Monday, June 04, 2007

actors wanted

when on friday last this writer looked in upon the graying corpse of the 2007 chicago cubs, it was said:

the picture going forward is ... somewhat ambiguous. ... it seems probable to this writer that the ... low will hold ... implying improving prospects -- but it would also seem significantly possible that an extreme low ... would be arrived at first.

for now, this writer chooses the more optimistic view. ... time will tell, but there is cause for hope here.

time did tell, and once again optimism for these cubs went unrewarded. saturday marked a new cyclical low for the club.

and it was not only in runs scored and allowed that the low could be felt. last week beleaguered manager lou piniella first foisted upon a drooling public one of the most pathetically contrived bits of press conference "anger" this writer has yet witnessed -- as coldly manufactured for mass consumption as any could be, dear reader, as shamelessly put-upon as any hackneyed soap opera scene. the players then broke out an equally-tired old stage prop, the "players-only meeting", on thursday as piniella met with general manager jim hendry and others in a just-a-shade-too-obvious closed-but-translucent-door brainstorm. and piniella, not to be upstaged at any cost to dignity no matter how perverse, further responded to the confirmatory evidence that he has lost this club -- which arrived friday in the genuinely emotional form of a dugout brawl between arrested-development-manchild carlos zambrano and primordial throwback michael barrett -- with a pointless on-field tirade disputing a clearly correct call on saturday.

the public anticipation for the "insert-spectacular-geologic-volatility-reference-here" has been building since piniella was hired months ago. perhaps anything he could have done would have, in such a context, reeked of stage management. but when angel pagan (standing on second down one run with no outs in the eighth) took off for third on a dropped pitch that never got more than four feet from atlanta catcher jarrod saltalamacchia, he committed the kind of earnest, dimwitted and grievous error that has helped the cubs lose ballgames from times immemorial. pagan should have stayed his ground short of anything that didn't reach the bricks; but he didn't, and his being thrown out at third was justice served. so when piniella emerged not to bury a hatchet in pagan but to theatrically dispute the plainly correct (both physically and karmically) call, the shabbiness of the opportunity made transparent the depth of piniella's disingenuity, desperation and indeed powerlessness.

a younger piniella was a barbarian in uniform, like zambrano or barrett, truly so uncivilized as to be able to control his passions. this doddering old man trying to conjure scary ghosts seemed instead a character in a ridiculously awful b-movie. kicking dirt upon the shoes of a bemused umpire twenty years his junior, he reminded me of nothing so much as a bad walter matthau knockoff trying to collect a paycheck from a role in a script penned by a strung-out film school flunkie. that baseball subsequently saw fit to melodramatically suspend him "indefinitely" only added to the smell of farce, as though bud selig's office was in on the joke. and somehow it is all strangely fitting -- said durrenmatt, "comedy alone is suitable for us", and this one has turned out to be a screamer. it is only regrettable that we should not be entertained by better actors -- hence the advertisement that leads this missive.

in any case, the sum of such follies is to leave the cubs in fourth place by percentage points in the weakest division in baseball, seven-and-a-half-back of the leader, possessors of the 13th-best-record in the 16-team national league. having been reduced five weeks ago to playing out the string, the club managed at least to stave off its losing skid at six games. previous work on cub losing streaks -- here and here -- indicates that clubs who forge longer streaks tend to fare worse in the end, but that seven or more is often the mark of an irretrievable loser. of clubs who have lost at most exactly six consecutively -- of which there are 18 examples since 1901 -- fully ten reached .500 or better in the end. but of course that information must be tempered by the knowledge that, at 23-31, over the next 108 the club must win 58 (.537) to reach 81 wins. considering what we've seen to date, such a performance seems unlikely.

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