Siberian Baseball

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's the going rate for good will?

Sam Zell, you blockhead...

With a few quick sentences, Zell has raised the ire of bloggers, fans and dead chewing gum tycoons. It seems the new owner of the Cubs has no problem selling off the various assets piece by piece.

You know what? That's his prerogative. He's free to do whatever he'd like with his property, but I'm surprised that a man so renowned for his business sense has failed to grasp the lessons learned by Macy's in Chicago.

The short version of the story goes like this: Macy's buys Marshall Field's and despite a public outcry, renames the store. Burly Midwesterners accustomed to trudging to work in the dark despite negative double digit temperatures and other situations requiring mental toughness vow to boycott Macy's for what they've done to our fair city.

Macy's loses money by the truckload as Chicagoans take a degree of pride in trying to torpedo the retail giant.

I'm not saying that fans would cut off their noses to spite their faces - and even if they did, there's a line that starts in Iowa to grab up any empty seats that such a stupid move would produce - but I don't think this is the best plan for the owner of a newspaper that is facing an industry-wide slowdown and a need to start fighting back in an online world.

At the end of the day, the team and the ballpark are still Zell's, and he strikes me as the type of guy who would be more likely to sell the team and its assets piecemeal to maximize profit and cause a stir. This just reminds me to hug my kids every day when I have them to try and prevent this personality type.

So, where does that leave Cubs fans?

In the car this morning, WXRT's Lin Brehmer was asked what he would name Wrigley if he had the money as part of a larger conversation about who the listeners would like to see buy the naming rights. Brehmer didn't miss a beat and said he'd buy the naming rights to keep the name the same.

This has me asking why that wouldn't work. If the idea is to build brand loyalty in the town where you purchase the naming rights - I don't drink any more orange juice because Tropicana owns the rights in Tampa, nor did I rush out to open a checking account with Bank One when they set up shop in Arizona - what better way to do that than to buy the rights and save the name?

If you figure that non-baseball fans won't care one way or another, don't you stand a better chance of pulling in new customers both in Chicago and beyond by that sort of goodwill gesture? Why not have one of the Chicago institutions step up and try this?

The initial media blitz when oh, let's say, McDonald's buys the name and grandstands about tradition and respect for the fan base and baseball fans worldwide would surpass the ink spent to mention another name change in the era of corporate sponsorship.

I'm not saying this is a can't lose proposition, but isn't it at least worth exploring?

At the very least, it would probably piss off Zell.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Many hands make light work

Let's file this under "the Internet can be a dangerous place for a multitude of reasons."

A week or so ago, a friend sent along word that a new sports site was out of beta - Bleacher Report.

The idea is pretty simple. Take sports written by bloggers and fans and create a massive, open-ended site that allows people to make all sorts of changes to the original postings. The end result should be a well-edited, fact-checked monster collaboration, right?

Well, sorta.

I'll admit that I'm only ankle deep in the site at this point, but so far I'm not very enthusiastic about the whole experience after my first foray into the Bleacher Report world.

I'll quote here from the Tech Crunch write up:

Perhaps the most innovative thing about Bleacher Report is its built-in community editing system. Writers who published to Bleacher Report actually give an extensive amount of control over their articles to other members. The community serves as a collective editor that works not only to correct grammatical and spelling errors but to improve the prose more generally. Nothing is strictly out of bounds, including article headlines, but the original writers do have the power to revert changes made by the community. According to the site’s founders, this group editing system has been a very popular feature during the beta period.

There's the rub. While most bloggers enjoy the total control they have on their individual blogs and posts, it's a strange feeling to see those posts take on lives of their own and get mildly warped from multiple changes made by multiple users.

In my case, it was a quick post that was essentially a set of links from USA Today that was a quick and dirty write up of teams to watch out of the gate in spring training.

I think most bloggers fall into the same category I do when it comes to protecting online content - we know firsthand how awful it is to have someone else rip you off and feel the need to obsessively cite sources. In the case of my post, it quickly had a graphic added, tags for content and unknown changes to grammar, spelling, etc.

What got me was changes made to the headline and what I assume is part of the coding for the site which summarizes the stories by saying "User X breaks down the favorites heading into 2008."

That rubbed me the wrong way, as even by stretching the truth, I don't feel that linking to someone else and paraphrasing their work makes the content any more yours.

One of the great things about the current state of blogs is that it allows for original content and for commentary and discovery. Take a solid mega-blog like Deadspin and you'll see this type of mix that is staking out territory and laying groundwork for the next wave of media expansion.

