Preview: Northside For Life
Northside For Life
Rants about the Cubs, Bears, sports, ESPN, and pop culture among other things.
Even when they win they lose
I’ve always considered watching baseball as a form of therapy. No matter what goes on in my life, what kind of stress I may be enduring- and lately there’s been quite a bit of stress- its comforting to know that I can flip to a game on TV and escape reality for a few hours a day or night. Although this is true for all sports, I find baseball to be the most therapeutic. I’m not sure if it’s the pace of the game or what but it just puts me at ease. But for all the therapeutic qualities baseball has, if you watch the Cubs on a regular basis like I do, sometimes they’ll make you feel like getting real therapy.
For instance last night I came home at around 10:30 after a long day at work followed by three and a half hours of graduate level statistics (I’ve felt like Chevy Chase in that classic SNL skit, “Nobody said there would be math involved”). All I wanted to do was get home, crack open a beer and veg out in front of the TV with the Cubs game on. Thank God for these west coast games!
Anyway I pick up the game in the 4th with the score tied 2-2. According to reports of the game, Sean Marshall did pretty good in this start, although his command wasn’t all there so he ran up his pitch count and was gone after 5 innings. They put in David “the Aardvark” Aardsma who apparently hasn’t given up a walk this year in AAA and he promptly issues 3 walks and gives up 2 runs in the inning. Fantastic job, Aardvark. Sit down.
In the middle of the 7th I flipped to ESPN News to catch a few highlights and scores as well as to avoid the unwatchable commercials on Comcast. I flip back to game just in time to see D-Lee rolling around on the ground holding his wrist.
The replay showed him getting bowled over by Raffy Furcal (and you thought Furcal only screwed the Cubs during the offseason) followed by him rolling around in pain. Not a good sight. To make matters worse, Eyre hurt his knee during his belly flop to catch the ball. Two players hurt separately on the same play. When was the last time that happened? Only the Cubs.
At this point I thought the game was a lost cause. Down 2 on the road and with the franchise player out for who knows how long. The Cubs of the past would have folded right here. Instead, they slapped the ball around in the next inning, and with the help of a couple of errors by Dannys Baez and Jason Repko, they scored three runs-all with 2 outs mind you- to take the lead. The bullpen, which has been pretty solid, sealed and the Cubs took it 5-4. It was a pretty encouraging come-from-behind win. The Cubs of the past couple of seasons would have been hard-pressed to win a game like this without hitting two or three homers. That this team is using speed and timely hitting is truly refreshing. But I can’t shake the worry of D-Lee’s injury being serious.
X-rays of his wrist proved inconclusive and reports are saying that he’s flying in to Chicago today for further evaluation. Hopefully it’s just a sprain and he won’t have to miss too much time. The trouble with this type of injury is that it will affect the way he swings the bat for a considerable amount of time after he returns. Even coming back from a mild sprain takes some time. So even in the best case scenario- wrist sprain with no DL time- this injury is probably going to set D-Lee back a few weeks in terms of offensive production. I know a D-Lee recovering from injury is better than some of the options we have right now, but it still sucks nonetheless.
Greg Maddux is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first three starts.
Let that sink in for a minute.40-year old Greg Maddux has won his first three starts of the season for the first time in 11 years.
The man is in midseason form already. I don't know if it was the Dog's new offseason workout program or the fact that its a contract year and he's not ready to retire, but Doggy has been pretty amazing to watch. Last night he went 8 strong against the Dodgers, and with the help of the Closing Canuck, closed out L.A. in about 2 hours, enabling the pen to get some rest and me to get a full nights sleep. All in all a good day.
Of course there's talk of Mad Dog pushing 20 wins and being in contention for the Cy Young. What is he, Roger Clemens now? I don't know about all that as I'm sure he'll have his days where he's going to get rocked, but the Dog is on top of his game and looking very much like the Greg Maddux of the mid-'90's. If he keeps this up, he'll definitely crack 15 wins this year for sure. And that my friends, is a very good thing.
-Kerry Wood had an encouraging bullpen session in L.A. yesterday. He's scheduled to pitch a couple of simulated games and then a minor league rehab start sometime in the next couple of weeks. He's set to return to the Cubs sometime in the first two weeks of May. Yeah, kinda vague but that's the Cubs for you.
-Mark Prior also threw a bullpen session yesterday in Arizona. Apparently he's making good progress and should be throwing BP in the next few days. He's set to return sometime in May as well. Maybe.
-Wade Miller is said to be a couple of weeks behind Wood in his rehab, so the end of May might be a good prediction for his return.
-Todd Walker is absolutely killing the ball. And he hasn't bad in the field at all, including some rangy plays he made last night. I don't know what else the man has to do to secure an everyday spot in the lineup.
Questions answered. Sort of.
