Siberian Baseball

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I bet the Cubs got docked for their urinals

Sports Illustrated has released the results of their recent online fan survey, which set out to rank the overall baseball experience for each team in the majors.

The big winner? Cleveland. Who knew?

One strange piece to this puzzle is that they ask the home fans for each team to rank their experience, which is fine, but then questions are posed in a manner that ranks the response on a below average/average/above average basis.

Take the giveaways section as an example. Let's say a Twins fan is asked to rank the Minnesota giveaways - what are they being compared to? It's a small thing, but I'd have been happier just asking fans if they were satisfied or not and by how much. If the whole point is that the home fans weigh in, it doesn't make much sense to have them rank their team like that without any real control of the baseline.

Put simply, when Frankie and I went to Sox and Cubs games on the same day, the Southsiders gave us nothing and the Northsiders gave us cool ski caps. If that's the only day I head to the Cell, then the Cubs are much, much better in my eyes. Now, how am I supposed to know if they're average or above when compared to a ballpark I've never been to?

Also, wouldn't this penalize teams whose fans were honest with regards to fan knowledge or hospitality? I guess it's not a competition, but there are a few questions I had reading through tonight.

That aside, it's a fun survey and has a few surprises. The older ballparks, lauded for their old time charm are knocked in the rankings for failing amenities.

The White Sox are given top marks for traffic - with a 47.9 percent ranking for public transit options - which struck me as odd, especially compared to other cities where I've driven to the ballparks. Proving that it's all relative, the Cubs were 23rd, but had better marks for public transportation options which are pretty much exactly the same as they are at The Cell.

Rounding out the rest of the crosstown rivalry, the White Sox took second in the league for food, eighth for atmosphere and fourth for fan IQ and promotions.

The Cubs were third for tradition, sixth for atmosphere and eighth for fan IQ. The Cubs blew out the Southsiders in the neighborhood, ranking second to 23rd for the Sox.

I'm sure I'll revisit this later in the week, because there are all sorts of gems to be mined here - for now, I'll just leave it with a wise fan who was commenting on fan hospitality at the Friendly Confines - "by the bleachers, they are farm animals."

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Torii Hunter's first day of work

Remember Twins fans, Torii Hunter isn't necessarily saying that his new home ballpark in California is better than the Metrodome... well, he's saying exactly that.

But it might help to think "different" not really "better." Though there is sunshine and no garbage bag roof, but the traffic is much, much worse.

That counts for something, right?

Zito moved to bullpen, feels shame

There's nothing that changes the fundamental makeup of baseball in the Giants' decision to move Barry Zito to the bullpen in light of his 0-6 start and elephantine ERA, but it's pretty shocking to go through the write-ups line by line.

You see a Cy Young award in 2002 and the numbers on his contract and it prompts one double take after another as you work your way down the page. To have that kind of money tied up in the bullpen for a pitcher who has been less than shaky this year is making a bad year for San Francisco even worse.

My question is if he's up for a hazing - having to wear a Hannah Montana backpack filled with gum and snacks - as a newcomer to the San Francisco bullpen.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Zito will be sent to the bullpen to try and regain his composure:

"It's good sometimes just to back off," Bruce Bochy said. "It's happened to a lot of great players, position players and even pitchers. We just felt at this point it's time for him to sit back, miss a start and help us in the pen."

A three-time All-Star and the Opening-Day starter this season, Zito is only the third pitcher since 1956 to go 0-6 before May, joining Texas' Dave Stewart (1984) and Detroit's Mike Maroth (2003).

And honestly, that's what makes the decision mildly surprising - when you're the Opening Day starter who can't get a handle on your pitches it's bad. When you're demoted in April, it's bound to attract some attention.

While it's not an open invitation to panic, it's certainly something else for the Giants' fans to have to wade through this season. On the plus side, there's a better chance to see the team's star pitcher now that he's not shackled to pitching only every fifth start.

(Image from: Associated Press)


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ellsbury taking a run at the record books

Even if I didn't care about this story, I probably link to it for one simple reason. These odd sentences:

A streak like this is different from any other. Ellsbury, right now, is running around like a virgin on prom night. Once he’s caught, that’s that: He’s lost his virginity and there’s no regaining it in respect to this record.

Wait,what the hell is going on, right?

Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has yet to be caught stealing in the major leagues. Add the eight steals through Thursday evening to the nine from last year and he stands at 17-for-17. As the post points out, he's a fast mammal.

The record up for grabs is Tim Raines' streak of 27 straight steals without being thrown out to start his career. Still, Ellsbury just needs to keep his head up and keep picking his spots as one of the few true speedsters on the Red Sox this year.

Not that he needs any incentive, but how fast would you run to become the new prince of the stolen base? Now how fast would you run if you were currently known as the guy who won everyone free tacos during the 2007 playoffs?

That would be a major upgrade.

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Francisco Lirian-uh-oh

Three starts after returning from Tommy John surgery and Francisco Liriano is not looking good.