There's a school of thought that in 10 or 15 years there won't be traditional newspapers or online news sources as the primary gatekeepers for the information people receive on a daily basis. Instead, people will subscribe - possibly for a fee - to online editors who would aggregate the information that they find interesting and pass it along down the line to readers.

In this case, there is a solid division between those who create content and those who compile it and present it to readers. The major reason that I'm hesitant to buy into the Bleacher Report concept is because the addition of outside influences make it too easy to start twisting the meaning of what the original author had in mind. Additionally, I feel that separation between author and editor makes it too convenient to start giving credit where it isn't due.

While community editing is nice for spell checking and cleaning up tricky grammatical passages, I'm not impressed by the end result.

I'll hold back on a final judgment until the site has a few months to find its feet.


Friday, February 22, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure

With both league previews officially posted, it's always fun to show just how dumb I can be on a consistent basis.

You can check my 2006 Final Standings or my 2007 previews for the National and American leagues.

Yeah, yikes.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bad years for Cubs fans

As I was watching rebroadcasts of old Cubs games that were playing in honor of the 10th anniversary of Harry Caray's death, I caught something in between my wife judging me and actively ignoring my overwhelmingly nerdy tendencies.

As the last game Caray announced was also Ryne Sandberg's farewell to Wrigley Field's drunken chuckleheads faithful baseball fans, the overall tone of the game was the big goodbye from the Hall of Fame second baseman. For reference, the final home game of the 1997 season was an opportunity for Sandberg to take his curtain call and was Caray's last game of the season (he didn't travel for the remaining road games). Caray died in the offseason.

During the game, the WGN booth flashed a graphic to relay how some famous Cubs did in their final game. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams had their stats flashed across the screen.

That's the kicker - Banks retired in 1971, Santo played his last season for the White Sox and left the Cubs in 1973, while Billy Williams left the Cubs in 1974 and played out the 1975 and 1976 seasons in Oakland.

Within the course of three seasons, the Cubs saw three cornerstones of the franchise leave town or leave the game. If that won't kill the pleas to wait until next year, nothing will.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My work is done until the Florida trip

Making quick work of the gap between this afternoon and my quickly approaching trip to Fort Myers is Bugs and Cranks, who graciously outlined the next few weeks of baseball coverage for all of us from the most self-important newspaper columnist to the lowliest blogger, hacking away at the computer lab at their community college.

Better than that, it's in handy mad lib form. I'll be starting with these three:

* Unsigned beyond this season, veteran reliever _____ _____ says he intends to test the free-agent market, and has no intention of giving a home-town discount to the ______, for whom he’s pitched his entire career.

* Still battling the lingering effects of off-season surgery on his left ______, All-Star _____ baseman _____ _____ plans to go easy this spring, hoping not to exacerbate an injury that kept him shelved for the second half of last season. “It’s a long season, ya know. If I’m going to be a help to my team in October, when we all hope to be playing, there’s no sense pushing myself now.”

* Journeyman pitcher _____ _____, known for his bullpen antics and clubhouse spirit, says the groupies in ______ give the best ______.

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Wishful thinking

Say it with me - Players have reported for spring training... players have reported for spring training.

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Looking ahead to 2008 - Frontrunner Edition

USA Today got into the race early this year and have released their "What to watch" list for the American and National leagues.

Without giving it too much, thought, this is the first season since this blog went live that seem to have clear cut frontrunners in at least one league.

If I was given cash to bet on who would win the three American League divisions and could only spend two minutes to make those decisions, I think it's safe to say that the Red Sox (defending champs, no major losses, young talent and a deep farm system), Tigers (stocked up in the offseason and playing in the weak AL Central) and Angels (reloaded in another division that lacks another clear-cut frontrunner) would all be safe choices headed into this spring.

The National League gets a little trickier, with holes on most teams, but the Mets are practically a new team with the addition of Johan Santana, the Brewers have added pieces to the puzzle, while the Cubs have a total mess in their rotation and the Diamondbacks should be ready to run with their young guys.

In the NL, take a look at the Nationals - that's an impressive haul over the winter.


Monday, February 18, 2008

What an unfortunate name

As a strange sidenote to some of the digging I did for the Harry Caray post, I came across a web site that catalogs the final resting places of famous folks from every walk of life from outlaw to statesman.

In addition to Caray, I found Cap Anson's grave here in Chicago and this poor soul.

