Archive for February, 2012

Morning News: The Return of Baseball and the Mystery of Human Hibernation

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I realize we’re still several weeks away from meaningful baseball, but the ON switch for the 2012 season has been flipped.  Sunday the Cubs’ pitchers and catchers reported for duty, and most of the rest of the team will trickle in over the next few days.  While nothing that happens in the next month-and-a-half will do much to raise our modest hopes for the season, there’s a certain amount of cautious optimism and excitement to be had as the Cubs’ rotation and lineup begin to take shape.  We’ll have all season to gripe about what and where we’re lacking–for now, let’s bask in warmth of another new spring.  Baseball is back!

But it’s not all good news–I was shocked a tad surprised to find out the other day that our Blogfather Joe Aiello is not a fan of Spring Training.  I have half a mind to launch a Kickstarter account for us all to chip in and send Joe to Mesa next month so he can witness firsthand the sun-drenched majesty of Spring Training.

On a scale of Joe-to-10, where would you put your own excitement for the start of Spring Training?

Cubs News Roundup  Grantland’s Jonah Keri has been gearing up for the season by previewing a new team every day, starting with the NL Central.  It’s fitting that his Cubs preview went up on President’s Day, since the Cubs look to be taking the whole season off…  Gene Wojciechowski has some thoughts on the new direction for the Cubs in 2012, including their new in-house philosophy and purpose statement that Joe wrote about yesterday morning.  Called “The Cub Way,” the guide will not be distributed outside the organization, which only makes me all the more determined to get a copy for myself…  Blake DeWitt accepted his assignment off the 40-man roster, and will try to win back his spot this spring.  I don’t know enough about all the other infielders in camp to gauge his odds of making the team, but I’m optimistic he won’t be one our best options when April rolls around… Jeff Samardzija hopes to make the Cubs’ starting rotation.  Unless he’s figured out how to throw under thirty pitches across five-to-seven innings, I don’t like his chances.

UPDATE: The Cubs have agreed to send right-handed pitching prospect Chris Carpenter to the Red Sox along with a player to be named later as compensation for Theo Epstein.  Click the link to see Theo’s statement.  ESPN Chicago has more details.

It’s Only A Flesh Wound  San Fransisco catcher Buster Posey is recovering from his horrific knee injury last season and plans to catch the Giant’s spring opener.  The article points out that Giants manager Bruce Bochy has ordered Posey not to block the plate for the time being, and that he’s lobbying the MLB to change the rules regarding plays at the plate to better protect catchers.

Is The G.O.A.T. Heading Out To Pasture?  Yankee closer and future first ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera may be ready to hang it up at the end of the season, but so far he’s not telling.  On a team known for prima donnas and me-first superstars, I always thought Rivera was unusually humble and likable.  I almost never cheer for the Yankees (they do occasionally play the Cardinals), but it will still be a bummer to see one of the game’s most consistent and dominant pitchers call it quits.

Mannyball  After spending big last week on an unproven prospect, the Oakland A’s made another mildly head-scratching move Monday when they signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal.  Ramirez will still have to sit out his fifty-game suspension for his second violation of the MLB’s drug policy, so you’ve got until mid-May to corner the market on dreadlocks wigs in Oakland.

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means  Apparently the ESPN headline faux pas regarding Jeremy Lin was an honest mistake.  I’m inclined to believe the guy, especially since I know how poorly chosen my own words become the later it gets.

One Man’s Hibernation Is Another Man’s Debt Solution  You can’t run away from your mistakes, but apparently you can hide from them for a couple months in your car/igloo, surviving on snow, cigarettes, and comic books.


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Who Am I?

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Who Am I? is a feature here at VFTB designed to give some of the focus back to those who make the site a success: YOU! We’ll tell you a bit about one of our regulars and you guess who it is. We’ll be back later in the day with the answer.

(Would you like to be included? Let me know at … the more the merrier!)

Who Am I?

  • I was born in Chicago, about three blocks from Park Ridge. I can’t remember exactly what age I became a Cubs fan, but I fondly remember watching the 1989 playoff run.
  • No one in my immediate family is much of a baseball fan at all. I also love the NFL and NCAA  basketball. Actually I love competition of any kind.
  • I tend to favor stats, but by no means do I consider myself a stats person. I couldn’t explain half the crazy metrics out there, but I wish I could.
  • Antonio Alfonseca brought me to VFTB. No joke!
  • I was a fan of Jim Hendry and am also a fan of Theo Epstein. I was happy to hear that Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano won’t be back next year.
  • I used to go to opening day at Wrigley Field every year from about 7th grade through high school. I still take that day as a holiday from work every year.
  • If I was dining with Seymour I’d order an open faced Reuben sandwich with waffle fries, a big fat deli pickle, and split pea soup followed by a bowl of spumoni ice cream and wash it all down with a large mug of either root beer or Cheerwine

Who Am I?

