Archive for August, 2011

Game 120 – Picking Up the Pieces

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Cubs 8, Braves 4

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right

  • Hit Parade  The Cubs put up 14 hits tonight.  Castro and Barney both had four, and Tyler Colvin had two – a triple and a double.  Even Campana got in on the action, with a hit in his only at-bat.  Looking back over that list of players, tonight was perhaps a glimpse of what many Cubs fans hope to see for years to come.  I won’t get ahead of myself, but it was a good night for the Cubs’ youth movement.  We’ll see if it lasts.
  • Starting Out on the Right Foot  Hey, look at that–Randy Wells got out of the 1st inning without giving up a run!  He did allow Dan Uggla to extend his now 33-game hitting streak, but that’s a minor thing compared to some of the deep holes he’s been digging for the Cubs in his early innings of late.
  • Calling in the Cavalry  Most of the Cubs’ relievers pitched pretty well tonight.  Ortiz and Russell each surrendered a run and a pair of hits–and Russell in particular had a rough night, loading the bases before Marmol came in for the save–but Samardzija, Marshall and Marmol all held the Braves scoreless and hitless.  Not a great overall night for the bullpen, but solid enough to hold on for the win.

What Went Wrong

  • No Free Passes  I realize that you never want to walk the lead-off hitter, but Dan Uggla’s at-bat to start the bottom of the 4th was still pretty frustrating.  He reached base every time he came up yesterday–including 2 homers–and he had a single in the first tonight.  So while his solo homer tonight didn’t do too much damage in the long run, it was enough at the time to tie up the game.  In fact, we weren’t able to retire him at all until the 7th.  All I’m saying is that the intentional walk can be a useful tool, and might be one we’d like to use sometimes against hitters as hot as Uggla.
  • No Need to Nitpick  There were other small miscues here and there–we left 9 runners on base, Marshall’s error at first–but I’m inclined ignore the little things with all that’s happened in the last day or so.  In light of the major off-the-field distractions, their performance on the field tonight was fairly admirable.

Game Notes

  • The Paul Sullivan Choir sings “Ding Dong Big Z is Dead”  I said this in the comments section from yesterday’s recap, but I’ll say it here again.  I for one am sorry to see what’s almost sure to be the end of Zambrano’s tenure with the Cubs.  He’s got no one to blame but himself, but he also doesn’t seem to have any allies–not on his team so far, and certainly not in the press.  This is the explosion sportswriters have been predicting for years–in fact, the dominant storyline about Z has been when, not if he would lose his head again.  Most of them couldn’t be happier, and their delight over the ashes of his Cubs career means we might not ever get the full story of what happened last night.  Zambrano’s said all season, and often in previous seasons that he wanted to be a Cub for his entire career.  Something had to set him off last night–something serious enough to make him walk away from the team he’s been with since he was (reportedly) 16 years old.  I doubt very much that that’s a story many writers will put much work into any time soon.  Right now, they’re too busy high-fiving each other.
  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like Zambrano?  Jim Hendry must be absolutely giddy.  Zambrano’s contract–while certainly not the biggest albatross Hendry’s brought to the Cubs–was a significant problem for the team.  So significant in fact that he was begging the Yankees to take Z off our hands as recently as the last couple weeks.  Zambrano was also one of the first players Hendry put on waivers this August.  Now that problem is temporarily off his back–with Zambrano on the Disqualified List for the next month, the Cubs don’t have to pay him and can use the time to find a solution to the problem Z presents.  Jim Hendry’s career might soon be crushed under the weight of the bad contracts he’s given out.  Zambrao’s outburst seems to have bought him a little breathing room.
  • From the Non-News Files  Earlier today, MLB Trade Rumors linked to this tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, saying that the Cubs would keep Jim Hendry on as GM unless there is a “change of thinking.”  Which has basically been true since Ricketts offered Hendry his vote of confidence earlier this year in the now-infamous press conference when he said the Cubs’ only problem was injuries.  So congratulations Bob Nightengale for giving me a momentary heart attack but no real news of any substance.  And here’s hoping the Ricketts’ have a “change of thinking,” and that it leads to a Hendry change of employment.

The Takeaway

The young guys performed tonight.  They need to keep doing it.  They are, in the words of Princess Leia, our only hope.

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Dan Uggla (.201 WPA)

2nd Star – Darwin Barney (.196 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Pena (.184 WPA)

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Postgame 119 – Zambrano Retires?

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

The Final Straw
Who can say what happens in the mind of Carlos Zambrano. He is enigmatic and mercurial, but that only scratches the surface. He’s been paid as a No. 1 starter, yet possesses the demeanor of a petulant 1st grader.

Carlos is no stranger to controversy or conflict. But something felt a bit different on this Friday night in Atlanta. This time there was no one to blame but Carlos. In prior years his catcher, his first baseman, his manager, countless umpires, and even a Gatorade cooler have found themselves in his path. But in Atlanta, Carlos was alone and stranded on the mound – after perhaps the most disappointing performance of his career, he resorted to throwing aggressively at Chipper Jones in what appeared to be an effort to get himself ejected.

