Friday, April 30, 2010

Wrigley Talk Fridays: It's a Way of Life

Gimme a W! Gimme a T! Gimme an F! What's that spell? Podcast awesomeness! (image courtesy of I dunno)
There's no question what sits atop the list of the Cubs' needs. Starting pitching? We've got too much of that as it is. Bullpen help? We just threw $18 million at that problem. A power-hitting lefty? I give you, TYLERMANIA! For Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to break out of their slumps? They're just saving their big hits for when the games really count.

No, what the Cubs obviously need is another podcast. Consider that need met. Cubbie Julie from LOHO and Tim from Aisle 424 have agreed to let me lurk in the corner for Wrigley Talk Fridays, the newest podcast that is sure to be hilarious informative well thought-out full of journalistic/blogger integrity at least a half hour long.

I know the entire world is waiting for the bowling/baseball comparison, but you'll have to wait a few more hours for that one to materialize. In the meantime, as the Cubs look to raise the W flag against the D'backs (a 50/50 proposition at best), there is a 100% guarantee that the WTF flag will be flying high over the Interwebs. Listen live, call in (347-989-8945), or just check us out on iTunes (after the fact, of course).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Random Observations, Some of Them Cubs Related

A Mike Fontenot pop fly may have punched Starlin Castro's ticket to the big leagues.

If you wonder what it would have been like if the Internet existed in the 1950s, consult MLB's online policies.

Chester Taylor didn't know he was supposed to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" until after the organ started playing. Santo asked him if he was ready to sing, and he just laughed. A lot. He genuinely thought they were putting him on.

I have every episode of Friends on DVR, some of them multiple times. Yet we keep on recording more for some reason.

At some point this year, the Cubs will score five runs in a game instead of 2 or 12.

Lou Piniella likes it when reporters talk strategy.

ESPN thinks you're an idiot.

Marlon Byrd.

The Blackhawks are the best team in Chicago. The rest of the top 10 are high school teams, including the Niles North Chess Club.

Turns out, Paula Abdul needed American Idol a bit more than Ellen did.

Wrigley Field isn't a bar. At bars, you can watch replays.

The next big name to be linked to PEDs will be a basketball player. A really big one.

It's only a matter of time before Lucas makes another Star Wars prequel trilogy. 200 million people will pay to rip it apart.

I'm debating writing a post comparing baseball to bowling. It's not the most interesting debate in the world.

I wonder if Red Sox fans got this mad when they moved their ace out of the starting rotation and then traded him for cash considerations to the Yankees.

Decisions, decision. The Evening Independent

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chicago Journalism 101: Emotion Police

Might as well let it out, Carlos. The media will say it for you if you don't.
Carlos Zambrano has been demoted to the bullpen. Say what you will about the move's usefulness to the team, but it's a demotion nonetheless. Anyone with a Sesame-Street-level grasp of psychology knows that this would upset any professional pitcher. No pitcher greets a demotion to the bullpen with a "Hooray!" Pitchers who get promoted from AAA to the bullpen might be quite happy about it, but they'd be even happier if their organizations told them they would be starters.

I know this is simple, but since quite a few people in the Chicago media seem so oblivious to the facts, let's go over what we know once again: Carlos Zambrano was a starter. Management demoted him to the bullpen. Not a soul alive needs to interview him to know that he's upset about it.

But the Chicago media did ask him about it. In the same way they insist on asking athletes how they feel after losing in a championship game, reporters are contractually obligated to ask Big Z how he feels about the demotion. I don't begrudge them asking, necessarily. They have to write something. But I hope they understand it's a stupid question that serves as nothing more than a litmus test of Carlos Zambrano's professionalism.

And Carlos answered. He's not "happy happy," but he's happy. Are they happy? Not at all. The print journalists have been relatively quiet about Z's responses, but the radio and television guys are going nuts trying to drum up "insider" stories about how angry Zambrano is and what the ramifications will be. Will he demand to be traded? Are the Cubs provoking him on purpose? Why do the Cubs feel the need to bend over backwards to pacify Zambrano? Will Jim Hendry wake up with Ryan Theriot's head in his sheets? Does Big Z like Carlos Marmol or does he like him like him?

Let me get this straight just one more time: Zambrano gets demoted. Everyone in the world knows that will make him angry. Reporters ask him if he's angry, and he very professionally, responsibly, and respectfully lies for the good of the team and to the disappointment of those who want to see him erupt so violently that O'Hare has to close until Hendry finds a suitable setup man.

I don't get it. Z passed the test. He's controlled his anger well enough to pitch and to avoid spouting off to the media. So the columnists, analysts, and hosts who rant about Zambrano being an over-emotional diva have nothing to complain about unless they're actually suggesting Zambrano shouldn't be angry.

If I'm following this right (which would be somewhat lucky, because I can't stomach these moronic, sanctimonious imbeciles long enough to actually follow their logic) they used to criticize Z for not controlling his emotions. Now they're lambasting him just for having emotions? Gotcha.

Personally, I think it's time for the media to learn a little lesson in emotional health, courtesy of the aforementioned Sesame Street. And there's an important lesson for us as well in what makes the media angry: not paying much attention to them.

