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Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher.  This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator.  It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything!  I find this grading system much better than using say…stars.  The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses.  The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion.  However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+.  An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!).  I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded.  So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:

NEIL RAMIREZ                   A

Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate.  The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA                  A

Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster.  For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS).  Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.

JAKE ARRIETA                   A

Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.

ANTHONY RIZZO               A-

A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.

JAMES RUSSELL                B+

Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.

STARLIN CASTRO              B

His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+.  I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen.  His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.

WESLEY WRIGHT              B

If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning.  His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.

HECTOR RONDON             B

Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.

LUIS VALBUENA       B

This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad.  Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.

EMILIO BONIFACIO          B (currently on DL)

I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club.  I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract.  His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.

PEDRO STROP           B-

Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion.  Strop is a possible flip candidate.

JUSTIN RUGGIANO & CHRIS COGHLAN            C+

I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty.  I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.

BRIAN SCHLITTER C+

Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%.  He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.

WELLINGTON CASTILLO                   C+

Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch.  Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)

JUSTIN GRIMM                   C

Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again.  Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever.  I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches.  He’s 25, so I still see much upside.

TRAVIS WOOD          C

Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must)  Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)

CARLOS VILLANUEVA     C-

That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.

NATE SCHIERHOLTZ        D+

A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.

JOHN BAKER             D+

With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him.  Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.

JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT               D+

There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now.  Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening.  I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered.  These two are way too young to give up on.

EDWIN JACKSON     D

Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment.  I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million?  From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.

DARWIN BARNEY     D

Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown.  Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug.  Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.

RYAN SWEENEY       F

Why is he on the team? That is all.

DALLAS BEELER, TSUYOSHI WADA, CHRIS RUSIN, & KYLE HENDRICKS        INC.

These players have basically just been added to the class.

BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH)                               INC.

Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.

CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH)                                 A

This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing.  The guy is doing something right.

RICKY RENTERIA              C

Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen.  I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4.  The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs.  Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media.  My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)

Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,

…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)

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There is no such thing as a shortstop “logjam”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Did you ever play baseball as a kid? Were you ever on any kind of baseball (or softball) team; high school, college, little league, Pony league, Cub Scout ball, church league softball or even beer league softball? If yes, answer this:

Who played shortstop? I am guessing that would be the best freaking player on the team! It may have possibly been the second best if the top player was pitching, playing centerfield or catching.  I have watched, played and coached baseball since 1975…and here are 2 statements I have never heard;

  1. “He looks pretty good in left field and first base, let’s try him at shortstop”.
  2. “I like his bat, let’s try to hide him at shortstop”.

Think about it…have you ever heard of a player moved to shortstop? No, of course not…and it stems from the simple reasoning above…probably 95 percent of the time shortstops are the best athletes on their respective teams.  If they aren’t…it’s a pitcher, catcher or centerfielder.  Therefore when the Cubs acquired Addison Russell last week, I had to remind even my most astute baseball friends about this fact.  Let’s look at some evidence;

Here are Hall of Famers who were drafted (or signed) as shortstops…yet they played other positions during their particular careers; George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Wade Boggs, and Roberto AlomarYikes! Three of the top 3B of all time, and Ryno and Robbie…were all shortstops. Molitor couldn’t even play in the field (he was a DH) for the latter part of his career, yet he was a SS at one time. When the Brewers drafted Molitor in 1977, they already had future Hall-of Famer Robin Yount manning the position.

I guess they weren’t worried about a “shortstop logjam”.

Here are some more names of players from the last 25 years who were originally shortstops (some potential HOFers): Chipper Jones, Jim Thome(look it up if you don’t believe it Jim Thome was drafted as a SS!), Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano(ugh, he could barely play left in the bigs!), Brian Roberts, Michael Young, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Justin Upton. ***side note, I compiled these examples with 20 minutes of research…I am in full Grad-Party Prep Mode and this little column is allowing me a 2 hour break.

What do you notice about the recent names? It includes great second basemen, third baseman, and outfielders…and the reason is very simple…other than catcher, shortstops can play anywhere!  I would wager with much deeper research…including pitchers…you would find many more former shortstops.

Instead of questioning this strategy, Cubs’ fans should be welcoming it.  It’s what good front offices have been doing for years…and the Cubs? Ty Griffin, Brooks Kieschnick, Ryan Harvey, Earl Cunningham…not shortstops. (I apologize for bringing up these names) Luis Montanez and Kevin Orie were drafted as shortstops…so…umm…well…not all shortstops pan out, especially those drafted by the Cubs in the 1990s.

For what it’s worth, here is what I see happening; Starlin Castro slides over to 2B where his contract and bat play very well. Javier Baez, plays 3B or RF depending on how Kris Bryant shakes out.  Arismendy Alcantara plays CF, and Russell, who scouts say has the best glove…plays SS.  I could be way off with these projections…Castro could remain at SS, Baez could play 2B, and Russell could play CF…or some other combination, because…shortstops can play all of these other positions…and usually well.

So when next you hear someone state that the Cubs’ have a shortstop or middle infield logjam, correct them and say;

“The Cubs now have a surplus of some of the best young athletes in the game”

…and if that doesn’t work bring up the Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs thing.

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Buried By the 4th of July

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Summer vacation when I was a kid meant playing baseball every day…literally every day.  I am sure you younglings (…you know, in your thirties) have heard this before…from grumpy old curmudgeons like myself.  Atari didn’t arrive until the late 70’s, and even when it did…the sports games (how can I say this?…sucked!), so we still preferred going outside and playing the real thing.  We played 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3…whatever we had.  We creatively game up with ways to adapt; the prototypical one field out (not really the best for developing hitters), estimation ball (this was for one on one match-ups, pitcher and hitter would estimate what the ball in play would be…a hit or an out…yes, it did cause a few arguments), and my favorite option of limited numbers baseball…a Series.

We needed at least two on two for a “Series”, but the general parameters were this; we would play a best of 7 World Series of 3 inning games…with one team picking an American League team and the other selecting a team from the Senior Circuit.  Playing these “series” may be one of my fondest childhood memories; there was no finer way to spend a summer afternoon. Play a series, go for a swim and then hopefully repeat the process the next day.

There was one slight problem with this…my brothers and my neighborhood buddies were all serious baseball fans…and we were sticklers for realism.  Therefore when we would select a team to pretend to be in these little pseudo-series…it had to be a team that was currently a contender.

Guess which team this usually eliminated, and was not considered a realistic choice?

