[Is this man the new owner of the Chicago Cubs? Tonight, $500 mil is the buy-in.]
As I write this, the Cubs are currently 6-1 over Houston. Milton Bradley, his agents, and Cub GM Jim Hendry (on speakphone) stated Bradley’s case to MLB “director of discipline” Bob Watson today in Houston. Bradley left the meeting expecting a reduction on the suspension for contact during his toss-out by umpire Larry Vanover. As Phil Rogers reports for the Trib, Bradley said: “A reduction would be warranted, but a reduction to zero would be justified,” Bradley said before the Cubs played the Houston Astros. “Any suspension I would serve just wouldn’t be fair.”
The only real news out of Wrigleyville today is that Cub owner-prospect Tom Ricketts is not getting the ball anytime. As written up here in January, the “exclusive” 60-90 day window Ricketts received to come up with $900 million dollars had all the teeth of an “order by midnight tonight!” tv ad. Ricketts needs to secure $500 million in loans from the same banks currently haggling over their Obama stress test grades. I know how they feel, as getting that “D” changed to a “C” makes all the difference.
To his credit, Ricketts is reportedly putting up $400 million of his own cash, a lot more than Mark Cuban offered at $100 mil out of a reported billion offer. In a Trib statement, neither the Trib nor Ricketts will put a timetable on closing the deal. Hm, what do you think the odds are of GOP donor Ricketts and the GOP bullhorn Chicago Tribune getting that half-a-billion in loans while a South Side Democrat sits in the White House and David Axelrod is screening his calls? Not that they’d be an obstacle, but without Bush-Cheney in office, the Trib is all out of favors. The Cubs MLB site and the Chicago Tribune, both owned by the same parent company, Tribco, offer essentially the same non-detailed joint statement, here:
Spokesmen for Tribune Co. and Tom Ricketts, a Chicago investment banker who is leading his family’s bid for Cubs, declined to comment.
Sources blamed the slow pace of negotiations on several factors. The recession and a financial-sector meltdown has made it difficult for the Ricketts family to secure financing. The family raised $400 million for the deal by selling personal stock holdings and planned to borrow the rest.
The need for loans is being partly being driven by Tribune Co.’s desire to minimize taxes in selling the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, a regional sports network. Tribune Co.’s plan also requires the company to carry a small ownership interest in the package of assets going forward, further complicating the documentation of the transaction.
Finally, lawyers on both sides need to make sure the complex deal will gain approval from a bankruptcy judge. Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, filed for Chapter 11 protection in December.
Still, the longer negotiations drag on, the more chance there is for the unexpected. Zell knows this firsthand. The lengthy auction for the team got sidetracked by the unexpected financial meltdown last fall and the bankruptcy filing, which probably hurt the value of the franchise. When Zell put the team up for sale in 2007, many predicted that team might fetch more than $1 billion.
Now, both sides are reluctant to put a timetable on completing the deal.
[Cards mgr Tony "Walnuts" La Russa on Ankiel: "What? He looks good to me. You, you're a doctor?"]
Congrats, so far, are due the oft-injured Rich Ankiel, out of the hospital today with negative tests for fractures. Ankiel hit the outfield wall headfirst in Monday’s game, and ducks the honor of being 2009′s first Cardinal Concussion. It was last June that Yadier Molina took the prize (a two-time concussee), with David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, and Mike Metheny preceding him, and at one time the whole team received neurological testing. This doesn’t mean Ankiel hasn’t got one “ he’s benched for tonight’s Phillies game. Even those of us used to watching the head busting play of Tony Walnuts and his crew found the speed with which he worked a still dizzy Yadier Molina into the line-up last year a little unsettling. So, how bad must Ankiel be feeling to ride the rails?
Rogers makes the usual pro-DH arguments here, adding one of his own imagination: today’s AL pitchers are mentally tougher because they they face more batters on DH teams, which even he admits isn’t provable (like that’s ever stopped Rogers). Interesting, since I don’t think pre-Sparky Anderson bullpen era pitchers, pre-DH, lacked for mental toughness. If anything, I think more batters would wear them down faster and send them to the bench faster “ is there any stat on who tends to stay in games longer, AL or NL pitchers? I also wonder at DH fans who point out that hitters and pitchers have extended careers because of it. Doesn’t that require an asterisk in our *-happy post-steroids world?
Still, Rogers manages one relevant question, when he asks, mid-way thru: “Still reading?”
Still reading? If so, and if you™ve grown up watching NL ball, I apologize for the annoyance. I know this is fingers-on-chalkboard material. Feel free to disagree. But know that the price of your disagreement is to continue watching the American League be superior.
An NL/DH backer will probably see the domination of the AL over the last decade and a half as a random, cyclical confluence of events. But I believe it has a lot to do with the DH rule.
For one thing, AL general managers are forced to develop or acquire one more quality hitter than their NL rivals. They can use the DH spot to lengthen the careers of one-dimensional veterans like Jim Thome or to open the doors to a young run-producer like Adam Lind or Matt LaPorta while a Jake Fox (.420, 12 homers, 31 RBIs in 21 games) is stuck at Iowa, the Cubs™ Triple-A affiliate. That™s partly why AL payrolls are higher “ although not as much so in 2009 as recent years “ and AL teams are deeper, thus better able to withstand injuries.
There™s no way to prove the next point, but I think it™s a big one. Deeper AL lineups make for mentally tougher pitchers, who are more likely to perform under the greatest pressure.
There™s no way for a pitcher to finesse his way through any AL lineup. An NL starter is guaranteed some easy outs, which could help him get through two or three of the six or seven innings he pitches. I think the extra toughness shows up in October, when AL teams have won 11 of the last 17 World Series.
