Archive for August, 2009

Oh What A Night!

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I saw two very shameful things on TV last night. The first eight innings of the Cubs game weren’t televised here, so I was just spinning through the channels.

Imagine my surprise when I came upon Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, performing and selling a “Christmas Songs” CD. In August. On a home shopping network. How embarrassing.

And, of course, the Cubbies, opening their “Last Chance 2009 Home Stand” by handing the Washington Nationals the biggest win in team history. Shameful.

I guess I can unblock the month of October on my social calendar now.

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Getting Questioned

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

A Nats blogger tossed me some questions this afternoon and I thought I’d share with you what I wrote. Also, go check out their blog during this series. Maybe we can trash talk a little. Or, if you’re Sherm, woo Adam Dunn:

The Nats Blog: The Nationals just signed Stephen Strasburg to a record breaking $15 million contract last week. The man who’s record he broke was of course, former Cub, Mark Prior. How do you think the expectations for Strasburg compare to those of Prior, and experiencing Prior’s fall out, do you think the big deal was a wise choice for the Nats?

The View from the Bleachers: Will, that’s a great question. Unfortunately it brings up a terrible wound that I can’t bear to recount at this time. Curse you and all your family for bringing up such a hurtful memory for me. In all seriousness, I think the question is a valid one. While the position and signing bonuses are very similar, I think the situation surrounding both are different. When the Cubs signed Prior, they did so specifically based on his “can’t miss” tag and “sound mechanics”, and no other reason. For the Nats, it seems to be deeper rooted than that. Strasburg appears to have the same labels as Prior, but the situation of the organizations is vastly different. The Cubs routinely pack the park wherever they go, regardless of the team on the field. Prior offered them the chance to have a marquee talent to make up for losing Greg Maddux. For Washington, they’re still wrapping their hands around the idea of baseball again and haven’t come out in droves to the new park like the team probably hoped for. Signing Strasburg shows the fans that the former Expo organization is still committed to bringing top notch talent through the system. To no sign him would have been a slap in the face and contrary to everything the system has always been about. Whether it was a “wise” deal can’t ever be determined until you see the end result. I’ll say this, though. No one ever wins the World Series without taking risks. I commend the Nats for doing the deal and look forward to watching him pitch in person, since I’m in NC and usually make a trip that way each year for the Cubs series.

TNB: What were your expectations for the Cubs coming into 2009? Did the team fail to meet them?

VFTB: Dude, seriously, another wound. My expectations were high, and I don’t think I was alone. It’s been a very disappointing season, especially the last two weeks. We’ve seen this team go from first to 8 games out in just over 2 weeks. It’s been a disaster. We’re routinely not hitting in clutch situations and have a nasty tendency to play bad fundamental baseball. Then again, so do the Nats if I remember correctly from my trip to DC for the series ending beatdown in July.

TNB: What do you think are the Cubs odds to catch St. Louis or Colorado?

VFTB: If we’re going to catch someone, it would have to be the Cardinals, though I think they’re a better team. It’s simply too hard to leapfrog multiple teams in the wild card race. With the Cards playing some of the best baseball in all the league, it’s almost impossible. I’d put the odds at 25-1.

TNB: Will the Cubs make an effort to resign Rich Harden? Should they?

VFTB: This is another good question. We picked up his 2009 option, and he becomes a free agent at season’s end. We’ve seen Randy Wells emerge in the rotation as a legit starter in this league and have Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano all under contract for next year. If we were to re-sign Harden, it would have to be with incentives laden througout the deal, which I doubt seriously he’d approve. Someone will pay him, the bigger question to me is what his status is as far as compensatory picks and if we’d offer arbitration to get him, knowing we’d be stuck if he accepted.

TNB: Name a hidden gem in the Cubs system that other people might be interested to read about.

VFTB: Ah, now you’re in my wheelhouse. Love talking about the farm. I’m quite fond of a few names. Rebel Ridling was a 25th round pick in 2008 out of college. He spent some time with Peoria (Low A) last year after impressing in rookie ball and has spent the full season there this year. He’s put up .305 / .354 / .468 with 15 HR and 89 RBO at the 1st base position. He may not emerge to be a gem, but he’s a guy I like a lot. Plus he’s got a cool name. Another name on the mound that deserves watching is Chris Archer, who was brought in during the Mar DeRosa trade. He’s a 5th round pick from the ’06 draft out of a high school right down the road from me. He’s 20 years old and has pitched for Peoria as well. In 23 starts, he has an ERA of 2.75 with a 5-4 record with a 9.9 K/9 rate. He has control issues he needs to work on, but he can definitely miss bats.

