Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thank You, I'm Sorry

Blast off.

The title of this post says all I really need to say. But I almost always say more than that, so here goes.

Thank you for reading. If this is the only post you've ever read or started to read, I appreciate the effort it takes to force your eyes over these words I choose and to process the nonsense they represent. I try to make it fun and worthwhile, but you have no guarantees. You entrusted some amount of time and mental energy to me, and I want you to know I don't take it lightly. I appreciate everyone who makes the questionable decision to read what I write. I respect the people who don't.

So to those of you who have followed along since the beginning (or since just now) you have my deepest gratitude. And I'm sorry for wasting your time. That's a flimsy apology, really. I enjoy a little time wasting. I guess I try to get people to stop and look around once in awhile so they don't miss life. (I think Ferris is a righteous dude.) But I'm still kind of sorry for wasting so much of your time. Even if it's only been the last couple minutes. There are approximately 36 trillion ways you could have better spent your time than reading this blog about the Cubs.

Honestly, it's bad enough we follow this team, isn't it? The Cubs appreciate our allegiance probably in much the same way as I appreciate yours. They're grateful to have so many fans, I'm sure of it. But they may also feel compelled to apologize for the end product.

That's how I feel, anyway. I can't thank you enough for following along. I wish I had done better. I wish the Cubs had done better. But I'm a fool for expecting either.

Self-deprecating realism aside, I'm proud of this blog. I'm happy with how a lot of things turned out. I've enjoyed getting to read the thoughts of the people who expressed them here, on twitter, on facebook, and in various places like that alley behind the Addison El station. I'm glad I stuck with it as long as I did. I have made myself laugh a few times and forced myself to think at least twice. I have a pretty good idea a few people have laughed and thought along with me, and it would be an insult to them if I weren't at least a little proud of that.

And as much as I give Cubs fans a hard time, I admire the poor decision making and dreamy hopefulness that brings anyone to a point of Cub-related fanaticism. I like Cubs fans. I rarely agree with them about everything, but I don't really agree with anybody about everything. I enjoy disagreeing with people. Disagreement is what drives me to learn. And learning is pretty awesome. I like being around people who are willing to argue with me. But all the same, I'm glad we can agree on our desire to see the Cubs win.

So if you're a Cubs fan and you're reading this, I'm doubly indebted to you. I wish I had more time to make you glad to have stumbled upon these words of mine (and to offer you some consolation for the disappointment of loving the Chicago National League ballclub).

Fortunately, I do have more time. While I am sad to be leaving the confines of And Counting, I'm completely excited about I'll be writing at least as much if not for in the new location, and I can't tell you how honored I am to be sharing the space with Tim, David, and Jeff, at least not without going into an embarrassing awkwardness I'd rather not breach.

So thank you for reading. I'm sorry this had to happen to you. I hope it happens many more times at Obstructed View.

Go Cubs.

Oh My DeRosa . . .

Obstructed View: It's Elemental

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's Okay to Idolize Us

Seacrest out in 3, 2, 1 . . .

(By the way, if you like Idol or hilarity, you should check out my other collaborative work, American Idol recaps with the epically talented Beth of I Should Be Folding Laundry fame. Diversify, people.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Recounting: the Way, Way Back Machine Heads to 2003

Long before this blog got started, I ran a daily trivia email that was as close to a blog as anything could be without taking on that exact form. I later turned it into a trivia blog that, while not formally frozen in carbonite like this one is about to be, has gone effectively dormant for quite awhile. I didn't usually talk much about sports, but after the Cubs got ever so close to World Series glory in 2003 only to fall short, I couldn't help but talk about it. I really couldn't remember what I said, though, until I just dug through the archives of a backed up Outlook file. Some of it I'm proud of, some of it is facepalm fodder. But for posterity's sake, here you go (and feel free to take a stab at the question . . . just don't cheat):

Well, the Cubs season is over, so here are a few things everyone should remember, just to keep a proper perspective on things.

1. Baseball's purpose is to entertain, thrill, delight, inspire, unite, and distract us from the less desirable moments of life. If you're a Cub fan who feels this season/postseason has failed to do that because they lost, reflect on what a joy this season has been. If you hate baseball, laugh at me.

2. If you're team gets derailed by a bespectacled, headphoned, not-even-drunk fan, they're clearly not good enough to be in the World Series.

3. If you seek to harm another individual in any way (verbal, physical, any other al words you can think of) because of a baseball game, you are the biggest loser there is.

4. The Marlins are a better team than the Cubs. This one is painful but true. Let's face it, the Marlins had a better record than the Cubs. They have more speed, more consistent hitting ability, a more solid defense, and a not-too-shabby pitching staff. They really are the most complete team in the National League. Everyone thought the Cubs got a break because the Marlins beat the Giants, but what they fail to consider is . . . the Marlins beat the Giants because they were better than the Giants. And for the last two-thirds of the season, they were better than anybody in baseball.