Not at all.

In what should have been a relatively safe start against Oakland, Liriano couldn't even make it out of the first inning as he got shelled for six runs, five hits, walked three and was chased after retiring two batters.

For those frustrated souls who picked him up in their fantasy leagues, that brings his record to 0-3, with an ERA of 11.32 in 10.1 innings of work. Not feeling sick yet? That works out to 15 hits and 13 earned runs in those 10 innings.

Manager Ron Gardenhire wins the understatement of the week award for this gem:

"That was a tough one for Frankie," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He feels bad about it. I don't think he has a lot of confidence right now."

Twins fans, enjoy what's shaping up to be the Mark Prior of the North. And you thought you dodged a bullet by drafting Joe Mauer, right?

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Lee Elia is very, very sorry

With next Tuesday being the 25th Anniversary of Lee Elia's now famous tirade - still one of my all-time favorites - apparently the former manager felt the need to do a little explaining.

Maybe he's mellowed with age, maybe it's a matter of getting a few things off his chest so he isn't remembered as a foul-mouthed lunatic or maybe Elia feels the need to make amends to some of the bleeping bleepers who finally got out and got a bleeping job for bleep's sake.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

"Lee Smith had just wild-pitched in the winning run," Elia recalled. "In those days, our locker room was all the way down the left-field line. As we got near the bullpen, I saw (Keith) Moreland and (Larry) Bowa involved with fans in the stands who had cursed them and then tossed beer. I saw that and realized we had to get them out of there before a real bad fight got going.

"So I come into the clubhouse, only a few minutes later, and my office is just a tiny space, very cramped. There are about six reporters, three from Los Angeles, and they start asking me about the bad start and how Cubs fans are reacting. Well, I just lost it—remembering how a few moments before someone was calling Moreland a fat redhead and Bowa a Pygmy shortstop. It just set me off."

Ah, to be back in the days when Wrigley Field was empty enough that the players could hear you heckle. Pygmy shortstop... that's just fantastic.

Also, totally by coincidence, Elia is selling a baseball with an audio chip that won't say what anyone wants it to say and thus, isn't much good to many people. Give the people what they want, Lee.

A cursing baseball is worth its weight in gold.

(Image from:

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dodgers: "Come early, stay late"

The Dodgers are set to release word Thursday that after nearly 50 years at Chavez Ravine, they're committed to adding one major piece to the franchise has been missing since their move to California.

A fan that actually sees all nine innings of play.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

In a letter sent [Wednesday] to season-ticket holders, owner Frank McCourt and President Jamie McCourt said the improvements would "give the stadium a chance to remain viable and perhaps see its 100th birthday."

The letter did not detail the renovations, but the plan would enact a vision Frank McCourt made when he bought the team in 2004 -- to transform at least part of the Dodger Stadium parking lot into an area offering dining and shopping for fans who arrive early and stay late, avoiding pregame and postgame traffic. The Dodgers would generate additional revenue as well.

This is just a simple case of updating an older ballpark - the story also mentions a dollar figure of $500 million in renovations - in step with Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in order to generate additional revenue. The big difference is that the Dodgers actually have some room to expand versus those other two ballparks, which are hemmed in by the surrounding neighborhoods.

While the extra revenue is nice, I think we can all see what's going on here - the Dodgers are trying to entice fans to fill up a bit before they hit the buffet section. Kind of like encouraging diners to fill up on bread before the meal.

They must be getting killed on that promotion. Not as much as they would if they played in Chicago, Milwaukee or Cleveland, but killed nonetheless.

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What? Wednesday - The scorecard

In keeping with the idea of starting simple, here's a link to what is probably the most basic form of statistical analysis - keeping score at the game.

I think it's funny that even the MLB web site doesn't have an "official" stance on how to keep stats. It's just anarchy out there. I'd also like to point out that the scorecard flashed on the screen (at right) for Braves games is a great idea - it's right up there with the adventurous clubs that are adding a column for "left on base" before and after innings in addition to runs, hits and errors.

I will say that despite the possibility of looking like a total dork at the ballpark, of resigning yourself to no bathroom or beer breaks and the very real risk that you'll miss one play because your friends are screwing around, thus rendering your scorecard shockingly incomplete. If you're the type of person prone to keeping score, you know what a grim prospect that is.

In reality, those who will keep score probably already are, but for those who haven't, here's a good place to start. If you haven't kept score for at least a few innings, it's worth doing at least once.

It does a great job of laying out patterns that you miss unless you have some sort of weird thing for remembering numbers and is nice in a park like Wrigley that can be lacking for instant information.

Plus, it's always nice to have the strikeout count at your fingertips - you'll be the most popular nerd in your row.

(Image from: TBS Television via


Cubs primed for a major milestone

It's amazing how a team that seems like it's been around since time began can still find ways to sneak up on you.

