Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Lower Cubs Payroll: I Don't Even Want to Look

When a loud crash at your door sends you running to find this, trust me, you're not glad you looked.
You know that feeling you get when you're resting comfortably at home and a loud and/or unexpected noise shatters the silence? That jolt of adrenaline followed by a downward tug on your pancreas? When you have kids, that sound is often a dull thud; you freeze in the deafening quiet that follows, waiting to hear if a shriek of pain or some kind of tortured sobs will come next . . . you hope for just a controlled "Ouch!" You're scared to know what made the noise, but it's your duty to go check on the safety of your offspring.

In other instances, say in the middle of the night, it's just some kind of knock or far-off crash that is probably the wind, but that's not a good enough explanation. My wife insists it never is. I have to go check it out and see what the cause is. My default answer is "car door," but it's never satisfactory until I have done a quick survey of the house, made sure the kids are still in bed, and fend off any possible intruders who have clumsily made their presence known. Again, it's my responsibility to check it out, but honestly, I don't want to know what made the noise. If it really is a burglar, what am I going to do? Grab a knife? The gun I don't own? A flyswatter or some Lemon Pledge? I'd probably just tell him or her, "Hey, could you wrap it up and get out? My wife is expecting the 'all clear' and I want to be able to pass this off as a car door slamming. That can't happen if you keep banging around." I don't know what I'd do. I don't want to know. All things considered, I'd rather not investigate the noise.

One Sunday morning I had no choice, because it was one of those sounds you just can't ignore, as much as I wanted to: a loud, sharp bang followed by the unmistakable melody of glass smashing into smithereens. It was the day before the night before Christmas, actually. I ran down to the front door to see what was the matter, and I saw that a storm caused my storm door to shatter. I'll stop rhyming and get to the point. When I solved the mystery behind the noise, there was nothing I could do. Snow was packed up on the outside of the door, and any adjustment from the inside was sure to dislodge the glass trapped between the outer screen and the lower, unbroken pane inside. So I just left it. Until March, actually. It stayed pretty crappy outside for a long time, and I just didn't have the time to deal with that mess. We had other doors we could exit through.

As it turned out, and as it very often does, that scary noise didn't actually require the attention one's instincts tend to ascribe to it. Such startling sounds might be worth a look occasionally and demand a response every now and then, but a lot of the time it's just not worth the investigation. Even if it is something significant, there's probably not much I can do about it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why I Hope the Padres Win It All

Adrian Gonzalez, you are more than welcome to call Wrigley home.
This is just weird. Adrian Gonzalez is under contract with the San Diego Padres. The Padres have a club option they would be insane not to exercise to keep their Petco-conquering first baseman for 2011 at the ridiculously low price of $5.8 million. He's in the thick of a pennant race that could see his out-of-nowhere Padres in danger of returning to Nowheresville but well within reach of postseason glory.

They're one game behind San Francisco in the West. They're a half game behind Atlanta in the wildcard. But Adrian Gonzalez had his mind on the Cubs when Gordon Wittenmyer followed the Cubs into town.

I doubt Gonzalez brought it up. But the extent to which he waxed eloquent on the appeal of hitting at Wrigley and playing in Chicago (because playing in front of fans has proved to be of great import recently) went well beyond the norm for non-free-agents in pennant races. Here are all of his quotes from the article snipped together in succession:

There's definitely a lot of positives about Chicago that if they made an offer, I would be interested in it. . . . Chicago's a great town, and they have great fans, and I like the fact that it's a small ballpark. I know the wind can play against you, but it can play for you, too. There's definitely some positives. And my wife loves Chicago, for the shopping. . . . Castro looks good. He looks like he's got energy, and a good swing. . . . I know he got hurt, but Tyler Colvin is a guy that's going to be productive every year. He swings the bat well. . . . Marmol -- obviously, their closer's good. . . . I don't know what the status of Aramis is, but he's one of the top third basemen when he's healthy. They definitely have some good pieces. It's just a matter of making that right move or drafting that right guy.

That's a mouthful, but a moot one at this point. The Padres would be fools to relinquish one of the greatest bargains in all of baseball at one of its most important offensive positions . . . or would they?

Rays in the Forest: Popular vs. Good

Take it from a Cubs fan, David: even 40,000 fans can't drown out embarrassment.

If Evan Longoria hits a 3-run homer in a forest, but no one is around to see it, did it really happen? Somewhere else in Florida there's a guy named Steve who would answer in the absolute affirmative, but Longoria himself and his teammate David Price aren't so sure.