Forget the hypothetical questions about whether certain broadcasters, junkballers or journeyman outfielders would be able to make it in the league today. How far would Anthony Suck make it in 2008?


Ten long years

It was 10 years ago today that Harry Caray passed away after becoming ill following a Valentine's Day dinner with his wife. It seems like much longer for his thousands upon thousands of fans.

Known for his goofy television delivery and his glasses more than anything else, I miss Harry and his perspective on the sport - mainly that it's supposed to be fun and everything else could go to hell.

Whether he was salivating over the women in the bleachers or butchering names of the visiting (and sometimes the home team's) players, Harry embodied Cubs baseball in my formative years. My parents would have been just as well off sending the checks meant for our babysitter to Caray, seeing as he was the one who kept me out of trouble and in one spot for at least a few hours during the summertime.

I remember watching his funeral on WGN from my dorm room and trying unsuccessfully to keep my emotions in check. Logically, it made no sense to be driven to tears over the death of a man I'd never met, but I can't imagine I'm alone on that count.

After an exhausting off season marred by scandal and speculation, I'll especially miss him this spring. I don't necessarily think he'd have any profound insight into the whole mess, but I suspect he wouldn't spend more than a few minutes throughout the course of the season dwelling on Congress or any of the knuckleheads who spend a king's ransom in legal fees to defend or attack former players.

While it's oversimplified to put Harry on a pedestal and deem him the protector of all that's right and quaint about the game, he comes as close as you can get in my mind.

While the 80's and 90's were certainly not free from big salaries and internal politics, Harry made you forget about all of that taking place on the outskirts of the game. He did, however draw the attention back to the field, the joy of a lazy summer afternoon and always seemed to be enjoying himself in the sunshine at Wrigley.

Oversimplified, yes. I'm OK with that.

* Check out this link to Home Run Derby, where he remembers a phone call with Harry years ago. This is exactly why I read Home Run Derby and not just to borrow photos from their posts.

* As another bonus, here are excerpts from Harry's last print interview that were re-posted today.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Just buy a damn roof

Here's an update on the Twins new stadium, via the Star-Tribune. Apparently, the Twins have discussed the option package on their new home and have reached a decision.

According to the story:

On Tuesday, Twins President Jerry Bell told the Hennepin County Board that the team will cover $22.4 million in upgrades to the stadium plans.

They include a high-definition scoreboard and a soffit to cover the exposed beams of the canopy that hangs over the infield. And then there's Mankato limestone for the stadium's skin, additional restrooms, more concession stands and something you're unlikely to see in a ballpark outside Minnesota: three-sided "shelters" where fans can go to warm up on chilly game days.

Seriously, guys - just buy the freaking roof already.

It'll be much better than shelters with exposed heating elements like they have on the CTA.

I'll keep you posted when they look for funding for empty barrels to start fires in, should the Twins make the playoffs before global warming gets going full swing.

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Who says they have to be bear cubs?

It's so simple, why hasn't anyone in the Cubs organization thought of this before? Forget the goat, Bambino related residue from the called shot and trying to keep up with the former doormats of the league who have won since 2004.

Isn't it about time that the Cubs said, "Screw being little bears, let's be little lions or tigers, instead."

As I was cruising through a Chicago Tribune archival package of Spring Training photos, there was one of Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett with a jaguar cub. The caption says it's a team mascot from 1937.

Yes, I realize that the original name came from the idea that the Bears also played at Wrigley Field and if the football were that much larger, then the ballplayers had to be cubs.

Still, if it takes a technicality to shake things up a bit, I'm surprised the team hasn't jumped all over this. It means all of their current stock becomes "throwback" gear and can be sold at a 150 percent markup and if a team like the Devil Rays can retool after a few years as a pro team, why not the Northsiders.

Still, if there better options out there, starting out with a name used exclusively for baby animals might not be the best plan of action. After doing at least 15 seconds of research, I turned up this list of other animals that have young named "cubs."