Beginnings
Carlos made his debut for the Cubs in 2001 as a baby-faced 20 year old (or so they say). He was largely unimpressive in very limited action mostly from the bullpen. He made huge strides the following year, especially as a starter. From 2002 through the end of last year, he posted annual ERAs under 4.00 – and that was just his pitching.

Managers don’t regularly count on their pitcher to produce much at the plate, but Zambrano always over-delivered in this regard. Though he started the 2003 season with one hit in two years, he racked up 18 in 2002 and has posted a batting average of .217 or higher in 8 of the last 9 seasons. He’s also provided some pop with 23 career home runs. He’s easily one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history – possibly the best in the modern era.

2003
During the playoff run of 2003, Carlos was in some ways the “other” starter. In a playoff rotation that featured Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Matt Clement, it was Zambrano who would draw the role of “4th starter.” (Yes, I realize that Zambrano was the Game 2 NLDS starter, and Game 1 NLCS starter – that had more to do with scheduling, availability, road vs. home, and of course the crazy Dusty factor). Zambrano didn’t win any of his three starts in that postseason, even though twice he was staked to first-inning leads. Even at 22, Carlos’ ability to come up small in big games was becoming evident.

Opening Days
After Matt Clement was let go, Mark Prior turned into the forerunner of Greg Oden, and Kerry Wood decided he wanted an arm surgery named after him too, Carlos was the “ace” left standing. That also meant that he became the Cubs Opening Day starter. He opened the season on the mound from 2006-2010. The Cubs were 3-3 in those games, Zambrano was 1-2 – and lucky to be that.

In his first turn as No. 1 the Cubs would provide him with an enviable cushion. It was 7-0 after an inning and a half, but with the score at 9-2 and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Carlos walked the pitcher with the bases loaded. Dusty had seen enough and yanked Carlos even though he was one-out from qualifying for the win.

He suffered a similar fate in 2006 when the Cubs jumped out to a 5-0 lead but he’d given it all back before he got the final out of the fifth. Dusty yanked him after 4.2 innings again. (In both 2005 & 2006, the Cubs would score 16 runs in big wins – Zambrano had two no-decisions)

The Cubs lost three of the next four Opening Day games; Zambrano pitched well in 2008 (the Fukudome game) and 2009 (when he captured his only win against the Astros). His final Opening Day start was last year in Atlanta, when Jason Heyward and the Braves tagged him for 8 runs – Carlos only got 4 outs.

In all, Carlos pitched 28.1 innings on Opening Day and surrendered 17 ERs…ouch!

Bravado & Aggression
To the casual baseball fan, Carlos was known for his raw and unhindered aggression – often times directed at his teammates – and for his bold claims about what he or the Cubs would be accomplishing in the coming season.

He famously tussled with Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee in the dugout on separate occasions after he felt that each had cost him runs in the previous half-inning. He also got medieval on a Gatorade container; perhaps it had contributed to his demise on the mound as well. Each “incident” was followed by an apology, the sincerity of which was always questioned, and then Carlos would proceed in lightheartedly downplaying the whole event as much as possible.

When the Cubs sent him to rehab after the Lee incident (to get his anger under control) there was no way to put a positive spin on it. Carlos had to boldly proclaim that we’d be seeing a different attitude on the mound and in the clubhouse. No one believed it would last.

Bold proclamations weren’t new to Carlos; he had become legendary for predicting a World Series appearance for the Cubs or a Cy Young Award for himself. Spring training seemed to be the time that reporters would bait Carlos into saying some that would come back to bite him in the fall.

Friday’s game only further proves that he’s never mastered his aggression or tamed his tongue.

The Good Times
Amidst the constant controversy and turmoil that surrounded much of Carlos’ career, there were a lot of good times.

In 2008, the Cubs found themselves in Milwaukee playing 2 games against the Astros. Hurricane Ike and Bud Selig had conspired to benefit the Brewers. In the end, it was Carlos who would benefit the most. He turned in the signature game of his career, a no-hitter – registering 10 strikeouts and only 1 walk. It was the Cubs first no-hitter since Milt Pappas threw one in 1972.

Until 2008 Carlos had been a workhorse, registering more than 200 IP in the previous 5 seasons as a full-time starter. From 2008 onward, his career was marred by injuries and periods of ineffectiveness or outright rebellion that even relegated him to the bullpen. But he always managed to get that ERA back below 4.00 and six times he won at least 13 games.

The at-bats, especially when they led to home runs, were a joy to watch. Carlos would swing away in every situation, sometimes even breaking his bat as he walked back after a strikeout. But when he got a hold of one you knew it was gone.

About Those Home Runs
You’d think that a pitcher hitting a home run would bolster his confidence and narrow his focus on the mound – he’d done more than his job at the plate already, it was now just time to pitch. With Carlos, it was often the opposite.