With a win Wednesday night in Colorado, the Cubs will cross the threshold to 10,000 wins, dating back to their days as the Chicago White Stockings in 1876. The Cubs and Braves are the only two franchises that trace their roots back to the National Association which predated 1876, however those stats are not counted when tallying MLB records.

Ryan Dempster answered questions about the milestone, well, by acting like Dempster:

"I remember when we won 5,000," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said Tuesday. "What an emotional day that was. We were so excited -- we realized we still had an uphill climb to 10,000.

"To be on the verge of that -- I've been here since the first one, and to get to 10,000, it's a long, hard struggle, and I'm looking forward to it."

No word on whether or not Jamie Moyer was on the team back then, but I'm pretty sure Julio Franco was at least a bat boy for the Brooklyn Atlantics.

For the record, the Cubs won the first game they played, a 4-0 victory over Louisville (it appears to be the Louisville Grays) on April 25, 1876. For a little extra history on the side, piggybacking on the 10,000th win will be Lou Piniella's 100th win as Cubs manager.

At the end of the day Tuesday, the Giants are still at the top of the heap, with the teams you'd expect filling in the rest of those team with at least 9,000 all-time wins, just maybe in a different order:

San Francisco Giants - 10,192
Chicago Cubs - 9,999
Los Angeles Dodgers - 9,894
St. Louis Cardinals - 9,856
Atlanta Braves - 9,706
Cincinnati Reds - 9,681
Pittsburgh Pirates - 9,631
New York Yankees - 9,394

Sorry, Phillies fans, your team is still the only one to lose more than 10,000.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fukudome doing well, feelings hurt

Despite the controversy over the "Horry Kow" racist trash / t-shirt, Kosuke Fukudome doesn't appear to be having many problems adjusting to the major leagues.

It can't hurt that Fukudome is already garnering the lion's share of cheers at Wrigley, including chants and general screaming, but thankfully, no Thundersticks yet. Damn, I went and jinxed it.

As of Tuesday morning, he's batting .328 with 9 RBI and three stolen bases. Despite what fans saw on Opening Day, he's notched only one home run - the one he hit to start the season. In a team stocked with legitimate power hitters, no one is complaining.

Part of the hype surrounding Fukudome as he signed this winter was that he filled a need for a left-handed bat, who could hit for contact. In last night's game against the Mets, Fukudome had four official at-bats and saw 4, 6, 9 and 10 pitches, respectively. Even better for the Cubs, his hits (both to left field) were on the 9- and 10-pitch efforts in his last two at-bats.

Having a batter in your lineup who shows that kind of patience and can prolong at-bats, driving up pitch counts and delivering after fouling off a half dozen pitches is a major asset and something the Cubs desperately need.

Let Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez swing for the fences - Cubs' fans should just stay quiet and hope Fukudome (and his .444 OBP) keeps doing exactly what he's doing.

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)


Monday, April 21, 2008

Day baseball is proof God loves us

With this afternoon's morning's Patriots' Day game in Boston, it made me appreciate day baseball that much more - well, that and the fact that an "early" Red Sox game is 11 a.m. and not 4 a.m. like the series in Japan.

After two years of games in a dome, I've been to Wrigley in the rain, in the sunny cold and in the warm(er) evening air. It's kind of nice to have some variety, even if it means holding your breath and murmuring about proper warm up procedures every time someone comes up a little awkwardly in the cold.

It makes me wonder just how random the computer-generated scheduling really is, though. Obviously, there have to be exceptions to allow the yearly Red Sox game that follows the Boston Marathon and some allowances have to be made for day and night games at Wrigley and for get away days - why can't those be plugged in for early season contests?

When you factor in scheduling nightmares like last season in Cleveland and this year in Chicago, I'm pretty sure none of the players would complain too loudly. Here it is four weeks into the season and the weather in Chicago is finally safe - aside from the revenue generated by Opening Day and the associated home openers that follow, what's the reason for forcing games into cold weather climates in early April?

Setting aside the usual arguments about interleague play, what's wrong with adding a little humanity to the schedule? Would it kill the league to front load the schedule with interleague matchups (like the nonconference schedules in college athletics) and allow the division rivals to duke it out starting in June?

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blue Jays tell Thomas to beat it

The news out of Toronto this morning is that designated hitter Frank Thomas, who as recently as yesterday was complaining about his playing time, has been released.

According to

The 39-year-old slugger was told Saturday that he would lose playing time after a slow start in which he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 16 games.

"Basically, I've been told that I'm not going to be in that lineup," Thomas said Saturday. "[Manager John Gibbons] told me that this morning. I see it as something else is going on. We'll see how that plays out.

"You know what's going on and I know what's going on. We'll see how it plays out. I'm just a little frustrated right now. There are some things going on around here this year that I haven't been happy about."

The story also alludes to a contract stipulation that Thomas sees another 300 at-bats to lock in his paycheck for next year.