Right now the Cubs pitching staff consists of a crafty veteran who is aging like fine wine, a talented young hothead who isn’t on top of his game at the moment, and three question marks- two young ones and a journeyman. Those three question marks were the starting pitchers during the Cubs’ three game series with the Pirates. Granted the Pirates are once again terrible and the Cubs seem to have the deed to PNC Park because they own the Pirates there, but these three put in some solid performances.Marshall was pretty impressive Friday night, giving up 3 in 5 innings before being pulled- an inning or two too early in my opinion- for Michael Wurtz who promptly crapped the bed. Williamson came in and was lights out for the next two innings. Wurtz’ performance was good enough to earn him a bus ticket back to Iowa. I didn’t see much of Marshall’s start save for his final inning of work, but I did listen to first few innings of the game on the car radio and he seemed to be doing quite well. The thing I like most about Sean Marshall is his poise and composure on the mound. He doesn’t carry himself like a rookie and it shows in the way he pitches. A pleasant surprise in the rotation to say the least.Another pleasant surprise was Jerome Williams’ performance on Saturday. He gave up only 1 ER in 6 innings and kept the walks to a minimum, something that his killed him in the past. A great outing by Williams, who’s standing was kind of iffy after a horrible spring training. Yet another Ronny Cedeno throwing error (great arm, shit for aim) and Freddie Bynum’s loafing around in right allowing for a double to be turned into a triple contributed to both Pirate runs. Zach Duke seemed like the second coming of Sandy Koufax and the Cubs could only plate one run in the loss. It was a bit of a tough one to swallow, but at least it appears as if Jerome will do just fine.Sunday’s starter was the biggest question mark of all – G Unit Rusch. He’d gotten bombed his last two starts against the Nati, but against the Pirates he was on point, cruising through the first five innings without giving up a run, warning track fly balls, or a ton of walks. He did give up a three run bomb to Craig Wilson but it was still a vast improvement over anything else he’s done so far this year. I figured he’d bounce back against the Pirates, now it remains to be seen if he can continue to deliver solid starts.Despite their solid performances, I’m not so sure these questions marks have been answered yet. Williams has looked good in relief and in his one start and that’s very encouraging. Marshall is young and doesn’t have a whole lot of experience, but he’s got moxie and good stuff and has been pretty decent in his two starts. I need to see more from him before deciding if he’s legit or if he needs more seasoning in Iowa. But as of right now the future looks bright for Sean. G-Unit, well I’m not to sure about him. A couple more good starts might be needed to keep him in the rotation. Once Wood and Prior come back (God I’m really starting to hate that phrase) only one of these three is going to stick around as a starter. As of right now I’d go with Williams over Rusch and Marshall.Other notes from the series in the Steel City:-Todd Walker continues to silence doubters with his bat. The guy has been on fire at the plate and he hasn’t really been bad in the field. Although I don’t really mind the arrangement Dusty has now, with Walker getting most of the starts, I’d have him in there for the vast majority of starts, regardless of who’s pitching. It’s also worth mentioning that the Cubs are 4-0 when Walker’s in the lineup. Go with the hot hand Dusty.- It’s a shame about Angel Pagan and his knee/hamstring injury. Just when he got his big break, made it to the show, and was starting to make a name for himself on the Cubs. This injury could very well put him out for the year. A damn shame.-What’s the deal with Pittsburgh fans booing A-Ram and cheering after he got[...]
Mad Dog 320
Things weren’t looking too hot for the Cubs at the start of yesterday’s game. You had Mad Dog pitching against a Red’s team that had gone deep 6 times the day before and has given the Dog fits the last couple of years. On a day when the wind was blowing out to right no less. On top of that, A-Ram and Jaques were both out, replaced by Neifi and Angel Pagan who was batting 5th for some reason. Also in the line-up was Hairy Jerry (in because of the lefty Claussen) batting 2nd and Barrett batting cleanup. A Dusty Special. The game had the makings of a slugfest, and the Cubs looked to be short a couple of guns.
Instead, Mad Dog turned another masterful performance, pretty much shutting down the Reds offense over 6 innings. The Cubs played small ball as the Reds got ready for the upcoming World Cup by booting the ball all over the infield. The ‘Nati made 5 errors in the game –including 3 by 3B Edwin Encarnacion- and Dusty must have stole some notes from Whitey Herzog’s notebook by using the double steal not once, but twice. With the Mad Dog dealin’ and Pierre and D-Lee stealin’ the Cubs took the game 4-1 and Mad Dog earned his 320th career victory.
And that brings us to today. It sounds odd to call a game in April important, but that’s just what this particular game today is. It’s already been said that the Cubs need to get off to a fast start this season to keep pace in the NL Central and so far they’ve been doing just that. The Cubs need to take advantage of their fairly easy early schedule and keep their momentum going until the supposed big guns (Prior, Wood, Miller) return to the fold. So beating the Reds today and taking the series is exactly what the team needs to keep the mo going.
The Cubs have the advantage with Z taking the mound today. He looked great in his last start against the Reds but unfortunately got a no decision. If he could stay on his game today and pitch a good 6 or 7 innings, then the Cubs should be in great shape. The Reds counter with Eric Milton, who’s well on his way to breaking the all-time record for homeruns given up. The Cubs have owned him the past couple of seasons, and with the wind blowing out again today, there could very well be a few dingers coming off Cub bats, even if A-Ram sits out again with his strained ass cheek.
Let’s get ‘em.
Nothing kills momentum more than staring at a 9-0 deficit to the Cincinnati Reds on 6 homeruns, no less. Glen “G-Unit” Rusch just didn’t have it yet again yesterday, giving up one homer after another in his 4 innings of work. Well at least “Charles” Bronson Arroyo didn’t take him yard again.
I’m afraid that’s going to be the story of the Cubs this year, at least in the early going, inconsistency in the starting rotation. A few good outings followed by a couple of absolute disasters. As far as G-Unit goes, I’m not sure what the team should do with him. He didn’t look good in the spring, and his two starts against the Reds have been awful. Maybe it’s just that the Reds have his number? Maybe it was the conditions he was pitching in? After all, it’s not good to be a flyball pitcher in a launching pad like GBP or at Wrigley on a day in which the wind is blowing out (as it was yesterday). Maybe he’ll settle down and give a better performance against a team other than Cincinnati. I’d give him one, maybe two more starts to show something before demoting his ass to the pen and bringing up someone like Angel Guzman or maybe Rich Hill.
To top off the fun that was yesterday’s 9-2 rout, the Cubs have a couple of injuries to report. Jaques Jones strained a hammy running in the outfield and A-Ram strained his ass (right glute actually) while taking a swing. Both are day-to-day, although knowing Aramis this injury will linger for about 3 months and he’ll become even slower than he usually is, if that’s even possible. Look for Angel Pagan and Neifi in the lineup today.
Today the Cubs send Mad Dog to the hill to face the Medium Red Machine. Mad Dog has become somewhat of a slow starter the last few years, but was impressive in his first start of the season last Friday. Hopefully he can keep the ball down on these guys as the wind will probably be blowing out again today. If he can do that, he’ll be in good shape. Mad Dog’s lifetime record against the ‘Nati is 17-16 with a 3.65 ERA, although the Reds have given him a hard time during the last three years. During that span his record is 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA. The Reds counter with Brandon Claussen who is 1-3 with a 7.91 ERA against the Cubs.