* Badgers - too close to the Wisconsin border for this to be a good choice.
* Bears
* Cheetahs - not very fierce, but really fast. Reminds me of Ichiro playing for Mariners teams that have a hard time driving him in.
* Foxes - like a wolf, only smaller. Like the size of a wiener dog.
* Hyenas - I'm digging this one. I'm sure I'd be OK with being named after a scavenger after a while. A win's a win, even if you didn't kill it yourself. I'm betting the Chicago Hyenas would back into the playoffs three or four years every decade.
* Leopards - Eh, who wants to be named after the big cat that people walk past to see the lions and tigers at the zoo?
* Lions - Detroit ruined the karma on this one in a big way. Seibu might help tip the scales back, but this name is pretty radioactive.
* Pandas - Like a bear, only crappier and cuddlier. Next.
* Raccoons - See hyenas, only with better press in the U.S. Can we hire the raccoons from The Great Outdoors to be the new Rally Monkey?
* Seals - Subject to clubbing with baseball bats. Not good.
* Tigers - There are worse teams to be a miniature version of than the Detroit Tigers. Aside from the fielding of their pitchers in the World Series two years ago, they've come back with mega-signings of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis this winter. They both play in weak divisions. The downside? The Bengals.
* Walruses - Original and oddly reminiscent of many Chicago residents. A little tubby with a mustache, congrats, add a pair of chopsticks and you're a live action mascot.
* Wolves - There are already wolves in Chicago, so it'd be a pretty natural fit. Plus, they're the only Chicago team to win consistently since the Bulls made their run (this is subject to factual inaccuracies due to the fact that I don't care that much about hockey these days, much less minor league hockey).
* Woodchucks - "Ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Woodchucks!" Nah.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Truck Day

Woo hoo!

Truck Day!


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Make that a Top 8 list...

Remember the Top 10 storylines to follow from yesterday?

Looks like No. 1 (What's the status of Curt Schilling's shoulder?) and No. 8 (Where does Clay Buchholz fit?) are off the Vegas boards following the word today that Schilling will be sidelined until the All-Star Break... at minimum.

So for those keeping score, that's 1.) really messed up and 2.) In the starting rotation through the All-Star Break, apparently.

Of course, this could be an excuse to stump for McCain through the summer or maybe an evil plan to help with fundraising.

You'll know what's up if you see a link on that demands donations to the McCain campaign that might help the shoulder heal up a little faster.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The numbers never lie

While I'm sure most Red Sox fans have already seen it, either on the site or on, Gordon Edes boils down spring training into 10 easy-to-follow storylines.

I wish the rest of my life was that easy (Top 10 storylines to keep me out of trouble at work this week, Top 10 phone calls to duck, Top 10 questionable foodstuffs to pass on this spring), but this works, too.

I just wanted to call attention to the final poll at the end of the package which asks, "Which Sox player are you most looking forward to seeing at spring training?"

With roughly 7,700 votes in this evening, Jacoby Ellsbury has 50.1 percent of the vote, running away from Manny Ramirez with his 16.3 percent. This tells me two things: 1.) Ellsbury made a major impression in his time with the team last year and 2.) Sox fans are going to be watching him like a hawk after the Johan Santana trade rumors all winter.

This will be the continuing subplot for Ellsbury in the foreseeable future as fans try to value Ellsbury's performance against what Santana does for the Mets. That's going to be fun for him, I'm sure.

I'll be keeping an eye on the two young arms this year, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, as well as

On a related note, the teams listed by Edes as possibly looking for Coco Crisp's services this year are the Twins, Cubs, Rangers and A's. Bobby Kielty was signed to a one-year deal today, making Crisp even more expendable.

If anyone needs me in the next hour or so, I'll be down the street at Wrigley, spraypainting, "You don't need any more outfielders," in three-foot letters across the west wall.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Dear Twins Fans... Uhhh, sorry?

The Twins spammed their e-mail contacts today to let everyone know that they tried everything they could to keep Johan Santana, but he simply refused to comply with their "don't kill kittens" policy, so they shipped him to New York where that sort of thing is socially acceptable.

At least that's my guess because I lost interest midway through this long-winded e-mail from Twins President, Dave St. Peter. The tone is essentially, don't blame us, we tried. Seems a strange way to bring an end to the Santana Era.

St. Peter also fell back on the cheerful excuse put forth by some Minneapolis columnists - mainly that Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser were all added to the Twins' family because of the AJ Pierzynski trade. Going further back into the past, they point to the Frank Viola trade years back as another lopsided trade with a happy ending.

I'm sure that makes Twins fans feel a lot better about losing the most dominant southpaw since Koufax.

Here's the big hitter in the e-mail:

As the club has stated many times, our first choice was to sign Johan to a contract extension ensuring he remained in a Twins uniform for years to come. Despite the largest multi-year offer in Twins history - one which would have rewarded Johan with the highest annual salary among all pitchers in Baseball - the team and Johan's representatives respectfully were unable to reach agreement. Only at that juncture did the team and Johan's agent begin considering trade options.

