Friday, April 29, 2005

The 25th Man

There's been a debate raging over at the Desipio message board over the uselessness of Jose Macias. Some feel Jose should be given a one way ticket back to Montreal (which conveniently lacks a baseball team, thus sparing fans everywhere), while others feel that such treatment is too harsh, and that Jose is actually a fairly competent utility man. I can't really agree with either of those assessments. Jose is a bad player, yes, but he's not the worst player in the majors (I reserve the right to retract this statement). He made this team essentially as the 25th man on the roster (and might not have if he didn't have a guaranteed contract) but the problem is, Dusty Baker doesn't use him like the 25th man.

Let me elaborate on how I think the 25th man should be used. He is always the worst player on the team, and it's very likely that he's not as good as the top 3 or 4 players at AAA. You don't want a top prospect as your 25th man, because he's going to rot on the bench. You see, the 25th man's playing time should be as limited as possible. Ideally, you want this player to be somewhat like Macias, in that he's versatile (Macias switch hits, and can play any position defensively-although neither his hitting or fielding are very good), but you have no interest in his development as a player, so it doesn't matter if he gets rusty. You see, it's my feeling that this player isn't so much a weapon, as a last line of defense. He should only play under drastic circumstances: an injury, an ejection or an extra inning game. He can start every 10 days or so, but shouldn't get more time than that. He's the 2nd to the last pinch hitter you use (in front of the backup catcher) and he's probably not good enough to be used as a defensive replacement. The 25th man has no real chance for advancement. Any minor league callups should be placed in front of him on the depth chart. Which is where I take issue with Macias, and by extension Dusty Baker. You see, Dusty is loyal to his guys, and Macias is now one of them. As a result, when Nomar was injured, Neifi became the shortstop, and Jose became the utility man. That's okay for two games, or so, but once Cedeno came up from the minors, HE should have taken Neifi's old spot in the pecking order, with Macias going back to being the 25th man. And Macias should NEVER be used to pinch hit instead of Jason DuBois or Cedeno.

So I guess my conclusion is that I wouldn't mind having Jose on the team, if I knew he was going to be used in the manner I described above. However, knowing Dusty's penchant for trying to get all of his players into games every week, and his seemingly bizarre attachment to useless veteran players, Jim Hendry should have known better than to bring Jose back this year. It almost seems to me that the best thing to do with a manager like Baker is to purge the bench players every year. That way Dusty has no attachment to them, and they'll be forced to win jobs on merit.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dubious Milestone

During the course of internet surfing, you come across a lot of dumb stuff. One of the more lucid sports columnists on the internet is King Kaufman over at The rest of the site I can take or leave. It's unabashedly liberal, but mostly in a bad, whiny sort of way, as opposed to the good forklift kind of way. Anyway, they're celebrating the 4th birthday of Salon Premium. Which means that for the last 4 years, you've had to either pay a subscription fee, or watch an internet commercial in order to read the same crap you used to read for free. Sounds like a reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Reds 11 Cubs 9

God forbid the Cubs stay over .500 for more than one day. Carlos Zambrano is now 2-1 in 5 starts with 2 ejections. The man knows how to take a no decision. Did anybody think that the Cubs bullpen would be able to hold that 2 run lead following Z's ejection? Me neither. The Cub bullpen is a total shambles right now, and the Reds know what the rest of the league knows; if you can knock the Cubs starter out with a two run lead or less, there's a good chance you're going to beat them.

The Good:
The offense: homers by Lee, Ramirez, Burnitz and DuBois. A good showing overall by the offense, putting a 8 spot up on Eric Milton (didn't this guy nearly no-hit us last year?). Couldn't come through in the 9th inning though.

The Bad:
Not much good today, huh? For starters, Carlos Zambrano gave up 6 earned runs and got himself ejected in the 4th after nailing Austin Kearns with a pitch following an Adam Dunn homer.

The Bullpen-I have the feeling I'll be typing this one out a lot. Nobody in the pen pitched particularly well, so I'm not going to single anyone in particular out. Suffice to say they turned a 2 run lead into a 3 run deficit before I even realized it was happening. Now that's efficiency.

Dusty Baker-I didn't forget about you Dusty. Is there some sort of rule that if Jason DuBois hits a homer that Todd Hollandsworth must pinch hit for him later in the game? Even if you buy into this stupid percentages bullshit, DuBois needs to get some hacks against a right handed pitcher sometime. Or does Baker plan on using him exclusively against lefties? Maybe he thinks that Jason and Mike Remlinger are the same person?

