Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cubs Home-Field Disadvantage: Is Day Baseball to Blame?

A few more night games might not be a bad idea.
Yesterday I looked at the Cubs' league-worst home-field advantage since 1970. Today I'm surveying the history of the Cubs at home since 1901. Obviously most of that (every year from 1914 on) is at Wrigley Field, but I threw in the numbers from before that as well simply because . . . well, because I have them.

Before I go any further, I just want to rehash a few main points from yesterday's post:
  • Home-field advantage is legitimate in Major League Baseball. Every year since 1901 the home team has won a majority of the games played in baseball (a .540 winning percentage since 1970).
  • A study of the 2004 MLB regular season showed that travel leading up to a game has no effect on win probability for either team.
  • The study also concluded that home-field advantage is statistically relevant only in games decided by one run.
  • Results over the years support that studies conclusion that home-field advantage matters the most in one-run games; the home team has a .608 winning percentage since 1970. The home team has still maintained an advantage in games decided by 2 runs or more (.511) or 3 runs or more (.518).
  • Since 1970, the Cubs have MLB's worst winning percentage (.577) in all one-run home games where their advantage should be the highest.
  • Explaining home-field advantage is considered one of baseball's most indiscernible mysteries.
  • The Cubs, like every team in baseball, have an advantage when playing at home, but theirs has historically been less advantageous than that of any other team.
Most people who care to argue generally take one of a few main positions in explaining the home-field advantage in baseball. The first is that the structure of the game itself favors the home team. They'll argue that having the last at-bat either allows the home team a strategic advantage in one-run games (they know exactly how many runs they need to score in the 9th) or that it simply creates the statistical illusion of an advantage (if the home team is tied or trailing in the 9th, they'll almost always win by one if they win at all, and they never have the opportunity to build on their leads after the 8th inning). 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wrigley: the Worst Home-Field Advantage in Baseball

I love Wrigley Field. I do. It's one of my favorite places in the world. I say that to inform you that nothing in this post is out of spite for the venue I revere as a mecca of the baseball world. And as much as I give Cubs fans a hard time, I don't really think they're worse than the fans of any other team. There are some great Cubs fans and some abominable ones just as any fan base is prone to including members from both ends of the spectrum of tolerability.

But the home-field advantage at Wrigley, for the last several decades, has been the worst in all of baseball, and I've got the numbers to prove it.

I started out investigating home-field advantage in general in the hopes of proving something about the significance of psychology in baseball. The first wave of research showed that as far back as I could look (1901) there always has been a home-field advantage league-wide. In every season of Major League Baseball, the home teams have, collectively, registered a winning record. There have been 4 seasons in which the teams of either the National League or the American League had a collective losing record at home, but it has never happened across baseball.

Then I came across this study of the 2004 Major League Baseball season that went to great lengths to isolate the effect of both home-field advantage and travel on the probability of winning. I was happy to learn that travel was ruled to have no significant effect on win probability for either team and that home-field advantage is very real. However, the study also concluded that home-field advantage was statistically significant only in games decided by one run—but in those one-run games, it's pretty significant.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chicago Cubs: The Animated Series

The baseball might not be much to talk about. The games might be difficult to watch. But that doesn't mean the Cubs can't be entertaining. It might help if you imagine the Cubs as cartoon characters, and fortunately, this cast of characters doesn't make that very difficult at all.
Starlin Castro = Rudy from Fat Albert

Tom Gorzelanny = TJ from Recess

Mike Quade = Mumm-Ra from Thundercats

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg is not Mark Prior

Prior illustrates the infamous "Prostrate Sigma" pitching motion.
If you care, you probably already know. The MRI of Stephen Strasburg's divine cannon of retributive wrath arm indicates he will probably need life-threatening career-ending your basic, run-of-the-mill Tommy John surgery, a procedure rendered so simple by modern medicine you can get it done in the food court at Walmart. I can't count the number of times in the last hour I've heard him compared to Mark Prior. Seriously, it would be like keeping up the count of hamburgers McDonald's has served in history. Suffice it to say, the comparison has now been made billions and billions of times.

I even made the comparison. Shame on me. The guys are similar in that they are both stud pitchers who were selected in the first two picks of the draft by teams that really, really, really (x billions and billions) needed them to do well. They both allegedly pitch with the "M" arm motion (aka the inverted W, the prostrate Σ, the sleeping 3, and the drunken zig-zag). They both have struck fear in the hearts of opponents with their dominant pitching and triggered mass bouts of hysteria among their respective fans due to long bouts of not pitching. And both were antagonized by their teams' ex-pitcher color analysts for not being tough enough to pitch through pain.