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Spring Training Is Here, Foot in Mouth Disease, and We’re on Facebook

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The Cubs have reported to spring training, which is the biggest tease in all of sports. The mid-February date is such a waste of time considering it’s more than two week before the first pitch is thrown in a game and even then almost a month till the pitches actually mean anything. Still, there are those who get excited, so we’ll mention it before we get to some nuggets of news this Monday morning.

We’re now on Facebook. You’ve bombarded my e-mail inbox with letters (not really, it’s more that I’ve been lazy setting it up) and we’ve listened. You can now follow us and interact with us on Facebook. The most important thing I would ask is to use it to share the site you “like” with fellow Cub fans. Help them find out about us and continue to build on the community we’ve developed here. This site remains fun for us as writers because of you the reader. Let’s continue that. Take a minute and visit the Facebook page and let everyone know you Like Us.

Paul Sullivan had a story as camp opened discussing Theo’s plan for the team. He “stressed the collectively-written manual as a way to get the entire system on the same page, from the Dominican Republic summer leagues to the majors leagues.” It’s usually the pat answer, but it’s so key to make sure that the team you’re running has the same message preached throughout. If you want guys to play a certain way, preach it and teach it from the day they sign till the day they leave the system. Then tell them it was all crap and to forget everything they learned. To accomplish that you have to hire the teachers at every level of the system. Hire guys that buy into what your philosophy at every level and train them to be the teachers to develop the skills. Up until this point, I never felt the Cubs have had that in their system. We hear things about the “Dodger Way” and read interviews from players in the organizations that have systems like this in place and it’s all they talk about. They stress the fact that from the moment they entered the system there was consistency throughout. Everyone on the same page. If Jed and Theo can develop that system, the success will come as a result.

Jed Hoyer met with the media over the weekend and discussed Matt Garza and the possibility of signing a long term extension.

“We focused really hard on getting the one-year number done a few weeks ago. We didn’t have any kind of long-term discussions before that, but certainly there was some dialogue about possibly having some long-term discussions at some point maybe this spring. . . . I think we probably will sit down and talk. We’ve said many times he’s the kind of guy we need. We need more Matt Garzas, not less. We need a rotation full of those guys, so if we can work something out, that’d be wonderful.”

As the season draws closer, everyone seems to have their prediction on what the 25 man roster will look like. What interests me most is what they see as being the starting five when it comes to the rotation. The folks at Hardball Talk took a crack at it and came up with:

Ryan Dempster  -R
Matt Garza – R
Randy Wells – R
Paul Maholm – L
Chris Volstad – R

I agree with all but Volstad, with Travis Wood being my pick. I mentioned in my appearance last week on ESPN radio that I didn’t think someone like Jeff Samardzija had a chance at the rotation, but there are those that believe he does. Ultimately, can we really say any of the spots after the top two are a lock and set in stone? I don’t think you can at this point. Certainly Wells and Maholm are close, but what it they come out and tank in spring training?

Shifting our focus now to people who have put their foot in their mouth lately, we look at the fool who no longer works for ESPN who came up with the headline about Jeremy Lin “A Chink in the Armor”. If you missed the story, the headline was sent to mobile devices and caused a lot of outrage as a result. It’s a terrible thing to make racist comments, but what if this guy didn’t even mean to reference Lin’s ethnicity in any way when he came up with the headline? What if it was an honest mistake? Ultimately, I think ESPN’s hands are tied in that instance and they have to sacrifice him to save face, but it’s sad that we live in a society that is so filled with litigation that mistakes can no longer happen. I don’t know either way. I just found it interesting.

Bruce Weber, coach of the Illini basketball team, also had some insert foot in mouth comments that put a good amount of nails in his coaching coffin at Illinois over the weekend. What he didn’t finish, the team took care of with an embarrassing, no heart, effort against the last place team in the Big Ten on Saturday night. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to the press conference late last week, it’s worth listening to. It’s not too often we see a coach all but lists the reasons for his AD to let him go.


  • ‘Cubs Way’ underway – Paul Sullivan (Chicago Tribune)
  • After gauging his trade value, Cubs seem ready to make Matt Garza a long-term investment – Gordon Wittenmyer (Chicago Sun Times)
  • Running down the rosters: Chicago Cubs – Matthew Pouliot (Hardball Talk)
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GO: Bucket List

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

What’s on your bucket list? Don’t have one? Now’s a great time to start thinking about it. And sharing with us. :-)


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Healing The MLB, Part 3

Friday, February 17th, 2012

I find myself in the midst of an impromptu series about fixing various problems with Major League Baseball.  Two weeks ago I wrote about expanding the Designated Hitter “position” into the NL to take away the AL’s competitive edge.  Last week we looked at how FOX is killing Saturday baseball, and how some simple changes might draw new fans to the game instead of driving away current ones.

But rather than drag this accidental series out through Spring Training, let’s look at a few more issues the MLB needs to address, and some possible solutions to those problems.

Instant Replay  The MLB’s steadfast refusal to make thorough use of instant replay is past the point where you could reasonably call it “quaint” or “traditional.”  It’s simply illogical that it’s not more important to the league to make the right call on every play–especially when the technology to do so is so readily available.

