Cub Fan #1 Kerry Wood resigns with the Cubs. Look at this way, we’ve all had friends in bands who only get booked if they can bring friends who buy beer. (Photo: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)
In one of the biggest non-dramas of the off-season, Kerry Wood has signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for $3 million. The Sun-Times‘ Gordon Wittenmyer reports it from the annual Cubs convention, here. I’ve been complaining about the inverse ratio of what Kerry Wood actually delivers on the field to his star treatment in the Cubs’ front office for years, but for once I think they got it right. Indeed, sabremetrics has come to Wrigley.
Do the math: The Cubs have no marquee player. In merch sales, star attractions, and ticket sales, they can’t compete with an A-Rod or a Pujols. You have to pay a star $250 million to pull fans in like that. So how do you recreate those numbers in the aggregate? Even partially? And for a bargain price? In Kerry Wood, the Cubs are paying $3 million for a guy who can deliver North Side fans in bigger numbers than he’s ever delivered in wins or strike-outs.
What’s Kerry Wood’s job? It’s not 20-strikeout games or 200 inning seasons or even dependably closing a game – all of which he has received big money to do in the past and on which he never delivered. His job is his fan base. Indeed, over the past few years, the Cub faithful have actually rejected losing teams, meaning Kerry Wood is all the more valuable in the one place where he’s a draw, Wrigleyville. And, if you recall the damage a set-up man like Bob Howry could do to the Cub W-L record, $3 mil for a dependable set-up man and a season’s worth of actively excited Kerry Wood fans is a deal.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dumping all three city members of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — including former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew — in a housecleaning that could set the stage to renegotiate the White Sox lease, modify its restaurant deal and, possibly, have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.
A Daley nephew fired means Chicago may finally be running on law other than Magna Carta and Dred Scott. There’s only one person in Chicago who cares about both sides of that North-South baseball equation to talk White Sox rents and a Bridgeport Baccardi franchise – John Cusack. So, I dust off the Cubs’ bureau desk to point out that last phrase, “have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.” Or as I read it, “HAVE THE STATE ACQUIRE AND RENOVATE WRIGLEY FIELD.”
The idea of owning the Cubs and Wrigley has been a boondoggle since the Tribco put the team up for sale for real. Even before the current economic collapse, separating Wrigley from the club was floated to make the billion dollar combo platter possible for two separate buyers. The Tribco could never get the real estate money they wanted and the club was deemed less valuable without it’s crèche. So, buying the Cubs in the original package they came in was the deal: $1B give or take, minus a 5% stake the Trib kept). That narrowed down the number of talented owners who could afford the team (Mark Cuban publicly said, post-collapse, the Cubs aren’t worth that money) and meant the TribCo waited until a big bag of money showed up – ie, Tom Ricketts. Ricketts sports career consisted entirely of sitting in Wrigley’s bleachers as a member of – by some accounts – the nation’s most disliked and obnoxious fan base. So, who better to own the team that made its first statue – first, of any participant in the 100-plus-year legacy of the franchise – a monument to Harry Caray?
That said, it may be Ricketts wants to sell. He can’t afford Wrigley – has that realization ever occurred to him in his life, “I can’t afford this …” – so the state could buy it and charge him rent for a long time to come. A Ricketts renting … what has the world come to? In his favor, Ricketts did hire Theo, so maybe in all this he’s Mr. Magoo’d his way into making the Cubs a leaner, much more manageable franchise. Hendry psycho drama and Tribco quarterly report thinking is gone. The Illinois Sports Facility Authority isn’t there to maintain traditional deals and even Ryno didn’t get a job interview for the managing spot (Ryno, same guy who quit the team for a season, if I recall, cuz he felt like it).
In a lot of good ways, by design or implosion, the Cubs do look like a very new organization.
The Jim Hendry GM autopsy in Wrigleyville will have to be a lot more detailed than this, but basically, the W-L record of his tenure says a lot. Yes, when the Tribune Co. got behind him to spend and get some ambitious management on the field, he signed talent, put the team in the play-offs in consecutive seasons, and brought some truly exciting seasons to the North Side. Me, I think he added just as much as he subtracted during his stay.
The problem came in handling that talent once he signed them. Think of the names that left the Cubs on bad terms during his tenure: Dusty Baker, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Steve Stone, Milton Bradley, Lou Piniella (who soured on the team before his mom’s passing), and now Carlos Zambrano. The headlines to all those marquee exits are well known, but think of the cost in the clubhouse as toxicity built up over time. That cost the Cubs a lot. You can also add disappointments like Kosuke Fukodome and Alfonso Soriano. While Hendry is not to blame for their weak numbers, you do have to ask a) why they proved impossible to motivate, and b) how many times in his tenure he tied himself to giant deals with hard-to-trade headcases who hamstrung the Cubs?
The Cubs aren’t be the only team in baseball with divas and egomaniacs on their payroll. It’s Hendry’s inability to keep such people focused on baseball that’s remarkable. Chicago has a low grade sporting press at best, and Hendry never seemed to step up to the Paul Sullivans in the press box who baited his players. I personally don’t believe much of what I read from today’s press conference regarding the timing or the reasons for Hendry’s firing. I don’t know what I believe yet. My first thought one hearing the news was that it was fallout from the Zambrano situation, Hendry’s latest soap opera. That’s is, an emotionally erratic player, a situation allowed to explode in public (yet again, in Z’s case), a big $$$ deal making Z hard to move, and a Cubs winter meeting where they settle for dimes on the dollar to dump him – it’s classic Hendry. At least he got to leave at the top of his particular game.
[At a recent Astros-Rangers classic ... (photo by Ralph Barrera/Amer-Statesman)]
CSTB alum, and continuing night school Phd candidate, Jason Cohen appeared yesterday in the NY Times with a column on the possibilities of a Texas baseball rivalry between Houston and … wherever the Rangers officially call home, off that Nolan Ryan highway divide. If the NYT paywall gets in your way, you can also read it here at Texas Monthly, with all of the local “jehosophats!” and “tarnations!” left in by Jason’s regional editors. As Jason sums up the current situation:
The first Lone Star Series game was at the Ballpark in Arlington in June 2001. Excitement was only sort of high. “It’s not like the Yankees-Mets or the Cubs-White Sox,” the Astros star Jeff Bagwell told The Associated Press at the time.