But the nature of Strasburg's early flirtation with the TJ surgical scalpel is nothing like Mark Prior's early career. Nothing. We have all, it seems, played revisionist historians with Mark Prior's days as a Cub. Please allow me to clear the record and scoff at the myriad fools who claim to have predicted Mark Prior's physical woes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day-Off Predictions: 10 Moves the Cubs WILL Make - UPDATE

Meet the Cubs' manager in 2011. Or else.  
10. The Cubs will lift the interim tag off of Mike Quade's title and make him the officially official manager of the Cubs in 2011. (I've heard people say he looks like Skeletor. I thought maybe he looked like Overlord from Spiral Zone. But no, he's Mumm-Ra.)
UPDATE: Yup. It happened.

9. The Cubs will sign Adam Dunn to play first base.

8. The Cubs will move Adam Dunn to right field when they sign a real first baseman in 2012.

7. The Cubs will add another statue of food to go with the giant macaroni noodle. It will probably be a hot dog. Fans will probably call it the Sammy Sosa statue.

6. The Cubs will fire someone insignificant. I don't know for sure who that will be, but I'm sure Umpires Room Attendant Tom Farinella is sweating from the enormous hot seat he's in right now.

5. The Cubs will raise ticket prices while making it look like they lowered them.
UPDATE: Oh, hey, look at that . . . they did.

4. The Cubs will change the Captain Morgan Club to the Old Style Friendship Zone.

3. The Cubs will buy up all the rooftops across the street.

2. The Cubs will invite a handful of bloggers into the press box. They will regret this move when they run out of brownies on opening day and things turn ugly.

1. The Cubs will hire a woman as their next general manager. She will pretend to be nice, but she is not. I'm telling you, she's a nasty, vindictive, blood-thirsty piranha. But she will guide this team to the Promised Land and leave a trail of broken egos behind her.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Cubsmos is Trapped in High School

2010: A Fail Odyssey
I never know what to call the group of all people associated with but not necessarily a part of the Cubs organization: the fans, the media, the bloggers, the whoever. Cubdom. The Cubosphere. The Cubbieverse. Cub Nation. The Fail and Losing Community. We. They. The Empty Set. For the moment, I have decided on the Cubsmos. Instead of the Cosmos, not to be confused with the magazine or the drink or the Kramer. But I digress.

The Cubsmos, or at least large factions within it, seems to be trapped in the past. Not a specific date or era like 1908 or '69 or the Bartman game. We're trapped in high school, maybe junior high. As I did then, I'd love to escape the embittered, disenfranchising subculture of vindictive cliques, the suppressed insecure rage, the bizarre false sense of entitlement and melodramatic mock tragedy. But here we are in Cubsmos High. I was going to give ten reasons, and maybe I will at some point, but here are my two favorites.

The Crotchety Old Coach/Gym Teacher thinks ridicule and public punishments are the best motivators. Athletes aren't professionals, they're slimy, cocksure ingrates who need to be put in their place. Lack of hustle? Benched! Brain lapse? Benched and insulted! Don't run out a pop up? You'll do push-ups until I get tired! I'm sorry . . . but didn't we hate that guy? Didn't high school, in a roundabout way, teach us  it might be a better idea to treat people with respect and handle matters in a civilized, private, non-roid-rage manner?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Alan Shore as Sammy Sosa

Allow me to elaborate on my post from yesterday (which came in almost muted reaction to the Chicago magazine article on Sammy). This will require some imagination on your part. When you see Alan Shore, I want you to picture Sammy Sosa. When he talks about the legal profession, I want you to imagine he's talking about baseball. And when he describes Eugene Young and pie and embezzlement and lying, I want you to replace it all by conjuring up thoughts of Jim Hendry and retired numbers and egotism and steroids. If you can do that, you can understand how I feel about how the Cubs treated Sammy Sosa.

If you can't, well, it was worth a shot.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sammy Sosa: Cubs 'Threw Me into the Fire' - Chicago magazine - September 2010 - Chicago

Sammy Sosa: Cubs 'Threw Me into the Fire' - Chicago magazine - September 2010 - Chicago

This article in Chicago magazine really speaks for itself. I've been outspoken on my Team Sammy status, but I don't know that the fair perspective offered up by this article reflects on anyone very favorably.

Do What You Love. Now.

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella hugs Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox before the game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on August 22, 2010. Piniella announced Sunday that the game would be his last game as manager.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom
More than 8,000 games managed are being celebrated in that hug.

