Friday, February 26, 2010

Yeah, That Happened: the Richard Marx Cubs

It's time for a new feature here at And Counting where we revisit some of the most embarrassing Cubbie occurrences both on and off the field. It's called, as the headline suggests, Yeah, That Happened.

Our inaugural installment takes us back to 1991, when Richard Marx used the title of his hit album (Rush Street) to let the world know of his love for the city of Chicago and he used the video for "Take this Heart" to express his love for the Cubs. What I remember (and am willing to admit) about this video is that the Cubs wouldn't allow him to film it at Wrigley. God bless them.

You can see for yourself, if you're willing to suffer through it, that the video really does have it all: Bob Uecker, Mark McGwire, Tony LaRussa, Dennis Eckersely, Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, Greg Maddux, Jim LeFebvre. That's 3 Hall of Famer's (Ueck, Eck, and Rickey), 2 guaranteed locks to make it as soon as they're eligible (Maddux and LaRussa) and another who really ought to be there already (McGwire). And Richard Marx.

I won't say any more about it, I'll just let the video speak for its lousy self. Yeah. That happened.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cubs and I Are Wishing on a Starlin

Starlin Castro has soared through the minor league ranks; is he ready to stretch his wings at the major league level? Photo by Amandy Rykoff (who has an amazing collection on flickr that I recommend you devote an hour or two to perusing)

I trust you've heard, read, talked, or written about 19-year-old Starlin Castro's arrival at Spring Training and his potential for being a legitimate force at shortstop in the not-so-distant future. How distant (and how legitimate) is still pretty fuzzy. Lou thinks he looks a little Renteria-ish and could even fill in right away for an injured Ryan Theriot if the need presented itself.

But I'm sure you haven't forgotten how the previous installments of this film series turned out. Corey Patterson. Felix Pie. The Hills both Rich and Bobby. We know the gap between highly touted prospect and holy-crap-is-this-guy-for-real All-Star vote getter is a deep and treacherous canyon through which the river of our disappointment flows freely. So how do we know what to expect? I ask because I don't like getting burned by failed expectations any more than you do. So should I risk the excitement or just dismiss this kid until he proves me wrong?

But the truth is, we don't know. We can listen to the scouting reports, but you can usually find a scout who will support whichever conclusion you're predisposed to believe. You can look to the minor league stats, which Bill James says are just as trustworthy as major league stats for their predictive powers. There's an interesting discussion in the comments at this Castro post at ACB about Castro's stats, what they tell us, how different experts interpret them, and what we should believe. (Indulge your curiosity and read through the comments, because there's great food for thought there.)

If you lack faith in the prophetic powers of stats, you can always just watch Castro play this spring and judge for yourself. I know I can't wait. But I do want to call your attention to just one thing: the kid is 19. Nineteen year olds are, as a group, not entirely dependable. They're just unpredictable creatures, those teenagers. As baseball players, the rate of development is pretty drastic. As people . . . same thing.

The reliability of the scouting reports is at the mercy of Castro's youth. They can be impressed by a kid's "makeup," but they can't know if he can handle the challenge of major league baseball in Chicago or anywhere else. And while I do agree that minor league stats can tell us a lot, I think they're really shaky when it comes to teenagers. Let me give you a non-saber stat line for a 19-year-old shortstop who played a full season at the A level:

Player X: 128 Games, 71 RBI, 5 HR, .295 BA, .376 OBP, .394 SLG, 56 Errors

The hitting looks decent, the error total is atrocious, and the overall product doesn't exactly scream future MVP. Keep in mind, these are single-A numbers we're talking about. Here's Castro's line from A+ Daytona and AA Tennessee:

Castro: 127 Games, 49 RBI, 3 HR, .299 BA, .342 OBP, .392 SLG, 39 Errors

I'd call those numbers comparable, no? Neither guy jumps out at you, and the defense suggests both players are actually Jake Fox. But Player X is actually a 19-year-old Derek Jeter.