I was there that night, with an extra ticket that the scalpers in the parking lot would only offer me $3 for. “The Rangers are 27 games out!” one argued, inarguably. The Astros, which back then had the better franchise, won in extra innings, but with both teams going 3-3 over the series, the Rangers earned the Silver Boot (a trophy the two teams started playing for in 1992 during spring training) on the basis of aggregate runs scored. Yup, just what Texas likes out of its rivalries — to settle things the way they do in soccer.
Since then, both teams have made it to — and lost in — the World Series, but the Lone Star Series hasn’t gotten much more exciting.
[Pictured, this week's Most Hated Man in Baseball, Jim Riggleman.]
Today, Jim Riggleman fired his corporate bosses and the sports world (or at least the fan boy press) is appalled. Players and managers are supposedly overgrown, lucky kids who don’t get to make decisions like that. Unbelievably, Jim Riggleman doesn’t seem to care if he ever manages an MLB team again – every sports writers’ dream job. He sold out his team, he doesn’t care about winning, what would Lou Gehrig say, etc, etc.?
The Nats are at .507, their best in six years. They lose overall for a reason and Riggleman isn’t it. He’s not alone in letting DC fans down. But let’s put that in perspective. He’s not deserting fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, he’s a placeholder manager quitting a placeholder club intended to soak up $$$ the Orioles apparently can’t sponge effectively themselves. At least, that’s how its owners and MLB treat it. In the midst of the Bud Selig era of $$$ > winning baseball, Riggleman’s me-first move today is small potatoes compared to what the Ricketts and McCourts are currently pulling as the Selig-approved stewards of Wrigley Field and Chavez Ravine. And neither of those teams are winning.
So, Riggleman left his pennant-guaranteed .507 club high and dry because he didn’t get the deal he wanted. Owners do that every day, as is their privilege as “businessmen.” This is the same Riggleman who watched the Padres deal Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff out from under him in their “fire sale.” Do owners ever get blackballed for such bullshit? Do we ever hear how they’ll never work again, no matter how much they sell out the concept of winning? I’d like to see MLB impose a rule that says owners with sub-.500 teams for five years running be put under suspension and review like the McCourts have been for financial incompetence. But that would mean winning really is what baseball is about, for all involved, and it’s not. If sportswriters want to get all self-righteous about Jim Riggleman letting his team down, get self-righteous about making owners win, too.
Yes, Riggelman’s move was about himself, but there’s positives to an angry manager quitting rather than poisoning his club with anger and indifference to collect pay checks. Didn’t he just walk out on $300K? It wasn’t exactly a win-win move for Riggleman who sacrificed half a years’ salary. The Nats refused to deal straight with him because they didn’t feel like it. Why isn’t his peace of mind worth something, too? If winning doesn’t come first for the owners and MLB, why should it for their employee? People cite Riggleman’s mediocre win record as if he isn’t deserving of some self-respect and dignity – two qualities you still have to fight for in the American workplace. The Nats’ owners and MLB run that franchise to make money. Fans who want to win basically have to get lucky in DC, because very few people are behind them.
[Pictured, the guy MLB didn't think was right to own the Cubs, Mark Cuban, the owner with the gold boner.]
There’s two sure ways to make news shooting your mouth of about the Cubs. Ragging on the fans – a la Lee Elias, Milton Bradley, or Reds announcer Marty Brennaman – is a guaranteed headline. The other way is to rag on that wax paper beer cup Valhalla, Wrigley Field. Ozzie Guillien has had no shortage of verbal abuse for the Friendly Confines, a view that his paisan Carlos Zambrano agreed with and got him some instant headlines. And now Peter Gammons, who went on WSCR the other day and called Wrigley a “dump.“ He’ll get no argument from anyone with a nose. After Gammons played Ed McMahon on the televised A-Rod confession a few years ago, we all know Peter Gammons loves helping an ethically challenged millionaire in trouble. It explains Gammons also arguing that the jury is still out on the Ricketts Family as owners and that they had no real idea how much renovating Wrigley would cost. BallparkDigest took issue with this, noting the Ricketts family was well aware of the $200+ million costs to turn Wrigley into livable ballpark and had even discussed the 2014 proposal to do so. Says Ballpark Digest: “Indeed, the issue isn’t Wrigley: it’s the fact that Ricketts appears to be in over his head as owner of the Cubs. Fans expected a return to family ownership — i.e., committed ownership that didn’t see the historic franchise as simply a line item in an annual report — but instead they’ve seen a constant stream of requests for public money, whether it’s been tax dollars to fix up Wrigley Field or city funding of a new spring-training complex.”
Here’s my no-business degree view of what happened. The Trib Co. was in collapse before the rest of the economy and they held out f-o-r-e-v-e-r to sell the team. Mark Cuban got unofficially blackballed with the MLB owners, specifically by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. If he wasn’t blackballed, they took so long not blackballing Cuban that the sale happened during the collapse of the general economy and people with real money, like Cuban, moved on for better deals. Cuban also questioned the actual value of the Cubs, which no one else did. Whatever the Cubs were actually worth after the downslide, the Tribco was too in debt to want to sell for less – esp with buyers lined up. The people who were left were oddball business partnerships and out of town consortiums, but only the Ricketts family matched up to Bud Selig and MLB’s local, family style ideal of ownership. Never mind that the worst owner in Cubs history, Philip K. Wrigley, was exactly that – local family. Selig and co shrugged off the Ricketts family goldmine (Ameritrade) getting fined $456 million by the State of NY for defrauding customers weeks before the Cubs deal closed, meaning the ideal family came up short to pay the Tribune Co by tons. So, they “borrowed” $700 million from themselves (even if you had a business degree, I mean … huh?) and now they’re so swimming in debt that they feel entitled to pass on to the fans and local governments.
