers.

I won't provide links to either set of stats, as I believe both are technically to be considered malware.

But I did want to take a moment and praise D-Lee for being the lone offensive bright spot for the Cubs this season. Without him, I genuinely shudder to think where this team would be. Here's the stat that says it best: Derrek Lee has a very distinct shot at doubling the RBI output of the 2nd-place run producer on the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Derrek Lee: 96 RBI
Alfonso Soriano: 55 RBI (he's probably driven in his last run)
Aramis Ramirez: 49 RBI (the biggest threat at preventing this feat)
Ryan Theriot: 49 RBI (the pace has slowed of late)
Kosuke Fukudome: 48 RBI (always tough to double up)
Milton Bradley: 39 RBI (for the sake of parallelism, I feel the need to comment here)

I don't want the heart of the Cubs order to stop producing runs to help Derrek make them look even more impotent than they already do. But if a player drives in twice as many runs as anyone else on the team, his value is inarguable. Derrek Lee owns 16.9% of the Cubs RBI this year, roughly one in every 6. (In case you're wondering, Pujols has driven in 20.1% of his team's RBI . . . without him, the whole NL Central might be in danger of retraction.)

Things are bad this year. But for Derrek Lee, at least, it's been all good. When the Cubs return to Wrigley, he deserves a standing O (for being the Only source of Offense in '09).

Monday, September 7, 2009

The 2009 Cubs: One Doodle That Can't Be Undid


Some Cub fans would like to give the last offseason the Mark McGwire treatment and just leave the past in the past. Others would like to see every move Jim Hendry made go up in a mushroom cloud. Others are still holding out hope this year will have a happy ending.

I know we can't turn back time. I know this season is all but mathematically over. But I still think we can at least try to learn from our mistakes. (Yes, I know we didn't make the mistakes and that Jim Hendry needs to do the learning in this scenario, but maybe this will at least  be fodder for some good awkward questions to ask at Cubs Convention 2010.) Hendry made a whole pile of moves after the 2009 Dodger sweep, and I want to know which one has hurt the Cubs the most.

I had my opinions, but before sharing them with the world of sorrows that is Cubdom, I was curious what other people thought. I asked my #Cubs tweeps what single move they would undo if they could. Jmkobus spoke for millions who would have never signed Bradley, opting instead for Adam Dunn, the Knight of Wrigley. Pbernicchi would be the leader of the "undo the DeRosa trade" party. Ehudmh posited that if he could reverse Hendry's initial pursuit of Milton Bradley, he could undo every other bad move the Cubs made. TheCubsInHaiku just wishes (in 17 syllables) that Hendry would have quit.

The tragic fact of the matter is that all of those arguments are better ideas than what's played out in reality in 2009. Here's a list of all of the moves since last October that involved signing new contracts, welcoming new players, or saying goodbye to former Cubs with a look at the amount of damage inflicted by each:

10.29.2008 3B Casey McGehee claimed off waivers by Brewers. His 13 HR and 50 RBI make this a pretty damaging move considering Aramis Ramirez's prolonged injury this year, but somewhat unpredictable. Cubs Richter Scale: 3.5

11.13.2008 Traded RHP Jose Ceda to the Marlins for Kevin Gregg. The opposition is slugging .436 against Kevin Gregg. The Cubs only have 3 hitters with a slugging percentage that high. Even if Jose Ceda never pitches again (and he hasn't, since the deal) this trade hurt the Cubs big time. Cubs Richter Scale: 7.5

11.18.2008 Re-signed Ryan Dempster to a 4-year, $52-million contract. Given the length of the deal, this could get worse, but I wouldn't call Demp's numbers in 2009 damaging. Cubs Richter Scale: 0.5

12.11.2008 Bought RHP David Patton from the Reds for cash. This is one move (let's see if there are more) that actually helped the Cubs. David Patton has been pretty decent. Cubs Richter Scale: -0.5

12.12.2008 Signed LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Chad Gaudin, and OF Reed Johnson to 1-year contracts. Setting aside Reed, who is great to have on the team, injured or not, the Cotts and Gaudin signings didn't really work out so good. Cotts especially had a disastrous time with the big-league club, albeit limited. Cubs Richter Scale: 3.5