Now, I know that these stats aren't the best predictors of future performance, but if you're familiar with the ones that are, you have already looked at Castro's. I'm not saying we should expect or even hope Castro will look like the guy who wears the #2 on his Yankee jersey. I can't even guarantee he'll be good enough to replace the guy who wears the #2 on his Cub jersey. 

But I will say that Starlin Castro is only going to get better. Stupid as I'm inclined to be, I'm expecting good things from the kid if he can impress Sweet Lou and ascend through the minors so quickly. I'll be watching with great interest when he plays semi-real games this spring, and something tells me I'll be easily impressed.

Consider my hopes officially raised.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cubs: 1 . . . and Counting?

Spitting in the face of the ancient wisdom that tells us those who don't learn from failed Jack Black movies are doomed to repeat them, the Cubs' crack marketing staff has settled on the slogan, "Year 1" for the 2010 season. Requisite eternal optimism aside, the moves the Cubs have made this winter seem less like the foundation of a new beginning and more like the premise of The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia.

I understand what they're trying to do here. There's a new owner in town. The ill-fated decisions leading up to 2009 have been virtually undone. There is no curse. The Cubs care about this year, not the 101 championship-free seasons that have preceded it.

Not surprisingly, the guy counting away the failure on his blog with the Cubbie Roman numeral 102 at the top isn't buying it. And neither is Chan Ho Park.

When, at this morning's news conference, Park announced his decision to sign with the Yankees instead of the Cubs, he made it clear that he's seen enough bad Jack Black vehicles and is making the Bronx Bombers his pick of destiny:

I was deliberating on the Chicago Cubs and the Yankees, but their history and championship contention resulted in me picking the Yankees.

The sad reality is that I didn't even flinch at the not-so-subtle dig against the Cubs because its bluntness is couched in blatant truth. Since spotting the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the all-time World Series title race, the Yankees have gone on a 27-0 run. And this year looks like a good bet to make it 28-0. Chan Ho's just telling it like it is. To ignore that would be . . . well, marketing. And I happen to think it's also bad marketing.

Yeah, I decided to make the running total of years spent waiting for a third Cubs' championship the central gimmick of my blog as an emblem of the torture that is Cub fanaticism. When it started "And Counting," the tally was at 101. Now it's 102, and I can only assume that come the fall I'll be working on a 103 logo.

By the way, I know that the Cubs have only experienced 101 losing seasons since the last championship, but the wait will be at least 102 years. My counting system is derived from the same conclusion at which the Cubs' marketing team arrived: there is no year zero. There is B.C. (Before Championship) and A.D. (Anno Detrimentum, the Year of Our Defeat); or, if you prefer, B.C.E. and C.E. (Cubbie Era).

But that is where the Cubbie marketers and I part ways. I don't believe in Year 1. I'm not happy the Cubs have failed for so long, but I do wear it as a badge of honor. Feel free to be the 237,651st to call me stupid, but to me no character trait is more important than loyalty. Denying the past would be to forget the quick, sweeping punches to the gut that knocked the wind out of us in 2007 and 2008 (and to a lesser extent 1998). It would deny us the hard lessons 2009 taught us about ourselves more than anything. I can't and won't try to forget the crushing disappointments of 2003, 1989, and . . . 1984 (when a certain 9-year-old boy cried like a baby for hours in his bunk bed mourning the tragedy that shaped his idiot brain forever). Those memories, and the inglorious regular season disasters that filled in the gaps) are scars, and they remind me that even if this is not the year, I've seen worse.

And when the Cubs finally do win it all again, it will be the wait—those 102 years (and counting) filled with frustration and anxiety and unmerited hope—that will give the moment its unmitigated glory.

This is not year one, not to me. It's 102 by my count, and I hope the Cubs don't make the mistake of ignoring their losing history—I don't think I can bear to watch them repeat it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wherefore art thou, Geo?

Big, gigantic, tremendous thanks to Tim Sheridan over at Boys of Spring for posting pictures from the Cubs' preliminary workouts in Mesa on Wednesday. (You may have heard Tim's work as the Cubs' spring training PA announcer or when he's been interviewed on Cubscast.) Again, huge thanks for the great photos, including this one.