TNB: What is your favorite all time Cubs memory?

TVFTB: Definitely going to game one against the Braves in ATL in 2003 for the NLDS. Kerry Wood, my favorite Cub, got the start and pitched great. He even hit the ball well. It was an outstanding experience. Playoff baseball live is something every fan needs to experience.

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What Time Is It?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

This book has possibly the longest title of any book I’ve ever read. The full title is: “What Time Is It? You Mean Now? – Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All” by Yogi Berra with Dave Kaplan.

You all know who Yogi Berra is. I’m not sure if “Dave Kaplan” is the guy on local TV with a Bulldog named “Deep Dish”.

The book is presented as a series of soliloquies by Yogi. Since Mr. Berra is a man of few words, I’m thinking maybe these were two-way conversations, and Mr. Kaplan’s comments were simply edited out. Regardless of how it occurred, Yogi’s discourses are great.

There are 26 chapters. Here are some of the headings:
– “Baseball’s Different Today, But It Isn’t”
– “It Gets Late Early Out There”
– “Little Things Are Big”
– “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be”

I enjoyed reading every sentence of every chapter in the book. But some sentences jumped out at me. I’m sure that when you read the book, other sentences will jump out at you. Following are some of my favorites:

– You are what you think; maybe that’s why some people need attitude adjustments.
– There are lots of things in life you can’t control, but how you respond to those things is the one thing you can control.
– That’s how I kept myself positive, by not getting all negative.
– …we were lost, but at least we were making good time.
– And the World Series shouldn’t always be at night–they’re losing young fans.
– I did tell Carm, though, that she ought to put on my tombstone, “It’s over.”
– One time, though, she did ask me where I should be buried….I told Carm, “I don’t know, just surprise me.”
– You can get old pretty young if you don’t take care of yourself.
– Exercise is the best medicine, unless you’re really sick and need something else.
– …remaining active helps you remain active.
– My biggest fear is probably death; I know I’m going to die, but I don’t especially want to be there when it happens.
– I told him that he had to have kids, it’s the best thing for a family.
– Casey used to say that most games are lost, not won….
– You can’t teach power and speed, but you can teach hustling and proper technique.
– …because that’s the beauty of New York: Like someone said, “It’s the greatest city in the world – you got a problem with that?”
– I think the biggest regrets in life are missed opportunities, but you can’t get pessimistic over things that should’ve been or you’ll just go into a depression.
– We were always taught to be gracious winners and graceful losers…
– Like Casey used to say, “It’s easy to get the players. Getting ‘em to play together, that’s the hard part.”
– You say you’re going to be there at five o’clock, you better be there at five o’clock no matter what time it is.
– Some people have a zest for life, which usually means they’re happier than most people. Some have a zest for food, which likely means they’re heavier, unless they watch their weight.
– Whether you love what you do or you do what you love, you’re better off enjoying your life while you can, because you’ll be dead for a long time and it doesn’t sound like much fun.

This book consists of Yogi Berra waxing philosophic, and is full of wisdom, advice and humor. I recommend it highly to everyone. I mean everybody.

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The Cubs in Poem…by Moe Thacker

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Thought this comment was worthy of a spot on the front page, in spite of the lone curse word:

PUT A FORK IN THEM
Every real cub fan must admit,
That this year’s team has played like shit,
They fail to hit when men are on base,
They haven’t hit at last year’s pace,
They’re falling further out of the race,
They’ll be lucky to finish in second place.
Bradley walks around with an angry face,
Soriano plays left like he’s in outer space,
The money they’re playing these two is a disgrace.

Their starting pitching is still strong,
It’d better if they could stay healthy long,
Harden always seems to have something wrong,
Zambrano just finished his rehab stint,
They’re still paying him a mint,
Dempster got hurt goofing around,
Tripped on a fence and landed on the ground,
At least Ted Lilly…..
Hasn’t done anything that silly,
The bright spot here is Randy Wells,
But the bullpen has put us through several hells,
They made Gregg our closer,
He was just a poser!
Now we got Marmol who nobody can hit,
The trouble is he’s off the plate a bit,

In 2008, Soto was rookie of the year,
Now his hitting brings only a tear,
Fontenot makes me cry in my beer,
Aaron Miles does nothing to cheer,

Kosuke and Theriot are just alright,
But the Cards are soaring out of sight,
Aramis is pretty darn good,
But we really miss De Rosa and Kerry Wood,

Everyone knows our mvp,
That would be none other than Derek Lee,

Now I’ll say this short, and terse,
Every day the team looks worse,
Their record is going into reverse,
Maybe they’ve been infected by the women of Circe,

Hendry deserves some of the blame,
Ken Williams has put him to shame,
You wonder if Lou still has the flame,
Whatever, this team is pretty lame.