5. The Cubs didn't choke. It's not a curse to lose when you're not that good. I defy anyone to name one player on the Cubs team who underperformed. You can't, because the Cubs played about as well as they can play and still lost. That's not choking. That's getting beat. Get over it.

6. Wait till next year actually means something this year. Didn't we learn anything, people? The Cubs have a manager that always wins and everybody wants to play for, a pitching staff that is only getting better, and a front office who actually seems interested in bringing in good talent. The Cubs were awful last year. They were good this year. Next year actually has promise!

7. It still hurts, though, doesn't it?

Anyway, here's today's trivia:

Cher, Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, Carrie Fisher, Dick Vitale, and Jack Lemmon all had their lives saved by what groundbreaking procedure?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recounting: The 163-mph Hoax Is About to Turn 26

This was one of my favorite posts I ever wrote. It's not even really about the Cubs. But since April Fools' Day is almost upon us (it's Opening Day, appropriately enough), I thought I'd break it out in anticipation (and awareness that I won't be posting here when that day rolls around).

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Unfinished posts: Money from the Sky

As the countdown to March 27 rolls on, whereupon will unleash its discredited fury on Cubdom, I thought I'd do a little housekeeping by finishing posts I had started and left unfinished. And by "some," I mean, "at least one." I'll probably post a favorite or two (as ACB and Aisle 424 are doing) and maybe some posts I wish I'd written. But for now, since the NFL has chosen to test the work stoppage waters, it seemed like a good time to dust off and finish up this post originally scheduled as a Day-Off Reflection in 2010.

At Shea Stadium on opening day in 1995, three fans wearing shirts that read, "GREED," tossed dollar bills onto the field then gathered near second base, clenched fists raised in protest. Baseball had returned after the worst sports work stoppage of my lifetime, the strike that cost 1994 its World Series.

One image sticks with me from that year: Shawon Dunston, sitting in the dugout, arms folded across his knees and head bowed in disbelief. It was the last game of the year, one that had already been drained of any hope of being The Year for Dunston and the Cubs and their fans. But you could see how it affected the O-Meter man. He was sad. He was angry. He was not going to be playing the game he loved because his fellow players and the MLB owners couldn't agree on how the proceeds should be distributed.

Some people blamed the greedy players. Some people (myself included) blamed the greedy owners. I was mostly just greedy for baseball.

So in 1995, I attended my very first Cubs home opener. The Cubs gave away free magnet schedules. The fans gave a whole lot of them back. You see, the thing about magnetic schedules is that those suckers have serious aerodynamic efficiency about them. One fan from the upper deck managed to hit home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck with one. (I don't know who the home plate umpire is, but I'm trying to finish up a year-old post on a dying blog, so I'm too lazy to look it up. And yes, I don't know for sure it came from the upper deck, but doesn't that make the story more interesting?)

It was dumb of the fans to throw those schedules, but not nearly as dumb as it was for the team to say, "We understand you're angry over the strike, so to make it up to you, we'd like you to have some projectiles. Enjoy."

So on this or any other day when I'm unable to enjoy a Cubs game or baseball of any kind, it seems extra stupid to intentionally avoid playing baseball when there's an opportunity to play it. Especially when, as Shawon clearly displayed, the players want to play as intensely as the spectators want to watch. I'm sure the owners don't object to making money whilst playing real-life fantasy baseball, either.

Get along, people. Coalesce. Stop screwing over each other. Be greedy for baseball.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sammy's Skin

I thought this wasn't supposed to matter. Sammy Sosa hit 545 home runs in a Cubs uniform. Some people hate him because of his boom box. Some people hate him for cheating with a corked bat and a chemically altered physique. Some people hate him for caring more about putting on a show than being a good teammate. Some people hate him because it's fashionable.

Now Sammy Sosa's skin is lighter than it used to be. I understand neither why that's funny nor why anyone cares. But apparently people do.

Never mind the fact he was really good at baseball. Never mind the fact that he restored enthusiasm in baseball not only in Chicago but also in North America. Never mind that while he played with the Cubs he paid very little effort into anything other than being prepared to play baseball well and to entertain the fans who watched him.

But his skin is lighter now. So . . . LMFAO.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Counting Down

When I started this blog two years ago, I was an idiot. The Cubs had been bounced from the playoffs for the second consecutive year via their second consecutive sweep at the hands of an NL West team. But the Cubs had also been to the playoffs for two consecutive years. And on paper, in the offseason between 2008 and 2009, the Cubs had improved.

I was already blogging about other stuff, but mostly on a personal basis for the benefit to the detriment of people who knew me personally. Blogging about the Cubs, I figured, would be a chance to reach people who shared my particular dysfunction of liking the least successful sports franchise of the last century. But it didn't feel like that stupid of an inclination at the time. I thought I'd be blogging about The Year.

And if by The Year I meant, "the most frustrating winning season in Cubs history," then I was right. But that's not what I meant.

Now that I've had a chance to chronicle the Cubs for two seasons that weren't particularly enjoyable, I can confidently say that I'm still an idiot. But I've learned some things.