More than once Carlos would belt a long blast and then lose total focus on the mound. Whether it was an adrenaline rush or a mental lapse that stunted him, that next half-inning was always nervous. Would Carlos be sharp? Or would he start walking successive hitters providing the opponent with a big inning that undermined his recent offensive prowess?

Retirement
Carlos first talked about retirement openly and seriously in 2009. He indicated that he’d finish his current contract – that would be through the end of 2012 (or 2013, depending on the option). It’s certainly not hard to imagine that Carlos is beyond the 30 years old that he’s reported at – but retirement in 2012 seemed premature. And with Carlos, none of us believed he woke up with the same perspective two days in a row; surely it was a fleeting fancy.

He’s No John Kruk
Kruk famously walked off the field after a routine single; Carlos is leaving after an anything-but-routine 4.1 IP, 5 HR allowed, and an ejection to top it off debacle of a start. It’s the baseball equivalent of selling low; for his image and public persona nothing could be worse than Carlos quitting tonight. That alone gives me the belief that perhaps he will don the #38 for the Cubs again.

Zambrano has always relished proving his “haters” to be wrong, and in walking away he validates every opinion ever held against him. He may not be able to completely repair his reputation, but he doesn’t need to leave a narrative that practically writes itself as an indictment of his career.

A Team Perspective
It’s probably a debate better suited for a separate column, but would the Cubs even take him back at this point? Without explicit knowledge of his contract, it seems that the Cubs might have some recourse to void his deal – at least in part – if he, as it’s claimed, has cleaned out his locker and left the team entirely. Maybe after a day or two we’ll know more, but at this point I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Cubs front office that genuinely wants Zambrano back…I doubt the clubhouse is much different.

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Game 119 – Zambrano Blows In Hotlanta

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Cubs 4, Braves 10

Box Score / Highlights

Disclaimer – this recap was nearly completed by the time the game ended, so the news of Zambrano’s “retirement” is not included. For coverage of Zambrano calling it quits, see the postgame report from this game here.

What Went Right
Jeff Baker – the specialist against left-handed pitchers was up to his old tricks again. A couple of doubles and a rocket that was just foul into the left field bleachers. He’s a role player at best, but his production against lefties is impressive.

Reed Johnson – continuing to get hits in bunches, Reed had another good night. I’d love to see him get a regular spot in the outfield, but I definitely want him to be our fourth outfielder again next year.

Tim Timmons (home plate umpire) – for doing the job that Zambrano was begging Quade to do, and removing Carlos from the game.

What Went Wrong
Carlos Zambrano – just embarrassing all the way around. Here’s his line: 4.1 IP, 8 ER, 3 Ks, 5 HRs

Mike Quade & Mark Riggins – yes, it was Carlos’ fault that he completely lost it. But it was Quade & Riggins at fault for leaving him out there. Quade’s perplexed look after Zambrano was tossed made it seem like he hadn’t even been following the game.

Zambrano’s Meltdown
It started with the first run the Braves scored – Dan Uggla’s homer in the 2nd that continued his now 32-game hit streak. In Uggla’s next plate appearance he was hit, as Brenly put it, in the wallet. I tend to think this was Zambrano getting back at Uggla – in a perfectly acceptable manner.

Fast forward to the 5th, Zambrano is losing 6-1 and coughs up a home run to Freddie Freeman, the ball was hit so hard that Brenly started questioning whether Zambrano was tipping his pitches. Then Uggla got the ultimate revenge on Zambrano by hitting his second home run of the game. Now the score is 8-1; Zambrano was supposed to be buying time for Ramon Ortiz to warm up, instead he surrendered his career high fifth home run of the game.

The next batter, Chipper Jones was the recipient of ball one that was well inside. In case anyone was wondering about Zambrano’s intentions, he threw ball two FURTHER inside. Neither pitch hit Jones, but home plate umpire Tim Timmons immediately tossed Carlos. Zambrano didn’t even argue, further proving that he knew EXACTLY what he was doing and so did everyone else. Carlos lost this game.

Quade’s “Feel For The Game”
Why was Zambrano even out there in the 5th and why was NO ONE warming up when the inning started? Quade and Riggins can’t see even the most obvious trouble as it approaches. If you watched the game it was obvious 1) Carlos didn’t have it, and 2) he wasn’t going to find it. Someone should’ve been up in the bullpen; when Riggins visited the mound after the Freeman bomb, he should’ve made Timmons break it up to give Ortiz as much time as possible; and most of all, Zambrano shouldn’t have even started the fifth inning on the mound.

Brenly was yammering on about it being the beginning of a road trip and not wanting to use up your entire bullpen right away. So let me get this straight, there’s one guy on our team who handles failure in the worst possible way, and we’re going to tell him to bite the bullet and take his lumps when he obviously knows that he doesn’t have it? How about saving the clubhouse for the rest of the road trip? I’m sure Zambrano will be a peach to deal with now that he’s been, once again, nationally embarrassed.