It’s clear this team will never gel,
Maybe we just need to get rid of Zell,
At least Tom Ricketts is Cub fan,
Who’s to say he might be the man,
To lead this team to the promised land.

But for now this team is done,
Watching them is not much fun,
They don’t hit and they don’t run,
This year will not be our day in the sun.

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You Want My Support Down the Stretch? Earn it this Week.

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I’m about done with this team. I watched a grand total of 4 innings of baseball this week, and I have to say it was quite enjoyable. Today is an off day and then we come home for a key home stand it this team is going to find itself in the race for the month of the September. We’re 8 back in the division and 7 out in the wild card. With Washington, New York, Houston and one game with the Sox on the schedule, I need to see 8 wins out of those 10 games and us cut the lead to 4 or 5 games or I’m probably going to back up my baseball watching for the season and shift to football and network TV. Who’s with me? What do you need to see on this home stand that continue to care?

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Speaking Of Forks

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

This 2001 entry into the “Books by Yogi Berra” sweepstakes, titled: “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, TAKE IT! – Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes” by Yogi Berra with Dave Kaplan, comprises 40 chapters, each a 2 to 5 page flesh out of a specific “Yogi-ism”.

The back cover features a unique photo of a “Fork In The Road”.

Each of the chapters is not so much a description of what caused Yogi to say what he said, but rather a discourse on what thoughts the individual Yogi-ism generates in Mr. Berra now, given the luxury of hindsight. As Paul Harvey might have said, these chapters constitute “The Rest Of The Story”.

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite lines from the book, taken entirely out of context:

- “If I’m not hitting, I don’t blame me. I blame the bat. I try a new one.”

- “Experience is a great thing – everyone can learn from it.”

- “I said ‘you’re nothing without a bullpen’ thirty years ago. That was before starting pitchers considered five or six innings “a quality start.” And before relief pitching became so specialized – one pitcher coming in to face one batter, another coming in to face another, the closer only pitching the ninth. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t agree with that philosophy. I say, keep a guy in there if he keeps getting outs. Why remove someone if he’s doing the job?”

- “As a catcher and a manager, I’d never get down on my relievers. Even after a loss, I’d always pat ‘em on the back and say something encouraging. Always be reassuring when someone fails, because you may need them to perform tomorrow. Everybody has a bad day at the office or at home, the idea is to not dwell on it. The idea is to bounce back.”

- “Talking is a big part of any job. Late in my career, when I got switched to the outfield, it was easier on my knees, but I really didn’t like it too much. Mainly because there was nobody to talk to.”

- “Career decisions are important. So is getting on the right road. Why take the trouble to go to law school unless you’re certain you need to? Have a vision, a goal of what you want to do. Unless you’re sure of where you want to go, you’ll never get there.”

- “…the other teams had had their hot streak, and we were due for ours.”

- “Like that rule says, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you handle it that matters.”

- “But the money in the game has changed everything. Players feel little loyalty to their team – and owners feel little loyalty to the players. The players are interchangeable, and rosters are like revolving doors. Money overwhelms loyalty, and that’s unfortunate.”

The inside jacket cover of this book claims that “Yogi provides inspiring, funny, and surprisingly moving essays on life, happiness, and getting through the slumps.” I would agree with that synopsis. I highly recommend “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, TAKE IT!”.

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Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

That’s about all you can say about the 2009 Cubs.  Eight games out with less than six weeks to go, this team is in a freefall and it’s going to be an accomplishment if they finish the season ten games out in the Central.  No sense in belaboring the point – so where do we go from here with the rest of the season?

I am going to be a casual observer from this point on – the NFL season is starting up and so is college football so from my standpoint there’s bigger fish to fry.  Hopefully the Cubs’ brass will recognize the futility of this season and when September 1st comes around they will call up the maximum.  We need to bench non-performers like Soriano and Soto and play Bradley every other game.  Let’s see what the future looks like in terms of our minor leaguers, there’s nothing at stake now so why not?  I’d like to see Trammel given the chance to reverse roles with Piniella so that we can give him some experience at the helm – he managed Detroit back when they were hopeless so I’d like to see Alan get another chance.  Piniella says he’ll be back in 2010 but why should I look forward to that?  Many Cubs have not performed and the Cubs manager is one of them.  If Ramirez is still hurting and requiring surgery it might make sense to DL him now and get the surgery done so that he’s ready to go in April.