Lou Piniella came up for four games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964. He didn't make it back to the big leagues until a six-game stint with the Indians in 1968 followed by his rookie-of-the-year campaign with the Royals in 1969. Never again has more than one season of Major League Baseball transpired without the likes of Lou Piniella.

Lou last played with the Yankees in 1984 and took over as manager in 1986. His next year off was '89 in between his time in New York and in Cincinnati, where he won the World Series in 1990. He didn't miss a single game of the regular season in between his transitions from the Reds to the Mariners or from Seattle to Tampa. 2006 was the last year Lou Piniella didn't have a full-time job with Major League Baseball, and even then he worked as an analyst for FOX.

Since he first started playing for the Selma Cloverleafs in 1962, Lou Piniella has made a living in the game of baseball. From 1962 to 2010, the man had three vacations from baseball: 1985, 1989, 2006. That's it. He had a chance to do what he loved for nearly 50 years.

I don't know how a guy like that could say goodbye without crying, especially seeing as though he did not have the chance to end things on his own terms.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Au Revoir, Sweet Lou

Goodbye, Lou. Thanks for leading the Cubs to three winning seasons and one worth leaving early.
Lou Piniella is about to manage his last game with the Cubs and probably his last ever. He'll retire with more than 1,800 wins and more than 100 more wins over .500 as a manager. More importantly than where he'll spend the rest of this season, he will be near his mother for the rest of his life. If you have ever been there for someone in their final moments, whether it's for mere seconds or over the course of many long years, it is simultaneously painful and rewarding. (When anyone says that about being a Cubs fan, I hope they're kidding. There is no comparison. Watching losing baseball is a mild annoyance. Losing someone you love redefines you.)

In baseball terms, Lou has been a great manager for the Cubs and the Rays and the Mariners and the Reds and the Yankees. But honestly, I don't really know what that entails. It is strictly impossible to quantify what anyone else would have done with the teams Lou had. The people who didn't manage his teams have nothing but what if's and would have's. Lou did it. No one can measure what someone else would have done in his place, but what you can measure is that for 3,548 games, an owner of a Major League Baseball team entrusted Lou to do the job.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cubs Spring Training Site an Unexpected Choice

Christmas in July? Try spring training in August.
Listening to some Bears chatter in anticipation of tonight's game against the Raiders, I laughed at the intensity with which football fans discuss preseason games. Wins and losses are insignificant at this point. Most of the guys you'll depend on to win games when it counts won't see meaningful action. And a high percentage of the guys on the field will be off the roster before too long. But as much as they say they don't care, the fans still find themselves completely pulled into these games like the division championship is on the line.

And then the question hit me: What Chicago team am I talking about?

So I was going to write something about how the Cubs' regular season is looking an awful lot like the Bears' preseason. Then I realized it's looking a lot like spring training. And when I stopped to really think about it, the truth became obvious. This is spring training.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cubs Lose on Octuple Play

Official score on that play: 4-6-6-3-6-6-2-5-2
In what has to be the crowning achievement in the franchise's legacy of fail, the Cubs dropped the final game in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Padres by grounding into a game-ending octuple play in the 7th inning. Cubs manager Lou Piniella was flummoxed.

"Look, I've been around a long time in baseball, and I've never seen anything like this. I don't know what to say to these guys, I really don't," said the weary manager who was ejected and called out two thirds of the way through the play.

With the bases loaded and one out, Cubs second baseman Blake DeWitt hit a soft line drive that skipped in the dirt just before his Padres counterpart Jerry Hairston Jr. caught it. He flipped to short to retire Jeff Baker at second, but Tyler Colvin, who thought the line drive would be caught, was tagged out returning to second as well. The return throw beat DeWitt to first for the seemingly unnecessary fourth out of the inning, the third of what turned out to be eight on the play.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Derrek Lee Has Left the Building, But He'll Be Right Back

I learned about the Derrek Lee trade (the one that brought him to Chicago) on the way home from work. It hadn't been a particularly good day. I left work late, and it was that time of year when working inside from 7 to 3:30 meant leaving work on time was my only chance at seeing any sunlight. I didn't see any of the natural kind that day, but the trade news provided enough figurative sunshine to lift my spirits for the rest of the evening. The Cubs had raided the Florida Marlins' World Series fire sale, and all it had cost them was Hee-Seop Choi.

That was a great day. Here are Derrek Lee's numbers since then:

The thing about that MVP-caliber 2005 season was that it followed the departure of Sammy Sosa. I was on Team Sammy even after he was unceremoniously dumped in the direction of Baltimore. I knew Sammy's oft-hopping days were behind him, but that also meant the Cubs no longer had a superstar offensive player. It meant we'd no longer hear Pat Hughes issuing updates that centered on the one player's achievements everyone really cared about. In years prior, Pat would open an inning with, "If you're wondering about Sammy Sosa, the answer is yes. He homered in the first and the fifth."

