Wednesday, June 30, 2010

If the Cubs are dead, why did you look?

Next time you're tempted to watch a Cubs game, watch this instead.
Remember From the Hip? Of course you don't. It came out in 1987 and six people saw it. David E. Kelley and/or Judd Nelson fans might be interested, especially since it was Kelley's first screenplay. But I think fans of the Chicago Cubs might want to give it a try, even though I'm about to give away a rather large spoiler. Still, I think 23 years after its release is long enough to wait.

Robin "Stormy" Weathers (Nelson) is defending the we-all-know-he-did-it murder suspect played (masterfully) by John Hurt. In a histrionic last-ditch effort to cast reasonable doubt on his client's guilt, Weathers informs the jury that the alleged victim is still alive and is about to walk through that door. . . . 

The judge looks. The jury looks. Everyone in the courtroom looks toward the entrance to see the woman they thought was dead appear before their eyes.

She, of course, does not because she was brutally murdered some time ago. But Judd Nelson's devilishly likable character would have you think otherwise. The same is true, dear fellow fans, about the Cubs this year. Yet still I watch with bated breath to see if they can pull out another win and salvage . . . something.

They, of course, do not. Today, as it has been nine times, NINE TIMES, this season, it was the Pirates who bettered the Cubs on a field of nightmares. Yet when Sean Marshall, after striking out the previous batter, worked the count full against Lastings Milledge, I still got nervous. I still listened eagerly for Pat Hughes to deliver those words of hope . . . He got him!

Those words never came. Milledge walked. The Pirates' second, ultimately frivolous run scored, and the Cubs were well on their way to their 257th loss of the season.

I wish I could advise you without the slightest bit of hypocrisy to stop looking to see if the Cubs are alive in a single game or in the season standings, but I'm sure I'll be fooled myself. I'll be gullible enough to think they can come back from a 1-run deficit in the 9th. I'll be so silly as to glance at the GB column in the standings. All hope for me is lost, but please, for the sake of your own dignity, save yourself! Don't bother looking!

Swing Away, Ryan

TOKYO - MAY 28:  Singer Mariah Carey throws the ceremonial first pitch before Japanese professional baseball match between Yomiuri Giants and Rakuten Golden Eagles at Tokyo Dome on May 28, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan.(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
Yes, Ryan Theriot swung at this pitch.

If I were to rank the complaints of Cubs fans this year on a scale of frequency and intensity of the rants, Ryan Theriot's approach at the plate would probably rank somewhere around the 4th spot in between Zambrano's tumult and John Grabow's existence. Honestly, the objections of this fan base are so voluminous and varied, ranking them would be almost as difficult as addressing them.

Ordered lists of grievances aside, we can all agree that Ryan Theriot's concept of patience has forced Cub fans to lose theirs. He swings at the ceremonial first pitch. He swings at bean balls. When the visiting team hits a home run, his biggest regret is not having a bat to swing when the bleacher bums throw the ball back. There's no question what the perception is: Theriot loves to swing at the first pitch. I guess my only remaining questions are, Does he? and Should he?

Does Ryan Theriot love to swing at the first pitch?
First of all, I think what really bothers everyone (justifiably or not) isn't that Theriot swings at the first pitch so much as that he puts the first pitch in play. You can see from Theriot's plate discipline numbers that he swings at a smaller percentage of pitches out of the strike zone than the rest of the league, so it's not a matter of Theriot swinging at bad pitches. So if he swings at a strike on the first pitch without putting it in play, the act of swinging really has no effect whatsoever other than maybe giving Theriot a better sense of timing. When Theriot swings, though, he makes contact 90.3% of the time (the 13th highest contact rate in the majors), so I really don't think people are complaining about his first-pitch whiffs so much as his short at-bats.

So let's just look at the plate appearances in which Theriot puts the first pitch into play, a pretty frequent occurrence. In 2010, just over 18% of Theriot's PAs have lasted exactly one pitch. League average is about 11%. For his career, almost 16% of Riot's plate appearances are one-pitch affairs, so he has definitely earned the reputation for hitting the first pitch more than the average player (and definitely more than the prototypical leadoff hitter). This year he's been even more slap-happy than normal, but not much. A 2% increase represents about 14 PAs per season, and I highly doubt anyone has noticed that Theriot is hitting the first pitch an additional eight one-hundredths of a plate appearance per game.

That being said, yes, Ryan Theriot does seem to love that first pitch. Is that so wrong?

Should Ryan Theriot love to swing at the first pitch?
There are those who would say no regardless of evidence to the contrary. Since Theriot has been semi-regularly batting in the leadoff position, the unwritten (but oft spoken) rule dictates that he should take as many pitches as possible. It's his job, I'm told, to work the count and get on base as often as possible. And in those cases when the pitcher just made the second out, he is required by law to take at least two strikes and foul off at least three pitches if necessary to give the pitcher at least a five-pitch time span in which to rest.

Forgive me for challenging the conventional wisdom, but I do think his main job is to reach base as frequently as possible and to advance as far along the basepaths as he can. I'd prefer to use wOBA, but without the split information for that particular stat I'll look at OPS first. If Theriot's on-base plus slugging numbers are better when swinging at the first pitch than in other situations, wouldn't it be advisable (or at the very least forgivable) for him to continue in his relative impatience?

Well guess what: they are. For his career, Theriot's AVG/OBP/SLG line is .349/.351/.453 when he hits (or gets hit by) the first pitch he sees, putting his 1st-pitch OPS at .803 (it's .807 this year, so let's just stick with the career numbers for better sample size). Now let's look at those numbers in plate appearances he allows to go more than one pitch. After the count reaches 1-0, Theriot's line is .287/.406/.387. Yes, his OBP goes up significantly, but his slugging plummets as well, yielding an OPS of .793. Keep in mind, that's throughout Theriot's career on all PAs that start with him taking a pitch and getting ahead in the count.

The difference is extremely slight, but Theriot's ability to inflict damage on the opposition has been better when he hits the first pitch than when he gains the 1-0 advantage. What about after a first pitch strike? .266/.306/.309 with a .615 OPS. If  you'd rather see Theriot take that first pitch for a strike, you must really put a lot of stock into the benefit of "showing his teammates what the pitcher has to offer," because the difference between hitting and taking that first strike is pretty damaging to Theriot's chances.

All told, here's Theriot's career line in plate appearances that last longer than one pitch: .275/.352/.343 (.695 OPS). Here's the net difference in his line when a Ryan Theriot PA goes beyond the one-pitch mark: -.074/+.001/-.110. So, yeah, when Theriot lets an at-bat go any longer than the minimum, he actually decreases his OPS by .109.

Complain about Theriot leading off and I'll agree with you. Demand his trade and I won't bat an eye. But to those clamoring for longer Theriot at-bats, I beg of you to find a new tree up which to bark. Theriot's love affair with pitch 1 is well founded. Don't try to get in between those two. They will very likely both hit you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Z, Interrupted

Z angry! Z smash!!!
Carlos Zambrano's rampage of terror has finally been stopped. After storming through the Cub dugout, terrorizing a camera crew outside of U.S. Cellular Field, and ravaging a Brazilian steakhouse with Ozzie Guillen, Zambrano finally succumbed to Cubs staff armed with tranquilizer cannons and electromagnetically powered titanium restraining belts. It took a few days to gain approval for his ultimate confinement while the ACLU and PETA wrangled to determine which group should be defending his rights.

Finally the dust has settled, freeing Jim Hendry to inform the public about the protective measures in place to minimize the damage Zambrano can inflict upon society. Long story short, we can breathe easy until after the All-Star Break. Big Z won't be around to hurt any of us for quite some time. But don't take my word for it. Here's Hendry's statement, point by reassuring point:

Beginning Wednesday, Carlos will undergo a treatment program . . .

