Monday, July 31, 2006

maddux, walker dealt

this page has over the past two months repeatedly called for the chicago cubs to use this season as a means of remediating one of the great major-market baseball disasters of modern times in part though a divestment of veteran players like greg maddux, juan pierre, todd walker, ryan dempster, bob howry, scott eyre and aramis ramirez.

as we have said, none of the first six of these players is likely to play any part in a competitive cub squad with the daunting mountain of rebuilding from this cesspit before the club, a process sure to take some years. indeed, the pitching merely obstructs the potential development of ready minor league talent at the major league level in a low-pressure rebuilding environment -- though injury seems to have cleared a path for rich hill for the time being at least.

the last one is very likely to opt out of his contract for free agency following this season, at which point the cubs would be as likely as any team to retain him. the possibility is now all but assured in the context of carlos lee's refusal of a 4-year, $48mm offer from the brewers (which quickly prompted his trade to al west contender texas). as has been said elsewhere, this is the final notice that ramirez is in for a certain massive payday if he voids his remaining contract with the cubs -- the market has moved well beyond ramirez's extant contract. indeed, the cubs are even apparently aware of this probability. getting prospects for ramirez from some contending club -- the angels, for example -- simply makes a lot of sense.

but instead of seizing on these probabilities and attacking the team's problems proactively, jim hendry, andy macfail and the cubs have succeeded only halfway in capitalizing on one of the better opportunities to fix some of the things that are wrong with this club.

reliever scott williamson and walker were moved well before the deadline, receiving in return non-prospects joel santo and fabian jimenez angulo for williamson, and the more intriguing 19-year-old power pitcher jose ceda for walker.

for some time, it had appeared that hendry had beleaguered himself into imagining that he was getting insufficient value in return for maddux in the offers he did receive. rumors had the dodgers offering two triple-a players from one of the most loaded systems in baseball. it is hard for this page to imagine how maddux might be worth more than a b-level prospect as a 40-year-old pending free agent pitcher who has gone 4-11 with a 5.77 era since may 1 -- one has to wonder, in fact, what hendry had believed he should get in return.

however, as time expired, hendry sensibly did conclude a deal with the dodgers, bringing that b-level prospect in the form of no-hit good-glove cesar izturis to chicago. this seems a disappointing return for the cubs considering what the dodgers have in the cupboard, but izturis will at least replace the completely incompetent ronny cedeno at shortstop and solidify the position in the field.

hendry bafflingly retained the flaccid dusty baker as manager and kept his coaching staff for the remainder of the season despite their highly questionable record of competence. and he gave off indications that he would stand pat around at the trade deadline, deleriously convincing himself against all evidence that the cubs are not far from being a good team. but it seems at least that hendry understood that maddux was worthless to the cubs.

that hendry did not go further in moving ramirez and more bullpen pieces is tantamount to evidence that hendry -- confronted with responsibility for having constructed one of the great laughingstocks in cub history -- has withdrawn deep into a world of abject denial and self-reinforcing fantasy rather than acknowledging the harsh reality and taking responsibility for repairing the damage that he has done as best he can. it should not be denied that the flight from truth has wrought incalculable damage to the franchise yet again. the cubs seem here to have done little of lasting significance to make the club competitive again -- indeed, the only possible redemption of this deadline day looks to be ceda, who is still a question mark.

the best possible scenario now seems to be to hope that the cubs can offer ramirez and pierre arbitration in the offseason and have other teams sign them away in free agency, thereby receiving compensatory draft picks (as both are likely type-a free agents). but that is a tricky situation with pierre, as he may actually accept the offer of arbitration -- effectively sticking the cubs with a centerfielder that has been expensively unproductive since the end of the 2004 season. speculation has also circulated that pierre may in fact be resigned for 2007; that would be a mistake, it seems here, even if felix pie amounts to naught.

it also seems that dempster, howry and eyre will return to the 2007 cubs despite the likelihood that the cubs will be nowhere near good enough to justify the expense of a high-powered bullpen. spare parts like phil nevin may yet be dealt before the waiver deadline of august 31, but are unlikely to bring anything important in trade.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Where has this been all year? On Sunday afternoon National League Cy Young candidate Carlos Zambrano led the Chicago Cubs to a 4 game sweep against the Cardinals.

Anything can happen in the old game of baseball. Over the past week, the Chicago Cubs have awaken from their season long slumber to play their best ball of the season. Ironically they have done this against two of the National League's best teams. The Northsiders took two of three from the Mets earlier this week and followed that up with the sweep of the rival Redbirds. This week will probably end up being the highlight in a season full of new lows.

The Cubs last recorded a 4 game sweep of the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in 1972. So in a season that has Cubdom shaking it's collective head, here's something else to make us wonder about the team. Why has this team played so well in the NL Central, but so bad against the NL East and NL West? What impact did Jim Hendry's announcement that Baker will finish out the season have on the team?

Still there's something great about beating the Redbirds and LaRussa. Friday's game even had the beanball fireworks we have come accustomed to in the Baker/LaRussa era of the Cards/Cubs rivalry. If Hard Bake is managing his last few months in Chicago, he can hang his hat on the fact that this team didn't least against the Redbirds and Muts.

Friday, July 28, 2006

When did you become so uncreative?

In today's Chicago Tribune Dave van Dyck writes about Jim Hendry's unenviable position. The July 31 non-waiver deadline is quickly approaching and Hendry doesn't have the players to bring back valuable pieces in return.

Now I will concede if that were, in deed the case, Jim Hendry's level of (in)activity could be understandable, but he is NOT IN THAT POSITION and to claim he is, is patently absurd.

Another team in a similar situation to the Cubs in 2006 is the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland, unlike Chicago, was expected to perform well this year and potentially compete for a playoff/World Series birth. However, following a promising first series against the White Sox to open the year there hasn't been a lot for Chief Wahoo to get excited about.

Contrast the action coming out of Mark Shapiro's office against the inaction of Jim Hendry. On 6/30 Cleveland sent platoon first baseman Eduardo Perez to Seattle for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, 7/20 Cleveland sent closer Bob Wickman to Atlanta for catcher and plus hitting prospect, Max Ramirez, 7/26 Cleveland sent platoon first baseman Ben Broussard to Seattle for OF prospect Shin-Soo Choo (great name) and a PTBNL.

So far Jim Hendry has sent Scott Williamson to San Diego for two project A-ball pitchers.

Jim Hendry, please do something. Where has your creativity gone? Are you still the guy who turned drunken Todd Huntley into Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros? Are you still the guy to turned Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez into Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton? Are you still the same man who took Alex Gonzalez, Francis Beltran, Brendan Harris and yielded Normar and Matt Murton?

Since the deadline deal for Murton, you've done nothing of value. What's changed?

Your waste line has grown and there have been rumors of a drinking problem. Is this why you think Greg Maddux is the only player on the roster that could be traded for something valuable?

You have 3 days and 7 hours to get something done, to help you on your way here is a list of the players you should be sending feelers out for to contending teams willing to pay for overpaid, marginal talents who you seem drawn to sign.

1. Jacque Jones - He will NEVER have the value he has right now EVER again. He cannot hit lefthanders and with a free agent class devoid of right fielders keeping him may tempt you to put him and his AWFUL arm back in right.

2. Aramis Ramirez - A number of teams, especially out west, would love to talk about bringing in Ramirez to be a middle-of-the-order bat, going into a playoff push. Ramirez could provide the Cubs with a stockpile of prospects similar to the Bartolo Colon to the Expos deal that got the Indians Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore. Furthermore, Ramirez will exercise his option to test free agency and keeping him will cost in the neighborhood of 4 years, $48 million with a full-no-trade clause. Because 3B has become a much less difficult position to fill with production in recent years, it is not wise to allocate scare free agent dollars to 3B when so many other holes would remain unfilled.

3. Greg Maddux - Who gives a rat's ass if Sir Toothpick McDoubleswitch wants to keep him for the remainder of the season? Think to yourself, how many of his suggestions (Neifi, Goodwin, O'Leary) have turned out well.

4. Scott Eyre/Bobby Howry - With the market price established for plus bullpen guys in the Washington deal, you are INSANE not to trade these two in this market. I would aim at an Andre Either-type talent for each of them; you'd probably get some fish to bite.