I've learned that I like you. If you're reading, I like you. I can't help you, but I like you.

I've learned not to count on the World Series.

I've learned when to quit. Well . . . kind of.

The life of And Counting as an active Cubs blog is coming to a close over the next week or two. I'm counting down instead of counting up. And by the time the season starts, you can expect to see this page go unchanged for quite some time.

BUT . . .

You aren't quite rid of me yet. If you've been paying attention to Another Cubs Blog, you know mb21 is bringing that fine Cubs shrine of discreditation to a close as well so he can start up something new with berselius and a couple other Cubs bloggers. I'm proud and honored to be an Other. [UPDATE: so is Tim.]

I'll have a few more posts to throw out here before it's all said and done, but I just wanted to give you all both the opportunity to count down with me. And thanks for reading. I appreciate it more than you know. Okay, I appreciate it a lot. Now you know. See you in another life, brotha.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Random Acts of Cubness

Marlon Byrd and Victor Conte still having a working relationship should change people's impressions of Victor Conte.

Geovany Soto is going to get on base and hit the baseball hard.

Chicago Code isn't a very good show, but I'll probably still watch it forever.

And while I'm talking about it, the fictional White Sox fan cop called Cubs fan cop "Ron Santo" for saying he preferred 12-inch softball to 16-inch softball. But Ronnie played 16-inch softball. So I guess the White Sox cop fan's character is pretty realistic.

Why did the mother pig kick the three little pigs out to go build their own houses? They're little pigs.

I still miss Ron Santo.

Starlin Castro is going to be exciting to watch play baseball.

Also: errors shmerrors.

Tyler Colvin is probably better than I think.

Spring training still means nothing.

Randy Wells is in the starting rotation. He's in.

Carlos Silva has something to prove. I hope for his sake he's at least as good at proving things as Matt Damon was in Good Will Hunting.

Also, Carlos, if Andrew Cashner asks you if you like apples, don't answer.

Kerry Wood is a Chicago Cub.

Mark Prior is a New York Yankee. His stat line so far in spring training, which, I know, means nothing, says he wants to remain a New York Yankee.

ERA: 0.00, 3 G, 3.0 IP, 1 H, O R, 1 BB, 4 SO, WHIP 0.67
I'm pretty happy about Kerry and Mark.

This Cubs team is not going to surprise a lot of people because too many people are saying they're going to surprise a lot of people. You people suck at surprises.

Mike Quade is an interesting fellow.

April 1 can't get here soon enough.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to do amidst the NL craziness

Honestly, I don't know what to write about. Someone pooped where Dusty stood. I don't want to write about that.

Adam Wainright is hurt. I don't want to write about that.

People were happy or less than gracious upon finding out Adam Wainwright was hurt. I don't want to write about that.

The NL Central is probably not going to be very good. I don't really want to write about that.

This makes me wish baseball would realign. Completely. I already wrote about that.

So if you want, go read about it.

First, I tried to point out how 3-division leagues make baseball kind of suck.

Then I proposed a realignment plan.

I stand behind all of this still today. Good day. And please, no one poop in the dugout.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marlon Byrd Promises Cubs Will Combust

Guns don't kill people . . . but I'm
not arguing with Marlon's.
I'm not the one to turn to for a pep talk on the Cubs' chances in 20!! (double exclamation points to the contrary). If I start talking about the Cubs contending this year, it's because I'm blatantly choosing to ignore the information I have at my disposal. No amount of data can predict with absolute certainty what the Cubs will accomplish this season. But I think a postseason appearance in !! is entirely improbable. I won't begrudge anyone their loftier predictions, I just won't tend to agree with them on an intellectual level.

But if you want that pep talk, go to Marlon Byrd. If you can't set up a personal appointment, go to his blog. He believes the Cubs are going to explode.

I won't argue (although Carlos Zambrano promises he won't explode). I really hope he's right. I can't rule out that he's right. There's no harm in believing the Cubs will catch the world (or at least the NL Central) by surprise. I'm just not ready to invest the energy to preach that sermon.

I will say that Marlon Byrd is exactly the guy I want delivering that message. He is a man of enthusiasm. A man of positivity. A man with pretty freaking huge arms. I'm glad he's on the team, and I'm ready to start watching him play real baseball.

First spring training game is this Sunday. Marlon's pep talk has definitely worked on me to some extent:

The guys we have -- there's not excitement on MLB Network, there's not excitement on Baseball Tonight. That excitement is Greinke and Marcum with the Brewers and Berkman going to St. Louis and the Reds signing extensions to the young guys who are going to turn into big dogs. We're going to fly under the radar and keep that excitement bottled up and once April 1 comes, we're going to explode.

I share Marlon's excitement. Just not his optimism.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Training!!!!!

How do I feel about Cubs Spring Training being underway in Mesa? Here's the Answer:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should the Cubs Try to Sign Albert Pujols? The Insiders Answer.

