Archive for June, 2006

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

I watched the US vs. Italy World Cup match yesterday. I’m not a soccer fan, but about ten years ago I worked at a company with a lot of limeys, some Irishmen, and a couple of Germans. So soccer was big there, but it never caught on with me. I even tried playing for two years on their company team. It just wasn’t for me.

My mind is pretty much one-track: I play one video game at a time (currently Baldur’s Gate II again), fixate on one aspect of improving my job at a time, and follow one sport at a time. On the rare occasions that the Cubs are still in the hunt at year’s end, the Bears are forced to play without my attention fixed upon them. When I started thinking about this posting, I had to think about the sports I liked so that I could rank soccer. Here’s what I came up with, along with a rough 0-99 scale of how much I like the sport (and the league I tend to follow the most):

Baseball (MLB)……………..99
Football (NFL)……………… 65
Basketball (NBA, WNBA).30
Hockey (NHL)………………25
Soccer (FIFA, MLS)…….. 10
College sports (any)……… 5
Car-, boat-, or other vehicle-based sports 0
Snow-based sports…….. 0
Water-based sports…….. 0
Fake sports (poker, pool, bowling, etc.) 0
Punching- or fighting-based sports (boxing, Ultimate Fighting, “Karate Kid” Movies) 0
Animal sports (horse racing, cockfighting, bullfighting, Professional cat flagellation, Gerbil Gere-ing) 0
Pretense of competition sports (gymnastics, ballroom dance, wrestling) 0

As you can see, baseball holds most of my interest. With the lower-echelon (50 and below) sports I can’t even watch them unless I have a local or personal interest in the team (I may be in PA now, but Chicago sports will always be “local” to me).

You probably also noticed that there aren’t many sports that I DO like, which makes the amount of time I spend thinking about sports seem even more obsessive and/or depressing.

The US/Italy match, however, was thoroughly engaging and actually caught my interest in a way that soccer has completely failed to in the past. I liked the pace, the lack of commercials, the fan interaction, the core strategy (which I’m finally starting to grasp), and the way the US, down 2 players, and Italy, down 1 player, were both completely exhausted by game’s end. That made ‘em seem human; soccer is an incredibly draining sport and those dudes have superhuman endurance to play 90 minutes with just one break. So it was good to see them wear down.

I also liked what I saw from the US team. I’m not the most patriotic American — I had been rooting for the Czechs ’til that game just because I visited the country once and felt like I needed a team to root for. But the US team made me feel patriotic, because they represented something good to the rest of the world about our country. We became a great nation through the strength of our tenacity, aggressiveness, and underdog mentality. The underdog mentality goes away when the US basketball team represents our nation; they tend to play flat. When the US hockey team plays less than tenacious hockey and trashes hotel rooms in the process, we look like spoiled, underachieving brats to the rest of the world.

In this match, we WERE underdogs. Our team had half the talent of the Italian team, but they contested every possession, battled with all their energy, played like they had to out-hustle their opponents, and worked like dogs. Thus they put themselves in a position to take advantage of an Italian error to take a 1-1 tie. With one less player than the opponents for almost half the game, they hung in there. In doing so, they demonstrated the best traits of the American spirit.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll keep watching any soccer, but it just shot up to a 40 on my scale above, which means I’d probably rather watch, say, Germany vs. Ecuador instead of the Heat vs. the Mavs. It’d be a tough call if the Bulls were in the finals and the USA was into the field of 16, but the Bulls took care of that problem for me.

Play on, people-who-are-soccer-players-playing-soccer-against-other-soccer-people in-a-soccer-match-in-the-soccer-World-Cup! And GO USA!

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Jason Stark (aka – The Comedian)

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

Jason Stark has to be the funniest man alive. He writes an article about the potential trade targets this year, a few of which are Cubs. However, the humor comes in the very bottom of the article where he lists other players aside from the big 5 or 6 that he actually wrote about, that could move. One of the names listed is Glendon Rusch. Perhaps there are some independent baseball teams looking to deal with the Cubs this trade deadline, because Rusch is definitely not going anywhere else beside the dumpster out back.