Longoria told reporters that the sparse crowd of 12,446 at Tropicana Field, on a night when the Rays had a chance to clinch a spot in the postseason, was embarrassing and disheartening. As shown above, Price shared the sentiment on Twitter, where it has been publicized to exponentially more people than the number who witnessed the best team in baseball getting shutout by the Orioles.

The embarrassment of the Rays seems like some strange Prince and the Pauper allusion when compared to that of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have the fans, the fame, and the Fortune 500 owner*, but the Rays have something the Cubs wouldn't mind trading places to experience: 93 wins and a magic number of 1** . . . and a little less pressure from the media and fans.

So which is more desirable: being popular or being good?

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Was Ailing Aramis?

That Charlie Horse is a beast to get to.
In the latest (and as I recall only) episode of Aramis Ramirez' True Confessions, the secret of the abominable first half that plagued the Cubs' 3rd baseman and emasculated the Chicago offense came to light . . . kind of. Aramis Ramirez was hurt, but he's not going into details.
I'm not going to say specifically what it was, but I wasn't healthy. . . . Not only the thumb, just injuries in general. I wasn't healthy, put it that way. It's tough enough to play when you're healthy.
I'm not denying Ramirez was hurt, but I'm deeply troubled by his simultaneous transparency and secrecy. If he had never said anything about it, I wouldn't care, but since Aramis brought it up, I need specifics. And since he's not going to say what was holding him back, I have no choice but to come up with my own diagnosis. Here are ten possibilities for what may have been holding Aramis back.

10. Ramirez is a nanosophobe, and his fear of dwarves crippled him until Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot were traded. Ramirez' OPS before the Theriot trade: .700. Since: .830. Actually, that one's so believable, I'm tempted to just stop right here. But I must press on.

9. He sneezed while stepping out of a hot tub after a long night of browsing the Internet. None of that actually hurt him, but after thinking about how his former teammates had been shelved by such mishaps, his sense of mortality overwhelmed him. Then he got better.

8. Jock itch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Being a Cubs Fan Is Depressing

Ron Santo is a pretty joyful guy, but not even he can deny the depressing nature of Cub fandom.

I'm doing everything I can to make this post depressing. Photo of a glum Ron Santo: check. Ironic photo-manipulation isolating a single splash of Cubby Blue: zing. Sad song from Garden State: posted. Discussion of being a Cubs fan: would have gone without saying had it not been for my blatant disregard for the rule of threes.

If I'm discussing the Cubs, all the other stuff is just Spielbergesque manipulative emotional overkill. The depression is happening. If you're a Cubs fan, that is. Non-Cubs fans often derive great pleasure from discussing the Cubs and their fans. For White Sox fans it's cathartic. For people who just don't like baseball in general it vindicates their choice of pastime. For genuinely, clinically depressed people it might even be humorous that a self-chosen preference for the Chicago National League ball club could take the place of a chemical imbalance in immersing someone in melancholy. But for Cubs fans it's just a sad reality.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Quaalude Quade

Is Quade the stress-relief drug the Cubs have been looking for?
The Cubs just concluded their best road trip of 9 games or more in team history. They won in blowout fashion with a lineup in which Sam Fuld was the seasoned veteran, a lineup that consisted exclusively of rookies and minor-league call-ups. The team has gone 17-7 since Quade took over for Lou Piniella, scoring 5.1 runs per game and yielding just 4 per contest over that stretch.

His tenure hasn't been without adversity. I (among many others) questioned the way he handled the Castro benching. And not that it had anything to do with Quade, but just yesterday the Cubs lost Geovany Soto to surgery and Tyler Colvin to a life-threatening bat shard to the chest (something that would never happen to anyone if MLB cared to fix the problem). But the Quade win train keeps on rolling.

A lot of people attribute the Cubs' good fortune to the absence of Lou or Quade's superiority to Lou, which I find preposterous. Lou's time at the helm ended against a string of five teams with winning records. Quade has had it much easier. The Quade-led Cubs (heretofore known as the Qubs) have faced just two +.500 teams. Qub opponents have a combined season winning percentage of .472, and the six series they have won have been against opponents with a collective .455 win rate. The only good team the Qubs have dominated has been the St. Louis Cardinals, who have had just one day off since August 23 (and won't have another before season's end)—they are 10-17 in that stretch. Quade hasn't exactly been a giant-killer.