Then, of course, there’s some local interest in the Cardinals yet again closing an April in first place for the 4th time in 5 years “ not that it ranks in the top 10 stories. For April 2009, Tony Walnuts and his crew offer an impressive .696, and that’s with Chris Carpenter DL’d for another month or so. The NL Central is used to this, but the standings leave out some figures. First, a healthy Cubs with a settled down bullpen won’t be splitting the year’s remaining games with the Tards as they did in April. Second, The Dispatch notes, the Cardinals have some real weaknesses in their defense that an especially weak NL Central has helped obscure. Also, after I don’t know how many years, I just realized they call Albert Pujols “El Hombre” in honor of Stan “The Man” Musial. So, STL celebrates 50 years of Wrestling at the Chase and the Cards’ inventive use of the same nickname for the same amount of time. Derrick Goold breaks down the good and the bad of the Boys of April here:
But there are signs of trouble, a muted mayday on May Day, that shouldn™t be hidden by big offense.
For No. 1 on the 10@10 today, consider the April numbers from the past five seasons, including the four first-place years:
YEAR ¦ W-L (pct.) ¦ ERA ¦ BlSaves ¦ BA ¦ SLG ¦ Runs (RPG)
The difference in runs scored per game and overall offense should be striking, because the difference in pitching isn™t all that great. Those numbers clearly only capture part of the strong start by the Cardinals through one of the month season. But they don™t reveal the whole picture. Ditto with the numbers from the starting rotation. Sure, their 3.26 ERA leads the National League, and that four home runs allowed is a remarkable low total for one month of work. They are also 13-2 and will start this month with three unbeaten full-time members of the staff. Yet, peel back the numbers.
The Cardinals starters are giving up a .275 batting average. Their 1.39 WHIP (or, simply, baserunners per inning) ranks 10th in the league. Runners are reaching base against the Cardinals, and that leads to more high-pitch innings and that leads to fewer innings from the starters. The team with the second-best rotation ERA is Pittsburgh at 3.38. The Pirates starters are averaging 6 1/3 innings per appearance. The Cardinals ¦ 5 2/3.
[Lee and Soriano last night, wondering if October '08 will ever end.]
In the Cubs’ ridiculous finale for April, the bullpen gave up a 6-run 10th-inning to the Marlins. Up 2-1 in the 8th, Carlos Marmol took over from Sean Marshall’s best day in a long time and allowed the tying run to score. The 6-run disaster that the bullpen (Heilman …) then offered is possibly the ugliest evening Wrigley will produce until July’s Rascal Flatts show. Last year, Piniella stuck with Kerry Wood for the entire season, backing him as the one and only closer “ a loyalty Wood returned by taking a month off for a blister. That’s why Piniella’s bullpen is so surprising now: the unpredictablity and mediocrity. Did the Wood situation change his mind on that? Piniella’s bullpen direction is one of the bigget about-faces in his managing, and it’s time he went Rob Dibble on somebody soon. Carrie Muskat recounts the 8-2 loss here:
Once again, The Milton Bradley Revenge Squad Tribune Sports Dept, and their mission to Set Milton Off, is worth mentioning. While the rest of the Trib staff is running storylines past Trib readers to guage how to write their news, the sports dept remains dead certain that everyone in Chicago sees Milton Bradley like they do. Sullivan, the dean of Milton Bradley haters, has apparently begun an investigative series on MB’s rocky debut. Yesterday he covered Bradley’s slump pre-game, then followed it today in an interview with Soriano. If Bradley won’t talk to you, I guess you work around it. Of course, Bradley’s homering Wednesday put a slight crimp in Sully’s crusade. Here, Sullivan at least puts into context the early slumps of Alou, Lee, and Soriano with the Cubs. Could it be Bradley’s blowing off Chicago media hurts them more than him? Or that even Trib staffers realize that if you make a guy the only story in Wrigley, it helps if you’re on speaking terms?
Nowhere near the inequity of the Brock deal “ and certainly not if I can go by DeRosa’s post-season appearances for Chicago and those of Brock’s HOF career in St. Louis. Then, of course, there’s Rosenbloom, at the bottom of the Trib monkey barrel. He trashed Bradley on day one of his signing and now whines that Bradley isn’t boosting his blog with interviews and quotes. Normally, a week after the fact isn’t worth recounting, but it is when Rosenbloom has been proven wrong in Bradley’s return, and Bradley proven right in his estimation of Chicago’s lamest sports writing dept, the dead broke and busted Tribune. Writes Rosenbloom:
Milton Bradley has been bad, injured and cranky, so of course he™s blaming the media for the way he™s being covered.
Yo, Milton, how do we Febreze bad and injured? Should we write that you™re Albert Pujols, except with a .043 average?
Oh, wait, I forgot ejected and suspended. Yo, Milton, how do we Febreze bad, injured, ejected and suspended?
It didn™t take long with this guy, did it?
Bradley came with a resume that showed he has trouble working and
playing well with others. When he™s healthy enough to play and work,
Bradley™s resume includes a standing reservation on the disabled
list and very public clashes with a general manager, manager, teammate,
announcer, umpire and fan — just about all of baseball™s major food
groups — but this was going to be different. Wasn™t that what he and
the Cubs told us?
OK, so let™s see if I have this right: isn™t healthy, got booed, wouldn™t talk — and it™s someone else™s fault.
The only thing different is he™s compounding the agony by not hitting.
[Dempster, left, is officially named the Cubs' 2009 Bob Howry, right.]
The Cubs drop 2 of 3 in the desert, getting beat thrashed 10-0 in today’s matinee. Two things bother you about today’s outing, mainly the streaky nature of the Cub bats (like last year) and fearing that Ryan Dempster’s 2008 was a fluke career best. Of the $52 million the Cubs pay him thru 2012, they look to get about $10 mill back, tops. Gordon Wittenmyer talked to Dempster about his 5.40 ERA and single-win April here, with Dempster telling it this way:
”Crooked numbers,” he said. ”Bad inning management.
”I’ll just keep plugging away and keep trying to execute pitches. It seems like other than that one crooked number I’m putting up right now, I’m actually throwing the ball all right and giving us a chance. But if I can just stop doing that, it’ll give us a better chance to win the game.”
Yeah, stop doing that. Surely, Paul Sullivan will find a way to blame Milton Bradley for all this. Check out Sully’s recounting of Bradley’s woeshere, when 2 hits and a walk in Tuesday’s win were cause for him to rehash (yet again) MB’s debut as a Cub.
