Monday, March 29, 2010

Adding Insult to Insult

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The ex-Cub the media just won't leave alone is back in the news today. That's right, Ronny CedeƱo finds his name in ignominious headlines because of the Pirates' latest batting order decision.

Poor E6 (as my friends at LOHO like to call him). Last year he was made expendable by the acquisition of fellow light-hitting utility infielder Aaron Miles. As if that weren't enough, this year Pirate manager John Russell had decided he'd like his pitchers to hit ahead of Ronny and his much-maligned tilde, according to the Bucs' website:

Russell said that Andy LaRoche's plate patience makes him a good fit to hit seventh, one spot in front of the pitcher. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno will then slot into the No. 9 spot, effectively making him the leadoff hitter after the first go-through of the lineup.

"Cedeno is going to see better pitches to hit," Russell said. "It frees Ronny up to be more aggressive."

Still, Cedeno will have to show an ability to consistently get on base for this lineup to set up well for the top of the order. Cedeno is a career .240 hitter with a on-base percentage of just .280.

Spin those facts and quotes however you want them, but the only way I know how to react to it is with a big ol' "Ouch."

Maybe Ronny can take some solace in knowing that the man who once replaced him, Aaron Miles, not only returned to the NL Central via an ever-so-brief stint in the AL West, but he also knows how it feels to bat behind the pitcher. Miles has started 41 games in the number 9 hole (all of them in the NL). So for the 16 times the Reds and Pirates square off, Ronny has a chance of not being the worst hitter on the diamond.

Hang in there, Ronny. We're pulling for you.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

When Did Wrigley Become the Star?

Over at ACB, they were discussing the Cubs' ability to draw fans regardless of the state of the team due to the tourist attraction status of Wrigley Field. My comment ballooned into a blog post. I posted it over there, but I figured I'd include it here too given the week-long posting vacation I've been on.

I don't think the team officially started exploiting the Wrigley advantage until 1998. I remember because I was trying to break into advertising in 1997, and part of my makeshift portfolio was a proposed campaign for exploiting the Wrigley advantage since the team sucked so bad yet never really promoted the uniqueness of the stadium. But the real reason the focus had never been on Wrigley as a place was because the Cubs had been a personality-driven franchise. The centerpiece personality was Harry Caray.

Harry joined the Cubs for the 1982 season and became, more or less, the instant face of the franchise. Not all that coincidentally, John McDonough joined the Cubs as director of sales and promotion in 1983, and moved steadily up the Cub corporate ladder, incorporating the broadcasting division into his official responsibilities in 1991.

During Harry's 16 seasons with the Cubs, the key marketing advantage was not Wrigley Field, it was the national audience (radio & TV) for each and every game with Harry as the featured star in both media. You may have heard Mark Grace tell of Harry's ability to draw crowds of fans away from Cub superstars like Grace, Sandberg, and Dawson, leaving them alone to marvel at his vastly superior fame.

I guarantee you, John McDonough is a smart guy, and he capitalized on and did everything he could to encourage Harry's fame. Harry Caray (or the unabashed homer image he projected) was the focal point of Cub marketing and promotion throughout his tenure with the team.

When Harry died before spring training of 1998, that's when the Wrigley experience took center stage. His passing was sad for all of us, but the timing of the marketing transition could not have been better.

The culture was primed for it. In 1989, Field of Dreams became a hit, and it swelled in popularity upon its release on home video. "If you build it, he will come" became the meme that wouldn't die. The importance of baseball in familial relationships and the culture of America took on mythological status on a mass popular level. And the movie may have been centered around a bunch of dead ballplayers from the South Side, but the idea of a ballpark lost in time conjured images of Wrigley for every Cub fan.

The next year was the last season every played at Comiskey Park, the oldest functioning park still standing at the time. And in 1991, the New Comiskey opened its gates to people generally disenfranchised with its modern look, despite the plethora of outstanding amenities. Boo for progress.

The next year, 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards turned the inner harbor into a baseball time machine. It was the anti-Comiskey despite the fact that the same company designed and built both parks. But with Camden's old-world (yet amenity-rich) feel came a newfound appreciation nationwide for the parks that already carried a sense of nostalgia.