But under Lou, the Cubs weren't anything-killers. Overall, the Cubs have a 41-43 record against sub-500 teams in 2010. So while I don't think it's at all fair to compare Quade's two-dozen games managed to Lou's 3,548, I am curious to know if Quade has had a relaxing effect on the Qubs. A lot of people are saying they're thriving in September's low-pressure environment, but there hasn't been any realistic pressure on this team since July. And, with the exception of the Cards, none of the teams the Qubs have won series against are feeling much pressure either. So I don't think we can dismiss the entire positive swing exclusively to low-pressure situations and low-talent opponents.

Maybe the Qubs are feeling less pressure, less stress, and less performance-hampering anxiety because of Mike Quade.

I have often argued that a manager isn't likely to add or detract much to a team's ability to play, but I will add that the Cubs' Achilles heel has often been their penchant for buckling in critical situations. I won't blame any manager for that. I have, mostly in jest, blamed the fans for that. But Milton Bradley said it. Lou Piniella said it. Ozzie Guillen said it. Derrek Lee said it. All of them agree that there is a negative pressure on the Cubs that requires them to compete against 29 other teams and 100+ years of history. If there is one quality that could put one candidate ahead of the rest in my eyes, it would be the ability to shield the team from that pressure or to use it productively.

I don't know if Mike Quade really has that skill, but it seems like he very well might. And the simple fact of the matter is that if Quade is the manager in 2011, there will almost certainly be less pressure simply because of the fact that his name carries no expectations with it. I'd be willing to take that low-risk gamble.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cubs Managerial Candidate List

UPDATED UPDATE: Bob Brenly doesn't want this job. Don Wakamatsu might. And that would be a lot of fun, hearing Ron Santo every day trying to say, "Joining me is the fine, fine manager of the Chicago Cubs, Don Waka . . . waka . . . kazmatsui." So there are new names and newly crossed out ones. Can you feel the eternal hope springing up within you?

UPDATE: Several of your submissions have been added to the list, and to compensate we've narrowed down the search by eliminating a few names from contention.

Now that Fredi Gonzalez has declined the offer to become a contestant on The Manager, I thought this might be a good time for a brief rundown of the Cubs managerial search list. Here's whose names have been added to (and in some cases removed from) the list:

Manny Acta
Dusty Baker
Bud Black
Bruce Bochy
Bob Brenly
Daren Brown
Bobby Cox

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Propose A Moratorium On PED Discussion Until Everyone Reads This

Bill James makes it plain why the purist hubbub over PEDs is revisionist myopia and why the federal investigation is just plain stupid.

Here's a sample:

First of all, I have absolutely no doubt that, had steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs existed during Babe Ruth's career, Babe Ruth would not only have used them, he would have used more of them than Barry Bonds. I don't understand how anyone can be confused about this. The central theme of Babe Ruth's life, which is the fulcrum of virtually every anecdote and every event of his career, is that Babe Ruth firmly believed that the rules did not apply to Babe Ruth.

It only gets better from there.

Almost forgot, h/t to mb21 @ ACB

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cubs Season Tickets Are for Chumps

All things considered, I'd rather be staring at my TV.
Don't get me wrong (or do, it's up to you), I love Wrigley Field. But I can't go there 82 times a year (83 or 84 if you count the playoffs). I love the Cubs, but I don't really want to watch more than 5-10 games in person during any given season. I just have no incentive for ever investing in any season ticket plan. There have been some great posts lately over at Tales from Aisle 424 and ACB on the bigger picture of ticket sales, but I wanted to look at the issue of ticket sales from an individual perspective. From my view, season tickets are for chumps.

I want to rule out one segment of season-ticket holders from the chump equation: those enterprising individuals or . . . enterprises who, in periods of high demand, exploit other chumps on the secondary ticket market either for profit or to subsidize or completely pay for their own Cubs game attendance. When the Cubs are winning and people are willing to pay double or triple face value through online purchasing platforms happily and conveniently facilitated by the Cubs organization, owning season tickets is as much a business as it is a leisurely experience. Come playoff time, I imagine the potential for profit is absolutely outstanding.

But the people who actually go to the majority of Cubs' home games are suckers. It's just not worth the expense, and I don't understand why people are willing to spend so much money and time to watch the Cubs, even if they're good.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Castro Returns, Quade Shuts Up. It's About Time.

Enough said, indeed.
Two hours before the series finale of the Cubs/Astros series at Wrigley tonight, Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted this uncharacteristically abbreviated quote from Mike Quade about Starlin Castro's return to the lineup:

Enough said.

If only Quade had taken that approach two days ago when he first benched Starlin. I had no problem with the benching, but he should have issued terse sound bytes to the media upon request instead of laying out a verbose smörgåsbord of ramblings about why Castro would be enjoying a paid vacation next to Alan Trammell. Some people loved the move. Others hated it. But I can't imagine anyone was impressed by the stuttering overdose of the blah blahs.