When doing the research for this piece, it really took me back to the process I went through while writing my book. (Details on a July “special” at the end of this column!) While coming up with 105(logical and rational) reasons why the Cubs have not won a World Series in 105 years, I would come up with a theory…do the research on the awesome baseballreference.com, and then get a huge sense of reward at how well the research backed up my theory.   I felt the same satisfaction while completing this piece.

That pounding of the Red Sox was enjoying…and the young guys are knocking at the door…and things may be trending up for the Cubs.  Yet, as far as the 2014 season…the fact is here on July 4th, at best the Cubs will be 8 games under .500 and 11.5 games out of 1st place.  If my buddies and I went out and had a Series today…we wouldn’t be able to choose the Cubs.

These thoughts lead me to examine the Cubs historical positioning on the 4th of July.  I decided to use 1969 as year 1 of my study for a couple reasons; the first, while not the Cubs’ entire history, it provides 45 seasons of evidence. The second; Cubs’ history prior to that are pretty easy to sum up…the Cubs were competitive in the 20’s, really, really good in the 30’s, and just dreadfully rotten from 1945-1967.  Consequently, I began with 1969 and researched where the Cubs stood every year up until 2014 on the 4th of July.  Caution…an alcoholic beverage or an anti-depressant may be required after reading this.

1.     How many times since 1969, have the Cubs been in 1st place on July 4th?

The answer to question 1 is…6 times. Wow, that’s 13 percent! A .130 average…only a little worse than Mike Olt!  The years:

1969       53-28       7.5 game lead                     1984        45-35       1 game lead           

1973      49-34         6 game lead                        2001        48-34       4 game lead

1977      48-28         4 game lead                                   2008         52-35       2.5 game lead

So the first year of our study…46 years ago…is the best.

That’s not a good start.

2.     Okay, so we now know they are rarely in 1st place on July 4th…how about contending? How about seasons where they were within 5 games of 1st place on July 4th?

Including the 6 seasons in which they were actually in 1st place, there have been 16 seasons of the 46 where the Cubs are within 5 games of 1st. (debatably contending) That’s almost 35 percent…an average of .347! Of course that puts the average of not-contending at .652.

3.     Forget standings…how many times have the Cubs been at, our above .500 on July 4th?

As expected, there is a direct correlation here with the last question, but the answer is 17.  Captain Obvious here…but a winning record helps a team contend.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have only had a winning record on July 4th in 37 percent of the seasons since 1969.

4.     Okay…now for some ugliness. How many times have the Cubs been at least 10 games below .500 on July 4th?

17 times of the last 46 seasons the Cubs have been 10 games under the .500 mark on July 4th.  So if we combine that with the 17 seasons where the Cubs were over .500, it displays to us that in 34 of the 46 seasons the Cubs were either in it…or pretty bad.

5.     In how many of those seasons were the Cubs already at least 10 games out of 1st place by July 4th?

Another direct correlation, as the number is 17…but how about this ugliness?

1976   31-46   22.5 games out, 1981(strike year) 15-37 17.5 games out, 1986  31-46 24 games out, 2000 33-49 16 games out…ugh!

One more way to look at this atrociousness:

Years in which the Cubs were in 1st place on July 4th:  6

Years in which the Cubs were at least 15 games out of 1st place on July 4th:  8

So what does all of this “Cubs on July 4th research” tell us? They are rarely in first, they infrequently contend, and more often they are completely out of it.

Yes, it’s a bit depressing….but now for the proverbial silver linings which we Cubs’ fans always have to search for; I think the current front office is well aware of this history…and are attempting to build an organization that is not as feast or famine(mostly famine) as the Cubs have been.  I am a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan, and of course I was upset when they lost the heart-breaking series to the L.A. Kings. Nonetheless, it did not devastate me as Cubs’ losses have historically done. I know with the current state of the Hawks’ organization they will be Cup contenders for years to come.  The Cubs’ failures have a different feel…Cubs’ fans sense that a blown play-off opportunity means the next chance will most likely be years away…and historically they have been correct.

I do believe the team is on the path to consistent contending, but I doubt any kids will be choosing the team when playing a “series” with their neighborhood buddies.

But!…the team will be much better to play with on PlayStation 5, 6 and 7 and all future inclinations of X-Box….that’s progress.


Authors’ note:

If you would like to join the hundreds (okay…it’s probably thousands now) of Cubs fans who have enjoyed my book I will be selling them directly from home during the month of July.  You see, we starving artist types make very little from Amazon, and selling directly is more profitable.  I have two different promos I am running.

1.      A copy of the updated 105 version for $15.99…$16.00 with personalized inscription! (shipping included!)

2.     Buy a copy of 105 and get the 104 version for a total of 18.99…$19.00 with 2 inscriptions! (shipping included!)…keep the 105, and gift the first addition to an in-law that’s a Cubs’ fan

My web-site should be up and running (finally) in a couple of weeks; but if interested the easiest way is to email me at BBCG105Reasons@yahoo.com, or if you follow me on twitter @BBCG105Reasons…contact me directl

Finally, here is a link to the book on Amazon

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3 Passes the White Sox Get that the Cubs Would Not

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

My first experience with White Sox fans were Jamie McCauley and his dad Ed who lived down the street from me.  Jamie was a borderline friend/bully, and his dad was just kind of a bully.  He would actually call me “Chrissy” instead of Chris…an in genius method of questioning my 6 year old manhood I suppose…and this was a grown man talking to a very young boy.  He used the same method when disparaging my Cubs…calling them the Cubbies and using a woman’s voice to do it.  When this is your first impression of a fandom…and you are only 6…it leaves a lasting impression on your little brain.

The next neighborhood was not much different…Sox fans were bullies and blowhards…and once again I was outnumbered and always defending my Cubs.  Now, almost 40 years later, I really have evolved and grown up as a baseball fan.  I don’t automatically hate everything about the White Sox.  As a baseball fan, I watch them occasionally, and I respect some of their players and I love listening to new GM Rick Hahn (an especially bright fellow).  I no longer have to deal with any White Sox bullies…and I know longer live and die with the results of the crosstown classic. Therefore my position on the White Sox has softened in my old(er) age.

However, even with this new evolved stance on the South Siders; I still have some problems with the White Sox and how they are compared and contrasted with the Cubs.  The first being the air of supremacy that Sox fans display; they assume they are “smarter baseball fans” and they quickly shout “2005!” in response to any current criticism. My psychology background tells me they have a huge inferiority complex and are overcompensating for it. Sox fans also seem to feel/think that they have been a much better organization historically.