The question is simple. Should the Cubs try to acquire Albert Pujols in light of the negotiating deadline in his rear-view mirror? He's reportedly asking for something in the neighborhood of $300 million over 10 years. That's a really nice neighborhood. Anyway, I asked this question to a group of Cubs insiders to get their opinions, and here are their answers:

Carrie Muskat, Pujols is under contract with the Cardinals. Making an offer now would be tampering.

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune: Yeah, the Cubs need to give $30-million contracts to more old guys.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune: Only if they can sign Tony LaRussa as well and trade the Wrigley Building for the Gateway Arch. But it's unclear whether St. Louis would go for that.

Rick Morrissey, Chicago Sun-Times: I'll answer that question with another question: would you trade Flintstone vitamins for anabolic steroids? Would you plant an old, overripe watermelon in the ground and use a falsified birth certificate for fertilizer? Do you read my column instead of prescription drug warning labels? I'm not saying he's juicing and lying about his age and doomed to suck. I'm just saying.

Rick Reilly, ESPN: Signing Albert Pujols to a $300 million contract would be riskier than tightroping across the Grand Canyon on the final thread of talent still remaining in Alfonso Soriano's career.

Bruce Levine, ESPN Chicago: Should they sign the best player in baseball? Of course. But can they? The last I heard, the Ricketts family had to ask to borrow money just to clean the bathrooms at Wrigley.


Steve Rosenbloom, Chicago Tribune: Do the Cubs need another overpaid diva from another country? The question answers itself.

David Kaplan, WGN Radio: Albert Pujols is the best in the business. If you have a shot to bring him to the North Side, you take it. I want a World Series for the Cubs as much as anybody, and no one can ensure that that happens better than Jose Alberto Pujols. And when Prince Albert hoists the World Series trophy in the parade through Wrigleyville, and he needs a new best friend to share the moment with? I'll be there.

Editor's note: the following contributors did not return requests for comments. Answers were supplied on their behalf: Carrie Muskat, Paul Sullivan, Phil Rogers, Rick Morrissey, Rick Reilly, Bruce Levine, Judd Sirott, Steve Rosenbloom, David Kaplan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

103 Things That Won't Happen in 2011 (but I'll hope for anyway)

It has been 102 years, 4 months, and 2 days since the Cubs last won the World Series. I round up to 103 years because that's the minimum amount of time we can expect to have elapsed between Series-clinching wins for the Cubs. Some people don't like that approach. This keeps me up at night. That's not the point.

Yes, that's a gang symbol. North Side!

The point is it's been a long wait. The intersection of realistic people and people who expect the Cubs to win the World Series this year is the empty set. And at this point, I don't care. As the late Ethan Hawke once said when asked which of his movie's soundtracks most exceeded the film in terms of quality, critical reception, and revenue generation, "Reality Bites." So here's a list of 103 things that won't happen this year. But I want them to (well, most of them), and I'll go ahead and pretend that's realistic.

103. The Cubs will sign Albert Pujols when free agent season commences and he'll give them the "Screw you, Cardinals" discount.
102. Carlos Marmol will save 50 games.
101. Starlin Castro will have a 25-game errorless streak.
100. Todd Ricketts will throw six bench players in the trash and pay for them out of his own wallet.
99. Angel Guzman will pitch. In the majors. Effectively.
98. They'll open a Starbucks in my house.
97. Bleacher ticket prices for all home games after July 1 will be lowered to $10.
96. Rudy Jaramillo will learn to control the wind.
95. Aramis Ramirez will hit 30 home runs.
94. Before the All-Star break.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What is a Cubs Game Worth?

Do you really have to be there?
The newest Cubs ticket plan, the six pack, is now on sale at Six games for $150 or more (they advertise the prices starting at $97, but the cheapest seats available in package E, for example, ring up at $141.16 once fees are included.) Not bad, all in all, I guess. You're going to pay $23 a ticket for not very good seats to 1 premium game and 5 games you'll try to sell to someone else (or maybe vice versa, I don't know you).

But is a trip to Wrigley worth that right now? I'll throw out all the other costs associated with getting to the game, because going into Chicago is worth it. I love Chicago. I love driving into Chicago. Up Lakeshore Drive. Through the tangled mess of the Dan Ryan. Neighborhood routes or expressway bypasses, I don't care. I love being in the city, and I'm not going to add the price of getting there into the Cubs' side of the ledger. Getting there is on me. Glad to do it.

Once I'm there, though, is it worth $23 to mingle around the statues and take in the ballpark rising from the cramped city . . . trapezoid; to trudge through the fog of beer fumes and hot dog vapors; to fade into a crowd of people who more than anything just want to see a Cubs win and enjoy a few drops of sunshine along the way; to sit in uncomplicated seats; to bring my voice close enough to the field that the players can hear my cheers of support and groans of disappointment and shouts of triumph? Is that worth $23? $30? $125?

