Archive for January, 2010

Set The “Wayback Machine” For 1945!!

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

We were sitting comfortably in the waiting room of my dad’s oncologist. We were there for his one year post-chemo follow up exam.

I took this book, which I intended to start reading, out from my day pack and showed it to him. He read the title: “Wrigley Field’s Last World Series – The Wartime Chicago Cubs And The Pennant Of 1945” by Charles N. Billington, with the photography of George Brace. Foreword by Andy Pafko.

As he read those words and looked at the photos on the cover, his face broke into a big smile, like he was seeing an old friend again, after a long separation.

“1945. Charley Grimm was the manager. I was at Fort Worth, Texas.” he said, handing the book back to me.

“Ft. Worth?” I asked. “What were you doing there?”

The smile was replaced with a sigh of exasperation. The retired schoolteacher was going to have to repeat the lesson one more time. He spoke slowly and deliberately:

“The war ended in August. This was October. They didn’t know what to do with us. They sent me to Mountain Home, Idaho for a while, then to Ft. Worth, Texas. Eventually I made it back home to Chicago.”

Yeah, I guess he did. My mom and dad were married in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1946. My sister arrived nine months and two weeks later. I made my grand entrance three years after that, on a Friday night, between sets.

The smile returned. “I lost $5.00 to a guy from Detroit.”

“How’d that happen?” I asked, innocently.

The exasperation returned. “He wanted the Tigers. They won the series.”

“But dad,” I countered. “You know that you never bet on the Cubs after the 4th of July”. CubbieDude logic.

Another big sigh, accompanied this time by an “are you puttin’ me on?” look: “He was from DETROIT!”

End of lesson, grasshopper.

The five paragraph summary on the back cover tells us that, (despite my lovely wife’s opinion to the contrary):

- “On the eve of world War II, baseball truly was America’s national pastime.”

And it continues:

- “One thing is clear: 1945, the last time the Cubs went to the World Series, was a turning point in the team’s fortune. For in the first half of the twentieth century, few teams were as good as Chicago; in the second half, few teams were as bad.”

- “Incorporating statistical analysis, descriptions of key teams, and player biographies, Billington paints an evolving and exciting portrait of the 1945 Cubs and the wider national baseball scene of a war-torn era.”

I enjoyed reading about the effects that World War II had on life in general, and on baseball in specific.

I especially enjoyed reading about life on the Northside for Cubs players as the season began, including interesting dollar amounts.

I also enjoyed reading about the exhibition game on July, 25 between the Cubs and the Great Lakes Naval Station Bluejackets at Constitution Field in North Chicago, Illinois. (The Cubs lost 1-0.)

Mr. Billington (“The Pride of St. Olaf College”) closes the book by listing five reasons the Cubs’ fortunes in the last half of the twentieth century were so different from those of the first half.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

- “Americans’ interest in baseball in the late 1930s was such that roughly 330 cities boasted professional minor league teams.”

- “Lou Boudreau, Phil Cavarretta, Marty Marion, Hal Newhouser, Ernie Lombardi, and Mort Cooper are just a few of the many excellent ballplayers with 4-F classifications.”

- “In 1941 Chicago became the first team to install an organ in their stadium for the enjoyment of the fans;”

- “Helping the team’s bottom line were the tremendous concession sales, $121,145, dwarfing the amounts received by other teams.”

- “While the fans probably heard the national anthem before the opening game on April 17, the song was not sung at every game but was saved for special events. At the time, this was also the practice of the armed forces; the national anthem was performed only on special occasions, such as national holidays. ‘There is a difference between patriotism and commercialization,’ Wrigley would explain.”

- “He also set an unrecorded record that will almost certainly never be broken, striking out only nine times in 636 at bats, an unheard-of ratio for anyone with his power production.”

- “DiMaggio set a new major league record by hitting four grand slam home runs in one season.”

While I was not physically present for the events recounted in this excellent book, I feel like I arrived on the scene soon enough afterward to have been catching fleeting glimpses of shadows and ghosts my whole life. “Wrigley Field’s Last World Series” helped to flesh-out those shadows, to fill in the blanks as it were.

So join me. Set the “Wayback Machine” for 1945. Put on your retrospectoscopes. Travel to a different time, not all that long ago.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it very highly, especially to those with an interest in the World War II era.

I want to thank Lake Claremont Press in Chicago for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review.

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GirlieView (01/29/2010)

Friday, January 29th, 2010

For some reason I’m finding this to be the most baseball-boring time of year this year. My #1 and #2 teams are in the Super Bowl so I’m not bored there, but baseball is putting me to sleep! Thought I might stir up some conversation about the lineup. I won’t take any offense if y’all are as bored as me and don’t much care, but we’ll give it a try!!