So it was to my sheer delight when, on a day a couple months into the season, the first thing I heard on the radio on the commute home was, "If you're wondering about Derrek Lee, the answer is yes. He homered in his first at-bat and the Cubs lead 3-0." Derrek Lee was the man that year. Absolutely dominant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Celebrity Guest Conductor: Save This Awful Tradition

CHICAGO - AUGUST 17:  Celebrity Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' during the seventh inning stretch of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers underneath a sign which pays tribute to the late former Cubs announcer Harry Caray on August 17, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodgers defeated the Cubs 3-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
He's the prince of Cubbie darkness.

I probably change my mind on this every other time I hear another semi-famous person butcher "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but for now I've made up my mind. The Cubs should continue the tradition that has lasted into its lucky 13th season. Here's what has ended the back and forth* for me: everything about it reminds me of Harry Caray.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fantasy Football Team Name Fun - UPDATED

I don't like Twilight. I don't have Brandon Jacobs on my team. So?

It's a jingle. Forgive me if it gets lodged in your cerebellum.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Starting from Scratch: Realigning Major League Baseball

If tradition were no concern, wouldn't this make sense?
To follow up with last night's post about the travesty that is the three-division league, I thought I'd draw up a quick realignment plan. I threw tradition out the window. The westward expansion of baseball slapped tradition in the face a long time ago, so it's about time the traditionalists got over it. The league can be divided much more conveniently by geography than it can by its current Senior Circuit/Junior Circuit rules (baseball is old; both leagues are senior citizens). So here's what I suggest:

Western League
Pacific Division
Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, with an Affinity for Burbank
Las Angeles Dodgers
Oakland A's
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners

Midwest Division
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins
St. Louis Cardinals
Texas Rangers

Eastern League
Central Division
Atlanta Braves
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Florida Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers
Tampa Bay Rays

Northeast Division
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
Toronto Blue Jays
Washington Nationals

The division winners would make the playoffs along with the teams with the next two best records regardless of division. Seems to me it would cut down on travel and emphasize regional rivalries over traditional ones, many of which no longer mean anything. At first I was dismissive of this idea because it will "never happen," but I can't think of any good reason it shouldn't.

Can you? Go ahead, tear the idea to shreds.

Why Does Baseball Have 3 Divisions in Each League?

That's awesome. And slightly relevant.
In 1994, Major League Baseball attempted to correct a problem in its divisional system: some really good teams weren't reaching the postseason, most infamously the San Francisco Giants of the previous season. That team won 103 games and watched the Philadelphia Phillies march their way to the World Series on the strength of 6 fewer regular season wins than the Giants. To ensure the second-best team in each league always had the opportunity to play in the postseason, Bud Selig realigned the leagues and expanded the playoffs to accommodate three division winners and a wild card in each league. The move didn't quite work; in 1994, nobody played in the postseason.

The small snafu of canceling the World Series aside, the advent of the wild card race has added excitement to the end of every regular season and an extra round of playoff fever to the October thrill (or an extra hurdle to clear on the road to curse-breaking). But the basic problem inherent in the previous system still haunts Major League Baseball: the best teams don't always play into October.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Just Something About Cubs, Cardinals on a Saturday

I usually hate Cubs/Cardinals games,
but Saturdays are the exception.
I hate it when the Cubs play the Cardinals. I've called it the worst rivalry in sports. Beating the Cardinals usually comes more as a relief than a cause for great joy. If the Cardinals win, I hear it from their fans. If the Cubs win, I hear about how many championships the Cardinals have won since the Cubs' last World Series. I believe it's more than one.

I also hate it when Cubs games are televised on FOX. I don't like the announcers. I don't like the graphics. I don't like the way the entire broadcast seems to find the elusive mix of patronizing affection and professional disdain for everything associated with the Chicago National League ball club. The games take longer. They never seem to start at a good time. I'm whining, I know, but baseball on FOX is stupid.

But for some odd reason (maybe something to do with a certain game in which a certain Hall of Fame Cub second baseman hit two home runs off a Hall of Fame ex-Cub and then-Cardinal closer) I have a strong, strange affinity for Saturday afternoon Cubs/Cardinals games, even the ones broadcast on FOX. There's a mystique about them. As much as I like to say the Cardinals suck, on these Saturday afternoon telecasts, I renew my respect for the franchise and their fans, even if for only a three-hour period.