Baseball Digest’s righteous tirade and Gammons views aside, I remain unconvinced the Ricketts family ever had a chance to renovate Wrigley given their financing of the deal and ethically free way they handle the public. The Ricketts family, like the McCourts and the Dodgers, were the favorites of Selig to own these teams. The McCourt dynasty has been a disaster from the Manny signing thru their petty divorce to security issues of April this year. The Ricketts haven’t done much right, assuming they planned to do the right thing. Today, both families are on the MLB debt violations list. Neither “family” look like winners today, and Mark Cuban does.
(Pictured: The Ricketts family on Sunday, watching the Cubs lose in St. Louis, 3-2.)
I expect this will sound familiar. An over-valued property is sold to a family who can’t afford it. They drown in debt. The value of the property drops as assets have to be sold off and it goes underwater, meaning the family has a debt worth more than the property. Finally, the Wall Street geniuses who designed the deal come up with a brilliant plan – let the public pay it off.
The Sun-Times ran a weakly sourced story on the Joad Ricketts family debt woes yesterday. Weak, since they claim they talked to “a source with first-hand knowledge of the Cubs’ purchase deal and debt structure,” a source so close to the books that The Sun-Times can with pinpoint dollar accuracy report that “unless their improved farm system takes an even more dramatic upturn in the next few months, that $400-million debt — give or take $100 million – could turn into a real problem with the bigger authorities. The fans.”
Not sure what’s less accurate here, needing a $100 million margin of error to report on the Ricketts’ debt or assuming that current fan lack of attendance will determine anything at Wrigley. Attendance dropped off last year and the Ricketts still put forth the platformed ticket pricing, public financing plans, and the expected payroll beat down and exodus of talent. Given their criminal track record, scamming business practices, and miserable on-field product – why are these people not given a time-frame to fix this or move on? Given that the Ricketts family can no longer pay off this team like actual fat cats, and if the public has to pay it off for them through price gouging and public financing – why shouldn’t the public own the team? I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know the community economics of such a deal a lá Green Bay and the Packers. But by 2012, we’ll be looking at a publicly funded debt refinancing for busted Wall Streeters from which the public will never profit. Sound familiar?
[Been a long time since Kobe sold Happy Meals, or anything happy, for that matter. ]
LA sports is in a misery stretch that seems unshakable. Living in LA and not being a Lakers fan isn’t always the best combination. Not only don’t you care when they win, but you can’t avoid being immersed in the citywide sinkhole of their losing. Their fans walk around town in their purple jerseys like Barney fans on prozac. They capped their 2011 with fouls so juvenile that Magic Johnson had to editorialize on ESPN that the Laker Organization itself was “embarrassed” by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Embarrassing the Laker Organization is no easy feat, considering Odom’s Kardashian reality show, Shaq’s LA movie and hip-hop career, and Kobe’s whole career – but they managed it. Completing a circle of futility, they sent Phil Jackson off to his retirement the way he got here – trying to put a lid on Laker ego, pettiness, and self-centered distractions a la Kobe and Shaq in 1999.
Kobe just bums me out endlessly. There’s his calling a ref a “faggot” this year, and then his Turkish Airlines endorsement (talk about desperate). To the rest of the country, this might seem like a rape-tainted-jock’s vain attempt to get any public approval he can, and it is. Here in LA, we have one of the biggest Armenian communities in the world. For a local “hero” like Kobe to take that endorsement only stirs up one emotion here, a reminder of the 1915 Turkish attempt at genocide on the Armenians – one the Turkish government refuses to admit even happened. Imagine if Germany denied their holocaust, and not just hate cranks.
That’s not Kobe’s fault, nor Turkish airlines – but if you’ve ever seen Armenian pride days or 12-year-old girls walking around the Americana mall dressed like Ke$ha but in 1915 Never Forget t-shirts – you know it’s an emotional issue that’s resonant on the street. Kobe’s got a right, of course. But how many player names bring up the associations of rape, homophobia, and genocide? I’m not sure how Jerry Buss likes that combination, but nobody seems to love this current Laker crew so much as accept them as long as they win big. And they didn’t, so fuck off Lakers.
But let’s not blame the Lakers completely for LA’s endless bummer. LA sports has been a bummer for a long time. There’s the city’s attempts to land an NFL team that only investors want. There’s the endless comedy of the Washington Generals Clippers, and of course, the Dodgers.
I finally took a trip out to Chavez Ravine a week ago last Tuesday to see the Cubs beat the Dodgers, 5-2. Cubs won, and it was still one of the more depressing experiences I have ever had in a MLB park. Ryan Dempster went into the game with something like a 9.68 ERA and threw a no-hitter into the 5th inning. I knew this wouldn’t last, because the only way you throw a hitless 9 innings with a 9-plus ERA is when you’re throwing against the White Sox.
But, I digress to bait the South Side, a worthy cause I’ll have to pursue another day. So, Whoville: The first thing you notice in visiting Dodger Stadium 2011 is the army of cops. At first I thought it was because bin Laden was killed on the previous Sunday, but it’s in response to the truly pathetic beat down of a Giants fan that left him in a coma. Apparently, Dodger fans are a bigger threat than al-Qaeda. New Yorkers used to walking out of Yankee Stadium or the Garden on a play-off night know the sight of this many cops, but here in LA, it’s a a sign of decline. Depressing that they’re needed, depressing I’m relieved to see them. Last year I walked across the parking lot at the stadium with a black friend, and you could hear racist bullshit coming from some Latino kids hanging out, staying drunk after the game. We were a ways off, but I remember the relief of locking doors in the car and leaving fast. Chavez used to be one of my favorite spots in LA because when you’re there, it doesn’t feel like the city anymore. The traffic, noise, and feel of downtown fade into a peaceful park. Now it’s a bad neighborhood you need an army to patrol.