This is where a lot of the mainstream media have begun to water down the severity of the issue, referring to the prescribed course of action as "anger management" or "counseling." Make no mistake: this is treatment. You don't often hear people say Carlos Zambrano has an "anger problem."  The term you hear thrown around almost universally is nut job.

So don't leave this happy press conference thinking Carlos is going to be attending a few classes, some private sessions, and some group therapy. This is a serious medical issue that will require the utmost in clinical expertise.

. . . with mutually agreed upon doctors from the Players' Association and Major League Baseball.

Now wait a second, here. Are these doctors selected from the ranks of the Players' Association and Major League Baseball, or are they selected and agreed upon by those two parties? Doc Halladay is a hell of a pitcher, but he's not qualified to take on a head case like Big Z. I'm going to go ahead and assume that the MLBPA and MLB will together avail themselves of the best psychiatric minds in the world.

Whatever crack military analysts have been  predicting the movements of Osama bin Laden, pull them off that cold case and put them on Zambrano. We need to know what strain of inhuman pathology has sent him down this path of self-destruction and what we can expect him to try next.

Basically, he will have to follow the treatment for his issues and be evaluated properly . . .

I'm sure the Zambrano family and both of his fans appreciate Hendry glossing over Carlos's soulless predilection for torture as "his issues," but the bottom line is that drastic experimental procedures need to be administered swiftly and relentlessly to ensure some semblance of public safety when Zambrano ventures back into society. Godzilla had issues. Zambrano has serious problems.

. . . and if the program is acted on properly in accordance to what the doctors they signify he needs to work on and improve on, and follow their directives, Carlos will not be reinstated any time until after the All-Star break.

Wait . . . what? If the weapons-grade lithium injections and shock treatment is properly executed and Zambrano stays conscious throughout the sensory deprivation and neural reprogramming, Zambrano won't be reinstated until after the ASB? So what happens if one of those pillars of personal transformation should crumble? Euthanasia? Siberian exile? Trade to the White Sox? I guess we'll cross that chasm into the eternal abyss when we come to it.

We've obviously had a lot of transgressions with Carlos in the past . . .

I hope Jim was just being polite with that first-person plural. If  Hendry, Lou, et al. have had transgressions with Carlos, I'd hate to see what scarlet letters emblazon their breasts. BP, maybe? But since the punishment is being prescribed to just Carlos, I can only assume that Zambrano alone has transgressed while Hendry, Piniella, the Ricketts family, and all of society have been mere victims of (not participators in) his tumultuous binges of iniquity.

. . . so I think we all agreed that it was time to go and get help, then address the apologies later.

Yes, we need to call in the authorities on this one. There's plenty of time for tear-filled remorse in between sodium pentothal injections. That's why they let you watch.

It's an unfortunate situation.

Yes, it was completely a function of luck. The powers of fortune and fate transpired to bring Carlos's demons to the surface. This "situation" had nothing to do with Hendry and Piniella moving Zambrano to the bullpen (which Hendry had stocked with rookies, pet projects, washed-up veterans, and injuries in waiting) just long enough for him to adjust to the move and then to draw him back into the rotation. The incessant criticism of Zambrano's better-than-average 2009 (in which the Cub offense behind him scored an average of .0002 runs per month, hence the single-digit win total) wasn't meant to make Z angry. The repetitive trade rumors leaked by the front office (despite Zambrano's insistence that he loved Chicago and would never leave) were immaterial to Zambrano's psychological condition. Oh no, Z has a medical problem brought on by the fickle middle finger of fortune.

. . . and His actions were certainly inappropriate and as I said on Friday, those actions toward his teammates and staff will not be tolerated.

Of course. This organization does not tolerate furious yelling. They just incite it.

That's why we tried to work to a conclusion as efficiently and as quickly as we could.

Had they the budget to hire a sniper on short notice, the conclusion would have been much quicker and more efficient. But in a world of backloaded contracts and suffocating debt relief, a suspension and a marathon date with the league shrink will have to do.

It's really pretty amazing how Hendry has managed to make Zambrano's outburst look like the mad confession of a serial killer. The past few days just gave Hendry's office time to find the bodies. A lot of people have criticized Hendry, Lou, and Zambrano's teammates for berating Z so openly, but it's really genius PR work. The excessive complaints, the drama, the mystery of Zambrano's whereabouts, and the complete absence of any definitive statement from Carlos himself have all created this grand illusion that Zambrano is criminally insane.

Hendry didn't have the slightest difficulty getting approval for intensive "treatment" for Zambrano because he made it so clear to the world that Zambrano is a sick, sick man. Lou seemed pretty calm in the dugout when the incident happened. After the game he was cool and collected but, admittedly, embarrassed. By the time evening fell, the shock of it all came crashing down and Lou was suddenly unable to eat.

Jim Hendry was likewise furious. Beside himself . . . with glee. Hendry has been looking to get rid of Zambrano for awhile now. He didn't want him in the rotation. He couldn't put him in the bullpen. He couldn't trade him, release him, or send him down to the minors. What's left? Thank DeRosa for the restricted list!

But didn't all this diminish Zambrano's trade value? Not at all! Don't you see the evil genius at work? This isn't a character flaw in Zambrano. This is a medical issue. He's getting treatment. Zambrano's temper is about to undergo Tommy John surgery, and the recovery time, apparently, is about three weeks. Whoever gets Zambrano at the end of July won't be getting a moody, ineffective reliever, they'll be getting the finest Carlos modern medicine can buy, one with the confidence, sensitivity, and electric fastball that can make him the ace of any staff.

It's too bad. I liked angry Z. He made me laugh and, unlike almost everyone else on this team, he didn't make me yawn until I wanted to pass out. I'm not defending what Zambrano did. Truth be told, I don't even know what Zambrano did. Whatever it was he did or said, and whatever fractured reasoning was behind it, I highly doubt it calls for a lobotomy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why I Still Love the Cubs

Chicago Cubs outfielders Alfonso Soriano (L), Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin (R) celebrate their win over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on June 27, 2010. The Cubs won 8-6.  UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom
As much as I want to hate this team, I'm still all warm and hugsy for them inside.

Who can say why I ever started loving the Chicago Cubs? The identifying factors are plain enough. They were on free TV. My mom liked them. I grew up near Chicago. I also tend to dive headfirst into emotional obsessions, so I guess it's no great mystery I fell for the first team that would have me.

Be it loyalty or pure, masochistic addiction, I have stuck with this team for almost 30 years. Along the way, I've developed enough reasons (very few of them win-related) to feel okay about this baseball relationship. My first baseball game was at Wrigley with my mom. My dad took me to games despite his disinterest in baseball. I've watched games with my best friends. I've had terrible days redeemed by Cubs wins. I've had otherwise pleasant days ruined by Cub losses. I got engaged after (not at) a Cubs game. I've skipped school and work to watch Cubs games. I've watched my two sons begin to cheer for them two, may DeRosa forgive me.

None of that makes the Cubs the right team to cheer for, but all of it together permanently binds this team to a lot of my fondest memories. I don't think being a Cubs fan is a way of life, but it's definitely part of my life, and not a part I'm willing to give up. I love this team.

But all along the way, I've never loved the front office. I didn't fall in love with the way the players got along off the field. As a kid, I didn't pay one cent of regard to the expectations of the media. I never based my Cubbie affections on Leon Durham's disposition after a tough loss. When Lee Elia cursed the entire city, I didn't care. As much as I'd like to see the off-field stuff go well and the front office to make excellent decisions, I'm not bailing on the team on account of non-baseball shenanigans.