How much is it worth to me to indoctrinate my sons with an emotional attachment to a team that offers little rational return on the investment? To bring them to a place so big and green and beautiful that reveals itself in a sudden wave of glory as we head up the steps onto the mezzanine? To sit beside them and talk about whatever they want to talk about and answer every question and not have a TV on? How much is that worth to cement a moment in time between me and the members of my family?

I guess about $15 per person is what I'm saying.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chicago Cubs in Music: Can the Cubbies Get Back to Contention?

If Starlin Castro has a sophomore year that's more Albert Pujols then Jerome Walton . . .

If the Luck Dragon smiles on Carlos Pena's BABIP . . .

If Mike Quade actually is the Luck Dragon . . .

If Albert Pujols gets angry and only takes it out on his own team (and occasionally the Brewers and Reds) . . .

If a whole bunch of other really awesome things go just right for the Cubs . . .

The Cubs could seriously contend in 2011.

BUT . . . 

Well, that's an awfully big but. And if you like that sort of thing, this is your year. And this is your song.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicago Cubs in Music: Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry

Because I don't know that words will convey my current feelings on the Cubs quite precisely enough (I mean, the pre-Spring-Training pangs are so nebulous, so elusive, so coincidental to the ebb and flow of blogger lethargy), I'll be relying on the power of music to get the point across. First up, fittingly I suppose, Chicago.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Remaining Cubs Ticket Sales Announced

Still want Cubs tickets? They're having a sale! Here's the gist:

This Friday, Feb. 11, a six-pack plan goes on sale. Six-ticket packages starting at about $100 plus taxes, fees, and what-are-you-looking-at? surcharges.

The Cubs have lifted their ban on the Saturday, June 18 game against the Yankees. A new 13-game plan featuring the previously unreleased tickets goes on sale now, NOW! Prices start at ZOMDR!

The MasterCard pre-sale is back and exactly the same as ever! Wednesday, Feb. 23 and Thursday, Feb. 24 will give fans the opportunity to spend more than they otherwise would for tickets no one else will be willing to buy. Hurry!

Plain-old vanilla single-game tickets will go on sale Friday, Feb. 25. You can buy them online or by joining the teeming severals of fans who like to wear wristbands and avoid the mass ticket-agent surcharges. They'll be selling tickets by phone, too, because some people apparently still use those.

Happy money losing!

Okay, that's totally jaded of me. I still love the Cubs. I hope they win lots and that the tickets are all worth every penny. But . . . *

*meaningful ellipses dripping with sarcasm

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A League of Her Pwn

Julie has up and moved her kingdom. I highly recommend you update your bookmarks and get your digital booties over to the new A League of Her Own and check out Julie's just-launched sports network, the brand new, femininely epic

What are you still doing here? Go! Now!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Cubs Can't Hit. Ever.

I haven't had much to say about the Cubs lately, but if you haven't read this over at ACB, you should do that right now. Unless your happiness is inextricably linked to the Cubs' offensive production. If that's the case, don't read it. Erase the link and block the website. You may never smile again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

10 Things Chicago Athletes Aren't Allowed To Do

As a favor to new Cubs Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and returning fan favorites Kerry Wood and Reed Johnson, I thought you'd like to know the rules. They aren't all that complicated, nor do they make a lot of sense, but they are undeniable and unforgiving. These 10 things, you simply cannot do and expect to be accepted by the Greatest Fans in the World ™.

10. Show too much emotion.
9. Show too little emotion.
8. Get injured.
7. Play while injured and make your injury worse.
6. Play while injured and try to avoid making your injury worse.
5. Miss time due to injury.
4. Put off surgery too long.
3. Accept a no-trade clause much less invoke it.
2. Have dinner.
1. Under any circumstances point out that any of this is the slightest bit silly or that the Greatest Fans in the World ™ include temperamental, irrational, racist, ignorant, or otherwise mercurial members among their ranks.

Just don't do any of that and also play awesome, and this town will love you to pieces!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quade to Treat Players Like People

Last weekend Mike Quade said something that, while repulsive to some, was actually quite brilliant. Here's the quote, courtesy of Paul Sullivan:
"Are you going to deal with 'Sori' the same way you deal with (Blake) DeWitt?" he said. "No."
Steve Rosenbloom thinks that's ridiculous.
Maybe he was intimidated by big-money players. Maybe he wanted them to say nice things to help him lose the interim tag. Whatever, the fact is he didn’t bench Ramirez when he gave up on some defensive plays and generally played dodgeball in the field. Nor did he bench Soriano for an utter and typical lack of hustle out of the batter’s box. What’s worse, Soriano’s stylin’ came in Quade’s first game. Soriano stayed in the game. Soriano was in the lineup the next day. Message to Cubs players: Become a big-money veteran.
There's a reason Steve Rosenbloom works on his own. He and other like-minded (is it right to use the word mind about someone who refuses to think?) individuals opine that the only way to communicate to players is by benching them. Fredi Gonzalez is apparently one of those people. That's how he handled Hanley Ramirez. It worked out well. I'm sure the righteous indignation made his final month of employment the very best ever.