Geovany Soto: Not a Swinger

I swear, this almost never happens.
Geovany Soto has been eating less; that was the real addition by subtraction we heard about all spring. He shed a few pounds (and a few eyebrow hairs) and gained a bit of his old agility and go-get-'em motivation. He added some mobility behind the plate by subtracting the munchies. Hooray for that, but burning through Cheetos isn't the only thing Geo stopped doing.

If it seems like Soto has had his bat on his shoulder an awful lot this season, your eyes aren't deceiving you. He's always been a pretty patient hitter, but so far this season, Geovany Soto is swinging even less than normal.

In fact, he's swinging less than anyone.

Of all Major League Baseball players with at least 30 plate appearances, Geo's 27.5% swing percentage is the lowest. He sees 4.2 pitches per plate appearance, so I guess that means he swings about once every trip to the plate. I'm sure Vince Vaughn would want to give Geo a grand speech about using his great big bear claws to rip apart helpless bunny-rabbit fastballs, but I'm just fine with Soto's wait-and-see approach.

His OBP is .527 thanks in no small part to his 14 walks. But when Geo does swing, he does some pretty serious damage, to the tune of a .537 slugging percentage. A 1.064 OPS isn't too shabby. So why aren't more people raving about Geo's ridiculously good, too-hot-to-maintain start?

Well, maybe because he's buried at the bottom of the order. Maybe because the Soto-take-a-pitch drinking game has effectively erased Cubs fans' memories of all Geovany's at-bats. Maybe because Lou pinch hits for him when he wants to give away outs late in the game. I don't know. I guess I don't care. I just want more of this getting on base/crushing the ball when he does decide to swing business.

And the winning. The winning is nice.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thank DeRosa for Small Sample Sizes

MLB: Brewers vs Cubs APR 23
The truth hurts. So lie to me, Cubbies.

There's a reason baseball is so fun to watch. Well, there are 225,658 reasons baseball is so fun to watch, but one of my favorites is the way it can take so long for the true balance of talent to bear itself out. Albert Pujols is as good a hitter as you'll find, yet he makes outs in 53% of his plate appearances; despite that ridiculously good average, there were 15 games in 2009 in which he didn't reach base. Tim Lincecum yielded a .206 batting average to opposing hitters last year, but there were two games in which he gave up 10 hits.

The numbers of any one game or any handful of games is likely to tell you a big fat lie about how good any one player or team really is.

Some games are more accurate depictions of talent than others, but you don't really know which ones are telling you the truth until the season is over—and even then, most teams change composition over the course of the year, usually in an effort to get better, but often times due to injury, a player or team will get worse.

Statisticians can tell you the truth about any team, or at least a fair, objectively calculated, more-accurate-than-your-eyes judgment of a team's potential. But watching a game has a way of reinforcing your hopes or deepening your fears. The Cubs drop 3 of 4 to the Mets, they suck, and I knew it. The Cubs sweep the Brewers, and they are the offensive juggernaut to put an end to the juggernaut business. Their pitching is outstanding. Carlos Zambrano is in the bullpen because the Cubs have at least 8 Cy-Young-caliber pitchers.

I don't care about what's accurate. It's fun to watch the Cubs put a beating on the Brewers. It's a small sample size, but it's beautiful to behold. I might be furious, depressed, or elated when the sample reaches 162 games, but for this weekend I'm loving the lie.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

That's it, Milton Bradley, it's On!

And just so you know, OBP is not a valid Scrabble word.
I've defended and ridiculed Milton Bradley over the past year, leaning heavily toward defending him. But his latest comments have me fired up. His Mariners are back in town to face the White Sox, so now that we're in the same time zone, I'm issuing him a challenge.

It doesn't matter to me that Milton said he was misrepresented or that the middle-aged white media couldn't understand him (they couldn't). I don't care if he says he got along great with his Cubs teammates. His personality as a baseball player is of no concern to me whatsoever.

But Milton says he's an 1180-SATs nerd. And he plays Scrabble. WHAT!!!?!!!?11! It's so on.

If you really do play Scrabble on your phone, I hereby challenge you, Milton, to a game of Words with Friends for the iPhone. My handle is Adambuckled. The stakes: um . . . I don't know. I really can't offer you much. How about a glowing review of your ability to not make outs and a scathing diatribe against Paul Sullivan? Deal?

The gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you nerd enough to challenge me?

P.S. If you Google "Milton Bradley Scrabble," Milton's interview doesn't show up for a long, long time. Apparently that was already a pretty popular search phrase.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Zambrano to the Bullpen: Please Tell Me We've Been Punk'd

Z-Ro. This move has no chance of working.
I feel like I'm insulting your intelligence by explaining that moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen is a bad idea, but I've heard enough support for the decision to warrant an official dissent. So hear it is:

This is stupid.

To reduntify what I've already said on Twitter, I'd love to play golf with Lou Piniella (and Jim Hendry and Tom Ricketts and whoever else thinks this is a good idea) just so I can observe that moment when he walks on to the green, eyes up the slope on a 15-foot putt, and busts out his driver in full swing. That is what putting one of your best starters (if not definitively the best) into the bullpen. Lou putting Zambrano in the bullpen is the equivalent of Maverick saying, "I'm too close for guns, I'm switching to missiles." Yes, I'm just blogging my tweets now, deal with it.