Understandably, Piniella is getting grilled about his .500 April. And while Piniella can talk all he wants about injuries and slumping millionaires, he himself appears less decisive than last year. Whose closing? Marmol or Gregg? Soriano finally bats lower in the order after last week’s series of injuries, then bounces back up to lead-off. I’m not criticizing Piniella, he’s had a lot to adapt to, not to mention rejiggering a 40% new team. His crew has the talent “ Zambrano homered and was a triple short of hitting for the cycle Tuesday. But the Cubs right now look like guys hoping for Inspiration instead of grinders who show up to work. The Herald’s Bruce Miles delivers this dirty laundry list of today’s rout:
It was an all-around failure for the Cubs:
¢ Cubs batters managed just 2 hits off Davis, who pitched 7 innings and stymied the Cubs with his deliberate approach on the mound.
¢ Ryan Dempster, the Cubs’ starting pitcher, gave up 6 hits and 5 runs.
¢ Dempster walked three batters, and it got only worse from there. Carlos Marmol, returning from a knee injury, set alarm bells ringing by walking four in one-third of an inning. Closer Kevin Gregg, in the game to get some work, walked three and couldn’t finish a mop-up inning.
When it was all over, the Cubs limped home with a 2-4 road trip, and their overall record stands at 10-10.
There have been rumblings that the Cubs were overconfident coming out of spring training after having won the National League Central two straight years.
With April almost over manager Lou Piniella may have seen Wednesday as a time to launch a strike – perhaps too late to be pre-emptive – against complacency.
“We’re not going to be able to just go out there and play without intensity and go through the motions and think we can win baseball games, I can tell you that,” Piniella told reporters. “And the quicker that sinks in, I think, the better.”
[To wrap up the Cubs weekend series in Missouri, I turn one last time to Dick Murdoch's 1970's sojourn to the "nothing happening state." In this case, to better understand what victory means amidst the skullduggery of St. Louis sports.]
Yesterday’s 10-3 Cub win over the Cards ties up the Stl-Chi series for the year, but it wasn’t pretty. After the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the 1st , Derrek Lee was taken out of the game with neck spasms (he says he “slept funny“). In the 2nd, the Cards’ Todd Wellemeyer hit Soriano in the head. Considering the Cubs’ Marmol hit Pujols last week, and Rich Harden hit Pujols again in yesterday’s 5th, it looks like a long summer of “accidents” surrounding Tony Walnuts and his crew. Piniella allowed Soriano to play out the game, and swears Derrek Lee won’t be on the DL with Bradley and Ramirez. Marmol is also expected back soon.
On the plus side, Fukodome had a 5 RBI day for the North Side and today’s bullpen showcase (Cotts, Heilman, and Gregg) put the Cubs 10 run outting in Rich Harden’s win column (2-1), making the Cubs a .500 again. Well, that may not sound impressive, but they did it in 2 and 2/3 innings with only 3 hits allowed. It just means they did their job, which is impressive to me. The Herald‘s Bruce Miles has a full accounting here. Miles notes that Harden actually buzzed Pujols several times Sunday. The Trib’s embedded team reporter, Paul Sullivan, takes Harden’s word it was an accident, here:
Harden (2-1) did the rest, allowing only two runs on four hits over six innings and striking out nine. Perhaps his most important pitch was the one that plunked Albert Pujols in the fifth inning. Though Harden said it was not in retaliation for the beaning of Soriano, the result was the same. Pujols stopped and stared at Harden before taking his base.
“He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me,” Harden said, adding that the pitch was not intentional.
“I’m giving everything I’ve got out there,” he said. “I really wanted to challenge him and go in, and if I miss him, miss in. Especially with the type of hitter he is, you don’t want to give him stuff down the middle, you know?”
Soriano said he didn’t think Wellemeyer was trying to hit him, but called it a “scary” moment.
[Dick Murdoch, pictured, on St. Louis fans, officials, punks, and sissies.]
When it comes to losing and making excuses for it in the “nothing happening state of Missouri,” and on the weekend Milton Bradley breaks his media silence, I again defer to that poet laureate of athletes visiting St. Louis, Mr. Dick Murdoch. Also, anyone taking offense at Mr. Murdoch’s reference to southern Texans as “sissies and punks,” as he does here to a young Kevin von Erich, is welcome to “go on home, boy, and cry to your momma and your daddy.” That, or you can e-mail CSTB in Austin.
Look, as for today’s game, there’s no way to explain the Cubs’ 8-2 loss in St. Louis except by whining and complaining, which the Cubs official web site does well: “Shorthanded Cubs avoid using DL.” Still, I’m happy to join in, as it took Zambrano at shortstop (!) and a missing Marmol, Bradley, and Aramis Ramirez for the Cubs to strand 10 for a 4th consecutive loss and STL’s 5th consecutive win.
“I’m just not into negativity,” he said. “I can see already I’m going to be that guy that since nothing else is going on in here — ‘We’re going to harp on Bradley all year and see if we can get him to snap.’ I’m not going to go for it.
“You can’t get a good story if I don’t talk to [the media],” he said. “You’ll make something up like you always do. If I talk to you, you’re going to make something up, and if I don’t talk to you, you’re going to make something up. So just go ahead and make something up and leave me out of it.”
There was no talk about putting Bradley on the disabled list to give him time to heal. He had been bothered by the sore groin before the April 12 game, and does not appear close to being ready to come back. Piniella said he is available to pinch-hit.
Bradley also is waiting for a hearing on his appeal of a two-game suspension issued by Major League Baseball disciplinarian Bob Watson after the outfielder argued a called third strike by home plate umpire Larry Vanover on April 16. That’s a matter of principle.
“It was a surprise to me,” Bradley said of the suspension. “I had no idea I touched him. They need a video forensic scientist to find a frame that shows I touched him with the bill of my helmet. It is what it is. I’m appealing because I didn’t feel that I touched him. I just want to say that I didn’t do it, and didn’t do it intentionally.”
[As the Cubs depart for St. Louis, some thoughts on the Gateway to the West from Captain Redneck, Dick Murdoch.]