Regardless, this opens a new option for AL teams looking for a stopgap DH and missed on Thomas the last time around. At the very least, it adds another name to the list for teams who were taking a look at Barry Bonds but were scared away by the baggage that comes along with that deal.

Well, unless you're worried about the whole pillow fight controversy.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jackie Robinson Day is getting out of control

The rumblings started last year when Houston fielded an all-white team in matching 42's and Torii Hunter spoke up about how that defeated the purpose of the day.

This year, I got to see Nick Swisher and the entire Oakland A's lineup sporting 42's, in addition to Jermaine Dye on the South Side and Derrek Lee, Daryle Ward and Ken Griffey Jr. wear the special jerseys on the North Side.

Given the choice, less is more.

In addition to being confusing as hell in the middle of an infield pop-up (Frankie was pretty upset for the scorekeepers who had to try and sort out a mess on a flubbed catch) you really lose any sort of impact by flooding the field with "special" jerseys.

There are a few options here:

1.) Make the players earn the right to wear Robinson's number. Go old school and have an essay contest if it comes to that. I'd love to see "Why I should be able to wear No. 42, by Junior Griffey" in all it's double-spaced glory.

2.) Vote on it. We all know that MLB loves, loves, loves to open things up to online voting from the final spot on the All-Star Team to the Batboy of the Year. What better way to get fans back into baseball every spring than to have a few days to allow them to vote for the player they think is most deserving of the honor?

3.) Limit the usage of the the number to the starting first baseman for each team. That's it. One 42 at first base for each team in each ballpark and leave it understated.

The only minor exception I can see here is for the Dodgers themselves, if for no other reason than to allow Vin Scully to tell this story. Aside from that, it just makes the commissioner's office appear too lazy to figure out who should be allowed the honor of wearing the number.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

But does Marty Brennaman have a point?

By now, most baseball fans have heard about Cincinnati broadcaster Marty Brennaman's comments that Cub fans are the most obnoxious in the league.

Thank goodness he doesn't broadcast from the stands - he only knows the half of it.

I was there Tuesday night with lifelong White Sox fan, Frank the Tank, where we came to the conclusion that while a Sox fan might knife you in the parking lot for gas money to get home, Cub fans were likely to force you from the ballpark in a fit of rage.

Case in point were the four fans who sat next to us during the final three innings of Tuesday's game. After missing the first six innings, they sat down and spent the final three innings taking pictures of each other, buying beer, complaining when beer was no longer served and wondering loudly where Ronnie Woo Woo was.

It's my longstanding complaint that the majority of fans who attend games are Wrigley Field fans - Frank calls this the World's Largest Beer Garden Syndrome - and don't really pay attention to the game being played.

While there are plenty of good baseball fans who back the Cubs, they seem to be a dying breed, or are at least being drowned out by those who are more into getting drunk and booing for no apparent reason.

Marty, you don't know the half of how bad it can be.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

That's certainly not going to help

One of the many things we noticed on our South Side/North Side field trip Tuesday - it was a long day, we had to do something to entertain ourselves - was the Cubs choice of cups at the souvenir stands.

As you can see from the picture, they are still working through their old stock of Postseason 2007 cups. As Frank was more than happy to point out, they must have bought in bulk and the Cubs subsequent one-and-done left more than a few of them in the Wrigley Field basement during the winter.

As I was happy to point out, the White Sox didn't have those problems last year as the team was an afterthought before the Fourth of July. I have to admit that I was surprised to see these cups still floating around at this point in the season. I got one on the second day of the season, but assumed there were only a few left.

I was wrong. Maybe they really did buy in bulk.

The whole thing strikes me as funny, considering what a snakebitten, superstitious group Cubs fans can be... and usually are. Half are convinced the team hasn't won a World Series in 100 years because of an angry old man who ran a diner for a living and his goat, while others are convinced that a black cat might not have caused the collapse in 1969, but it probably did the team in.

Do we really want to taunt these people further with bad mojo from last year's postseason carrying over with a seemingly limitless supply of cheap cups? Let's not give anyone reason for another 50 TV stories on Cub futility.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What? Wednesday - PECOTA

It's one of those certainties of the new millennium that if you can dream it, they can build it. By "it" I mean a baseball statistic and by "build it" I mean publish it and get someone to swear that it's gospel truth by the end of the week.

In the most recent round of nerd-bashing that's blown around the Internet, the core of the argument is beginning to show. Essentially, the stat rats are taking a stand and pointing out that with more information available, it makes for better analysis. Oh, and people are still free to ignore the new stats as they've always been able to do.

It's really not that big a deal - I've never had someone shove a stat sheet in my face at a ballgame and I have yet to bother my seatmates by demanding they check out a few numbers I find interesting as the batter is approaching the plate.

Today's What? Wednesday is pretty simple - for anyone who has begun to poke around Baseball Stats 2.0, they've certainly seen PECOTA being mentioned on message boards and blogs posts.

So what the hell is it?