I don't care if he becomes the closer (he won't). I don't care if he's the 7th/8th-inning setup man. I don't care how many lefties are in the pen or how many of them are capable of getting outs on a semi-regular basis. Carlos Zambrano is most definitely one of the Cubs' three best starting pitchers, and putting him in the bullpen is a waste.

Let's look at the best probable outcome of this move. Zambrano becomes the 8th-inning setup guy for Marmol and pitches brilliantly. Zambrano records 35 holds for the Cubbies in 2010 (and yes, that's a lot, the most you'll ever see from any reliever). Zambrano pitches 80 innings from the bullpen. 80 freaking innings. He gets about 10 at bats. He's great because you remember all of his appearances in all those late-inning, high-pressure situations. But he's doing a job that's not that valuable. Yes, it's a job you want done, but it doesn't take a pitcher of Z's caliber to do it.

And you know what else you'll remember? All of those mountains of innings racked up in the first 2/3 of games by pitchers inferior to Zambrano. What, you don't think you'll notice when Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva and (yeah, I love him to death, but it's true) Randy Wells rack up sample sizes large enough to reflect the pitchers they really are? Trust me, you will. At that point, the fraction of innings Zambrano will have compiled will tell you very little about his value as a relief pitcher other than the fact that relief pitchers aren't very valuable! 

This is having your CEO fold the laundry. This is buying a Slurpee with a $100 bill. This is playing your highest trump card to beat a deuce. It's paying a lot for this muffler. It's using a sledge hammer on a penny nail. It's putting on your tux before you enter a chat room.

If Carlos Zambrano pitches as well as is humanly possible out of the bullpen, it still won't amount to half the value of his contribution as a starter if he had a poor season. And if Silva and Gorzelanny will have to seriously outperform their projections to come anywhere close to a mediocre season for Zambrano. If those guys pitch well as starters and Z pitches well in relief, it will still prove that this move was stupid. It will show that either one of those guys would have almost certainly done well in relief and that the Cubs willingly shelved 75% of Zambrano's value.

The only sliver of slack I'll give Lou is the possibility that this is an extremely short term arrangement as Hendry tries to acquire another right-handed reliever who isn't good enough to start but is good enough to excel in the bullpen. It won't make this move any less stupid, but it will make it less damaging.

In the meantime, I really hope Ashton Kutcher has just Punk'd us, because this seems too overtly awkward and obscenely shocking to be true.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cubs Flashback: Ozzie's Right. We are Stupid.

Without the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to post something original, here's a rerun from last year . . . kinda suits the occasion.

Seriously. Ozzie is on to something.
When the White Sox first made Ozzie Guillen their manager, my instant response was one word: Genius. I didn't think he was a genius, I just thought the move was genius. If any person in my lifetime has embodied what it means to be a part of the White Sox . . . thing, it was Ozzie. Perfect guy for the job. Perfect face of the organization. Perfect person for Sox fans to love and Cub fans to hate.

But something happened in the years that followed: Ozzie grew on me.

To be perfectly honest, I have come to acknowledge that Ozzie Guillen really is a managerial genius. I'm not talking about his X's and O's (whatever that term really means in baseball). I mean, Ozzie is the quintessential baseball evil genius.

Ozzie works the Chicago media (and, at times, the national media) like marionettes in his diabolical hands. He takes pressure off his players when they need that. He puts pressure on his players when they need a kick in the butt. He enters into the psyche of opposing teams and fans. And when he's really backed into a corner, he can just ramble on unintelligibly for five minutes—and like an R.E.M. song or a Tarantino film, people just kind of get it, even though they don't know why.

After the Cubs/Sox series, Ozzie responded to a Lou Piniella comment about the Sox and their inability to draw fans for anyone but the Cubs. His words: "Our fans aren't stupid like Cubs fans. Our fans know we're [expletive]. Cub fans will watch any game, because "Wrigley Field is just a bar."

A lot of outrage exploded throughout Cubdom, but I've got news for you, Cub fans, and it really shouldn't be news: Ozzie is right. We are stupid, and this team is [expletive] right now. Heck, not even right now. Have you glanced at the sports section in the last century? Cub baseball is not where it's at. We're idiots. We're dumb. We're mindless. We're dreamers.

And proud of it.

Look, only an idiot would have anticipated that Rudy would see on-field action for the fighting Irish. Only a moron would have placed his money on Milan to win the 1954 Indiana high school state basketball championship. The dummies picked David over Goliath. Cheering for the Cubs is not smart.

But we do it because we long for that feeling of overcoming the odds (which were actually pretty good heading into the season). We cheer for the underdog (even though the Cubs have paid enough, but haven't won enough, to shed that tag). We show up to watch an expletive team and put ourselves through expletive for the chance at seeing history, affixing ourselves to it, and proclaiming to the world, "Holy expletive! The Cubs won the Series!"