I’m not excusing what Carlos did, it’s inexcusable…but why are we even putting him in that situation? This isn’t the first inning of a game against the Sox where Zambrano’s outburst surprised everyone; this is four plus innings of a beatdown that apparently his manager wanted him to smile through and say, “thank you sir, I’ll have some more.” While that’s the reply that you’d like from a player, it’s completely unrealistic to expect that Carlos would EVER have that attitude. You could see this brewing for innings, unless you’re part of the Cubs’ coaching staff.

Braves Always Ready To Rumble
The whole Zambrano thing got out of hand; but the Braves weren’t trying to calm it down. Under Bobby Cox they were always ready to throwdown; nothing has changed under Fredi Gonzalez. Jones didn’t even get hit; the pitches weren’t at his head – so why is the entire team rushing out of their dugout? Remember, this is the same franchise that threw at Alfonso Soriano a couple of years back with the first pitch of the game (and claimed it was an accident)! IF the tables had been turned, the Cubs would’ve stayed in the dugout playing canasta – not rush the field like a bunch of rioters itching to throw a punch, without care for the reason why.

Who cares if the Braves feel wronged – that’s like Tony LaRussa griping that one of his players was targeted with a pitch. Even if you agree with their version of the facts, they’re due a little retribution.

The Takeaway
Lost in Zambrano’s poor performance and even poorer display of sportsmanship – the Braves are pretty freakin’ good. If the Phillies weren’t an All-Star team unto themselves, the Braves might have a chance in the NL. But the Braves will likely draw the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, and if they can navigate that staff of aces, they’ll get the Phillies in the NLCS. They’re a good team, but they’re a couple pieces away from the Phillies at this point.

It’s funny how a string of games against the Pirates, Reds, and Nationals started changing expectations for the remainder of the season. It was comforting to see the 2011 Cubs reappear in Atlanta. And by comforting I mean, the kind of comfort you get after consuming too many Chili Cheese Fritos and realizing that they still have that effect on you.

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The Day I Met Ron Santo

Friday, August 12th, 2011

On March 27, 2010, I flew to Phoenix for the day to attend a Cubs’ Spring Training game.  That’s not nearly as extravagant as it might initially sound.  I live in Los Angeles, so the cost of the trip and the travel time were both minimal.  And it was a small price to pay to finally get back to Spring Training.

When I was little kid, my parents would load my brothers and me into the car for an annual trip to Palm Springs to see the Cubs play the Angels.  Palms Springs Stadium was a glorified college baseball park–in fact, there wasn’t even a separate parking lot for the players, which meant there were lots of opportunities to get signatures after the games.  Somewhere in my parents’ house, we still have a large collection of autographed baseballs and photos taken with former Cub greats and not-so-greats.  We’ve even got a picture of my brothers and me all sitting on Harry Caray’s lap between innings.  But ever since the Angels left Palm Springs in 1992, I had not been back to a Spring Training game*.

*I did try to go to a game once in 2006, but it didn’t work out.  Back then, most of Arizona was at the tail end of the longest stretch of rainless days in its history–143 total.  My brothers, my sister-in-law, and I left LA on Friday night and drove through hours of non-stop rain, snow flurries, and even periodic hail.  We spent the night in one of Phoenix’s skeeviest hotels, and found out in the morning that the game had indeed been rained out.  Instead of basking in the sun at Hohokam Park, we found an Uno’s Pizza and watched some March Madness before driving back home.  The failure of that trip was at least part of the reason I was flying to Phoenix by myself in 2010.

My flight from LAX to PHX took just a little over an hour, but it seemed much longer.  That’s because it served as an unofficial charter for Dodger fans who had won a radio contest and were flying to Phoenix for a weekend of Spring Training fun.  We even had a local celebrity on board–Vic the Brick, a radio host from LA’s FOXSports station.  Once we were in the air, he took it upon himself to commandeer the in-flight PA and treat all of us passengers to a mixed bag of jokes, catchphrases, and rambling anecdotes.  He even hosted a Dodger trivia contest, complete with passengers running down the aisle, Price Is Right-style, to retrieve their free-drink vouchers.   It was one of the worst flying experiences of my life**, and I once spent several hours in FBI custody because of bomb threat made by a fellow passenger.

**That wouldn’t be my last encounter with Dodger fans that day.  In the Southwest terminal for my flight home, I spotted a dejected-looking Frank McCourt.  The Dodgers’ owner was also flying home to LA that night, and wound up sitting in the row behind me.  At the time, McCourt was in the early stages of his ugly divorce that has since exposed his own shady finances and crippled his ability to run the franchise.  As he slumped into a seat near the entrance to the jetway, it seemed clear he didn’t want to be bothered.  That didn’t stop me from selling a few unused baseballs to Dodger fans who wanted his autograph.