5. Michael Barrett - We know he is your pet project and he's done very well, especially since his round with AJ in May. However he is a defensive liability and most importantly his value is at its highest. A quality replacement like Jeff Mathis could be had in a trade for Ramirez (or others) to the Angels. Just try selling high once?

6. Ryan Dempster - He is wild and since his baby was born he blows saves like Paris Hilton blows real estate moguls. He is a lot younger than Bob Wickman and his contract puts him under control of the acquiring team for two more years, not asking the Yankees for Eric Duncan for Dempster is a CRIME!!!!

7. The leftovers - I don't care how you do it but find takers for Todd Walker, Phil Nevin, Glendon Rusch, John Mabry, and Henry Blanco. I don't care if you get a bunch of PTBNLs, but these types of players who've became such a symbol of the Dusty-era need to be banished from the roster for the healing to begin.

Even if you have to put on a Creed CD to do it, imagine its 2002 and be a Major League general manager!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Steve Carlton of 2006

Before the 1972 season, the Cardinals traded Hall of Fame left-hander, Steve Carlton, to the hapless Philadelphia Phillies. In 1971, the Phillies finished in 6th place in the East with a record of 67-95.

Logic would tell you that Steve Carlton's performance would be adversely affected by the his new digs, considering the team he was coming from, the '71 Cardinals, finished 90-72. Sometimes, in baseball, even the best logic doesn't exactly play out as you'd expect.

In 1972, Steve Carlton had 30 complete games, 27 wins, 310 Ks, and an ERA of 1.97; winning the NL Cy Young. The craziest thing about Carlton's '72 season was the fact the Phillies were actually WORSE than they were in '71! The 1972 Phillies finished with a record of 59-97, a distant 6th place in the East.

In my opinion, Steve Carlton's '72 Cy Young was the most impressive Cy Young in history because of his relative excellence compared to his teammates. Take away Carlton's 27 wins and 10 losses from the team's 59-97 record; you get a remaining record of 32-87 (.269). Extrapolating the non-Carlton .269 winning percentage over the team's 156 games, you are left with a Carlton-free record of 42-114. This is still quite a bit better than the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134), but it WOULD put them comfortably in the neighborhood of the 1962 Mets (40-120); who are largely considered the worst team in the modern era.

Historically speaking, Carlton's Cy Young is peculiar, typically Cy Young Award winners play for a team that either makes the playoffs or narrowly misses. In 2006 that Cy Young oddity is going to be repeated. The 2006 Cy Young Award winner to date is the Cubs Carlos Zambrano.

Below is abstract of the five pitchers I considered candidates for the NL Cy Young (through 7/26):

A very good argument could be made for each of these pitchers. Webb leads all candidates with a 2.64 ERA, Carpenter leads all with a 1.12 WHIP, and Arroyo and Harang have led Cincinnati’s pitching-fueled, surprising ’06 season. However, like Carlton in ’72, the performance of Carlos Zambrano stands out from the rest because his dominance comes while competing on such a poor team. Carlos Zambrano is the 2006 NL Cy Young, if the season ended today.

Santo's Sorrow

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lee returns to the DL

The news came down today that Derrek Lee is going back on the disabled list. This should come as very little to surprise to most Cub fans who have followed this team over the last few years. The Cubs as an organization have really struggled to bring their injured players back strong.

Lee's original injury back in late-April was followed by the same old song and dance from the Cubs brass that Lee would return ahead of schedule. We have heard the same bullshit regarding two pitchers that will go unnamed time and again. Anyone who follows baseball realizes that wrist injuries are very serious for hitters. I assume that the Cubs fine medical staff understands this.

This leads me to ask the following questions: Why did the Cubs rush Lee, their franchise position player, back to play on a fifth place team? Did they risk him suffering further injury bringing him back?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tale of two teams

This afternoon I was driving in the car listening to the Cubs game. Thanks to the Northsiders and the wonderful technology that is XM, I didn't have to spend real long on the Cubs game. As a matter of fact by the end of the fourth inning the Cubs had pretty much wrapped up another sweep, this time to the Washington Nationals--a real worldbeater. I found myself flipping between the Tigers/Athletics game, the Indians/Twins game and the Sox/Rangers game.

Listening to the Sox game I learned that the slumping Sox have been taking extra bunting practice under skipper Ozzie Guillen. Twice, in the few innings I was listening, Ross Gload got sacrifice bunts down that led to runs being scored on groundouts. This practice got me thinking about the Cubs skipper. When was the last time he had the team in early to put down bunts? When was the last time Dusty Baker said he was "embarassed" by something his team has done?

I flipped in between the three games for a several more minutes and then went back to Pat Hughes and Dave Otto, filling in for Ron Santo. By this time it was 7-1. I turned to my wife and asked "what is it going to take for this team to do someting?" and I was not talking about trading Scott Williamson. When a team fails to the extent that the Cubs have this year, somebody usually gets canned.

This afternoon I turned on Sports Central and later the Score. What I found out was of little surprise to me. Leading the AL Wildcard, Kenny Williams is not happy with the position his team is in. Williams DFA'd Chris Widger just as he did Cliff Politte earlier this month. Williams has no loyalty to these players because they were good on last years world championship team. If the players are not getting the job done, they're gone. Meanwhile on the Northside, Neifi Perez continues to see regular playing time.

(With apologies to Seinfeld) What Guillen and Williams are doing is the exact opposite of what Baker and Hendry do. The results seem to speak for themselves.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Patience gone wild

We are taught as youngsters that patience is a good thing. We are also taught as youngsters that you can have too much of a good thing.

Jim Hendry’s patience has sent the Cub baseball operations into complete disarray. The Cubs currently find themselves 20 games under .500--in a league where .500 would put them smack dab in the middle of the NL wild card race. The Cubs find themselves playing for another “next year”. The trouble is the General Manager has left his manager out in the wind. So, Dusty Baker has to win games to keep his job. Jim Hendry’s patience in regards to the manager has created a major conflict of interest between the needs of the ballclub and the needs of the field manager.

The team needs to play youngsters everyday and find out if they can or can’t contribute to this team winning down the line. The trouble is those players do not give manager Dusty Baker the best chance to win everyday. So, Phil Nevin, Neifi Perez, and others continue to take at bats as Dusty Baker tries to figure out how to save his own job. It was in the best interest of this organization for Jim Hendry to have made a decision regarding the field manager official (one way or the other) earlier this season. By not making any decision, the Cubs yet again are letting another second half slip away without figuring out what they have for “next year”.

Now let’s look at another area where the GM is showing great patience. He is yet to start dealing his veteran players. While teams like the Cleveland Indians have decided to start taking prospects in deals, the Cubs sit. Your minor league system is in shambles. You have the opportunity to add a few prospects in deals. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR CRULLER JIM? I have no idea, but he is waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more. The man has incredible patience. Do you think he’s this patient at Krispy Kreme in the morning?

The time for the Cubs to extend or fire Baker was earlier this season. The time for the Cubs to restock there crappy farm system is now. Now is not the time for this general manager to be patient.

As a Cub fan I’ve learned: patience gets you 99 “next years”.

floyd landis

you'll have to forgive this writer, dear reader. with a week's vacation ahead and no plans to check in on this page, and with quite frankly little interest in any news that emerges from cubdom that doesn't involve firing staff or acquiring prospects, the stage was here set to simply do something else.

sometimes, watching the cubs, it's easy to forget what sport is supposed to be about. all the exasperating horseshit that goes on around the worst major professional organization in all of sport anywhere in the world is enough to denude one of the sensibility of what sport can be. when you are stuck with flailing and failing morons like macfail, hendry, baker and the rest of the clown car, it's easy. losing becomes expected -- a habit, as the cliche goes, even for the fans.

but once in a while, one can go outside the stupid and worthless sphere of cubdom and catch a glimpse of what real fire underlies the entire concept, how exactly the discipline and perseverence and work and passion can come together to affirm life in homage to the highest states of the human drama.

one doesn't imagine that anyone else who reads this page watches professional cycling at all, but if anyone does they do so this month. july is the season for the three-week, 2,000-mile-long tour de france. and this year has been the most shocking, surprising, amazing in memory. befitting the first race after the retirement of the sport's great champion, the unexpected has constantly enveloped the tour from the eve of the start when involvement in a doping scandal removed three of the favorites. (cycling, unlike baseball, takes its drugs problem seriously.) this put a number of teams who would otherwise not have been in any contention within a sniff of the yellow jersey -- and the result has been maximum effort and maximum chaos. largely unheralded riders like cyril dessel and oscar pereiro have put in the races of their lives, and the leader's yellow has changed hands virtually every day.