It is stupid. It is far-fetched. It is a terrible commentary on our intellect. But it is our hope, and it's all we got. Well, that and a mighty fine bar in which to drown our sorrows.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cubs Facts that Go Without Saying (that I'll say anyway)

The Cubs won't go undefeated the rest of the season.

It is possible to put a Carlos Marmol pitch in play, after all.

Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are not the two worst starting pitchers in baseball.

Ryan Theriot will never be mistaken for Rickey Henderson.

Jim Hendry will never be mistaken for Branch Rickey.

There is such a thing as too much beer.

Christie Brinkley has aged better than Chevy Chase.

Dead ivy isn't any more charming than separated shoulders and concussed outfielders.

Green ivy is more charming (but not all that more comforting) than dead ivy.

He's not on the team, but the spirit of Neifi Perez is waiting in the on-deck circle.

I don't care how good they are, the Cardinals suck.

Starlin Castro should keep a bag packed at all times.

Wrigley Field is not a church. You won't hear the organ playing at church.

No one cares about your fantasy team. Not even the people in your fantasy league.

"Obituary" is the nicest sounding word dedicated exclusively to the description of dead people.

The Cubs will not finish in last place.

Marlon Byrd is one smooth hombre.

It would be cool if the Cubs played the Yankees this year.

By 2015, advanced baseball metrics will be known as stats.

If the Cubs closed the Wrigley Field press box, there's a good chance the baseball IQ in Chicago would go up.

Ron Santo deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and to watch the Cubs win a World Series, and none of this "looking down from heaven" business. Let's get it done, people.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Zambrano and Soriano: Vastly Underpaid Cubs

Fonzie and Zambrano: I dub thee, FonZ.
If you've read the headline and the photo caption, you already think I'm either kidding or out of my mind. I'm not kidding. Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are vastly underpaid.

Anyone who has been watching over the past couple of seasons (and does not bear the surname Zambrano or Soriano) would dismiss this notion with all the scoffing he or she or it could muster. Carlos Zambrano is in the middle of a five-year, $91.5 million contract. Alfonso Soriano is still in the first half of an eight-year, $136 million contract. Soriano is a bum. Zambrano is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. The same labels must apply to anyone who would insinuate either one of them is worth that much money, let alone underpaid. It's as simple as that.

Then allow me to oversimplify matters. Let's look at how valuable Zambrano and Soriano have been over their careers according to what kind of salary they would have commanded on the free agent market every year. A caveat: no player makes his worth on the free-agent market. Well, few players. For every Jeff Samardzija signing an exorbitant deal before ever playing a major league game there are dozens of youngsters thriving in the majors for less than they are worth until they can break through the arbitrated ceiling of collusion. 

But let's just say Carlos and Alfonso could have had an exception where each year they were able to sign a free-agent contract based on their previous year's accomplishments. I'll use one resource to keep it simple: Fangraphs.

Fangraphs uses a player's offensive and defensive contributions (though for pitchers they use strictly their pitching numbers, an oversight that undervalues Zambrano's contributions) to calculate Runs Above Replacement (RAR), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and the player's free-agent value according to the going rate per expected win. You can read more about their methodology in their more-than-thorough explanatory series.

Let's take a look at Soriano's career numbers compared to the theoretical replacement player (of which the Cubs farm system has had myriad candidates . . . that's not a compliment).
Alfonso Soriano's value is, contrary to Cubs fans' belief, greater than 12 cents.
 The bottom right-hand corner is probably making you swear a little bit. If he could have made free-agent dollars his entire career, Soriano would have earned $93 million, and he's only been paid $48.3 million? That can't be right. Well, it's not entirely right. Fangraphs has pro-rated his $8 million signing bonus with the Cubs across all eight years of his contract, but his total salary numbers don't yet include 2009, in which he made $16 million, 17 if you include the signing-bonus pro-ration. That would bring his total salary earned to $65.3 million. Add to that the fact that he's probably already made in excess of $1 million this year (whoa, I know) and we can put his real salary for his career at a nice even (and evil) $66.6 million. 

I want to draw your attention specifically to 2007. Soriano made $10 million that year and was worth $22.8 million. Remember that? Cubs won the division? Went to the playoffs (and went home unceremoniously)? That $12.8 million savings (yes, savings) allowed the Cubs to also sign Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa, and Jason Marquis. Remember that? And do you remember 2008, when Soriano made $14 million and was worth . . . $14 million? The Cubs were pretty good that year, too. 

There's no getting around the atrocity that was Soriano's 2009, so I won't try to. Fangraphs says the Fonz was worth -$3.2 million as a free agent, which I guess means he could have found a team who would pay him $3.2 million to not play for them. That's pretty much as bad as you can be. At that point, Soriano crossed the overpaid line to the tune of $7.4 million. Even if he recovers, Soriano can't be expected to live up to his $18 million a year salary over the next 5 years.