12.16.2008 Signed free agent Joey Gathright to a one-year contract. He left town quicker than you can say "car-jumping," in a later move. Cubs Richter Scale: 0.085

12.31.2008 Traded Mark DeRosa to Cleveland in exchange for pitchers Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer, and John Gaub. The Cubs have struggled to find run production anywhere in the lineup. 2B has been an offensive black hole. When Ramirez was out, 3B produced similar suction. The pitching prospects might help down the road, but this season, only Stevens has helped at all. What's worse, DeRosa has made the division-leading Cardinals that much better. This one hurts more the longer the season goes on, and nobody but nobody liked this deal at the time it was made. Cubs Richter Scale: 9

12.31.2008 Signed POC Aaron Miles to a 2-year contract. Yes, the same day the DeRosa deal went down, Hendry also signed the human out. The New Year's Eve drinking started plenty early in the Hendry house. This has to go down as the single worst day of the offseason. Aaron Miles was sketched in as a possible everyday starter on the Cubs roster. He's hitting .174. In the 2nd half, he's hitting .038. The Cubs are paying him two and a half million bucks to do that. Cubs Richter Scale: 5 (but considering how tiny Aaron Miles is, that's a tremendous shock)

1.5.2009 Signed LHP Bill White (aka Guillermo Blanco) to a minor league deal. I put this in here only for the Blanco joke. Cubs Richter Scale: NA

1.6.2009 Traded RHP Jason Marquis to the Rockies for RHP Luis Viscaino. In the baseball sense, this move helped the Rockies immensely. He has 14 wins (and has reached double-digit win totals for 6 years running) and a 3.75 ERA. From the business side, the Cubs wound up paying Luis Viscaino a few million bucks to get released by every team in baseball. Since financial restrictions were such a pressing factor in the offseason, it would have helped to gain a productive salary instead. While I don't think the Cubs have been hurt all that much by not having him, the Rockies are leading the Wild Card race, so . . . that hurts. Cubs Richter Scale: 2.5

1.8.2009 Signed Milton Bradley to a 3-year, incentive-laden contract worth up to $30 million. I've said before that Cub fans put too much blame on Bradley for the 2009 debacle. It is pretty standard for newly signed veterans (Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Derrek Lee, Moises Alou) to struggle in their first half-season at Wrigley. Since then, Bradley has been productive and healthy. Some chastise him for the distraction he has been, but I don't see how anything that distracts attention away from this team could be viewed as a bad thing. Bottom line: if a clubhouse distraction is the reason you're losing, you suck. Yes, the Cubs did commit a lot of money to Bradley, but not so much that they couldn't have kept DeRosa and just not traded for Kevin Gregg or signed Aaron Miles. Cubs Richter Scale: -2.0 Yes. That's right. I'm saying he's helped the Cubs. Deal with it.

1.18.2009 Traded Felix Pie to the Orioles for pitchers Garrett Olson and Henry Williiamson. Painful, but hardly damaging for this season. Although it did pave the way for their next move. Cubs Richter Scale: Owie

1.28.2009 Traded Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno to the Mariners for Aaron Heilman. I feel like Heilman has gotten some bad breaks and that he would be better as a starting pitcher than a reliever. But he hasn't provided much relief to Cub fans. He has a WHIP of 1.5, an ERA of 4.35, and opponents are slugging .422 off of him. I view him as the replacement for Bobby Howry, and he's been precisely that. Not good. Cubs Richter Scale: 6.5

1.30.2009 Signed Paul Bako to a 1-year contract. He didn't make the team. Cubs Richter Scale: --

2.2.2009 Traded Rich Hill to the Orioles for PTBN and traded Michael Wuertz to the A's for prospects Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers. Rich Hill is struggling. But Michael Wuertz has a 3.09 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and a .205 batting average against for the A's. I always liked Wuertz, even though he struggled with his control (his strikeout to walk ratio is up to 4.3 now, though). Given the struggles of the Cub bullpen, this oft overlooked deal deserves more attention. Cubs Richter Scale: 7.4


Aside from minor league deals and other insignificant moves, that's the sum total of the 2009 Cubs offseason. Now, you might be wondering about letting Henry Blanco and Kerry Wood walk away, but in my opinion A) those aren't really moves, they're just moves that didn't get made; and B) neither one would have been a whole lot of help to this Cubs team. Koyie Hill is a white Hank White. Kevin Gregg has been Kerry without the blisters.