Maybe in some phase of the Industrial Revolution, it made sense to treat every laborer exactly the same. Keep everyone at the factory in place. Forget individuality. The commoners can have their dignity when they go home, but at work you treat them like two year olds and put them in time out when they're naughty.

But this isn't 1832, and the Cubs aren't children. Enlightened employers realize that impartiality doesn't require blanket uniformity. Respecting the individuality of each team member calls for some amount of personalization in the way you relate to them. That holds true for any workplace. The need for specialization is even more pronounced in baseball.

Think it's important to treat everyone exactly the same? Why on earth would Quade do that? The Cubs don't pay everyone the same. Alfonso Soriano makes about 45 times as much money as Blake DeWitt. If Mike Quade wants to use playing time to send a message stronger than that, he'll have to bench Soriano until the year 2078. If he wants to send a real message, however, he needs to communicate like an adult.

Some people viewed Starlin Castro's benching last year as a punitive act, but I think Quade's decision was a bit more sophisticated than that. A player will respond to his own mistakes much differently when he's 20 than when he's 35. The time off gave Castro a chance to slow down his reaction and deal with it thoughtfully (or "reflect," as Quade put it). I don't know if it was the right move, but it was a thoughtful one, not the loud-mouthed, drill-sergeant approach Rosenbloom is calling for.

Benching Ramirez and Soriano would do nothing but disrespect them. Beat reporters, columnists, and bloggers have no obligation to show respect to players, but Mike Quade does. Treating multi-millionaires (or $400,000-aires, for that matter) like children isn't macho, it's mindless. I'm glad Mike Quade understands that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Milton Bradley Arrested

Milton Bradley was arrested in Los Angeles this morning. He was accused of threatening a woman. He has been released on bail.

I'm posting the story because I like to bring the funny every now and then, and apparently this is comedy gold.

You're welcome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Cubs: Year in Review

Join Jim Hendry, Kerry Wood, and me for a look into the Cubs' future.
Image courtesy of Worst Photoshop Ever, Inc.
If you have yet to take a virtual stroll through the 2010 recap unfolding over at Aisle 424, you're missing out. Last I checked he was reliving the horrors of June. Since Tim's doing such a remarkable job of it, and since I have no desire at the moment to write anything about the ghosts of failures past, I thought I'd jump into the DeLorean and investigate what happens this year.

I won't spoil the whole season; we all need some reason to watch, right? But as long as I have the means, you can bet your flux capacitor I'll take more than a few peeks at the upcoming candidate for the position of The Year. Okay, 2011, whatcha got?

February 2011
1: The Cubs and Matt Garza avoid arbitration by agreeing to a 10-year, $250 million extension to be paid over the next 30 years.

11: Individual game tickets go on sale at Wrigley Field and online. The lucky person with wristband number 12 gets first place in line, followed by 13, and then the line starts over at wristband number 1. Dozens of fans across the country and abroad complain of online wait times up to 30 to 40 seconds.

14: Pitchers and catchers and Marlon Byrd report to spring training. Geovany Soto shows up with an extra 100 pounds of abdominal weight and with only one eyebrow.

19: All players except Alfonso Soriano report to camp. Everyone is super skinny except for Tyler Colvin, who has bulked up with 25 pounds of muscle and 15 pounds of chain-mail under armor.

26: Alfonso Soriano reports to spring training on the mandatory reporting date and refuses to tell reporters how much he weighs or who he is wearing. Steve Rosenbloom prepares the tar and feathers.

27: Cubs Cactus League opener against Oakland. Ryan Dempster takes the mound and pitches 2 shutout innings. Cubs fans celebrate the return of competitive baseball and the rebirth of hope, joy, and all that is good about human existence.

(later that day): Esmailin Caridad surrenders a ninth-inning homer to Adrian Cardenas. Rich Harden pitches a perfect bottom-half for the save. Cubs fans reach consensus that they're sick of spring training.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Muskat Ramblings: 1/13 Leadoff by committee

Muskat Ramblings: 1/13 Leadoff by committee

I don't really like to listen to the guy talk in press conferences, but I like Mike Quade. He's almost unquotable, but at least he doesn't appear to care very much about spin and psychological manipulation. He pretty much just thinks out loud in front of the press, which should be funny to watch over time.

"You look at this club, as I do right now, and you say, 'Who's a perennial leadoff guy?'" Quade said. "'Who's the prototypical leadoff guy? Do we have one?' And I would say, 'I don't think so.' OK, when the answer is 'I don't think so,' I can mix and match. Maybe somebody asserts himself as that guy, again, keeping an open mind and just making sure you weigh all the variables."

I like the approach.

Cubs Refuse to Sell Tickets to Game with Yankees

Wally Hayward—executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer for the Chicago Cubs and proud owner of the longest title of anyone whose occupation is not British royalty—says that if you're planning on seeing the Yankees play at Wrigley in mid-June (and the Cubs will be there too), you'd better buy as many tickets as you can to the Cubs' Pick 13 Plan that, as of . . . right now, will go on sale in an hour. The reason? He claims the series will probably be sold out by the time individual game tickets go on sale in February (no date yet announced).