But my point is this: up to this point, Soriano has been worth $26.4 million more than he has been paid over the course of his career. Yes, he may close that gap very shortly, but consider this: as restrictive as you might think his current salary might be on the Cubs' ability to sign free agents next year, the backloaded nature of his contract (and his outstanding play) put the Cubs in prime position to compete for a World Series championship in 2007 and 2008. In my opinion, that was worth the $18 mill/5 yr gamble. Now on to the Z half of FonZ.
Big Z. Big value. Relatively small salary.
Zambrano also signed a signing bonus that can be pro-rated as $1 million per year for each year in his current 5-year plan, so we can add $18.75 million for 2009. That puts Carlos's career worth through 2009 at $98.5 million and his actual salary at $58.25. Two things to add to that: 1) unlike Soriano, Zambrano's true bargain-basement days were also spent with the Cubs (he brought $28.2 million of worth before ever breaking the million-dollar level in total salary on the major-league level); 2) these value numbers don't include hitting, and Carlos's bat has been worth quite a few Runs Above Replacement at his position, a ridiculous amount that should put his free-agent value several million dollars higher over the course of his career.

Probably the most shocking thing to Cubs fans would be the 2009 value: Carlos was worth $16.2 million last year! Granted, he's being paid to be worth more than that and his offensive contributions probably only would close half of that gap. But even missing time to injury and failing to reach 200 innings for the second consecutive season, Carlos is worth a boatload of money. Deemed a failure by almost everyone, Carlos's 2009 was his most valuable in terms of net worth (not adjusted for inflation) of his entire career! In terms of WAR, it was his best season since '06. Call him not an ace. Call him a head case. He is dead valuable to this team, even if he was ridiculously unlucky last year.

Z just had a hard luck year, and this year isn't shaping up to be any luckier. Bloop hits, bad defense, and poor run support have conspired to reduce Carlos's win total, but none of that makes him any less valuable.

In sum, FonZ might not be worth what they'll make over the next several years, but in the big picture, these have been two players who have been vastly underpaid and extremely overcriticized. They both gave the Cubs a great shot at a World Series and could do so again. You'd think the world's greatest fans would appreciate that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Top Ten Things Tom Ricketts Still Needs to Change at Wrigley Field

By law, this scoreboard must go unaltered forever. That includes general cleaning.
Wrigley Field is a beautiful place, a holy cathedral of baseball's highest order. But it's also home to some of the foulest, sludgiest nooks and crannies this side of Jim Hendry's colon. The Ricketts regime has already begun to make a few changes, replacing concrete slabs with monstrous photo banners and substituting a few troughs with IPPS's*. But it's not nearly enough. I'm sure Ozzie Guillen could think of many more, but here are 10 suggestions to get the Cubbies started:

10. Trough-style bidets.

9. Guess the Ambassador's Age Contest. (Hint: the answer's 85.)

Can we get a picture of Miles, just for old time's sake?
8. Clearly marked "Entrance" and "Exit" signs for all restrooms. (Wait, they're installed already? Then how do you explain the 5-idiot-per-second rate of people trying to get out the wrong way? They must just be friendly.)

7. Replace out-of-town scores with manually updated out-of-touch tweets from disgruntled White Sox fans.

6. Miss an inning in line for the restroom? No problem: piss-trough time machines.

5. Tickets that don't cost 5 billion dollars.

4. Every 7th-inning stretch, every guest conductor: auto-tune.

3. Twenty-five percent discount on concessions for everyone who agrees to shower before coming to the game. With much thanks.

2. Keep "Go Cubs Go," as the victory celebration song, but after losses everyone joins hands and sings "Kumbaya."

1. A new World Series banner. (Seriously, it doesn't even have to be real. Humor me.)

*individual pee-pee stations

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Alfonso and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It takes one to know one, apparently. photo adapted from colour-fool
Never in all my life have I laughed so hysterically at booing. Usually I frown on fans booing their own team or the players for whom they would normally cheer. I'm not sure what the desired effect is. Motivation? Vengeance? Catharsis? A chance to extol the virtues of the First Amendment, which allows us all the freedom to voice our thoughts in unintelligible groans to the full extent of our stupidity? Outside of maybe one of those options, I don't think it works. If anything, it seems entirely counterproductive to the entire fan experience.

All of this is decidedly beside the point, because the jeers I heard yesterday were so hilarious. I watched and listened as a grizzled, disheveled man with trademark Kelly Leak sunglasses, a scraggly neck beard, and his own personal atmospheric system (consisting of nothing but alcohol fumes, body odor, and what I can only assume was the aroma of madly cavorting head lice) made his opinions of each and every Cubs player known to the world. He was a bit louder than most, but he obviously wasn't alone; this is standard player introduction protocol. Ted Lilly and his non-setback back probably received the loudest ovation. Big Z wins the award for mixed receptions. But when Soriano's name was announced, Shower McStinky had the quote of the day:

"Soriano is a BUM!!!!"

Peals. Of. Laughter. I mean, the guy was dead serious, but I couldn't stop giggling. This man, who looked as though he were dressing up as Homelessness Incarnate for Halloween, was calling Alfonso Soriano, who will make $18 million a year through the 2014 season, a bum. It was kind of like when that grimy old lady called Buttercup the Queen of Putrescence.

But I understood the general sentiment, all comedy aside. Soriano had pretty much given the previous game away by failing to catch a fly ball that hit him in the glove. It may have been poor word choice, but I don't begrudge the angst of the vagrant in training. But that was before the game.