The Ugly:
The outfield defense was terrible. DuBois dropped a flyball (which didn't hurt us, but will probably give Baker an excuse to leave him on the bench) and Corey Patterson allowed a shallow single to skip past him, resulting in two runners scoring instead of just one.

For those who wanted Hendry to make a run at Adam Graves, well, he's not much better than what we got. He was lucky to strand the tying runs in scoring position in the 9th when Hollandsworth (AUUUUHHHGGGG!) made the final out. He also fell down on one pitch and almost hurt himself. No word on whether he slipped on a piece of Chad Fox's elbow.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Cubs 10 Reds 6

Well, the Cubs have put together a fine 2 game winning streak, bringing them above .500 for the first time since Opening Day. With Corey Patterson out due to the flu, Dusty Baker was forced to play Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston and Jose Macias in what looked to be a pretty anemic lineup. All they did was put a 10 spot up on the board. Of course, due to some sort of Faustian bargain(perhaps it's a by product of Perez's), another Cub player suffered an injury in exchange for the victory. At this rate, the only ambulatory players on the team in August will be Neifi! (who is seemingly unstoppable), Carlos Zambrano (who would throw a 2 hit shutout from his deathbed) and LaTroy Hawkins (because we'll never get rid of him).

The Good:
Neifi! Perez is the straw that stirs the drink. He was 2/5 with a homer and 4 RBI.
In what I felt was a nice managerial move, Dusty moved the slumping Michael Barrett from the 8th spot in the order to the 6th. Barrett responded by going 3-4 with 2 RBI, looking more confident than he has all season.
Derek Lee also maintained his hot April going 2-4 with a walk and 2 knocked in.
Mark Prior continued his dominance. He pitched 6 innings, walking 2 and striking out 10, and giving up his first run of the season. Accusations that Prior is "soft" seem to have been silenced.

The Bad:
Aramis Ramirez still doesn't have it together at the plate. He was 0-4 with a walk, and chased some pitches out of the zone. I think Aramis may be putting a little extra pressure on himself this year. Not because of the new the contract, but because he was probably a lot more at ease hitting in the 4th spot when he knew that Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa were coming up behind him. Hopefully, he can get it back in gear, as the Cubs are going to need his bat.

I was hoping to go a game without criticizing one of Dusty's managerial moves, but no such luck. Normally, you can let bad moves slide in a blowout, but not this one. With the Cubs leading 10-3, Baker brought Chad Fox into the game in the 9th. This was bad for a number of reasons, because Fox has a long history of elbow problems, including a surgery this offseason. Fox had also closed out yesterday's game, and there have been questions going back to spring training as to whether Chad could pitch 2 days in a row. Since this game was well in hand, it would seem like today would not have been the day to press our luck with such a fragile (but talented) reliever. But defying logic once again, Baker marched Fox out to the mound, where he but up the following line: .1IP, 3BB, 1H, 3ER before leaving the game with what looked like a serious arm injury. Now the Cubs already thin bullpen (Glendon Rusch will probably be unavailable until the Cubs know Kerry Wood can make his next start, and even then he'll probably be kept fresh in case he's needed early in that game) is down another man. Come back soon, Joe Borowski.

The Ugly:
Chad Fox's aforementioned arm injury. You could tell it was bad just by looking at it.

The Wrigley Field Fans: Fox had a bad outing, but as he left the field, obviously injured, the Cub fans in attendance booed him. With Fox's injury history, it's not inconceivable that he's pitched his last game this year, and possibly ever. He deserved better from the fans. And I'm not done with them yet. Once again, a Wrigley idiot interfered with a foul ball that right fielder Jeromy Burnitz had a play on. Did people learn nothing from October 2003? Sometimes I think Lee Elia was right about the fans.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Cubs 5 Pirates 2

The Cubs continue their mediocre ways, pushing their record back to .500 today. It was a pretty good game, Kerry Wood only gave up 2 runs (a good outing for him this year) but was only able to pitch 5 innings due to shoulder tendonitis. The guys in the broadcast booth made it sound like a precaution due to the weather, but I guess we'll learn more about that tomorrow.

The Good:
Neifi Perez continues to astound us all by hitting the hell out of the ball. Neifi's current line stands at .396/.420/.563 and he doubled, homered and singled today. He also continues to have good AB's, especially late in the game when he shortened up his swing to drive in Corey Patterson with a single for an insurance run.

Jeromy Burnitz slapped out of a mini-slump by clubbing a 3 run homer that proved to be the difference.

The bullpen: Chad Fox came in to pitch the ninth and managed to get the save without giving me a heart attack. Michael Wuertz also pitched another solid inning.