Prior Watch - Day 10
There is progress on the Mark Prior
front as he continues to throw off a mound. Prior threw "close to 50 pitches in two separate sessions and made some progress" yesterday according to Larry Rothschild. He's penciled in for a start during the second turn through the rotation, no later than March 11.
Wait a minute....why is this even news? Oy.
The World Baseball Classic has begun, with the Asian teams starting off the tournament. Despite all the jingoism and the commercials proclaiming "For country, for baseball" this tournament smacks of a contrived money grab by Major League baseball. What with the poor timing of the event, a lot of the major stars dropping out, Asian teams wearing uniforms with old English script on the front, and some of the dumb rules set in place (pitch counts, mercy rule) it's really nothing more than a glorified exhibition under the pretense of "globalizing the game of baseball". Never mind that baseball is already quite "globalized", with its intense popularity in the Caribbean and South America, as well as historically strong popularity in Asia. The game did this all by itself without the need of some bs tournament which has the thrown together appearance of the rec leagues I used to play in (only our games weren't televised on ESPN).
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a World Cup-style baseball tournament. Get every country to put together teams of their best players and battle it out to see which country reigns supreme. But if you're going to use major leaguers, do it after the season, in November. The timing of this tournament couldn't be worse. Most players aren't in game shape, and many are dropping out for fear of injury. Not to mention the fact that you're screwing up a few teams' spring trainings by taking away their players for almost an entire month. For instance the Cubs are without their two catchers for the majority of spring training. How much of an effect this will have on the pitching staff is unknown, but it certaintly doesn't help. This most definitely would have played better in November.
But despite all these negatives I've just mentioned I'm still going to watch. And to be honest, I'm kind of excited about the whole thing. Even if the WBC really is contrived, and I've yet to see a real reason why South Africa, the Netherlands, and Italy are in this thing, it's still baseball. And after a long winter, any baseball on TV is great. To me a worldwide tournament featuring major league players is a lot better than watching a spring training game featuring a bunch of guys I've never heard of playing in their batting practice jerseys in a tiny ballpark in the middle of the desert. But that's just me. Even there is nothing really "classic" about the World Baseball Classic it'll still be interesting to see how fast the Domincan team will reach the mercy rule, how well the Cubans will fare, how many Cubans will defect and get immediately signed by the Yankees, and if the Venezuelans can ride their pitching to the title. If nothing else, it's real baseball. Well, sort of. Either way its a lot better than the alternatives in sports television (save for the NCAA's). I'm going to enjoy this.
Prior Watch - Day 4
Northside For Life's continuing coverage of the annual Mark Prior spring training saga:
After spending Thursday discussing how he he couldn't figure out who was behind all the bum shoulder rumors
, Prior took the mound on Friday and made a few pitches. About 20 to be exact. And he wasn't exactly letting 'em rip, although one has to consider that this was his first time on a mound this year. He had to get used to being on the hill, had to make friends with the mound-become one with it. This takes a little bit of time you know.
Again, the Cubs and Prior insist that getting Mark loosened up is a process. Apparently a very slow, deliberate process. At this rate, he'll be ready just in time for the All-Star break. The Cubs' spin on this is that his offseason routine was slowed down due to serious illness back in December, as well as trying to have him follow a program that will reduce his spring aches and pains. Um, ok. Meanwhile everyone else on the team is letting it rip. Well as long as Prior is ready for his first start in April, and comes out pitching like the Mark Prior we've all come to know and love (you know, the 2003 version) then he could train however the hell he wants to. You know this wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for those pesky rumormongers. Then again, it wouldn't give bloggers like me material to write on either. I mean, Prior Watch 2006? It's comedy gold. You have to have fun with it. Either that, or just live with the angst and crippling fear of having to worry about a young millionaire's golden arm without knowing what's really going on. Thinking that his health is the key to the season. Um, no. Fuck that.
Without the ongoing concern over Prior's health status, what other fun stuff could I write about? I guess I could always rip on Dusty. He's been dropping some beauties lately, such as:"Joe Black told me years ago, because I had a little dilemma going on with myself, and he said, 'Remember, you're a hitter, not a slugger,'"
For some reason the name Joe Black brings to mind that stupid movie with Brad Pitt and a mailing-it-in Anthony Hopkins. Dusty's dilema now however is who to play at second base. He made it seem like it was Walker's job to lose, only to turn around and pimp Jerry Hairston for the position. Never mind that Dusty was regularly calling him out in the press most of last year. In fact Jerry was
player Dusty ripped in the media. And now he's talking him up. Altough I like Hairston's moxie, I don't know about have to watch him play everday. If Dusty decides to go that route, he might want to invest in a GPS device to help Jerry navigate the bases. And then of course there's Neifi. And we all know about Dusty's love for the guy. I'll just leave it at that. Don't want to jinx anything.
Meanwhile, Kerry "Splintered" Wood also took the mound today, and made a few throws. Apparently both he and Wade Miller, who is also coming off labrum surgery, have been making good progress in camp and are "feeling good". Take it for what its worth.
Prior Watch - Day 2
Northside For Life's continuing coverage of this year's Mark Prior spring training saga:
Yesterday Prior issued his second denial in a week, stating that his arm is feeling fine and that he'll begin throwing off a mound on Thursday. According to him, "It's a process to get ready for the season. It's not just show up and go to work." For the past couple of years Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild has maintained that Prior is on a different, more deliberate training schedule than the rest of the Cubs pitching staff to slowly work his arm into shape. So apparently getting Prior's arm into pitching form is akin to starting a '71 Dodge Charger on a 10 degree day after its been sitting out all night in the cold. In other words, it'll be a while. Grab your Snickers bar and sit down.