New parks continued to spring up (the Jake, the Ballpark at Arlington, Pac Bell, Coors Field, etc.) in attempts to marry the classic Americana vibe with the modern cry for additional attractions. But the baseball stoppage of 1994 cost the league a World Series, and it broke any illusions fans may have had about Major League Baseball's quaint sense of history.

When Harry died in '98, baseball was still recovering from the aftermath and fans were still disenfranchised. But instead of marking the demise of baseball as we know it, Harry's passing turned Wrigley Field into a shrine to everything baseball was meant to be, at least in the eyes of the fans.

The tradition of the 7th-inning stretch being sung poorly continued. Homages to Harry popped up around the neighborhood. In a single game, Kerry Wood struck out an Astro for every year of his life. Sammy Sosa hit sixty-effing-six homers for the season. Ron Santo cemented his place as the slight reincarnation of Harry Caray (Noooooooooo!). The Cubs made the playoffs in as dramatic fashion as fans could possibly dream.

Wrigley became . . . magical. It was no longer Harry Caray's personal stage. It had become his own small section of heaven.

That, my friends, is when Wrigley Field itself became the center of the hype. At a distance, it's easy to see that the talk of magic and curses and overwhelming sentimentality is a bit of a crock, but in the moment, it all just seemed too perfect. Even looking back now, I get a little wrapped up in the emotion of it all.

Still, the storybook drama has worn off. I'm not alone in wanting to move on from the nonessential drama and just win a championship already. The thing is, I think the Cubs as an organization have moved on, too. Turning Wrigley into more of a place of business and less of St. Harry's Cathedral might help all of us step into a new era: the age of winning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cubs' Deal with Toyota Won't Slow Down

Whoa!!! Cubs wanna advertise! Photo: Crain's Chicago Business

Not satisfied with one extravagant multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with brake problems perched in left field, the Cubs have filed an application with the city of Chicago for the rights to slap a Toyota sign in the bleachers of the landmark in which they play baseball. The good news is this deal will make the Cubs money. Probably not Soriano money, but maybe something in the Theriot neighborhood. The bad news is the Cubs need approval from the city of Chicago, which will also probably require half of Carlos Silva's contract, food allowance, and a third round pick.

The sign, an illuminated, insignia-shaped billboard towering 75 feet above Waveland Avenue, isn't the slightest bit objectionable to those who don't own rooftops with Horseshoe Casino painted on them. But it's also not a video replay board, and the Horseshoe/Budweiser/WGN Radio rooftop looked to be the most promising destination for something of that nature. Actually, the spot the Cubs management picked for the Toyota sign ain't a bad place for such a thing. 

The question is, should we consider the ongoing lack of a giant replay board  (and the semi-permanent billboard in its most suitable future home) a matter of good news or bad?

I have heard both sides of the argument. The main pros are: 1) all fans really want to see replays when they're at the game (admit it); 2) a JumboTron could bring in a lot of advertising revenue. How much? Does it matter? I'm sure it's plenty. 

The cons are: 1) Wrigley is supposed to transcend time and provide an escape from the flashy, sensory overload, "Make Some NOISE!!!" brand of baseball featured at other parks; 2) a video replay board would distract from the existing, manually updated scoreboard; 3) a JumboTron could obscure the view from the rooftops as well as spoil the neighborhood skyline the fans currently enjoy.

The pros and cons have their problems, though. I agree, part of the charm of Wrigley is the time-warp feel of the place. Logic be damned, who knows how much of Wrigley's timeless value (or, more accurately, the value of Wrigley's timelessness) would be lost if modernization became pronounced in hi-def over drunken heads of the bleacher bums. Would enough Cub fans feel so jilted as to withhold their cash and offset the financial gain from selling Wrigley's soul? I don't know. That's kind of dramatic, even if you think a JumboTron would murder the Wrigley brand.

Business matters aside, I wonder what it would do the experience at Wrigley. Despite my rage-fueled yearning to see video evidence of just how safe Kosuke Fukudome was on that force play at second, I know it's good for me to be forced to enjoy the game as it is sans screen. I don't care if they put a James Cameron 3D IMAX screen in left, there's nothing like taking in the spectacle of the real thing on one take. Adding a giant video screen tends to draw the eyes of the crowd, any crowd, more than the event itself. Here's an example.