In fact, there's a lot to love about the shenanigans. When Andre Dawson tried to kill Eric Show, I thought it was awesome. When Don Zimmer argued like a buffoon until I thought his left eye was going to pop out, I laughed. I loved it when Sandberg circled the bases stone-faced and I loved it when Sammy Sosa hopped and blew kisses to the camera. The behavior of the players and managers was something to enjoy, not emulate. I understood that as a little kid, and I don't know why I should lose sight of it now. It's great drama. Everybody has their opinions on who's to blame or who to side with, but I see no reason why the Cubs' rendition of Melrose Place should interfere with my enjoyment of losing baseball.

I never demanded the Cubs to be great people. I obviously don't base my allegiance on their knack for winning. I love the Cubs, not because it's the smart thing to do, but because . . . it's something to do. Somewhere along the way from the advent of sports talk radio to Cubs chat rooms to Twitter to this dumb blog, I seem to have let the extraneous topics that are sometimes fun to talk about distract me from the main thing I actually care about: baseball.

It is nice to watch a game. There are some fun players on this team, and I hope I'll be watching them for awhile. Having been a Bulls fan in the '90s, I know what it's like to cheer for the best team in the world. There's still something strangely satisfying about cheering for my team, the Cubs, the first team in any sport I ever cared about. The Cubs are bad, some of their best players are jerks, and they're organization is run by idiots. But they are my bad, jerky idiots. I love 'em.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Just Deserts

My wife and I took the boys to see Toy Story 3 today. It's a fine movie, but it reminded me why I don't go to movies very often anymore. I told my youngest you eat popcorn when you go to the theater, but I didn't tell him it cost $6.00 for a bucket of stale, burnt-toast flavored not-goodness.

And as I shelled out good money for something I knew would make a negative contribution to the cinematic experience (yet fulfill my popcorn promises), I thought about what a terrible business practice it is to so blatantly screw over your customers. But then I inwardly scolded myself. I can't be that critical of a business practice if I'm stupid enough to fall prey to it (and I'm standing in line with my fellow intellectual paralytics). I shouldn't have told my son it's tradition to eat popcorn at the movies. I should have told him that movie theaters treat ticket holders with contempt and that any smart person would refuse to accept it.

But I didn't, and I got what I deserved. And everyone in the Cubs universe gets their just deserts*, too.

Carlos Zambrano invented his own personal brand of crazy and will be punitively sent to the bullpen upon his indefinite return from suspension. Does he deserve it? Why not. You act like that in front of people who don't like you and have the power to make you pay for it, you know there will be consequences.

Cubs' management showed with this bullpen shift that Zambrano's initial stint as a reliever had nothing to do with baseball. Hendry and Lou wanted Z in his place even though they knew he didn't belong in the bullpen—he belonged in the doghouse. So they got what they deserved, an angry, ineffective, jerked-around anti-ace. They should have seen this blow-up coming, because Z isn't exactly an easy-going flower of a man. Doing something so stupid as giving their $91-million pitcher the Samardzija treatment makes much less sense than signing either of those guys in the first place.

Zambrano, meanwhile, deserves both his money (he pitched very well in his early career and would have commanded an even larger contract on the free agent market) and the foul treatment. He gave the Cubs a hometown discount (yeah, believe it or not, a discount), but he should have known it came at a higher price than just a few million dollars. He signed with a team he should have predicted would screw him over. Shame on you, Carlos. You and the Cubs are each other's just deserts.

Jim Hendry, you've created something of a trend with your indefinite suspensions, ironic since you were responsible for signing the players you suspended. Why you would make someone a mega-millionaire and then ground him is up to you, but when the message you send fails to result in winning baseball, the dizzying mess of bleating, whining, and winless chemistry will be well deserved.

Lou will walk away from the Cubs at the end of this season with a lot of extra millions, a couple of extra headaches, a slightly higher blood pressure reading, and only the slightest hint of regret. He knew what he was walking into when he took the helm in Wrigleyville, and he knew the glory and the criticism that would pour down upon him with every win and loss.

Derrek Lee and his fellow teammates, all of whom received a vicious tongue-lashing from Zambrano, fully deserved to be criticized publicly by a crazy man.

Kevin Millar deserves to be working TV with the opportunity to laugh at the misfortunes of his former spring-training team.

The Ricketts family profess to have been fans of this team and yet still saw fit to pay nearly a billion dollars to make it their own. They got what they paid for. They're the proud owners of a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of awful. Congrats. Your just deserts just happen to be plunging in value at the moment. Go ahead and raise ticket prices again, why don'tcha?

I mustn't forget my favorite group of friends, the fans. We cheer for a team we know won't win. Some of us, myself included, are willing to pay upwards of $60 to sit in the blazing hot sun and bask in the glow of a 12-0 suckfest. I deserved what I got, a good time with friends, an uber-fast lopsided loss, and the freakiest farmer's tan I've ever seen.  Should I be upset that the Cubs are now running a promotion to dispense those same tickets at a $10 rate (which is nearly doubled by fees) or that other fans can buy scalped tickets for even less, sans convenience fees but with twice as much convenience?

No, I should be just a bit more aware of the idiocy I've allowed to run my life. This feeling of anger and apathy swirling together in a delicious angst-ridden suckcicle is my just desert and I must suck it.

*No, I didn't spell it wrong. Look it up.

Zut Alors!

Video clip certainly to be taken down by MLB in 5...4...3...2...

Carlos Zambrano got into a fight with Derrek Lee, probably because Derrek was the first one to respond to the tirade Z directed at the entire dugout after a rocky 4-run 1st inning against the White Sox. I guess you could say he overreacted.

Overreaction is contagious. Twitter exploded. Paul Sullivan called for Z's immediate fine and suspension. Gordon Wittenmyer said the Cubs couldn't win with Zambrano and that no team would want him. Sox fans all rushed to the obituary section to make sure they hadn't died, because yesterday felt a whole lot like heaven. Steve Stone took the chance to call Zambrano a coward who years ago had "sucker punched" a helpless Michael Barrett. A few Cubs bloggers woke from dormant apathy to comment on the matter. It has been pretty much overreactions galore since Z stamped the base for the final out of the 1st.

Lou Piniella, the man Cubs fans have been begging to overreact, actually took a pretty even-tempered approach to the whole thing.Then Jim Hendry suspended him . . . indefinitely. Overreaction? Eh.

To borrow a word from His Level-Headedness, Look . . . Zambrano was over the edge in his tirade. But tirade is just a way to subtly and verbally overreact to someone who is talking loud. Hendry called it savage, and maybe it looked that way. Okay, it looked that way. But what harm did it do?

Lou called it embarrassing. Well, guess what, Lou? The Cubs as an organization being embarrassed is a net change in status of zero point zero, zero. Losing is embarrassing, and that's been the Cubs' trademark this season. The only difference between Z's tantrum and the reactions exhibited by the team in the 72 previous games is that Zambrano went down kicking and screaming.

I suppose a suspension is in order as a political gesture, but in reality, of the small percentage of Cub fans, players, and staff who still care about what the Cubs do, how many of us haven't at some point felt the urge to yell at the lot of them like Zambrano did? I know I have. That doesn't justify what Zambrano did . . . but I understand.

To those who want to trade or release Zambrano after the shortest start of his career (a record he seems to break with regularity) and maybe his career's loudest hissy fit, I really hope you aren't in charge. Let's just stop the overreactions. Carlos Zambrano is 29 years old, and he can still pitch. He is erratic in every sense of the word, but he is not done. To trade him or release him now would be a plan designed to get the very smallest return (or rather the largest resulting debt) out of a guy who still, yesterday's lowlight reel to the contrary, has a lot to offer a major league ball club.

