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Morning News: Pope Hunting

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

You’ve probably heard by now that Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol has been accused of domestic abuse by a woman from his hometown in the Dominican Republic. Marmol gave his side of the story to the media at the Cubs’ training facility Monday. The short version is that he believes the woman and her representation are looking for a payoff, and that he’s actually the victim. It sounds like the Cubs are backing his side as well. I would have thought the players might have learned something from Starlin Castro’s legal entanglement last offseason, but clearly not everyone did. Here’s hoping Marmol is telling the truth, and that there’s not more to the story.

Matt Garza is eager to reestablish his value with the Cubs, and expects to earn a new contract with the team. With the abundance of arms Theo and Jed have brought in, it seems unlikely that Garza has a long future with the Cubs. I mean, realistically, how good would he have to be to make the front office ignore all offers and instead invest in him for the future? Whatever that level of performance might be, it seems hard to believe Garza will achieve it, especially on a team with so many other needs. Still, if he can pull it off, I’d be happy to keep him for the right price.

The Indians capped off a busy and expensive offseason by signing Michael Bourn to a 4-year, $48M contract. At various times, it seemed the Cubs had an interest in Bourn–along with most of the other teams in baseball–but with a surplus of outfielders already, there wasn’t much likelihood they would make a late push to sign him.

Remember the how everyone was calling for protective head gear for pitchers after Brandon McCarthy’s life-threatening injury last season? The new helmets/caps won’t be ready by the beginning of Spring Training, and might not be ready at all this season. Not a surprise when you figure it took them more than a century to add the fold-down ear flap for games in extremely cold weather.

Michael Vick signed a new, 1-year contract to stay with the Philadelphia Eagles. The deal–which could be worth as much as $10M–replaces the 6-year, $100M contract Vick signed in 2011. Ah, the NFL, where contracts don’t mean squat. No word yet if Vick will start in the new offensive scheme brought in by new head coach Chip Kelly, but he would seem like a slightly more apt fit than the Eagles’ other quarterback Nick Foles.

I don’t believe in karma, jinxes, or curses, but I’m a little hesitant to bring up just how well the Blackhawks have played to start the lockout-shortened season. With stellar performances from Patrick Kane and others, they still have not lost a game in regulation this season. Now watch–they’ll probably lose tonight and I’ll spend the rest of the week kicking myself for saying anything at all.

It seems the Pope has reached his expiration date.

Aspen stinks.

This one is super-weird: the fake beef in European supermarkets might not even be real horse. I suppose it’s a good reminder to only buy from legitimate horse meat vendors.

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Morning News: Short & Sweet

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Apologies but time constraints this evening will force me to forgo most of the usual commentary. I have every confidence that you can more than compensate for my lack of snark in your comments below.

No real Cubs news of late, at least nothing I deemed worthy to mention. However, there is always this picture which never fails to make me smile. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks.

Former Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno signed a one-year, $1.15M deal to back up Rafael Furcal for the St. Louis Cardinals. For those of you who hated Cedeno in his Cubs tenure for his inconsistent hitting and frequent fielding gaffes, feel free to release the hounds.

Last week I mentioned how happy I am to have the NHL back in my life, and that was before the Blackhawks had racked up a team-record six wins to start the season. If you haven’t been watching, you can catch up with the highlights here.

After several weather delays, Tiger Woods won the Farmers Insurance Open Monday, the 75th tournament victory of his career–just seven back of the all-time record. It was Woods’ eighth victory at Torrey Pines, a course I absolutely own on his PGA Tour 10 game for Nintendo Wii.

In the spectrum of difficult stolen items to resell, $65,000 worth of frozen chicken wings has to be at the extreme far end, right?

A 88 year-old man loved Burger King so much that his family drove his funeral procession through the drive-thru and buried him with a Whopper Jr. America!

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Morning News: Rising Taxes, Angry Wives, and Violent Lemurs

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

How was your Martin Luther King Jr. Day? I hope it went better for you than it did for these people.