In other news, here is a quick write up on Tyler Colvin, the Cubs 1st round pick this year. All indications are that the Cubs drafted someone they felt could succeed, but most say it’s a reach. We’ll have to see. Personally, I like college hitters over H.S. hitters any day.

Finally, remember this guy? If you don’t, his name is Alonzo Spellman. He used to play for the Bears and was very highly touted. He turned into a complete bust that culminated with him walking half naked on the expressway with no real reason to explain it. Well, it turns out he is Bi Polar and is on medication. He’s making a comeback with the Detroit Lions. Good luck to ya Zo. I’d like to see him do well. You never want to see a guy lose his career due to something he can’t control, like an injury, including an injury to the brain. Hopefully he makes the team and does well so he can go out right, on his terms.

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Mouko Taigasu!

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Presently the Cubs are playing the Tigers of Detroit, but there is a Tigers team with a much larger following than the team that is known for such greats as Al Kaline, Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg. This team plays in Koshien Park in the Nishinomiya district of Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city. Despite their name, they are the Japanese equivalent of the Chicago Cubs.

The Hanshin Tigers are one of Japan’s two most-followed teams, the other being the Japanese equivalent of the Yankees, the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants. Tigers fans differentiate themselves by the intensity of their loyalty – unlike many Japanese crowds, they are raucous and they fill their stadium even in the worst of seasons. Like the Cubs, Hanshin plays in a stadium known for it’s ivy-covered walls, in this case the ivy is on the outside. Each summer the Tigers vacate their stadium for over two weeks while the Japanese high school championships are hosted in Koshien. It is the dream of Japanese boys to one day play in a high school game in Koshien but unfortunately the Tigers have not fared well during the championship series. Forced out of their stadium, the Tigers have had to endure their shino rodoo, or “road trip of death.” Many Taigasu seasons have been poisoned during this two-week stretch.

The Hanshin Tigers also have a curse, known as “the curse of the Sanders statue.” The last Hanshin championship occurred in 1986 and was spearheaded by Triple Crown winner Randy Bass. Randy sported a red goatee and is one of the greatest of the non-Japanese or gaijin players to play play professional yakyu (Japanese baseball.) Tigers fans went into a frenzy after the championship and threw fellow fans who resembled the Tigers players into the Dotunburi River.Looking around for someone that looked like American Randy Bass, they settled on a statue of Colonel Sanders which was displayed in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. It is rumored that the Tigers will never win a championship until that statue is recovered; numerous attempts have been made by the city of Osaka to dredge the river with no success.

This year’s Hanshin Club is in second place in the Central Division, one game behind the league-leading Chunichi Dragons. The Dragons traditionally have worn uniforms that are dead ringers for Dodger uniforms. The Tigers are lead by Andy Sheets, who sports a .331 10 HR 42 RBI line. The Tigers’ pitching has been “lights out;” reliever Kyuji Fujikawa has a 0.22 ERA in 41 2/3 innings pitched and has held opposing batters to a .148 batting average. Only Chicago Cubs fans are more hardcore than these Japanese baseball fanatics, go Taigasu!

Update:
Given the nature of the 2006 season I intend to write a lot more “off topic” articles such as this one. My intention is to keep the site somewhat positive in nature – as Harry Truman once said: “Sometimes the truth is hell.” But that doesn’t mean we have to live there, does it? My next off-topic post will be an article about Cub great Gabby Hartnett – y’all think Johnny Bench could catch? This guy was one of the best, he had a gun.

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Traditional baseball

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Well today we got to see two “old school” teams. Two teams that have a history of meeting in post-season play, two teams that have tended to be doormats in their respective leagues. Nevertheless, two teams with proud histories and fans who fiercely support their respective franchises.