Carlos Zambrano is usually good for something memorable.
Something positive? We'll see.
It feels like the Olympics. Or a Rocky movie. Somehow the teams seem both more familiar than usual and more superhuman. It's as though I'm watching people I know elevate themselves to some Valhallan stage where every pitch carries eternal significance, every at-bat an audition for immortality.

Maybe that's a bit much (a bit, you ask?) but that's how it feels. Any other day it's just the irritating tradition of surviving the attacks or suffering at the hands of the despised Cardinals, but on Saturday afternoons . . . it's altogether different.

The other factor contributing to the feeling that this more than just another weary game against another superior opponent on the way to the finish line of another dismal season is that Carlos Zambrano is pitching. It's been quite awhile since that signified the likelihood of a start that would last into the 9th inning or a Wrigley scoreboard peppered with harmless white zeros. (Yes, I know they're playing at Busch. Leave my imagery alone.) But today in enemy territory against the Cardinals' ace, Chris Carpenter, I have the feeling Zambrano might just rise to the occasion. I don't think he will. Actually, the part of my brain that controls the typing is all but refusing to type this next part: I feel like he's going to pitch a gem of historic proportions.

I have zero logical foundation for that feeling. None. Zambrano's velocity is down. His control is shaky. His emotions are monitored on a moment-by-moment basis. But this is Saturday. Against the Cardinals. On FOX. And my stupid, irrational, unreliable, foolish, desperately optimistic gut is telling me we might look back on today as the Zambrano game.

My brain is saying it will be known as one of those Pujols games.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cubs vs. les Petites Garces

Comparisons to the Cubs always cause things to turn ugly.
Brandon Phillips is a poet. You can read his finest work . . . well, just about anywhere, but I like how it appears in this piece about why the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to quote Phillips verbatim. The article is more about journalism than sports, but I wish the Chicago sports columnists and beat writers would make more of an effort to explain why they report the way they do. (I suspect they don't because the method behind their madness is nothing to be proud of, but I'm just guessing.) It was refreshing to see another city's paper explain their reasoning professionally.

As for Phillips' reasons for making his public comments in the first place, most people seem to agree he was trying to pump up his teammates or intimidate the Cardinals or some combination of both. Opinion is divided as to how stupid it was of Phillips to call out the opposing team before such an important series. Marlon Byrd added some good player perspective on rivalries:

When you have competition against the same teams over and over again, you start to develop a hate. It’s not like you want to kill them, but you want to beat them. Every time you go out there, you want the 10-run rule. You want to shut them out. I just think that’s healthy competition.

But no one will classify the rant as the most brilliant competitive tactic in the history of baseball. The Cardinals swept the Reds, so there's no arguing its lousy effectiveness. There's also no arguing its pinpoint accuracy.

In all the critiques, reactions, responses, and mockeries offered up about Phillips' evaluation of the Cardinals as "little bitches," I haven't heard one shred of dissent about that comment. Hordes of people have said Phillips was stupid to say it, but I have yet to read a single sentence accusing him of being wrong.

So as the Cubs head into St. Louis for the first time all year (and it's absolutely nuts that it has taken this long), I hope the Cubs win them all. It won't redeem this season. It won't end the Cardinals' season. But it would feel good to see them do it. The Cubs would be happy. The Cardinals would be grumpy. And Brandon Phillips would rejoice in the success of his beloved Cubs. In his glorious words, "Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."

Amen, Brandon. Amen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Don't Have a Topic. Cubs Stuff.

The Cubs have lost more one-run decisions than anyone else in the majors. I guess that means they're almost really good.

The Cubs are 13-28 (.317) in games decided by one run. They've come dangerously close to not losing 28 times.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If baseball were horseshoes, the Cubs would be the champions. If baseball were hand grenades, everyone  would be dead.

The Cubs are 3-9 (.250) against the Pirates. The Pirates are 39-74 (.345). So, if you're following, the Cubs against the Pirates < the Cubs in 1-run games < the Pirates in general.

Against teams not named the Cubs, the Pirates are 30-71 (.297). That's almost as bad as the Cubs are against the Pirates, but not quite.

The Cubs playing the Pirates is quite possibly the worst baseball you could ever see played at the Major League level. They should probably be playing hand grenades.

Roy Halladay has a 7.50 ERA against the Cubs this year. Tim Lincecum has a 13.50 ERA against the Cubs this year. Their respective ERAs overall are 2.34 and 3.41. That is weird.

Tony LaRussa will be suspended for two of the Cubs' upcoming games against the Cardinals. The St. Louis middle infielders will have to remember on their own to start back and charge in when there's a runner at third.