First, my thanks to Reds manager Dusty Baker for picking the Cubs to win the division before proceeding to beat the North Siders today 7-1, and taking 2 of 3 in the Reds first 2009 series at Wrigley. Zambrano actually did OK until a bad pickoff attempt led to a Cincinnati unearned run. After that, you could feel the Cubs unravel. Today’s bullpen humor included Neal Cotts, Aaron Heilman, and Jeff Samardzija. Called in to close after a stay in the Iowa AAA corn, Samardzija promptly gave away 2 insurance runs on a day when most Trib employees are scrambling to keep their coverage.
[Sully, waiting for Bradley to emerge from his meeting.]
Yes, 53 other Chicago Tribune workers are getting pinkslips. And to add insult to their injury, in a Ted Baxter moment, Cub beat reporter Paul Sullivan is keeping his job. Sully demonstrates why, via his genius for turning hot air into hot button news, with today’s coverage of the sit-down between Milton Bradley and Lou Piniella. Sully makes Bradley out an eccentric in sentence one, noting MB’s entrance in nothing but “a white towel wrapped around his waist and a blue towel covering his head.” Apparently, Pinieilla told Bradley, a frequently injured player, he’s benched until he’s 100% healthy. From the mgr who got a full season out of Rich Harden, this isn’t too surprising. Still, just how bad does Sullivan want to see Bradley spanked? Sully drama-queens this ten minute meeting into a “seminal moment” for the team, headlined: “Cubs’ Piniella lays down the law to Milton Bradley.” Read Sully’s breathless account here:
So what did Piniella have to say?
That Bradley will sit until he’s 100 percent, that he will run out ground balls, and that he’ll be moved down to the No. 6 hole when he eventually returns to the lineup.
In what could be a seminal moment in the Cubs’ 2009 season, Bradley got his first real lesson of Life under Lou.
Asked about the nice chat, Piniella gave a CliffsNotes version of the meeting:
“I had a conversation with Milton. He’s not 100 percent. When he’s 100 percent I’ll put him out there to play. Until then, I’ll use (Reed) Johnson and I’ll use (Micah) Hoffpauir in the outfield.”
Bradley did not run hard on a grounder in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game, and did not go hard after a pop foul. He was booed twice by fans and blew off the media afterward. Piniella was asked if Bradley’s not running hard was what put him over the edge.
“Nothing has put me over the edge,” he replied. ”I don’t play people unless they’re totally healthy. That’s been my M.O. throughout my managerial career. With Milton, when he’s ready to play, we’ll put him out there.
“I told him basically that I’m going to take him out of the fourth hole when he gets back and put him in the sixth hole, where he’ll be a little more comfortable. And we’ll go from there. But when I get him out there, I expect him to run hard and play hard, the way he always has.”
Was Bradley understanding of the move?
“Yeah, he was understanding, yes,” Piniella replied.
[Political controversy surrounds this smiling handshake between Sox fan #1 Obama and Cub ace Carlos Zambrano, outraging many South Siders. Zambrano, for his part, gave Obama copies of the classics, Eight Men Out and Fear Strikes Out.]
The Cubs-Card rain out tonight left not only ESPN with plenty of time to fill – who knew you could reedit Baseball Tonight eight ways “ but myself in reporting on this weekend’s Cubs-Cards series at the Friendly Confines. Instead of two games, I can only offer the following:
Michael Bay Cubs-Cards 2-DVD Now Available, with Scenes Deleted From the Theatrical Version
As to Saturday’s Cub 7-5 win over the Cardinals, please read my recount of Friday’s game, including the 2-run HR as the Cubs preferred finishing move. It’s pretty much the same Bay movie, but more like a 2-DVD set director’s cut: somewhat improved pitching, extra innings, and a 2-run HR from Aramis Ramirez instead of Soriano. Dempster did better than Zambrano, not distinguishing or disgracing himself. Both teams went deep into their bullpens, calling on five arms each after Lohse and Dempster were thru. The Cubs bullpen is coming together, giving up only 1 run (Marmol) in the 5 innings the bullpen took the mound. I still view Dempster and Theriot’s success last year as kind of flukey, so I’m nervous with both these guys. Dempster went 6 innings and gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks. Eh.
Milton Bradley’s Not on Trial Here, The Whole Damn System Is
Naturally, after Milton Bradley got a 2-game suspension for disputing a called third strike, Bradley filed a protest claiming he was being punished for past offenses. Please understand, I agree with him, but he could sit out those games while he heals from his groin injury and then start against the Reds this week. But, no, Bradley’s turning this into The Verdict and taking this one all the way to the top [YAWN] with the Cubs declaring it a matter of “principle.” Nothing good ever comes out of a matter of principle. Ever. Total waste of time. Then again, maybe the Cubs saw the Jon Lester suspension reduction and suddenly princples mattered. That two such hardass suspensions came in April seems like maybe the umpire union had a meeting where they decided to really law down the law in ’09 or something. The argument where this is an ego-ridden waste of time comes up with Bradley, naturally. On the other hand, considering his reputatiuon and how the press treats him, maybe not taking it lying down will keep umpires honest with him. We’ll see.
I don’t know from marketing, but maybe El Hombre’s package is just what Cardinals fans want. After Carlos Marmol pegged him in yesterday’s 9th, they might not get it today.
While the Cubs await a decision on the Bradley expulsion and possible “umpire contact” issue, noted umpire rights activist Tony La Russa sucked up to stood up for the men in black. After Derrek Lee said Card pitcher Adam Wainwright caught some breaks fwhen pitching to Bradley, La Russa replied, “I don’t know how the Cubs get away with making the comments they make about umpires.”
Get away with it? When did MLB outlaw bitching about umpires? Maybe La Russa can add umps to his animal rights charity work and find umpire Larry Vanover a good home after Bradley’s cap bumped him. Anyway, the Trib’s Dave Van Dyck (in the Please Rename it NOW “Cubs Bits” column) found an unrepentant Lou Piniella on Milton Bradley and his strike zone: “I don’t know what I can say. I sent him up there to hit, a 3-and-2 pitch, it didn’t look like a good pitch to me, but the umpires ¦ I don’t know how to answer your question, I’ll be honest with you. If I don’t know how to answer it, I might as well not.”