Let’s start with a little Cubs news, shall we? During last weekend’s Cubs Convention, the team revealed the broad strokes of their long-awaited plans to renovate Wrigley Field. The $300M project would take five years to complete, working during the offseason so as not to cost the team any home games. The renovations include ripping out the concrete in the lower seating bowl to gut and reconstruct the existing clubhouses, as well as adding underground batting cages, training and weight rooms, and generally updating the players’ facilities. They also plan to remove the roof and alter the upper deck, expanding the luxury boxes and press areas, expanding the roof deck above the marquee, widening the concourses, and expanding the concession area to ease pre- and post-game congestion in and out of the park. The team would also like add another LED scoreboard in left field (similar to the one they installed this year in right field) and add a standing room only deck above the bleachers down the third base line. You can see some early renderings of their plans here.

The plan is to accomplish all that without any public money–it sounds like they’ve officially abandoned the idea of an extra amusement tax or some other way to get the city or the state to pick up the tab. In return however, the Ricketts have asked that the city ease some of the restrictions placed on Wrigley Field under its designation as a historical landmark. The team has taken umbrage–and I believe rightly so–that the oversight of the city directly inhibits their ability to use their stadium to generate revenue. It’s a good deal for the city–rather than further wringing funds from an already cash-strapped community, they can simply ease back on the oversight and let the Ricketts’ foot the bill. And while I’m not eager to see Wrigley Field swathed in advertising, I don’t believe Tom Ricketts wants to see that either. And whether you like the plans or not, it’s nice to have an owner–one of the first in quite a while–who doesn’t have his hand out begging for money from the local government.

Speaking of money, Phil Mickelson has hinted that the new tax increases are forcing him to make some drastic changes, which he will announce later this week. Some people expect he plans to move from his home state of California, since we Californians doubled down on our tax increases this year. Others think he might be considering retirement altogether. You’ll remember it wasn’t all that long ago Mickelson was considering buying an ownership stake in the San Diego Padres–he confirmed Sunday that he backed out of the deal because of the same concerns about the changes to his tax situation.

After all my grousing in this space about the many failures of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, you can imagine how relieved I was that this past weekend saw the return of hockey and my beloved Blackhawks, who kicked off the season with not one but two convincing wins, trouncing the reigning champion Kings 5-2 after they raised their Stanley Cup banner on Saturday, and holding off the Coyotes 6-4 Sunday night. It’s legitimately hard to put into words how much I hate basketball, so the timely return of hockey is a welcome reprieve from what looked to be a bleak winter of sports.

You may remember that after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl last year, Tom Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen made some disparaging comments about his teammates lack of effort, with one particular barb directed at receiver Wes Welker. This year, it was Welker’s wife’s turn, as she posted some criticisms of Ray Lewis on her Facebook page. Her post has since been taken down, but you can read the quotes in this article, along with the apology she issued today. Here’s the thing–I don’t understand why she had to apologize. She probably could have been more tactful or clever, and she probably shouldn’t have cited Wikipedia as a source. But she’s right that Lewis is a sketchy dude with a shady past, and it shouldn’t be out of bounds to say as much, even in the heat of a poorly chosen moment. Also, let’s congratulate her for not returning the favor and throwing Brady under the bus after another season ends with a loss.

That wasn’t the only bad news for the Patriots Sunday. During the game, New England safety Derrick Martin’s Colorado home was invaded and robbed. Several of Martin’s family and friends were gathered in his home to watch the game, and were held at gunpoint by the robbers.

Finally, keep your lemurs locked up and your loved ones out of harm’s way.

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Morning News: Trade Rumors, Tardy Confessions, and Terrier DNA

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

No real on-the-field Cubs news to bring you this morning. The closest I could find was a rumor-ish note buried in this Nick Cafardo’s Sunday article about a potential deal for Alfonso Soriano. The gist of it is that last season really opened Theo Epstein’s eyes to Soriano’s full value, both on and off the field. If Cafardo’s to be believed, Soriano is–at least in Epstein’s estimation–a superb teammate and teacher in the clubhouse, and that, combined with his shorter, more potent bat, makes him worth at least “a player of note.” Cafardo also said Soriano will only wave his no-trade clause for an East Coast team, and says that only the Phillies, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, and Marlins look to be suitors. Take all that with the usual grain of salt required with any Soriano rumors, and don’t hold your breath. It doesn’t seem the Cubs are eager to unload Soriano, and might even see his value go up at the trade deadline.