But, the endless bummer goes back further. There’s the McCourt divorce, which is a joke, but the fact that MLB had to take over the team this year makes you wonder about the feel inside the park. First, the video screens that encircle the loge deck are entirely ads. They used to show you league scores and other mlb info along with the ads. The McDodgers are apparently so broke that when an inning starts, a new ad comes on and stays there all three outs. I don’t care about advertising at a park, but at Chavez ads actually crowd out the game. The Fox box on local KCAL-9 gives you more instant perspective on a game than actually sitting there watching it. Waiting for the one screen with scores or the Jumbotron to cycle thru ads and whatever else while the bank ads sit above you forever is insulting.
The divorce is now, but McCourt Era has been particularly crushing. Manny Ramirez showed up with his steroid kit and blew out the “Joe Torre Era” – another Hall of Fame manager who retired after a taste of LA sports. When the the McCourts arrived, they brought in Torre and then Manny, and you wanted to get out to the park to see this team. Not for long. Manny’s self-destruction brought down years of rebuilding, and you couldn’t avoid his mug around the city on all those Mannywood billboards, a constant bitter joke.
Besides the army of cops and ads, Dodger Stadium now does a 7th inning stretch comprised of “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I hate a 7th inning “God Bless America.” We already stand up for the national anthem pre-game. Now there’s two flag-waving songs at the Stadium, plus the Veteran of the Game campaign, where a vet throws out a pitch. I like the vet thing. Vets actually do something for the country. But everyone stands up for “God Bless America” and puts their hats and hands over their heart when it’s not even the anthem. But what are you going to do, not stand up? Boo? My own protest is to go get a beer until it’s done. It’s overkill, it’s fake, and it’s not like the Dodgers stop selling Citibank ad-space for one second to say thanks to the troops. So, to paraphrase Dean Wormer, cops, commercials, and peer pressure patriotism are no way to go through life, son.
I like LA, I live here, but the people who run our sports manage to suck the life out of this city.
[A classic from Santo, as usual, voicing the honest to God truth of Wrigley.]
Cubs fans have never gotten over the loss of Harry Caray or, to a lesser degree, Steve Stone’s abrupt exit from the Cubs booth. Yet, the real mainstay in the Cubs organization who pre- and postdates them was Ron Santo. I first saw Santo play in 1970 at Wrigley when I was 3 or 4. I won’t tell you I remember any play he made that day, because all I can remember is how excited I was to be in Wrigley and see Billy Williams himself in the batting circle, right where we were sitting. While Ernie Banks and other players always came back to visit, Santo seems to me to always have been around. He signed with the Cubs in 1959, debuted in 1960, played at Wrigley until 1973, then for the White Sox in ’74.
Santo spent five decades (pretty much) in and around baseball and the team he loved most. Not bad. Still, there was a lot of frustration in his life: the ’69 pennant loss, disease, and then the Hall of Fame, which denied him admittance again and again. The thing that stands out to me about Santo’s broadcast career was his ability to convey perfectly the frustration of Cubs fans. Jack Brickhouse’s “Hey Hey!” for home runs or Harry Caray’s boozy boosterism “ that’s what you usually remember about broadcasters. It’s always highlight moments like Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard heard round the world” (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) that we replay. For me, Santo “ as in the clip above “ voiced better than anyone the undeniable truth of the Cubs history he witnessed, called, and participated in “ frustration. I know that’s not how he would want to be remembered. He was a hugely optimistic Cubs fan as well as a presence in Wrigley. He felt every play on the field personally like he was still down there on third himself. Harry Caray moved from the Cardinals booth to the White Sox to the Cubs without blinking. Could Santo have done the same? I doubt it. The above clip is what Santo did best in the booth, his pitch perfect echo of Cub fans everywhere.
[Apparently, God personally verified a recent Honus Wagner T206 card sold for $262K.]
What do I know about baseball cards? Nothing. But I read about two nuns who say some guy left them a circa 1910 Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, which the sisters then turned around for $262K this week. As Big League Stew’s David Brown notes, “Other than the rare heartless scoundrel out there, everyone loves stories about regular folks who stumble upon rare baseball cards and stand to make huge profits from their sale.” The buyer, one Doug Walton of Knoxville, Tennessee, is one of those so moved by sheer dumb luck and old ladies. He so loved the whole idea of buying it from the nuns he told the AP: “To be honest with you, we probably paid a little bit more than we should have,” he said Friday. “But with the back story, and the fact that it’s going to a really good charity, to us it just seemed worth it.”
Which is nice, except when you think back to a few years ago when two African-American card dealers, John Cobb and Ray Edwards, (pictured l-r), tried to sell their Honus Wagner card. They had it independently verified after some competitors dismissed it as a fake. The independent verification showed that the paper of the card was made around 1910. So, they were deemed con men, thieves, and liars to such a degree that they had to back off from selling it for the $850K they say it’s worth.
Heartless scoundrel that I am, who knows nothing about verifying century old baseball cards, I do think it’s pretty obvious that being a kindly old white lady versus two black guys who look like Do The Right Thing’s Buggin Out and Family Matters‘ Reginald VelJohnson can help move your moldy baseball cards. If I were advising Cobb and Edwards, I’d have them cut a deal with Betty White as their beard and split $2 million.
[Above, Paul Sullivan's limp dick move: blocking me from his Twitter feed.]
You know, I was having a great Sunday morning yesterday, esp after reading about a new medical study that “confounds science” and proves you can be both obese and healthy. And, as the last day of regular season 2010 Cubs baseball, it was probably the most optimistic baseball moment I’d had since Opening Day. I quit thinking about Wrigley in May or June. When you start saying “next year” in May, by October, you get reflective, not reactionary.
Still, I could always count on The Trib’s Paul Sullivan to write something to make me shake my head. That’s when I realized I hadn’t read a Sully tweet for some time. What blew out my Sunday was looking @PWSullivan up on Twitter to find he had blocked me. Judging by the date on my last tweet to the great man (see below) it’s been about two months. No wonder my acid reflux has been so good lately …
[The offending RT, the straw that broke the hump's back.]
Usually when sports reporters get raked over the coals it’s because the public recognizes they don’t know their sport. Or, given the Bradley bonfire on which Sully kept throwing gasoline, there’s the temptation to label him a racist.