The second is that since the Cubs have the image as the lovable losers/cursed team/bumbling organization of Chicago, the Sox have benefitted by having some historic blunders of their own get swept under the rug.  While Cubs’ mistakes have been magnified and rehashed over and over again, little is ever said about Sox mistakes that are equally as substantial or behavior or performance that is equally as bad.  Let’s take a look at examples that fall under these two categories:

1.     The History of the Teams.

When comparing the Cubs and White Sox, Sox fans assume their team has been so much more successful than the “loser” Cubs. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 it was their first title since 1917.  So assuming neither team wins a title this year (about as safe a bet as the sun coming up tomorrow) it will mean the Sox have 1 title in the last 97 years.  Obviously, I credit them greatly for winning recently in 2005…but 1 for 97 is just marginally better than 0 for the last 106. (But it’s still 1!!!! 2005! 2005!) Aside from World Series titles, let’s compare the teams from the date of the Cubs last title in 1908:

W.S. TITLES  W.S. APP.    POSTSEASON PLAY-OFFS SINCE ‘69(DIVISION PLAY BEGINS)

SOX                2                      4                      8                      5                                 

CUBS              0                      10                   16                   6

Once again, the 2005 World Series title trumps much of this…but I really expected to see a closer picture here…or even White Sox dominance. (Yes…I know…2005!)

While the Cubs’ have been historically inept at winning a World Series title, the White Sox have been equally incompetent in making the post-season. If the Cubs are “106 year losers”…the White Sox haven’t exactly had a century of glory.  Not even mentioning the fact (…yet) that the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, which almost was almost the death knell for Major League Baseball.

It may at times appear the Cubs are trying to lose on purpose…but at least they have never been put on trial for it.

2.     Historical Blunders

As I wrote in my book, the Cubs have been mercifully crucified for the trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio for over 50 years.  It was a bad trade, and the Cubs have made many others (…see my book). Yet the South Side Squad as just as many historical blunders that are not mentioned near as frequently.

-         the aforementioned 1917 Black Sox scandal…most baseball fans have seen the film Eight Men Out…and it’s still debatable which players were in on it, and who’s to blame…cheapskate owner Charles Commisky or the mobsters behind the scenes? It really doesn’t matter…the Sox were involved in one of the biggest sports scandals ever, and had Babe Ruth not come around…baseball may have died.

-         letting Harry Caray leave to the Cubs…You young bucks probably only think of Harry with the Cubs, but I was more accustomed to him as a White Sox announcer as a youngster.  Let’s play Back to the Future for a minute and assume this never happened…Cubs’ history would be altered for the worse. A Cubs’ history without Harry Caray would be quite dim. Other than the 1984 season, Harry Caray is the single biggest reason for the Cubs(and the neighborhoods) 20 year boom.  The Sox let a valuable asset go to their crosstown competitors, who helped them assert economic dominance over them for the next 2 decades.

-         firing Tony LaRussa…Hey…young managers get fired all of the time, and on many occasions their second stints are much more successful.  Therefore I am not criticizing the Sox for firing LaRussa…but can you imagine if the Cubs had down this? It would be Brock for Broglio all over again. If Ryno wins a World Series as a manager in the next few years…how do you think that will go over?

-         Trading Sosa for Bell…As an old fella’, with perspective, I can honestly say that I was stunned when I heard about this deal.  George Bell had been an absolute dog for the Cubs, and I can remember trying to convince giddy Sox fans about how poor of a trade this would turn out to be.  Sosa may or may not have been cheating…but he hit a ton of home runs and made the Cubs a sh#t-load of money.  What Harry Caray did for the Cubs in the ‘80s, Sosa did for the team in the ‘90s.  Thank you White Sox.

If the Cubs had been guilty of any of the above infractions, they would still be constantly referenced among the teams many failures…for some reason, the Sox have gotten a pass.

3.     Hawk Harrelson and his “chip on their shoulders” brethren

I can do a very good Hawk Harrelson impersonation, although it won’t translate as well in print. Here goes:

Start with about 47 seconds of silence, then say in Hawks’ voice with no emotion; “…and that’s a record setting 6th triple play turned by the Royals today” or “and that’s an 8-8 double cycle for Joe Mauer”

Hawk amazes me…I’m sorry…but he is a 72 year old baby.  While professional announcers endure the challenge of keeping the game interesting for the fan…no matter how the home team is doing…Hawk blames umps, talks about his own greatness, or just sits quietly and pouts.  While Len Kasper espouses how lucky he is to have a job millions of people would want, Hawk acts like we are the privileged ones to listen to his pathetic stories of Yaz.

Over the last few years, I have noticed that others in the Sox organization share this certain bit of curmudgeon-dry with Hawk.   Radio announcer Ed Farmer can be just as grumpy, self-serving and condescending as Harrelson.  Studio-analyst Bill Melton will be short and rage-filled after a Sox loss. The finest pitching coach in the universe (at least that’s the way he is perceived for some reason) Don Cooper treats every question like a personal affront during his morning radio appearances. No one knows pitching like Cooper…and he is not afraid to tell that to anyone who will listen. Every one of these White Sox contributors comes off as joy-less, humor-free, and a downright a##-hole.

Back to my Psychology background, I attribute this to the fact that the Sox have been the 2nd team in the city for quite some time, and since most of these men are White sox-lifers…I guess those “shoulder chips” are deeply implanted.

I really didn’t want this piece to come off as a guy who just hates the White Sox. I just wanted to point out that as Chicago losers go, the Cubs are only a rung or two below the Sox.  I could never root for them as I do the Cubs, but I could at least be indifferent towards them if it weren’t for Hawk and the things mentioned above.

It is often forgotten now, but the White Sox were oh so close to moving back in the late 80’s. Jerry Reinsdorf was able to get public assistance in building the perfect 1980’s ballpark as the Orioles were making history with the cutting edge Camden Yards.  It may have been an outdated “new” stadium…but Reinsdorf got it, and the Sox stayed.

Can you imagine the outcry if the Cubs ever asked for public assistance for their park?

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Be Careful of Contract Lunacy

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This weekend I was signing/selling books at a local summer festival. (Trust me; it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) All weekend, as I sat at my booth numerous non-book buyers would comment to me about the Chicago Cubs. Sox fans, would assert their “one World Series title in 100 year dominance” by taunting me.  Cardinal fans would give me their arrogant disapproving glances.  I also heard from the Chicago “meatheads”…one in particular who was quite amusing.

A fella came up to my booth with a combination swagger/drunken stumbling…and announced to me that he had the simple wisdom that apparently my book lacked.

“They never spend any f#&king money…that’s what it is…same thing with the f#&king Bears. V#gina(a very clever pun on Virginia) McCaskey won’t let em’ spend any money.” I found his rambling so entertaining that I decided to engage this guy with a very subtle response.