Okay, let’s face it, the Detroit Tigers are for real. Today we saw two passing ships – one team that appears destined for greatness and another who is foundering and going nowhere except perhaps into a beaching. My hat’s off to Detroit owner Mike Ilitch; he decided to re-mold a losing ballclub and he did it right. He went out and got a tried and true GM in Dave Dumbrowski instead of a bush leaguer like Jim Hendry; with the exception of the Percival signing, Dave has reshaped this team without breaking the bank. Enter Jim Leyland, he of Pirates and Marlins fame. A guy who knows how to get the most out of his resources, he is not a guy who needs a hundred million dollar payroll to succeed. Not that a hundred million dollar payroll hurts mind you.

Perhaps we all ought to revise our forecasts, this Tigers team has what it takes to win it all. They have starting pitching that we’d kill for; tomorrow we’re going to see an absolute terror by the name of Justin Verlander who throws with closer velocity. Thank goodness it’s Marmol’s start and not the washed-up lefthander that the Cubs started today. By the way, why hasn’t the Cubs management figured Rusch out by now? What are they waiting for, the Rapture?

I’m not a Tigers fan but I wish these cats the best of luck. They’ve endured a lot like we have, but they had the good sense to go out and get some pros with proven track records to take them to the Promised Land. I may never get there but at least I can enjoy it vicariously.

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At Least He’s Happy

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Leave it to my son to be the one Cub fan in the world that is happy to be a Cub Fan.

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Enough is enough, one game ahead of the Pirates

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Okay, it’s been a while since I blasted the incompetence of the Cubs’ management staff. So here we go again. Dusty “the Fakir” Baker in his infinite wisdom sat hot-hitting Todd Walker (he of the .367 OBP) again so that teacher’s pet Neifi (.230 OBP) could bat and play second. And of course Juan Pierre led off again, showcasing his talents and blistering .284 OBP while Ronny Cedeno (he of the .302 BA) batted eighth. Again. Now what kind of sense does that make? “Finesse” means artful management; first we should teach Dusty the meaning of that word, then we can teach him how to spell it. It’s not fair to the rest of the team – the first two hitters get more at bats than anybody else on the team and it means that the heart of the order generally comes up with either two outs or bats leadoff in the second.

Jim Hendry is as much if not more of a problem. First of all, a GM with a modicum of intelligence would not have given his team this kind of talent deficit and, even if he had he would have done something about it. But Jim Hendry is still trying to coast off of his first year’s successes – he is not only somewhat cretin in terms of his managerial skillset but he is also lazy. Why aren’t Hendry or MacFail turning up the heat on their $95 million team? And why are the Cubs being outspent by the White Sox of all teams by $10 million anyway?

Hendry should have Dusty on that wireless phone they’ve been crowing about, asking why in the Sam Hill he did a damn fool thing like bat Neifi second not once but two games in a row. He should be asking Dusty exactly what mental lapses caused that decision. And MacFail should be calling a clubhouse meeting to tell his coaching staff and players that being one game ahead of last place Pittsburgh just ain’t gonna cut it.

But that’s what we would expect a GM like John Schuerholz to do or perhaps an owner like George Steinbrenner, who really doesn’t need a so-called president to tell him now to run a baseball team. Which is exactly what our man Andy is. Hope you win your coveted sailing cup Andy – by the way you might want to buy a Tribune newspaper. It might surprise you to find out that your baseball team isn’t doing so hot…

This team sorely needs leadership, just like most of the Cubs teams have since 1960. It’s past time for the Tribune to clean house, all of these clowns need to go.

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Pop Quiz

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Of these four, who has the fewest rbiís since May 1st?
Neifi Perez
Matt Murton
Henry Blanco
Carlos Zambrano

If you guessed Matt, you were right.
I like the big redhead. I really do.
But there are problems in river city.
Since May 1, Matt has driven in a total of 3 runs. A corner outfielder with 3 rbiís since May 1st?

Ugh.