Simply put, it's a proprietary system developed by Baseball Prospectus to try and predict how Player X with perform this season, next and through the remainder of his career. This is based on how similar players have performed, using numbers going back to World War II.

You'll need to pay to gain access to see the numbers on their site, but many are widely available once they've been out for a while and are used to spur discussions and incite fights on message boards.

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For what it's worth

For the fans who are still crossing their fingers regarding the return of Francisco Liriano, I saw this today via Yahoo! Sports:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Joe Christensen reports Kansas City Royals OF Mark Teahen could tell the difference in the 2008 version of Minnesota Twins SP Francisco Liriano and the dominant one in 2006. "I know his velocity's down a lot," said Teahen, who went 0-for-3 against Liriano. "I saw his slider pretty good today. Obviously I didn't produce, but it was easier to pick up the slider. He's still throwing 91 [miles per hour] and can still be a really productive pitcher, but definitely not the flash that was there in '06."

It's not the end of the world, it was just one game and his first back, but that's not very promising if things don't start to get better. Besides, how do the Royals rate "productive?" Is that some sort of sliding scale?


Misery loves company

The Chicago fan's hierarchy of rooting interests is a tricky beast to tame. For starters, there are two baseball teams in town that draw from distinctly different bases (no, really?) with the Cubs cornering the market on yuppies, out-of-towners and transpalnts and the Sox relying heavily on the South Side and suburbs to fill seats at the Cell.

If there's one thing that the national baseball audience doesn't understand, it's that the Cubs tend to pull in new residents to keep Wrigley Field filled to capacity with popped collars, while the White Sox represent a truer Chicago-only fanbase. For better or worse, that's just how I've seen the demographics play out in nearly 30 years (and a day at both parks yesterday) as a fan.

Aside from the Bears, which consistently draw Chicago fans year in and year out, the city's baseball teams have to duke it out with the Bulls and Blackhawks for ticket money, with the NBA and NHL fans ebbing and flowing based on the teams they trot out and the fans' current level of loyalty based on which league screwed their fans least or more recently.

Still, if you had to lay money down on the hardest of the the hard core Chicago fan (ranked by strength of loyalty), you'd have to go: Bears, Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls, in that order. I'm not saying there aren't plenty of Cubs fans who would fit the bill, I'm just saying by numbers alone that you're most likely to find Sox fans who also pull for the rest of the city's teams before you'd find Cub fans who are a match.

I guess that's why it seems strange that the White Sox have released word that they'll be cross-promoting with the Blackhawks this season. Seems like that's just preaching to the choir.

That aside, this could be a lot of fun, depending on what types of promotions they can cook up. Right now, it's mainly shooting pucks on the top of the White Sox dugout between innings, but I think any of the following would really spice things up.

* Any six White Sox players versus the local peewee hockey team in town for the pregame exhibition game. Seeing six professional athletes who can't skate versus a pack of six year olds who can? Comedy gold.

* Manager swap night, where Denis Savard fills in while Ozzie takes the night off and vice-versa. Strangely, I think the Blackhawks would respond well to Ozzie's special brand of bilungual cursing and theatrics (thought he'd have to wear a suit) behind the bench. As for Savard's calls this season for his players to get into the corners and get some cuts on their faces, that type of atmosphere might give Sox fans something they've been missing since the 2005 season - a team full of Aaron Rowlands.

* I don't have a joke here, but can only assume Bobby Jenks would make a decent goaltender.

* Hockey players and Sox fans have similar dental patterns - anyone missing more than three from a fistfight gets half-priced beer through the first period.

* As long as we're in that fighting mood, wouldn't a steel cage match be fun for the whole family? I say we pull Bob Probert out of retirement and have him fight William Lidge. For charity of course, except for the side action amongst the fans.

That's pure profit.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In case you forgot what today is

"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."

- Jackie Robinson - First Professional Game: 4/15/1947

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Monday, April 14, 2008

A day 12 years in the making

Tomorrow marks the culmination of nearly 12 years worth of careful planning and patient waiting for the stars to align and social schedules to open up. Despite several moves from the Midwest to the east coast and back, the dream never faded and refused to die.

Despite the odds being stacked against us and the gods of baseball scheduling trying their best to crush our dream, Frank the Tank and I will finally achieve our boyhood dreams of attending both a White Sox and a Cubs game in the same day.

While on the surface this seems like a simple enough proposition, it's been difficult to coordinate, going back to our years in high school. Sure, while there was a time that getting your hands on day-of-game tickets for either team was pretty easy for either ballclub (even if you were a poor, dirtbag high school student with a part time job) the schedules never seemed to add up for us.

So, tomorrow, we'll be at the Sox game in the afternoon, grab a quick bite up the Red Line and finish the evening in Wrigleyville. There was a quick discussion on sports talk this evening about the rowdy fan portion of the equation with countless other fans who will follow the same gameplan, but adding a degree of difficulty by getting plowed on the South Side and unleashing hell on the backyard gardens of the North Side.