“But the Bears just signed Jared Allen…and Lamar Houston”, I stated in a calm purposefully understated tone.  The man used his right hand to simulate an obscene gesture around his nether regions, spouted a few more expletives, and staggered away from my booth.  He did not purchase my book, and apparently isn’t impressed with the Bears offseason moves thus far.  This seems to be the default mode for assessing blame of the Chicago fan base…when in doubt, just call them a bunch of cheap b#stards! In regards to our Cubs, this has been an accurate portrayal for portions of their history (see the 1970s); while the late 2000’s Zell spend-a-thon had the team with a $144 million payroll by 2010, its highest ever.

This “cheap” label has re-emerged during the Rickett’s era. The Cubs’ salary has dropped 35 percent from 2010…down to just $93 million. Considering that $14 million is going to Alfonso Soriano, the club essentially has a $79 million dollar Major League payroll…a number much too small for most fans’ liking. Possessing a $79 million dollar payroll for a big market team makes the organization an easy target… for fans like the gentleman who visited my booth.  To avoid being labeled a Kool-Aid drinking Ricketts’ apologist, perhaps that $79 million payroll does warrant criticism.  The question I always come back to though is; who would they be spending on?

  1. Do you spend to lock up Samardzjia?

I think with every outing my thoughts on this change.  At 30, even with limited arm wear and tear…I still think you only extend him if there is a bit of a “hometown discount”. The contracts that are brought up most often when discussing a Jeff Samardzjia extension are Homer Bailey and Matt Cain…the consensus being that a Samardzjia contract would be comparable or even higher.  Homer Bailey is 28 years old, and has a 4.68 ERA over 84 plus innings thus far in 2014.  Bailey has allowed 93 hits and struck out 76.  Bailey’s 2014 season is far from over, and he may yet prove to be a solid pitching investment.  Here is what the Reds will be paying Bailey:

2015-$10 million, 2016-$18 million, 2017-$19 million, 2018-$21 million, 2019-$23 million, and 2020-$25 million (mutual option…that I highly doubt will be exercised)

Considering the vile directed at the contract of Edwin Jackson, who is owed $13 million for each of 2015 and 2016, how might Cubs’ fans view a player with Bailey’s current performance and future earnings?  Now we look at Cain:

2014 through 2017- $20 million annually, 2018 $21 million club option

Bailey and Cain will be 33 and 34 respectively at the end of their deals…will they be worth it?  If I were a betting man (…I am actually), I would bet strongly against it.  This does give us a base-line for a Samardzjia extension; it will take $20 million annually and at least four years. At that price…I just don’t see it.  I don’t care how “young” his arm appears to be, pitching is too volatile.

  1. 2.     Do you sign a free-agent pitcher to a big deal?

How unpredictable is pitching? If Justin Verlander had been a free-agent in 2013, the Cubs would have been highly criticized for not attempting to sign him?  Verlander never hit the free market as the Tigers decided to lock up their ace. Verlander, a 31 year old former Cy-Young award winner, has struggled mightily this year to the tune of a 4.98 E.R.A. Verlander has allowed 111 hits in 97 innings and his strikeout rate is at its lowest, while his walk rate is at its peak.  Here is what the Tigers will paying Verlander until 2020:

2015- $28 million, 2016 -$28 million, 2017 -$28 million, 2018-$28 million, 2019-$28 million, 2020- $22 million vesting opt…sorry, I just burst out laughing at the idea that this “option” will be exercised

Yikes!  That contract is sheer lunacy…that’s $140 million dollars guaranteed after this season.  Verlander may well rebound from his horrid start to 2014, but unless he visits the same Roger Clemens’ fountain/pharmacy of youth, I don’t see a happy ending to this contract.

Ironically, while working on this piece, I was listening to Theo Epstein being interviewed on 670 AM the Score.  Theo was asked specifically about the Verlander contract:

It is a core tenet of our organizational philosophy that we can better predict positional player performance than pitcher performance. It’s hard for either one, but there’s more consistency with positional players. You can’t ignore pitching. Once we start to turn the corner and have the makings of a competitive team, it is possible to go out and get good, healthy, effective pitching – we’ve had some success before doing that. For a top of the rotation starter, you have to take on more risk. That’s just the nature of the beast – it’s a huge contract or a huge trade.”

Wow.  That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for Samardzjia or a big free-agent pitcher.  Earlier in the interview Epstein stated his fondness for Samardzjia, and that they had never “stopped talking extension”…we will know what the truth is sometime before July 31st.

  1. 3.     Do you spend on free-agent hitting?

For us older folks who have watched baseball since the dawn of the free-agent era, we have witnessed a huge shift in free-agency: teams rarely allow good players to reach free-agency prior to the age of 30. Although the deals of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro might have looked a bit shaky and premature last year…how do they look now?

RIZZO                                                                        CASTRO

2014              $1.535M                                                      $5.9M

2015              $5.286M                                                      $6.85M

2016              $5.286M                                                      $7.85M

2017              $7.286M                                                      $9.85M

2018              $7.286M                                                      $10.85M

2019              $11.286M                                                    $11.85M

 

Five full seasons from now, Castro and Rizzo will not be making collectively what Verlander will be earning in a single season. Let’s look at the Cubs core “two” (yeah, that’s really it right now) compared to all three pitchers:

Homer Bailey 5 years $91M, Matt Cain 5 years $100 M, Justin Verlander 5 years $140 M= 15 years of team control for $331 Million

Starlin Castro 5 years at $60 M, Anthony Rizzo 5 years at $40 M= 10 years of team control for $100 Million

Yes, I know, we are comparing apples and oranges (or however that saying goes), but simplistically…where is the most value?  Pitching is extremely expensive and highly unstable.  So let’s examine some hitting contracts…how would you like to have these on your teams’ “books”?

PLAYER                     2015              2016              2017              2018              2019             

Albert Pujols          $24M                        $25M                        $26M                        $27M                        $28M

Josh Hamilton        $25M                        $32M                        $32M                        FA

Prince Fielder         $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

Shin-Soo Choo        $14M                        $20M                        $20M                        $20M                        $21M

Robinson Cano       $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

All of the above players were free agents during the first two and a half years of Theo Epstein’s tenure…and I will admit I would have been excited had they signed any of them.  With hindsight, I am not sure any of them look like deals that you would like now.

I have to give one more example of sheer “contract lunacy”…let’s look at what the Dodgers will have on their ledger at the start of 2016:

Clayton Kershaw $34.5M, Zack Greinke $26M, Adrian Gonzalez $21.8, Matt Kemp $21.7, Carl Crawford $21.6, Andre Eithier $18M

Throwing in some other contracts, the Dodgers already have $170 million for the 2016 season!…I don’t care how much money your team has…good luck with that.

Reason 84 in my book of “105 Reasons It’s Been 105 Years” is the 2010 team, or what I call; The Worst Team Money Could Buy.  The Cubs’ team with the aforementioned $144 payroll included Alfonso Soriano $19M, Carlos Zambrano $18.9M, Aramis Ramirez $16.7M, Kosuke Fukudome $14M, and the following four; Ryan Dempster, Derek Lee, Ted Lilly and Carlos Silva all right at about $13M. Some highlights from this pathetic assortment:

-         Only one top 10 finisher in ANY offensive category(Soriano 6th in doubles)

-         Not one of these players finished in the top ten in voting for ANY major award.

-         None of these players were All-Stars

-         Back to the first one…no really, not one other offensive category did any of these players crack the top 10.

I apologize to you for bringing up this squad if you have already blocked it out of your memory.

Have the Cubs been cheap in the past? Absolutely. Have they also spent like mad? Check.  I will give the team the benefit of the doubt that they are currently taking a measured approach to future expenditures.  Although I am skeptical as to how much they were really “in” the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes last winter. (See what I did there? I played both sides of the fence) 2014 has been painful to watch, yet aside from landing Tanaka…I am not sure where money would have mattered.  The fan base has been assured that when it’s time to spend…the team will be able to do it…and with how smoothly the remodeling and expansion of Wrigley is going we are assured the Cubs’ coffers will soon be overflowing. (Where is that sarcasm font?)

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By Stats both Old and New: The Cubs Offense is bad.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

I began paying attention to the Cubs and Major League Baseball in the 1970’s.  Consequently I guess you could call me an “old-school” baseball fan.  I grew up playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, a game ahead of its time in valuing righty/lefty match-ups and Sabermetrics. Like most kids of the 70’s, I paid attention to batting average, homeruns, wins/losses and ERA.  Even though Strat-o-Matic valued guys who could walk…I gave little thought to On-Base-Percentage.  I gave even less thought to Slugging Percentage.  These two percentages never enter my vocabulary when discussing my favorite team.

The 1977 Cubs’ would be the first team I followed on a daily basis. The late Bobby Murcer was my favorite player…for two primary reasons; he wore number 7, Rick Monday’s old number (I was only 8 at the time) and Murcer clubbed 27 homers during the 1977 season. I had no idea that Murcer was second on the team with a respectable .810 OPS. (How could I, there was no such stat!)  I did realize that Bobby’s (I can call him Bobby, I was bat boy for a whole day) batting average was a pedestrian .265, yet I didn’t appreciate that Bobby’s On-Base Percentage was .355.  So using old stats or new, Bobby was a good choice to be favorite player.

Sabermetrics are now a widely accepted form of baseball analysis in all of the Major Leagues…outside of the Chicago White Sox TV booth.  As a former high school coach, I can honesty state I embraced OPS and other new metrics, yet I still think “old stats” can be useful and even fun! Example:

Mike Olt currently has a batting average of .153.  If Olt were to get 20 hits in his next 20 at bats (not bloody likely, in fact there is probably a greater chance of Elvis returning to Earth in a ship full of Aliens who know who really killed JFK) Olt’s average would rise to .261! .261 after going 20-20! (Once again…never happen) That is both extremely funny to me, and a bit sad about the prospects of Olt becoming a Major League hitter.

Therefore old stats can still be useful…or at least fun…but any serious baseball fan knows Sabermetrics are where it’s at.  Cubs’ fans following the 2014 season don’t need sabermetrics to quantify the fact that the team’s offense is bad…but sabermetrics can clarify the picture, and even provide a few rays of hope.  I will now examine the Cubs position by position OPS rankings in the National League. ***Warning…pregnant women or those with serious heart conditions should not read ALL of these rankings.

CATCHER-    CUBS .575    13of 15           NL AVG .712           1ST-BREWERS .908

Hmmm…I would wager if they had to do it over again the Cubs might re-think keeping John Baker over George Kattarras coming out of Spring Training. Prior to his injury, Wellington Castillo was at .672…close to the league average…but Bakers’ .396 and Whiteside’s .000 have sent Cubs backstops plummeting to the bottom.

1st BASE-       CUBS .876    2of 15             NL AVG .789         1ST-DIAMONDBACKS .913

Did you watch Anthony Rizzo’s at-bats during the last home stand? Rizzo appears confident, aggressive yet patient…and he looks like an absolute beast at the plate.  Imagine if/when we get some other actual Major League hitters around him? Acquiring Rizzo for the oft-injured Andrew Cashner… well done, Theo and Jed…well done.

2nd BASE-      CUBS .651 11of 15             NL AVG .679             1ST-PHILLIES .854

Take out Luis Valbuena’s (.808) in 12 games at this position and the numbers would be more dreadful.  Darwin Barney is a wonderful defensive player, but his .557 OPS is over 100 points below the league average and almost 300 below the leader. Translated…he cannot hit in the Major Leagues.  If I had my druthers, Arismendy Alcantara would be manning this position right now and batting 1st or 2nd.

SHORTSTOP-           CUBS .775 4 of 15         NL AVG .708                 1ST-ROCKIES 1.069

Starlin Castro has had a nice bounce back season…and when the “Where does Javy Baez play?” question finally has to be answered…Starlin’s OPS plays even better in the non-PED world of second-basemen.  Assuming Baez can cut it, the Cubs’ should be good OPS wise at both positions (no matter who plays where)…and don’t forget about Alcantara.

3rd BASE-      CUBS .720  9 of 15        NL AVG .718                 1ST-REDS .818

Luis Valbuena is one of the rare Cubs other than Rizzo and Castro who the more I watch…I actually kind of like.  I would like him best as a back-up/spot starter/pinch hitter…not as an everyday player.  Mike Olt’s .609 OPS, even with his .153 average, is a testament to his power and walk rates.  We can only speculate/drool whether Kris Bryants’ AA numbers will be replicated at the MLB level someday.

LEFTFIELD-               CUBS .796  3 of 15        NL AVG .723                 1ST-BRAVES .895

Upon first glance, you might say… “Wow, I didn’t realize Junior Lake was having such a good year”.  Actually, this is a bit of a statistical anomaly as Lake sits at .709.  The only explanation is that players with bad overall OPS numbers (Ryan Kalish and Chris Coghlan) performed much better in left than in center or right.  That being said, I still think Lake gets dismissed as a non-prospect too quickly…he is only 24 and you can’t teach his size and raw ability.

CENTERFIELD-         CUBS .605 14of 15            NL AVG .740           1ST-ROCKIES .919

Ugh.  Maybe this is why the afore mentioned Alcantara has been playing some center down in Iowa. (Yes…I like Arismendy as a prospect)  This is putrid production from a Major League outfielder, and should only be accepted on a team with a Gold Glove defender and 7 other really good hitters…neither of which the Cubs’ have.

RIGHTFIELD-            CUBS .593 15 of 15           NL AVG .766           1ST-DODGERS .999

If I used “ugh” for center, then this warrants “I just threw up in my mouth a little.” At the slugging position of right field the Cubs have a cumulative OPS of a weak hitting middle-infielder.

DESIGNATED HITTER- CUBS .610 7 of 15       NL AVG .606      1ST-DODGERS 1.115

With the incredibly silly (in my opinion) way that the inter-league schedule works today, NL teams technically have DH’s.  In a small sample size the Cubs’ are barely above the league average…yawn.

PINCH- HITTER-      CUBS .440 15 of 15           NL AVG .597            1ST-ROCKIES .800

Yikes! What’s more impressive/revolting…the Rockies’ .800 or the Cubs’ .440? Remember this example of Cubs’ ineptness the next time Ricky Renteria makes a late inning move.

PITCHER-      CUBS .416  1 of 15                        NL AVG .314                                   1ST-CUBS .416

Thank you Travis Wood! (Who should be one of the Cubs’ first pinch-hitting options late in games) Seriously, how Cubs-like is it that the only position they lead is Pitcher OPS…not exactly what great teams are built on.

So what does this position by position comparison tell us? Some things we already knew, and some we can now quantify:

  1. Anthony Rizzo is developing into one of the game’s best.
  2. Starlin Castro is closer to the player he was in 2010-2012, than the 2013 version.
  3. Darwin Barney flat-out s#cks as a Major League hitter.
  4. The Cubs outfielders hit like back-up infielders.
  5. Travis Wood is one of the Cubs’ better hitters.

These numbers paint a deeply disturbing portrait of what is supposed to be a major league offense.  Obviously the plan is that Bryant, Baez and (don’t foget!) Alcantara will soon arrive and fill these gaping line-up holes.

If not Theo, Jed and company will have to turn to Plan B…if there is one.

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The Draft, the Cubs and “tanking”

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

The Cubs have the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB amateur draft, one year after taking Kris Bryant with the second pick. As the Cubs’ 2014 record sits at the bottom of the league, it would appear that another top ten pick will be forthcoming in June of 2015.  So that’s good…right? Of course it is…it just means we fans are suffering through another horrendous season.  If the Cubs lose 90 games this year…it will be for the fourth straight season!  This is a feat they have NEVER accomplished in their history…the worst four year stretch ever! When researching for my book, I was constantly amazed at the futility I uncovered in the teams’ history…like never placing above 5th from 1945 to 1966! Yet, in terms of won-loss record, we are at the nethermost point in the history of the Chicago National League ball club.

Ah, but there is a method to this madness! While Theo, Jed and company may not be directly saying “we are trying to get high draft picks”…even a modest fan recognizes that they have punted the last few seasons. That has left many a Cubs’ fan to question this strategy.  Will picks like Albert Almora, picked sixth overall, and Bryant finally lead to sustained success? As Cubs’ fans, we naturally answer… “No!” (Actually, you would use a four letter expletive in front of that “no”.)

The MLB draft is a crapshoot…right? A team is more likely to draft a complete bust as a prospective Hall of Famer.  A players’ future ability in baseball is tougher to project than in any other sport. The MLB draft is much different than the NBA or NFL.  You have probably heard similar statements over the years, and there is some truth and wisdom to them.

…but it’s changing.

For the Daft Drafts chapter of my book, I researched every single Cub’s draft since the inaugural 1965 edition….and I discovered the Cubs have drafted (wait for it)…you guessed it…badly. Actually “badly” may be too soft, let’s say their draft record as been putrid. (Yeah, that sounds worse!)    Just to emphasize this point, here are all top ten picks in Cubs’ history(see how many you remember, and how many you say “Who the hell is that?”): Rick James, Dean Burk, Terry Hughes, Scot Thompson, Brian Rosinski, Herman Segelke, Joe Carter (hey, there’s a good one), Shawon Dunston, Derrick May, Drew Hall, Mike Harkey, Earl Cunningham, Kerry Wood, Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Mark Prior (wow, my shoulder actually hurt while I typed that) Ryan Harvey, Josh Vitters, Javier Baez, Albert Almora  and Kris Bryant.

Wow…there is a whole lot of nothing in those early years. Here’s the catch though, while the Cubs have historically been awful at drafting (buy my book for more details)…the draft itself has evolved.  Most teams draft histories do have their share of busts and WTF’s. It has only been with improved scouting, technology, and research that the draft has now improved for all teams. Therefore, when mistakes are made at the top of the draft, it is now more likely to be a collective mistake. Thus, I state that a top ten pick in 2014 is more valuable than such a pick was just over a decade ago. Can I back these statements up? Well, I will attempt to do so by using the last 25 years of draft history.

Here are players drafted 1-10 from 1990 -2000 who had a career WAR above 10. If you don’t speak Saber, this would essentially be the equivalent to five years as an average MLB player. I am only listing players with a 10+ war…which one would assume a top ten pick would be able to achieve.

1990-Chipper Jones, Mike Lieberthal, Alex Fernandez and Dan Wilson

1991-DiMitri Young and Joey Hamilton

1992-Phil Nevin and Derek Jeter

1993-Alex Rodriguez and Trot Nixon

1994- Dustin Hermanson and Todd Walker

1995-Darin Erstad, Kerry Wood, Todd Helton and Goeff Jenkins

1996-Kris Benson, Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez

1997-J.D. Drew, Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, Michael Cuddyer, and Jon Garland

1998-Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder and Carlos Pena

1999-Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito and Ben Sheets

2000-Adrian Gonzalez and Rocco Baldelli

Now, here is where I notice a shift…of the players listed from 1990-2000, putting the WAR criteria aside…who would you consider a “franchise” player? I see Hall of Famers Chipper and Jeter, ‘roid King A-Rod, Todd Helton, and Josh Beckett.  There may be a couple to quibble about…like Adrian Gonzalez, or Mark Mulder…but that would be eleven drafts which yielded seven to eight great players. Now, let’s look at 2001-2007 using the same WAR criteria.

2001- Joe Mauer, Mark Prior(sigh) and Mark Texiera.

2002-B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder and Jeff Francis

2003-Rickie Weeks, Nick Markakis, Paul Maholm and Jon Danks

2004-Justin Verlander

2005-Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutcheon

2006- Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer

2007- David Price, Matt Wieters and Madison Baumgarner

Of the players above, I would consider Mauer, Texeira, Greinke, Fielder, Verlander, Tulowitzki, McCutcheon, Longoria, Braun (hrrumph!)Kershaw, Lincecum, Scherzer, Price, and Baumgarner as great players.  Let’s look at it this way:

CY YOUNG WINNERS DRAFTED WITHIN THE FIRST 10 PICKS FROM 1990-2000:

2002 Barry Zito

CY YOUNG WINNERS DRAFTED WITHIN THE FIRST 10 PICKS FROM 2001-2007:

2008 Tim Lincecum, 2009 Tim Lincecum, 2009 Zack Greinke, 2011 Clayton Kershaw, 2011 Justin Verlander, 2012 David Price, 2013 Clayton Kershaw and 2013 Max Scherzer.

In the American League four of the last five Cy Young award winners were top ten picks, four out of the last six in the National League.  Without a doubt, top pitching is now identified more accurately than in previous years.  As we continue to examine the drafts, the WAR criteria now becomes useless as many of the players are too young or still “prospects”…yet there are still some impressive names:

2008-Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, and Eric Hosmer

2009-Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler

2010-Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Drew Pomeranz

2011-Gerrit Cole

Buster Posey has already won an MVP and has two World Series rings.  Strasburg, Wheeler, Pomeranz and Cole are proving to be some of the best young pitchers in the game.

Please don’t misconstrue…I hate that the Cubs are as dreadful as they have been lately.  It has become a struggle to even watch the current inclination.  Yet if recent trends hold true, Bryant, Baez, Almora and whomever the Cubs select on Thursday night has a much better chance at success than the shameful list of Cubs’ top ten guys that were previously listed.

…yes, a low bar indeed.

So is “tanking” a good thing then? Will it be these high picks that finally make the Cubs perpetual winners? Unfortunately we will have to wait a few more years to find out.

(fill in your own clichéd joke about Cubs fans and their patience)

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Resetting What it Means to be a Cubs Fan

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

In the summer of 1984 I was 15 years old.  Summer of ’84 saw Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and the Chicago Cubs have their best season in almost 40 years.  It was glorious! We had Ryno, Zonk, the Sarge, the Bull, and Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1. The ’84 squad is my favorite inclination of the Chicago National League ball club and will possibly never be topped. In the end…they lost…and I truly cried.

In 1989 I was in college and the Cubs surprised to win the National League East. I didn’t expect the Cubs to beat the Giants in the NLCS, therefore I took the loss healthier than in’ 84. (no tears)

In the 1990’s, Greg Maddux was my favorite player. $500,000 and a horrid front office decision kept him from being a Cub for life. The Cubs let one of the best pitchers in the history of the game walk away in his prime. This one stung for quite a few years.

In 2003 I was 35 years old with a family. The loss to the Marlins caused me a sleepless night…bordering on a nervous breakdown. If you have read my book you also know that this was a catalyst for a more mature life change…and lead me to writing that book.

In the 2000’s, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were to be the next Koufax and Drysdale, or at least Glavine and Maddux…that didn’t work out quite as expected.

Are you depressed yet?

If I sent some of you scurrying to get a prescription for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologize…that was not my intention. To the contrary, recalling these tragic events will begin to serve my point.

What are your earliest memories of being a Cubs’ fan? I remember getting teased from Sox fans in my neighborhood…or kids who really didn’t declare a team.  If they did root for a non-Chicago team it was the Yankees, or Dodgers…or another perpetual winner.  The kids would torment me about the loser Cubbies, and I didn’t really know how to fight back.  The Cubs have been losers more times than not…what was I supposed to say?  Almost 40 years later I realize that hidden within my Cubs’ love were qualities that would lead to accomplishments in life.  Reflecting back, I have had more success than many of those neighborhood kids. Is the reason the fact that I am a Cubs’ fan? No…but it plays a part.

I don’t give up.  In fact, this is the coping strategy I use to deal with stress in my life.  We all have days where “life kicks our a$$”.  As I am lying in bed at night after one of those days, I say to myself; “You got you’re a$$ kicked today…but tomorrow, you are going to scrape yourself up…and go in and fight again” Many times, I will get my a$$ kicked a second straight day.

Now before you view this as self-serving back-patting, allow me to elaborate in relation to being a Cubs’ fan.  I consider myself to be a Rockyologist. I have seen every Rocky film multiple times. (eh, Rocky V only 3-4 times) I am an absolute sucker for them, never mind the fact that all 6 are essentially the same story re-hashed.  Out of all 6 Rocky films I have one favorite scene that will never change.  You might presume it to be a fight scene or one of the many training montages. Nope…simple dialogue from a scene from Rocky II:

Apollo Creed is meeting with his advisors regarding strategies to lure Rocky to fight him again, after narrowly winning by decision in their first bout. Apollo insists on drawing Rocky out of his “retirement”, Apollo’s trainer and closest confidante Tony Duke suggests they go after “new meat”.

APOLLO: “What are you afraid of Tony?”

DUKE: “….Honest?”

APOLLO: “Yeah, honest.”

Duke looks back at the other advisers and approaches Apollo at his desk and speaks quietly…

DUKE: “He’s all wrong for us baby…I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man beat before…and the man kept COMING AFTER YOU! We don’t need that kind of man in our lives.”

Cubs’ fans…that’s us! How often have we had our hearts ripped out of our chests? We have had our hopes and dreams obliterated and snatched away when they were close enough to feel and touch.  We have ridden emotional roller coasters that constantly crash into a fury of despair.

…but we don’t stop.  We keep coming back…keep coming after it.  Others may scoff at this as naivety or stupidity…and our own insecurities have let that define us.  Resilient, irrepressible, tough…these are words we never hear used to describe Cubs’ fans…but we are.

I bet some of you could tell a story of a relative who has passed…a Cubs’ fan “up to their dying days.” I heard these stories all the time when I was at the Cubs Convention this year.  People who spend their whole lives dreaming, hoping…not giving up. Cubs’ fans should wear this as a badge of honor; instead we get labeled as Lemmings with paper bags over our heads that plunge into season after season.  Change the narrative!

“Yes, I am a Cubs fan…I will never give up!”