Darwin Barney's middle name should be comma.

When athletes who play sports that do not allow fighting get into fights, they should be arrested. When I beat up my coworkers, I'm never granted two days off. They always press charges.

A beer at Wrigley costs seven dollars. That's outrageous. If they used the same ROI ratio they use to price tickets, seven dollars would only get you a glass of trough juice.

That was gross. I'm sorry. But if this were Wrigley, you'd still owe me $14 for that joke.

Most of the Cubs roster now looks to Starlin Castro for his veteran wisdom.

The Cajun Connection is now split onto opposite sides of baseball's most heated West Coast rivalry. Their dueling hip-hop albums cannot be far behind.

I'm out of ideas. Now I know how Lou felt in mid-April.

Night in the Cell with Joe Mauer

I went to the Sox/Twins game on 8/11/2010 with an old friend who is also a Sox fan. He's also a Twin.

Apparently quite a few Cubs fans I follow on Twitter also really, really like Joe Mauer.
I promised pictures.

He's good at baseball.

That's why he reached second. 
He got hurt. Then the trainer healed him with his neck.

Then he was all better. That made his teammates smile.

It made the Twins fans in front of us smile, too. I tried to reinforce their worst suspicions of White Sox fans by telling them to go back to Saskatchewan and worrying aloud that the warnings issued to both benches might hurt the international relations between Minnesota and the USA. I think they bought it.

Here's another shot of Mauer licking his lips.

And another, just for overkill.
Hopefully I can resume Cubs-only blogging activities soon. I hear we have some brand new players of our own, and I can't wait to meet them all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How the Cubs Became My Fountain of Youth

Forget Next Year. I'm holding on to 30 years ago.  
The cliché tells us to dance like no one's watching. As someone who dances only when no one is watching, I can only guess that the intended conclusion of this mantra is that we should disregard everyone else's judgments and do what makes us happy. Nobody understands that concept better than little kids. Some might say our ability to retain that shameless, childlike appreciation for the moment is what keeps us young at heart.

As Cubs fans, that's also what keeps us sane.

I can't speak for all of us, but I started cheering for the Cubs when I was too young to know better and too wrapped up in the joy of youth to care if it was a wise decision. I loved the Cubs, and I cheered like no one was watching. It wasn't the only foolish road I ever ventured down, but it's the one I've been on the longest.

When I think about my childish mistakes, I'm happy to leave almost all of them in the past. The crush on Morgan Dingwall. My inability to pronounce the letter R sound. The skater haircut. The hunter green and fuchsia plaid overalls or the pastel Easter-egg Skidz. Telling the photographer on Picture Day sophomore year that I didn't need to consult a mirror before he took the shot. I have no problem leaving all these foibles in the past never to be revisited again. Repeating them wouldn't make me feel young, it would make me feel stupid.

I regret the hair, not the hat.
For some reason, cheering for the Cubs is different. Although I'm reminded on a semi-daily basis that being a Cubs fan betrays any sense of intelligence I may have been able to establish over the course of my life, I can't help but remember how happy I was the first time I saw with my own naive eyes the lush green blanket of grass that covered Wrigley Field. I can still tap into the wonder that washed over me as I was baptized into the aroma of beer and cigarettes and hot dogs when I first stepped through the turnstiles at the Friendly Confines. I can still taste the Pepsi that was so sweet, sharp, and chock full of ice that it burned my upper lip as I happily drank it in. I still feel the same pride I felt the first time someone explained to me the meaning of die-hard and I decided that was exactly the kind of fan I wanted to be.

There are plenty of times when allowing these feelings of unbridled juvenile rapture (brought on by a generally bad baseball team) to resurface in my grownup consciousness makes me feel like an unequivocal fool. If someone were to know how swept away with glee I become when the Cubs win a game, they'd be required by the unwritten rules of society to call me a moron to my face and in front of my children.

I don't care. I'm putting it out there: I'm an idiot Cubs fan.

But I don't cheer for this team because I believe all the thoughts I entertained as a kid. I don't think the Cubs are good and everyone else is evil . . . not really. I don't think they're the best team no matter what and that other teams happen to win every year only because they cheat. So I don't have a ton of patience with adults who praise or berate this team with all the logic of a six year old.

I also have no love for the people in the organization who would exploit my desire to retain the carefree passions of my youth. When I was a kid I may have had no respect whatsoever for the value of a dollar, but those days are gone. There's only so much I'm willing to spend to be a fool for a terrible team. I'll watch and cheer and blog like no one's reading (which isn't all too difficult to imagine), but I do expect something before I flatter this team by imitating their propensity for taking on debt in the name of losing.