Based on what? Oh, I don't know, his career numbers. The obvious fact that he still gives a crap. The Lifetime movie of the week, Not Without My Gatorade Cooler, where a hotheaded Venezuelan starter finds love, hope, and absolution in the arms of a gruff, oft misunderstood Hobbit with questionable journalistic integrity but a heart that just won't quit.

Alright, overreact if you must, but please feel free to do so in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ode to Milton

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.
Milton Bradley and Chicago were the thorns in each other's sides in 2009. No one disagrees that things didn't work out, but there remains wide disagreement as to why.

Was the fault Milton's? Did the media intentionally provoke him? Did the racist and/or temperamental fans uncork his rage? Was it just the perfect storm of blame, like BP's greedy recklessness meeting America's insatiable oil dependence?

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes at all.

I don't know, and I don't really care to discuss Milton's time in Chicago. But I do want to take a retrospective look at the decision to bring him to Chicago and the animosity people continue to have toward him. I'm not so interested in what went wrong as much as I'm wondering how I should feel about signing a guy like Bradley or toward Bradley himself now that he's gone.

First the decision to take on Bradley's baggage. Julie at LOHO wrote a fantastic post awhile back including a timeline of Bradley's personal misadventures on and off the field. Jim Hendry knew about all of that, but was convinced by Milton himself that a new leaf had been turned. Was he an idiot to take that $30 million gamble?

I know the obvious answer to that question, so I want to ignore the financial aspect and the baseball statistics.  On a matter of basic human relations, is it dumb to trust someone with a checkered past and believe he or she can change for the better? I regret to confess my natural inclination: yeah, it's incredibly stupid. But I also think you can't afford to go through this life without extending a little bit of stupid trust to people who ask for and depend on it.

Now conscience wakes despair
That slumber'd,—wakes the bitter memory
Of what he was, what is, and what must be

The cost of being burned by someone like Milton who disappoints your hopes and makes you look like a fool is smaller, I believe, than the price of quarantining yourself from anyone who has ever made more than their fair share of mistakes.

Obviously factors such as $30 million do make a difference in that philosophy. An ex-con wants to park my car? No problem. He wants to date my daughter? Not so trusting there, pal. But Milton's not an ex-con, he's just a troubled individual who wants to play baseball. In hindsight, I don't mind that Hendry gave Bradley a shot. I wish it had gone better, but I hope it hasn't destroyed his faith in humanity . . . or mercurial outfielders.

But now that our relationship as Cubs fans with Milton Bradley is over (or at least I thought it was), I don't feel the need to close the book on my opinion of him as a person. Just as I would be willing to overlook the past transgressions of a player on his way to the Cubs, I don't think it's fair to define Milton Bradley by the things he did and said as a Cub—much less by the small sliver of his existence that the media reports.

A dismal universal hiss, the sound
Of public scorn.

Some people are waiting for an apology. That's fair, I guess. Others just want nothing to do with him, and I can understand that, too. A lot of people, like certain fans in attendance at Seattle and Cubs color analysts, seem to have an active disdain for the guy. They feel how they feel. I feel better letting it go and wishing him well. That doesn't make me a better person, but it does cut down on my stress level.

In some sense, I think Milton's struggle is my struggle. There are things I'd like to change about myself, and I hope it's not a waste of time. If I judge Milton as a lost cause, I don't know what hope I can have for myself. I certainly don't think my hatred or anyone's will help Milton improve. And shouldn't I want that for him? Or do the people booing Milton want him to stay who he is, or who they think he is, the vile enemy of all that is good and the rightful bearer of all blame?

I think a lot of people speak so loudly about Milton's shortcomings so they can feel better about their own. In the grand configuration, I just think that kind of approach brings us all down. With all apologies to John Donne . . .

Any man's downfall diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the crowd boos; it boos for me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

C'est la Guerre

I'm not the world's biggest soccer fan. Actually, were I not the only person in it, there's a decent chance I wouldn't be this room's biggest soccer fan. I also don't dislike the French. They are basically the European Union's equivalent of the Chicago Cubs. Same colors. Similar history. Known for their whining, their overpriced alcoholic beverages, and their oft-exaggerated history of giving up the fight by the end of June. They were great about 100 years ago, but no one has really respected them since the '40s.

Still, for some inexplicable reason, this Tom & Jerry classic (particularly the final scene, beginning at about the 6:16 mark) sums up quite nicely my emotional response to the French being eliminated from the World Cup. Considering all the Cubs and the French have in common, I should probably be much more sympathetic to their sufferings. I guess I'm just deflecting. While I go seek psychiatric help, enjoy the clip that may have inflicted the trauma at the root of my sadistic condition.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day-Off Reflections: Stream of Cubbieness

I have a photographic memory, but my subconscious is well versed in Photoshop.

My earliest Cubs memory is staring at the screen and wondering why the Cubs had a player named Ivun DeJeezuss.

My next earliest Cubs memory was my mom telling me that Jimmy Piersall and Harry Caray were the worst broadcasting tandem she'd ever heard.

She found Harry Caray and Steve Stone much more tolerable.

It took a long time for me to watch the WGN Sports intro sequence without feeling pangs of disappointment that it would prevent me from watching Underdog.

Video production graphics in the mid-'80s were awesome. I can't find an image of  the one that flashed ZONK spelled out in asterisks while Keith Moreland touched 'em all, but I know what I saw.

My first visit to Wrigley Field was August 3, 1982. I remember almost nothing from the game except what was told to me as the game transpired. It took me the first six innings just to be sure where the infield was. They were not the best seats, and I was a very short seven year old. I just know that Larry Bowa lined into a triple play, Dave Kingman hit a fly ball to left that could have hit an airplane, and the Cubs beat the Mets 5-0.

1983 was completely forgettable.

1984 ruined me. It did. It pretty much determined the person I would be for the rest of my life, and the entire thing was built on lies, culminating in the 4th grade open house folder I made with the Chicago Cubs 1984 NL Champions logo I drew on its blue construction-paper body.

Game 5 turned me into a veritable puddle of tears, hiding under my otherwise rocking tiger comforter and Return of the Jedi sheets on the bottom bunk; not even all those layers of awesomeness could keep out the sadness.

Not even that infinite melancholy could keep me from clinging to hope in 1985, a season that turned to be nothing but a series of repeated scissor-jabs to the eyes.

Every year after has taught me two things: A) Hope springs eternal; B) Hope is an insolent slut.

In 1989 a fit of vindictive madness prompted me to predict an earthquake would interrupt the World Series, and I've carried that guilt with me ever since.

The stretch from 1990 to 1998 was a lesson in gullibility and stupid expectations. High school and college were wrapped up in there, too, but those were just minor branches off my primary field of doctorate-level idiocy.

In 1998 I got married and planned my wedding date, October 24, around the day I figured the Cubs would win it all. I blame my sister, who got married two years prior in New York on the night the Yankees finished off the Braves to end their World Series drought.

My wife loves the fall, and our wedding day wasn't marred with even a shred of disappointment.

My oldest son was born in 2003 into a world in which the Cubs win playoff series.

My next son was born in 2007, and again the Cubs made the playoffs. These kids have no idea of the chronic torture their futures hold.

I keep thinking each year that maybe the Cubs will win the World Series. If you could ask the one completely honest brain cell in my head what I really believed, it would tell you I still expect them to win this year. The remaining cells, prone to lending out misleading information as they may be, would respond in all honesty that I just don't learn.