Getting Mark into shape is a process damnit! Or so they keep telling us. We'll just have to wait until he actually takes the mound on Thursday and makes some pitches. Then wait with baited breath as Rothschild, Hendry, Prior and maybe Baker tell us that he's feeling good. Then maybe we can call off this year's Prior Watch.
In the meantime, Prior seems to be getting kinda annoyed with all the attention him and his golden right arm have gotten during his time in Chicago:"Everybody wants to find something wrong. ... I'm not going to sit here and defend or validate anything. There have been a lot of rumors in my career. There's really not much I can say about it. That's people's opinions."
And...''I think McNabb said it best, some people like you, some people don't like you and for whatever reason, a lot of those people have voices."
That's what happens when you're hearlded as the Cubs' "Pitching Jesus" only to continuosly have problems. When that happens people are inevitably going to talk, Mark. You're just going to have put on your big boy pants and deal with it.
In the meantime Northside For Life will keep you posted anything and everything Prior. The man on the inside, Manny the Hot Dog Vendor, hasn't had anything new to report, but rest assured he'll be keeping his eyes and ears open. Well after he's done dumping out the hot dog water anyway.
A Stiff Brees
Its kind of odd to see an NFL post when spring training is just getting underway but I just couldn't let this one go.
The San Diego Chargers are letting QB Drew Brees test the free agent waters. And of course, fans and radio talk-show hosts in Chicago are clamoring for the Bears to go out of their way to sign him. Given that the Bears designated QB of the future Rex Grossman can't seem to play more than 3 games a year, this would seem like a good idea. However:
1) Brees is coming off shoulder surgery after separating it while doing his best Plasticman impression in the season finale.
2) The Bears are likely going to have him compete for the starting job with Rex Grossman. Why would he agree to that when he could sign with a variety of teams that need a starting QB and would garauntee a starting spot (like the Jets, Dolphins, Saints, Raiders, Bills, and Lions to name a few).
3) The Bears could better use that money to cover other more pressing needs, like another WR, a TE, or maybe adding depth to their cornerback position.
Talk about Brees all you want folks, the Bears aren't getting him. Nor should they even bother.
Prior Watch - Day 1
It's not spring unless there's rumors about Mark Prior's health. According to this BP article
Prior is rumored to be having shoulder problems, corroborating an "insider" report made on 1060west back in January
. Needless to say this rumor, coupled with Prior doing nothing more than towel drills and looking "weak and sick" during the first couple of days in Mesa, has incited a Category 3 shitstorm among the online Cub fan community. This response is somewhat justified given the Cub organization's handling of Prior's health status in the past. Discerning Cub fans everywhere are calling bullshit on the team's claims that Prior was seriously ill over the winter, setting back his offseason workouts to the point where his spring training work is behind schedule. Thus we see him throwing a towel rather than a baseball.(image)
Conspiracy theories abound, the most popular being that the true extent of Prior's injury won't be revealed until after tickets go on sale this Friday. Although the corporate greed of the Tribune knows little bounds, I highly doubt this to be the case. I'm willing to bet that even if Prior really was hurt, there would still be a mass of people lined up along Waveland Ave. trying to get wristbands and the phonelines and tickets.com will be swamped Friday morning.
Personally I'm not jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon just yet. Spring training just started and there's a chance this is nothing more than the usual kid glove treatment Prior gets. I'm going to give the team the benefit of the doubt here. If by the end of the week Prior isn't throwing off a mound, then it'll be time to start worrying.
In the meantime Northside For Life will have its own insider, Manny the HoHoKam Hot Dog Vendor, keeping an eye on anything and everything going on with Mark Prior. Any updates on the condition of Prior's shoulder as well as his towel throwing sessions will be dissemnated here. Few other blogs offer this kind of access. And it's all free.
Cubs Preview: Pitching
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Mesa it's now time for me to begin my preview of the 2006 Chicago Cubs. I'll start off with what every team needs to win: Pitching.The last couple of seasons the national perception has been that the Cubs are loaded with pitching, particularly starters. This is true, although it helps if those starters actually pitched in real games (cough Wood and Prior cough). Last year's vaunted pitching staff was just average, finishing 9th in the NL in team ERA with the only solid season coming from Big Z. Not exactly the powerhouse rotation people make it out to be. Unless you count simulated games, in which case the Cubs were among the league leaders in simulated starter ERA. Oh wait, that doesn't count for anything?Let's take a closer look at the starters:Z - Formerly Big Z, Carlos Zambrano came into camp a lot lighter after a Jared-esque diet. So given his new svelte frame, he'll be known as Z around these parts. Z had a solid '05, going 14-9 with a 3.26 ERA. Along with the Mad Dog, Z was a workhorse logging 223 innings. We all know and love Z for being excitable -ok, sometimes a complete spaz- on the mound but as he's gotten older the big guy has gained more control over his emotions. His stuff is awesome and he has asserted himself as the true ace of the staff. I fully expect Z to make the leap this year into elite status. 18-20 wins isn't out of the realm of possibility, as well as equal billing to the wonder that is Mark Prior. And speaking of Prior...Mark Prior - Mark had an up and down season last year. It started in spring training with the now annual "Mark Prior Spring Training Health Issue" in which he experienced elbow inflammation that set him back in his preparation for the season. Fortunately for the Cubs, he only missed one start in April, and was ON as soon as he came back. Then in May he took a line drive off his pitching elbow that caused him to miss about a month. His first start coming off the injury was against the White Sox and he was once again ON. However after that start he was more off than anything. He didn't pitch terribly, but you could tell he wasn't himself. He did finish with 11 wins but it was an unsatisfying season, both for Mark and Cub fans. Of course, this year we're once again experiencing the annual Prior health issue, this time the issue being rumors about a bum right shoulder coupled with the fact that the Cubs have been very slow in letting Prior cut loose in spring training. Supposing Mark is ok and he starts the season on time, he should be ON. And if that's the case, the Cubs will have a very fearsome 1-2 punch in the starting rotation.Mad Dog - Watching Greg Maddux finish out his career with the Cubs, you can't help but wonder how different things would have been had the Trib actually opened up their wallets and paid the man what he asked for (and deserved) following the 1993 season. He's back with the Cubs now, sure, adding to his impressive collection of baseball records. But to think we missed out on watching him in his prime, watching him be Greg Maddux, well that just sucks. But he's here now and given some of his comments, isn't ready to pack in just yet no matter what Dusty says. No, he's not the Mad Dog who straight up dominated with the Braves in the '90's, but he is consistent. He'll give you 200 innings and 12-15 wins. Take it to the bank. Granted, it takes him longer to get in a groove nowadays, and you can expected him to get tagged in early April. But once the weather warms up, he too is ON. And that my friends, is a good thing.Glendon Rusch - Glen is the prototypical swingman, equally good as a starter and as a reliever - although he was quite shaky out of the pen in '05. Dusty blew it early on last year leaving Rusch in the 'pen and h[...]