Sully knows baseball enough to keep his job and I have no idea what’s in his heart re race. None. What I know is that he injects racism into everyone’s day, making all our lives just a little uglier for having an interest in baseball. In today’s media world, hick Quran burners get weeks of network “news” coverage to inflate ratings. A Don Imus gets a bigot pass from MSNBC until they have to cut him loose, but MSNBC still plays the race card to boost ratings by keeping creeps like Pat Buchanan and Al Sharpton around as “analysts.” Martin Peretz, Andrew Brietbart, Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, and anti-ground zero “mosque” activists like Sarah Palin … Sullivan brings this same class act to the North Side as, of all things, a Cubs beat reporter. Is he a racist? Who cares? What we know is that he has no problem at all using racism as entertainment. That’s the product he brings to baseball in Chicago, the Friendly Confines, and you.
Not me, tho, he canceled my subscription. In the last tweet of his I commented on, he laughs off the idea that Chicago media has any impact on the city or the baseball he covers. To do so, he distorts a Jim Edmonds comment on Chicago media. Certainly, I can’t imagine Sully arguing to his Trib bosses that he has no impact at all when asking for a raise. Then again, I’m not surprised he disowns any personal sense of responsibility for the damage he does. The sporting press of Chicago agreed that Milton Bradley could not handle the racism of Wrigley’s bleachers. Sullivan reported Bradley agrees with them here, but with NO context at all that his own colleagues at the Trib said it first. The result, Jim Hendry went off in defense of Cub fans, saying Bradley made it up“ as Sully reports here, again with no context for his own paper’s actions. The Catch-22 result: haters get a pass with a Trib stamp on it. But ask the actual ballplayers with no-trade clauses to Wrigley, and it’s fact.
It’s not a Cardinal season without a concussion, and thanks to Jason LaRue’s announced stay on the DL Friday, Tony LaRussa is that much close to a complete 2010. That’s usually a good sign LaRussa’s on his game, if not much comfort to his players long term careers. I don’t wish injuries on anyone, but LaRussa’s mix of calculator coaching and highly personal leadership more often than not put his teams in winning seasons and some brain rattling DL stays. For those of us on the CSTB Cardinal concussion watch, it’s been pretty quiet since 2008. Last year didn’t even have one and this year LaRue looks to be it. They’re a great a sign of just how wound-up LaRussa can get his players to the point where they’ll run headlong into a wall, Johnny Cueto’s spikes, or some other career-ending business for him.
While LaRue’s .196 on the season will be missed by the rest of the NL Central, the Cardinals will no doubt struggle on, as usual, in the mix for the play-offs. And I admit, after last night’s 6-3 sleepwalk loss to STL, and watching the Cubs lose Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco this week, I wish they had some other that intensity. The Cubs fell behind and caught up several times at PacBell, but for everything the team actually has going for it talentwise, they look like they could care less. Watching Soriano knock powerful, loping line drives into the mitts of the Giants outfielders, you can see how little focus he has and how much talent and power there is when he does play all nine innings. Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin all showed up, but it’s hard to win fielding only a third or half your team.
[Did Armstrong, pictured, dope in the Tour de France? This 2003 victory photo raises serious questions.]
About a year ago I was on quite a tear around here about The New York Times‘ coverage of steroids in baseball. Most notably, in my opinion, that the Times Michael S. Schmidt got fed his stories about Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez from the government. Such a tear, in fact, that NYT sports editor Tom Jolly felt the need to comment at CSTB. Me, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since the gov’t was court-ordered to hand back its confiscated lab information to the MLB players union in 2009, that Schmidt nor anyone else has broken a major baseball story in this regard since. It could have been the government, it could have been lab techs for them “ but no major player has been named since the gov’t gave back the records.
And I’ll ask this question again: Why are all the post-Bonds leaks “ A-Rod, Sosa, Ortiz, Ramirez “ black or Latino? What is the agenda of those leaking the names?
Schmidt has never been able to successfully challenge the players union press conference of August 9, 2009 in which the basis for his stories “ the so-called 104 dirty players list who tested positive “ was discredited. Turns out, the “104″ (or whatever the actual number may be) is made up of inconclusive results, players counted twice for positive tests, and positive tests for then legal substances. The three players Schmidt named were all on that “list.” Schmidt has never clarified which categories Sosa, Ortiz, or Ramirez came from “ nor even ruled them out of the inconclusive category before naming them “ because as he has also stated in the NYT, that he himself never saw the records. Since his gov’t sources dried up, so has Schmidt’s ability to break any notable news in this area.
Until Lance Armstrong? Now that the government is back in a high profile steroid investigation, so is Schmidt. This time, Barry Bonds’ failed antagonist, FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, is after Armstrong. Novitzky’s tactics will sound familiar: he’s pressuring busted dopers and low income associates, w/out Armstrong’s celebrity or money, to admit doping and name Armstrong. It’s exactly how Novitzky tried to get Barry Bonds.
Did Armstrong do it? Who knows? Obviously, Armstrong will mount a big money defense. If he can hold off the FDA long enough, I’m guessing we’ll then see the same orchestrated public relations war against him (via people like Schmidt) that the government waged against Bonds. Then, as the Bonds case crumbled, the 2009 leaks against A-Rod and Sosa and the rest appeared that were (imo) meant to vindicate the gov’t in the court of public opinion if not an actual court. Read the following account of unnamed sources and losers and see if it all doesn’t sound familiar from Mssrs Schmidt and Novitzky:
In May, Armstrong™s former teammate Floyd Landis shook the cycling world by publicly accusing Armstrong and other team members of using performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to gain an unfair advantage. Landis said that Armstrong ” the biggest name in the sport ” had encouraged doping and that the team had sold its bikes to help finance an expensive doping program.
Armstrong has denied any wrongdoing and has said that Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping and received a two-year ban from the sport, has no credibility.
But now, prosecutors and investigators have more than Landis™s account to go on, according to the two people with knowledge of the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to sensitive information.
A former teammate of Armstrong said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he had spoken with investigators. He said he detailed some of his own drug use, as well as the widespread cheating that he said went on as part of the Postal Service team ” all of which he said was done with Armstrong™s knowledge and encouragement.