a number of american riders were hopefuls before the start, but many have simply wilted under the powerful glare of expectation in a sport which is a huge spectacle in much of the world, particularly in europe. but the drama of their failures have nothing on the adventure of floyd landis.

riding in secret but intense pain over the last four years on a degenerative hip that will require replacement surgery immediately after this race -- quite probably reducing his abilities significantly and threatening his cycling career -- landis has been a man possessed this season, focusing completely on the goal of winning in this race his sport's highest crown. a calculating and intelligent rider, he has raced strategically throughout to save himself and his hip -- so much so that some have said he lacked the "panache" to be champion.

all question of that ended yesterday.

some days ago in the 13th of the twenty race stages, landis -- in the yellow jersey -- intentionally gave up the lead to ride a very slow and conservative day for his team, allowing pereiro and a small group to take back 30 minutes (an immense amount of time), putting him in the lead. many questioned the tactic, but fine climber landis claimed the be confident that he could take back the lead in the looming alpine stages. this he did in the 15th stage, racing brilliantly up the legendary alpe-d'huez.

however, the 16th stage met disaster, as landis -- clearly suffering from the very start -- cracked and uncharacteristically dropped off the pace, laboring to the finish well behind pereiro and the other overall leaders. this effectively ended his chances to win the tour. he fell some eight minutes behind, and no one would make the same mistake with him as he had with pereiro. or so everyone believed.

in yesterday's 17th and final mountain stage, however, a reborn landis left the pack of leaders on the first climb, some two-and-a-half hours into the five-and-a-half-hour day. such was his acceleration that the leaders, understanding what could be at stake, attempted to follow -- and could not, dropping away. and so landis departed in one of the greatest solo rides in the history of the sport, destroying the field, resurrecting years of effort and sacrifice and a career mortally wounded just the day before on the force of his will alone.

With a blistering 80-mile attack over three mammoth Alpine passes, Landis won the final mountain stage of this year’s Tour by nearly six minutes, regaining much of the time he lost when he had a near-total loss of energy on a steep, final climb Wednesday.

No less an expert than the longtime Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, called Landis’s performance “the best stage I have ever followed.”

“I remember the ride of Eddy Merckx in 1969 in the Pyrenees, when he went alone for more than 100 kilometers,” or more than 60 miles, Leblanc said. “Today was the same with Floyd. One day before, he was the leader, then he was defeated. But he was no coward, and thanks to his great heart, it is a very great performance.”

Paul Sherwen, a former professional cyclist who is now a race commentator for OLN, which is televising the Tour in the United States, said that he could not recall a performance like that of Landis.

“I’ve been on the Tour for 28 years, and I’m racking my brain trying to think of something I can compare it to,” Sherwen said. “I think many people would also think of Claudio Chiappucci” — the Italian cyclist who became part of race lore largely thanks to long breakaways in the 1990 and 1992 editions of the race.

Sherwen particularly recalled Chiappucci’s performance in one long breakaway to the Italian town of Sestriere in 1992.

“But Chiappucci hadn’t lost 10 minutes the day before,” Sherwen said. “He hadn’t gone to the brink of exhaustion and he hadn’t seen himself lose the yellow jersey and go from first place to 11th.”

here's a ticker commentary, though it cannot compare to the intensity of seeing it. watching last night on tape delay was the most hypnotizing and exhilirating bit of spectator sport this writer has seen in years. the drama, the suffering, the triumph and redemption -- landis has not yet won the tour, though he is now once again the favorite, but will enter into the heroic annals of the tour de france regardless. and deservedly, for what he did was truly heroic.

it is truly powerful and affirmative episodes like this which this outhouse ballclub deceives and deprives its battered and deluded fans of with all its drivel and incompetence.

what landis has done is worthy of the highest praise, for it affirms all that is best in human life and achievement. what he did was impossible. but he did it. with everything on the line, he did it.

what macfail, hendry and the cubs do, year in and year out? not fit to be pissed on. not sure why anyone watches or cares.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An eMail from the Worldwide Leader

Found this e-mail in the 1060w inbox earlier today. Looks like Stephen A. Smith is gonna have Dusty on his show next week. If your gonna be in NYC next week, it'd be pretty funny to go to this show to boo Hard Bake. If you're interested Jackea's e-mail address is below.

My name is Jackea Chan and I am an Assistant Associate Audience Producer for ESPN2’s sports talk show Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith.

The reason I am contacting you is that we have just been notified that on Monday, July 24th, Current Chicago Cubs Manager Dusty Baker is scheduled to appear LIVE
in studio!

We would like to extend to you and your website FREE tickets to attend the show. We realize that this would be a great opportunity for some of your forum members to get together and meet up for an exciting sports show. You guys can definitely feel free to BOO Dusty if you so please. The tickets are open to your all interested members, family members, friends, and co-workers.

Our studio is located in the heart of New York City, across the street from Madison Square Garden. Again the show date is Monday, July 24th at 11:15am with a 9:30am check-in.

If you or any of your members are interested in attending the show, please call me at 646-708-7150 or email Please provide your first and last name, telephone number with area code and spell your email address. Someone from Audience Services will contact you if your reservation has been accepted.

In addition, please feel free to post this information on your website for all Dusty Baker and Cub fans located in the New York or tri-state area.

Thank you.

Jackea Chan
Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith
Assistant Associate Audience

8:01 AM, 7/21/06--An Update on the post from the Tribs Teddy Greenstein. Looks like Hard Bake has bailed on the interview due to this e-mail. I hope none of you changed your plans for the taping, LOL. Kudos to Kurt at Goatriders for taking on the Worldwide Leader. Ahh the soap opera never stops between these guys(Dusty's Cubs) and the media.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the general management situation

this page has been encouraged to see criticism for the 2006 debacle extend beyond field manager dusty baker, who -- inept as he is -- cannot be considered the sole source of horror in this disaster. we here have made special mention of the putrescence of both jim hendry and andy macfail since the inception of this page, and are glad to have the company. talk has even turned on occasion to who might replace hendry as assistant architect of the club should the the reaper's sickle find him too.

this writer thinks that there are a lot of people who could remake the club into a winner over the next several years, but some key caveats here are specific to the situation. first, if such a rebirth is to be likely, tribco must quit redirecting profits to the shareholders to make up for the mismanagement of the major assets of the company and instead reinvest them in player payroll; and the commodore macfail, whose ruddy fingerprints are all over this disaster as the end product of his useless reign, must be sidelined from baseball operations along with other potential interferences from further up the corporate food chain.

however -- to be pragmatic -- these are the cubs and they are owned by tribco at least for the time being. as anyone who has ever worked for a corporation knows, 'no interference' from on high is not an option. indeed, it is less likely that a meteor strike would wipe the city off the map before next season than that the invasive narcissism of tribco middle managers suddenly mitigate.

so whoever comes in has to be bureaucratic infighter enough to effectively sideline macfail and the corporate superstructure -- and yet procure the resources needed to win through them -- which brings us back to the first condition. in the current fiscal environment of tribco, payroll contraction is the likely direction, not expansion. on-field payroll (excluding the sammy sosa contract fiasco) declined from 2004 to 2005, total payroll outlays declined from 2005 to 2006, and with tribco's financial troubles intensifying -- to the point where layoffs are being announced -- it is very hard to anticipate payroll expansion of any kind, much less of the kind that would exceed the general rate of payroll inflation in baseball.

if the idea in the mind of the current general manager is that he will be given the kind of resources in 2007 that it would take to make this club a winner from what it is now, good old cruller jim is in for a massive surprise. he genuinely seems to think he's going to be given what it would take -- and his dreamy stupidity in this direction in part explains his insane idea of holding his cards instead of folding right now before the 31st in an effort to go much younger and start the sincere rebuilding this club obviously needs.

the other part of the explanation, of course, is that hendry was inked to a two-year extension through 2008 before the start of the year. he has to win soon or not at all.