I’m not too bummed out about this year – we had two decent years and one very mediocre season.  That having been said it’s time to focus on what will be done to wright this ship.  Hendry is going to have to be creative in the offseason and he’s going to have to dump some salary to get the job done.

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Fergie

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

The book is titled: “Fergie – My Life From The Cubs To Cooperstown”. It’s a new book, published in 2009, and it features a photo of Ferguson Jenkins in a Cubs uniform on the front cover.

I showed the book to my dad (The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan) and asked him what he thought of Ferguson Jenkins. He didn’t hesitate a bit, saying “He was the best pitcher they ever had!”

Although I knew of Fergie Jenkins’ pitching with the Cubs in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I had never heard him speak until earlier this year. The Cubs were retiring jersey #31, which had been worn by Fergie and by Greg Maddux, and Fergie joined Len and Bob in the booth. He struck me as being a very good speaker, intelligent, humble and level headed.

Now let me tell you about the book.

I am a little unclear about who is the author of this book. The front cover proclaims “Fergie Jenkins with Lew Freedman”. The title page says “Ferguson Jenkins with Lew Freedman”. The Library Of Congress cataloguing page lists “Ferguson Jenkins” as the copyright holder, and the inside front jacket cover calls this a “new autobiography”. But on page 199 under the heading “About the Author” only Lew Freedman is mentioned.

In a similar vein, the press release says “By Fergie Jenkins with Lew Freedman” but near the bottom of the same page below the underlined “About the Author” heading, only Lew Freedman is mentioned.

So, like I said, I don’t know who wrote the book. But I liked it.

Fergie describes himself as “not a Rhodes Scholar….I loved dogs….Later in life I raised hunting dogs.”

Although the subtitle of this book is “From The Cubs To Cooperstown”, it could just as easily read: “From Chatham, Canada to Cooperstown”. Fergie was born in Chatham, Ontario (near Detroit) and repeatedly points out that he is a Canadian citizen and will remain so.

Fergie mentions that when his mother died, he ”did not lose a mother, I lost a friend, a counselor, a teacher, a person who was there whenever I needed her”.

We learn that as a boy collecting baseball cards, his “favorite card was of Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. I never dreamed one day I would be Ernie Banks’s roommate on the road.”

– “Every time I did something well in sports and every time I moved up in baseball to another classification and began playing well in the majors, my dad told me he was proud of me. Not every kid is lucky enough to have parents who tell them that even once, never mind all of the time.”

Fergie was 18 years old when he signed with the Phillies in 1962, but, as a Canadian citizen, the war and the draft in the ‘60s did not affect him directly. His dad told him: “Ferguson, if this is the life you want to live, go ahead and do it. Prove to yourself you are worth your salt.”

Fergie talks about how pitching has become more specialized with “a closer to end the game, a setup man in the eighth inning, a middle reliever, a long reliever.”
– “They call pitching six innings and giving up three runs or less a ‘quality start’. Well, that’s a 4.50 earned-run average. If a starting pitcher had a record like that when I was pitching, he would have been either benched or sent back to the minors.”

Fergie tells of the racial tensions on the Cubs during the 1968 season, specifically recalling an incident between Lou Johnson and Randy Hundley.

We learn about the “bubble gum incident”, which was a big deal on a team owned by P.K. Wrigley.

During the same 1968 season, when the Cubs’ bats were not supporting Fergie in the manner to which he wished to be supported, he staged a “sacrifice to the gods” – the ceremonial burning of the bats.

Among other stories, Fergie talks about his experiences touring and playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, he gives us a sober analysis of the 1969 season, and elaborates upon the differences between a brushback (“purpose pitch”) and a beanball.

The book contains analyses of numerous Cubs teammates with inside stories.

Fergie discusses the working relationship of pitchers and catchers, with inside stories.

He talks about his time in Texas and in Boston. He speaks with reverence about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. And he’s impressed with the depth of baseball knowledge of the fans in both of these parks.

Fergie talks about being busted for drugs by Canadian customs: “They found some articles in my suitcase in 1980”. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time….”

We learn of his personal tragedies, losing a number of people close to him in a very short period of time.

With regard to working his way up from the minors, Fergie observes: “I didn’t get promoted because I struck guys out. I got promoted because I didn’t walk guys.”

Ferguson Jenkins is a Hall of Famer (the 1st and so far the only Canadian member of the HOF), and a Cy Young Award winner who struck out more that 3,000 hitters during his career.