I fail to understand, however, the complaints about Soriano after he went 2 for 4 with a run scored and a scorching line drive that almost put a baseball-shaped hole in Casey McGehee. It was right at the guy and absolutely uncatchable. But of course he struck out and didn't run to first after the ball hit the dirt (maybe because he didn't actually swing). So boooooo.

The fans weren't alone in their inexplicable overreactions, however. Barry Rozner laments Soriano's dreadful 2-for-4 performance with disgust intermingled with relief that a Cubs source said Fonzy has to bring something to the table or else. In a scathing chastisement of Soriano's how-dare-he media evasion, Gordon Wittenmyer finds it titillating and scandalous that Soriano was removed from the game with the Cubs protecting a 9-4 lead heading into the 7th. ZOMDR!

Is this what it's come to, people? A guy has a good game, and he gets skewered? Just because an outfielder doesn't want to talk to a horde of petulant, seething junior-high media members you feel the need to change the facts on his performance? Rozner called Soriano's I'm-gonna-get-you-sucka line smash a soft infield single. Wittenmyer pretended to know why Soriano didn't talk to the media (because he was mad about being removed for defensive purposes . . .  I think it's because he's dating Elin Woods, did you hear?).

It might be a bit too early to judge the Cubs or any one player this season, but I'm not holding out hope that the media learns how to behave like real journalists, let alone adults. Maybe the fans can make better progress and actually judge things according to reality and not what they hear on TMZ in the papers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Week of Cubs

One week ago today, the Cubs didn't play, and I was not alone in my anxiety over my separation from real baseball. Since then, the Cubs have played six games, only two of which have resulted in Cubbie victory. The offense has sputtered. The bullpen has been battered. The defense has fluttered. The starting pitching has been, in all but one game, outstanding.

I don't speak for anyone else but me, but I like what I've seen so far. Why? Because I know the offense will improve. I think the defense and bullpen will stabilize. I don't know how much longer we can rely on Silva and Gorzelanny to maintain their stellar beginnings, but the fact that they have started strong is promising. And most importantly, I just got to enjoy a week of baseball. I love baseball.

Right now, I'll just leave it at that.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

He Was Safe

The first out of the 9th was in question. I have my answer.
Friday night ended in mild controversy, somewhat lost in all the attention given to things worth discussing like the developing pattern of bullpen incompetence. But I'm not one for discussing important things. I'd rather beat a moot point to death. Tyler Colvin was safe.

Unfortunately, the best shot of the close play at first in which Tyler Colvin was called out (after a pretty phenomenal barehanded flip from Brandon Phillips) isn't that great. Phillips' body partially obscures the image of Colvin's foot as he's reaching the base. But (as you can kind of see here) Colvin's foot does reach the base a fraction of a second before the ball arrives in Joey Votto's mitt.

Even more unfortunately, there's no replay in baseball on the bases. Even more unfortunatelier than that is the fact that even if they did have replay, there's a pretty good chance this play would be upheld. And to toy with the question of fortune even further, there's no way of knowing Derrek Lee still would have homered  on the next play as he did with the bases empty and one out. Maybe he would have hit into a double play had the situation been reversed. There's no way of knowing?

So why belabor the point? Because I'm a belaborer. Sue me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cubs Online Starter Kit

I got nothing much to say today except that I'm ready for a new series uninterrupted by scheduled days off, but there are plenty of people with lots of worthwhile things to read, so I thought at the outset of the season I'd point you to some of my favorite places to go online for Cubs-related material.

A League of Her Own (LOHO) Julie and the Gang make this a great place to go for laughs, biting commentary (and I mean there's both scathing criticism and insight into the biting community), and intriguing/intelligent/slightly insane discussion, especially during live game threads. It's a lot of fun.
Another Cubs Blog (ACB) This place is intellectual, but definitely not high brow. Their current slogan, "A thoughtless and vile corner of Cubdom," is only half true. The discussion isn't for everybody, but the content is actually more profound than profane. The series previews and game recaps are must reads, and this post from today's lineup is evidence of the wealth of insight into the Cub farm system you'll find over there. If you're open to actually learning about your team instead of just airing ill-informed opinions, ACB is a welcome place.
Cubscast I've made it no secret that this is my favorite Cubs podcast. Lou and Sheps have a handle on the right mix of information, humor, even-keel perspective, and emotional attachment. They take the team seriously, but not too much so. It's also an extremely well produced program, definitely worth a listen if you haven't yet. Nice posts on their blog, too, and great discussion in the message boards.

Tales from Aisle 424 Tim McGinnis is hilarious. He has an excellent mix of good Cubs information, merciless rebukes of imbecilic beat-reporter pseudojournalism, and everyman rants (if every man were, in fact, really, really funny). Seriously, it's very entertaining. Well, I'm being serious, the blog isn't always. But sometimes. That's not really the point. I digress . . .
There are many more good Cubs blogs around this guy's Intertestines. If you want to know, I mean really know, what a pitcher in or around the Cubs' system can do, Harry Pavlidis will fill you in on Cubs f/x. Matt Hardee has started up a pretty cool blog with his view from the Wrigley Rooftops. And all the blogs I link to in the sidebar are fine, upstanding citizens of blogsville. I need to update the list with more, I think, but this is the best way I know how to tell you where to start.