I used to work at a college with it's own coffee house. It was more of a coffee section really, but it carried the atmosphere of a coffee house. Indie music. Disaffected college students. Coffee. And you couldn't help but get ensnared in great conversation while waiting for your non-express espresso. 

One year, the senior class of the college chose as its gift to the school a large-screen plasma TV for the coffee place. They turned the volume down and kept it tuned in to a news channel, but the lively conversation that once owned the place all but died. Worst gift ever.

I hate to tell you this, JT* haters, that ship has sailed. Not only have the Cubs announced plans to add WiFi to the stadium so fans can watch replays and get stats on enabled phones, but . . . well, people have their phones. Everybody's got a phone. There's no end to the texting, the looking down, the basking in the glow of the wireless mosaic tethers. The conversation hasn't died, per se. It's gone online and relies on the opposable thumbs of the users, but face it: our eyes aren't on the game. 

There is no time travel. The friendly confines are body surfing on the sore-thumbed hands of the Wrigley faithful helplessly, for better or worse into the 21st century. Blocking the installation of a mega-sponsored video replay board won't change that. Putting one up probably won't even accelerate it all that much.

The modernization of Wrigley is like a runaway Toyota—you just can't stop it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Is the Problem with Cubs Fans?

Just to be clear: not all jerks are Cubs fans.

I've been determined not to talk about Milton Bradley, and I'm not. I have no intention of addressing the specific indignities committed against or by Mr. Bradley. The simple fact is that far too many people, fans and bystanders alike, have proven themselves incapable of rational thought whenever Milton's name is involved. So any comments about Mr. Bradley have no relevance in this discussion. None.

Instead, let's talk in generalities. A lot has been said about Cubs fans lately. There's the argument that a minuscule fraction of the Cub-fan population, a mere handful of aberrant freaks, have given Cubs fans a bad name. I'd like to address that possibility. However, some proponents of that argument have constructed a straw man that any accusation of racism at Wrigley is an irrational blanket accusation against all Cubs fans. I have no desire to address that theory, because nobody really thinks that all Cubs fans are cross-burning racists and/or rabid slobbering jerks. Nobody. Thinks. That.

But a lot of people do think and have insinuated that the jerk-to-decent-human-being ratio is higher at Wrigley and among Cubs fans in general than it is at other ballparks and among other fan bases. That line of thinking warrants a serious look, although I won't wage a full-scale investigation to settle the argument. I just want to know why that might be the case.

In the realm of statistics, intelligent people don't give credence to small samples of data that lack a clear cause-effect relationship. For instance, Mark Grace hit well on Mother's Day. Sammy Sosa hit well on his birthday. Ryne Sandberg may have had a .750 average in the seventh inning of road games in July against left-handed pitchers for teams with blue uniforms. We like those stats because of the sheer coincidence of it all. No one with a functioning cerebellum really thinks those stats mean anything. But when it comes to baseball matters outside of statistics (such as the behavior of fans of certain teams at certain stadiums) the demand for reliably determined cause-effect relationships too often goes out the window.

Is there any conceivable reason why Cub fans would be more prone to racism than would other fans? Is there something about the Cubs that is more attractive to racists? Should we expect Cubs fans to be more apt than the general public to assemble grassroots hate-mail campaigns? An argument could be made that Chicago is a racist city, but it is most definitely not the only one.

As a quick aside, I'm not going to pretend racism is all that less prevalent in America today than it was 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. But for the most part, decidedly racist people have learned it's better to employ silent, subtle racism than the officially posted, vocally oppressive, publicly violent version of the segregated era. Just because  speaking the N-word has been ruled unacceptable by almost every subculture of America doesn't mean no one ever thinks it or ascribes to the hate behind it. (I like Tom Lehrer's prophetic views on the subject: publicly ignoring hate has little effect on people's private views.)

But I also don't think all the rage about Cubs fans is or should be confined to race. The fact is, it's the same attitude that drives a fan to spit on a player of his own race as the one that motivates a white fan to send hate mail to a black player. People don't do something like that because of race, they do it because of a vindictive, prideful jealousy. As much as fans love to live vicariously through their heroes and share in the glory of their success, we (yes, I'm making a universal claim here) like to do the reverse with the players we don't think deserve the money, fame, and fulfillment that comes with being a Major League Baseball player. Booing makes us feel superior, like we have the power to strip them of their glory.