This book chronicles Fergie’s life in his own words and is a very good read. It is a must read for all Cubs fans. My dad and I recommend it very highly.

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There’s a new sheriff in town

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Today the Chicago Cubs’ sale to the Ricketts family was made official. The Ricketts family will own a 95% interest in the team, Wrigley Field and the Tribune’s share of Comcast Sports Net Chicago. Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan raised some pertinent questions about where Tom Ricketts will want things to go now that he’s the new sheriff. I would like to add a few more of my own and somewhat restate a couple of Paul’s questions:

  • It is estimated that the Ricketts family spent upwards of $800 million on this sale, how will their outlay impact their spending on baseball salaries? Most entrepreneurs want to know what kind of return on investment they are earning; I can only imagine that the ROI the Trib had was ungodly compared to what similar numbers will be with the new regime.
  • Another question of a financial nature, how much did the Ricketts have to leverage their purchase? We all saw the kind of trouble Zell got into playing that game – he had to sell off the Cubs (a profitable investment) to raise cold hard cash to fulfill his debt obligations for the Trib (a very unprofitable investment.)  This is a cash flow consideration and I wonder how much that will play into the ownership equation.
  • How important will winning be to the Ricketts family? There are many rich owners around baseball and other pro sports, some are very focused on winning (e.g. the Steinbrenners) where others are more concerned on the bottom line (witness former Twins owner Carl Pohlad.)  I personally hated it when the Wrigleys owned the Cubs and was horrified when it was reported that they were possibly interested in re-purchasing the team.
  • What will Tom Ricketts decide to do about Piniella? Lou looks tired to me, I think it’s time for him to retire.  I really like the guy but he’s looking an awful lot like Dusty now.  Gone is the edge, playing the hot hand in terms of player substitutions and generally good instincts in terms of tactical situations.  I’d like to see the Cubs give Trammel the job on a one year contract with a nice salary and have the Cubs bring up Sandberg as bench coach.  Will Ricketts want to give Piniella another year?  Will Lou even want to stay?
  • Regardless of what decisions are made about Piniella, what should be done about the some of the big contracts the Cubs currently own? Hendry appears to have belly-flopped on several choices but I would also hold some of those guys equally accountable for turning in bad performances, most notably Zambrano, Soriano and Milton Bradley.  All of those guys are capable of better play – Z could do a better job of personal conditioning and situational pitching, he might even learn to think a little more thoroughly before opening his pie-hole.  Soriano needs to get a baseball bat and quit buying trees, he looks comical like Todd Hundley swinging that big piece of lumber.  To paraphrase former VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen:  ‘Mr. Soriano, I saw Henry Aaron and you are no Hank Aaron.’  Get a lighter, shorter bat, get closer to the plate, quit swinging at outside and high pitches and focus on more singles and doubles Alfonso.  Hit line drives and the homeruns will happen some too.  As for Bradley, he’s shown some improvement in recent games.  Keep this trend going and remember who your worst enemy is Milton – you see him every morning when you shave.  And what do you do with Rich Harden?  I’d like to see the Cubs make a bonafide offer to keep him but I’d let him go places if the asking price is too high.  He’s bound to earn a decent draft pick in the compensatory portion of the amateur draft.
  • What will Tom Ricketts do about the Cubs management infrastructure? The biggest question in many fans’ minds is what to do about Cubs GM Jim Hendry, my advice would be to have some serious heart-to-hearts between Ricketts and Hendry and make sure they are on the same page.  Assuming they are, I think you have to give Hendry a chance to work his way out of the jam he’s put himself in.  I’d give him a season and a half or so to turn the ship around before demoting him to a corner office in the headquarters to read the daily newspapers.  I definitely think that it’s time for Larry Rothschild to go, we need somebody that can work with young pitchers like Marmol and Samardzija.  Both of these guys are better than their performances indicate and there might be some technical issues that can be resolved with both of these players.  I don’t think that that kind of coaching is in Larry’s skillset, he’d be better off in another organization as a bench coach.  Onieri Fleita is a keeper and I like Mike Quade at third base.
  • Finally what will happen with WGN and their Cubs broadcasts? Correct me if I’m wrong but the Cubs and WGN will no longer share the same owner – I can recall when all Cubs games were on WGN but each year it seems that fewer Cubs games appear on the former Cubs flagship station.  Will WGN follow TBS’ lead when it comes to showing only a third or so of their local franchise’s games?  If they do how will this impact the popularity (and branding) of the Cubs for future generations?

Feel free to add your comments and concerns now that the sale has been consummated.

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