In other words, "Please don't come down and set fire to the ticket office on Monday in response to the trade being approved. It wasn't our fault. We checked under the couch cushions for extra cash and everything. Sorry, guys."

If I'm Ron Gardenhire, I'm printing this out and putting it in my personnel file, just in case things go south in March and April this year.

Here's the e-mail in its entirety for those who are curious:

Dear Twins Fans:

On behalf of the entire Minnesota Twins organization, I'd like to take this opportunity to follow up regarding today's announced trade of Johan Santana to the New York Mets in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

Trading a pitcher of Johan Santana's stature and character was a very difficult decision for the Twins organization. Since being acquired as an unknown 20 year old by the Twins in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft, Johan has emerged as one of the game's elite pitchers, as well as an ultimate competitor, teammate and role model. The Twins organization is incredibly thankful for Johan's significant contributions to this franchise and wish he and his family all the best going forward.

As the club has stated many times, our first choice was to sign Johan to a contract extension ensuring he remained in a Twins uniform for years to come. Despite the largest multi-year offer in Twins history - one which would have rewarded Johan with the highest annual salary among all pitchers in Baseball - the team and Johan's representatives respectfully were unable to reach agreement. Only at that juncture did the team and Johan's agent begin considering trade options.

As has been well documented, the Twins organization has a rich history of acquiring quality players via trade. Examples include the acquisitions of Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser from the Giants; Eric Milton and Cristan Guzman from the Yankees; and Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani from the Mets. With that history in mind, Bill Smith and talent evaluators such as Mike Radcliff, Rob Antony and Terry Ryan engaged in a process aimed at helping ensure the long-term competitiveness of the franchise.

With hopes of repeating that trade success, the deal brings four high quality young players to the Twins system:

Carlos Gomez - OF - 22 Years Old - Ranked as Mets' 3rd Best Prospect by Baseball America
Native of Dominican Republic is a true five-tool athlete with game-changing speed and an above average arm ... Made Major League debut with the Mets in 2007.

Deolis Guerra - RHP - 18 Years Old - Ranked as Mets' 2nd Best Prospect by Baseball America
The Venezulean native was the Opening Day starter for Mets' Class A Port St. Lucie club at the age of 17 ... projects to be an impact starter ... pitched in the 2007 Futures Game

Philip Humber - RHP - 25 Years Old - Ranked as Mets' 7th Best Prospect by Baseball America
Won championship game of 2003 College World Series for Rice ... Was the Mets first round pick - third overall - in the 2004 draft ... Has a great curve ball.

Kevin Mulvey - RHP - 22 Years Old - Ranked as Mets' 4th Best Prospect by Baseball America
The Mets top pick in the 2006 draft, throws four pitches for strikes ... Was the Mets Minor League Pitcher of the Year and pitched in the 2007 Futures Game.

These acquisitions only add to the Twins impressive nucleus of young, impact players. Ron Gardenhire can take comfort in knowing he has a lineup anchored by some of the game's best young offensive stars in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young; a veteran bullpen led by all-star closer Joe Nathan; and a young emerging starting rotation featuring Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey and the return of Francisco Liriano. The pitching rotation will be young, but talented, and we are confident that Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson will mold this group into a successful unit.

Once again, thank you for your incredible support of Twins baseball. We look forward to seeing you at the Metrodome again this spring.

Win Twins!!!

Dave St. Peter

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Who doesn't love a good list?

Baseball Prospectus has released a list of the top 100 prospects and it's worth a look, even if you have no clue who half the players are.

Realistically, you'll never know who half these guys are, but the top 20 or so should ring some bells. Still, hype is fun.

It's interesting, especially on the heels of the Great Santana Chase (Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury are 2 and 16, respectively), plus it serves to give some hope to Reds and Rays fans.

Not White Sox fans, though. After raiding the farm to pick up Nick Swisher, they're left with one representative - No. 87 Aaron Poreda - who is still with the team.

Piggybacking on the Hardball blog from yesterday, Oakland now has No. 56 Gio Gonzalez and No. 46 Fautino de los Santos.

Sorry guys, hope Swisher solves all your problems. Looks like the calvary got traded for a player who wasn't even on the market.

The Cubs have two players on the list, Geovany Soto at No. 37 and Josh Vitters at No. 45. I think it's interesting that there are no Cubs pitchers on the list, which I attribute to the fact that young arms are already in the majors to plug holes. In an organization that always had a young pitcher in the wings, it's just a mild surprise when there isn't another one this year.

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