Last season was the first time since 2003 that the Cubs saw their attendance dip below three million fans, and they’re already taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2013. To entice fans to purchase the six- and nine-game mini plans that go on sale January 23, the team has announced they’re waving all service fees on mini plan purchases, allowing fans to secure their tickets well in advance of March 8–the day single game tickets go on sale–and save as much as $40 in the process.

Former Cubs outfielder headcase Milton Bradley faces up to thirteen years in jail if he’s convicted on domestic abuse charges. “Wow. Never saw that coming.” said absolutely no one.

And while we’re covering unsurprising news, Lance Armstrong recorded his interview with Oprah today and (spoiler alert!) reportedly confessed to using PEDs. No surprise there–it’s not like they were teaming up to give away cars or discuss his favorite things for the spring. Given their decades-long dogged pursuit to prove Armstrong was cheating, you have to assume the people of France will celebrate his confession like, well… come to think of it, is this the first time the French have ever won a fight?

Jim Bowden has an interesting article on five offseason moves that will backfire. (For non-Insiders, he’s critical of the contracts given to Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, and Marco Scutaro.)

Major League Baseball has tentatively made a few small rule changes. While they are unofficial until they’ve been approved by the players’ union, the league will now allow interpreters to accompany managers and pitching coaches to the mound to visit pitchers; a seventh coach 9usually a second hitting coach) can now be in uniform in the dugout; and the tiresome and almost never effective fake-to-third-throw-to-first will now be considered a balk.

Look, I don’t like it cleaning up after other people’s dogs any more than the next guy, but this seems like an awful lot of trouble and expense to go to, especially when the justice they’re meting out is so meager.

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Morning News: Hop Aboard The Coaching Carousel

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Still not a lot of substantial Cubs news to report in the New Year. Jed Hoyer said that Matt Garza is feeling good, but that’s not news if you follow Garza on Twitter. And Theo Epstein sat for a radio interview with a station in Boston–you can listen to it here. I didn’t hear the full conversation, but it sounds like they were mostly interested in what he had to say about his former team, with only some sparse information about the Cubs sprinkled in.

In fact, the only MLB news that’s even (barely) worth mentioning is that the season will kick off with an Opening Night showdown between the two Texas teams and new AL West opponents. The Rangers will square off against the new-look Astros in a game that will mean a ton to baseball fans across Texas and virtually nothing to baseball fans anywhere else.

In college football, the Oregon Ducks coasted to a 35-17 win over the Kansas State Wildcats. As a fan of a Big 12 school, I saw my fair share of Kansas State this year, and I think the after-effects of one-time Heisman frontrunner Colin Klein’s injury are still holding him back. Oregon is always an overwhelming opponent, and they had the Wildcats on their heels from the first kickoff. Literally–they ran back to opening kick, and Kansas State never really looked like they could recover. One interesting subplot to the game was that it might be head coach Chip Kelly’s last with Oregon. Kelly is rumored to be a candidate for at least a few of the head coaching jobs. He’s got an interview sometime today with Buffalo, and with many NFL teams adopting versions of the relentless spread attack offense he’s arguably perfected with the Ducks, it’s safe to assume other teams will be interested in his services.

The Chefs Chiefs likely won’t be one of those teams, as they appear close to an agreement with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. I don’t know who loses out worse in that deal–Reid or the Chiefs. I wouldn’t say they’re an obvious fit–he struggles to succeed without legitimate playmakers, and a big name coach doesn’t solve any of the personnel problems in Kansas City. In fact, the only winners might be NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers, who can look forward to mining consistent laughs from how much Reid will look like the Kool-Aid man once he’s draped in Chiefs red.

One college coach who won’t be making the leap to the NFL is Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, who restated that he won’t interview for any jobs, choosing instead to remain with the Nittany Lions and help further revitalize their program. O’Brien was recently named the Big 10’s Coach of the Year.