So, yeah, if I could undo one move, I have to admit it would be the DeRosa trade. If the Cubs had not acquired Kevin Gregg, Aaron Miles, and Aaron Heilman, we still could have afforded Milton Bradley.  If we've learned nothing else, it's that we should take away Jim Hendry's cell phone this New Year's Eve.

NOTE: If you're on Twitter, let your displeasure be heard (and read) by clicking the "tweets" box to the left.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Alfonso's Oil

In Paul Sullivan's latest bout of actual news, he writes that Alfonso Soriano's knee might be in for some serious treatment. Or it might not. The Cubs are considering subjecting the most tragically expensive knee in the Chicagoverse to arthroscopic surgery that would sideline him for *gasp* two weeks.

Or they won't. For now, Soriano's just getting the continued therapy and workout sessions that have worked such wonderful magic thus far.

Not that it matters. The playoff picture doesn't have the Cubs in it right now. I believe in divine intervention, so I'm not ruling out anything. But surgery seems like the best option . . . for Soriano or just about anybody who thinks extra stretching and ice baths are gonna fix this multi-million-dollar problem.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

You Can Schedule a Make-Up Game, But You Can't Make Them Play

In a display of passive-aggressive nonviolence, the Cubs staged a sit-in at Wrigley Field today.

Said Alfonso Soriano, "We were promised a day off on September 3, and a day off we shall have."

The Cubs adamantly refused to raise a glove in defense or a bat in anger. Seen pacing placidly in the dugout, Lou Piniella seemed to understand the protest, even if he didn't agree with the tenets of the players' beliefs.

"Look, I'm not the Dalai Lama.You gotta talk to the players about that. We've seen our fair share of good baseball this year, and we've had some bad baseball. That . . . I don't know what that was, but it wasn't baseball."

The White Sox seemed just as confused as anyone. At first, they didn't realize they were allowed to score while the Cubs weren't playing. But by the middle innings, a few White Sox leisurely circled the bases, some of them with their wives, children, and pets. Ozzie Guillen was, predictably, the only South Sider who wasn't left speechless.

"I don't know what they were doing, but I figure, why not win a game if they're gonna let you? It was like that scene outta Bad News Bears when the coach's kid hangs on to the ball and the fat catcher runs around the bases, you know? Hey, we tried to give up some runs just to make it look real, but I don't think Lou wanted to let that happen. He put Aaron Miles at the plate. I don't know how to let Aaron Miles score a run. We're not allowed to put a tee out there and he's too small to try to hit with a pitch. It's not my problem. Let the Ricketts family sort that out."

It is not yet known whether Aaron Miles was in on the civil disobedience or if he was simply doing his best to reach base. As for the rest of the team, they plan to return to their baseball playing duties tomorrow after the team travels to New York to play the Mets.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Informed Hoplessness: Just How 'Out of It' Are the Cubs?

Reason for joy or just time to root for the Bears?
Now that Ted Lilly has finished his dissection of yet another team (just relax, Astros, and let the ether do its work) the Cubs are 10 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, pending their discovery of yet another way to send the Brewers to their demoralizing defeat. The Cubs will be either 10.5 or 9.5 games out of first place in the National League Central, a climb few dreamers believe they can make.

Yes, even the incurable optimists are relegated to Wild Card wishes, and the 5.5 games by which the Cubbies currently trail the Rockies certainly seem more feasibly scaled than Mt. Pujols. But is the Wild Card picture really any less bleak than the layout of the NL Central?

Not much.

As far as I know, there is no official way to quantify the additional hurdle(s) facing a team that is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., in a playoff race. While the Cubs are 5.5 games back of the Rockies, they're also .5 behind the Marlins, 2.5 behind the Braves, and 4.5 behind the Giants—the Cubs are a distant 5th place in the Wild Card standings. That definitely doesn't seem a lot cheerier than being a very distant 2nd. So how do you know which position is worse?