Everyone remembers Jim Joyce’s bad call at first base that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game back in 2010.  At the time, I thought the tidal wave of support for Galarraga would lead the MLB to expand its use of instant replay.  It didn’t, perhaps in part because the Tigers still went on to win the game, and all that was impacted was the back of Galarraga’s baseball card.  But what if they hadn’t won the game?  Would the league be more motivated to address the issue?  Sadly, we won’t know until that situation comes up–until the course of a game or even a season is swung on a clearly missed call, I doubt we see any movement on the issue from the MLB.

Which is a real shame, because it would be so easy to put a simple instant replay system in place, even before the upcoming season.  With every game televised these days, there’s plenty of cameras already in place to piggyback off of for league use–meaning the additional cost to put a review system in place would be minimal.  And with the variety of ways instant replay is used in other major league sports, it wouldn’t be hard to develop a pattern that doesn’t further slow down the games (another major complaint from the anti-instant replay crowd).

The review systems at work today in the NHL or college football seem like they’d be the most useful for baseball.  Both sports use game officials who review all the scoring and any other contested plays at the request of the in-game officials.  Those reviews happen rapidly, saving the time it would take for an umpiring crew to waddle down to the clubhouse and fire up the DVR.  It would be simple and seamless to add an extra video umpire up in the press box, and getting the call right would be as quick and simple as a phone call.

And you wouldn’t leave it entirely in the hands of the umpires to police themselves.  What was so remarkable about the Joyce/Galarrage fiasco was how quick Joyce was to admit his mistake (and how understanding Galarraga was about it).  Umpires never think they’re wrong–they’re not built like that, and for good reason.  They need to be decisive and confident.  But they do make mistakes, so you’d need to have a system of checks in place to catch those mistakes.  Give each manager one review per game to limit the breaks in the action.  And like the NFL, set up clear parameters for what is and isn’t reviewable–outs, hits, and scoring plays are reviewable; balls and strikes are still off limits.  Some simple designations along those lines would keep managers from using their review too whimsically, but still help guard against a game hinging on a missed call.

Really, the only question in my mind is what kind of object would managers throw out of the dugout to signal they wanted a play to be reviewed?  Flags don’t really exist anywhere else in baseball, so it would be a little strange to adopt the NFL model here.  The manager’s hat could work, but it might result in a barrage of hats coming out of the stands on close calls.  My favorite option so far is to co-opt another piece of baseball equipment for this secondary purpose and give each manager brightly colored batting doughnut to toss up into foul territory to signal he wants a review.  With any luck, “heaving the doughnut” could become the vernacular equivalent of “throwing the flag.”

Playoff Expansion  With all due respect (that is, none) to Baseball commissioner-for-life Montgomery Burns Bud Selig, the only kind of playoff expansion baseball fans want to see is the expansion of the League Division Series to seven games.  The idea the first round of the playoffs is better because “anything can happen in a five-game series” is ridiculous.  No doubt my own dissatisfaction with the current best-of-five format stems at least in part from the Cubs’ back-to-back seasons of being swept out of the playoffs–but it doesn’t make it less valid.  The playoffs should not hinge on the breaks of game one, as the LDS so often does.

In fact, almost half the League Division Series ever played end up in sweeps, and very few of them ever make it to a decisive game five.  Put simply, the five-game series has no place in the playoffs, or in baseball.  It doesn’t reflect the rhythm of the regular season, and it doesn’t set teams up for the LCS or World Series.  It’s a garbage anomaly that needs to go.

Selig’s solution?  Let’s add another meaningless tier to the playoffs system, further drawing out the faux tension of the season and delaying the legitimate playoff action even further into the fall.

I think Jedi mentioned recently what a joke it is that pitchers and catchers are about to report without a clear decision on what the playoffs will look like.  It’s that kind of slipshod leadership that has marked Selig’s tenure.  His introduction of the Wild Card was a positive addition.  But his inability to leave the playoff format alone is pathetic, and by including another Wild Card team, he’s tarnishing what should be the highpoint of his baseball legacy.

All Star Game  The poorly-conceived playoff expansion isn’t Selig’s first or most-glaring over-correction.  The idea that he could imbue some kind of meaning to the All Star Game by bestowing home field advantage in the World Series on the winning league was laughable when it was first instituted.  Now it’s become a significant black eye for the league, especially when so many superstars are comfortable skipping the exhibition altogether.  If the league wants the best players all on the same field, playing their hardest against the other All Stars, the way to achieve that isn’t to make the prize something that only a handful of the players will even enjoy.  Do you think Starlin Castro cared at all who had the home field advantage in this season’s World Series when he was taking his cuts late in the All Star Game?

Instead of stealing home field advantage from the deserving team, give the All Stars something to play for that they all already care about: money.  Find a sponsor (or sponsors) who is willing to back up the Brinks truck for the winning team and you’ll have more players interested in being an All Star and actually playing to win than ever before.  If you want to give meaning to the Mid-Summer Classic, you need to make it mean something to the guys on the field.

Team Mascots  Actually, the less said about this, the better.

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