[The only people who don't know he's retiring are Cub fans, who quit watching mid-May.]
My hat’s off to Wax Paper Beer Cup (@wpbc on twitter) for pointing out the most significant Cub news story of the year. It’s not World War Z, Lily and Theriot going to the Dodgers, Blue Lou’s last miserable year, or anything else. It’s that, in this sad sub-.500 season, the TV ratings have taken a 40% nose dive and attendance is way down. There are lots of common sense reasons for this if it were anybody but the Cubs. Cub fans show up for standing room only games in September when Pittsburgh is in town. Cub fans demand statues to Harry Caray before they do Hall of Famers. Not this year. If WPBC is right, and I hope so, the Philip K. Wrigley fiscal theory (sadly proven now for decades) that the experience of family fun at Wrigley outweighs a winning team, may finally be over. The Cubs have not had a financial motive for winning since, what, WW2? Now they might. Writes WPBC:
Although it is a big slide the teams rating compared to others still ranks ninth in all of baseball.
from chicagobusiness.com: An average of 94,877 households tuned in to each of Comcast™s 33 Cubs games in the first three months of the season. Although that™s the ninth-highest rating in the league, it™s still 39% lower than the same period last season, according to the publication, which relied on data from Nielsen Media Research.
Still, this slide is dramatic and it begins to point more and more that the days of the Cubs being the lovable losers are over. Tom Ricketts, Wally Hayward and everyone associated with this team are now looking at a reality that they may have never considered.
It was thought that fans would follow the Cubs no matter what, spend whatever price they put on a ticket, buy the beer, sing the songs and enjoy ˜the Wrigley life™. The reality is clearer and clearer, the Chicago Cubs are not recession proof. The Chicago Cubs are not immune to the normal fluctuations that come with winning and losing.
The job ahead for Tom Ricketts is not going to be easy. The teams popularity is sinking, while he has massive debt to pay. The team needs to be rebuilt and the ballpark is need of major upgrades. Owning the Cubs just got alot harder. How Ricketts and Company respond will be interesting.
[CarlosZambrano in happier days, hobnobbing with Broadway's Carol Channing.]
Last December in this space, I predicted two things. Carlos Silva would be in good hands with the Cubs‘ Larry Rothschild and Carlos Zambrano would replace Milton Bradley as Jim Hendry’s Player To Be Hated Later. Silva was a bigger bet than the Z. I wrote then:
The question in my mind isn’t who will replace Bradley in CF, but who will replace him as Hendry’s next problem player. I’m guessing another mediocre year from Zambrano will mean Big Z v Hendry in 2010. Z fits the pattern right now: expensive, once great, an ego problem, and possible trade bait. He’s also not white, which is another unfortunate pattern here.
Zambrano’s shouting match yesterday with Derrek Lee, the need to separate them, and Z’s instant suspension (not to mention his mercurial 2010 overall) means I should have put some money down last December. Zambrano and Bradley are obviously head cases, but so are other players around the league who don’t end up exploding on the field. Hendry has a history of miserable management of personalities back to Dusty Baker’s 2nd year (when he fired Dusty’s unhappy SF holdovers), the Steve Stone v Dusty incident that caused Stone to leave the WGN booth, dealing with Sosa in decline, then Bradley. It’s typical of what we’re seeing now with Z. It’s not Hendry’s fault that Z is what he is. But whatever Hendry is as a General Manager, he’s not built for keeping difficult personalities productive and has cost the Cubs a lot in pure drag. Think of the temperaments, egos, haters, heels, and negative creeps who have played all over the league for different teams over the years — they rarely pull in public what the divas on the Cubs do year in and year out. Sports is a celebrity-obsessed world like every other kind of entertainment, so we know Bradley and Sosa and Z’s names first. Still, they all leave. Not Hendry, year in and year out, he and the meltdowns remain.
I’ve skipped commenting on most of the season because I can’t watch much of it, but right now I wish I’d been following the Chicago brain trust of reporters covering the Cubs to see if they treat Z much different than Milton. Since Milton had no problem calling reporters on their bullshit, I’m guessing they just view Z as a spectacle and not a threat to the White Man’s Burden of Chicago sports writing.
You know, last year in this space, CSTB wished America a happy birthday via a touching poem by Jack Buck. For our efforts, we received negative comments from a basketball “fan,” Tommy Hoops. Those of us who lived through the Laker riots of 2010 know what negativistic basketball fans are like, so I’m posting this clip in hopes of moving in a less controversial (and provocative, apparently) direction to celebrate Independence Day. Happy Birthday to you, America.
[Chavez, the People's Baseball Commissioner, seen here with Broadway star Carol Channing.]
It wasn’t so long ago that Hugo Chavez stood in the United Nations calling President Bush “the devil” and noting the sulphury stink W left in the UN’s General Assembly room. This summer, Chavez is content to watch Venezuelan oil futures skyrocket as BP ends the USA’s off-shore oil industry for good “ or at least until the November mid-terms. He has also expanded his Presidential powers to make himself the final authority on Major League Baseball.® His first official act as the People’s Baseball Commissioner is to overturn umpire Jim Joyce’s ruling in the Perfect Game America Will Not Recognize. As the AP wire (via a link sent by Rob Wamowski) reports:
Chavez called for a round of applause for the Venezuelan pitcher during his weekly TV and radio program, saying “everyone knows he pitched a perfect game.”
“From here we salute Armando,” Chavez said.
The Detroit Tigers pitcher has won wide praise for his grace following the botched call Wednesday with two outs in the ninth inning against Cleveland.
Chavez added that first-base umpire Jim Joyce was “noble” for having apologized to the pitcher in tears.
“The umpire was wrong … but, well, the umpire is the umpire,” the president said.
Galarraga, in Venezuela’s professional league, plays for the Leones de Caracas, the bitter rival of Chavez’s favorite team, the Navegantes del Magallanes. Chavez joked that Galarraga should switch teams and concluded: “No one is perfect.”