Add another layer of senseless tragedy to the death of Dallas Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown, who died last month in a drunk-driving accident caused by friend and teammate Josh Brent. While Brent’s blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit, Brown’s was under the limit, meaning that at least according to the law, he was sober enough to drive. Brent faces manslaughter charges.

Finally, scientists in England studying Noroviruses–a particularly explosive kind of flu that usually includes, among other dignity thieves, projectile vomiting–have built an anatomically accurate robot to simulate the spray from that projectile vomiting to help them ascertain how the virus is spread. So far absolutely nothing at all has been accomplished, mainly because they’re just having too much fun playing with their puking robot.

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Morning News: Back To Work Edition

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Greetings and welcome to 2013, which, in true Ron Santo-fashion, I’m proclaiming “Our Year”–at least until it becomes unavoidably evident that it’s not (the early over/under on that opened at mid- to late-March, and it’s expected to move up).

Most of you probably spent Tuesday in a bit of a fog, either stuck to your couch watching Bowl games or scrambling to wrap up a vacation to-do list before you headed back to work today. Hopefully I can help make the transition from sweatpants and naps to shoes and productivity a little easier this morning.

As part of their annual Black Monday festivities (?), NFL teams passed out a staggering amount of walking papers earlier this week. Seven head coaches (headlined by Lovie Smith, Andy Reid, and the heretofore unfireable Norv Turner), at least four GMs, and several assistant coaches (including Buffalo’s entire staff) were fired after unsuccessful seasons. You can find ESPN’s coverage here.

Lovie Smith’s firing didn’t come as much of a surprise to Bears fans. A defensive wiz, he never was able to field an offensive scheme that complimented the team’s strengths on defense and special teams, and early Tuesday, Bear’s GM Phil Emery admitted it was that perpetual weakness and a spotty playoff record that cost Smith his job. But don’t cry for Lovie, Argentina–of the coaches fired Monday, he’s perhaps the most widely-respected and well-thought-of, and should have no trouble finding a new gig. Same goes for Andy Reid, who may be the leading candidate for the Cardinals job in the wake of Ken Wisenhunt’s firing. Also on the coaching carousel as potential replacements are Mike Holmgren (perhaps hoping to wash the Browns stink off his legacy) and Oregon’s Chip Kelly.

Of course, there is still NFL action to look forward to–specifically a Vikings vs. Packers rematch, a faceoff of rookie wunderkind QBs from Seattle and D.C., and whatever the AFC has to offer (sorry, but Bengals vs. Texans and Colts vs. Ravens don’t really have me gripped with anticipation–wake me for the AFC’s divisional series). You can see the whole playoff schedule here. Most of the predictions I’ve seen have the Broncos beating the Niners to win the Super Bowl, and I think I can buy that. Convince me otherwise with your picks below.

In college football action, Stanford was able to grind out a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Northern Illinois proved to be no match for Florida State, losing the Orange Bowl 31-10. Georgia overwhelmed Nebraska 45-31 in the Capitol One Bowl. And my beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys smoked Purdue 58-14 in a laughable and poorly-attended Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Finally, there was a noteworthy controversy in South Carolina’s 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Michigan was awarded a first down they clearly didn’t earn, but South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney righted the wrong on the next play from scrimmage with a bone-rattling sack and fumble recovery. As a result of the victory, Outback is giving away free Bloomin’ Onions today, so maybe you can postpone your New Year’s diet at least one more day.

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Morning News: New Horses in the Stable

Friday, December 21st, 2012

After repeatedly winding up as the bridesmaid on several rumored deals for starting pitchers this offseason, the Cubs finally locked down some new starters for the rotation Thursday. Yes, you read that correctly–starterS. Plural.

Rumors swirled most of the morning that the Cubs were lining up to sign Edwin Jackson to a 4-year deal, with varying reports on the value of the contract. But just as I was emotionally preparing myself for the Nationals (his previous employer) or some other team to swoop in and claim him at the last minute, news broke that the team had upped their all-important Guys Named Carlos Quotient with the addition of Carlos Villanueva. And then–surprise, surprise–they went ahead and locked up Jackson, too!