It's the same thing that drives homely people to leaf through People's 50 Most Beautiful issue and complain about the ugly, horse-faced, overrated choices. It's what causes music fans to slap the "talentless" label on Grammy-winning musicians they don't like. That's why, I'm sure, I critique American Idol performances. Who doesn't enjoy taking the undeservedly famous down a notch or two?

There are some who take their glory-envy to the extreme. These are the ones who hurl racial epithets at star baseball players when they would never have the nerve to do the same to an average Joe. And yes, those same people would never think of doing that to the team's best players (even Archie Bunker thought Sammy Davis Jr. was a god). But for the players on the opposing team, the guys they just don't like, or even the fans who get in the way, common decency goes out the window. That's not unique to Chicago. But is it more prevalent with Cubs fans?

To those who think it's just a few fans, I think you're in denial. But you're probably in denial about people in general and not just Cubs fans. There are plenty of unsavory people in this world, and quite a lot of them prove themselves as such when attending baseball games. Being a jerk might not be Americans' favorite pastime, but it's in the top 10. I've been to a lot of Cubs games and the ones that weren't at all marred by obnoxious, rude fans have been somewhat rare. The same goes for the games I've attended in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Comiskey, the Cell, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Oakland.

I don't hear racist comments at every game or even most games, but it happens. Usually someone speaks up in a "Hey cool it" kind of way. Other times it's just a bunch of cold glares and awkward silences. But the moral outrage over racist or offensive behavior is much more common in message boards and comment threads than it is in the stands at baseball games. In my experience, this is pretty uniform no matter where you go, but over-the-line rudeness is anything but rare.

Okay, here's the big question: why does it seem, at least to some, that offensive behavior at the stadium (and from the fans writing in at home) is worse among Cubs fans than in other fan bases? The Cubs do get more media attention than a lot of teams, but not all. And the other Chicago team has a manager who has the amazing knack of absorbing any negative publicity that comes his team's way (seriously, the top story all spring in Cubs' camp has been Milton Bradley, while the only White Sox news item of note has been Ozzie's Twitter account). Could it be a century's worth of frustration or just a stronger desire in Wrigleyville? I'm not buying it.

To me, there is one big difference at Wrigley Field that might invite an extra measure of obnoxiousness: the bleachers. I don't think any outfield seating area is closer to the outfielders than the Wrigley Field bleachers. There's something about the mob mentality, the fans' high angle looking down on the lowly players, and the massive amount of liquid courage that instill in bleacher fans, a sense of superiority, entitlement, and invulnerability. The majority of fans in the bleachers are perfectly delightful, but the real snarly and hateful ones find the perfect forum atop the ivy.

The bleachers have their outspoken apologists, but plenty of other Cub fans take pride in the adversarial power wielded in the non-beer hands of the bleacher bums. Growing up, I took that view. I thought the real Cubs fans were the shouting, genuflecting soldiers in Andre's Army, the fans who yelled insults at, dumped beer on, and generally made life hell for opposing outfielders. At some point I realized that was stupid, but I'm sure there are plenty of fans who still identify with that mentality, even some who don't frequent Wrigley Field.

I would guess that there is a lot more rude, offensive, and even racist behavior in the bleachers than in other areas of the ballpark, so why wouldn't I expect it to be more prevalent in the Wrigley bleachers than in other stadiums in general where the fans' proximity to the players isn't so pronounced? And why wouldn't I expect that to spill over to the fans watching at home? I can't think of a reason.

The only way I know how to conclude this monstrosity is this: I doubt Cubs fans in general are inherently any more racist or rude or offensive than any other fans. But I do suspect that Wrigley might bring out the worst in a lot of us. I think as fans we have to make a conscious effort to curb that trend.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Down with Castro?

Starlin Castro looks like Rudy. That is all.
Pepin le Bref is once again stirring up rumors about players who aren't on the Cubs roster, only this time it's a guy with a solid chance to work his way onto it. Starlin Castro was a non-roster invitee to the Cubs' spring training festivities, but he has looked like a guy you wouldn't mind having on the big-league club.