The Bitter End
So Sammy Sosa announced through his agent that he's hanging it up at age 37. Well sort of. Basically no one is offering a guarnteed roster spot and millions of dollars, so he's decided to take his massive ego and go home. He's not filed on the retirement list, but he's not going to play anywhere either.Not for no stinkin' $500 grand anyway. Sammy don't play that, see?Despite the picture I've posted on the left, I'm not going to bash the man. Rather that picture represents what I feel was the moment the downward spiral began. That Easter Sunday in Pittsburgh when Salomon Torres nailed him in the coconut. After that Sammy seemed to dig his feet in halfway to the on-deck circle when he came up to bat and really wasn't the same ever again. Later that year was the cork incident. He got past it as the Cubs went on to win the division. Sammy hit a couple of monster homeruns early in the NLCS \and then disappeared. As did the Cubs.The next year the fans' love affair with Sammy began to fall apart. Sammy was swinging out of his shoes on every single at bat. He was striking out in key situations while swinging for the fences. He whiffed at the freaking Home Run Derby! He hit a long drive to right field in Pittsburgh, did his little home run hop, and then watched the ball bounce off the wall and back into play. Due to his premature hopulation, he was held to a single on what should have been a two bagger. After the game he dismissed the play arrogantly, essentially saying that was his style of play, deal with it. He started getting booed at Wrigley, where he previously could do no wrong. As the K's piled up, the boos got louder. And to top it all off, he left the park during the first inning of the team's last regular season game, then lied about it. On Fan Appreciation Day to boot. And booted he was, shipped off to the Orioles in an acrimonious Trump-like divorce. From hero to pariah in the course of one season.We'll all remember Sammy for helping breath life back into baseball during that magical 1998 season. But as the homers piled up, Sammy's head swelled to massive proportions. He brought monster numbers to the table, but along with it a monster ego and thus began believing his own hype. This is the point in the movie where the musical montage featuring Paul Engermann's "Push It To The Limit" comes on, with Sammy blowing kisses, hitting homers, breaking records, making curtain calls, making piles of dough, getting married in a humongous mansion and then taking everybody to his massive backyard to see the new pet tiger he just bought. Everything got bigger and bigger. Eventually Sammy wasn't on the Cubs. He WAS the Cubs.Everybody remembers that loud ass, merengue and salsa playing boom box he had in the locker room. There wasn't a postgame interview in the locker room where you wouldn't hear that damn thing in the background. Teamates -Mark Grace in particular- hated it, but he just played it louder. For a while he started to sulk, wanting to be traded to the Yankees. The Trib thought better than to trade their main gate attraction and instead signed him to a massive contract that ended up biting them in the ass years later.Yeah Sammy Sosa left here under bad terms. I was one of the biggest Sammy Sosa fans you could find. But as the years went by, the man started to lose his luster. We began to see him for the arrogant asshole he was underneath all the smiles and blown kisses.However I'm going to look past that for a minute. Past all the steroid bullshit too. Let's look at what Sammy did in a Cub uniform and let's give him at least some respect.Sammy Sosa was one of the most electrifying players the Cubs have ever had. He definitely was their biggest superstar. Yes you can make a case for the all-time gre[...]
Cubs Promotional Schedule*
I got this from a Cubs e-mail group. Too good not to share:
Cubs Promotional Schedule
April 7: Home Opener and raising of the "Attendance Flag" to commemorate the magical 2005 season in which the Cubs were a bigger draw than any of their hated rivals. Not being raised: World SeriesChampions flag.
April 8: Presentation of the "Nice Neighborhood" rings to members ofthe 2005 squad in commemoration of their capturing of the city's heart by playing in such a cute little part of town. Not being presented: World Series Champions rings.
April 9: Home Opener Weekend festivities conclude with the Cardinals completing a sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley.
April 24: Win a Mark Prior autographed picture! 100 lucky fans willreceive a 5 x 7" photo signed by the Cubs' 11-game winner!
April 25: Turn Back the Clock I with throwback jerseys, old-time music and special guests and relive the magic of the Cubs' epic loss to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 NLCS.
May 13: Turn Back the Clock II with authentic 1984 uniforms jerseys and an even-more-authentic loss to the 1984 NLCS champion San DiegoPadres.
May 14: Precious Moments figurine doll to the first 10,000 female fans.
June 15: Kerry Wood bobblehead day. The first 10,000 fans will receive a bobblehead doll of the Northsiders' all-time leader in simulated strikeouts!
June 16: Turn Back the Clock III - Kick off a rematch of the Cubs' most recent World Series appearance as they welcome the Detroit Tigers and try to beat them for the first time since 1945. Fans with goats receive free admission.
June 30: Cross-town Amnesty Day - All managers and first 25 players on the White Sox active roster will receive a complimentary win.
July 1: Turn Back the Clock IV - 1906 World Series rematch. Authentic memorabilia will be given out to lucky Cub fans, as will an authentic1906-style massacre of their lovable losers.