The Bad:
Wood walked the leadoff man in at least 3 innings. He also went only 5 innings, although it's still unknown if that was precautionary or reactionary.

Michael Barrett continues to look lost at the plate, with another 0-fer. Barrett does his best when he works the count, and hits the ball where it's pitched. Right now it appears he's trying to pull everything, and he's jumping on the first pitch way too much.

The Ugly:
The Cubs outfield defense was not good today. Jason DuBois looked extremely slow in leftfield, Jeromy Burnitz does not yet have a feel for playing Wrigley's right field when the wind is blowing, and the less said about Jerry Hairston in center, the better.

Not too much to complaining about, a win and no major injuries as good as it's gotten lately.

It's Drafty in here...

The NFL draft wrapped up today, and the Bears are getting mixed reviews for their selections. I don't fault them for their first round pick of Cedric Benson (although I would have preferred Mike Williams), but their second round pick, Mark Bradley, a WR from Oklahoma appears to be a bit of a reach. The Bears needed help at receiver, but Bradley looks like a project to me, and the Bears already have several wideouts under construction as I write this. Maybe I'm wrong, and Jerry Angelo has gone and found an offensive version of Charles Tillman, but considering Angelo's track record on drafting offensive players, I'm not expecting much. I was actually much happier with the drafts of the Bears NFC Central foes. Despite having woeful defenses, none of them took a defensive player in the first round. And Minnesota managed to outsmart themselves and pass on Mike Williams to take Troy Williamson who is less of a sure thing. While I'm not pleased with the prospect of the Bears facing Williams twice a year in Detroit, I much prefer the prospect of Joey Harrington throwing him one-hoppers to Dante Culpepper heaving him bombs.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Pittsburgh 4 Cubs 3

Cub pitcher takes 1 run lead into the 9th inning. LaTroy Hawkins comes in, gives up lead, Cubs lose. Apply, rinse and repeat. Those who are waiting for Hawkins to come around as the closer shouldn't hold their breath. Today's loss was inexcusable. Hawkins was unable to hold a 1 run lead against the worst team in the Central Division under ideal pitching conditions (cold, damp and a 25 mile and hour wind blowing in). I hold out no hope for this guy, it's been obvious to everyone he can't close, and while we hoped in vain that the excuses offered for LaTroy were legit (he didn't know the league, he was developing an out pitch, he doesn't pitch well in back to back games) today's effort has me officially closing the door forever on this guy as a closer. If Dusty Baker trots this guy out again in the 9th to protect a lead, he ought to be fired. And Jim Hendry isn't blameless in this whole affair, either, he should have done SOMETHING when Borowski went down with his injury. The worst part is, Hawkins was a great setup man, but it's pretty obvious that part of pitching is mental. My question is, after taking such a beating as a closer, will Hawkins still be useful as a setup man, if and when the Cubs find a new closer?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cubs 3 Cardinals 1

Quick roundup from tonight's game-

The Good:
Carlos Zambrano- 8.2 innings of 1 run, 4 hit ball, and an RBI triple. You can't ask for much more than that from Big Z.

The Cubs approach at the plate- 12 hits and 4 walks, shows the hitters are starting to find their grooves.

The Cubs beat the first place Cards in Busch Stadium. A rare occurrence, even when they are good. They also guarantee at least a .500 road trip.

Jerry Hairston will likely start at 2nd base tomorrow instead of Neifi

The Bad:
Hairston will start because Nomar went down with a groin injury early in the game, so Neifi will remain in the lineup to play shortstop.

Despite the hits and walks, the Cubs couldn't get runners home. This game should have been a route, not a 2 run nail biter.

Todd Hollandsworth got 2 more hits, meaning we won't see DuBois on the field for another week and a half.

The Ugly:
Everything about Nomar today. From his terrible throwing error, to his weak double play ball, to his groin injury, nothing looked good about him. The Cubs have announced that the injury is a "strain", but since Nomar was physically carried off the field, this doesn't look good.

LaTroy Hawkins- brought in with 2 outs in the 9th and a man on 2nd, LaTroy managed to induce a 399.5 foot flyout to centerfield from John Mabry. As the Cubs congratulated him after the game, LaTroy still looked petrified. Joe Borowski can't get back soon enough for me.

Busch(League) Stadium- Thank goodness they're finally building a new stadium for the Cards, because that place is absolutely hideous, inside and out. I've been there, and the whole place smells like the restrooms at Wrigley Field. I know people in St. Louis liked it, and will probably miss it, but the reality is, the dump was simply Veteran's Stadium West.