As to Friday and Game 2, if Michael Bay directed a baseball movie, it might look like yesterday’s 8-7 Cub win: Big numbers, terrible execution, and an empty feel-good ending for Chicago. The sure-fire Disney angle of the kid called up from the minors to fill in for the Cardinals’ hurt ace, Carpenter, found Walters knocked around plenty for the loss and not going to Disneyland. Then again, the hometown hero angle was botched, too: Zambrano’s 7 innings and 7 runs and 3 HRs given up couldn’t be CGId into anything but crap. Soriano struck out three times before popping a 2-run HR to pull the Cubs ahead. Then Carlos Marmol managed a beautiful Ryan Ludwick strikeout before erasing it from the highlight reel to hit Pujols in the 9th. As Zambrano explained to Van Dyck, “Things happen.”
["I'm already handing out MRIs like they're candy, my friend," says Cardinal Manager Tony "The Calculator" LaRussa, after the Cards win over the Cubs.]
At Wrigley, the playoffs start whenever the Cardinals show up, be it April or September. Los Tards drew first blood in not only scoring first but by putting up the “crooked numbers” La Russa loves so much, with a 7-4 win for the first skirmish of the season. The good news was some decent hit and run production in the first and then a Fukodome 3-run HR that put the Cubs ahead. However, Cub pitching doled out 12 hits “ 7 alone from starter Sean Marshall in his 5-innings. Uh, how much is Jake Peavy asking?
As of this posting, the Cubs are up on St. Louis 3-0 in game 2, behind Zambrano. Still, several sideshow notes came up that will may have some long term effects on the season.
1) Mitlon Bradley received what Gordon Wittenmyer calls his “first” ejection of 2009, on a called third strike in a bases-loaded situation that set Bradley off. Umpires are reporting it to the league as a “contact incident.” The Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer, who just lectured Bradley on his temper, offers up an I Told You So account of it as Bradley’s “1st explosion, ejection.” The Trib’s Paul Sullivan leaps to the Cub’s defense here, and while I only heard the game on-line, I’m wondering just how hard the umpires came down on Bradley to send a message. Sullivan writes: “Replays suggest there may have been incidental contact between the bill of Bradley’s hat and Vanover’s, though it was so slight you might miss it without a slow-motion replay.”
That said, the Cardinals came into Wrigley yesterday a full game ahead of the Cubs in the Central Division. It may seem too early to care about it, but the Cardinals will be a pain all season. I can’t see anyone giving the Cubs as much trouble, if only for the adrenaline punch every time they play.
[Jim Hendry welcomes Milton Bradley to the club, after rigorous knee and "personality" checks.]
I’m cutting my usual complaints of combining national income tax day and Jackie Robinson Day this year (I still say name the All-Star Game after JR) to present instead yet another What Will Milton Do? story from a Chicago sports journo “ this time the Sun-Times Gordon Wittenmyer. Since Bradley signed with the Cubs, the question among Chicago scribes has been, “How will MB react to Wrigely’s notably racist fans?” It’s never, why isn’t the Tribune Co doing more to squelch racism in the Friendly Confines? It’s never, what’s wrong with Cub fans that black players ask for no-trade clauses to Wrigley? No, it’s always seen as Bradley’s issue “ and a mental health issue at that, since he complained about racism in MLB’s parks and clubhouses. No matter what fans shout at Bradley, he’s supposed to stand there in silence like Jackie Robinson in 1947 at Crosley Field as players, fans, and even the park organist taunt him.
It’s 2009. We have a black President. We have had two black Secrataries of State. Even more groundbreaking, a statue of an African-American, Ernie Banks, currently stands at Wrigley. Well, yes, they put it up after they put one up to the fat drunken guy who liked sitting in the outfield bleachers, Harry Caray. If a black ball player tells a racist fan in the stands at Wrigley to fuck off, there’s not going to be a riot. Well, except in the Wrigley media room, where Bradley will once again be portrayed as uppity or crazy. Gordon Wittenmyer badgers Bradley over hypothetical news and reassures racists of a pleasant day at Wrigley here:
If he gets booed, ”I’m not a stranger to people not liking me,” he said.
And if it’s more personal, even racial?
”I’ve heard about that,” he said. ”But, I mean, what can you do? You just hope that ushers, security do their job and kick those people out of the stadium. Because there’s no place for that anywhere.
”People are going to do what they’re going to do, and you really can’t control that. But whatever reaction I get, it’s not going to change anything I do.”
In his past, Bradley has accused teammate Jeff Kent of not being able to get along with black players; called a black beat writer an ”Uncle Tom”; picked up a plastic bottle that had been thrown near him from the stands and threw it back at the feet of the fans, and last summer, left the clubhouse in uniform to find a Kansas City broadcaster who made comments referencing his personal life.
[The Cubs new pitching coach, Hotei Rothschild, just moved up from AAA Iowa.]
Barack Obama isn’t the only one sending cold shivers down the spines of complacent millionaires these days, as Lou Piniella sat high-profile closer Kevin Gregg down and called in Carlos Marmol to finish last night’s 2nd Act agin the Brewers. Gregg’s recent outtings have only helped Marmol’s cause, not to mention two recent late inning Cub losses to Houston and Friday to the Brewers (five walks it took for them to win! 5!). Considering the 2-run HR lotto ticket Soriano handed Piniella in the top of the 9th (above), I can see how he didn’t care to trust this series to anyone in need of Kerry Wood-era daily affirmations. Kerry Wood’s unquestioned status as the 2008 closer galled me as much I’m sure it did Marmol (no, actually, I’m sure it was worse for me). Seeing Marmol come in last night I thought, finally, Piniella’s shifting from Power of Positive Thinking hand-holding to a Ditka-like no-tolerance for losing. Post-game, Lou revealed it was actually a deeply philosophical and religious Buddhist move and reassured Cub fans Kevin Gregg that Kevin Gregg is still the closer. As the Herald‘s Bruce Miles reports, it’s all about karma:
Just a couple of innings earlier, Piniella was summoning the karma a day after his bullpen walked five Brewers.