It’s been widely publicized that Lou’s lineup will look something like this:

1/2: Some ordering of Fukudome/Theriot
3/4/5: Some ordering of Ramirez/Lee/Byrd
6/7/8: Some ordering of Soto/Soriano/Font’nBake

But what would your lineup look like, if you were Lou? No need to stick with these exact players … if you’d rather a different starter or two feel free to include. Hope to hear some interesting suggestions!

Lizzies

  • And don’t you stomp out any fires on your front stoop.
  • or some reason I just don’t see Alf turning it around in 2010 and I can envision Uncle Lou telling him to ‘grab some bench Meat.’
  • Laughed out loud today when I heard that the CARDINALS signed Rich Hill.
  • Until Sori’s hammy gives up or Nady’s arm falls off at the elbow…
  • Chan Ho Park (I rarely (read: never) justify the Lizzies but I feel this one deserves an explanation. Every time one of you mentions this guy, I think you’re talking about HoHoKam Park (spring training) and it takes me a minute to straighten myself out. So now it gives me a giggle. Not to mention the pickins are slim this week!)
  • Whose head is it anyway?
  • we just have to hope Theriot can regain some of the OBP he lost in ‘09 and Blanco can continue being his ace glove-man backup.

Lizard

  • He replied: “It’s good because it’s modern and old”.

P.S. Where’s Matt? Where’s Kris? Where’s Dave L? Where’s Sherm? Where’s Rob? Pipe up guys, it’s almost time to start arguing! And you’re fixtures in my Lizzies, I need you. At least let us know you’re out there, even if you’ve got nothing to say. :-)

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Stat of the Week: The Super Bowl Prediction System

Friday, January 29th, 2010

All the betting lines favor the Colts right now by five or six points, but in my book it’s a toss-up. If I were a betting man, I’d take the Saints and the points. But if you do that, don’t blame me if you lose. It’s that close.

In my Super Bowl prediction system there are 12 different indicators, each one taken by itself predicts the Super Bowl winner 56% to 69% of the time. Taken collectively, the indicators have an even better track record. The system favors the team that wins the most indicators and it has predicted 15 of the last 19 Super Bowl winners. This year the prediction system picks the New Orleans Saints to win a Super Bowl in their first appearance in history.

However…

The margin is the slimmest of margins. The system has the Saints winning 7 of the 12 indicators. That goes against the grain given that the Indianapolis Colts are favored in Las Vegas. I like that. The system has a strong track record going against the line. But the prediction system has not performed well when a team wins less than eight of the indicators. Going back 19 years to 1990, the system is only 3-2 on games with less than eight indicators going to the favored team. Going back all-time, the system is 6-7 with less than eight indicators.

Plus, if we had gone to the tiebreaker (when six indicators go to each team), the tiebreaker would favor the Colts. The tiebreaker gives the nod to the team with previous Super Bowl experience. In 17 Super Bowls where one team has been there and the other hasn’t, the experienced team has won 13 times.

For record keeping, if the Saints win, the system will also notch a victory. If the Colts win, the system loses. But I learned my lesson two years ago when the system favored the Patriots with 7 of the 12 indicators and the Giants won. I am calling it a toss-up.

Each indicator is shown here. Interestingly, while the system favors the Saints overall, the three best indicators (the bottom three) each favor the Colts.

Category Winning Percentage Team with Advantage
Rushing Yards .558 Saints
Opponent Net Passing Yards .558 Colts
Points Scored .558 Saints
Rushing Yards / Attempt .581 Colts
Opponent Rushing Yards / Attempt .605 Saints
Fewer Net Passing Yards .605 Saints
Turnover Differential .605 Saints
Opponent Rushing Yards .628 Saints
Point Differential .640 Saints
Regular Season Record .663 Colts
Opponent Total Yards / Game .674 Colts
Points Allowed .686 Colts

There are five defensive indicators, four offensive ones, and three based on overall stats. The strongest indicators overall are the defensive ones.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™, www.statoftheweek.com.”


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In the News: Capgate rages on

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

G’mornin’, Cubs fans. (Well, it’s morning while I’m writing this at least.) I’m not going to say it’s a slow news day, because that got me in a lot of trouble on Tuesday. Let’s just say the baseball world is simmering at the moment, getting ready to begin a gentle, slow boil when pitchers and catchers report in just a couple short weeks. Let’s see what’s going on in the world of the Chicago Cubs*:

Andre Dawson’s cap is such a diva. After a lull of some weeks, the controversy over which cap The Hawk will wear into the Hall rose again this week as the powers-that-be proclaimed that Andre shall wear an Expos cap during his induction (and on his plaque). Problem is, Dawson has left little doubt that he wants to go in as a Cub. I’m not sure how seriously to take this story. On the one hand, I think the Hall has a pretty solid case – The Hawk played longer in Montreal and it was there that, statistically at least, he really laid the foundation for his soon-to-be immortalized career. Then again, his glorious years as a Cub did likely push him over the top and, clearly, Andre’s heart still lies in Chi-Town. Maybe he should wear two caps to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony – an Expos cap facing forward and a Cubs hat facing backward. When he gets to talking about the Cubs in his acceptance speech, he can just turn the two caps around with a knowing wink. There – everybody happy? Good, let’s move on.