On the other side of the spectrum of childlike wonder, though, are the people who continue to love this team simply to enjoy the action no matter how dismal, the people who cheer like no one's watching and then continue with their lives unperturbed by the outcome. I applaud you. I hope to join you.

History and my life insurance actuary tell me there's a not-too-small chance I'll die without seeing the Cubs win the World Series. I'd rather not entertain the thought. Instead I'll continue to let my inner nine year old call the shots during Cubs games without regard for how stupid I may look or sound. It's how I stay young. It's how I stay sane. It's why I remain a Cubs fan. It's why, inside at least, I will do this dance when the Cubs win while outwardly I laugh with all the mocking force I can muster. (h/t to Cubs Fan Report for the link to this video in today's report)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Secret to Losing: Let the Bullpen Pitch More

Z is on a 70-80 pitch count. Over/Under: 3 IP?
As the options in the current fan poll suggest, watching the Cubs lately has been particularly unpleasant for the past 2 years century ever month or so. Some people think the insufferable play flows from a lack of effort, caused or made worse by Lou Piniella's retirement announcement. I'm pretty sure a lot of us just think the Cubs suck profusely. Some might trace the impetus for their newer, better, more high-powered brand of suckitude to the trade of Ted Lilly and clubhouse sparkplug (giggle-snort) Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers; the waving of the white flag (sans the W) was the Cubs' cue to quit.

I call BSP (bad starting pitching).

Seeing that tonight marks the return of Carlos Zambrano to the starting rotation (Z III, this time, it's WAR!), it's a fine time to point out that the Cubs' starting rotation has somewhat sneakily sucked it up since Zambrano yelled for a minute and then ate dinner. I say "sneakily" just because there have been plenty of fine pitching performances in the month and a half since. I wouldn't say that the starters have been bad in general since that time. I wouldn't even necessarily argue that the bullpen has been abysmal so much as they have been overtaxed because of an unhealthy dose of isolated (but not as isolated as we'd like) short starts.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Fans Have Spoken: Cubs to Finish Negative Infinityth

Y'all are expecting a pretty stinking good draft position in 2011.
The final tally is in, and it's unanimous: the Cubs won't finish in 2nd place. I'm guessing everyone who didn't vote 3rd, 4th, or 5th was kidding, but the winning choice of Negative Infinityth feels like the sincerely correct one. I hope to show before tomorrow night's game that the Cubs have been much tougher to watch over the past month or so than they will look the rest of the way. I'm not predicting a World Series push next year, but they won't be this bad. They aren't really this bad now.

But lately it's been brutal viewing. For me, it's almost like the short-lived spin-off, Joey. I felt compelled to watch out of  loyalty to my Central Perk Friends, even though I knew it was making me dumber. I've already given you the tongue-in-cheek reasons to watch, but now I want to know for real: are you watching? Please let your indifference be heard!

Thanks for voting.

What Can We Expect from Thomas Diamond?

Will Thomas Diamond continue to riddle the strike zone with bullets, or is his time as the king of K's coming to an end? Photo credit: The Art Newspaper

It was fun to watch Thomas Diamond make his major league debut against the Brewers, not because it filled me with excitement for the future but because it obviously fulfilled a dream for him. On the mound, I thought his fastball in particular looked rather straight and flat, not unlike the Cubs' offense that failed to support him. I wasn't nearly as impressed with his pitching as I was delighted by his postgame interview.

He was glowing. His team had just lost, and he was positively beaming. It wasn't selfish . . . or at least he wasn't selfish in a negative way. The fact was, he pitched pretty well, including 10 K's, in his major league debut at the ripe old age of 27 (or, in Cubs terms, the perfect age for a bright young prospect). The delay in his arrival to the big leagues included Tommy John surgery in 2007, so I'd expect him to be happy about his debut despite the fact it came in a losing effort during a hopeless season for a team that might not include him in their future starting rotation plans.

But should they? Brad over at Cubs Stats doesn't think so, and I tend to believe the statistical approach he takes to assess Diamond's reality. I don't carry a lot of hope for Diamond becoming the next Randy Wells (strongly resisting making a diamond in the rough pun, so I'll just move on). Maybe he'll be a strong addition to next year's bullpen. Maybe he'll outshine my dim expectations as a starter. I'm not thinking about it in those terms, so for the moment I don't really care.

For 2010, I just hope Thomas Diamond has a few memorable starts that add some redeeming value to the remainder of this season. If he can smile his way through the afterglow of another Cubbie implosion, maybe he can help us do the same.