Oh, and go Cubs.

Cubs Win! Time to lapse into apathy

Cubs win. Let's celebrate with chilled champagne! Or just . . . chill.
I'm ecstatic the Cubs won. Tyler Colvin got his first homerun of his major league career. Marlon Byrd hit his second as a Cub. Randy Wells and the bullpen combined to shutout the high-powered-ish looking Atlanta Braves offense. I missed most of it. All of this is history now.

But now that we've established the Cubs won't go 0-162, it's time to complete the cycle of emotional futility. It goes like this:

Stage 1: Despondency of Defeat. After another year of not winning the World Series, Cub fans spend the tail end of the season longing for football season to start or (if we're lucky enough to postpone the demise of our hopes and dreams into October) we spend the end of the postseason pondering the perennial pain that is Cubbie failure. This is not a happy time.

Stage 2: The Winter of Our Discontent. Baseball is over, the hot stove isn't all that hot, and we long for the baseball season to help us recover from the dismal outcomes of the gridiron. Pain turns to numbness, regret turns to restlessness. And then talk turns to improving the team.

Stage 3: Hot Stove Cooking. This is the warmup time for our hoping mechanism. Maybe the Cubs will sign Albert Pujols. Maybe they'll trade John Grabow for Albert Pujols. Maybe we'll have a fire sale that results in the Cubs rebuilding with an entire team of Albert Pujols clones. There's plenty of time for griping about the deals that are made and bemoaning the rumors that never materialize, but it's the place where positivity gets its first major foothold of the offseason.

Stage 4: Groundhog Day. We know it's not spring yet, but Jim Hendry moseys out of his hole at Cubs Convention and tells everyone how much more suffering we'll have to endure. There might be more snowstorms and there might be more deals, but we're not all that hopeful or fearful of too many of either. We start premature imaginations of spring even thought it's 12 degrees outside. We buy game tickets and start looking at lawn furniture. Then we wait.

Stage 5: Spring Training Twitterpation. Spring training baseball is here! Hooray! There is baseball! The snow is melted, the trade rumors are dead (except for those filthy piles of plowed snow and Heath Bell theories), and the soggy brown grass of last year's hopes begins to green with the promise of next year becoming now. Ultimate joy!

Stage 6: Spring Training Thaw & Corresponding High Pollen Count. Uh, yeah, after that first spring training game we all realize that practice baseball is really pretty tedious. A week or so in we're almost allergic to it. We swear it's a good idea to open our windows and go for long walks to breathe in the fresh baseball, but it aggravates our sinuses every single time. We need real baseball.

Stage 7: Opening Day. Baseball is back. Spring break is broken. We're all on Sao Padre Island, and none of us get sunburns. There is drinking and merriment and music galore. Maybe Steven Tyler and James Taylor show up somewhere, but it gets a little weird, and then we realize that maybe it would be nice to just sleep in our own beds with no strange people along for the ride.

Stage 8: Overwrought Optimism/Dread. Depending on the results of the first game or two (or 14), this is either the honeymoon or the hangover. The Cubs win their first game, it's the year. 162-0 until we finally lose one, prove me wrong. World Series. OR. The Cubs lose their first game(s). The season's over. Worst. Team. Ever. Jim Hendry is the reincarnated Billy Goat come to curse us forever, so help me De Rosa.

Stage 9: Back to Life, Back to Reality. Here we are now. The Cubs have lost. The Cubs have won. No game is the end of the world. No game is the solution to all our problems. There are just a lot of games, and they are enjoyable in their slow, loping pace. The breakneck race through baseball infatuation enters the "oh, yeah, I love you in a Lockhorns kind of way even though your meatloaf sucks" phase really quickly. I love it for what it is, and now I'm ready to take baseball for granted again.

Stage 10: Well, you know, it's just a long, circuitous orbit back to Stage 1.

Hey, I'm just glad we're in Stage 9 again. It really is my favorite stage. The losses still stink, but there's "plenty of baseball left" for several months. And the wins are still pretty fantastic. Not "break out the champagne" fantastic, but still a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Holey Rotten Starts: Cubs Must Avoid 0-14

Built in 2007, O-14 tower in Dubai commemorated a dubious 10-year anniversary.
Watching the Cubs start the season losing to a Braves team that looks really good has me all nostalgic for the bad old days. In 1997, the schedule makers decided to curse the Cubs in a much more palpable way than any goat-loving tavern owner could ever accomplish. They gave the Cubs ten straight games against the Marlins and Braves.

The starting pitchers the Cubs faced looked like this: Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Alex Fernandez, Denny Neagle, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux,  Al Leiter, Alex Fernandez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine. Looking back, the 0-10 start shouldn't have been too surprising, although I did expect more from the Cubs' freshly imported closer, Mel Rojas. Foolish me. By the time dust settled . . . well, the dust never really settled. The Cubs lost the first 14 games of the season and never reached .500.

Yeah, the 1997 team and this current 2010 squad share a similarity to the O-14 tower in Dubai in that all three have quite a lot of holes. But the Cubs schedule doesn't start nearly as brutally. After the Braves, the schedule lightens up considerably. Whether the Cubs can take advantage of that is another story. But it's not 1997.