Chavez is a die-hard baseball fan who grew up dreaming of pitching in the major leagues. He recalled that years ago he was pitching to his mentor, Fidel Castro of Cuba. The umpire awarded Castro a walk when Chavez was sure he struck him out.
Chavez also recalled striking out Dominican slugger Sammy Sosa once in a 1999 exhibition game in Caracas. Sosa, it should be noted, also hit multiple home runs.
My 9-yr-old nephew made a triumphant return to ESPN’s Dan Patrick Show on Monday to analyze the Suns victory over the Lakers Sunday night (and he was on again this AM, which I’ll post as soon as I can). Unlike his debut, where he sullenly reported their 0-2 standing in the series, he could finally report a Suns’ win. Jake not only ignored Patrick’s invitation to call out his Lakers-fan friend at school a “punk,” but charmingly worked his way toward a credentialled spot at the ESPN press box at the Staples Center. A few days ago I apologized to GC that Jake wasn’t first sent to the CSTB intern program before ESPN. After hearing him refuse to make a low-blow comment about a schoolfriend, tho, I realize now this was probably for the best. Apparently, he’ll sink to my level of name-calling when it comes to the Cubs and Cards, but not in a professional setting. Good on you, Jake!
Regular readers of this space may recall my on-going battle with my 9-yr.-old nephew Jake over the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, which usually devolves into his referring to Cub manager Lou Piniella as “Poo Piniella” and my always effective retort of “Albert Pooballs.” Jake has gone professional, it seems, having finally gotten through to ESPN’s Dan Patrick after countless morning calls. Jake broke down Game 1 yesterday on the air. Today, Patrick had him on again and posted this morning‘s call, with Jake upset that his team, Los Suns, is getting pwned by Kobe and Co. Even Jake was speechless when asked to advise Nash or the Suns defense against Pau Gasol “ and on the topic of sports, this rarely happens. Patrick’s been reminding the Danettes that they are all replaceable by a 9-yr-old, which I guess i am, too. GC, sorry to let this junior genius escape the CSTB intern program.
In the last few weeks we’ve witnessed Arizona race-profiling passed into laws that allow US citizens tossed into jail for looking Mexican. Then we got the spectacle of a United States Senator, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, proposing that US citizens accused of terrorism be stripped of their citizenship and rights before a trial. This sort of 2010 insta-jury thinking is a bit much for me. I’m more used to what Dan Wetzel pulled today filling up column space about Lawrence Taylor’s arrest on charges he raped a kid. This is trial by news hack. Wetzel manages to utterly destroy Taylor in a mere six paragraphs before righteously declaring: “Taylor™s side of the story remains to be heard.” Wetzel then quickly corrects this with: “His defense better be a strong one. If this isn™t some incredible case of mistaken identity, it™s difficult to envision an innocent scenario here.” And we all know it’s the job of reporters to envision the end of their story, rather than report it.
[Pictured: I couldn't find an image of Spencer Tracy as the Yankee-loving Cuban from the movie of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, but this reenactment from the CSTB photo dept pretty much sums it up.]
Fueling the fire for Yankee fans who like to bash The New York Times as anti-Bomber comes today’s column by … well I don’t know what Joe Queenan has been doing since he used to be an all around crank about middle-brow culture, and I can’t read his Wikipedia page just now as my kid is throwing popsicle sticks at the TV … but like politicians and prostitutes who all become respectable with age, any writer hanging around New York City long enough ends up in The New York Times. Queenan offers up a solid anti-Yankee fan rant (via @gregmitch) here on the literary faux pas of assuming you’ll sympathize with any character in literature who loves the Yankees. The column began as Queenan read David Benioff’s City of Thieves, or at least the first two pages thereof:
The narrator, the young boy™s grandson, reveals on Page 2 that after the war, his grandfather came to America and became a œdevout New York Yankees fan. I found this revelation crushing. The idea that someone who had escaped the siege of Leningrad would then voluntarily join the evil empire in the Bronx struck me as repellent. So I set the book aside and donated it to my library. Maybe some Yankees fan would enjoy it. I sure as hell wouldn™t.
I do not object to Yankees fans in principle, so long as they are homegrown, preferably natives of the Bronx or Yonkers. (Yankees fans born in Queens or Brooklyn, it goes without saying, are Iscariots.) But those of us who grew up in fiendishly inbred sports towns like Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis and even Boston cannot stomach the kind of parvenu, out-of-town front-runner who becomes a œdie-hard Yankees fan without any moral, cultural, ethnic, genetic or geographical connection with the team. And like most Americans, I reserve my greatest antipathy for the millions of bogus Yankees fans in the pink or green or red Yankees caps one routinely runs across in London, Rome, Sydney, Stockholm and Mombasa. Or, if driving, runs over.
(ED NOTE – On April 25, 1976, fans at Dodger Stadium paid to see a clash between Los Angeles and the Cubs, but an impromptu game of Capture The Flag broke out in the outfield. Ben Schwartz’ post on the subject was originally published in this space on 4/25/06)
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he beat me to the flag,” recalls Lasorda. “I saw Rick start running over from center field to left. I didn’t know what it was, but as soon as I saw him start, I took off and I ran out there, and of course, by that time, Rick had picked up the flag and continued running. When I got there, I see these two guys and I told them, ‘Why don’t one of you guys take a swing at me?’ because there were 50-something thousand people in the ballpark and I only wanted them to swing at me, so I could defend myself and do a job on them.”
[Cubs' ex-ace and only no-hit set-up man, Carlos Zambrano, seen here with die-hard Cub fan Fidel Woo-Woo Castro, considers this a transitional move until "the Cubs get to the play-offs."So, Z is cool with this until September 2011?]
All talk of of a conservative spending Ricketts regime (yes word-cops, I said “regime”) ends today as Lou Piniella moves Carlos Zambrano, bananas and all, to the bullpen. Who’d a thought Carlos Silva would hold a starting position longer than Big Z? The main reason, besides Zambrano’s refusal to be typecast as an “ace,” is that Theodore Roosevelt Lily is back from rehab and ready to start. Carrie Muskat reports it all here, with the sad numbers speaking for themselves — Zambrano’s ERA is even high for the Cubs ‘pen. Considering that the Cubs starting ERA with Z is 2.16, one can only hope Lily will give the North Side some real traction. Too bad Youtube won’t allow a Hitler Finds Out Zambrano is in the Bullpen video. Also, the pressing deadline of this post prevents me from a good Conan O’Brien bumping a guy from prime time George Lopez analogy, but just so you know, it’s there.