According to Paul Sullivan, Hayward doesn't expect the single-game crowd to see any tickets trickle down their way:
Hayward said season ticket renewals are ahead of last year, and that the Cubs expect to sell out the New York Yankees series before individual tickets become available to the public.

"People who do wait for that on-sale date will most likely get shut out," Hayward said.
I find this extremely interesting, since . . . well, just look at the picture.
I see Friday tickets. I see Sunday tickets. I smell baloney.
 I'm curious to know how the Cubs plan to sell out the series against the Yankees through a combination of season-ticket sales (and I'm sure Hayward is being absolutely forthcoming about the strength of those) and this Pick 13 promotion that offers bleacher tickets and "bowl" tickets (their term for the reserved sections, which, in true Wrigley style, aren't configured to resemble a bowl so much as a trough) to just two of the three games.

The only conclusion I can muster is that the Cubs will not be selling tickets to the Saturday, June 18 game. Just won't sell them. No deal, Burns. Take your interleague lust and shove it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cubs Stats Video Masterpiece: FIP vs. ERA

If you know what Fielding Independent Pitching is, you'll enjoy this video. If you don't know what Fielding Independent Pitching is, you'll enjoy and learn from this video. If you don't enjoy this video, I honestly don't know how I can possibly help you.

No matter the group into which you fall, I recommend you devote your time and attention to checking out Cubs Stats. It is a place of peace and enlightenment, and the genius behind that blog is also the visionary responsible for the aforeplayed video.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cubs Trade What They Need for What They Don't

The Cubs will traded, have traded, or are in the process of trading pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, and outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld to the Tampa Bay Rays for accomplished pitcher Matt Garza and not-so-accomplished, minimum-wage outfielder Fernando Perez. All of this is according to Bruce Levine, so I'll give him full credit for unearthing the news.

Reaction among Cubs fans has run the gamut from high praise to meh to pshaw to #@!$. I don't even have an emotional response. I'll just try to make this simple. Let's look at this in terms of baseball assets and liabilities.

Players who can play well

Player contracts

I apologize for the insult to your intelligence, but I'm simplifying it for my own sanity. That's really the equation in a tiny little nutshell.* If you're trying to win at Major League Baseball, you want good players, you want money, and you are contractually obligated to pay your players. Let's examine the Cubs' assets and liabilities.

Players who can play well.
The Cubs have a great catcher, a promising shortstop, corner infielders looking to rebound, a void at second, an overcrowded but undertalented outfield, a galvanized bullpen, and 12 starting pitchers. Heading into today, they also had a farm system of considerable depth if not overwhelming potential. John Sickels offers a quick grade card of the top 20 prospects in the system and a synopsis of the system as a whole, which unsurprisingly varies little from the big-league team. Strong up the middle, weak at the corners, a lot of good-to-very-good pitching.

So you could say the Cubs need corner outfielders and, given the expiring contracts of their current corner infielders, corner infielding prospects at the very least. They also need . . .

When the Ricketts family bought the Cubs for $3 zillion, they spent more money than they had, at least in cash. The last we heard from them, they were saying they could really use $300 million that they would pay back to the citizens of Illinois by not not paying their taxes for the next 30 years. But we've also heard whispers that the Cubs were looking to cut payroll by a-lot percent.

Player Contracts (all numbers courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts
Alfonso Soriano: $18 million per year through 2014
Carlos Zambrano: $17.875 million in 2011, $18 million in 2012, and a $19.25 million vesting option in 2013 if Z finishes in the top 2 of the Cy Young vote this year or the top 4 next year, so . . . yeah.
Aramis Ramirez: $14.6 million in 2011, $16 million club option in 2010 that vests if Aramis wins the MVP or the NLCS MVP or if he is traded, so . . . yeah.
Kosuke Fukudome: $13.5 million in 2011
Ryan Dempster: $13.5 million in 2011, $14 million player option in 2012, as well as $3 million in deferred payments over the next two years
Carlos Silva: $11.5 million (Cubs are getting $5.5 million from Seattle) in 2011 and a mutual option in 2012 for $12 million
Carlos Pena: $10 million in 2011 of which $5 million is deferred until 2012
Marlon Byrd: $5.5 million in 2011, $6.5 million in 2012
Jeff Samardzija: $3 million (?) in 2011
John Grabow: $4.8 million in 2011
Carlos Marmol: Pending re-signing/arbitration, probable increase from $2.125 million last year
Kerry Wood: $1.5 million in 2011
Jeff Baker: $1.175 million in 2011
Sean Marshall: Pending re-signing/arbitration, probable increase from $950,000 last year
Tom Gorzelanny: ($800,000 in 2010)
Koyie Hill: ditto ($700,000 in 2010)
Geovany Soto: ditto ($575,000 in 2010)
Randy Wells: ditto ($427,000 in 2010)
Bunch of guys making league minimum...