At the very least, I'm glad he's provided me with one key bit of trivia: he's the only MLB player ever to have the surname Diamond. Not a bad distinction to be known as the only human Major League Baseball Diamond ever.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Doug Glanville Visits Wrigley Talk Friday

I'll be joining Tim & Julie from the road this week, but we'll be interviewing former Cub and current baseball genius Doug Glanville on today's show to discuss his book, The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View. I can' t wait, and I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Half Decent: Setting Expectations for the 2011 Cubs (pt. 2)

Art the Cubs the worst team in Middle Earth? Methinks not.
Earlier this week I took a look at the very real possibility that next year could be the year that the Cubs become a half-decent offensive team again. This time I wanted to look at the pitching (and defense, to some extent) as it is and then, blindfolded, throw a few darts at some possible paths to half-decency. Here are the Cubs pitchers who qualify (.3 Innings Pitched per Team Game) sorted by ERA+ (ERA compared to league average and adjusted for park factor). As it was with OPS+, an ERA+ above 100 indicates a better than average ERA. Below 100 kinda sucks.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Caption Contest Winner, Fan Poll, Miscellany, and Procrastination

You'll have to wait to see part 2. I need a break.
Unlike the Cubs, we have a winner! Our dart board panel of lobotomized reprobates judges has reached a decision in the Farewell to Theriot Photo Caption Contest, and it's not who you think . . . unless you think it's Sue, but I won't spoil it. You've really got to view her major award in all its unparalleled glory.

Also, pt. 2 of the half-decent expectations post is on hold until I return from my impromptu session of sitting around and doing nothing. But don't let that stop you from voting in the fan poll with your expectations of where the Cubs will wind up in the NL Central Standings. At the time of this post, Negative Infinityth is threatening to run away with the competition, and the Cubs are threatening to make good on that prediction.

Thanks for playing, thanks for voting, and thanks to Cubs Fan Report, the best Cubs daily email update this side of the Mendoza Line for the kind words and links in yesterday's report and for, subjecting people to this site notwithstanding, doing an amazing job of aggregating a ton of great Cubs info into one low-price Walmartesque (only without the creepiness and global oppression) location.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Half Decent: Setting Expectations for the 2011 Cubs (pt. 1)

When I was in high school, one of the youth leaders at my church routinely discussed three topics more than any other: the unholy trilogy of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It really didn't matter what biblical story or teaching we were covering, the focus was almost always redirected to the condemnation of one or more of those three vices.

I remember one lesson in particular in which we were told that physical attraction should be the least of our concerns when deciding who to date or court or arrange a marriage with. While anyone who has ever been in a relationship can attest that appearance isn't the most important attribute in a significant other, trying to tell a teenager to ignore it completely is like persuading a shark to eschew seafood.

After hearing variations on the diatribe for a few weeks, all the members of my youth group knew the answers we were supposed to be giving and that they directly conflicted with the protests of our hormones. So when our teacher asked us what qualities we would look for in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, my fellow classmate Dwight Stowers attempted a compromise between the proffered high moral ground and his basic primal urges into a succinct summation of what he wanted in a woman:

"Half decent?"

As Cub fans, we find ourselves in a similar struggle between what we want and what the baseball gods are telling us we can have. While by no means immoral, it's looking pretty unrealistic that fans of baseball on Chicago's North Side will ever find ourselves in a long-term relationship with a 10—but is it too much to ask for a 6 or 7?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Keep Watching the Cubs in 2010

Let's build us a happy little L flag that flies high in the sky every day. It's gorgeous!

10. The Cubs have turned losing into an art form, and art is good for the soul.
9. Like a Godfather movie, even though you know it won't end well, watching the bloodbath is half the fun.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Farewell to Theriot Caption Contest - UPDATE: We Have a Winner

Geo: We just suck.
Theriot: Yeah, but I'm awesome at everything.
Congratulations to Sue the Quiet Riot on her winning caption. In addition to honor, glory, and praise (and, by the way, Riot says, "Hi"), Sue also receives this hair-metal video dedication courtesy of Whitesnake. Yeah, that's right, pay dirt. Thanks to everyone who submitted captions through facebook, twitter, and the comments section. Better luck next time, when something like this could be yours:

If you're a fan of like And Counting on Facebook, you're already aware that there's a caption contest currently underway to come up with the best (as judged by me) caption for the photo of Geovany Soto and the now dearly departed (and herein depicted) Ryan Theriot. The winner will receive glory, honor, praise, and a lifetime subscription to this blog. I'll also mention you by name the next time I talk directly to The Riot.

There are already several entries, so you've got your work cut out for you: