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Baby It’s Cold Outside

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Spring is finally here, baseball is 10 days away and there is just one small problem, it is still cold outside, really cold. Not only is it still cold, the Chicago Cubs do not get a break from it in the first month of the season.  

 They play in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Colorado and Washington. Not exactly Arizona weather. Last April, the weather forced postponements across the league and featured fans making miniature snowmen in their seats. That kind of cold, below 40 degrees in my opinion, is not fun for anyone involved. Players can’t wait to get off the field and fans don’t show up or sit there too cold to move. Injuries happen because of hazardous or slippery conditions.  

So what could Major League Baseball do? How about if we review the scheduling issue here gentleman. Option A could be to schedule road trips for cold weather teams at the beginning of the year. Imagine this, (and stay with me here) the Chicago Cubs start off the season playing the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers have a dome. Common sense says maybe the Cubs should play in said dome, where even if it snowed three feet, it would not matter.

I know Bud Selig thinks this type of solution would give cold-weather teams a competitive advantage since they would then get two home series later in the season. That seems kind of silly to me since half of all major league teams open their season on the road anyway. Every team has stretches of 10 or more consecutive days on the road each season, if cold-weather teams happen to have their road trip at the beginning for the convenience and comfort of their fans and players, so what?Option B may be to shorten the season so baseball would begin mid-April. Yes, as soon as I typed that I know what you are going to say. There is no way in a million years our good friend Mr. Selig would shorten the season and lose money…no way.  Although I think he would consider it if MLB could make MORE money doing it, you can bet on that. 

So what does cold weather in April mean for the Cubs?

It may mean trouble. Consider this team is struggling with the bats in late spring training, what is going to happen when they are playing in 32 degree weather with wind off the lake?  It means Soriano should definitely NOT be in the number one spot. It means fans are going to jump on Fukodome’s back when he has a slow April, which may lead to frustration. What cold weather in April really means is the Cubs will have to (gasp) manufacture runs and play fundamental, error free baseball. By the way, manufacturing runs is a whole lot easier to do with a legitimate leadoff hitter.

What do you think? What are the keys to success for the Chicago Cubs in April?

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The Price of Fame

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Sammy Sosa is CoolLast week, Jeff Pearlman wrote an article on ESPN.com about how Nomar Garciaparra showed no love towards Dodgers fans during autograph day, the last ever at Vero Beach, Florida.

Pearlman said, “In one of the least fan-friendly displays I’ve ever witnessed as a baseball writer, Garciaparra spent the absolute minimum amount of time signing.” He never looked up. He never said a word. When fans offered a hearty “Good luck!” or said “You’ve always been my favorite!” he either grunted or pretended the sentiment was never expressed.

I don’t think that Garciaparra’s less than friendly attitude warrants him the stigma of “rapidly fading has-been” by Pearlman, but it did get me thinking. In the limited time I witnessed Garciaparra in public, he always seemed like a nice guy to me. Feelings about Garciaparra aside, Pearlman did say something that I agreed with. He said, “I wanted to tell him (Garciaparra) that fame is fleeting, and the ability to make someone’s day — to make a memory — is a gift few of us possess.”

Good point indeed.

I can remember sitting with my uncle at Wrigley watching the Cubs during batting practice. Sitting with my uncle at Wrigley Field meant pretty darn good seats, so I always had the opportunity to weasel my way up to the front row and try to get an autograph. The day I got Mark Grace’s autograph while he was jogging by the bullpen still ranks in the top ten of my favorite Cub moments.

Or how about waiting for the players after the game outside the parking lot (before it turned into the zoo it is today). We would wait forever for Maddux or Sutcliffe to come over and sign. I remember my mom telling Gary Scott (remember him) he played a great game and he didn’t even play that day. He still signed my scorecard after he chuckled heartily at my mom. One time, Hector Villenuava signed a ball for my best and friend and I while he was getting into his car, and then proceeded to give us free cologne samples. On the way home from the games we would replay those type of moments, each time making them bigger and bigger in our heads.

Situations like that did make my day and were and are monumental to my memories of Wrigley Field and more importantly the Chicago Cubs. My family and friends and I still talk about those times, although now it is to mostly make fun of me. So, is it an athlete’s responsibility to sign autographs? Do baseball players owe fans something because we “pay their salaries?”

I don’t think someone not signing an autograph means they are a bad guy. I get the idea that everyone has a bad day. If a player decides to sign autograph after autograph after autograph, great. If not that is ok too. I am more interested in the way they carry themselves in general and their work off the field; names like Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee come to mind.

The game of baseball is not like it once was. We (and I use the term we loosely here) turn baseball players and athletes in general, into heroes when they really should not be. They are over-hyped and most of them have egos to match. They are overpaid to play what at the end of the day is a game, a game that at its best is played for hours during those long days of summer with a group of friends.

What do you think? Is it a baseball player’s responsibility to make memories for the fans? What baseball player or athlete in general made your day…made you a memory?

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Welcome Back Baseball, Zell Hell and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, 1 and 2

Friday, February 29th, 2008

In the words of Harry Caray, “hello again, everybody. It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.”

By time everyone reads this, you will have had time to dissect the lineup that included Theriot, Cedeno, Fukudome, D. Lee, Murton, Soto, Cintron, and Pie. You will also have discussed whether Dempster was ‘Rambo-ian’ enough. (Lou’s word, not mine). So, what did you think?

Baseball is back and not moment too soon. Finally, we have news to talk about and arguments to be had. I do warn you however, I felt like this week’s column should have been named, Triple Axis of Evil. Ok, a bit dramatic and it doesn’t really fit.

First things first, I don’t agree with Jay Mariotti often, but once in a blue moon it has been known to happen and this week it did – twice. Ladies and gentlemen, we have truly entered Zell Hell, (Mariotti’s word, not mine) and if you look closely, Sam Zell does look like a billy goat or maybe Golum from Lord of the Rings. Beware Cub fans, the future of the name Wrigley Field is held by a man who makes quotes like this, about advertising that his Tribune Co. properties should be embracing: “If we can run ads for erectile dysfunction and we can run ads for penis enlargement, what’s wrong with gentleman’s clubs? Seems like we have a double standard,”

Huh?

This is one topic that is not going to go away especially since Mariottti has called for a Cub fan crusade to voice the voice their outrage. Here are the cliff notes. Tribune Co. – and Cubs – owner Sam Zell once again stated on CNBC that he may sell the naming rights to the 94-year-old ballpark. His methodology centers around the fact revenue for naming rights are soaring, headlined by the $400 million, 20-year deal the New York Mets negotiated to name their new ballpark Citi Field. Coincidently, the Yankees, just turned down a naming rights offer of $50 million a year. Sorry to say baseball purists, this is not your father’s game anymore. Money talks and Zell has the legal rights to sell the name however he pleases. And somehow, I don’t think he cares about the public relation ramifications.

Me? I am walking a fine line here. I sort of feel it is inevitable that it will happen. Don’t get me wrong I feel the goosebumps when I walk up the steps to my seat for a game. I love watching batting practice in June when the ivy is finally green. The thing is, all that will happen if it is called Wrigley Field or International House of Wing (well maybe not, but you get the point)

Last time I checked, according to a Sun-Times poll, 67 percent of Cub fans said they would not attend another game if Sam Zell changes the name. Do you really think a name change will cause fans not to support the Cubs? You are talking about fans that blew up a silly Bartman ball in effort to get rid of a curse. Fans who watched Lou Brock get traded for Ernie Broglio and Greg Maddox defect to the Atlanta Braves. They’ll come back, they always do.

I am also not naïve enough to believe Zell will take the $500 gazillion plus he makes off the naming rights and use it towards a World Series or more importantly developing a consistent contender. He is going to take the money, put it in his pocket and get the hell out of dodge.

Or at least he better.

In shocking news, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, 10-year personal services contract with the Astros could be affected by a possible perjury investigation into whether he lied to Congress about using steroids. On Wednesday, Congress asked the agency to investigate whether Clemens “committed perjury and made knowingly false statements.”

Astros owner Drayton McLane said Thursday he might reconsider the deal — which kicks in when the pitcher officially retires — in light of Clemens’ legal issues. McLane said he’ll also wait before deciding if he’d want Clemens to play for the Astros again if he decided to make one more comeback.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” McLane said. “The last year, he didn’t make his decision until May. The year before, it was about May before he made a decision. This is still cold February. Hmm, the real question here is not whether he lied or not (he did) but what gives him the right to decide every year when to come back, how to come back and what team to come back to? That hardly seems right.

Finally, Barry Bonds remains unsigned, despite his remarkable résumé. (You didn’t think I would leave Barry out did you) Pending legal issues aside, he still posted a 1.045 OPS last season. Play GM for the day, would you sign him?

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Spotlight on the National League Central

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

It is that time of year again. The time when every Major League baseball team believes they have a shot at winning the division and dreams of playing baseball in October. Well, except maybe the Pirates. So, from now until opening day, I will take you through my predictions for each division. Obviously, these aren’t the most in-depth, groundbreaking predictions ever made; I am not Peter Gammons. They are however, a little preview on how this baseball season could play out. Feel free to laugh at me or agree with me, either way is fine.

Chicago Cubs (89-73) – Just for the record, I am staying away from writing about all things that involve 100 years, anniversaries, curses, goats, fate, destiny and all the other hoopla. With that being said, I believe the Cubs are better than last year, but – there are some questions marks. First things first, someone smack Lou upside the head for his refusal to take Soriano out of the leadoff spot. He says that they will “Just keep talking about this and having a little fun with it.” Stop having fun with it and bat him down in the order, especially if his leg is only 75 percent or so.

Then we have the obvious, bullpen by committee. Some people hate the idea, some people love the idea, but at least Lou has had success shuffling closers in the past. Wood needs to stay healthy (I am going to Google that and see how many times that sentence has been written) but I think he will be effective as a set up man. Howry seems to be the front runner right now. We will also have to keep an eye out for Geovany Soto. While I am glad we went with the youth route, thinking Soto is going to catch 4 days out of 5 (130 games) and not suffer some sort of fatigue is ridiculous. Oh, and who is going to play center field?

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) – Chicago fans say the Cubs won the division last year; Milwaukee fans say the Brewers choked it away. With names like Fielder, Hardy and Braun, the Brewers will be fun to watch. The starting rotation is OK, but raises many red flags, mainly regarding Ben Sheets’ health and Jeff Suppan’s effectiveness. As far as their bullpen is concerned, I do not think Gagne will return to stud closer form, and that is going to cause some problems. Prince will continue to make Sports Center highlights for both his home runs and his sliding ability. All I can say is here we go again.

Cincinnati Reds (83-79) – This team is very hard for me to predict because they are going to have good pitching, plenty of offense but horrible defense. The starting rotation features Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo which is scary, if they both peak at the same time. Enter Dusty Baker. I feel like I am in a flashback with a solid pitching staff and Baker at the helm. The Red pitchers better insure their arms now because under Baker’s careful eye, they will pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch. You see where I am going there. The Reds need to find a way to minimize the defensive failings and let their offense and pitching shine through and see if Baker will be a fit. Stay tuned.

Houston Astros (80-82) – The Astros are a team I never feel comfortable with. You think they are out of the race, you start to relax and here they come with their late season shenanigans. There is no doubt this team will be able to hit, Berkman, Lee, Tejada, and Wiggington, that type of lineup is going to produce some runs. Will Tejada face a long suspension due to the Mitchell report? Only time will tell. Outside of Oswalt, their pitching staff is rocky. I think it will be a mix of games where the Astros score a billion runs and win and then the next night, they will give up a billion and lose. Without some sort of middle ground, I predict the a .500 season

Cardinals (76-86) – Well, they’ve got Albert Pujols…and, um who else do they have? Scott Rolen…nope, Jim Edmonds…nope. David Eckstein…he’s not there either. Outside of Pujols, this team is full of problems. Do they have a lead of man? Troy Glaus has been injury prone the past few years and strikes out an awful lot. What’s more, I think pitchers will be ready for Rick Ankiel this year. Pitching doesn’t look much better. Anytime your No. 1 and No. 2 starters are out until possibly the second half of the season, you have trouble. Wainwright and Looper might be decent, but our friend Matt Clement will have to pitch like ’03 form for this staff to have any success and seeing that he won’t even be ready for opening day, well that might spell trouble. When it is all said and done, this will be a rebuilding year for the Cardinals and they will end up on the flip side of .500. And they will be frustrating to watch at times, causing manager Tony LaRussa to drink, oh wait…

Pirates (70-92) – I don’t want to be snarly here but the Pirates just can’t seem to get it right or build a team with any kind of cohesive plan in mind. With that being said, Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez are bright spots, but if they don’t find a bat to protect Bay, he is not going to see a pitch all year. Catcher Ronny Paulino has to get back to his 2006 form. What else is there to say here? Veteran players are unhappy with management’s ineffectiveness and it looks like it will be another long season for the Pirates.

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Clemens’ Displays His Rafael Palmeiro Finger-Wag of Denial

Friday, February 15th, 2008

It is good to be back. By now, you have probably analyzed Roger Clemens congressional hearing a million different ways. Since this column’s vision is to cover the week in baseball, there is no way around it. Here’s what I think. I don’t think Roger Clemens is the loser, (even though I really do). I don’t think Brian McNamee is the loser. I think Bud Selig may be the loser, but that has nothing to do with Wednesday’s hearing. The real losers are you and me, your grandma and my grandma and the paperboy down the street.

Ladies and gentleman, Wednesday’s hearing gave you a look at Congress at its finest. No wonder they have such a low approval rating. First of all, this much attention is not even paid to real drug problems that lay waste to millions of American lives. Instead of investing a days worth of energy on I don’t know, a faltering economy, the war or even illegal immigration, Congress decided to utilize their time by trying to crack the great mystery (or lack thereof) that is Roger Clemens and performance-enhancing drugs.

If this hearing was to be used for a big government PR move, they couldn’t even do that right. The questioning was divided along party lines. Really, the two sides can’t even agree about steroids in baseball, really? See what happens when MLB won’t police itself, you end up with a circus.

One politician wanted to know what uniform Clemens would wear into the Hall of Fame. Are you kidding me? Then you had the dazzling display of hero worship. “Roger Clemens is a titan of baseball!” Yes, I am talking about you Rep. Dan Burton (Rep). If I had to hear him call McNamee a liar one more time, I may have gouged my eyes out. Of course McNamee is a liar, dofus, he freely admits that he lied and/or lied by omission. At some point though don’t you have to tell the truth to explain the lies?

Or how about when Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Dem) attacked McNamee and then proclaimed: “Mr. Clemens, all I cay say is, I’m sure you’re going to heaven.” What? That is the most laughable thing I have ever heard. Last time I checked people who throw others under the bus, lie under oath and build themselves up to be the best thing since sliced bread – do not go to heaven. Maybe I’m wrong.

Here is what we know; circumstantial of course: McNamee said he actually injected Clemens with steroids and HGH more than the 16 to 21 times that he previously estimated in the Mitchell Report. Andy Pettite admitted to using HGH and said in sworn testimony that Clemens talked in 1999 or 2000 about his HGH use. Clemens’ wife, Debbie used HGH supplied by McNamee. Clemens’ insistence that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs is ridiculous. Even if you don’t believe a word McNamee says, I am sure you don’t really think Pettite “misremembered” their conversation. I guess you can’t fault Clemens for trying to defend himself but you can fault him for coming off as an arrogant member of the good ‘ole boys’ club. Not to mention, someone lied under oath on Wednesday, and last time I checked lying under oath is illegal.

At least the hearing did not lack from entertainment value. Here are some of the best one liners from the day. “Mr. Clemens, according to your account, Mr. McNamee injected your wife in your bedroom without your knowledge.” Or how about, “That was a hurried instance when we were in the closet.” Finally we can’t forget about, “Those little band-aids for his butt, if it bled.”

Oh Roger, sometimes the story just writes itself.

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