Has that been simple enough? Is it a big mystery what the Cubs need and what they need to get rid of? The Cubs have a ton of starting pitching. They have no one all that promising at second base. They have a farm system well stocked with what they already have at the big league level. They have a lot of giant contracts.

I'm sure you can notice the disconnect between the Cubs' assets and their liabilities, too. Geovany Soto is the Cubs' best player. He made $575,000 last year. He'll make a bit more this year. By WAR, Randy Wells was the Cubs' 2nd best pitcher last year, and he had to borrow money from Geovany Soto. Players who are good don't necessarily make the most money.

Prospects like the Cubs just traded away make, relatively speaking, almost no money at all. Since the Cubs profess to have almost no money at all, it seemed like a match made in heaven. What's more frustrating is that the Cubs just let go of, as Callis ranks them, their number 3, 4, 8, and 15 prospects in exchange for a player who fits into one of the Cubs' current strengths.

These weren't just players without contract liabilities, these were players who could play well.

Are the Cubs a stronger pitching team now? I don't know. Some people would say they definitely are, but I'm not convinced. If they are, I don't think it's by any great stretch. He's got postseason experience, which is great. But guess what, Matt: you won't be getting any more.

The argument I've heard most is that the prospects had a chance to succeed in the big leagues, but Matt Garza has proven he'll succeed now. Really? He's 27 years old, right about the age Carlos Zambrano was when he signed his current contract.

I also hear that Garza isn't eligible for free agency for another two or three years, but he did make $3.35 million last year and will make quite a bit more this year. That number will keep going up, even if he disappoints.

So, let's return to simple. The Cubs were a team with a lot of pitching, a lot of prospects, no money, and a lot of contracts. They got more pitching, unloaded prospects, and acquired a new, soon-to-be-ballooning contract. What did they keep? All their big contracts. And what's supposed to be the real good news is that the Cubs might trade one of their underpaid pitchers.

Okay, yeah, I still don't get it.

Maybe the Cubs' new 6th outfielder can shed some light on the subject. What's it like to be paid the league minimum?

I was going to include "Players with big contracts who can't play very well" in the Liabilities column, but the fact of the matter is that it's the contracts that are the true competitive liability. If it weren't for the contract, Alfonso Soriano wouldn't be a liability to the Cubs, he'd just be out of work.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Old and Slow Cubs a Thing of the Past

Screen-grabbed this gem from Kleptomaniacs, the Cubs are not.
Used to be the Cubs were a bunch of old, slow base cloggers.

 Now they're young and slow.

That is all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Comments Elsewhere: the Morality Police

I frequently comment on other blogs, and usually somewhere around the 3rd or 4th paragraph I wonder why I don't just make the tome a post over here as well. So I'm finally making my verbosity work double duty.

Over at Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra responded to some nonsensical chatter that the BBWAA makes for a suitable morality police squad. The discussion is interesting—not so much the argument over the factual reliability of history books in the United States public education system, but more the part about the issue at hand. Here's my response in the discussion of a post that accurately describes the case made by many writers over the infamous Character Clause, but one that ignores the rules applied to the rest of a player's credentials:

“That means that voters are asked not merely to decide if there is something “negative” in a player’s record, but whether he deserves to be enshrined BASED on his integrity, character, and sportsmanship. This invites a qualitative assessment, and suggests that players significantly deficient in these areas ought not to be admitted regardless of their other accomplishments.”

Except you (and voters who make this argument) fail to mention what the standard is for enshrinement in those areas. The Bible? The Constitution? Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition? Some voters are defiant that any cheating is grounds for dismissal. Others are at a loss to define it for themselves, begging the Hall to clarify or give some statement as to how to determine how to weigh integrity and sportsmanship.

It baffles me. Just use the same methods employed in baseball statistics: compare the player’s record with the record of his peers and that of other HOF members. Are McGwire and Bonds lower forms of life than the untold throngs of their contemporaries who cheated in the exact same way and competed against them? Does a steroid user have less integrity and weaker character than the amphetamine users, ball doctors, and racists who are currently enshrined? Because that’s the precedent. That’s the slope that thus far has proved anything but slippery.

If perfection is the standard, clear out the Hall. If being a really, really good person who never played a dishonest inning is the standard, There should still be dozens of ejections. But that’s not the standard. It’s not close to the standard. Anyone with an open and slightly functioning brain should be able to recognize the obvious standard: gambling is the only unpardonable sin baseball has ever formally recognized. Cheating successfully has long been greeted with open arms. The voters are changing that policy, and THAT is the slippery slope.
Obviously there's a big difference between ethical and moral standards in general and the standards historically applied when considering a player's Hall of Fame candidacy. I'm not arguing there was nothing wrong with PED use, I'm just saying it's foolish to pretend that PED users established a new low or that HOF members represent baseball's moral elite. No one truly thinks that even a little bit, except when they consider their HOF ballots.