I arrived at Hohokam with plenty of time before the game started.  I had come prepared with pens and blank baseballs, and a mental wishlist of the autographs to get.  At the top of that list was Ron Santo.  After walking around the stadium and scoping things out, I asked a friendly-looking usher where I might best be able to meet Ron.  Hohokam employs several senior citizens as ushers, and this kind, old gentleman outlined two possible ways I might obtain Ron’s signature.  If you ever listened to Pat and Ron call a Spring Training game, you know Ron usually left the game early.  That was in part because it took him so long to get to his vehicle, since he stopped so often to sign autographs and meet fans.  Waiting til the end of the game might keep him at the park for hours after the last out, so somewhere in the eighth inning, he’d usually take off.  The usher pointed me to the only elevator at Hohokam, and told me that Ron had to come down from the press box there, and that was the surest way to get his autograph.

He also pointed to a line that had formed a few sections behind me that snaked all the way up to the press box windows.  He said I could take my chances, but that the line was closed off about a half hour prior to game time.  At that point, we were still almost an hour from the first pitch.  I thanked him for the advice and raced over to join the line.  The queue stretched along the main aisle between the upper and lower seating areas, then turned up center aisle of the upper seats, ending at the window Santo sat behind to call the games.  If you stood in the last row of seats, you could make eye-contact with Ron and shake his hand as he signed your jerseys, hats, and baseballs.

Directly in front of me in line was a middle-aged woman who had waited the day before for Ron to sign her jersey.  Today she hoped to get him to sign the hat she was wearing.  She spoke optimistically about our chances to make it to the front of the line, but I wasn’t so sure.  Every time we’d make significant progress forward, a mom or a dad would herd their children to the front of the line to meet up with the other parent who had been saving their places.  At roughly 40 minutes to game time, an usher appeared to tell us we likely would not make it up to the top before Ron had to go to work.  Ten minutes later, when the line should have been dispersed, Ron began to sign in earnest.  The greetings, handshakes, and photos all came to an end, as he fought off the ushers and the WGN radio staff to keep signing whatever the fans put in front of him.

Despite an influx of even more kids, we did eventually make it to the top of the stands with about 20 minutes left before game time.  I knew that any minute Pat and Ron were due to go on air, but Ron seemed determined to keep signing right up to the point the Cubs broadcast started.  All that stood between me and Ron was the middle-aged lady in front of me, and the lady in front of her who was leading her kids back down the aisle.  Sensing a momentary break in the action, another WGN employee stepped forward to put a stop the autograph session.  For some unknowable reason, the woman in front of me–who had been professing her deep admiration and respect for Ron for the last 40+ minutes–tossed her hat through the window like a frisbee, knocking papers, pens, and whatever beverage Ron had that day into his lap.  I was mortified as he slowly stood up and backed away to assess the mess she had made.  Pat Hughes scowled at her over his game notes, and the WGN staff shut the window and began cleaning up Ron’s desk.

Needless to say, that brought an abrupt end to the autograph session.  I went to my seat shocked and frustrated.  I knew I still had a shot to catch him at the elevator, but I didn’t know what kind of crowd would greet him there, or if the hat-flinger’s astounding rudeness had put him off signing autographs for the rest of the day.

The game went well.  Tyler Colvin was wrapping up his breakout Spring, and he went 4-5 that day with a homer and triple.  In the 2nd or 3rd inning, I met new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts as he brought his kids back from the concession stands.  But mostly I kept one eye on Ron’s window–which had since been reopened–to make sure I didn’t miss his departure from the booth.

Then in the middle of the 4th inning, I noticed a few Cubs fans standing on the last row of seats, discreetly passing items through the window for Ron to sign.  With the short breaks between innings, he couldn’t do more than a handful of autographs, but he obliged as many as he could, and encouraged the rest to wait for the next break in the action.  I began to inch my way back over to the seats in front of his window.  My plan was to get into an empty seat as close to the WGN booth as I could, so I could be in place just after the third out.  I think it was the middle of the 6th when I finally was able to reach up, shake Ron’s hand, and pass him a baseball.

The details of our brief conversation aren’t really important.  In a short minute or two, it’s hard to say all the things you want to say to someone who you’ve listened to for so long.  How do you tell him that his emotions, reactions, and thoughts go so far to inform you own about a team you both love?  How do you explain he’s such an important part of the prism through which you see your favorite team from day to day?  That you share his ups and downs, his frustrations, and his bottomless optimism that next year might be The Year?  Mostly I just thanked him for his hard work on our behalf, and told him how he made even the worst games worth listening to, in part because I knew he always suffered at least as much as I did.  I told that he was the best, because he was.

If I’m honest, I think it’s odd to feel such a deep connection to a stranger.  But maybe that’s just a reflection of Ron, since he never treated any Cubs fans like strangers. In his mind, we were all his family.

I kept an eye on Ron’s window for the rest of that game, where he flew through handshakes, photos, and autographs.  Around the eighth inning, I walked back down to the concourse to see what kind of crowd had gathered to meet him on his way home.  As he got off the elevator and headed to his car, a swarm of Cubs fans surrounded him and a slowly accompanied him out the stadium gates an into the parking lot.