July 2: Lovable Loser Day - First 15,000 losers get to fall in love with the Cubs even more as they are handed yet another staggering loss at home by yet another area team that has built something more substantial than their own ticket-scalping empire.
July 14: Harry Caray Day, featuring an all-star tribute to the late and beloved former White Sox and Cardinals announcer.
August 1: Nine Games Back Day - First 10,000 fans in attendance to correctly explain what "Nine Games Back" means receive a Cubs t-shirt.
August 19: Playoff Day. Come out and root for the Cubs as they stand on the brink of elimination against the Cardinals with forty-one games still left to play in the season. First 20,000 fans wearing Cubs gear receive a White Sox t-shirt.
September 2: Turn Back the Clock V - Cubs fans, come out and party like it's 1989 in this showdown against the 1989 NLCS champion San Francisco Giants!
October 1: Final Home Game / Wait 'Til Next Year Day - First 39,538 fans get 1st chance at more expensive tickets for next year.
*For the humor impaired, this is intended as a joke. I'm not sure who wrote it...most likely a White Sox fan.
No, I don't have an ID crisis, but my blog does. A lawyer friend of mine paid a visit and read some of riveting posts (yeah right) and warned me about possible repurcussions from the makers of Kool Aid drink, since Kool Aid is a registered trademark and whatnot. Granted the odds of someone from Kool Aid finding this ad and having a problem with it are slim, but to avoid the hassle and the ceases and desist order I'll just change back to the original Northside For Life.
As most of you know, Wade Miller has signed with the Cubs, a one year $1 million contract. Miller is this year's Hendry Reclamation Project. Every year Hendry goes bargain bin shopping for a pitcher coming off major surgery. If you recall he signed Dempster in '04 right after he was coming off shoulder surgery. He's had others who haven't fared succesfully (Mike Sirotka) did ok until Dusty made them blow their arm out (Chad Fox) or its too early to tell (Scott Willamson).
I like this move by Hendry though. Miller is a proven pitcher who had some great years with the Astros. Once he comes back -May at the earliest- he can help out in the pen or maybe even fill a spot in the rotation. If he bombs out, well no biggie since he was a cheap pick-up. If he does well, it'll be a great boost to the pitching staff and could lead to Hendry trading one of the youngsters (Williams, Hill or someone else) for some help elsewhere.
Either way a pretty decent pick up.
Swilling the Blue Kool Aid
Yes my dear readers (all 3 of you) I'm still around. Lately I've just been too occupied with work, family stuff, grad school and my crack habit* to actually post stuff on here. By the time I get some time to sit down and post on a news item or something going on in the wide wide world of sports it's old news and/or it's been done to death elsewhere.I mean really, would you care to read the 1,365,987th post about the supposed Prior-Tejada deal? What more could I possibly add to that anyway?I was going to do a write-up on how the Bears' "vaunted" D failed to show up for the game last Sunday but I woke up with a nasty migraine the next day and by the time the pain subsided I just really didn't feel like writing about it anymore. And I mean really, would you care to read about that? Didn't think so....But fear not dear readers. I have a semi-interesting post for you guys today. Not to mention I've got a few ideas for more moderately interesting posts in the near future. I just noticed this blog is still in the "newbie" category among Cubs Blog Army sites, even though I started it last April. Then again I kinda quit posting during the middle of last summer, so that's probably the reason why I'm still in the newbie pool which is only fair. It's better than being in the "Retired/Rarely Updated" pool. But looking at the other newbie blogs I notice that some are either closed or folks quit posting last July. So it's time to move up in the world, like for instance "Regularly Updated". But for that I'd have to actually update regularly, right? I'm sure it'll help me increase my readership to at least 6 readers. We can only hope.That said, I've gotten a couple of questions about the new title of the blog. Apparently it gives the impression that I'm one of those "lemming" type fans that continue to go to Wrigley no matter what, never find fault with anything management does, and has the whole sunny/ lovable-loser/wait'll next year attitude about them. Apparently those who are eternal optimists are part of the Cub Nation "cult" that "swills the blue Kool Aid." The jaded, somewhat bitter Cub fans point to good folks such as Al Yellon at BCB (the Jim Jones of this cult given how some folks talk about him) as "pollyannas" and crayon eaters and whathaveyou. Needless to say, I find this highly amusing.So am I one of these people? Is this site a homage to Hendry, Dusty, and all things Cubdom? Am I going to pick the Cubs to win the World Series every year?The answer is no, no, and no.I love the Cubs but I have issues with the direction this team has taken since 2003. But that's another story for another day.The way I see it, every serious sports fan has in a way drank the Kool-Aid at some point in their lives. It doesn't matter if you're Ronnie Woo Woo or Chuck** you have drank the Kool Aid. When you invest a good deal of your time, money and emotion into a sports franchise, when you're buying all the gear, going to games, watching them on TV, or at least following their progress throughout the season, you have drank the Kool Aid. When you deck out your house in Cubs memorabilia or you have a Cub-related blog, you have drank the Kool Aid. You may be down on the team now, but you got hooked on them once and there was no turning back.To me drinking the Kool Aid goes beyond whether you think Dusty is a great manager or you can't wait 'till he gets fired. It doesn't matter if you're overly optimistic about this team's chances in 2006 or you refuse to accept any more of the bullshit emanating from Clark and Addison, the fact that you follow this team closely and consider yourself a devoted fan means you've drank the K[...]
Jaque Jones. Why?
The good news: It appears the Corey "Toolman" Patterson Era is over in Chicago.
The bad news: He was replaced by his mirror image, Jaque Jones. For 3 years and $16 mil no less.
What the hell Jim Hendry?
I've been behind Hendry despite the bad rap he gets from most Cub fans on the internet. But this move has me scratching my head. Unless
he's got something up his sleeve and is going to get something of value for the Toolman. What that could be is anyones guess.