The Schmoozefest is OVAH! Sorry for the blatant Hawkism, folks. I swear I mean it in only the most bitterly sarcastic way. In any case, if by any chance you didn’t hear the news yesterday, Mesa is now officially the Cubs spring training home for another 25 years. My condolences to the Naplese (Naple-ites?). Expect the team to move into a brand-new stadium in 2013.

Cubs just can’t get no relief – but they will, probably. Now that the fourth outfielder mystery has been solved two times over (Nady and Tracy? Way to go, Jimbo!), Jim Hendry is turning his attention to acquiring a right-handed reliever. The linked-to article describes the interest of one Joe Nelson in being a Cub. (Thanks for calling, Joe!) He had a decent 2008 but was mediocre-to-bad last season with a garish 5.65 FIP. Fox Sports reporter Jon Morosi also tweeted this morning that the Cubs are still in discussions with Kiko Calero and Chan Ho Park.

Starlin Castro is ascending to the fourth house of awesome. If you haven’t heard the name “Starlin Castro” yet, well, you probably don’t pay much attention to the Cubs’ minor league systems. And that’s a shame because, as I always say, “The farm system is the future.” (Actually, I’ve never said that – but I think it a lot.) Anyway, the buzz on this very young (19 years old) shortstop has been strong and only getting stronger for some time now. Apparently, Bruce Levine suggested in a live chat yesterday that he could even break camp with the Cubs this year to be the starting shortstop (with Theriot moving to second base). That seems way too rich for my blood – give the kid at least another season to develop, if not two. But, whatever the case may be, MLB.com has named Castro the 22nd highest ranked prospect in all of baseball. And he’s made the Top 10 lists of most other minor league pundits.

The revenge of Rich Hill is nigh! Remember, “Filthy” Rich Hill? He led the team in strikeouts in 2007 and made 32 starts with an ERA under 4.0. It was all downhill after that as he had major control problems in 2008, leading Lou to demote him to Triple A. Rich was eventually traded to Baltimore, where he continued to struggle last season. Many Cubs fans blame mental (i.e., lack of confidence) issues on Hill’s problems, though he did recently have surgery to repair a torn labrum. Wherein lies the truth? Perhaps we’ll find out in 2010, as Rich has been signed to a minor league deal with none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. While wearing the dreaded red, Rich will attempt to resurrect his major league career under the tutelage of miracle-worker pitching coach Dave Duncan. It will be a moment of high drama if Hill takes the mound against the Cubs.

*The bolded phrases leading off each paragraph are links. Click on them.

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Sean Marshall Agrees to Contract & Chad Tracy Signs a MLC

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The Cubs Media Department sent a few notes this morning.

  1. Sean Marshall has agreed to terms, which avoids having to go to arbitration hearing to decide on a salary. No terms were given, so we’ll have to monitor that.
  2. Chad Tracy has agreed to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. You can’t really go wrong with minor league deals, especially when they’re for an area we need all the hope we can get, the IF. Hopefully he provides some depth.
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In the News: Mesa headed to victory (and Nady’s a Cub!)

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

 Hotel Arizona, made us all wanna feel like stars

Rental cars and tinted windows, leave another number for me

~ Wilco, “Hotel Arizona”

Good day, Cubs fans. There’s not a lot going on news-wise – well, except for one big story that relates to something that’s probably on all of our minds and, thankfully, edging ever closer. Yes, I’m talking about spring training. Stuff is happening! Let’s get to today’s stories*:

Mesa City Council pitches shutout. In a 7-0 vote, the City Council of Mesa, Ariz. approved the deal that would build a new Cubs spring training city as well as a shopping district to be dubbed “Wrigleyville West” in that wild and crazy town. All that’s left now is for the Cubs to sign off, which apparently they’ve already agreed to do. As someone not really able to attend spring training games, I’ve had no great stake in this drama. But I’m happy for the City of Mesa and pleased to see the Cubs will likely honor their long history in that region.

Chan Ho Park on the Cubs’ radar. As this MLBTR post elucidates, Jon Heyman tweeted yesterday that the Cubs and Rays are looking at former Phillies reliever Chan Ho Park as a (presumably) bullpen addition. Park looked pretty good in the postseason last year and was better in relief than as a starter. I guess the Cubs could do worse than sign him to a relatively cheap one-year deal. He seems like a good guy.