I didn’t get any other signatures that day, but it didn’t matter.  I got what I came for.  I got to meet Ron Santo.

 

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VFTB Radio – Episode 3

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Leading Off

The Ron Santo statue was unveiled before Wednesday’s game against the Nationals.  This is the fourth statue outside of Wrigley, with the others being Harry Caray, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams.  Who should be the next Cub to be honored with a statue?

Buy or Sell?

  1. Buy or Sell that Santo will finally be inducted into Cooperstown next summer.
  2. Dusty Baker said this weekend that Mike Quade deserves more of a chance.  He said that it seems like Cubs fans always want whoever is there to be fired.  Buy or Sell Baker’s point?
  3. The Cubs seven game winning streak makes you optimistic about next season.  (Buy or Sell?)
  4. This is the first time that we’ve done a show since the trade deadline, so are you buying or selling the Kosuke trade as a good move?  What letter grade would you give Hendry’s deadline?
  5. Tony Campana’s inside-the-park home run electrified the crowd last week.  Buy or Sell his chances of being an everyday starter at the big league level.

What’s the Word?

  1. Ron Santo was a _______ person.
  2. The fact that Ronnie was not inducted into the HOF before his death is ________.
  3. Santo’s broadcasting was ________.
  4. The fire that Mike Quade has shown this season, being ejected from five games, is _______.

Download the MP3 – Link

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When Was the Last Time…?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Last Friday, Tony Campana sparked Campanamania with his inside the park home run. It was the first inside the park home run since blah blah blah. That got me thinking about other events in Cub history and when the last time they occurred. Without delay, here are some that I dug up.

  • Last Cub with a 200+ hit season – Juan Pierre (2006)
  • Last Cub with  40+ stolen base season – Juan Pierre (2006)
  • Last Cub with 100+ base on balls season – Sammy Sosa (2002)
  • Last Cub to reach base on catchers interference – Tyler Colvin (2010)
  • Last Cub to strike out 6+ times in a game – Don Hoak (5/2/1956)
  • Last Cub to walk 5 times in a game – Eric Young (6/30/2000)
  • Last Cub to steal 5 bases in a game – Eric Young (5/14/2000)
  • Last Cub with 14 total bases in a game – Aramis Ramirez (9/16/2004)
  • Last Cub to pitch 10+ innings in a game – Mike Bielecki (5/22/1990)
  • Last Cub pitcher to walk 10 or more hitters – Ralph Hamner (9/22/1947)
  • Last Cub pitcher to give up more than 8 runs and still get the win – Lynn McGlothen (5/10/1980)
  • Last Cub pitcher to throw 50+ pitches in one inning of work – Thomas Diamond (9/5/2010)
  • Last Cub pitcher with 3+ balks in a game – Les Lancaster (7/5/1987)*

* – I don’t know how many of them he called, but it’s no surprise that Bob Davidson was one of the umpires on duty that day.

 

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Game 117 – Winning One for Ron

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Cubs 4, Nationals 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Boom Goes the Dynamite  The Cubs’ bats exploded for 10 hits tonight, including 2 doubles (Soriano and Barney) and 3 home runs (Soto, Johnson, and Soriano).  They also took 3 walks (Soto, Barney, and Soriano again).  Johnson went 4-4, and Soriano had one of his better nights in recent memory.  In fact, with his homer tonight he’s now got at least 20 home runs in the last ten seasons–no small accomplishment.  I’m tempted to say something here about how if he could perform like that consistently, then we might be able to move him, but who am I kidding?  Years from now, when Soriano is still playing an atrocious LF for the Cubs and swinging his bat at balls in the dirt the way old men wave metal detectors at the beach, we’ll look back on nights like this one wistfully and remember the “good ol’ days.”
  • That’ll Do, Rodrigo.  That’ll Do.  Rodrigo Lopez continues to perform about as good as you could expect from a trash-heap reclamation project.  He’s still sporting a high ERA, and he doesn’t get us very deep into games, regularly requiring a few innings of bullpen support.  But tonight, that was enough for him and the Cubs to get the win.
  • Shutting the Door  And the Cubs gave Lopez the bullpen help he needed tonight.  Samardzija, Marshall, and Marmol combined for 3.1 innings of scoreless relief.  Marmol looked particularly strong, with three strikeouts for the save.  And since I’ve highlighted Samardzija’s various failures in this space plenty of times, I suppose I should point out that he’s been pretty good lately.  In his 5 appearances in August, he hasn’t allowed any runs and only 3 hits, while striking out 7.  If Jim Hendry’s not too busy with not doing his job, he might want to put Samardzija on waivers and see if there’s a contender who needs bullpen help badly enough to part with a prospect.  And as a bonus, tonight Samardzija was even able to borrow a bat someone’s helmet to take his 4th at-bat of the season, and show us what kind of lessons he’s learned in the Carlos Zambrano School for Pitchers Who Can’t Hit Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.