but it seems very much to this page that hendry is exactly the kind of buffoon that doesn't see it coming and therefore can't prepare -- he likely spends far more time looking at the bottom of a tumbler or a donut box than at the details of the financial condition of tribco. and because of that ignorance, he cannot see that -- regardless of what he thinks he's been assured by the corporate offices -- a goodly portion of the salary coming off the books for the cubs after this year is unlikely to be redeployed.

this speaks directly -- and unfortunately -- to the likelihood of seeing hendry replaced, an honor that he has surely earned by having such a considerable hand in destroying any hope of a competitive cubs team from 2003 to today, a path of mayhem of which the refusal to acknowledge disaster is only the latest stop. this page is coming around to the opinion that hendry's extension is a product of tribco's problems and offered with the knowledge that tighter times are coming. they have effectively signed him to lose -- to survive the payroll decline and bear the brunt of the public ire in 2007 and 2008 long after dusty baker has already been sacrificed. fitzsimons and his gang likely have long understood that the cubs are going to be scaled back by several millions and are therefore very unlikely to do much but lose in coming seasons. with hendry's extension, they have a patsy on board to manage the disaster, and can cut him loose in 2008 -- by which time, they might hope, the crisis will have passed.

is it possible for hendry to be sent off before then? of course -- this page knows not what the future holds. but it should be heavily considered that the cubs and tribco understood in advance of hendry's extension that the team would be frustrating for the next few years.

Monday, July 17, 2006

the commedia dell'arte

this writer remembers faintly those years of youth when the hypothetical dominated everything. the operative word in naive life was not as it is now -- "probable" -- but was instead the open-ended "possible" and all the flights of fancy to which the word could carry small minds with large imaginations.

most of us, one suspects, can recall the children's game of "what if" -- what if you crossed a giraffe with a donkey? what if superman fought batman? what if the cubs were good?

sunday night saw the resolution of one of the infinite number of hypotheticals of playground dreaming: what if the best team in the national league played the worst?

the answer came in the sixth, when this writer was treated to the single worst inning of cub baseball in all of team history.

the mets sent 16 to the dish and plated a franchise-record eleven runs in the top half, coming on two grand slams, two todd walker errors and an aramis ramirez unscored mental error which botched an inning-ending double play. juan pierre also dropped a catchable liner off the bat of carlos delgado as the cubs gave the metropolitans, as bad teams sometimes do, at least seven outs to get through the inning -- and the mets, as good teams sometimes do, capitalized.

but what made it the worse single inning overall was the laughable flight of the cub offense in the bottom half. it was nothing special -- what has been special this year? -- but a ramirez double play and a jacque jones tapper back to the pitcher carried such an air of meek and helpless futility as to render this writer helpless himself with laughter.

don't fool yourself, dear reader -- the cubs are in fact the worst team in baseball, and it's really quite beyond doubt. the pittsburgh pirates are perhaps the unluckiest, blighted as they are with the record they are while the cubs have underperformed them significantly in run differential. but few who watched last night's performance could doubt that the cubs are beneath the lowest low.

and it hasn't escaped the notice of espn, at least. in their introductory skit/montage which opened their broadcast, the network openly mocked the average cub game attendee as a dimwitted, sentimental and fatalistic fantasist and the team as a sort of perpetual blight on the sport incapable of deserving serious consideration as a ballclub and therefore of attracting serious or deserving fans.

this page would be hard pressed to say where that picture is wrong, as it seems here that the cubs have taken on most of the characteristics of the commedia dell'arte -- the vaudevillian buffoonery of italian improvisational theater. all the stock characters are present. macfail as il capitano, hendry as pantalone, dusty as harlequin, the players an assortment of pagliacci -- and of course, as the innamorati, the fans hold the central but naive role in the whole vexation. as with any good italian commedia, more than a little criminality pervades the plot, and slapstick ribaldry exists in equal parts with treachery and hapless incompetence.

in short, the cubs have become an extended theatrical joke -- but that does as unjustly little to describe the grace and perfection of the wry humor of this trundling failed ballclub as calling shakespeare's lear a tragic figure. there is art in this disaster, even as the perpetually scheming pantalone denies that anything is wrong, and this page advises you, dear reader, to enjoy it so for there is no other way to enjoy it at all.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

hendry is just another word for denial

this page stands amazed.

hendry broadcast over the team website that no sale of players is coming as the july trading deadline approaches.

"I don't have a definitive way of how things will go," Hendry said. "Whenever you have problems, people assume you're going to have this fire-sale approach. What's lost in that is even if you aren't in the race at the end of July, you have to do most of your preparation for seeing what you might have and who you want to keep for next year."

Players who might be moved include those who will be free agents at year's end, such as Scott Williamson, Todd Walker or Phil Nevin. Williamson could be a hot commodity for a team looking for bullpen help, which most playoff-bound teams are.

"A lot of the people I see mentioned in trade possibilities make no sense," Hendry said. "I keep reading about [Kerry] Wood and [Mark] Prior getting traded. That would make zero sense."

With things as they are, health-wise, a trade involving either pitcher is unlikely because other teams can't be expected to swap quality for unknown quantities, and the Cubs aren't likely to jump at lowball offers.

"It's, 'Oh, gee, people will be coming after the Cubs for so and so, and so and so,'" Hendry said. "Changes are going to be made from year to year, but to think we're going to trade people just to trade people makes no sense."

"Hopefully, if trades are made from our end, they'll be done for a couple different reasons," he said. "One, to give some people opportunities who might be in the plans for next year, and two, to acquire somebody who might help you next year."

it is expected that walker, williamson and nevin would go. and this page would be hard pressed to disagree with the sentiment that wood and prior are basically worthless.

however, ryan dempster, bob howry, scott eyre, greg maddux, juan pierre and aramis ramirez are not. "trading people just to trade people"? what stupidity this is. none of these expensive relievers are going to help the cubs anytime soon -- big-money bullpens are for the winning teams that need them, not also-rans like the cubs who will not be in contention next year either. maddux has no long-term future with this team and should be dealt for whatever can be got for him -- by the time the cubs are ready to win again, maddux will have retired. pierre amounts to little more than an expensive roadblock for felix pie. and ramirez remains an excellent candidate to walk at the end of the season with the convenient clause hendry granted him.

all six of these players represent high-profile acquisitions that most any playoff-bound club would like to fortify its roster with. none of them are of material use to the cubs -- indeed, the pitching only hinders the development of the young players coming of age in iowa, who could be proving themselves out in chicago in preparation for 2008 and 2009.

moreover, they could bring in trade the kind of prospects of which the cubs have very few -- the kind by which a sickly farm system could be jump-started.

but all that has apparently been quashed in favor of yet another offseason of futile patchwork as hendry desperately flails about like a fish on the rocks trying to find the water of the playoffs before his ill-advised two-year extension is up.

hendry has increasingly struck this writer as the sort of deeply and desperately insecure person who is characterized by an irrational stubbornness in the face of criticism. hendry clearly hears the calls for change, and they are very valid ones considering the complete apoplexy of the chicago cubs. his reaction? mindless intransigence -- first with dusty baker, now with the roster.

this is too much. hendry is clearly in complete denial of just how deep and pervasive the disaster he and andy macfail have created really is, and of just how immeasurably far the chicago cubs are from being anything like successful. if there was any doubt that both he and macfail have run off the deep end into a swirling maelstrom of self-delusion, incompetence and failure, this would seem to all but settle the question. hendry is talking about patching a few holes while this club is on its way to 100 losses -- is there any surer sign that the cubs are to be an abysmal and directionless loser again in 2007?

this page has issued its plea for sensibility again and again, but for naught. the stupidity and hubris of the cub front office overwhelms all exterior calls for sensibility and patient humility. instead of making clear progress by clearing out useless chaff and unneeded veterans to make way for new growth, the cubs under macfail and hendry will only continue to wreck against the reefs.

macfail and hendry cannot be dismissed soon enough. the cubs will never amount to much while they diabolically hold court over this team.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

yet another stay of execution

the sun times is reporting that dusty baker will be the manager of the chicago cubs for some time still.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry ended the speculation about Dusty Baker's immediate future today by saying the manager is in no jeopardy of being replaced at the moment.

``There's no truth to any of the speculation,'' Hendry said. ``I don't know how it got started and took off like this.''