Mr. Jonny Gomes, please take your place in line. Because I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ongoing search for a fourth outfielder, the (relatively) latest name to enter the fray is free agent Jonny Gomes, last seen slugging for our division rival Cincinnati Reds. He put up some pretty fine offensive numbers for Dusty’s boys last season and would definitely bring the scrap factor that the Cubs would be losing with the departing Reed Johnson. Downside: His defense is apparently not too good, and he couldn’t spell DLee at first base.

UPDATE:     Bruce Levine reports a decision regarding the Cubs’ fourth outfielder is “imminent.” Gomes, Nady, Johnson and Dye are the reported frontrunners.

UPDATE:       Yahoo!’s Tim Brown just tweeted the Cubs have come to terms with Xavier Nady, pending a physical!!! Multiple sources have confirmed the prospective deal. Jon Heyman just tweeted dollar amount: “$3.3 mil guaranteed plus $2 mil in incentives based on games played.”

Ben Sheets update. Looks like the Oakland A’s are closing in.

UPDATE:       SI.com’s Jon Heyman just tweeted that the A’s have indeed signed Ben Sheets for $8 $10 million.

Mr. Cub is lookin’ for Sammy. In a somewhat odd story revealed this week, Ernie Banks went looking for Sammy Sosa in the Dominican Republic last year. Mr. Cub wanted to personally ask Sosa to come clean on his alleged steroid use in hopes of returning to Wrigley as a sort of Prodigal Son. Sammy was out of the country at the time, so the meeting never happened. But Banks is sticking to his call for Sosa to clear the air regarding his ‘roid usage.

The USA Today Team Report is out! (Repeat.) The lead section discusses the Cubs’ prospective 2010 lineup. It seems pretty certain at this point that Kosuke and Theriot will be at the top; DLee, Aramis and Byrd in the middle; and Soriano, Baker and Soto rounding out the bottom. Although I still have concerns about batting Theriot that high in the order, I can accept that lineup to start off with.

*As always, the bolded phrases leading off each paragraph are hyperlinks to be clicked upon with great relish.

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Tyler Walker

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Today it was announced that Tyler Walker signed with the Nats for less than a million a year. Look at this guys stats – what am I missing? He’s had three superlative years against batters at both the AAA and Major League levels and the Nats got him at bargain basement prices. That could have been a late inning guy, is there something the Cubs know that the Nats don’t?

Everybody knows that the Cubs are looking for a 7th or 8th inning right hander, why not sign a guy under a million with Walker’s numbers? Pity that we didn’t.

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What Is He Reading, Now?

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

The title of this book is “Chicago Cubs Yesterday & Today”, with text by Steve Johnson. It was first published in 2008.

Let’s start with the front cover. The lower photo, which I assume was taken from a luxury box, is of Wrigley Field during a game, with the stands filled, under a clear blue sky.

The upper photo, thanks to modern technology, appears to show a color image of Carlos Zambrano (from 2007) pitching to a black and white image of Joe Tinker (from 1910).

I have to tell you, when I received this book, which was provided to me by Voyageur Press (www.voyageurpress.com), I thought: “WOW !! – Look at these pictures!”

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “coffee table book” as: “a large, lavishly produced book with many illustrations and, often, an inferior text, especially one regarded as being for ostentatious display, as on a coffee table.”

Make no mistake about it, “Chicago Cubs Yesterday & Today” could sit very well on a coffee table, where it might serve to alleviate boredom and inspire conversation. It is oversized and visually oriented. It contains beautiful (stunning, even) photographs and illustrations. And it is a well constructed, hardcover book.

But “Chicago Cubs Yesterday & Today” does not approach its subject superficially. Steve Johnson’s text is detailed and in depth, worthy of more than just a light read. I learned a lot reading the text in this book. And it was fun.

My dad, (The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan), looked the book over and said: “This looks like a good book.” I asked him: “What is it that you like about it?” He replied: “It’s good because it’s modern and old”.

As usual, he hit the nail on the head.

This book is a loving look at almost 140 years of Cubs history. We’re treated to a review of the players, position by position. We also see fans, ball parks, owners and managers, and other topics of interest to members of Cubs Nation.

I enjoyed reading and looking at “Chicago Cubs Yesterday & Today”. I recommend it very highly, especially to Cubs fans of all stripes.

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Yikes!!! Soriano Better Be Glad He’s Not An Angel

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Unable to find regular playing time for Gary Matthews Jr., the Los Angeles Angels traded the outfielder to the New York Mets on Friday and agreed to pay $21.5 million as part of the deal.Los Angeles received right-handed reliever Brian Stokes, a native Californian, in exchange for Matthews, who had slumped for three straight seasons since signing a $50 million, five-year contract.

Matthews is owed salaries of $11 million this year and $12 million in 2011, plus a $500,000 bonus for getting traded. The Mets will pay just $1 million per season, and the Angels will give New York money to cover the remainder of the salary plus the bonus.

The Associated Press via ESPN


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