What Went Wrong

  • Oops, I Did It Again  Castro had an error in the top of the 1st that allowed the Nationals to score their first run.  And in the bottom of the inning, he ran into an out at 2nd base after he tried to stretch a deflected infield single into a double.  My guess is he was hoping to make up for the error.  But even if you don’t grant him a little grace for (possibly) good intentions, I think we sometimes make too much out of Castro’s mistakes.  Cal Ripkin Jr. was in the WGN booth briefly tonight, and he talked a little about the time it takes for young players to develop.  In fact, when Cal was 21 (like Castro is now) he had 19 errors (Castro picked up his 19th tonight).  Ripkin also recorded 25 errors when he was 22, 26 Es when he was 23 and 24, 20 Es when he was 26, 21 Es when he was 27, and 22 Es when he was 36, and he still managed to make it into the Hall of Fame.  I’m inclined to say that most, if not all of Castro’s problems can be remedied by experience and repetition.
  • We Can Build On This!  Future Cubs’ building block and noted LHP-hitting dynamo Jeff Baker got the start over Carlos Pena tonight.  He went 0-3 before being replaced in the eighth inning by Pena, who also went 0 for his one at-bat.  Since June 1st, Baker’s hitting below .200, proving he’s exactly the kind of player we should be protecting for future seasons.

Game Notes

Just a word about the Santo statue ceremony–it looks good, capturing Ron at 3rd making an off-balance throw.  The unveiling ceremony, which you can view here, was classy and appropriate.  Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, and Billy Williams spoke, and many of the current Cubs showed up in their PASS10N t-shirts to honor Santo.  Perhaps best of all, Ron’s widow mentioned that the Cubs had  informed him prior to his death about their plans for the statue.  So even if he didn’t live to see it, he got to enjoy the knowledge that he was going to be immortalized at Wrigley.  I can’t wait to see it in person.

The Takeaway

A win is a win, so I won’t complain–especially when it provided such a fitting end to the day.  But as the season slips closer and closer to official futility, I would like to see the young guys get some more starts.  We can make the most of the garbage time left this year by seeing what Colvin, Campana, and some of the other guys can do with some consistent playing time.  In another lost season, there’s still a lot we can accomplish.

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Alfonso Soriano (.240 WPA)

2nd Star – Sean Marshall (.177 WPA)

3rd Star – Reed Johnson (.158 WPA)

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Chet’s Corner: Pour Gas…Light Match….Walk Away….

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I’ve been slapped in the face by many a team in my life but the 2011 Cubs, nay the Cubs of the past 10 years,  have left me bruised and abused.  I lay in the gutter of fandom yet again.

A seven game winning streak in August?????  How?  This hapless bunch of never will be’s and has been’s couldn’t win three in a row all season, much less take a series, forget putting seven wins together!  Now that it doesn’t matter, we win and dammit if we didn’t look somewhat convincing in the process.  

I actually overheard two Cubs fans talking about “still having a chance” this season.  Yup, it was Sunday before the our steak ended.  I was crossing the intersection at Sheffield and Waveland in route to the busiest 7-eleven in the world (from what I understand it really is, no joke, look it up), and I overheard this drooling moron sputter something about mathematics and elimination. 

Don’t do this to yourselves Cub Nation.  Don’t acquit this team of it’s sub standard play and replace it with promise because of a little seven gamer.  It just isn’t there, not this time around. 

*Here’s where I start pouring the gas…..

I’m gonna bang a drum that I’ve been banging all season,  this team is long from being good.  Currently the future is a shortstop with little defensive discipline, who might just cause as many runs scored against as he plates , and a slew of minor leaguers who have yet to fulfill their promise and probably won’t.

*(Yes, I love Starlin too, he is fun to watch but sometimes his fielding is disasterous.  He is like that cute pet that does everything right and then once a week he pisses in your shoes for no good reason.  You wonder if he will ever learn.  He’s not a rookie anymore, and I don’t see improvement. )

Plus, you’re never going to build a team around Castro.  He is a wonderful piece of decor but he will never be the centerpiece.  He doesn’t seem to have the demeanor of a leader either, but it may be unfair to embellish on that at this point, let’s see what happens down the road.  Just for the record, I would trade him before I would sign him to big money, that’s just crazy me talking though.  

One more thing,  I am going to take a stab at this and probably be right.  Jim Hendry and Mike Quade are both safe for the 2012 season.   Enjoy this tandem again next year folks.  There is nothing like an overmatched manager with a group of under-performing, unenthused veterans to warm the soul of the fanbase.  I can hear the turnstyles whirring already.

Finally,  you have been watching your 2012 Cub corner infielders all season long.  Their names are Aramis and Carlos.  I am setting the over/under on their combined salary next year at close to $26 million.  If you think Pena signs for less then 10 million next year I want some of what you’re smokin’.  Boras will get every shade of lipstick out for this pig and dress him up right next to Pujols and Fielder.  Of course Jim loves him a pig with lipstick and Boras, well, he loves Jim Hendry.  I predict $12 million per at 3 years and a signature no trade clause.