If and when the Cubs do win it all, it will teach me and my children a horrible lesson: being incredibly naive and stubbornly stupid (a blend I like to call stupidit√©) pays off in the end.

I really hope it does.

Curse of Cubs Fans pt. 5: We Don't Want to Win

"Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An' ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus' askin' for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. 'Course ya can't get no woman with that empty eye flappin' aroun'. Put somepin over it an' wash ya face." Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath

Admit it, Cubs fans, we don't really want this team to win. Cheering for a team that hasn't won in over a century is a Cubbie-blue badge of courage that each and every one of us wears with pride . . . or abject humiliation of which we are proud. Deep down, we hope a World Series win will never force us to lose the emblem of our misery.

If the Cubs were to win it all, it would destroy our brand. That stupid, pennant-laden trophy would rob us of our most valuable and most pathetic commodity: our wounded puppy look. As long as we have donned the ubs-encircling C, we have known that nothing is expected of us. Some feel sorry for us. Others despise us. But whatever the reaction to our miserable appearance, no one ever thinks, "There's a person just trying to be happy."

That has to change, Cubs fans. We have to stop the whining, moaning, and woe-is-me-ing. We also have to stop the tidal wave of unwarranted optimism otherwise known as denial. The loyalty. They true-blue die-hardism. The foulweather fandom. It's all a mask for our subconscious need to self-destruct. If we really want to be happy, we've gotta clean up and embrace real hope and genuine opportunity.

We've gotta cheer for someone with a chance. Yankees. Red Sox. Rays. Cardinals.

Wait, wait, wait. I'm kidding. I'm obviously kidding. I can't take it any longer. This has been the worst week of my Cub blogging life. I mean, I'm used to writing crap, but it's usually not this intentional. I know Cubs fans aren't to blame for the team losing (though we do plenty that simply doesn't help matters). I just wondered how fans would feel to be the butt of ridiculous criticism.

We call perennial All-Stars bums. We call future Hall-of-Fame managers idiots. We demand the firing of the most successful general manager in the team's history on a daily basis. We wonder why the new owners haven't won a World Series three month's into their first season at the helm. I get it, the Cubs are losing, and not all their decisions have worked out or even made any sense. I just don't comprehend the hubris.

I don't care what the Disney movies taught you about dreaming big and believing in yourself, you would not do better at third than Aramis Ramirez. You wouldn't be a better manager than Lou Piniella. You probably couldn't hire a better GM than Jim Hendry let alone do a better job at it than he has.

Meh. Everyone's entitled to their opinions, but most of them are better kept private, especially when they have very little basis in fact, logic, and at least a tiny sliver of compassion.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Curse of Cubs Fans pt. 4: We're Morans

Whoever made this picture should have explained what upside-down-U means.
I'll try to keep this simple for all of us who are as dumb as I am. My paragraphs will be short.

I have already made it perfectly clear that Cubs baseball makes me stupid. I wish I was kidding. Or I wish I were kidding. I don't know, whatever. Watching the Cubs makes me dumb, and I think it attracts dumb people or people who wish to be as dumb as me. Or I. My head hurts.

The point is, the Cubs stink because it is the destiny of people dumb enough to cheer for them to never be rewarded for our foolishness. Stick your fingers under a running lawnmower, and you'll never in a hundred years be glad you did. Same goes for being a Cubs fan. 

There probably are some smart people who like the Cubs, but I think they're just put in place by Yankee fans to keep us from endangering the rest of the population. Without proper supervision, we might just go around rooting for car wrecks or proving we can fly off of buildings. Sure, we could prove Darwin right, but we might take out some intelligent bystanders along with us, and that just isn't fair.

You know what is fair? The Cubs never winning. We deserve it. We're dumb. Actually, the Cubs could probably win the World Series this year, and we just may be too stupid to realize what's going on. We're that dumb. I think we are. I don't know. 

All I do know is that being too stupid is the criticism usually levied against management and players when they don't succeed, so it's only fair for to subject ourselves to the same argument. I only know that because I tattooed it on my arm during an off day. 

I don't know what it means, though. If any fans of other teams would like to explain it to me, I'd really appreciate it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wrigley Walk-Up Music: an Introduction to Suck

When I heard the Cubs had adopted the otherwise league-wide practice of playing pre-recorded walk-up music before every batter (as opposed to the traditional organ fare), I had almost no emotional response. As far as I'm concerned, and I doubt I'm alone in this, the Cubs picked the perfect time to introduce such a change: a time when our care-o-meter is at its lowest.

Fortunately, my youngest brother doesn't know the meaning of the word apathy. That may be true both literally and figuratively, seeing as though he's more of a music guy than a vocab wizard. I kid. He's my baby brother. Sibling torture aside, the kid cares about his baseball.

The kid also has a kid of his own now who gets to experience the joy and pain of Cubs baseball on a regular basis. But I'll let my brother tell that story in what is, as of this moment, an open letter to the Cubs in response to their use of walk-up music. As I alluded to earlier, Robbie is a guy who lives and breathes music, so it's no small matter to him. As you read, I invite you to also take in this video featuring one of Robbie's compositions. Originally titled "Nancy," I prefer to think of it in this instance as "Robbie's Lament." (feel free to ignore the sappy photo array, it's just easier for me to post videos than songs)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Curse of Cubs Fans pt. 3: No Pressure

Yesterday I suggested that pressure from Cubs fans is having a detrimental effect on the players' ability to perform. Today I'm here to tell you that I was 100% out of my gourd. That's not the problem with Cubs fans. For the past few years we've played the part of a fan base with great expectations, but let's be real: all the "this is the year" talk was just our dreams talking. Deep down we all knew the Cubs have no intentions of winning, but we don't let that dissuade us from cheering for the team. This song is our motto: I will always love you.

What's causing the Cubs downfall this year and every year is the genuine and firmly entrenched belief in the hearts and minds of all Cub players and coaches: We don't have to win. We'll still get paid. We'll still have each other. The fans will still love us.

The Cubs don't have to win. They don't even have to put a good team on the field. All the organization has to do to keep the turnstiles spinning is toss us a few Dora giveaways, a beanie baby here and there, and trot Denise Richards into the press booth for a rousing rendition of "Pay No Attention To My Voice, Please." Win and we'll buy everything you're selling. Lose, and we'll complain. But our numbers won't ever decrease, not really.

Organizationally, the front office merely has to create the illusion of trying. As long as there's at least one player who can hit 40 or so homers or one pitcher who can strike out a dozen guys (or draw Chuck-Norris style worship of him manliness) the club's cult following will remain intact. And if you don't touch the ivy or the scoreboard, the house of worship that is Wrigley Field will never lack parishioners.

Psychologically, the players know perfectly well that if they give their 75% best, the fans will cheer as though they're seeing Babe Ruth outperform his prime. If Derrek Lee can play like Bill Buckner, we'll applaud him like he's Lou Gehrig. Every now and then we'll boo to preserve the illusion, but come on . . . we love these guys through thick and thin. Not that we can remember what thick is like.

What incentive does any player or team have to succeed in Chicago? The best ever celebration if they do win it all? Big deal! Why go the extra mile of winning a World Series when they're lauded like kings if they win the Pirates series?

If we really want the Cubs to win it all, we've got to stop going to games altogether. Stop watching games. Don't even check the box scores until the division is clinched.

And when we do go, boo them mercilessly unless they win. By seven runs. Even then, mild applause is sufficient. We've got to stop being the Generation X parent who praises the simplest accomplishment. Do you really want the Cubs to carry around that sense of entitlement and inflated esteem? No! We've got to become the old-school parents of baby boomers who reward Nobel-worthy feats with brief respites from corporeal punishment.