Cubs 7 Reds 1

The score about says it all. The Reds were never in yesterday's game after the first inning. That inning belonged to Corey Patterson, who homered in the top half, and took away a two run homer with a great catch in the bottom of the first. Prior dominated the Reds from that point on, giving up 4 hits, with the only run scoring on a throwing error by Nomar. Other than that miscue, no complaints about this game. Hairston and DuBois both started, Derrek Lee continued his hot April, Aramis Ramirez showed signs of breaking out and Michael Barrett finally got a couple of hits. If this Cub team can put together efforts like last night's consistently, they're going to be a threat in the division. We may find out more tonight, with the Cubs heading to St. Louis for two games. While the team isn't yet firing on all cylinders, they're definitely picking up speed. They say that hitting is contagious, so here's hoping that Nomar catches what the others have got.

Monday, April 18, 2005

More on the Score

I'm trying not to make this a daily feature here, but Mike Murphy is again pissing me off. Following tonight's loss to the Reds, Murph started his postgame show by touching on several points where Dusty Baker could have been second guessed, and also questioning whether something was amiss with Kerry Wood. That's fine, except after going over these things briefly, Murph then turned to his new agenda, ripping Bob Brenley and stumping for Steve Stone. First Murph hammered on Brenley for being too much of a homer, then he sarcastically asked if Dan Plesac was going to be fired for 2nd guessing Dusty Baker on Comcast's own postgame show. Murph's got an agenda, and it's getting a little tiresome. Stone serves as a baseball analyst for the Score now, and it's no secret that Steve and Mike are friends. But the fact is, Steve Stone resigned his position with the Cubs, he was NOT fired. And I'm a little sick of the woe is Steve crap that's coming from Murph and his ilk.

Look, I like Steve Stone a lot as an announcer, and I challenge anybody to name better color analyst in baseball or any other sport. I don't say this lightly, I mean I suffered through the Joe Carter Epoch like every one else. But I don't think it's right for fans to judge Brenley right off, when he's been thrown into a bad situation, where he's got to replace a beloved former broadcaster, and work with a play by play man who's also new to the team. You see there's a reason that Stone could make the criticisms he made on air-he had over 20 years of credibility built up with Cub fans(and a lot of non-Cub fans who watched the games on WGN over the years). People seem to forget that Stone's whole career basically hinged on whether Harry Caray liked him. Had Steve worn the wrong shirt to their first broadcast, he likely would have gone the way of Josh Levin. But Harry liked Steve, so the fans like him too, and Harry would actually let Steve talk sometimes, so what Stone had to say must be important, to make Harry actually stop spelling names backwards for a minute.

So Steve had lot of credibility, and he had a great job that paid him a good amount of money. And after a series of confrontations with Baker and Jim Hendry and several players, he quit. Some people say that he had no choice, that he was forced out. That's bullshit. Steve Stone had a very rare opportunity, one that most people rarely have both the financial standing, and personal courage to pull off, he quit a high paying, high profile job, soley because he felt keeping it would violate his principles. That's something you can do, when you know that people will come running to hire you. So don't feel bad for Steve Stone, he's got a job, and he's got his principles. But don't let anyone tell you that he didn't quit.

Wood Not Good

Well, this was supposed to be the start for Kerry Wood. All the kinks were out, all the rust was off, and he was facing a team that he's dominated throughout his career, in a park where he'd never lost a game. His offense even showed up, staking him to a 4-0 first inning lead. So what happened? Do you even need to ask? Wood got nickeled and dimed for a couple of runs and then Cincinnati blew it open in the 6th inning and tied the game at 5-5. Glendon Rusch breezed through the 7th, but for some reason Dusty Baker chose to start the 8th with Jon Leicester, who loaded the bases on 2 walks and hit batsman, then induced a 5-2 double play, then gave up a towering double to Jason LaRue to make it 7-5. Another good question for Baker might be why he did not walk LaRue with two out and runners on 2nd and 3rd. A walk would have brought up the 9th spot in the order, and Cincy had only one pinch hitter left on their bench. One could also question why Baker decided to go with Leicester in this spot at all, since he hadn't pitched in over a week.