Seriously, who is Jaque Jones? A quick perusal of his stats for the last couple of seasons reveals this: BA hovering around .250, 20-something homeruns, 70-80 RBI's, an OBP in the mid .300's and over 100 strikeouts a year. It's pretty much the same type of numbers the Toolman brings to the table. Did I mention that the Cubs will be paying $5 milldoh
a year for this? On the positive he has had seasons where he's hit above .300. The bad news is that was two years ago.
Let's see what the scouts say*:Jones has tremendous bat speed that can drive a fastball a long way. In late 2003 and last spring, he looked like he was increasing his patience and selectivity at the plate, but often looked overeager during the summer. When he slumps, Jones tends to swing at virtually anything near the dish early in the count. He will get himself in a hole and his at-bats will last a matter of seconds. As his salary increases, he will need to improve in these areas to remain an everyday player for a good team. Greater patience would generate a better on-base percentage, as well as better power numbers, because he'd be swinging at better pitches to hit.
Funny, the same could be said about the Toolman.A smart, aggressive baserunner, Jones isn't blindingly fast, but can steal the occasional base. He's one of the best-fielding corner outfielders in the game in terms of range, but continues to have trouble finding his release point on throws. One might fly to the backstop, and the next might roll to the cutoff man. His throws aren't consistent enough to play right field in many stadiums besides the Metrodome, which has a shallow right-field fence.
So the guy swings at everything and
can't throw. It's bad enough we have a noodle-arm in center, now we have a guy who has a wild arm in right. Fantastic. Here's how the scouts projected him in 2005:There's a lot of talent in Jones' body, and he has demonstrated the work ethic and attentiveness required to still improve. An emotional man, Jones could benefit from a more peaceful 2005. If he can combine his raw power and bat speed with a little more patience and a higher on-base percentage, he could become a borderline All-Star talent. If he doesn't progress, he could wind up platooning somewhere.
Well judging by his 2005 numbers, he didn't progress much. They were almost exactly the same as his '04 production. Yet he's not platooning anywhere. He's the new RF for the Chicago Cubs. Outstanding.
The silver lining in this is that Jones has demonstrated good work ethic and a desire to improve. The same has not been said of the Toolman. So maybe there is room for Jones to improve. Maybe he'll turn things around, cut down on the strikeouts and go back to hitting for better average.
I have my doubts.*Scout analysis from ESPN
Some random thoughts on a frigid Monday:Does anyone else realize the official start of winter is still 2 days away? What's up with these single digit temps and all this snow? I just found my testes in the office parking lot after a frantic search. Apparently they froze off. That's how cold it is. That said, I can still take the cold better than that pussy Mike Patrick*. Da Bearssss!!! Very nice win over Michael Vick (and the Falcons) last night. Urlacher was his usual self, the defense kept Vick and Falcon running game in check, and the banged-up secondary stepped up big. How about that hit Mike Green put on Jenkins to force that INT (and subsequent Jim Mora Jr. meltdown)? Jenkins was absolutely blown up. But of course the big story was Lovie's QB change after halftime, bringing in Rex Grossman after Orton stunk up the joint in the first half (2-10 12 yds.). You could see the energy level in the stadium rise up when Rex jogged on the field. He followed up the standing O from the crowd by driving the Bears to the goal line and cashing in on a fumbled INT by the Falcons to put the Bears up by 10. Overall Rex looked pretty good. Sharp, decisive throws, and just a general swagger about him that had been missing at the QB position. We still have to give props to Mr. Orton. He didn't exactly carry the Bears to a 9-4 record, but he did well enough not to screw it all up. You can't ask much more from a rook. People tend to forget this kid is merely a rookie. The fact that the Bears were 9-4 with him under center every Sunday is pretty amazing. But he's not the guy that's going to take the Bears to the next level. Frankly I don't know if Grossman is either, but I feel much better having him under center come playoff time. If he can provide some offensive spark and give the Bears some semblance of a passing game, we can truly start talking Super Bowl in this city. Did anyone else notice the little "pizza place" montage they had on at one point coming in from commercial? It led to Mike Patrick saying something along the lines of "MMM, Chicago deep dish pizza. Send a couple our way" even though the pizza shown was clearly a thin crust. Idiot. And what is it with these stupid montages? Do they always have to show a pizza (or hot dog) place in Chicago? Geno's Cheesteaks in Philly? Fisherman's Wharf in San Fran? 8 Mile in Detroit? Someone make it stop. And speaking of ESPN Sunday Night Football, this was the first full game I've watched on the network this season. There's 3 reasons for that: 1) The match-up sucks, 2) My girlfriend will start bitching about me watching football for an entire Sunday (she's not completely conditioned yet) and most importantly 3) The ESPN Sunday Night crew is quite possibly the worst team of commentators in the history of televised sport. These guys (and girl) are simply brutal. It was bad enough watching Kyle Orton do his best Jonathan Quinn impression without having to listen to these clowns. I wonder if the military forces the Gitmo prisoners to sit and watch these games with audio at full blast. That is pure torture. I know I'd much rather have a bag on my head, be stripped naked and forced to take pictures with that retarded Army chick than sit though 3 hours of Patrick, Theisman, McGuire, and Kolber. Thank God they're breaking them up after this year. The Colts finally lost. And we can stop hearing the talking heads debate whether Tony Dungy should sit his starters or go for the perfect season. Regardless they're still going to win the Super Bowl anyway. Staying on the football theme, I'm sure you all heard about that[...]
Got Pierre? Oui.
Well, the offseason is looking a little brighter now that Hendry has pulled the trigger on a deal for Juan Pierre. Not a bad trade considering what was given up: Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto. All 3 are highly regarded prospects, but you gotta give something up to get something in return. Mitre showed flashes of brillance last season (back-to-back shutouts of the Blue Jays and Marlins) but I'm not sold on him, especially after he fell off the planet late in the season. Best to trade him now while his stock is still somewhat decent. Nolasco and Pinto are still a year away from coming up to the show. Either one of these cats could pull a Dontrelle and set the league on fire with the Marlins, but I can live with that if Pierre can replicate his 2002 though 2004 performance. Don't be put off by his dismal numbers last year. This guy is still young and has some talent. He's exactly what the Cubs have needed since the 2003 season ended: a prototypical table setter. So now Pierre will get to play his home games at Wrigley, where the fans will no doubt show him love. I just hope he doesn't serenade them with his lame-ass rapping.