Grand slam, Theriot? Congratulations. No belt to the back of the legs until tomorrow. You made it to the World Series? Okay, I'll disallow comments on my "Embalm Lou Piniella" post until you lose again.

The cheering, the love, the loyalty? It's ruining this team.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grabow feels better. Will he be?

Grabow's back. See what I did there?
The Cubs have recalled John Grabow off the 15-day disabled list and sent Mitch Atkins to reexamine a career choice that has seen him as less desirable than John Grabow in the eyes of the Chicago Cubs front office.

John Grabow of the 9.45 ERA. John Grabow who has exactly one run allowed to match each of his 23 appearances. The guy with the 4.95 BB/9 innings rate. The one allowing opponents to hit .362, to reach base at a .431 clip, and to slug .611 against him. Barry Bonds had a career OPS of 1.051; batters facing Grabow this year trail Bonds only slightly with an OPS of 1.042.

Most fans are understandably irate that Grabow is returning to this team, but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe, just maybe the problem in 2010 has been an injury that he's not bringing back with him. Because, if we find a way to wipe our memories clean of the filth that has been his season thus far, no one was this disappointed with John Grabow's status as a Chicago Cub.

Oh, I know all too well that many people hated the signing, which is why they always cite the total amount he's being paid over this year and the next ($7.5 million) as if he's being paid that much annually; that mistake is only half as bad as it's being made out to be. Still, many Cubs fans were unhappy that the Cubs paid that much money to a marginally serviceable reliever with a relatively lucky streak of late (at the time . . . clearly his luck has run out in 2010).

For his career, Grabow has had a WHIP floating between 1.2 and 1.5. In 2008 he had a deceivingly low ERA (2.84) because of an impossibly high LOB% (85.5). No one strands 85% of their baserunners. John Grabow did it that year. On the other hand, no one strands just 56.8% of their baserunners either, and John Grabow is doing it this year. His career rate is 73.4%, so 2010 definitely looks like more of an aberration than 2008.

That's just the thing. None of Grabow's career numbers are anything close to this bad. Something had to have changed. He's only 31. It's not a great leap to blame 2010 on an injury. Still, I remember thinking the same thing about Aaron Miles last year, and we all know how that ended up.

I'm not saying we should put supreme confidence in the guy, but it makes sense to give him a chance to prove he can still pitch. It's not like the World Series hangs in the balance, here.

Curse of Cubs Fans pt. 2: Too Much Pressure

Dennis Eckersley . . . had just been traded to the Cubs and seemed dumbfounded by the intensity and the atmosphere. Sandberg said he had a pretty funny moment with Eckersley.
"He just sat there and watched," Sandberg said, "and after the game I remember him saying, 'Wow, Ryne, is every game like this in Wrigley Field?' He just couldn't believe what he saw, the excitement of the crowd and everything happening."
Excerpt from Chicago Cubs: Memorable Stories of Baseball, by Lew Freedman

Cub fans love to hear that we provide a special playing environment enjoyed by our team and envied by visiting ballclubs. Even when wins are scarce, Cub fans somehow create a playoff atmosphere on a Tuesday against the Pirates. We need no jumbotron to incite an uproar when one of our pitchers gets a two-strike count on a batter. We autonomously rise to our feet when the Cubs get the chance to take the lead, even if it is the second inning. Well . . . sometimes. Other times we do the wave when the game is on the line.

The point is, Cubs fans have a reputation for being the most unconditionally supportive and vociferously optimistic cheerleaders in all of sports. When players come to Wrigley, they know they'll be taking part in a game where everyone in the building cares to the utmost of their very souls. And that's in June. When September and (with any luck not ruined by our jinx-happy fan base) October roll around, forget it. Wrigley Field is a pressure cooker.

And  maybe that's the problem. Every game. Every at-bat. Every pitch carries the weight of 10 million hopes and dreams. Maybe it is every player's dream to play in front of a raucous, wildly cheering crowd, but the pressure of living up to our expectations just may be too much for any team.

The obvious point of rebuttal plays in the Bronx. Yankee fans have higher expectations than Cubs fans, and they outnumber us, too. But Yankee fans merely ask their teams to live up to history. We're asking the Cubs to erase it.

NPR recently ran a story on the American Psychoanalytic Association's views on the mentality of baseball among fans and players. One quote in particular stands out, from Dr. Robert Pyles, who stands to be the APA's next president: "I never thought of baseball as a sport. I thought of it as a mythic struggle between heroes and bad guys." That's all well and good in the mind of a fan, but a player elevated to hero status has to feel enormous pressure from a teeming throng of blue-clad worshipers expects him to slay a 102-year-old dragon.

You can see it in the eyes of Mark Prior in the 8th inning of Game 6 or in Alex Gonzales's nervous hands or in Moises Alou's irate gesticulation. Leon Durham in '84. The offensive impotence of the 2007 playoffs or the complete defensive meltdown of '08. In all these instances, the pressure imposed by Cubs fans appeared to be simply too much for talented mortals to bear.

And that's just the positive pressure. Now that Cub fans have had a taste of near-glory, they've grown embittered to anything but perfection. The journalists in this town have turn to sadists. Bloggers are out of patients. The paying customers resorted to booing the youngest player in baseball on his Wrigley debut. Fan pressure turns a playoff team into a nervous mess, and it has turned an underperforming June swooning club into a steaming pile of mediocre.

The calls for Jim Hendry's head are on Cub-fan speed-dial. Lou Piniella is only half as old and tired as the fire-Lou meme. The Ricketts clan is so occupied by the team sponsor image reclamation campaign that they really can't be bothered with fan complaints. But if the fans really wanted to make a positive impact on this team both now and in the future, we'd cool the heck down, take a deep breath and enjoy the game.

Keep this pressure up, and the entire Cubs organization will need the number for Milton's therapist.

And don't worry if you disagree with everything I said here. I'll make the exact opposite argument tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Curse of Cubs Fans: We're Jinxing Them

World's Greatest Fans = World's Worst Luck
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly stood atop the rain-soaked Wrigley Field mound Sunday night with a chance of realizing every pitcher's dream: a no-hitter. During any no-no, pressure mounts for the pitcher, all the players, and the fans with every passing out. But this one carried a unique flair as both starting pitchers stretched their hitless performances into inning number seven. At least for this fan watching and tweeting from the comfort of his living room couch and referring to himself in the third person, the pressure of seeing Lilly preserve his chance at history was greatly reduced by Gavin Floyd's pursuit of his own historicity.

The double bid seemed to cancel out the cardinal rule of superstitious baseball etiquette: don't jinx the no-no.

Now, one might think that recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit is impossibly rare, not due to the speech patterns of observing fans, but because of just how easy it is for a professional baseball player to get a hit, especially given almost 30 opportunities to do so. I mean, think about that for a minute. If an individual player slides into an 0-27 slump, fans would boo him mercilessly. Aramis Ramirez, as bad as this year has been for him, never went 27 at bats without a hit (though he did reach an 0-20 hole). Aaron Miles's colossal failfest in 2010 topped out at 20 consecutive hitless at bats. As bad as that looked, Miles never took a personal no-hit streak past the theoretical seventh inning.

So if it's that rare for a hitter at his worst to make 27 outs before recording a single hit, shouldn't we attribute the fall of a no-hitter to the overwhelming improbability of a pitcher retiring 27 batters without allowing even a remote base knock? Do we really need to add to the improbability by expecting all of humanity to refrain from saying, "no-hitter," until it's over?