But what in the name of Keira Knightley happened to Geo?

I'm glad he lost some weight, but did an alien jump out of his abdomen? Were his munchies really that bad? He looks bulimic. He looks like he's doing a killer Tyler Colvin impression. He looks like Chandler in season 3.

I guess this is good news. Unless Geo decides to hit his weight again this season.

h/t to ACB

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baseball Season's Under Way . . .

Pitchers and catchers have yet to report, but they're thinking about it.

There's a foot of snow outside my house, but some of it is melting.

I know a lot of people hate the song, but I still feel compelled to get ready for a brand new day.

Vegas is giving 14:1 odds that the Cubs will win the World Series, but they also gave Buster Douglas 42:1 to beat Tyson.

The ivy looks dead, but it'll grow back.

I haven't heard Pat nor Ron nor Len nor Bob in quite awhile, but I know the next "Aw, Geez!" is right around the corner.

Somewhere someone's arguing about how much money Ryan Theriot deserves, and somewhere someone in Wrigleyville is wondering if getting called out by an arbiter is considered a TOOTBLAN.

Yeah, we're in the middle of the Winter Olympics, but when I see Sean White's head crash into the snowboard halfpipe, I can't help but think of Sam Fuld.

The Cubs will not win the World Series, but I refuse to learn.

Hope springs eternal, and so does stupidity.

It's 30 degrees outside, and it feels like baseball.

Play ball.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Taking the Cubs Ticket Pre-sale at Face Value

Whatever laws exist to curb scalping, they don't apply to the Cubs. photo via

The Cubs have announced a plan to give fans who want to purchase single-game tickets in advance of next Friday's full-scale sale event at a 20% markup. Of course, they'll offer a 5% discount and a contrived shopping e-coupon to customers who use their MasterCard to buy tickets. So is this a rip-off? Are Cub fans the victims of corporate greed?

In a word: yeah. But in another word: no.

Single-game tickets generally go to three groups of people: 1) people with ticket budgets below the season-ticket level; 2) people on the season-ticket waiting list who want to buy as many tickets as they can; 3) scalpers who want more tickets to sell than just their season ticket packages.

For the people who can't afford or aren't willing to spend more than a fixed amount on Cubs tickets, this promotion is bad news. They (we) have to choose between buying advance tickets at a higher price and perhaps getting a better selection but fewer games or waiting to buy the normal price tickets and getting a poorer selection of (and quite possibly fewer) tickets and games.

The third group, the scalpers, usually buy single-game tickets by employing teams of wristbanded grunts to hang out at Wrigley and buy as many tickets as they can, bypassing the usual surcharges, taxes, and inconvenience fees. All it costs the scalper/ticket broker is a slim $50 or so per grunt while loading up on hundreds or even thousands of tickets. But at a 20% markup with the additional per-ticket and per-order fees piled on? Not gonna happen. Their profit margin vanishes.

The scalpers probably get hurt by this the most, because their biggest profits come from the best tickets, which they'll still have in spades via season tickets, but their single-game ticket supply will take a major hit. That frees up a fair amount of tickets to . . . the people in group #2 who would have wound up buying tickets from the scalpers anyway.

That's right, the big winners in this pre-sale are the people whose ticket buying is limited only by the fixed supply of tickets, not by their desire or ability to purchase tickets. Okay, maybe that doesn't sound like the traditional definition of "big winner" to you, but at least these people can move to the front of the line to buy the tickets they were always going to buy in the first place.

So people with less desire for tickets or less disposable income with which to buy them will get lousier tickets to less interesting games. The Cubs will recover a lot of the money scalpers would have collected. The absolute ticket fiends and college students with brand new credit cards and no sense of financial restraint will be closer to the field.