So what's next? There's talk about Lugo and Huff, as well Soriano, Mench, Kearns, and even Zito's names being bandied about. Let's see what else Hendry can come up with this week. But locking up Pierre goes a long way towards erasing the sting caused by losing Furcal to the Bums.
Time for a change at QB?
Nice win for the Bears yesterday. Nothing beats watching Brett Favre get his ass pummeled into the ground repeatedly on a Sunday afternoon. Yet even though the Bears have won 8 straight, are pretty much a lock for the playoffs, and might even have a first round bye, their offense has been tough to watch these last few weeks. For all the hype and national media love Kyle Orton has been getting, his game seems to have been going backwards these last few weeks. Having poise and good pocket presence will only get you so far. At some point he's going to have to stop "managing" the game and start making plays. Start putting the ball where his receivers can catch it. Develop a good sense of timing with his number 1 wideout Muhammed. The kid needs to move on to the next level because the Bears can't keep counting on the defense smothering the opposition and scoring a touchdown or two while Robbie Gould adds a couple of field goals for good measure. At some point -soon- this Bears offense will have to start scoring some points to compliment the defense or they'll be one and done come January.
That being said, maybe it's time to bring Rex Grossman into the fold. When the subject of sitting Orton first came up a few weeks ago, I was 100% against the idea. Orton was winning games (OK the defense and the running game were winning the games. Orton was just there. But still...) and there was no need to mess up whatever rythm the offense had in favor of a rusty QB who really hasn't proven anything in the NFL yet. I mean, hell, Orton has started more games this season alone than Rex has in his 3 year career! But watching the Bears offense revert to its old, inept form these past few weeks has changed my perspective. Why not start Rex? He might bring some spark to the passing game and I feel a tad better about having him at QB if the Bears are down than having Orton throw passes behind his receivers for three straight downs and hoping Nate Vasher can run back another INT for a TD. However it's going to take a Bears loss coupled with a crappy performance from Orton to force Lovie's hand. Hopefully he'll make the change before its too late.
The One That Got Away
By now most, if not all Cub fans are aware that prized SS Rafael Furcal took the money and ran to L.A. to play for that mess of a team otherwise known as the Dodgers. Go to any of the team message boards, e-mail lists, and blogs and you'll find a mixed reaction to this. Some feel that Jim Hendry did all he could and wasn't going to overpay for Furcal's services. Others act as if the team will now endure a 90 loss season because Furcal wasn't signed. And of course there are a few calling for Hendry's head. Even though it's only December.
I myself have mixed emotions about this deal. On the one hand, I realize Furcal isn't the be all end all of shortstops. A savior he is not. If anything, I think he is a tad overrated and $13 mil a year over 3 years is a bit much to pay for a player of his caliber. I can see why Hendry folded after the Dodgers went that high, especially since he still has holes to fill in the outfield. On the other hand, Furcal is still a pretty good player, better than any other free agent options at short, as well as better than anything the Cubs have at the moment. He would have solved the leadoff problem, had a good OBP, and had a fair share of steals, as well as providing some good glovework at short. But is he worth $13 mil? Shouldn't the Cubs have broken the bank in an effort to win the World Series. I mean it's been 97 years, what's another couple of million a year right? Then again, it is the Tribune we're talking about here. I'm sure Hendry is on some sort of a budget.
In the end, it might for the best. It's still early and there are still plenty of players for Hendry to choose from, altough they will likely come via trade rather than the FA market. Pierre, Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Mench, Adam Dunn, and Austin Kearns are some of the names being associated with the Cubs this week. It stings to lose out on the Furcal sweepstakes, but it's still only December and way too early to panic. Let's wait and see what Hendry can come up with.
The papers in Atlanta are saying Raffy Furcal is leaning towards signing with the Cubs
. Right on!
I also wanted to make a correction in reference to my comments on Billy Wagner. I wrote that his "expiration date was two years ago" before realizing that he had 38 saves for the Phillies last season. The lesson, as always: I'm an idiot.
That said, I still think the Mets overpaid him. But that's been thier M.O. the last couple of offseasons anyway.
-As you all know, the Cubs addressed their middle relief issues by signing Scott Eyre (formerly of the Giants) and Bobby Howry (formerly of the Indians) to big money deals. Some feel that the Cubbies may have overpaid for these two, particularly Eyre. If you agree, I'd like to point out the Blue Jays signing BJ Ryan to $47 million over 5 years. I know closers are a scarce comodity nowadays but damn! That is easily the most expensive BJ ever. Barump bump bump!
-Speaking of overpaid closers, the Mets locked up Billy Wagner for $43 mil. I think Wagner's expiration date was 2 years ago.
-The Trib is reporting that the Cubs are expecting an answer from Furcal by the end of the winter meetings next week. Apparently it's between them and the Braves. Furcal is seeking big money, a team with a shot at winning, and a place where he feels comfortable. Well the Cubs have a good bit of money to spend, they're close to fielding a true contender, and Wrigley is surrounded by bars in case Rafa gets thirsty. It's a match made in heaven if you ask me.
-The Cubs have released ticket prices for the upcoming season
. Needless to say they're pretty ridiculous but still not the most expensive tickets in the Majors.
-Does it seem odd to anyone else that ESPN hasn't really said a whole lot about Michael Irvin being found with a crack pipe in his car? According to Irvin, he was just trying to hide it from a friend of his who is fresh off of rehab. Maybe if that friend was T.O. we might be hearing more about it.
-And in other news, Ronald MacDonald was charged with stealing from Wendy's
. The Hambugler was unavailable for comment.