Yes, maybe we do. A lot of people mentioned the no hitter, and it didn't happen for either guy. Obviously we screwed it up. I mean, come on, what are the chances that the no-hitters would be broken up by Alfonso Soriano (who had been 1 for his previous 22) and Juan Pierre (0 for his last 11)? That's gotta be roughly the same odds as Lady Gaga blending in . . . anywhere. Fate must have intervened.

Since I'm exploring the various ways in which Cub fans are destroying their own team, I want to look at more than just the disintegration of the no-hitter. What if the jinx goes beyond single-game probabilities? What if Cub fans are jinxing this team's World Series chances because we can't stop talking about 1908?

Obviously broadcasters aren't playing along. You can't go past the third inning of a nationally broadcast Cubs game (or, for that matter, an hour into any broadcast of any game in any sport in which either team is or has a chance of becoming the reigning world champion) without hearing a reference to the Cubs' championship drought. But broadcasters have a job to do and time to fill. You can't really expect them to shut up about it.

The fans are even worse, and I might be the chief among sinners. This entire blog is a shrine to the neverending chronicle of winlessness. Is it possible that every time I mention the (at least) 102-year span between championship celebrations, I lower the already infinitesimal probability that the Cubs might actually win it all?

Of course it's possible. You could say it's bordering on undeniable fact. All we have to do to ensure the Cubs end the curse of the billy goat (which is stupid and doesn't exist and every sensible person knows this beyond a shadow of a doubt) is to go an entire year without any of us saying anything about a World Series or 1908 or 100+ years or any of that. Because every time we do, we are angering the baseball gods. And, if you haven't noticed, the baseball gods are already pretty ticked off at the Cubs. If the Cubs were Ferris Bueller, the baseball gods would be Edward Rooney. But the Cubs aren't Ferris Bueller. They're Cameron Frye. They could be Abe flipping Froman, but it still wouldn't change the fact that they have to bum trophies off of people.

But look, I can't tell you what to do. Mention 1908. Don't mention 1908. Just know that by doing so, we're all jinxing the Cubs on a daily basis and we are killing this team's chances at a World Series. When you sit there scratching your head, yelling at your TV, or trying to suffocate yourself with a 1945 commemorative pillow wondering how this team could play so badly, just remind yourself that it's our fault. We're jinxing it with every passing mention of the legacy of futility and the for baseball absolution that comprises the anguish and unrequited anticipation that is Cub fandom.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Maybe We're the Problem

Hey, don't blame me. That's Pogo talkin'.
I haven't performed a psychiatric evaluation on baseball fans across the country, but if I did I'd expect the results to show that Washington Nationals fans are among the happiest in all the land. Yes, the Nationals are in last place (despite being 2.5 games ahead of the 3rd place Cubs . . . divisions are stupid). But fans of the Nats are excited to have the most electric pitching prospect to reach the majors since . . . well, you know.

Cubs fans know what it's like to be excited about a rookie pitcher (or two) with all-ever stuff and intergalactic potential and to be buoyed by the hope their rocket arms bring. We're also looking at those hopes in the rear-view mirror. The team we're looking at now inspires all the hope of a neoplastic skin lesion.

Looking back to the era of Prior and Wood leaves us with nothing but what if's and if only's, which aren't in the least bit comforting, and the mourner's favorite question: Why? We look for people to blame. Dusty Baker. Lou Piniella. Jim Hendry. Wood and Prior themselves. Steve Stone. Bartman, the goat, God, or anyone who believes in any of that. But what if we're to blame?

Maybe fan expectations caused Wood to falter and Prior to deteriorate. Maybe large attendance turns good teams into bad ones. Maybe it's bad luck to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," when Jim Belushi tells you to. It's quite possible that latent racism lowers outfielder slugging percentage. Reading anything Pepin le Bref writes in the Chicago Tribune may induce fail-wreaking karma upon your favorite baseball team. Buying that Cubs' jersey has been known to cause groin injuries . . . or it could be.

I don't know. All I know is, the Cubs seemed doomed to fail no matter who trots out onto the field. The only constant I can see across the years is . . . us. So over the course of this week, I'll be exploring all the different ways that being a Cubs fan hurts the team's chances. Should be fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Maybe Baseball's Just Not Your Game . . .

Ike = the Cubs
Poker = Baseball
12 Hands in a Row = 102 Years in a Row
Doc = Reality
Tombstone = the Only Thing Missing from the 2010 Cubs Team Picture

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Aramis IS Back . . . on the DL

Rest easy, Aramis, and remember: lift with your legs, not your thumb.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago is reporting that Aramis Ramirez is headed to the DL, according to sources close to the Situation. I still don't know how this situation or others involving sports teams develop sources outside of the team itself. It's not like this is NATO discussing Kosovo or anything. Ramirez's thumb hurts.

I also don't know why so many people are complaining that this move wasn't made sooner. I'm sorry, but I don't think that a sore left thumb was a seriously significant contribution to Aramis's woeful pitch selection and decreased contact percentage. He just hasn't looked like a guy who can find the baseball with his bat or his eyes. Unless it's a blinding thumb soreness, I'd say the thumb and the bat have been two different issues.

Naturally, the Cubs are expected to call up Chad Tracy, who has been hitting 8.000 and slugging 1.600 x 10^17 at AAA Iowa. You can pretty much count on the team to be in first place by the end of the month.

UPDATE: It's official now. Aramis is on the 15-day DL, retroactive to June 8. I knew I could trust Snooki.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Source of Silva's Luck: The Other Guy on the Mound

Silva avoids a pitch from the best pitcher he's faced all year: Dan Haren (who's having a sub-par year)
I've been wanting to post something about Carlos Silva for the last few weeks as his undefeated record begins to look more and more impressive (and the deal that brought him here appears increasingly miraculous), but I have hesitated because a) I didn't want to jinx it, b) I don't want to spew skepticism, c) I don't feel the need to diminish what has been one of the few feel-good stories of the season.

But let's face it, all of us have that nagging itch somewhere along the cerebral cortex telling us this won't last. You know how every cartoon has an episode in which the protagonist finds a map to some buried treasure or enter a contest with a ridiculously generous prize, and they come tantalizingly close to acquiring riches that will change their lives (and the nature of the cartoon) forever, but you know deep down the creators of the show will never ever allow them to get what they're after?

Such is Carlos Silva's season. We know he can't be this good, right? Well, watching him pitch, especially in his most recent outings, it's pretty obvious that he really is outpitching the expectations. That's not a fluke, it's reality. But the money stat everyone's staring at, the booty to Carlos Silva's J-Lo, is his 8-0 record. (His 2.93 ERA ain't too shabby, either.)

As much as any of us know that the Win stat is the most overvalued, meaningless number in all of sports record keeping, 8-0 still looks pretty darn impressive. I, for one (representing millions, I'm sure), am scratching my head trying to figure out how Silva could be so lucky. Because he's been good, but not 8-0 good.

Cubs Fans, Bloggers React to Simpson Signing

I'm not an expert (read: I know absolutely nothing) about the baseball draft or ranking prospects, so I figured it would be an informative service to you, loyal reader, to put together a video highlight reel of the wide and varied reactions from across the Cubs community and the baseball world as a whole to the selection of Hayden Simpson in the first round. Enjoy:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

They've done it like this. They've done it like that. They should try it with a Wiffle Ball bat.
If Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez could hit again, the comparisons of the Cubs' offense to the effects of an enlarged prostate would stop. But until things get flowing properly, here are 10 suggestions to help the slow, unpredictable trickle of corner-infield hits to get back to the rushing stream of extra-base hits we all expected.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

10. Stop calling them D-Lee and A-Ram.

9. Let them use Wiffle Ball bats for increased bat speed.

8. Three words: Little. Jerry. Seinfeld.

7. Have them look in the mirror. That's what they all suggested Milton Bradley do, anyway.

6. Last one to get a hit each game wears the Hello Kitty backpack.

5. Convince them that while their abysmal start has been an absolute joke, it's still no replacement for Kevin Millar.

4. Give their mothers 10-year visas.

3. After three strikes: bring out the tee.

2. Substitute their advanced scouting videos with 15 hours of Lou Piniella saying, "Look, I don't know what else I can do."