As for Baker, he is likely to finish out his four-year contract in the dugout, provided the Cubs continue to play well after the All-Star break. The Cubs have won three straight and four of their last five games.

``I haven't changed my stance on Dusty from Day One,'' Hendry said. ``People can say or speculate what they want, but I never told people I would make a decision this week and I'm not planning to make one.''

Hendry gave no time frame for making a decision on whether to give Baker a contract extension. He will continue assessing how Baker, his staff and his players respond in the final three months and only take action if he sees the situation declining. Hendry also said that no coaching changes are being considered at this time.

``When there's an announcement to be made, we'll make it, but there's nothing coming any time soon,'' he said. ``The only person making the decision is me.''

this page is unsurprised to hear more self-affirmation from the clinically insecure hendry -- the constant reiteration of just who exactly is in charge indicates that he himself isn't confident -- but is puzzled by the childish lying about the source of speculation regarding baker's job. hendry himself started the speculation with his comments last week. he isn't stupid enough (we think) to not have realized the implications of what he was saying, as his comments then were clearly intended to take the heat off a team in a death spiral by giving the impression of a functioning, self-correcting bureaucracy at work behind the scenes.

clearly, it would seem, that bureaucracy is in any case broken.

this page said once before that, having survived the inflection point of pressure, it suspected baker would ride out the storm -- indeed, that abject failure seems to be of little consequence within the cub front office, if hendry's own extension is any indication. it then further said last week that hendry's own impotence made it likely that little would happen soon. this decision to hang on to baker at least for the time being certainly seems to affirm that view -- though dusty is part of the problem, the problems obviously run far deeper and higher than the manager.

cubs coach chris speier on the score this afternoon gave another perhaps unintentional glimpse into the total dysfunction of the cubs as an organization. it has been noted here and elsewhere that the cubs, despite being a fundamentally unsound team, do not drill under baker. this goes some way in explaining, it would seem, the basic situational errors -- such as the failure to hit cutoffs and have the pitcher cover first -- that have been a feature of dusty's teams.

but what speier revealed is what has taken the place of practice -- ad hoc fantasy camps. coaches dick pole, gene clines and gary matthews hit groundballs to corporate executives who have paid the cubs for the privilege of getting out onto the field to take a few groundballs and some instruction from cub coaches. the coaches are then compensated for their time by receiving goods and services from the corporations involved.

this is how the priorities of this team now lie -- coaches hitting grounders to paying fantasist executives before games while the players lounge in the clubhouse.

mike imrem in today's daily herald wonders if macfail shouldn't try to leave while he still can with some measure of grace, and this page can hardly disagree. the unbelievable incompetence and aimlessness that pervades this franchise from its players to its general manager is all, in the end, a reflection on macfail's awful tenure with the cubs which has been every bit as bad as the time that preceded it. this team is the product of his organization -- he is responsible for every part of it.

this page is of the considered opinion that macfail has as team president bred a poisoned, lazy and stupid culture within a cubs organization which is in every likelihood incapable of producing a consistent winner under his watch in large part because of his incompetence in baseball operations. after a dozen years, it has become clear that he doesn't know how to build a winner and thus has little effective notion of how to evaluate the performance of those underneath him who are supposed to help him in that cause.

as baker twists in the wind, one problem at least temporarily reprieved by another problem, this page would ask you, dear reader, why it isn't andy macfail's head being demanded on a platter before he can be allowed to put yet more future years beyond the grasp of victory.

theosophic karma

this writer has never put a lot of faith in the notion of theosophic karma. there is much to admire in the original and far more deeply considered notion of karma central to the dharma, but the new-age western idea that an unthinking world-spirit is imposing psychical-energy balance on human affairs is just a bridge too far. way too far, in fact.

however, a re-evaluation may be in order after this. carlos zambrano was hit in the elbow by a fungo at the all-star game, aborting his appearance and putting his turn in the rotation in doubt.

who was swinging the bat? reputed ankle-biter and white sox coach joey cora, notorious participant and suspendee in the michael barrett melee.

this page isn't sure what to say about it except that zambrano could use the rest. he's the major league leader in pitches thrown this season with 2129 in 19 starts -- an amazing 112 per start. the team, having been finished for some time and having a backlog of young pitchers to sort through, certainly doesn't need him to pitch. one hopes that he -- or his arm, anyway -- savors whatever time off may come of it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why I am a Cubs Fan (if that even matters)

Why I am a Cubs Fan

On Monday April 6th, 1987 my future as a baseball fan would be determined. I returned from school after a tough day of finger painting and spelling in the 1st grade. My father was watering the plants when I came home. He worked the night shift as a postal worker in Carol Stream, and therefore, he was off during the day.
"Sox are on," he told me.
"Sox are on?" I thought. Why the hell would my father ask if I wanted to watch the White Sox? I was a kid from a community north of Chicago, and I had just memorized the entire Cub roster all the way down to Manny Trillo! Why in HELL would he ask me to watch those ugly, disgusting, and despised Chicago White Sox?!

My dad wanted to give me a chance. One last chance to get out of the hell I was about to inherit.

After passing my father, on my way to the inside of the house, my thoughts and feelings were locked on the Cubs' home opener of 1987 against the Cardinals. Harry had a stroke, and the Cubs were using guest announcers. Hopes were high for a healthy Rick Sutcliffe, a young staff, and some healthy big sticks across the field (sound familiar?).

My thoughts were with the Cubs that day because I was an impressionable young man. My father became a Cub fan in 1967, which wasn't popular seeing as he was a South Side Irish kid. But the next year his family moved up to Hoffman Estates, where he would be around more Cub faithful. My father would tell me stories of how he saw Ernie Banks win a game with a 3 run homer against San Diego, or how Billy Williams was robbed of the MVP award by Johnny Bench.

Growing up in the 1980s with Harry Caray, daytime games, all games on WGN, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Keith Moreland, Rick Sutcliffe...the Cubs were easy to like. I would adopt them into my daily life much like a monk adopts prayer into his chores.

I was hypnotized by the green grass, the smell of the all beef hot dog, scoreboards that required addition skills, pennants that told standings, day baseball, and the nameless jerseys of the pinstriped team.

At this time in early '87 though, these feelings were locked to only pictures on a screen in a small ranch home in the northern suburbs. I only knew the guys from the back of baseball cards, or inside my sticker book. They weren't real to me at the time. I had, in my mind, made them as legendary as my Optimus Prime fortress inside my closet.

They would gain reality on June 5th, 1987. My first trip to Wrigley Field: Cubs vs. Cardinals. The Cubs came into the game two games back. They had come together through Dawson's furious first half, Sutcliffe's solid pitching, and good power numbers from Durham and Moreland.

I can vividly remember walking up the ramp, seeing the field being watered, holding my father's hand, and wondering what all those blasted Cardinal fans were doing at the game. My Cubs and my season! Together at last! The pictures on the cards could now match the real movements up close. My fantasy world and my perfect Cubs (who were going to win their first world championship in 79 years) were together at last.

It's almost TOO fitting that my first game was a part of a season that had begun with so much hope, and ended in such a drizzle. The Cubs would lose the game to the Cardinals, lose 3 of 4 in the series, and spiral into last place at season's end.
Gene Michael would be fired, Frank Lucchessi would be hired, and my first Cub summer would end in demise. The only question was if Dawson could reach 50 homers in the ladder portion of September.

That summer was filled with two hopes: 1. Could younger Cub pitchers like Maddux break through, and 2. Would the Cardinals EVER stop losing.
Neither would happen.

Watching the season waste away, I was left to ponder what might have been. The whole proposition did not make sense. Why was I wasting my time on a team that seemed to not get it right? (and yes, I was thinking these things at 7)

My problem was that I was sold on the bright spots of 1987 to the youth of 1988. Vance Law was going to solve third base. Mark Grace was the next Cub young stud. Dunston had just finished going through the rough spots of his youth. Dawson was JUST hitting his prime. Rafael Palmeiro was a future star. Greg Maddux was starting to hit his spots.
"Everything is coming together Johnny, you can see! The Cardinals are banged up, and the Mets are all in rehab, WE CAN DO THIS!"

And so it begins. Year after year, more replacements, more answers, more hopes held by very little fact value, all because of freak years like 89, 98, and even 2001 give us that dumb Telemaco-Pico-Noce hope.