In 15 plate appearances.

Pepin would have you believe the Cubs brass is conflicted about what to do with the phenom sporting the 1.600 OPS (in 15 PA): start him in AAA or give him a shot on the opening-day roster. As previously reported by his Bref-ness, Lou wouldn't want Starlin to be a bench player; the kid needs to play:

Cubs manager Lou Piniella ended any speculation Sunday that Andres Blanco's knee injury would open up a job for 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. 
"No, no," he said. "Starlin is going to start the season in Triple-A (Iowa) and play. The only way Starlin would come into this equation, and I've said this before, is if he shows he's ready to play here and there's a problem physically with Theriot.

"Now, we don't want that. But I'll tell you what, I've been very impressed with Starlin. He's smooth up there, got a nice throwing arm, good hands. He gives you a nice at-bat. But no, we're going to go with Theriot at shortstop, and certainly (Castro) wouldn't be up here backing up under any circumstances. We want this kid to play."

Less than a week after collecting that gem from Lou, le Bref suggests the decision isn't so clear cut, even though Lou hasn't changed one iota of his story:

Manager Lou Piniella continues to insist Ryan Theriot is his shortstop and he's not interested in moving him to second to make room for Castro at short.

Prospects headed to the minors typically get sent to minor league camp midway through Cactus League games. Will the Cubs give Castro a longer look?

"That's going to be up to (general manager) Jim Hendry and (assistant GM Randy Bush)," Piniella said. "Unless the kid is going to start here, their preference in the past has been to send these kids out to get them familiar with where they are going to play."

But few Cubs prospects have performed as well as Castro has early in the games. When he smacked a first-pitch home run to left in the fifth inning, Piniella looked at bench coach Alan Trammell with a wild-eyed grin on his face.

So why manufacture a story that goes against every quote from the people who matter and is supported by nothing but 15 plate appearances and a post-homer smile?

Well, to give Pepi some credit, Castro is an exciting player. He's bigger and faster than Theriot, but he's also a full 10 years younger. Meanwhile, Theriot is having just as much success as Castro this spring (not to mention how ridiculous it is to base any significant decisions on a handful of spring at-bats against a bunch of guys with sub-Silva type stuff . . . oh, crap, I just mentioned it; but it was in parentheses, so it doesn't really count).

But I don't think Piniella, Hendry, or Bush will be making a decision based on Castro's numbers. Frankly, they probably won't be basing that decision on anything other than what they've already said. Their decision is all but made, and if they do change their minds it will be because of what they see of him in person, not on paper. They won't gamble the fate of this season or, more importantly, the future of a could-be superstar, when they're perfectly content with Ryan Theriot at short.

Except that Ryan Theriot isn't really the guy to compare to Castro, because he wouldn't be the one to get bumped out of the lineup. It's the Fontenot/Baker platoon that would get replaced as Castro stepped in at short and Theriot moseyed on to the other side of second base.

That's the question of the moment: would the Cubs rather have a middle infield of Theriot/Bakenot or Castro/Theriot? And would they rather have a batting order featuring Castro's sizzling speed and a font of potential or . . . just Fontebaker? I understand those who think either one of those guys could be solid, but I don't know how often anyone will actually utter the words, "Oh good, Fontenot is up," or "Sweet, it's Baker time!"

Look, I'm excited to see what Starlin Castro can do as the Cubs' everyday shortstop, but I can wait. I'm not setting myself up to become incensed by the impending news of Castro's assignment to AAA Iowa. But I'm certainly not begging the front office to indulge their sense of patience. I think there's a decent chance that Starlin Castro would outperform Theriot in the field, that he'd outperform Bakenot at the plate, and that Theriot would improve the defense at second.

But I also don't know jack, and I trust Lou's judgment. And Jim's. And Randy's. I'm just glad to see Castro pass yet another test on the way to Wrigley.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mad about . . . you know

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore.

I can't say the people's names. I don't want to give them the satisfaction of the publicity. I don't even want to discuss the stupid topics they've decided to raise. You know who they are. You know what they're talking about. We all know how stupid it all is.

And yet, there it is, all over the news. All over the sports section. All along the interwebs. Saturating sports talk radio. Taking over Twitter.