From where I'm standing, the more verbal abuse thrown at Corey Patterson, the better. You know, to make him sad that he's not playing in Chicago anymore.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Say it ain't so

Oh, the horror. How could they?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The dangers of playing baseball in a relic

The Chicago Tribune has a story today about the corporate sponsorship agreement between the Cubs and the Chicago Board Options Exchange and their associated signage.

In a newer ballpark like Camden Yards, the team can feel free to slap up ads on everything including the ballboys if they feel like it, but thanks to Wrigley's protected status as a landmark, there's a bit of a stir over the CBOE that appears on the brickwork.

The city says it wasn't aware of the new arrangement - but honestly, with all the publicity its gotten on telecasts, how could they have missed it? - but will look into it now.

Regardless, this is one of those instances where people's memory of the past is a little rosier than the actual events. Ostensibly, this is an attempt to keep Wrigley free of corporate logos splashed from corner to corner.

The reality is that the old ballparks looks like big versions of the minor league parks of today where the outfield wall is a patchwork of ads and is less of an actual wall (see the image of Ebbets Field included with this post).

At least current laws would prevent the Cubs from selling cigarettes and whiskey to children - you know Sam Zell would try it if he could.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

My neighbor give you lima beans and you not gonna eat them?

If there's one thing that the White Sox do well, it's promotion. Well, aside from Disco Demolition Night, of course.

I was a little disappointed when the new campaign came out this spring that features players with hand-written, cardboard signs (much like those you'd see from their fans as they stand next to the freeway and try to sell you socks and newspapers) but I guess I just needed to wait for the radio spots to start.

There are a few that are related links to the ones I'm posting below, but these were my favorites.

It's nice to have a team that can laugh at itself - which probably helps after the first-class ass kicking the Twins laid on the Southsiders last night - and I'm even more confused about where Ozzie Guillen resides on the evil genius/total moron scale now.

My big question now is whether or not Hawk Harrelson was in on the gag or was just reading the ad copy straight up. I'm guessing they told him it was a voiceover for a "Best of the Hawk" CD to be released later this year and let him do the lines straight.

(Thanks to With Leather via FanHaus via Big League Stew for finding these. There, now no one has any reason to start a flame war.)

Ozzie loves beans

Dadgum Right

Bobby Jenks throws faster than a bus


Buy me some peanuts and foie gras

The Twins released word this week that they will be using Delaware North Companies Sportservice to handle sales of their drinks, snacks and overpriced crap at their new ballpark.

This puts Minnesota in the same type of partnership agreement with several other major league clubs - Cleveland, Texas, St. Louis, Milwaukee, the White Sox, Detroit, Cincinnati, San Diego and the Dodgers - who are already working with DNCS.

Speaking as someone who has eaten at Miller Park, this is an awesome idea.

Of course, the suits had to ruin it by unveiling their gourmet options - more than likely not available at the hot dog hut on Concourse A - which seem a little odd for ballpark fare. This tends to crop up when new ballparks are announced, but luckily for Joe Sixpack in Minneapolis, they're trying to add a little local flair at the bottom of the press release.

Of course, DNCS went the extra mile and spoke like the chess club president, trying to talk his way out of an ass-kicking by the football team by awkwardly dropping sports buzzwords.

Rick Abramson, president of Delaware North Companies Sportservice, said his company will try to localize the food and beverage options available at the Twins' new ballpark with the interests of the fan in mind. "We will pick out, with the fans, what the food will be like," he said. "We believe the Twins fans deserve a home run in the culinary area, and we plan to deliver."

For those who won't be dining out of anything fancier than a paper trough choked with nitrates, things get a little more normal.

Some different items expected to be offered at the new ballpark include walleye tacos, meatloaf and potato sliders, Asian dishes* and cheese curds. Traditional ballpark favorites like hot dogs, brats, nachos and peanuts would also be available.

I have no idea what a meatloaf slider is, but it sounds five kinds of kickass.

* Asian dishes? Are the Twins eying up the next Japanese import? From Nomo to Ichiro, this has been a hallmark when a team adds a new player from the Japanese league.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What? Wednesday - Let's start slow

It occurred to me the other day as I was watching a game with the Gameday tracker on to let me see real-time scoring of pitch counts, how the hitters were holding up, etc. that there is a lot of new information being offered to fans that most of us are clueless about.

Case in point is the new Pitch f/x information that has even crept into the Gameday overlay. Now, when a pitch comes in, it's only a matter of seconds before users can see exactly how fast the pitch came in and how much it broke, drawing the trajectory for you on the screen.

If you're the kind of person prone to keeping the tracker on during games, you understand how cool this is. If not, you understand having dates on Fridays in high school - I think it's a fair trade.

However, with all of these numbers being thrown about, it's easy to get lost in the wash of statistics. If you're a casual fan who is finally able to discuss VORP, LIPS or basics like WHIP in the bar with a degree of certainty, it's a lot to digest.