It's not a coincidence that this passage has been written to Tom Waits' 'Closing Time' being played in the background. Wrigley has become a barren barroom of lost dreamers, has-beens, and no-goods.
Like the sketchy bar, it is the home to the schemer, the peruser, the unqualified stockholder.

Waits' music on this album seems to resound lost dreams, missed cut-off men, failed squeezes, and bad decisions.
With all the pain, why am I still here?

Loyalty does not exist anymore. It is as dead as chivalry. Stomped out, beaten down, laughed at, and scorned in public.
Yet loyalty, for all its absurdity in modern times, matters.
I am loyal to my family. I am loyal to my team. I am loyal to my fiancee. I am loyal to my friends. I am loyal to the drunks, the addicts, and the no-goods. I am loyal to the USA.

And, for some unforsaken reason, I am loyal to the Chicago National League Ballclub.
On April 6th, 1987 I made a decision. And however stupid that decision may wind out to be, it's mine. These are MY guys. I picked them.

This doesn't mean that I have to go to games, give the Trib a dime, or wear my Cub paraphanelia.
It just means that I'm not going anywhere. Loyalty matters to this guy.

The trade-off is coming. Kal Daniels tripping over a sprinkler will be replaced by a pennant winner.
Bartman will be replaced by a World's Championship.
It will happen. (I think)

at the break

with baseball rolling into the all-star break, the intermission always seems like an opportune time to take stock of the situation and spend a moment reflecting. that isn't a very pleasant task this season, of course.

at this time last year, this page began the dusty watch, noting the first real criticism of the cub manager in the pages of the tribune. twelve months on, the mother ship has ignominiously and belatedly released the hounds on baker.

Tribune: Hendry says you were involved in all the off-season decision-making and signed off on this team. Now when you say, 'Give me the horses and I'll win,' it suggests you weren't given enough to win.

Baker: No, no, no. ... When I said I need my horses, it's the horses we signed on to, before [the season]. That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying get me some more [players]. I have never, ever complained about my personnel, anyplace I've been. Have you ever heard me say, 'We don't have this,' or 'We don't have that,' ever?

Tribune: No, but 'Give me the horses' can be construed as you saying, 'I need more players.'

Baker: No, it's not. I don't care how it's construed. What I said is, 'Hey, man, give me the horses, and if my horses stay healthy, I'm going to win.' Well, my horses haven't been healthy. [Kerry] Wood and [Mark] Prior haven't been healthy. My main offense guy (Derrek Lee) wasn't healthy. It's not an alibi or an excuse, because I don't use excuses.

They can construe it however they want to. As I've said, the team we started with, on paper, is not the team we started with on the field. They're still here, they just were not here. They're in the stable.

Tribune: But Lee is back and you're still only 6-9 since he returned.

Baker: Yeah, but Derrek's not Derrek yet, and Mark was just beginning to be Mark (before being sidelined by a strained oblique). And at the same time, you have to consider my bullpen is way overpitched. We don't have a complete game, so somebody in my bullpen is out there every day. And it's not the guys' fault. We had a lot of young guys here out of necessity, not that they were really ready. How many starters have we used, 11 or 12? How many of those have been kids? That's all I'm saying. I mean, we've had some guys who haven't had the years we anticipated they were going to have too.

Tribune: At one point you denied your team was underachieving, and they were 18 or 19 games under .500 at the time, and even your most vocal supporters were saying, 'Come on, at least admit that much.'

Baker: Well, is that underachieving, or is that ...

Tribune: Just the way they are?

Baker: (No response.)

Tribune: Well, then, aren't you saying that you didn't get the talent?

Baker: No, I didn't say that. I said a lot of my talent is in the stable. There's a difference now. I didn't say that. You know when we started the season we had some question marks. Most teams have some question marks.

whether or not baker is canned in the next 48 hours or not is largely a matter of whether or not jim hendry can momentarily haul himself out of his well of denial, but this page certainly understands that expectations are being managed -- and this makes the likely eventual outcome clear.

what is also clear is that the cubs do not magically resurrect upon his dismissal. the blinding incompetence of the cubs administration rises far higher than baker -- indeed, even hendry is but an appendage of the monster.

bruce miles of the daily herald notes as much in his glance at the devastation that stretches behind this team -- and forward, sadly, as far as the eye can now see.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it extends from the top of the Tribune Tower to the last man on the roster.

For example, why is the Tribune Co. spending $94 million on player payroll when the Boston Red Sox are at $120 million?

... Hendry spent the early part of last winter chasing shortstop Rafael Furcal and center fielder Juan Pierre for the top of the lineup.

All the while, Hendry also should have been looking for a veteran arm to add to the starting rotation.

Instead, Hendry tried to sell the notion — maybe even to himself — that right-hander Kerry Wood would start the season or at least pitch sometime in April after having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last August.

That turned out to be a gross miscalculation, as did the notion that rehabbing pitcher Wade Miller was “two weeks behind Woody.” When pitcher Mark Prior turned up with a sore shoulder in spring training, the Cubs were in deep trouble.

... Baker’s peculiar lineup patterns, use of pitchers, in-game strategies and handling of crises leave a lot to be desired.

Infielder Neifi Perez (.269 OBP) should only start once a week — and never bat second.

Baker still rides staff ace Carlos Zambrano hard. Relievers often don’t begin warming up until trouble has been brewing. Baker isn’t adverse to giving away precious outs early with sacrifice bunts, and the double switch has become an obsession.

and on and on.

it may as well be noted that this is not all dusty's fault. this page expended a lot of words in december, january, february and march trying to communicate the bleakness of the situation and the fatality of the manifold flaws of construction that doomed this team from the outset. we warned that the team had not committed the resources necessary to win despite possessing them. we warned about the lethal weakness of the starting rotation and to expect little or nothing of kerry wood and wade miller -- and shortly after, mark prior -- as the cubs pursued a problematic policy of cheap injury reclamation. we warned that maddux was not the pitcher he once was and that rusch was a ticking bomb. we warned that the bullpen would be insufficient, and that dempster would be trouble. we warned that ronny cedeno was not a competent major league shortstop and a major step down from missed target rafael furcal. we warned that neifi perez would see the field too much. we warned not to expect too much from matt murton. we warned that derrek lee's career year in 2005 might not be replicable (though it certainly didn't forecast what sort of year he would have) and that not enough had been done to deepen the offense in light of that fact. and we rued that these weaknesses were all to waste this club in a year both opportune and critical.

to be sure, this page was wrong about some things too. juan pierre turned out to be a bust, and even if he has started to hit in june and july as this page hoped he would that fact remains unchanged -- moreover, expectations of a resurgence in pierre to heady days gone by are now here tempered. jacque jones, for all his expected and partially realized uselessness, has hit well enough for three months to at least hold out some small hope that his contract won't be an utter folly (though surely it is still likely to prove so over the next two and a half years). this page also thought aramis ramirez was primed for another brilliant season, an expectation he has certainly failed to meet thusfar. we expected sean marshall, irrationally promoted, might meet with disaster and that jerome williams would be the better option -- marshall has at least kept his era under 5 and williams, while not given any innings, made poor use of those he was.

but the greatest error in judgment here, it seems, was the underestimation of just how awful things would be if a large number of our dismal component expectations proved to be essentially correct. the scope of the disaster well exceeds even this page's somewhat-too-optimistic expectations of the preseason and has taken on the dimensions of a truly epic collapse.

moreover, as has been noted, the cubs have precious little to look forward to in the second half. even if baker and the veterans are sent packing and the kids are finally allowed to play -- the only hope of obtaining some scrap of redeeming value out of this lost season -- the question becomes, "what kids?". after a handful of pitchers which include rich hill, angel guzman, jae-kuk ryu, carlos marmol and sean marshall, there is very little to talk about down on the farm. these cubs aren't the minnesota twins, who can move jason barlett in at short and jason kubel into a corner outfield spot.

dusty is not helping matters any, but this certainly does not lie on his head alone. expurgating him is a step in the right direction, but the expectation of this page is that real change will be deferred at least until the day team president andy macfail -- who has now presided over twelve years of failure, having done nothing to materially improve anything on the field -- is moved out of the organization. and indeed that may be too optimistic.