So this is me not talking about it. This is me not reading it. This is me not touching the accused publications with a ten foot pole. I don't own a ten foot pole. But if I did, I wouldn't use it to touch those people. Actually, maybe I would. Never mind. I'm not talking about it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Cubs Best Outfielder Is Ivy

I love this commercial. It features a lot of the things I loved most about my first trip to Wrigley. The things I loved back in 1981 when my idea of advanced baseball wisdom was the fact that Ivan DeJesus wasn't pronounced I-vuhn de-JEE-zus. The scoreboard changed by hand. The brilliant colors. The flags. The ivy. Harry Caray. He was real then, not a statue, and there were no light standards protruding from the Wrigley Field rooftop. But at that time, I had no idea who the players were. Honestly, at my first Cubs game, my familiarity with the game (and our seats) was so poor, I wasn't even sure where the infield was. It didn't matter. Just being there was enough to make the experience, the Wrigley Field experience, a religious conversion of sorts.

I hate this commercial. Like the other facets of the Chicago Cubs 2010 marketing campaign, not a single player makes an appearance. It's all ivy and blue skies and icons. It tells me I should love this team because of something bigger than any one person. It reminds me that the Chicago Cubs are all about feeling good and loving life and having fun. 2009 was a freak storm, an erroneous blip, a flaw in the baseball diamond. 2010 will be good again. It will be pure and Milton Bradley free. Pepin le Bref will be a messenger of joy. And the quality of the baseball being played in these hallowed halls need not factor into the equation.

Don't manipulate me, Chicago Cubs marketing staff. I'm a fan, and that's not changing. But don't try to tell me the baseball itself doesn't matter. That's the wrong message to send. Show me Cub homers. Show me Cardinal strikeouts. Show me prospects whose stars are still rising. More importantly, show me an owner willing to pay the price of winning a World Series. I've had your back this offseason, Tom Ricketts. I won't be so kind if you play this whole season on the cheap.

UPDATE: A million bonus points to Jodi for pointing out that the commercial is probably for WGN, not the Cubs specifically. What's more, the sale leveraged transfer of the team means those two entities are no longer under the same umbrella. My fault. Mea culpa. Mia Farrow. Let's not forget, baseball makes me stupid.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cubs Spring Training 3000

The Cubs play on TV today against the White Sox. Meh. Since the advent of interleague play, the allure of these quasi-crosstown spring-training showdowns carry negligible currency in the Chicago bragging exchange. I suppose the Reinsdorfian Cubs tax embargo brings an ounce or two of intrigue to the game, but that's nothing compared to what is sure to be the pinnacle of today's excitement.

Julie DiCaro (A League of Her Own, @aleagueofherown), Tim McGinnis (Tales from Aisle 424, @Aisle424), and I will be live riffing the first hour of this game in MST3K fashion. Just like the marooned space voyager and his robot friends endured the torture of awful sci-fi B movies by verbally lampooning the disasters before their eyes, we'll be staving off Cub-induced lunacy with a bit of the funnies. Or we'll bomb. I don't know, but I expect it to be all kinds of fun.

You can listen here, and call in here: (347) 884-8570. And if you'd rather type your comments, there's always the live-game thread at LOHO.

Okay, I gotta get ready to riff.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cubs Baseball Makes Me Stupid

This morning it hit me. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And the promise of Cubs baseball was in the air. But for whatever reason, it took me about three hours before I was capable of composing a lucid thought. And it just took me another hour to think of the word lucid. I'm not even sure I used it right.

You see, on paper, I'm not an idiot. I got a 770 on the math section of my SAT. It doesn't make me Doogie Howser, but it's better than most cavemen. And just a few days ago I was feeling productive, clear-headed, and . . . I don't know, I can't think of the word for the third part in that series, but I'm pretty sure there was something else I was feeling that related to my brain functioning properly.

But as today approached, things started getting fuzzier. Words like butt and fart started getting funnier. And a third thing that would complete the comedic rule of 3's. Suddenly I realized that the problem is baseball. I'm pretty sure it's Cubs baseball, but the idiocy is really sinking in.

Cubs baseball is to me what sex is to George Costanza. Without it, the part of my brain that is normally obsessed with baseball is freed up to think about other things.