During Saturday’s seventh, Piniella watched as relievers Angel Guzman and Neal Cotts combined to walk three batters as the Brewers scored twice to take a 5-3 lead. Piniella look so disgusted after Cotts walked Fielder to load the bases that he waved pitching coach Larry Rothschild to the mound to remove Cotts in favor of Aaron Heilman.
Heilman (1-0) got a groundball, but it went for a 2-run single. Otherwise, he did his job.
“I sent Larry out to take the last pitcher out just to change the karma,” Piniella said. “My handoff wasn’t good. We were fumbling it. So is said, ‘Larry, go change the karma.’ “
The Cubs got a fourth-inning home run from Kosuke Fukudome and another solo shot from Aramis Ramirez in the eighth. That was in addition to 6 innings of work by starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. In the top of the ninth, pinch hitter Reed Johnson singled with one out. The Cubs pinch ran with the speedy Joey Gathright to get pitcher Carlos Villanueva to rush his delivery. Soriano did his part by crushing a changeup well over the wall in left.
“I said to myself, ‘Just swing at strikes,’ because when I swing at strikes, I make good swings at the ball,” Soriano said. “When I swing at strikes, I hit the ball very hard.”
[Zambrano, getting ready for his return to Wrigley.]
First, an Opening Day tip of the CSTB cap to the comment section’s Pete Segall. Pete sent in a link to the Tribune’s team stenographer Paul Sullivan who (as predicted by CSTB) spent the day helping Carlos Zambrano backtrack on his recent wish that someone tear Wrigley down and build him a Big Z Graceland. Z better backtrack a LONG way, because he said the same thing last year. And yeah, he’s right. Speaking of sports journos, during tonight’s ESPN-cast, Dave O’Brien brought up the San Diego-Chicago Jake Peavy situation with a mixed metaphor classic, that Peavy is “the 800-lb gorilla in the room for the Cubs.” Whatever that means …
On Opening Day, the good news for Alfonso Soriano is that, after a spring season of critics demanding he drop down in the order, his 1st inning lead-off HR at Minute Maid should shut them up for the rest of the night. It was followed by an Aramis Ramirez clocked ducket in the 2nd, with the Cubs generating two more runs to beat the once feared Roy Oswalt, 4-2. I don’t know what’s happened to Oswalt, but he used to be the scourge of the NL Central. As to other former Central scourges, one-time Brewer savior CC Sabbathia managed to choke in another high profile game “ ie, pitching the Yankee season opener. Since NYC is a low key sports town willing to nurture struggling talent “ oh wait, that’s Milwaukee and Cleveland. In that case, I expect the jittery CC to come under intense scrutiny and rank a big disappointment at the new Yankeeland Museum of Former Greatness.
After Zambrano threw 6 and 1/3, the real drama was the bullpen debut of Heilman-Cotts-Marmol-Gregg, at turns impressive and wobbily. Heilman allowed a run that got tallied to a visibly pissed Zambrano. Cotts did his job as Piniella’s go-to lefty (cuz he’s the only one) and Marmol survived the heart of the order. Gregg then allowed a second run to the deep end of the Astros line-up. Shots of Piniella in the dugout already revealed a mid-season focus. The Piniella who once sat players down for weeks with That Look appears to be back. Milton Bradley did not explode. Fukudome did not impress. Zambrano did not give love to Minute Maid Park.
Paul Sullivan’s account of the game is here, which includes some unabashed rooting from former Cub Rick Sutcliffe:
Soriano was also relaxed and confident, as ESPN announcer Rick Sutcliffe discovered when he walked up to Soriano’s locker before the game.
[Zambrano (L) greets Sean Penn (R) who arrived in New York to show his support.]
I hadn’t planned on posting anything Cub related until Labor Day, as everyone knows the Cubs are taking the division in a cakewalk and October is all that matters. But as Keith Olbermann likes to say, events insist. At Yankeeland Amusement Park yesterday, Carlos Zambrno blasphemed:
“You come into a ballpark like this and you see great things,” the Cubs ace told The Associated Press on Saturday before his team’s 10-1 exhibition loss at the sparkling ballpark in the Bronx.
“You wish that Chicago’d build a new stadium for the Cubs,” he said.
Holy shit, there’s gonna be an Obama Tea Party on Waveland Avenue. Given the current irrelevance of the Recublican party nationwide, Zambrano’s plea could do some damage. After all, Obama is normalizing travel with Cuba and pushing for Palestinian Statehood. Stem cell research is legal and Obama fired the head of GM. Ask Soxpert Rob Warmowski, Wrigely Field ranks right about with Orange County, CA and the 700 Club as unassailably Republican. Then Zambrano asked for a new Wrigley … while famous Cub fans like George Will, Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Paulson, and Dick Cheney have yet to comment, look for a “trader revolt” style “tea party” soon.
That Zambrano is right has nothing to do with it.
[Reaction to Zambrano at the Chicago Merc was predictable ...]
Naturally, the Tribune Co went into damage control mode, using its Chicago Tribune newspaper to call Z “green with envy” over the new Yankee Imperial Palace. The bankrupt Trib ran an 85-word version of the story compared to the bankrupt Sun-Times’ 450-word coverage. The Trib‘s story is by-lined “Tribune Staff,” leaving me guessing that the Trib’s embedded Cub reporter, Paul Sullivan, needed smelling salts after Zambrano said it. My guess “ by tomorrow, Sully’ll blame Zambrano’s delayed Lasik eye surgery for the “gaffe.” The Cubs also put ex-Yankee Lou Piniella out front, but quick. Piniella, of course, turned into Martha Stewart to quell a Red Dawn-like open rebellion on Opening Day:
“I don’t see why,” Piniella said when asked if the Cubs need a new stadium. “Wrigley’s got its own uniqueness. There’s no question the facilities need to be redone but that’s going to happen.
“My favorite time of year is when the ivy turns green. It’s really a great environment to play a ballgame,” he said.
The full Sun-Times accounting from the AP wire can be found here. There will be blood.
[An autogrphed photo of Selig recently made out to himself.]