But as much as I want to question Baker's moves, the real blame here falls to Wood. He simply could not maintain focus with the lead, and while his control was better, the pitches that he left up were hit hard. Wood is coming to a crossroads in his career; he's too old to still be a wild, young phenom, and with the trade of Sosa, he has become the face of the team. Unfortunately, when things are going bad for the team, it's players like Wood who come under the heaviest scrutiny from the fans (as Sammy learned last year). Carlos Zambrano blew a lead on Friday, but nobody was suggesting that he was injured, washed up, or trade bait the next day; and you can bet you'll hear those things about Wood on Tuesday.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Score

Much to the chagrin of the Uncouth Sloth, a couple of people in Chicago, still listen to 670 the Score (okay, me, Mike D and Chuck). I don't know why, but after tonight's Cub game, I turned on Mike Murphy's show. Maybe I'm a masochist, maybe it helps my self esteem to laugh at idiots on the radio, or maybe I just like to listen to a guy who's voice apparently emnates from the world's largest nostril. Whichever the case, I didn't have to listen for too long before I got a little angry with Murph. See, I actually agree with him that Dusty Baker is a lousy manager, but Murph seems incapable of blaming GM Jim Hendry for any of the teams failings, when the sorry state of the bullpen is Hendry's fault. I like most of what Hendry has done during his tenure as GM, he's shown a knack for making the big trade at the right time to give his club a boost down the stretch. But the simple fact is, when Hendry first came on the job, he said his first order of business was to fix the bullpen, and now, 3 years later, it's still not much better than it was in 2002. And the fact that the bullpen's shortcomings may have cost us and NL pennant in 2003 and a Wild Card spot in 2004, means that Hendry does have some answering to do for this. But not the way Murph sees it. Somehow, the bullpen's failings are all due to one Andy McPhail, who, while a total weenie, hasn't been running the on field baseball operation for some time. Mike seems to think that it's Andy's fault that Hendry only has the 5th highest payroll in the league. Surely, no man could build a respectable bullpen with those kinds of restrictions. Unless that person is running the Minnesota Twins, who through trades and call ups have put together one of the best pens in the league. Hell, you don't even have to be that smart, as evidenced by Kenny Williams and the White Sox, who, while they lack a dominating closer, have a very deep pen, which they're going to need to win close games with their brand new pop gun offense. The truth is, Hendry has failed to build the bullpen, and it has cost the Cubs. Because almost every team knows that if they knock out Chicago's starter with a 1 run lead or less, there's a very good chance they're going to come back and win that game.

Losing Ugly...

The Cubs lose to the Pirates tonight, and there's plenty of blame to go around. The Cubs failed to score with 1 out and the bases loaded, with Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee both looking bad in their at bats. Jerry Hairston broke the wrong way on what turned out to be the game winning double and Carlos Zambrano gave up 3 homers, two to catcher David Ross, who the Dodgers let go because they preferred Paul Bako. Not to be outdone, Dusty Baker continued working towards his goal of leading the league in questionable managerial moves. He continues to believe that because Mike Remlinger is a left handed pitcher, he can get left handed hitters out. Remlinger came in a gave up the tying run, then in the following inning was left in the game to face Rob Machoviak and Darryl Ward, both of whom hit the ball hard, and scored later in the inning when Chad Fox was brought on to finish the job that Rem had started. Also, with the score tied in the top of the 8th, Baker chose to pinch hit for Jason DuBois with Todd Hollandsworth because, well, seeing as how DuBois had homered already in the game, the only reason I can think of is that Dusty was playing the goddamn lefty/righty matchup again. When are managers going to realize that sometimes it's okay to go against the "percentages"? In this case, I might have considered the fact that DuBois is a career .300 hitter to Hollandsworth's .260.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

When I'm rich...

If I ever win the lotto (or aquire an obscene amount of money somehow), I know one of the things I'm going to do with it. I'm going to hire Bill Simmons away from, and pay him to write what he really thinks about ESPN and it's idiotic announcers, horrible anchors, ridiculous shows and brutally bad website. Just because you know he's dying to do it.

Double the fun...

So the local media was all jacked up, because the Cubs were playing a double header that would feature "a pair of aces" in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Well, they might want to rethink that headline, and Wood was knocked around for 4 runs in the first inning, and the Cubs were never in it, losing game one, 8-3. So of course Mark Prior, who everyone was worried about after his sore arm and bad minor league start, came out and pitched a gem, with the Cubs winning that one by the same score, 8-3. It was a day to defy logic, as Dusty Baker blew our minds by starting Neifi Perez in both games, and Neifi followed it up by getting 6 hits in 9 at bats. Anyway, the Cubs should be happy with their split and after taking Thursday off, they'll play the team that always has the cure for what ails them, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oh, and the opener of that series will feature the Cubs REAL ace, Carlos Zambrano.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rain Delay

Since Mother Nature refused to cooperate on Tuesday and rained out the Cubs, most of the rest of us were forced to find some other way to amuse ourselves. Jerry Hairston used his time off to go on the Score and beg forgiveness from Dusty Baker. Hopefully it works, and we won't see much more of Neifi in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, it looks like other people were hard at work as well. In fact, the West Virginia lawmakers were so busy trying to wrap up their work session, that apparently they voted through a bill that made English the official language of that State without even knowing it. Evidentially, one of the sneakier members of the legislature stuck the provision onto an existing bill, and since congresspersons have a lot more important things to do than actually read the laws they're voting on, nobody caught it.

Some people are going to think this bill is racist, or xenophobic or exclusionary or something, but there's one word I'd use to describe it: futile. Sure, it'd be a lot easier if everybody spoke the same language, and easier for me personally if that language was English. But what exactly does it mean to have an official language? Will those who speak French in West Virginia be fined or jailed? Almost all street and business signs are in English already, so that won't change. Will immigrants suddenly flock in droves to ESL classes, for fear of persecution? And what if other state's get into the act? Some states are going to have Latino majorities in the near future. What if California or Arizona votes Spanish as their official state language? I guess I should have paid better attention in my college Spanish classes.

Anyway, I'm sure that if it's a slow news day, West Virginia's decision is going to be plastered all over the national newscasts. We'll be repeatedly treated to the sight of field reporters doing man on the street interviews, asking idiots what they think about this issue. And the problem is, the question they should be asking is: what the hell do lawmakers have to do that's more important than actually reading the bills that they vote on, and will end up affecting all their constituents?

Monday, April 11, 2005


When word came down that Todd Walker would be out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, almost every Cubs fan thought "well, at least it'll mean more AB's for Jerry Hairston, which will get Patterson out of the lead off spot". Well, that just goes to show that we haven't been paying much attention during Johnnie B. Baker's managerial tenure. Most of us were surprised to see that Neifi Perez was batting 2nd and playing 2nd base today. Baker's stated reason for this, that Perez has seen more of starting pitcher Adam Eaton, was utterly ridiculous. If that's the justification, then Hairston will never play, because he's spent his career in the American League. But Hairston evidentially took the news hard, expressing his disappointment to reporters and saying "the best news I've heard the last two years is that I'm an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year". Only a week into the season, and already the Cubs have a potential clubhouse problem on their hands, caused in part by the guy that they got when they traded their other clubhouse cancer, Sammy Sosa. And while it may seem minor, this situation has the potential to spin out of control, quickly. There are 3 parties to blame here. Let's take a look at each one.

1. Dusty Baker - Baker's fault is the most obvious. I'm not as high on Hairston as some others are, but he's much better than Neifi Perez, and light years ahead of Jose Macias. Yet Baker started Perez, and used Macias as a pinch hitter in today's 1-0 loss, while Hairston rotted on the bench. The latter is probably due to Hairston's comments to the press, brought about when he found out Neifi was starting. But what about that decision? Baker's strength is supposed to be his communication with his players. Baker knew that the press had anointed Hairston the starter, and should at very least told him immediately that Perez would be the second baseman today. Instead, Hairston was sucker punched by the decision, and gave a candid reaction to the beat reporters, which will not sit well with Dusty.

2. Jerry Hairston - While Hairston may have been right to be angry at his snub today, he was wrong in the way he handled it. A terse "no comment" to the reporters would have been enough to get his point across, with out publicly airing his grievances in a way that he had to know would bring repercussions from Baker. Dusty has talked all spring about eliminating "snitches" in the clubhouse, and this was what he meant. Hairston should at least gone into Dusty's office and aired him out there in private. In addition, while I think Perez and Macias stink, I don't see where Hairston seems to believe that he's owed something. He alluded to his previous record in the majors, but his career stats are just north of mediocre. Jerry seems to think that something was promised to him, somewhere down the line, and while the newspapers speculated on his role, I don't recall anyone from the Cubs stating it.

3. Jim Hendry - Let me say that I am not a Hendry hater. I think he's done a good job overall putting the team together that last few years. But he failed to do his homework on Hairston. While I'm surprised at how quickly Jerry became disenchanted with his role, I'm not surprised that it happened. Hairston lost his job to a much better player in Baltimore, and he let it be known he wasn't happy at all. Hendry brought him into pretty much the same situation in Chicago: an established 2nd baseman, who Hairston would spell, and an uncertain outfield situation, that would probably garner Hairston the bulk of his AB's. Hendry also probably saw him as injury insurance for Hollandsworth, Walker, and Ramirez if necessary. But Hendry also knows all too well Baker's penchant for rewarding "his" veterans with playing time they often don't deserve. Shouldn't Hendry have squared just such a situation away with Baker beforehand?