Monday, July 10, 2006

again, jim hendry: whither rich hill?

this page has not failed to notice, since we last discussed rich hill, that he has gone on to dominate the pacific coast league so completely as to put beyond question that there is nothing left for him to accomplish in iowa.

hill has been one of the best pitchers in all of triple-a baseball -- he will start the triple-a all star game on july 12 and his stat line is the best imaginable of any prospect -- 13 gs, 84 ip, 54 h, 17 er, 2 hr, 19 bb, 107 k, 1.81 era, 0.86 whip.

some in the cub blogosphere would expend a lot of effort to rationalize away this stunning performance based upon hill's previous outings for the cubs, call him a "quadruple-a pitcher" and inexplicably try to forget him. this page, for one, can't help but laugh at those who insist that hill's future has been decided in the negative on the one hand while ronny cedeno -- whose career sum has been half a season of mediocrity surrounded by years of total failure, whose obp at the all-star break is a paltry .281, good for 87th of 89 qualified nl players -- is supposedly some kind of bright spot. fantasists can say what they like, one supposes, without feeling the shame of persistent error.

a rationalist, however, is forced to reject conjectures contrived in ignorance of evidence to accept that this is a pitcher that has outperformed the likes of jered weaver and anthony reyes all season long in the second-best league on the planet.

this page would not put hill's ceiling in that class, but the truth is that hill has pitched a grand total of 43 innings of major league baseball. the first two hundred innings of a lot of good baseball pitching careers are rough -- ask superprospect felix hernandez -- and difficulty within those bounds constitutes no valid basis upon which to judge any pitcher's potential. a far better measure of what hill can be lies in his 400-plus minor league innings -- and they have been remarkable in many respects.

hill has long been extremely difficult to hit, compiling a career 7.02 hits/9 in the minor leagues through 2005 (a figure which has since declined with his 2006 performance). he has always used his devastating curve to great effect in getting strikeouts as well, recording a career 12.59 k/9 -- a figure higher than kerry wood's. but, most importantly, he has catalyzed his game by flowering into an extremely accurate pitcher -- hill's 19 walks in 84 innings this season comes on the heels of his 14 walks in 65 innings at iowa last season.

at 26, he is older than some, and age is usually offered as a reason to dismiss hill as a prospect. this page would agree that few truly great pitchers first find the majors at the age of 25 as hill did. but as a university of michigan product, he was drafted at the age of 22 and is in just his fourth year of professional baseball. it is not at all uncommon for college pitchers to come to the majors late -- examining the round in which hill was drafted, we find giants prospect kevin correia, who at 25 has thrown just 116 major league innings, and lance cormier, who had thrown 124. the most successful to date college pitchers of the 2002 draft -- joe blanton, jeff francis, dave bush -- have thrown only in the area of 200 innings in the show. even the first-overall pick of 2002, bryan bullington out of ball state, had as of the end of 2005 thrown just 1.1 major league innings.

hill could just as easily have put in similar numbers of innings as francis, bush and blanton if not for the cubs management -- the team's general lack of patience with young pitchers who do not succeed immediately is all that has stopped it. this writer can see little case to make age an issue for hill if it is not an issue for similar college pitchers like blanton, bush and francis, and it is not by all accounts. college pitchers usually take three to four years to reach the big leagues, and that puts hill right on schedule.

and the statistical evidence of his quality is impossible to ignore. this page here says without equivocation that rich hill is a better pitching prospect at this point than sean marshall, carlos marmol and angel guzman put together -- based on the evidence of his minor league performances, hill is in fact probably the one legitimate prospect of a front-of-the-rotation starter in the cub system more advanced than high-a daytona.

there are but two problems: hill is optionable for just one more year, meaning that by the end of 2007 the cubs will likely either have to call him up for good or move him on; and hill has yet to trust his stuff enough in the bigs to throw strikes as consistently as he clearly can. the cubs are running out of time to keep him, and he has nothing left to prove in the pcl.

this page has asked before: where the hell is he? this is a cubs team that is starting sean marshall and carlos marmol -- two pitchers who the cubs will control for several more years who have never until this year pitched beyond double-a -- and currently wasting roster spots on trash like glendon rusch and roberto novoa. it also fields one of the worst starting staffs in all of baseball in a season that was over long ago.

hill could now be allowed an extended opportunity in a lost year to show the cubs that he can get major league hitters out in the way he can the batters of the pcl. what exactly is the risk in bringing hill up to the cubs now and giving him a rotation spot for the remainder of the year?

this page can see none at all. the air is thick with trade rumors surrounding greg maddux, and this page for one sees his departure before july 31 as a golden opportunity to install hill in the cub rotation for the duration of 2006. he certainly has earned the opportunity, and time is waning for the cubs to give him a long look at the highest level.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

wood diagnosed with torn rotator cuff

this can hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has been watching the cubs since 1998, but kerry wood was yesterday diagnosed with a partial tear in his rotator cuff. a decision on surgery has not yet been made, but wood will clearly miss most of if not all of the remainder of 2006.

this page has gone on at length about the abusive pitching-management policies of dusty baker, and there is little doubt here that wood has suffered the consequences of 2003 ever since. it would be blank speculation to comment on wood's future, if there is one, as a major league pitcher. someone will probably give him a try in 2007. it probably won't be the cubs.

in other dl triplets news, mark prior is being scratched from his start this afternoon with a "strained oblique". it is hard to envision such an injury arising between starts, and so suspicion about what this actually means is of course warranted. when the team has lied to just about everyone over just about everything having to do with anything but especially pitching, it seems irresponsible to assume that prior really is suffering from the injury they say he is.

lastly, wade miller has been shut down in his rehabilitation of his repaired labrum. with his fastball not exceeding 84 mph according to published reports, the cubs are rumored to be near to cutting him loose.

all of this was easy enough to predict months ago -- and of course it was, here and elsewhere. the question left to the observer is only this: were jim hendry and andy macfail really blind to the likelihood -- that is, incompetent -- or fully aware and merely deceptive in their public comments? this page would suspects elements of both, but in the end it matters little. the end result has been one of the worst baseball teams in the majors, and by either path the responsibility lies squarely on their doorstep.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Frustration runneth over

We have discussed in several recent threads the frustraion of many fans. In particular we have talked about the frustration from fans who have followed this team for 50, 60 or more years. The other day in the 1060w e-mail box I received this e-mail from long suffering Cub fan Bob D.

I sit here, 500 miles away from Wrigley and shake my head. When are the gentrified, SUV driving and nostalgia driven masses going to finally say that enough is enough?

I was born 62 years ago next month in Chicago and family myth says that I came home in Kiki Cuyler's stadium jacket. Like my father before me, I make the annual pilgrimage to the North Side - from the hub of the Great Lakes to the Hub of ignominy. Last year I even genuflected at Harry's Throne. I pay premium rates
to get WGN in the city and have a satellite dish on my my own little piece of paradise on a bay in Lake Huron for the same.

My Cub roots go very deep. Dad had a try-out with the Cardinals in 1929 at Wrigley Field, but my sainted grandmother wouldn't let him sign - too much like joining the circus. Had she said yes, godonlyknows if he would have made The Bigs, but I'd have been spared the pain of a life time of blue and red angst.

I will return again in September, but this time I will go the Sox-Tiger game. I quit on Sammy when he missed 17 consecutive cut-off men and I am now quitting on the Cubs.

This isn't "next year". It's my "last year".

The feelings from Bob D. are echoing through Cubdom. Yesterday I was outside of Des Moines wearing my Cub hat (sun protection) when a fan came up to me and said "hey, go cubs" we chuckled for a bit. Next we discussed the sad state of the Northsiders. He said that he makes an annual trip to Wrigley Field, he won't make the trip this year. What I am trying to say is many long suffering fans feel the same way Bob does.

the song remains the same

bad teams play bad baseball, and you'd be hard pressed to say that the 2006 chicago cubs are not a bad team. as such, perhaps it shouldn't be unexpected that every day seems to bring yet another comic misplay that seems to embody the state of a ballclub that has gone from bad to worse to simply piss poor.

last night it was aramis ramirez, helping chris capuano to a complete game shutout -- the tenth shutout of the cubs in just 85 games this season -- with a classic baserunning gaffe in the seventh.

behind by two with no one out, ramirez slashed a ball out to the right field wall. ramirez plainly dogged it to first, admiring a ball that he believed he'd dumped between the outfielders.