I’ve posted here before on Bud Selig’s tenacity when it comes to promoting himself. Now he’s got a very public show of support, from noted Cub fan George Will, who writes in to Forbes Magazine to chastise it for criticizing the man that Bud Selig has declared a massive success “ Bud Selig. Will argues that Selig is bar none the greatest commissioner Major League Baseball has ever had. I™ll be the first to say, Selig™s business acumen and selling the game are definitely impressive. That™s because Selig is the best business rep the owners have ever had, and he should be commended as such. As far as what the job of baseball commissioner was designed to do, which is bring a sense of moral authority to baseball and give it credibility ” he™s about the worst it has ever had. With a kind of Bush-like thinking Will has recently rejected, Will manages to both praise free market economics and extol the virtues of Selig, the CEO of America’s favorite monopoly “ baseball. Will™s total blame for PEDs on the players union is also a bit much to stomach, since owners happily profited from their œignorance of the situation and did little or nothing to raise the issue. Mr. Will’s fan letter can be found here. [And a CSTB thank you to Chris Lehmann for the link.]
[Cub Chairman Crane Kenney, explaining the Captain Fantastic concept to a new Elton John fan.]
In a wide-ranging if not at all newsworthy interview, Cub Chairman and Tribune employee Crane Kenny helped fill some Tribune space with the kind of modern deficit executive thinking one usually only gets from bail-out bankers these days. Consider it this way: in an era when bailed out AIG execs demand incentive bonuses, the busted-out bankrupt Tribune Co, responsible for nearly thirty of the Cubs 100 years outside of the World Series, refuses to split a new spring training site the Cubs are demanding of the citizens of Mesa, AZ. The White Sox and Dodgers split a park in Glendale, but Kenney says, “We think the Cubs deserve to stand on their own.” Indeed, the team that doesn’t need to win to make money, also wants you to know that shitty music paid for Rich Harden’s rickety shoulder, so be grateful those two days a month he’s throwing. As Kenney told the Tribune‘s Dick van Dyck:
“It’s strange, because you see these people who are opposed to the concerts and they’re Cub fans,” Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview.
“This is going to sound odd, but Elton John’s going to help us win some ballgames,” Kenney said. “The CBOE [seat] auction last year paid for Rich Harden. The ‘Road to Wrigley’ game sponsored our Asian scouting operation.
“That’s the way, from the business end, we look at these things. All these elements really help our business move forward. My view is if you’re a Cub fan, you should enjoy the concerts whether you’re an Elton John fan or not.”
The Cubs have doubled revenue in the last five years in large part because of ventures like this summer’s two Elton John- Billy Joel concerts and one by Rascal Flats.
Amid the soap opera-like drama that has become Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) political future, the lawmaker has commissioned the first poll of his bid for a third term ” and he’s not releasing the results.
“It’s none of your godd—ed business,” Bunning told reporters on a morning conference call, when asked about the poll’s results. “If you paid the 20 grand for the poll, you can get some information out of it.”
Bunning’s polling during the 2004 race, when he won by just two points, was handled by prominent GOP number-cruncher Jan van Lohuizen, who later handled polling for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. That relationship ended poorly, according to sources, and now Bunning’s polling will be conducted by Dave Sackett, a partner at the Alexandria-based Tarrance Group.
A Bunning spokesman would not elaborate on the poll, and Sackett, traveling this week, did not immediately respond to an e-mail message.
Though Bunning has insisted he is running for another term, both his seatmate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) have angered Bunning by professing not to know his future plans. After Bunning called them out publicly, both McConnell and Cornyn backtracked and said they would support Bunning.
[Zell v Wrigleyville turns ugly, really ugly: Rascal Flatts to play Friendly Confines.]
As previously reported here, Alderman Tom Tunney of Chicago’s 44th ward, working with Sam Zell’s Tribune Corporation, already imposed a summer Billy Joel/Elton John concert on the citizens of Wrigleyville without consulting them. This reporter regards the shows as Trib strongarm tactics to force neighbors with rooftop views of Wrigley to pay a fee to the Cubs for selling rooftop seats on game days. That is, pay up, or Joel and John will play. And play LOUD. With some neighbors refusing to pay, and Sam Zell after his money, the conflict escalated with the announced Rascal Flatts date. Locals understandably regard the band as “too much for the community to endure.” The Sun-Time‘s Fran Spielman reports, here:
[This is what Wrigleyville can expect if the vig is not paid.]
The July 18 concert featuring Rascal Flatts would conflict with the group™s seventh annual Summer on Southport Festival, which features live bands on three stages on Southport between Waveland and Grace.
œBased on their agreement in the past to limit concert events to two nights per year, their request has been met. A third — especially on a Saturday night — would be too much for the community to endure on top of a festival. It™s piling on too much for a community already stressed during baseball season, said Jill Peters, president of the Southport Neighbors Association.
œThe July 18 concert will directly compete with our festival. The times are the same. Festivals make money on Saturday night. Our money is used to continue our festival and donate to the community, said Peters. œWe believe that the Cubs should continue to show good faith to the community by canceling the event. We would also like them to adhere to promises made in the past by giving up one night game.
Tunney could not be reached for comment. He already has introduced an ordinance authorizing concerts with an 11 p.m. cutoff on three of five possible dates: July 18, 19, 20, 21 or 22 . Community protections would be similar to those in place during previous concerts by Jimmy Buffett and the Police.
Off-duty police officers would remain on the streets until 2:30 a.m., or three hours after the shows end, whichever is later. Beer and alcohol sales would end at 9:30 p.m.
Sources said the Cubs originally planned to hold two concerts — one with Elton John and Billy Joel, the other with Rascal Flatts — to help the promoter defray set-up costs. By the time John and Joel sold out, creating demand for a second show, Rascal Flatts already had been booked, sources said.
[The Trib's Paul Sullivan with rumored Cub GM, John Belushi.]