Did Cubs fans get the shaft? Some of them. But this is hardly a heartless move by the Cubs. It's just a manipulation of capitalism that creates more PTWBRITT (Profits That Will Be Reinvested In The Team). And if that happens, we all win, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Few Small Repairs

Warning WreckI've made a couple changes to the site. Not wholesale changes or even dramatic ones, just a few minor adjustments. And that's not because the site doesn't need work, it's just . . . well, what am I gonna do? I'm not exactly chiseling rough edges off the Michelangelo. Oh, and I'm not raising payroll, either. But you know, I think these relatively small additions to life at And Counting might just help out.

The situation here isn't all that different from where the Cubs are right now. Look, last offseason Jim Hendry made some moves that didn't work out. You could call them great moves that went bad, or foolish risks that were doomed from the start. Actually, it's really easy now to say that they were all ridiculously misinformed—but so is this blog, so who am I to judge?

This offseason, Hendry has subtracted just about all of last offseason's moves (the Mark DeRosa toothpaste can't be squeezed back into the tube). Bradley's gone. Gregg is gone. The Aarons both Heilman and Miles. We bid farewell to Rich Harden and Jake Fox, and we'll miss a little bit of Ted Lilly at the outset of the season. But when you look at the 2009 contributions of the dearly departed Cubs, is the absence of any of that really going to sting?

So I look at the additions, the small changes, the slightly altered logos and DISQUS comments of this 2010 Chicago Cubs team. Marlon Byrd. Xavier Nady. Clubhouse gallbladder infection, Carlos Silva. And let's not forget new guy, other new guy, and the dude we got for Jake Fox. None of these guys are going to reconfigure the Cubbie universe. They won't win Nobel Prizes. But the the Cubs don't need wholesale changes. They just need to tread water.

If you want to see the statistical projections, you can check them out at ACB. The Cubs aren't bad. They're not as good as the Cardinals (who suck, by the way). They're not as good on paper as last year's paper team. They might not even be as good on paper as last year's team was on the field.

But I like this team. I expect Soto to have better luck (let's hope his eyebrows weren't the source of his power). I expect Soriano to be healthier and better. I expect Zambrano to be worse and luckier. Marlon Byrd will be good. Someone I've never heard of will be good. The pitching staff will be the least of the Cubs' problems. I expect the sportswriters to fade into the dingy background of the press box. I expect to be wrong about oh so much. But in the end, or at least on the way to the end, I expect to enjoy the 2010 season.

Jon Heyman thinks the Cubs struck out. I think the Cubs took two steps forward and one and a half steps back. If they can just stay afloat until June, Jim Hendry might make a real move, and this team just might kick a little ass.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maybe This Year

photo courtesy of delusionalcubsfan

Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of this blog's birth into the intersilence. My first real post was half speculation, half plea for the Cubs to add Pudge Rodriguez to the roster. And to show just how much weight that first post threw around, nothing happened. I don't even remember anyone else discussing it.

Influence, baby.

I really don't know why I started a Cubs blog. Other than that I love the Cubs. And I like to write. And my Cubs posts on my other 76 blogs were annoying people. And I was spending 8 hours a day writing epic tomes on other message boards. And I was bored. And I wanted to change the world. And at the time, it was guaranteed to be at least 101 years between Cubs World Series victories, and that seemed like as good a time as any to start a blog. And I was unaware that there were already more Cubs blogs than Cubs fans. And I really like being able to start sentences with and. Seemed like enough reasons at the time.

Probably the biggest reason of them all was that I thought 2009 might be the year, and if that happened, I thought it would be cool to have some record of the experience. And I could be a smart ass while doing it.

Now that I have a year on which to reflect, I can tell you that I've learned quite a bit from the experience. 1) I don't know what I'm doing as a blogger. 2) That's okay. 3) Nothing changes; my second post was about A-Rod's steroid use being leaked. 4) I still spend too much time on other Cubs message boards and blogs. 5) This is no more likely to be the year the Cubs win it all than last year was. 6) It's actually kind of nice knowing that no one cares what you say.

The Cubs blogopolis has kind of had an emotional meltdown over the last several days, mostly over who should be able to say what about whom and how. I don't know. Everybody has a responsibility for their own voice. I just hope that most of what I say over the next 8 months or so is somewhat related to the Cubs playing good baseball.