1. 1980s campy movie solution: most triumphant video.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Harry Caray Was Awesome

This isn't an anniversary of any significance that I know of. I was just remembering this morning how much fun Harry Caray was to listen to. Sometimes he personified excitement. Other times he defied explanation. But it was never, ever boring to listen to. For all his rough edges, he was a broadcasting genius and a marketer's dream. And I miss hearing what he would have said about this team . . . or this world.

So here are two clips. The first, a video adaptation of a Harry Caray anti-Cracker-Jack rant, posted a couple of years ago by the folks at Just One Bad Century. It's classic Harry.

And then there's this footage of Harry singing the seventh inning stretch, despite his disdain for the marketing crooks behind sailor jack & bingo. Take special note of the production artistry of Arne Harris and the colossal fashion fail that was the mid-1980s.

We miss you, Harry.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day-Off Reflections: Retroactive Perfection

The perfect reaction to a terrible call.
I didn't even know who Armando Galarraga was until last night. From the 15 seconds of video I've seen of him (80,000 times in the last 12 hours) he seems like the greatest pitcher and finest human being ever to grace the city of Detroit. He's being lauded as the first pitcher ever to record a 28-out perfect game, because Jim Joyce blew the call on the would-be final out.

Of course, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to deprive Detroit of celebrating its first ever perfecto, the 21st in Major League history, and the third in less than a month if it hadn't been for Austin Jackson's convincing Willie Mays impersonation. And, yes, those last two links are to the same video. Jackson saved perfection a mere two plays before Joyce spread his arms outward and flew Galaragga's dream into oblivion.

Baseball parlance holds that a pitcher throws a perfect game, but a lot of things—maybe an infinite assortment of things involving every person in attendance—have to align in impeccable harmony to bring a perfect game to fruition. There is usually some amazing defensive spectacle, such as Jackson's back-to-the-infield basket grab or Dwayne Wise's walls-be-damned miracle (MLB packaged both catches into one clip, conveniently enough). But the burden of perfection extends to the easiest tasks as well, such as an umpire's routine semi-close out call at first or a third baseman's ability to range to his left.

For those of you who remember Kerry Wood's dominating tour de force, you know that what may have been the best pitched game in baseball history was two plays shy of perfect and one away from a no-hitter. A stray Kerry Wood fastball struck Craig Biggio in the 6th inning, but that's not what broke up the perfect game. No, in truly undramatic fashion, Ricky Gutierrez singled to left on a ground ball just past Kevin Orie; in fact, it seemed like he got a glove on it. But the official scorer, the White-Sox-loving Bob Rosenberg, deemed the play exceeded the reasonable expectations of out-making and called it a hit rather than an error. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if that play was ruled an error. But I just can't know.

Official scorers, though, don't figure into perfect games because there can be no errors (hence the term perfect). This is what makes the not-so-instant replay discussions a tad silly. If video replay had been in effect and the replay booth could have informed Jim Joyce of his wrongness mere seconds after he breathed the word safe, he could have inhaled it right back in, changed the call, and allowed the celebrations to ensue straightaway. That would have been perfect.

Much to the ire of fans of Tigers, amazing feats, and general statistical justice, baseball's officiating policy is far from perfect. Armando Galarraga needed it to be, but it failed him. That can't be undone. Galarraga himself and all his fans can convince themselves that they really did see a perfect game, but they would have to overlook the glaring imperfection known as the human element. Instead of the 21st perfect game in MLB history, it's the 237,992nd game to be marred by the flaws of everyone involved. Instead of Call your sons, call your daughters, it was Call the $*&*# batter OUT, *&@!-$^%&$#!!!

Even if Bud Selig overturns the call and rules the game technically perfect, the moment, the unforgettable calls, the leg-breaking celebrations and the unstained memories of how it all went down so perfectly, can never be brought back from the imaginary land of Should-have. You want to throw a perfect game, you need everyone to be perfect. You have to make perfect pitches. Your teammates have to make perfect plays (and score at least one run). The other team needs to be perfectly inept against your efforts. And an incredible amount of luck has to run perfectly in your favor as well.

And last, and in last night's case least, the arbiters of the game need to fairly and accurately call every batter out. The errors of the umpires and administrators of the sport itself stubbornly remain major players in a game where they're not welcome. I feel for Jim Joyce and the suffering he and his family have encountered because of one mistake, but he's part of an umpiring union that refuses to progress in a sporting organization with no detectable interest in improving. That's not a moment of weakness. That's full-on commitment to imperfection.

Just imagine if Armando Galarraga played a sport in which everyone was dedicated (or at least moderately agreeable) to getting absolutely everything right. That (and a 1908 reprise) would be perfect.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

You Can Catch It All on WGN

Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks - Stanley Cup Game Two
Cubs on WGN? Niemi says NO!

Taking in Cubs games on WGN, both good-old channel 9 and AM 720, is a tradition that goes back as long as I've been a Cubs fan. (I'm aware that the Cubs existed in broadcast form before I began caring about them in 1981, but I honestly don't care about that, do you?) But tonight, the radio broadcast will be on WIND AM 560 to accommodate the Blackhawks. Apparently, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Philadelphia is more important than Game 3 of the potential second consecutive sweep of the Cubbies in Pittsburgh.

I'd have to agree with appearances. This isn't the first time the Cubs have been preempted on their own flagship station. Before the early '90s sent the Bears station hopping across the left side of the Chicago radio dial, they would occasionally bump the broadcasts of their younger ursine brethren. But those were regular-season affairs for both teams, and it usually brought a sense of relief.

It seems like just last week that Cub fans couldn't wait for the 2009/2010 Bears to take the sting away from the 2009 Cub season. But that season had barely begun before we were waiting for the 2010 Cubs to alleviate the woes of another failed Bears season. Somewhere along the way, though, the 2009/2010 Blackhawks skated through and shattered the mediocrity threatening to take over this city.

And now they have a chance to claim WGN, the Stanley Cup, and the hearts of Chicago fans. I hope they do it in convincing fashion (aka making those sorry schmucks in Philly wish they had just dropped the series to Boston to save them from the embarrassment brought on by the team with the best jersey in sports).

Whether you tune in to hear Z return to the starting rotation or Lord Stanley's Cup return to Chicago, I hope you enjoy the sound of the state of Philadelphia bowing in humble desolation. Go HAWKS!

Issue One: Suck or Cynic?

No, seriously, get off my lawn.
I hated it when I was a kid, but I've grown to love The McLaughlin Group. Led by curmudgeonly debating dictator John McLaughlin, this talking-head free-for-all might carry the blame for the parade of political punditry running through television around the clock, but that's only because they do it right. They step on each other's sentences and stumble their way through a bipartisan spectrum (composed of drastically slanted extremes). It's entertaining, informative, and everything a political talk show should be.

Be that as it may, Johnny has drawn lighthearted criticism for his less-than-subtle manner of implying his cynical opinions are superior to all others, a caricature made famous by Dana Carvey and imitated by Cub fans everywhere.