The offseason might actually make me understand baseball better.

But once that first spring training game starts,

I'm all "Take me to your leader!"

I couldn't find a way to embed that last video, and there's no way I'm figuring it out today. I should probably wrap up with some kind of witty conclusion. Uh . . . Cubs!!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cubs WOO Cast WOO

This week I had the distinct pleasure of joining Lou and Sheps for an episode of Cubscast. For them it was the 599th installment of the podcast, but for me it was my first podcast appearance. I've been listening to Cubscast for years, so I was thrilled when they asked me to come on the show.

I had a great time despite some technical issues on my end (and despite the fact that said Esmailin Caridad was all but guaranteed the right-handed closer job . . . I meant setup man) and I hope I can do it again some time in the future. The guys are great, the show is a lot of fun, and I promise I'll do better next time.

You can download the episode here or on iTunes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Permission to Speak?

I don't care to start a blog war or even a twitter sissy slap party, I really don't. But something I read this morning really struck a nerve. As fashionable as it is for blogs to blast other blogs, I'm not going to deride BCB or its author for annoying the crap out of me. He has that right. I do, however, want to obliterate the ridiculous sentiment behind the post.

It's difficult to say this without being hypocritical, because the essence of my argument is that allowing people to think, speak, report, blog, comment, and tweet freely is important. It's more than important. It's essential to the integrity of society. So far be it from me to undercut anyone's First Amendment rights as they relate to the Cubs blogocracy or the free world in general.

On the other hand, part of the freedom of speech is the freedom, nay, the responsibility to freely point out when an idea is a crock. So, my fellow citizens of Earth, the value of truth compels me to say, the half-baked notion that Twitter is ruining spring training is a simmering slow cooker full of fecal matter. But don't let me tell you what to think.

Here's all you really need to read to understand the post:

In general, I believe the relentless, breathless nature of Twitter is spoiling one of the best things about spring training:


To show this isn't a personal attack, I'll try to give his overall point a fair summary. Journalists disseminate updates via twitter at a breakneck rate, feeding rabid Cubs fans insatiable appetite for knowledge and triggering explosive and irrational reactions throughout social networks of all stripes. The trend has turned Cubs fans from hopeful, optimistic sunbeams into mopey, whiny, dark clouds of humbug. If the journatweets were more selective about their updates or fans were more patient in their thirst for and reaction to said info, we'd be much happier people.

None of this is worthy of Bill of Rights-grade outrage, but the fundamental argument behind it is: people can't be trusted with facts; withhold information until it can be sanitized and spun; wait for the team management to disperse their version of the truth before you go drawing your own conclusions; it's not journalism unless it passes the desk of an editor; if it's important enough to affect the entire season, you can wait a few hours or until the next day before you hear it; leave the critical thinking to the experts.

I'd expect as much from the Cubs' PR machine. But to espouse that nonsense as part of a free society is downright irresponsible.

I don't care if you hate Twitter. Hate it. Don't use it. Register and block everyone out of spite. I really don't care. Twitter is not in your face. It's a way that some people choose to communicate. That's it. If a beat reporter uses it to communicate news to a lot of people, great. If a serious journalist refuses to use it, awesome. Take your time and write your dissertation. I might read it. But if people just stop communicating and opt instead to withhold breaking information for more prudent times, the only winner is ignorance.

If Starlin Castro gets hit in the butt with an errant Marmol fastball, I want to know. If some dude in his mom's basement thinks that spells the end of the Cubs' World Series hopes, I want him to say it. Smart people, dumb people, pessimists, and optimists, I want them telling whoever will listen what they know and what they think, because that's how people learn. I hope the right people correct the wrong people and the optimists cheer up the pessimists and the ignorant listen to the informed and the irritable ignore the annoying.

There are few things more bothersome than people who would rather put a damper on truth than change the way they think and feel. If your optimism depends on the restriction or suppression of information, your optimism is stupid. The same is true of pessimism. And realism. And socialist fascism. As much as I'd like to tell people to shut up, I don't really want them to. I mean, they should take the time to listen occasionally, but come on. Communication is good.  Do it more, not less. And if you believe in willingly constructing a false sense of optimism for the sake of tradition by withholding the truth from the masses, feel free to do it somewhere else.