So, as you can see, the Hairston situation may be the symptom of a deeper problem. If this is a matter of miscommunication between Hairston and Baker, this incident could end up being anything from a minor annoyance to the start of a rift between the manager and the players. But if this is the result of Hendry and Baker not seeing eye to eye, then the entire situation could be disastrous.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Successful Weekend

So after a tough loss on Friday, the Cubs bounce back to take 2 of 3 from the Brewers. Saturday's game featured a brilliant effort by Carlos Zambrano, who pitched 7.1 innings of one hit ball, had two hits, drove in a run, scored a run, sang the National Anthem, and sold beer in the stands between innings. The press can hammer Big Z for his emotional outbursts all they want, but that doesn't change the fact that he's the best damn pitcher in the National League, and the absolute joy he demonstrates whether he's stiking a guy out, hitting a home run or making a horrifyingly bad headfirst slide into 3rd base is a thing of beauty.

Today's win got the Cubs back to .500 on the season, and it also featured another solid outing from the Cub bullpen. Glendon Rusch looked like last year's version, hitting the corners with his fastball, throwing strikes and keeping the hitters off balance. The Cubs won 6-5 in extra innings, and hopefully will continue to win one run games, because I'm sick of hearing about their record in one run games from last year. I'm not one of those people who think that losing one run games is due to some sort of character deficiency on the part of the players. I want them to win all the games, regardless of the score.

The only down side now is the injury to Todd Walker. Walker was hurt when Carlos Lee took him out at 2nd base to break up a double play in the 10th inning. Kind of ironic, since part of the reason Lee was supposedly traded by the White Sox was that he didn't drill Minnesota's 2nd baseman in a similar situation following Tori Hunters forearm shiver to the head of Sox catcher Jaime Burke. The current word is that Walker will be put on the DL with a sprained knee, which will open up playing time for Jerry Hairston. It's kind of weird though, as I wanted Hairston to get some more AB's, but not at the expense of Walker, who had been the Cubs best hitter so far. Also, part of me is afraid that instead of Hairston, Dusty Baker is going to trot Jose Macias out there in Walker's absence. Let's hope that Macias stays on the bench, where his versatility* can be better exploited. Let's also hope that Walker's injury is only a sprain, as I believe that this usually the initial diagnosis on all knee injuries.

*versatility in this case is defined as the ability to strike out in every plate appearance while playing mediocre defense at a number of positions.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Brewers 6 Cubs 3

Well, the Cubs lost today, and I can't say they didn't deserve it. Just about everything that could go wrong for the team did. Less than 6 innings from your starting pitcher? Check. Stranding runners in scoring position? Check. Inability to generate offense against a mediocre (at best) pitcher? Check. Blown save? Check. Bad defense? Check. Lot's of walks for the opposition? Check. Lot's of strikeouts from the Cubs? Check.

Wow, it looks even worse to lay it all out like that. I still can't get myself worked up over this, though. Part of it is, I look at this team, and it's really not that different on the field from last year's version. I mean, Sammy and Moises may have changed the clubhouse, but so far, this is still the guts of a team last year that couldn't seem to score without homeruns, couldn't executed basic fundamental plays, and had a bullpen who's pitchers were a bad mix of inexperience and ineffectiveness. So, I can't say that this is totally unexpected. I don't expect the team to stay this bad though, eventually, the starting pitching will right itself, and hopefully, a solution will be found at closer. Otherwise, 2005 may end up looking a lot like 2004.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Home Opener

Only a few more hours until the Cubs home opener. The team went 1-2 in Arizona, but that may also have been a product of spring training hangover. Some of these guys haven't been home since mid-February, so I'm not going to make any snap judgements based on the first series of the year. I will say that I did notice a change in the way I watched the games though. Last year, I was amped up for every game, didn't want to miss a pitch, which was ultimately too exhausting over a 162 game baseball season. I wasn't the only one. It was obvious that from day one, the Wrigley crowd was hyper intense, standing and roaring through almost every game. While that kind of passion is admirable, it also has to wear down the players. I know their professionals, who aren't supposed to be affected by such things, but let's face it, that's impossible. When you're in the focus of the intensity of 40,000 people, well, I believe you can't help but get caught up in it, and after 82 games (and probably more, as the Cubs faithful seemed to turn out in force at any stadium with extra tickets) the players were quite honestly probably glad to get away from it. But I've noticed so far this year that I've been able to sit back and enjoy watching the games this year, without constantly worrying what effect the outcome is going to have on the Cubs playoff chances. Maybe I learned my lesson from last year, or maybe I'm just burned out from the Illini's tournament run, but I hope I can keep this attitude for most of the summer. Then, about August 1st, if the beloved Cubs are still within shouting distance of the division or wildcard, I can dial up the intensity a little bit. Here's hoping that the rest of you Cubs fans are feeling the same way. Let's try and enjoy this season, instead of impatiently waiting for October, because as watching Illinois taught me, sometimes the journey is as much fun as the destination.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Well, I'm over my Illini hangover, so I figured I go over some of the things that I liked and disliked from yesterday's Cub opener. The good news? The questionable new offense clicked on all cylinders yesterday, with every Cub player, both broadcasters and Yosh Kawano getting hits off of the Diamondback pitchers. Only 5 of the Cubs 16 runs were scored via the homer, meaning, well, that the other 11 were scored in some other way. The bad news: Carlos Zambrano lost his control in the 4th inning, and lost his cool after Dusty Baker removed him, thus receiving a meaningless ejection. Some people are saying that Carlos was getting squeezed, well, over the course of the season, that's going to happen. The big guy then needs to throw that fat sinker up there, and trust his defense to get him out of the inning. Anyway, I did actually see some good in this situation, as Dusty Baker came out to retrieve Carlos with 2 out and the bases loaded in the 4th, hopefully this is a sign that Dusty isn't going to screw around with the pitchers this year. Carlos had thrown too many pitches, and I'm hoping that if Baker keeps some of these guys on shorter leashes that they'll try and conserve a little bit. Of course, I could be totally off base on my assessment, but hey, that's why they pay me the big bucks. The only way we'll know for sure is if the next time Kerry Wood has a 40 pitch 4th inning, Dusty goes out and gets him, regardless of the score.

Oh yeah, I've been watching tonight's game a little, and I've got a question for Comcast Sports Plus...would it kill you to spring for the score overlay? I sat through the whole 3rd inning (I think), not knowing the score or inning, because there was no graphic. Then after the 3rd out, extra helpful announcer Len Kasper says "and that's the end of the inning and the score is 3-2". Thanks Len, real helpful.

Monday, April 04, 2005


It's opening day. The Cubs won. I should be happy, right? Well, I can't be. Not tonight. Illinois lost a heartbreaker to UNC 75-70, and this one hurts. The Illini played a terrible first half, digging themselves a 13 point deficit with 20 minutes to go. They battled back valiantly, pulling even a few times, with a chance to tie or take the lead with less than a minute left, but they just couldn't get over that hump. I feel bad for the seniors, Powell, Head and Ingram played their asses off, and deserved a win. Unfortunately, James Augustine had a game to forget, fouling out after playing only 9 minutes.

I guess I can only fall back on my own sick combination of optimism and pessimism. Maybe in a few years, an NCAA investigation will discover that a combination of money, drugs and gay sex was used to recruit the current Carolina roster, and they'll be stripped of the title. Nah, not even that would make feel better. Congrats to UNC, they earned this one. But I'll say nothing good about Roy Williams, simply because he's got Billy Packer for that.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Infighting Illini?

Illinois advanced to the National Final of the NCAA tournament yesterday, and will meet the University of North Carolina for the championship on Monday. Illinois did this by handling a Louisville squad that featured Juan Palacios and Francisco Garcia (who used to wrestle together in the WWF as the Conquistadors). Unfortunately, the buildup to the game was marred by bickering between the current Illinois players and members of the 1989 Flyin' Illini team. Basically, several members of the Flyin' Illini came out and said that there was no way that the current roster could beat the 1989 version. Deron Williams took offense to this, and the debate over who would win a game that will never be played raged on the rest of the week. On one hand, I can understand the way the 1989 players feel. The 2004-5 Illinois team has already done 2 things that the 1989 team never did, win the Big 10 and advance to the championship game. The 1989 team will likely go the way of the NFL Champion 1963 Chicago Bears, who were the toast of the city until the 1985 Bears were able to run through the season and win the Super Bowl in a more spectacular fashion. But I question the 1989 team's timing, and frankly, I question that they really could beat the 2004-5 team. After all, the Flyin' Illini managed to lose in the National Semi Final to a Michigan team that they'd already beaten easily, on two occasions. And despite the assertion that college basketball is watered down because of NBA defections, the truth is, athletes today are bigger and stronger than they were even 15 years ago. Obviously, this debate can never really be settled, but I'll look at it this way: I do not think that the Flyin' Illini could beat the current North Carolina squad. So if Illinois does win on Monday, in my mind, they'll be the best the school has ever seen.