"Yeah, I did [watch the ball]," Ramirez said. "I did a little bit. I didn't think I hit it that well. When I saw the ball carrying, that's when I started running. He made a good play."

the good play was brewer rightfielder geoff jenkins', who took the ball off the wall and pirhouetted to throw a strike back into the infield.

ramirez would've been perfectly fine if he had simply obeyed the cardinal rules of baseball -- never make the first or last out of an inning at third base -- and stopped at second to be driven in from scoring position with no one out.

but he didn't. inexplicably, despite not having made a serious effort out of the batters box, ramirez rounded second and headed for third.

"We've been struggling, including myself, with men in scoring position," he said. "I tried to get to third base and tried to make it easy for the guy behind me."

he was pegged by the better part of a country mile, and the cubs never threatened thereafter.

baker, of course, being what he is, took every opportunity to enable ramirez's awful play.

"I thought we had a big inning going there," Baker said. "Any time you get a leadoff double -- Aramis was hustling to third. Everybody says he doesn't hustle, but he was hustling. He just hustled at the wrong time and wrong situation."

this is a libretto we've seen sung time and again over the last few seasons -- each time set to slightly different music and sung by different voices, but always the same composer in the end. whether moises alou or korey patterson or jacque jones or carlos zambrano or aramis ramirez, cubs players play dumb baseball -- and their splinter-sucking leader loves them for it, lying furiously to make sloth and idiocy seem like effort and intelligence.

is there any question of consequences here? does anyone think dusty baker would lift a finger against ramirez for this -- or anything? does anyone pretend anymore that baker has any real control over or responsibility for his charges? or that he wants any?

this cub team is as abject a disaster as any that have ever taken the field in chicago, and certainly that is not all the fault of any one man. it is, however, the responsibility of dusty baker, jim hendry and andy macfail -- and this page for one cannot understand why any of them should survive it.

ramirez's play is his own, but this is a cub team that never drills and never practices in season, and the results -- terrible fundamental baseball, physically and mentally -- have been strewn all over the field for the last few years. why don't they drill? because dusty baker is the manager.

ramirez's play is his own, but there is nothing about it that requires it to be justified and rationalized. it was a grievous error that may have cost the team any chance at a win. dusty baker cannot call it that -- preferring instead to tell bald-faced lies to the public (and quite probably to himself) as a means of escaping any sense of culpability for what happens on the field for either himself or his players.

ramirez's play is his own, but if he is to be responsible for it in any meaningful way there must be consequences for failure. this page clearly remembers bobby cox running out onto the field to pull 21-year-old andruw jones, the best defensive outfielder since willie mays, off the field mid-inning in july 1998 for dogging a fly ball -- publicly humiliating an overconfident young star to demonstrate to him that good baseball requires hard work and that nothing less would be tolerated. that braves team won 106 games and the fourth of 14 straight division titles, and jones went on to become the all-star he is. try for a moment to imagine baker -- as he spits justification after irrational justification for both the failures of his players and himself -- doing anything of the kind.

don't bother, dear reader, to imagine these sorts of things are handled by baker behind closed doors. they aren't -- the team's consistently careless and putrid basic play is proof enough of that. the concepts of responsibility and leadership clearly elude baker in private as well as in public. indeed, his pathological evasion of duty is so complete that it knows not even the bounds of decency, as he holds his young son up before him in press conferences in the hopes that reporters would dare not embarrass his father with honest and full-blooded questions. what kind of a man is it that can do this? this page would humbly suggest that such a person has clearly never really became a man at all.

and still hendry dithers. why? how?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

will he or won't he?

speculation continues to swirl around dusty baker's tenure with ever greater intensity in the aftermath of some comments made by general manager jim hendry over the holiday.

Dusty Baker and some of his coaching staff may have a restless All-Star break after general manager Jim Hendry announced Tuesday he will use the four-day break to decide whether an overhaul is in order.

Hendry declined to go into specifics, but Baker and coaches Gene Clines, Larry Rothschild, Gary Matthews and Juan Lopez could be dismissed as early as next week.

"I'm evaluating everything," Hendry said. "When you're having this kind of a year … I'm evaluating all situations. When you're 20-plus games below .500 … we certainly want to give us a chance to see if we can make a run here before the break, see if we can do well the rest of the week. I'll spend a lot of time over the break [evaluating], not just the way the [coaching] situation is, but also with your own players.

"You're getting ready to go into a month where you have to evaluate what you have and who you for sure think is going to get better and you want to keep, and in some other cases, maybe move some guys. You want to give everyone a fair chance to succeed."

this page hesitated to endorse those comments as the latest episode in the long-running dusty watch, and now it appears perhaps that was not the dumbest thing we've ever done. (it would take quite a lot more to rise to that level, dear reader, be assured.) hendry clearly put some distance between himself and all the talk by meeting with baker yesterday.

While Hendry wasn't backing off comments he made Tuesday about evaluating everyone during the four-day break next week, he said speculation Baker and his several of his coaches could be gone by next week was premature and that the evaluation process could go on longer.

"My situation is no different than it always has been," Hendry said. "It's a constant evaluation of the entire process. Dusty understands that. Obviously we need to play better, but there never has been a time frame set by myself. And I'm really the one who's going to make the call.

"I'd like to see us play better before the break, and I'd certainly like to see us play the rest of the year a lot better. The situation right now is that we just have to play better and win some games."

clearly, baker is still on the hot seat. even when under the lazy eye of a distracted leviathan like tribco, where mere failure is often grounds for promotion, spectacular failure can sometimes stimulate a purgative response.

but this is a process that hendry is, if taken at his word, clearly loathe to engage in. just a few days ago, he was claiming that no massive effort was required to right the ship. he has taken every opportunity to publicly play down the scope of the failure, and continues to insist that an initial evaluation still lies ahead. and he bizarrely implies that, should the team play a bit better over the next few weeks, that both baker and he himself would somehow be vindicated of this travesty.

this page finds it incredible, even shocking that hendry doesn't seem to understand that the ship is not just listing but has capsized, broken, sunk and now lays on the floor of the deep over only a thin layer of mud called the pittsburgh pirates -- and that only just for now, for the cubs have secured the worst run differential in the national league a very wide margin, thanks to scoring significantly less than anyone else and allowing the fifth-most runs. at negative 103, the cubs outpace the next worst nl team by run differential (milwaukee, at -62) by 41 runs. but then, if hendry feels he has yet to make an appraisal of the situation sufficient to determine what needs to be done with baker and his staff, perhaps devastating ignorance should not be surprising.

to be sure, this writer would like to accord hendry the courtesy of presuming that his words are merely polite lies covering decisions already made, with the spate of speculation over baker in the tribune amounting once again to just so much management of expectations.

but it behooves us now, in light of the devastation before us that is the 2006 chicago cubs, to consider the appropriate maxim honored by time and use called hanlon's razor: "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." and high stupidity is clearly one of the few talents which the cub organization is experiencing a glut of.

moreover, hendry must know in his heart of hearts that he has been one of the two primary architects of one of the great laughingstocks in baseball, quite possibly the most bungled effort at misspending $100mm in the history of the game. the venerated cubs, with a payroll in the top third of baseball, are going to record wins and losses comparable to some first-year expansion franchise teams. many a man would have great difficulty, in the face of such awesome culpability for complete disaster in a field in which one is supposed to be expert, doing anything but furiously denying to himself that the disaster in fact exists. that is quite probably particularly true of hendry, never a rationalist, who -- as is noted by mike kiley in the sun-times -- "goes by gut feeling on many decisions".

so, while baker may indeed be fired in the next week -- and while that would certainly be a step in the right direction -- this page remains unconvinced that it will happen. whatever the psychological reason, it seems here all too possible that jim hendry is still in deep denial about the magnitude of the disaster over which he has presided -- a spectacular flaming crash from the heights of a lucky 2003 and a good if insufficient 2004 to their woeful and putrid current state.

it would take much more than a fortunate week or two to make retaining baker a good idea, and more than a good month or two to make this team that hendry and macfail built anything like respectable -- but it may only take that to fortify hendry's underlying desire to simply go on as things are, making excuses all the while that purport to exculpate him from the consequences of his decisions regarding this pitiful ballclub.