If you’re keeping score at home–and let’s face it, you’re reading a Cubs blog in the dead of the offseason on what’s likely your last day in the office before Christmas, so you probably are–that gives the Cubs plenty of options with which to craft their starting rotation. Good options. Some combination of Jackson, Villanueva, Matt Garza, Travis Wood, the Scotts (Baker and Feldman), and The Dread Pirate Samardzija. It looks to me like Theo and Jed weren’t satisfied with the pitching “talent” they were forced to bring up at the end of the season, and are determined not to find themselves in a similar situation next season.


So I just deleted a couple long paragraphs about what these signings might mean for the Cubs moving forward, and how Theo and Jed’s rebuilding plan is apparently shorter than some of us projected. But the truth is, there’s no way to know what they mean right now, except that Theo and Jed aren’t waiting around to grow their pitching talent from within. Obviously the pitching cupboards are bare in the minors–we’ll all saw just how bare last season. Bringing in free agent arms was always the plan, but I thought they would be the more low-rent guys like the Scotts or even Villanueva–cheap at $10M for 2 years. Jackson’s not a placeholder deal, and no matter how hot he might start off, I’d be shocked to see him get Maholmed away any time soon.

My takeaway–if you can take away anything solid from one free agent signing–is that Theo and Jed haven’t changed their commitment to growing from within, but that they also aren’t content to be handcuffed to that growth and live and die by the productivity of the farm system alone. I think it’s a good sign, even if only a small one, and I’m encouraged. I wish pitchers and catchers were reporting next week.

One other note before we quickly mop up the rest of the news: Matt Garza has been a faithful if not occasionally ill-informed cheerleader throughout the offseason, and Thursday was no different, as he welcomed his new teammates with a congratulatory tweet from Disneyland (and yes, I did consider bolting from work and heading down there to stalk Garza and his family around the Happiest Place on Earth–I have a problem). I’m not sure the new additions to the pitching staff help secure Garza’s future with the Cubs. If anything, they probably make it a whole lot easier to trade him. My guess is the Cubs quietly shop him and wait to see how he shows up to camp before making a final decision. If the Rangers keep whiffing on pitchers (they wanted Jackson, too), they might be willing to overspend to get him. I really like Garza and would love to keep him, but I think many people are convinced he has more value to the Cubs as trade bait than as the anchor of their rotation. We’ll see.

Elsewhere, former White Sox catcher and generally unlikable person A.J. Pierzynski agreed to a 1-year deal with the Rangers, meaning former Cub Geovany Soto will have some competition for the starting job.

Former Cub and and concussion victim Adam Greenberg signed a minor league deal with the Orioles. After a long medical lay-off, Greenberg successfully petitioned teams to let him take one at-bat. His wish was granted by the Marlins, and he struck out on three pitches from R.A. Dickey. The new deal with the Orioles potentially allows him to write a more satisfying ending to his story.

I don’t like Derek Jeter, but I dislike him a little less after this.

Thankfully, the NFL spared us another in a long line of unfulfilling Thursday night games this week. But I couldn’t resist linking to this story–as a way to say thank you for helping him rush for more than a 1,000 yards this season, Arian Foster gave his linemen Segways.

And for your sake, I hope this is the worst story you read today.

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Morning News: Skull Safety Edition

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

The Cubs officially announced the signings of Ian Stewart and Chang-Yong Lim Monday. Lim has a minor league deal and a good shot to make the bullpen is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Stewart is perhaps the worst of the Cubs’ bad options for the opening at third base.

Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey agreed to a 2-year, $25M extension with the Blue Jays, allowing them to complete their trade with the Mets. After picking up most of the Marlins notable players and now Dickey, Toronto might once again pose a threat in the AL East, especially as the Yankees get older and more broken-down and the Red Sox seem unable or unwilling to get better. Are you ready for a Blue Jays-Orioles-Rays pennant race? Also, the similarities in their deals forces me to ask, would you rather have Ryan Dempster or Dickey for the next two years?