So, I'm going to try to break some of these new measuring tools down as easily as possible. By that, I mean by presenting the simplest and clearest tutorials the web has to offer. These will appear on Wednesdays throughout the season and feel free to make requests in the comments section.

Starting slow is a very basic breakdown of what the most common pitches thrown in the majors look like, courtesy of Lokesh Dhakar, who cleaned off most of the usual gunk to provide simple, sharply illustrated pitch movement diagrams.

I may have posted this before, but it's worth repeating if I have - I only wish I'd had them around during my adventure in explaining pitch types to an Irish friend who was staying with us last fall. Even if a picture is worth 1,000 words, I overshot that by a good 600 words and still didn't make any sense.

These are also available in handy PDF form if you're taking your mother-in-law to a ballgame this season.

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Dan Bankhead exposes a blind spot in my trivia knowledge

Last night featured live trivia at one of the local bars and I headed out to embarrass myself in public lend a hand with my impressive pool of general knowledge.

You can imagine my shame as someone who runs a baseball blog and likes to center on the game's history froze up on a basic baseball question: Who was the first black pitcher in Major League Baseball? The answer, as we all know now is Dan Bankhead of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Our team went with Satchel Paige, which we knew was wrong, but no one could make a stronger case for anyone else. For the record, I voted for Don Newcombe, but had that confused as he was half of the first black pitcher/black batter combo to meet in the World Series.

For the record, here are some of the famous firsts in case the trivia master decides to get cute and ask some follow-ups next time (full list available here).

Jackie Robinson was obviously the first for a lot of things. He was the first black man to sign a contract in 1945, first minor leaguer in 1946 and obviously the first man to play pro ball in 1947.

Additionally, he was the first black man to make it to the World Series (with Bankhead) in 1947 and the first player to win the MVP award in 1949. Ernie Banks was the first black player to win back to back MVPs in 1958 and 1959.

Larry Doby has his name all over the books for following close behind Robinson and locking up some famous firsts in the American League. He was also the first player to hit a home run in the World Series for the Indians in 1948.

As for the pitchers, Bankhead was the first pitcher and the first black player to hit a home run in his first at-bat in the majors. Paige was the first pitcher in the American League and the first black pitcher in a World Series, where he pitched in relief, both in 1948.

In 1949, Newcombe won the Rookie of the Year award and he won the innaugural Cy Young Award in 1956.

Finally, Buck O'Neil was the first black coach in 1962, Frank Robinson was the first manager in 1975 (excluding the statistical burp for Banks that was mentioned here last week), Bill Lucas was the first GM in 1977 for Atlanta and Cito Gaston was the first to win a World Series in 1992 with the Blue Jays.

A full listing of the first black player for each team can be found here.

So, there you go - you can leave me a thank you in the comments section when you win a free t-shirt from Miller Lite in your trivia league next week.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mike Lowell seems to be really good with kids

From Red Sox Monster comes this series of audio clips from a Q&A session with Mike Lowell, who was speaking to kids at Niketown in Boston on Monday.

There's a lot to get through, but he genuinely seems to be having fun with the group and has quite a few surprising answers. It's up for grabs whether the kids asked better questions than the pros usually do - I have a short list of announcers I can imagine chiming in with, "I don't know what a tee is..."

Check in around the 9:00-mark to hear Lowell's thoughts on the difference between Wrigley and Fenway. I totally agree.

I'll have to drop him a line to see if the Fever Pitch fans are worse than Iowans and Trixies, or if it's the other way around.

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)


Home cooking > Change of scenery

Leading into the Red Sox home opener today, you had the jet-lagged Sox against the winless Tigers who were swept at home by the Royals and White Sox.

In the midst of the Sunday night shelling at the hands of Chicago, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were suggesting that all the Tigers needed was a little time away to get back on track.

At the same time, the Red Sox were being pounded by the Blue Jays in Toronto, where much was made of their world tour with stops in Japan, Oakland and Canada. All they needed was to get home, get a little rest and they'd be fine.

Consider it the unstoppable force versus the immovable object, but for chattering announcer types.

As of the eighth inning in Boston - featuring Bill Buckner throwing out the first pitch, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler singing God Bless America and Neil Diamond doing a live version of Sweet Caroline - it appears that clean underwear and some new bling is the real recipe for success.

Well, that and a hit or two from anyone but their 2-3-4 hitters. That would probably be the most helpful improvement of all.

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A-Rod ready if Jeter stays hurt

With Derek Jeter out of the lineup with a quad injury, the Yankees aren't opposed to sliding Alex Rodriguez over to fill the gap and dropping a backup in at third.

I'm positive that there are numbers available to quantify having talent at third versus short, but is it so great that the Yanks have no choice but to move Rodriguez, throw him out of whack and possibly provoke Jeter?

It's all well and good to come up with a solid contingency plan, but was it the best decision to admit to entertaining that idea? Worse yet, why would you disclose that to the media?