Who am I to talk? I know. But I don't have the problem of the Chicago sports media hanging on my every poorly chosen word. Quade won't have that problem for long, either, especially if he can't learn to appear at least a little professional in front of the press.

Oh, wait . . . I forgot who his boss is.

Dignity. Always dignity.

Samardzija, I Hope Quade Starts Ya

A plethora? Ah . . . no.
Let's get something out of the way right now: I should be sued for that awful headline. I apologize, but I'm not so sorry that I'm willing to put in the effort for a better one. The good news is, I'm putting twice as much effort into the rest of the post, so hang on to your hat!

Jeff Samardzija is back on the Cubs' AAAA team, mostly because the AAA team ran out of games. Bruce Levine blogged about Spellcheck's back-and-forth journeys between the majors and minors and the bullpen and starting rotation. He mentioned his hopes that Samardzija remain as a starter, and I'd just like to echo them. First, let's see what Mike Quade has to say on the subject, since it's probably his decision, more or less:

A start's in the offing for him, and we'll just have to see.

Okay, I don't know what that means. I think I need Old Hoss Radbourn to translate. Let me just say that if a start isn't in the offing for Jeff Samardzija, I'd like to give Quade what for! Here's another quote from Carrie Muskat's aforelinked article on the recent call-ups:

The right-hander could start, but the Cubs do have an overload of starters now.

I must disagree with Muskat here. I would not say the Cubs have an overload of starters, nor do they have a plethora.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will You Never Learn?

Damnation is a Way of [L]ife too
The nice thing about being friends with Cubs fans is that they never learn. They're like Wile E. Coyote. The World Series is their Road Runner. They keep thinking they're going to catch that damn bird, and it's pretty funny to watch them die a hundred gruesome deaths.

Every year I make a bet with Adam that the Sox will win more games than the Cubs. Last year, he won and I had to wear a Cubs hat to work. This year, he's conceded* and let me repay the indignity by posting on his Cubs blog. I already feel dirty being here, so I'll make this short and sweet before taking three consecutive showers and then watching the Sox dismantle the Tigers for their eighth consecutive win.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Could You Possibly Want to Hear About the Cubs?

Bob Newhart waking up with Ryan Theriot to discover 2010 has been a dream? I'd take that.
I'm at a loss. I seriously have no idea what would constitute welcome Cubs news at this point. Cubs lose and help their draft position? Meh. Cubs win 10 in a row? Even meh-er. Starlin Castro hits ten straight homers? Yeah, that would be better than Starlin Castro makes a fool of himself and gets benched, but not by much. The baseball, by the reflexive property of suckiness, is what it is.

I could make fun of this team, but this entire season has been a joke, and it's no longer funny. It's like watching Aaron Miles hit all day long. At some point, wryly observing that he's not good just becomes overkill and any sane person would turn their attention to something else.

I could talk about next year, but the effects of the 2010 Kool-Aid wore off for pretty much everyone by June. We've been talking about next year so long, I'm already anxious for 2012.

Talk of the managerial search makes me want to drag my teeth on asphalt.

The wave making a comeback at Wrigley yesterday didn't even anger me. It's not even fun watching the White Sox fans get their hopes up, knowing full well they'll be utterly disappointed by season's end. It's just mildly enjoyable.

I don't know why I feel this strange duty to keep posting. I think everyone is done. And I haven't the slightest idea what would possess anyone to say, "Hey, I want to read something about the Cubs!" If such an urge strikes you, please let me know.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ernie Banks joins the Cubs

Here's a pretty cool fan video taken at the Cubs Press Pass All Access event at Wrigley Field on August 29. Ernie Banks tells some great stories about his first time at Wrigley (Is this all there is?), his father paying him to play catch with him for the first time, and the fans actually booing him at the event (in good fun . . . I think). Good stuff, and thanks to shellie619 for the video.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

What Harry asks for, Harry gets.
I taunted all of Twitter about the fact that I was about to enjoy some Chocolate Chip Banana Bread and they weren't. Doc Blume said he'd love to find a recipe. So since no one cares how much I hate the Mets, I figured I'd deliver something of use. (Harry Pavlidis wanted me to make sure to include a poorly photoshopped image of Soriano in a chef's hat. I aim to please.)

Here it is, slightly modified by my wife from a recipe you can find in its original form on

2 Eggs
1 cup Mashed Ripe Bananas
1/3 cup Oil
1/4 cup Milk
2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips in medium bowl and set aside. Mix eggs, bananas, oil, and milk in large bowl until well blended. Add dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Pour batter into greased loaf pan.