Overall, it’s a bold, creative move on Piniella’s part. For a guy who couldn’t budge Fonzie from the lead-off spot last year, this is a big deal. It should also shut up most of Z’s critics who think he’s an unmanageable egomaniac. Ms. Muskat relates it all today:
“We need help in the eighth-inning role right now, and that’s what we’re trying to help ourselves in,” Piniella said.
Zambrano said Wednesday that he told Piniella he expects to be back in the rotation when the Cubs are in the playoffs.
“He did mention that,” Piniella said. “The playoffs are a long, long, long way away. Let’s just get through April right now.”
The move was expected to be temporary, but no one on the Cubs will say how long Zambrano will be in the bullpen.
“Let’s not put a time frame on it — let’s not do that,” Piniella said.
Zambrano will need a little more time to warm up before his relief appearances, and Piniella plans on using him only for one inning or 1 1/3 innings and not stretching him out too far.
“It’s a shock,” Marmol said of the news. “I never thought Zambrano would be in the bullpen. He’ll help the team, that’s what he says. I agree with him.”
Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny entered Thursday’s game with a combined 2.16 ERA in 11 starts. Zambrano was 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in his four starts. The bullpen needs reinforcements, having compiled a 1-6 record and 6.14 ERA.
[Lenny Dykstra: Hit with charges of sexual harassment, racism, and financial chicanery, yet claiming this week to be worth $100 million “ ah, nothing an hour of Suze Orman couldn't fix.]
Hey, I like schadenfreude as much as the next guy. In this economy, it’s my best entertainment dollar. Still, I found Mark Riddix’ article on “investopedia.com” “ in which he details the respective financial collapse of, among others, Mike Tyson, John Daly, and Lenny Dykstra “ a pretty lame, opportunistic use of celebrity to sell Investopederast’s sponsor bullshit. Riddix offers up some sad statistics via Sports Illustrated that 80% of NFL players consider bankruptcy within two years of retirement and 50% of NBA players are broke within five years. Yes, you could boil it down, as Riddix does, to bad planning and bad business sense. That’s an especially convenient analysis for a site that loads its articles themselves with links to gouging, amoral corporations like Bank of America (sure, I’d like advice on getting a Federal bailout just like BoA’s) or that peddle financial planning books . But, in the cases of Tyson, Daly, and Dykstra, and many others, do you need a psychologist to see some truly screwed-up emotional, chemical, and criminal behavior? Yes, Scottie Pippen buying a Gulfstream IV is retarded “ but is an egomaniac who thinks he needs a Gulfstream IV going to hire the right financial planner or buy the right book off Investopod in the first place? It all completely misses the point of what happens when you offer people with no emotional stability piles of cash and massive celebrity because they have one marketable skill. It means nothing to them. How do you financially plan, or even understand what your planner is telling you, when you got through the NCAA on jock passes? How do you financially plan when you’re a violent drunk or a sociopath? Riddix goes thru these people and critiques their spending v. income on a balance sheet. It’s like pointing out to an alcoholic that you get drunk when you drink too much, so don’t drink so much. Mission accomplished. I’m sure all Iron Mike’s problems are answered in a copy of 6 Months to a Better Budget. Writes Riddix:
Mike Tyson The king of them all is boxer Mike Tyson, who squandered a $350 to $400 million dollar fortune. So what did “Iron” Mike spend his fortune on? Everything. He dropped half a million dollars on a 420 horsepower Bentley Continental SC with lamb’s wool rugs, a phone and a removable glass roof. It is one of only 73 Bentley Continental SC’s ever built. The sad part is that’s not even the only Bentley that Tyson owned! He spent over $4.5 million dollars on cars alone. Throw in a $2 million dollar bathtub and $140,000 for two Bengal tigers and you can see why Tyson’s fortune is down for the count. He filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
Conclusion You can learn a lot by watching the poor financial decisions that many athletes have made. While you may never find yourself in Vegas about to drop $20,000 at the roulette wheel, we all have blind spots when it comes to certain types of spending. Looking at these formers millionaires’ rapid decline, you have to wonder when excessive spending goes from a manageable extravagance to a decision that will land you in the poorhouse. (For further reading check out 6 Months To A Better Budget.)
[Tony LaRussa's favorite couple: steroid tell-all author and McGwire accuser Jose Canseco and current embarrassment to the Cardinals org, poker-queen Miss Heidi Northcott.]
I’m happy to accuse the St. Louis Cardinals of almost anything, but soft core porn? Who knew I’d be given the gift today of learning that the video of mixed martial arts bruiser Chuck Liddel and girlfriend Heidi Northcott working out nude was filmed at the home of St. Louis Cardinal Brad Penny? As to what people do in the privacy of their own homes, I could care less. However, if I can expand the current list of Cardinal embarrassments “ a DADT policy for injured players, an utterly unbelievable bubble of steroid denial from Tony LaRussa, the on-going family drama of baby-swatting former drug user Mark McGwire, not to mention the annual emotional dramas La Genius struggles with over perceived slights “ if I can add to that laundry list providing production facilities for soft-core fetish shoots, I’m only too happy to do so. The odd thing is that the nude workout video was made without Liddell or Northcott’s knowledge, and they claim not to know who made it. So, yes, I’ll be watching Brad Penny and the DL closely this year, looking for broken bones, concussions, busted noses, lost teeth, or anything else that might smack of a mixed martial arts ass-kicking.
The story and much-viewed video can be found here, with the AP reporting that Liddell “claims to have been at the house of Cardinals pitcher Brad Penny when he and Heidi ‘thought it would be funny’ to exercise naked. Liddell denies knowing who shot the footage, and while he does not sound particularly angry about the video, he says explaining it to his children is ‘hard.’”