Monday, November 20, 2006

hendry throws the door open

something has changed.

the writers of this blog, along with cub fans everywhere, have long since been buried in years and years of excuses, spin, lies and bullshit as the club lost and lost and lost again. indeed these last years have been as bad as any -- and anyone with eyes to see and a brain to learn from what has transpired since the tribune bought this team in 1981 was daft if they told you they were essentially happy or optimistic. there simply hasn't been much to be optimistic about in twenty years. the ballclub this blog follows hadn't landed a first-tier offensive free agent since george bell, hadn't taken the cream of the crop since andre dawson in 1987 and hadn't reaped the harvest of its farm since mark grace.

there are those who would tell you that the club has always been a big money club, but the evidence is clearly otherwise -- tribune teams have rarely spent like even a standard-issue playoff club, and that fact is one of the reasons the club hasn't gone to the playoffs much. and that sin of put-upon penury has been compounded by rote incompetence, as the cubs have gotten less out of what dollars they have spent than most -- a fatal flaw, to be sure. with the club insistently refusing to even attempt to competently buy their way out of the hole created by a dearth of homegrown talent, only those motivated by something other than honesty could manage a smile when assessing the team and its chances.

but something has changed.

this offseason saw exactly two first-tier offensive free agents hit the market -- aramis ramirez and alfonso soriano. this page lobbied for a trading deadline move including the first to avoid having to find an improbable deal. jim hendry didn't trade him -- and cut that deal in the eleventh hour. this page found it quite unlikely that the cubs would, after decades of taking second place or worse in free agent bidding, find a way to the second. jim hendry cut that deal too. say what you want about his skills as a general manager -- the man can spend money when he has been given license to spend it.

what exactly has changed will be a subject of some debate, one can imagine. is it the shadow of an imminent sale? is it fear of empty seats and lost revenues? is it one man's effort at gaining public credibility -- or another's desperate attempt at retaining his job? this writer doesn't know that the reason is any one of these so much as all of them in concert, and to what extent one dominates may never be settled. and it sure as hell has surprised around here.

but something has changed.

and you cannot know, dear reader, how happy it makes this writer to say it. it is well understood that the wider impression of yours truly is that of a dark and sinister brooder, a bitter and spiteful soul who seeks illness in all things and cannot see light when it shines nor feel warmth upon his thick scales. but there is a more difficult reconciliation of words and temperament for those who have the inconvenience of knowing better. the terrible truth is that this blackhearted, cold-veined analyst sings to his young daughter in the bathtub every night, gets kind of excited to trim a christmas tree and spent twenty minutes just today mulling with his elderly neighbor over what joy can still be found in the holidays despite having lost a husband of some five decades.

some will say that all this is said as a defense of many sins for which instead should be begged mere forgiveness -- but rather, dear reader, it is said to prepare you for the shock of and provide some semblance of appropriate context for how this writer reacted upon sharing a phone call with old friend ccd and getting the news: after a quarter hour of shock mingled with laughter, i went to the fridge -- where a trusty bottle of veuve clicquot ponsardin awaited -- and it is with its fine celebratory graces coursing through my heart and wide grin on my face that i have the distinct pleasure of penning these words again.

something has changed.

to be sure, the rationalist that shrouds the soul knows better than to gush. even with soriano and a healthy derrek lee, this is still a 66-win club plus soriano and lee -- and that is not in most likelihoods a playoff club in and of itself. this is, after all, a club that mounted the third-worst nl team total vorp. what of pitching? deep within, there is a grain of resentment -- where was this organizational fortitude in november of 2003, when the last missing piece ended up in baltimore and a genuinely good pitching staff was wasted? why do we see it only now, when the club is so bad that even these herculean efforts best augur merely sisyphean results?

sadly, that isn't just the dour iron of old school thinking in a new world -- much more needs to be done to metamorphose the 2006 cubs into a 2007 playoff club.

but something has changed. hendry (and more importantly, lest they be ignored, the tribune company accounting department) has thrown open the door for 2007. this is the sort of acquisition that this writer has been tirelessly pointing toward since long before the blog began -- just seeing it happen has elicited some modest concern around the marius household as daddy keeps breaking into unsolicited chuckles, though mostly from my lovely wife as baby is all too happy just to laugh along no matter what the joke -- and is exactly what hendry had to have in order to hold out any hope of something so crazy really coming off. the terms of the deal are shocking -- indeed, maybe awful -- but not nearly so much as watching 25 years of rust and decay that has been the invidious toll of tribune ownership heretofore begin to fall away.

something has changed, dear reader. and today it would seem fitting -- for once, finally -- to simply hang on for the next six weeks and hope for the best as the cubs just maybe -- finally! -- try to spend in accordance with their considerable revenues.

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