Does Paul Sullivan just make up news? I don’t blame him, this must be the dullest Cubs spring training year of his career. With no real drama, even Curt Schilling’s hypothetical preference for the Cubs and Tampa make headlines, which Sullivan spun into imaginary contract terms of a low-ball, one-year Schilling deal. The boredom also means we’ll never hear the end of the Jake Peavy saga, such as it is, of a man too expensive for any team that wants him. The new Sullivan sub-rumor, presumably begun on Sullivan’s questioning of Padre CEO Sandy Alderson on Peavy’s future (as Sully never mentions who asked), involves the possibility Alderson running the Cubs if the Ricketts family manages to buy the team. How involved is this story? So much so, that when asked if he would consider it, Alderson had no comment. And that’s it. Alderson’s also rumored for the job of Pac-10 commissioner, but that’s actually true. My own thoughts on Alderson: While waiting for a BART train at the Oakland Colliseum this weekend, I saw the A’s 1989 World Series banner out front. 101 years is a long time. So is 20. Then he worked in baseball’s central office under Bud Selig from 1998-2005 before his current “eh” run with the Pads. The Cubs current corporate leader, Crane Kenney, recently threw that Greek Orothodox priest under the bus after having him bless the Cubs playoff dugout in 2008. Ruthless and stupid “ has Alderson got that going for him? As for Mr. Sullivan’s fantasy league, he reports on it here:
But the Peavy-to-the-Cubs rumor won’t die a natural death because the Padres still can’t afford to keep his $63 million contract. Another rumor making the rounds is that Peavy’s boss, San Diego Chief Executive Officer Sandy Alderson, may be in line for a similar role with the Cubs once Tom Ricketts takes control of the team. The Padres are in the process of being sold.
Alderson declined to comment when asked if he’d be interested in running the Cubs if Ricketts buys the team.
Peavy, who turns 28 in May, would give the Cubs five starters who could be considered aces on many staffs. Since making his big-league debut in 2002, Peavy leads all National League pitchers with 1,256 career strikeouts. Peavy also has a 2.95 ERA since 2004”the second lowest of any active pitcher behind Johan Santana‘s 2.82.
“He’s the same guy every time,” Theriot said. “He’s a bulldog. He’s a competitor, has a few legitimate out pitches and can come at you a couple different ways.
“He’s not a fun at-bat ever. I think the best way to describe him is his competitiveness: He’s into every pitch. Even on outs, he’s upset with some of the pitches he’s making. You’ve got to respect that from a pitcher.”
Curt Schilling, master blogger, radio gossip, and heir to Bob Feller’s post as the Judge Roy Bean of baseball, let it be known that if he returns to baseball, it’d be with the Cubs or Tampa Bay. IF. Even Schilling notes on his blog, that speculation ran a little wild when this quote, “I™m not sure if I am coming back or not, but yes, I™d definitely be interested the Cubs, and in Tampa if I did turned into this one: œI™m definitely coming back and would play for the Cubs.”
Still, Lou Piniella returned Schilling’s blown kiss, and the Trib (unsourced) says the Cubs haven’t ruled out a one-year try-out deal. My only hope is that I’m there to see the team captain elections between Schilling and Milton Bradley, who this week declared the Chicago media “crazy.” Piniella says he was joking. I think he just meant “stupid,” or hysterical over a player who might criticize them, for which he’s clearly right. The Trib’s Paul Sullivan sums up the Schilling-Piniella media speed date here:
Though some suggest Schilling is out of shape and over the hill, manager Lou Piniellaappears intrigued.
“This guy, he’s a pro,” Piniella said. “I don’t know how accurate [the reports] are, but if you get a pitcher with his credentials and his winning habits, it would be something to explore.”
Crazy train: Milton Bradley took batting practice Sunday and told trainer Mark O’Neal his sore left quad was improving. But Piniella had no timetable for Bradley’s return.
And what did Piniella think of Bradley’s comment to Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey that “the media is crazy” for thinking he is crazy?
“No, I don’t think [the media is] crazy, absolutely not,” Piniella said. “But he was probably joking.”
Bradley, however, was not laughing or smiling when he made the remark.
“I think in this business, everybody might be a little crazy,” Piniella said.
[Snooky, a key witness in the Vick trial, on learning Vick will be on the streets again by May.]
The AP today claims that suspended Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick is approved for home confinement, and there must be some very nervous dogs out there knowing he’s back on the street. Matt Damon lookalike Mark Maske reports it for The Washington Post:
Michael Vick has been approved for release to home confinement, possibly in May, a government official told the Associated Press. The NFL quarterback is serving a 23-month federal prison sentence in Leavenworth, Kan., for his role in a dogfighting operation based at a home that he owned in Virginia.
The AP report has not been independently verified.
Vick’s attorneys had indicated in bankruptcy court proceedings that they expected Vick to be transferred to a halfway house in Virginia for the final portion of his prison term.
The only thing I can think of to set off an old wrestler like Gagne, 82, and put him in the mood to throw nursing home resident Helmut Gutmann, age 97, around and possibly kill him, is if Guttman told Gagne he thought wrestling was fake. Gagne’s well-known feuds with other Germans, like Baron von Raschke, may also have been a factor. The Minneapolis Star Trib reports it here.
Minnesota pro wrestling legend Verne Gagne had an altercation with a fellow resident of a Bloomington health care facility, leading to the man’s death, a relative said today.
The incident between Gagne and Helmut Gutmann, 97, occurred Jan. 26 at the memory loss section of Friendship Village, said Ruth Hennig, a daughter of Gutmann.
Gutmann, who immigrated to the United States in 1936 as the Nazi threat grew, suffered a broken right hip and died Feb. 14.
“No one knows” what led to the altercation, said Hennig, in a telephone interview this morning from Boston. “I don’t think anyone was present when it began … or even if anything precipitated it.”
She said that because of her father’s dementia, he had “no memory at all” of his clash with Gagne and “didn’t understand why his hip hurt.”
The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office, Hennig said, has told the family that Gutmann’s death was “accidental.” However, medical examiner’s office investigator Mike Opitz said that a cause of death “hasn’t been officially certified.” State health officials, who regulate facilities such as Friendship Village, are unable to comment, citing data restrictions.
Police are investigating the death and trying to determine whether to recommend charges to the Hennepin County attorney’s office, said Deputy Chief Perry Heles.
Hennig said her family has yet to discuss whether they want Gagne prosecuted. “We’re still dealing with the death on an emotional level,” she said. “My mother [Betty] is pretty upset.”
Hennig added that the two men had clashed previously. “I don’t really know any details, but obviously it was not as severe as this,” she said.