Let's just get the rock out of Atlanta and see what happens next, shall we? Game on.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The L Flag Flies Again

Chicago Mass Transit Remains On Orange Alert
Oh look, another El.

At some point, the Cubs will win a game. If they're the worst team in the league, they'll win 60 times.

At some point, the Cubs will lose again. If they're the best team in the league, they'll still lose 50 more times.

This is what happens when you watch baseball. Almost everything you see, you'll see a lot of it. Maybe the bullpen sucks. They (Grabow) gave up two runs. They will give up a lot more. Maybe the offense sucks. They scored only two runs. They'll score a lot more. There will be a lot of wins. There will be a lot of losses. 

There will be a lot of panic. I refuse to do so until after they win at least one game. I'm not going to get too riled up watching the plane crash before it leaves the runway.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish for, Cubs Fans: You Just Got It

All winter long, we wanted Opening Day to come so we could enjoy Cubs baseball once again. "Oh please, let every day that stands between now and Opening Day go by in a blink, and let Opening Day last forever!" the hypothetical Cubs fans prayed. And yesterday, we got our wish.

Then reality hit us, not unlike the jolt received by Joel Miller in the following clip:

He was so excited that the moment he had been waiting for was finally upon him . . . and all he had hoped for knocked him clear off his happy horse.

For me, Opening Day hit me like that fire hose, more because of the migraine that began (and pretty much finished) the day than because of the game itself. This is all I can post because it won't go away. I will say I saw this coming. Not the Cubs loss or the blowout nature of it all, but I knew that the day after Opening Day brings with it the realization that we've got to sit through 161 more of these pesky little ballgames. So we have until Wednesday to prepare for the next drink.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

2010 Cubs Predictions: They're NOT Gonna Happen

More optimistic than psychic, all hope and no sense, these predictions are guaranteed never to come true. But if even one does, I will brag about it for the rest of my life. Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak (Also posted at LOHO)
This is the last worthless weekend that we'll have to spend. All introductory east-coast-biased Sunday Night Baseball aside (that's right, Yankees and Red Sox, we don't care what happens between the two of you, no matter how much Joe Morgan insists that we must), Monday marks the dawn of the 2010 baseball season. So we're running out of time to make bold  educated  sabermetrically generated half-baked predictions for what the Cubs will be able to accomplish this year.

If the LOHO NCAA Pick 'Em Challenge has taught us anything, it's that my annual tradition of picking Kansas to win it all is guaranteed to go dreadfully wrong every year (except in the occasional instance when I break from tradition and allow them to succeed . . . sorry, Jayhawks). And if it has taught us two things, it's that I suck at predicting things. So here is a list of things I'm utterly confident will not happen, which is precisely why I am prognosticating that they will:

Alfonso Soriano will hit 40 homers. Do you remember last April? Soriano started the season hotter than a Gatorade-machine-bashing tantrum. And then he decided to test his knee reflex on the left-field wall. I'm hoping it was the injury that caused the precipitous production decline and not a failure to renew some Faustian deal with the devil. If I'm wrong (and I usually am) we'll be seeing more of Tyler Colvin in left than anyone is really hoping to get. (Tyler Colvin's mom excluded, of course.) If I'm right, Wrigley could be hosting its fair share of October baseball.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 163 mph Hoax Turns 25

One barefoot, boot-clad hurler put one by us in unforgettable fashion.
I'll never forget the cool April evening when my dad came to dinner carrying an issue of Sports Illustrated. That was enough right there, you understand. It really didn't matter what came next from his lips. My jaw hit the table when I saw that strange concoction of contradictions before me: my dad, an open issue of SI in his hand, and a look of transported glee on his face. This. Did not. Compute.

Two things you have to understand about my dad: 1) He hates sports. He likes to listen to Ron Santo and Pat Hughes on the radio because he loves radio and the hilarious interplay that unfolds between the pitches. He used to like to go to baseball games in Cleveland (near where my mom's family lived) and hockey games in Detroit (where he grew up) because he enjoyed strolling the arenas and watching fights break out in the stands. He even liked coming to watch me play baseball or even bringing me and my siblings to Wrigley, because he loves me. But make no mistake—my dad hates sports. 2) He's a professional reader. He is to oral interpretation what Vin Scully is to baseball play-by-play. For almost my whole life he's been the host of the internationally syndicated Music thru the Night, which (if my numbers aren't lying to me) is the top-rated late-night radio program in Chicago. My point is, the man can read a story. And when he finds a story he likes, you can be pretty sure that he will read it to you until you like it even more.

It was this second trait that so obviously won out that night, and my curiosity was piqued as to why a sports journal would, for once, trigger my father's passion for storytelling. He sat down, donned his reading glasses, quieted the room with his eyes (no small feat with six kids huddled around the table), and said in his deep yet gleefully quivering radio voice: "Listen . . . to . . . thissssss."

He began with the headline and subhead: "The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch. He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball."

Okay. My dad was reading me a story about baseball. Or Yogi Bear. I wasn't sure, but either way, he had my attention.