Maybe he needs a rest. Maybe I need a rest. Maybe itís time to put him second in the order behind Pierre instead of 6th or 7th where youíd expect him to drive in runs. Or platoon him so all he faces is lefties.

Again last night, bases loaded, 2 out, score 5-1. a key situation. And yet once again no results. Underachieving as many of his teammates.

Iím flying to Houston this weekend. No baseball.

I do need a rest from this team and baseball.

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It’s Okay to Fire Dusty (really!)

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

There appears to be some sentiment going around that the Cubs shouldn’t fire Dusty Baker. Convential wisdom says that Baker’s contract extension was done the same day as Jim Hendry’s, and that the team is simply waiting for a hot streak(good luck!) to announce it. Jim Hendry’s public stance is that Baker should get a chance to manage the team when all the injured players are back in place.

Why?

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that blame for this year’s disaster is mostly on the head of Hendry. But Baker hasn’t shown that he’s gotten any better at managing. Batting Neifi Perez 2nd in the order, rarely playing Phil Nevin (on a team that is in desperate need of power), bizarre double switches, and of course, refusing to hold his players accountable these are all things we’ve seen before from Dusty and are seeing again this year. So let’s say that the best case scenario is that Prior, Wood, Miller and Lee come off the DL, and the team finishes .500 and in 3rd place in the NL Central. What would that prove? Managing this team means nothing now, in part because of these guys:

Kerry Wood
Phil Nevin
Juan Pierre
Todd Walker
Greg Maddux
Tony Womack
Wade Miller

I figure that none of this bunch will be back on the team next year, and it’s quite possible that Neifi and Glendon Rusch won’t be here either. Now most of us say “good riddance” to a lot of these guys, but looking at it them, the Cubs will have to fill 2 or 3 spots in their rotation, along with 2nd base and CF(one of which will have to be a leadoff hitter) in the offseason. For the Cubs to have any hope of contention next year, at least 2 of these positions will need to be filled by impact players, which means that Jim Hendry will have to sign some big time free agents. Think he can do that?

Fire Dusty Baker. Really it’s time. The Cubs need to be blown up, and I don’t think that Baker is the guy to manage the team through the rebuilding phase. The interim manager can be whoever they want. As long as he understands the following:

1. He is NOT beholden to the veterans in the clubhouse. They are not going to get him installed permanently. Which is important because
2. He IS going to play the young players.

What young players? The young players who are coming up to replace guys like Rusch, Perez, Womack, Nevin and Pierre when they are either traded or DFA’d. Guys like Ryan Theriot, Buck Coats and Mike Fontenot. Guys who the Cubs need to find out about, once and for all. Hell, call up Les Walrond and give him a start, if only to show the other guys on the minor league roster that if you do produce and play hard, you will be rewarded. Meanwhile, Jim Hendry should be listening to offers for everybody. Lee and Zambrano are the closest things to untouchable, but not even they should be off limits.

And while this is going on, Jim Hendry can begin his search for a manager. Maybe the guy he finds will be worse than Dusty Baker. But I doubt it.

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Have we found our fourth starter?

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Wow! I’m not as thrilled about the Cubs’ recent play as what I saw on the mound today. Marmol’s two relief appearances showed me that he had sufficient poise and a live reportoire of pitches. But I was blown away by that young man’s start this afternoon; he went up against one of the better offensive teams in baseball today and they couldn’t do diddly with him. Man I love quality pitching! I’ve heard that he’s a two pitch pitcher but I saw him throw a very effective changeup on occasion and the bottom of the third had me hooting. He seems to be good at keeping the ball down, moving his pitches around, avoiding the center of the plate and he appears to have a very heavy four-seam fastball and a sharp, late-breaking curve.

I would like to see Marmol get Kerry Wood’s #4 rotation spot until further notice – let’s see what the kid can do for a few starts and let Wood, Prior and Rusch battle it out for #5. We’ve invested too much hope in pitchers that may or may not be effective, let’s give this young gun a chance!

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