Former Cub Carlos Pena signed a 1-year deal with the Astros. Pena seems like an obvious choice to be the Astros’ DH in their first AL season, but the article indicates he may see time in the field, too.

Testing is underway on a new, padded cap–not a helmet, but a cap–for pitchers. Certainly a more fashionable option that this.

Apparently the Tigers are really jazzed about re-signing Anibal Sanchez. After his little negotiation tango with the Cubs, I hope he’s plagued by hamstring issues and dwindling velocity for the duration of his new deal.

Former Atlanta slugger Andruw Jones has singed on for a guest starring role on Matt Murton and Bryan LaHair’s Japanese sitcom to play baseball in Japan.

On Monday night, the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs in a 14-10 loss to the Titans. You can see the highlights here–it’s worth clicking at least to see Chris Johnson’s 94-yard TD run.

The next time someone tells you the United States needs to mimic the tolerance of European society, go ahead and laugh in his face.

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Morning News: Rumors, Slander, and Murderous Plots

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Already/Not Yet  Yet again, the Cubs find themselves caught up in the offseason rumor mill, this time regarding a deal for free agent starter Anibal Sanchez. Thursday afternoon, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that the Cubs had signed Sanchez to a 5-year $75M contract. However, it soon became clear that the deal was not yet final, and that Sanchez and his agents were still waiting for an offer from Detroit. Read between the lines and it seems that Nightengale might just be a pawn in the hands of Sanchez’s agents, helping to accelerate the final stage of negotiations (you can see how the whole story unfolded here). It won’t be great if the Cubs whiff on another nearly-done deal, but by the time you read this Friday morning, the waiting game might be over. Regardless of how it turns out, a potential rotation made up of some combination of Garza, Sanchez, The Dread Pirate Samardzija, Wood, Baker, and Feldman would be a significant upgrade over the broken-down journeymen and unskilled apprentices the Cubs trotted out to the mound last season. (Check back throughout the day for any updates.) UPDATE: And to no one’s surprise, the deal fell apart.

Every Last Dime  Earlier this week, I told you Ryan Dempster had turned down a 2-year, $25M offer from the Red Sox and a $26M offer from the Royals. Speculation at the time was that he believed a third year was out there somewhere, and I said I thought he was getting bad advice. I stand corrected, as he and the Red Sox announced an agreement for a 2-year, $26.5M deal Thursday. And you know what? Good for Dempster–hats off to him for capitalizing on one of the best years of his career, and holding out for the maximum in what is most likely his last pro contract. I wish him all the best, unless he happens to take the mound against the Cubs this season.

Bat Collecting  It seems Angels’ owner Arte Moreno has a thing for aging power hitters. He added another one Thursday with the signing of Josh Hamilton. Stealing the slugger away from the rival Rangers with a 5-year, $125M deal should help the Angels re-establish their dominance in the AL West, adding another big bat to an already formidable lineup. And in an offseason when they’ve already missed on James Shields and Zach Greinke, things are quickly getting desperate for the Rangers.

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now  Andy Reid’s farewell tour with the Eagles made another stop in Philadelphia Thursday night against the Bengals. The Eagles turned the ball over five times in the 34-13 rout. Like most of you I’m sure, I didn’t watch a second of this game–another in a stretch of forgettable Thursday night games.

A Few (Race) Cards Short Of A Deck  Another very stupid thing was said on ESPN’s First Take Thursday morning. I’m starting to wonder if these guys prep for the show with a combination of sleep deprivation, moonshine, and that bat-spin party game that no one really likes to play.

Lousy Ways To Go  A Fort Worth man died after the garbage can he was sleeping in was dumped into a trash compactor–but not immediately. In Chicago, a man died after climbing to the roof of the of the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue to take some pictures. He fell into the chimney and descended some twenty feet down before he was wedged in a bend in the chimney, suffering severe burns. It took several hours for firefighters to extricate him, and he was able to call and text his girlfriend during the ordeal before he finally asphyxiated.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up  A man already serving consecutive life sentences devised and put into motion a plan to kidnap, castrate, and murder Justin Bieber. Yup, you read that right.

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