Next time a fan of a team that resides approximately 7.1 miles south of Wrigley derides you for rooting for “losers”….simply say:

“Yeah, I am not going to quit now. Quitting is the easy thing to do…that’s why some teams can’t get fans to show up to their games”

I know other fans have suffered greatly (I see you Cleveland!), but no team has endured the history of the Cubs.  Embrace it! Market it! Instead of using “Committed” and showing a guy with a Cubs tattoo on his head…present an older fan who has been through it all…and he or she will never give up.

There are great fans in all of sports, and I find it silly when the title of “best fans” is attempted to be quantified.  Cubs’ fans are not better fans than any other fans…yet our history differs from any other team.  There is no team that has missed as often as the Cubs…but generation after generation keeps coming back.

Some of you may find this corny, cheesy or whatever other food related reference to infer a naïve world view.  That’s fine… call it whatever you want…but I observe people quit in life often, in many avenues of their lives.

Cubs’ fans don’t…and instead of embracing the lovable losers’ moniker…we need to embrace a new image. “Wait ‘til next year” is a punch line used on the Cubs’ quite frequently.  Here are a few alternatives I would prefer:

We’ll be back.

Knock us down, we’ll get back up.

100 Years of Resiliency!

Still fighting!

You think 95 losses will get us down…Hah!

Okay…so that last one is kind of a joke.

I will finish my Cubs’ Psychology lesson with one final thought. Remember that neighborhood kid I mentioned that would root for the Yankees, or any other winner? Well, even an arm-chair psychiatrist like me can figure out why some kids do that…they are afraid…most likely of losing. Say what you want of Cubs’ fans…but we are definitely not afraid of losing!

Neither is Rocky…and that’s what makes him dangerous. Cue the theme music!

Da da da da dada da dada da..da da da da dada da dada da

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All-Galaxy Team Member signed by Reds

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

I have a very strange mind…I have no problem confessing to that fact.

My mind is a muddled labyrinth of trivial (useless?) information.  Sports facts and pop culture material make up the vast majority of data that inhabits my brain.  This helps immensely when embarking on a creative project (writing a book) but is useless with more practical tasks. (Like putting ANYTHING together)

For this reason, I encounter constant triggers; a particular situation reminds me of a film, I use movie lines constantly throughout the day, and a sports thought will enter every few seconds.  While perusing and consuming sports information this week, I encountered an old trigger; pitcher Jair Jurrjens.

Jair Jurrjens was signed this week to a minor league deal by the Cincinnati Reds. Jurrjens, who is still only 28, had three very good years for the Atlanta Braves, and was an All-Star as recently as 2011.  Yet, Jair Jurrjen’s pitching ability has never intrigued me.  What attracted me to Jair Jurrjens …was his name.

The very first time I read the name “Jair Jurrjens” an immediate connection entered my mind…Star Wars! The name Jair Jurrjens appeared like it could have been lifted directly from any of the six Star Wars films…either from the original trilogy (golden and glorious!) or the prequels (a very rusty bronze). I imagined Jair Jurrjens as a blaster wielding space mercenary, a wise-old Jedi, or even (yuck!) a Gungan.

Jair Jurrjens inspired me to examine other MLB names and to blog about my first ever All-Galaxy team, consisting of Major Leaguers whose monikers would fit nicely in George Lucas’ expansive Star Wars Universe.   Upon seeing Mr. Jurrjens name this week, I decided to update my team with current MLB players.  Thus I present my updated version of the MLB All-Galaxy team:

…a long time ago,

in a league far, far away…

 

PLAYER                     POS/TEAM                          COMMENTS                                               

Yordano Ventura   P/KCR                        “Y” names are common in Lucas-world

Ivan Nova                 P/NYY                        probably a Jedi, possible bounty-hunter

JA Happ                     P/TOR            swashbuckler “Solo” type space pirate

Ian Krol                     P/WAS           doesn’t “the Krol Galaxy” sound right?

Yu Darvish                P/TEX             first and last names work in Star Wars Universe

Joba Chamberlain  P/DET                        Jo-Ba…combined with Richard, Wilt and Neville

Jhoulys Chacin        P/COL                        Do you know how to pronounce that first name?

Michael Wacha       P/STL             What is a Wacha? Just sounds like it’s something

Koji Uehera              P/BOS                        Yes, Asian names works well…blame Lucas

Kyle Kendrick          P/PHI             lots of alliteration in Star Wars, like Kyle Kataran

Jair Jurrjens             P/CIN             will always be on the team in some capacity

Yan Gomes               C/CLE             short “Y” name…could be an alien

Yasmani Grandal    C/SDP                        Gosh…does he sound like a wise old Jedi!

Edwin Encarncion  1B/TOR         probably works at Bespin Cloud City with Lando

Dan Uggla                 2B/ATL          possible member of Trade Federation

Troy Tulowitzki       SS/COL          space hero… last name sounds like a gun

Yangervis Solarte   3B/NYY          just admire it…no comments necessary

Torii Hunter             OF/DET         take note of the unnecessary extra “i”

Yasiel Puig                OF/LAD         the “Puigs” sound like a race, like the “Hutts

Shin-Soo Choo        OF/TEX          once again, blame Lucas

Dayan Viciedo         OF/CHW       Dayan is a Jedi name, with Dark Side potential

Jedd Gyorko                        IF/SD              two “d’s” and last name sounds like a space lizard

Erick Aybar              IF/LAA           close to Ackbar, and weird “k” at end of Eric

Josmil Pinto              DH/MIN        many possibilities, but I will go with a young Jedi

Lucas Duda              1B/NYM        lives in Tatooine desert, likes power-converters

That makes up a functional 25 man roster…and it would truly be a pretty good team! Just for fun, here are some names that just missed the cut:

CC Sabathia, Wei Yin Chen, Vidal Nuno, Brock Holt, Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis, Nori Aoki, Chris Colabello, John Jaso, Coco Crisp, CJ Cron, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mat(1 “t”) Gamel, JP Arencibia, Tanner Roark, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Cole Hamels, Reid Brignac and DiDi Gregorius.

Yes, my level of Star Wars Geekdom is very high, but please don’t judge me as I am just as adept in my knowledge of manly tough-guy sports.  I wish not to offend anyone who may share these names with said players…if you do, I am envious! I would love a cool name like Skywalker, Han Solo or Dayan. As far as any cultural offense taken…blame Lucas.

Now…what would the team be called? The Tatooine Tusken Raiders? The Hoth Wampas? Kamino Cloners?

Okay…too much of my Star Wars nerd-side is showing again. How about the Cubs beating Tanaka? Boy, Hammel and EJax are really pitching well! Rizzo and Castro look great! Wait a minute…Starlin! How could I miss that?

Next team maybe…

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