Bake 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature. Cut into 18 slices to serve. Or just eat it all, whatever.

Ten Reasons I Hate the Mets

Playing the Mets feels like a punch to the crotch. Just ask Santo.  
This season has been brutal to watch, painful to listen to, and arduous to describe. It's no picnic coming up with something to write about this team on anything resembling a daily basis, not that you care. Really, you don't. As a collective group, the Chicago Cubs fan base crossed the Care Barrier more than a month ago. I'm not writing about this team out of a belief that people care, I'm writing out of obsessive compulsion.

If I'm to lure you to be likewise obsessed and compelled to the point of actually reading something here, I have to get unethically manipulative creative. So I turn to the wisdom of the wizard of direct-response marketing: Denny Hatch. Denny is an astute business man who knows, among a panoply of other business success secrets, how to trigger the emotions of his audience to move them to the point of action. His arsenal of instigation includes seven emotional catalysts guaranteed to push people's buttons: fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, salvation, flattery, and anger.

Fear is played out with Cubs fans. Day baseball at Wrigley might be putting the Cubs at a disadvantage and dooming us to centuries of failure, but that's just one monster of many lurking in the shadows. Greed is a chord best strummed in the spring when fans hope to get their tickets and have their money, too. Guilt is best explored during the holidays, because that's what all the celebration is meant to cover up, isn't it? Exclusivity? I'll leave that to people who think the bleachers is a country club from which the $10 crowd should be banned. Salvation? Not until Bobby Scales comes back. I have completely abandoned flattery. That leaves me with anger, so I'll muster all I have for the Mets.

Fortunately, I hate the Mets, so there's a lot of anger to muster. Why do I hate the Mets? I'm so glad I asked on your behalf.

Ten Reasons I Hate the Mets

10. They suck.
9. 1969
8. They let their cats wander out into the on-deck circle.
7. I'm still mad about their fake prospect who could throw 163 mph.
6. They play in New York.
5. Blue and orange? Really?
4. Dwight Gooden
3. I just do.
2. That stupid home-run apple
1. My mom always told me that when a New York Met wore a C on his jersey, it stood for "Cocaine."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Shocking Truth: The Cubs Are Us

The Cubs are people! They're made out of PEOPLE!!!!  
The Cubs are people, and I don't mean they are a team comprised of human beings. They are that, but . . . no to the duh. I'm saying the Cubs consist of a litany of metaphors for people just like you or me or that guy who keeps sniffing his fingers on the train. It's like the Cubs assembled a motley cast of unremarkable human beings and, instead of putting them all in a house for a reality show, they processed, amalgamated, and packaged them into a baseball team.

The Cubs are people. The Cubs are you. If any of these statements don't apply to you, just look over your shoulder. Somewhere lurking behind you is the statement's intended recipient.

You don't like your job, and you dream of finding a better one. But you know tomorrow you'll be right back in that cubicle. You're the Cubs. The Cubs are  you.

You'd like a bigger house, but at the end of the day you know what's really important is the people that make life special. Achieving your wildest dreams would be nice, but enjoying life wherever you are is what counts. You're the Cubs. The Cubs are you.

You know that sometimes the only way to address your problems is to self-medicate, be the prescription alcohol, narcotics, or donuts. You're the Cubs. The Cubs are you.

Fukudome: Not Just for April Anymore

What'cha gonna do, brother, when Fukudomania runs wild on you, brother? 

Kosuke Fukudome has a career OPS of 1.004 in the month of April. This excellent track record of starting the season on fire has earned him the nickname "April Kosuke." Unfortunately, that's not a compliment. While his April accomplishments are praiseworthy, the moniker is more of an ironic mockery of his alter ego: MayJuneJulyAugustOrSeptember Kosuke. Unlike Rex Grossman, whose Good-Rex/Bad-Rex routine was far more erratic, Kosuke has been fairly good at limiting the offensive explosions to April, hence the name. Or has he?

I've heard Kosuke called a bust, a platoon player at best, a disappointment, and just another of Jim Hendry's typical failed free agent signings. Kosuke praise has been sparse. I get the impression, and it's a pretty well informed one, that Cubs fans and baseball fans in general view Kosuke as a guy who just can't hit once the calendar turns to May. This year, according to what I hear, has been no exception.

One problem: that's a load of crap. Here are Fukudome's offensive splits by month in 2010 (obviously not including his three-hit, two-double performance to kick-off September):