Lighting match…..

This bonfire wouldn’t be complete without singling out a few slices of Cubdom that, during the strife that is the 2011 season, I have grown to despise.  Here they are:

1) Please, for the love of god and all that is holy, stop the current format for the seventh inning stretch.  It’s a wonderful little kumbaya, that I enjoy hearing everytime I go to the ballpark, but the current format at Cubs home games is starting to wreak of minor league marketing.  It is played out and most of these people have nothing to do with Chicago, the Cubs, or even baseball for that matter.  There are only four people that I care to see the Cubs run through the seventh inning stretch gauntlet.  Those people are:

1) Bill Murray

2) Ron Santo

3) Ernie Banks

4) Bob Uecker

I am not sure why Uecker fits but he does.   

I will elaborate on this more in next weeks Corner as I rekindle the flame of Ozzy Osbourne’s performance from eight years ago, that I personally attended, and define the Seventh Inning stretch Gauntlet.

Back to the bonfire…..

2) Crane Kenney needs to be replaced with somebody that knows the game of baseball.  This may be the single greatest improvement we see the Cubs making next year.  I am not holding my breath that Mr Ricketts will get this done, but miracles do happen. 

3) Add a jumbotron at Wrigley.  Seriously, why not.  They put a hideous, albeit benign, Toyota sign in left field.  Why not just breakdown and add a jumbotron to the side of the scoreboard?  If they were concerned with preserving the natural feel of the ballpark they should have thought about that before putting up all the flashing  ads.  It’s like your wife or girlfriend getting a face lift but skipping out on the boob job because it would be too unnatural.  Jesus, don’t cheat us, if your gonna jack it all up, go all the way!

4) Rip out the ivy and the brick and put up a real outfield wall.  Why is that ivy still there, because it looks cool?  It’s a nuisance and I truly believe it cost us a run against the Reds on Sunday.  Nothing more miserable to watch then an outfielder throwing his hands in the air and surrendering, thus halting the flow of the play, because we have a big fluffy bush growing on our outfield wall that swallows balls (enjoy your laugh).

the fire is now raging…..

I walk away, fire ablaze, leaving the scene with one last thought…..

I have pretty much ripped everything, but I will tip my cap to one asthetic.  Ron Santo’s statue is being erected today.  If there was ever a player whose likeness deserved to be bronzed outside of the friendly confines it is Ron.  I still miss his radio call (don’t worry Moreland, I am warming to you nicely), and I miss his vigor during that occassional rendition of  Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  I wasn’t alive when he played ball but I, as many of you, have seen the clips, heard the stories, and read the stats.  I guess when it comes down to it passion, skill, and intelligence make for a nice combo anywhere.  I wonder who will fit that mold in a Cubs jersey in the years to come?  I wonder how long we will have to wait? 

 

 

 

 

 

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Game 116 – Chien-Ming Wang? Really??

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Cubs 1, Nationals 3

Box Score / Highlights

Making his third start in two years, Chien-Ming Wang carved through the Cubs like butter. Two costly Matt Garza pitches were all the Nats needed to take Game 1 at Wrigley Field Tuesday night.

What went right:

  • Matt Garza was dominant for five innings, but in the sixth he gave up a couple of home runs with a hard hit single in between for three earned runs.
  • How’s this for a relief pitcher: 37 innings, 27 hits, 24/5 K/BB (unintentional), 1.75 ERA? That’s James Russell since moving out of the starter role. No way that ERA holds up over a full season, but he’s a good piece for a bullpen.
  • Pitching line for the bullpen: 3 IP, no hits, no runs, no walks, 6K’s

What went wrong:

  • Before the game started, Aramis Ramirez, scheduled to hit third in the lineup, was scratched with back spasms. Blake DeWitt replaced him…ALSO, hitting third. #FireQuade
  • Chien-Ming Wang held the Cubs hitless for the first five innings and the Cubs couldn’t get anything going until Castro’s solo homer in the 8th off Tyler Clippard.
  • Batting line for the night: 3 for 28, 3 BB’s, 4 K’s, 1 run

Notes:

  • The Cubs will unveil the Ron Santo statue outside Wrigley Field on Wednesday, joining the statues of Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Harry Caray.
  • On Monday, in the weekly celebration of small sample sizes, Starlin Castro was named National League Player of the Week. He went 17 for 33 (.531) with 2 homers, 2 doubles, 7 RBI, 10 runs, and 1 for 2 stolen bases.
  • Cubs first round draft pick Javier Baez had a message on his Facebook page; “7 days till I start a new life, Chicago coming soon.”
  • Here’s another video of beastly 2nd round pick, Dan Vogelbach…skip to about the 3:45 mark for the bombs (508 footer at the 6:40 mark)
  • The Washington Redskins have announced Rex Grossman as their #1 quarterback!

Stars of the Game
Base on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Chien-Ming Wang (.349 WPA)

2nd Star – Jonny Gomes (.187 WPA)

3rd Star – Michael Morse (.106 WPA)

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