Here's the system I use: I take the total number of games the Cubs trail the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th teams, divide by 2 and add that total to the number of games behind the leader. Say wha? Here's a little explanation.

Every team's game result is worth one half game in the standings. In today's game, the Cubs win was only half the story. The Astros also lost, completing the other half. The Cubs gained a half game; the Astros lost a half game, thus moving the Cubs and Astros one full game farther apart. For the Cubs to make up a full game on the Rockies, they need the Rockies to lose (to the Mets). In the economy of the standings, a Cub win and a Rockie loss are each worth one half game.

Prior to tonight's games, the Cubs need 5 wins and 6 Rockie losses (11 total results or half-games) to catch Colorado. But to gain the Wild Card lead, they also need 1 Marlin loss, 3 Atlanta losses, and 5 Giant losses (9 half-games). That's why I divide the other margins in half: a Cub win gains a half-game on everyone, but every other team's result is independent of the Cubs' performance. Clear as tobacco spit? Awesome. So the Cubs are, at this moment, 5.5 games behind the Rockies and a total of 7.5 games (adjusted to 3.75) behind everyone else.

The long and short of it: The Cubs are 9.25 games out of the Wild Card lead.

Since the Marlins and Braves play each other, one team will gain on them and one will lose, which will leave that number unchanged. If the Rockies and Giants both lose, it will drop to 8.5. If they both win, it's back up to 10. Things can shift pretty fast in the Wild Card race, which can be both awesome and devastating.

Until I see the Cubs in 2nd place within 2 or 3 games, my money's on devastating.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ten Things Cub Fans Can Still Look Forward to in 2009

It ain't over 'til it's over. You can take that truthism as a blessing or a curse, depending on your state of perpetual hope or interminable anguish. On the positive side, here are 10 things we still have to look forward to in a season most of us wish would just die already:

10. The return of Bobby Scales. It's hard to remember the adrenaline shot the substitute teacher gave the Cubbies in his last fill-in stint in the majors, but I seem to recall feeling happy for a few days. I'd welcome another dose right now.

9. The unconditional release of Aaron Miles. I hope life treats him kind, and I hope he has all he dreams of. I wish him joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish . . . he was gone. And I-yee-I-ee-I will always *deep breath* loathe you-whooooo, and I will always . . . sing it, Whitney.

8. The sale of the team. It's still not over. It won't guarantee success. It won't become final final until after the season is done. But I can't wait to put the biggest distraction of the season (yes, even bigger than Milton Bradley) behind us.

7. One more game against the White Sox. Losing will be fuel on the depressing fire. Winning will do little to lift my spirits. But when the game goes down on Thursday . . . aw heck, never mind. I'm not looking forward to this at all. I hate it when we play the Sox pre-October.

6. The Wild Card. Will the Cubs win the wild card? Probably not. But the wild card race should be fun to watch. The National League is really just not very good this year, which makes that last playoff spot all the easier to grab. I'm not so much of a purist that I don't enjoy a whole scrum of teams battling over a playoff spot they don't deserve.

5. The eruption of Mt. Lou. You. Know. It's. Going. To. Happen. I'll bring the popcorn.

4. Randy Wells. I'm genuinely excited to see how Randy Wells finishes out this year. He may have seen his Rookie of the Year chances sail into the left-field bleachers, but he still has a chance to reach the teens in wins.

3. Aaron Milesless baseball. Even if he doesn't get released, the expanded September roster now gives Lou no excuse whatsoever to ever put Aaron Miles on the playing field. If I see him so much as lift the Hello Kitty backpack, I'm launching an investigation into Lou's sanity.

2. Da Bearsssss. Bearss. Ditka. Cutler. Bearss.

1. That guy. Somebody always has a good September. A lot of times it's Soriano. Soto had some good moments in last year's last month. In case you forgot, many people were ready to write off Zambrano's 2008 until his no-no on September 14. It might not save the Cubs. It might not add to the wild card drama. But there will be somebody who makes September memorable.

It's reason enough for me to keep watching.