With the waves finally settling out between the two stars, it's probably best to treat them like two older dogs at feeding time - keep them at a respectful distance and pray you don't start a turf war over something stupid.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Maybe Larry Rothschild needs a computer

Just found this new site devoted to pitching mechanics and a pretty interesting breakdown of Mark Prior's pitching mechanics.

As I've mentioned here before, one of the main things Cubs fans were fed in eager anticipation of Prior's arrival was that he had impeccable mechanics that were on par with some of the all-time great power pitchers.

While it seems to be true that he might have been solid coming out of USC, check out the write up and accompanying video of how things started slowing down for Prior as the years ground on in Chicago.

I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on the mechanics of pitching, but even to this member of the unwashed, uneducated masses, it's not good for the human arm to add that pause to his delivery.

In any event, welcome to and I look forward to seeing what they figure out this season. Maybe it's worth dropping a line to the Padres to have them take a peek at this before they break him for 2008?

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Chicago celebrates Opening Day (Observed)

Well, the Cubs held their home opener on Opening Day last week and the White Sox should be through with warm-ups by now down at the Cell this afternoon, but leave it to city hall to make their own rules and celebrate Opening Day whenever the hell they please.

For those who will be in the Loop tomorrow afternoon, the city will celebrate with a few players to be named later and assorted major and minor league teams.

I smell a conspiracy - the mayor is a White Sox fan and he waits until the Cubs are out of town to throw a party? Seems fishy.

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Rays appear to know what they're doing now

While super prospect Evan Longoria is still waiting for his call to the majors, it's worth noting that the decision to ship him down to AAA Durham might not have been a bad decision, even if there hadn't been sinister contract implications in play.

Since starting the season, Longoria has stumbled a bit, going 0-for-14 and striking out five times. It's too small of a sample size to infer anything from it and Longoria will undoubtedly right himself if he's not called to the big club first, but it's worth noting.

Aside from starting his free agent clock, this seems to have been a solid move for the Rays. I can't imagine the pressure really building for a Tampa rookie - especially compared to other teams in the American League - but it's probably best not to rush him up.

Unless, of course, you're a Rays fan or a fantasy baseball nerd.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Cups, underpants and tiger-related injuries

I was online last night and jumped to the Twins shop linked from their site. Every now and again, I'll see what's been added to the "new" section to see if there's something my wife might like, if a new product line has come out that might look good in Cubbie blue or Sox red or if MLB is just rubber stamping products to make a quick buck.

Here's one from that third column.

Keeping in mind this is a newly released product, what's the thinking behind a Twins tumbler featuring Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana? It wasn't a major surprise when Santana left and it had been a major story in the Twin Cities for months before the season ended.

Was this wishful thinking or are plastic tumblers much, much more difficult to manufacture than I ever knew?

I can only imagine that the Twins will sell a few of these cups - great for storing salt to later be ground into open wounds - box up the rest and sell them in 20 years as "throwback glasses."

* This came from the Extra Bases feature on today, when Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked about heading back home after his team was forced to play in three countries over the past two weeks:

Francona said Opening Day is "special anyway. Then you add the ring ceremony and half of us will be wearing clean underwear. How do you beat rings and a clean underwear?"

Uh, buddy? What about the other half? Were they already clean or some of those weird, superstitious guys who never do laundry in season like a boy in a sitcom?

* And finally, from my favorite White Sox site, the April 4 edition of Palehose 8. If you're confused by the set up this season it's well worth the time to start at the beginning and work your way back.

He's not going anywhere and I'm not planning to stop linking to him any time soon.

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This might be part of the problem

I wanted to let some of the dust settle before I ventured into this, but one of the major problems with the blogging world was cast into sharp focus for me this week as stories rolled out Tuesday morning.

Tuesday was April Fool's Day, of course.

It was also the day that the Ernie Banks typo was found on the statue, but given the false starts
throughout the day, it was hard to tell if the story was legit or not. Don't get me wrong, I love a good prank as much as anyone.. if not more... but given the amount of strange stories that are floating around anyways with bloggers taking a bigger chunk role in the public's attention, it's pretty easy for things to get out of hand.

Here's the funny thing - when I woke up that morning, I made a point to remind myself that it was April 1 when I saw my alarm clock, so I was well-prepared for the front page of Boston Dirt Dogs, which told me that Roger Clemens was ready to head back to Boston for the year to finish out his career.

At the bottom of their story, they politely reminded the reader to check their calendar and I shook my head while I sipped my coffee, wondering how dumb they thought I was. That was a bad question.

As the day progressed, there were plenty of missteps as blogs grabbed headlines and rushed to be first to post links and offer commentary - just as they do every other day of the year - only, some of those were jokes that were taken too seriously.

The world didn't end, no one was hurt, but the results made me think. Despite my belief that blogs provide a vital viewpoint in today's discussions of sports, politics and other facets of our lives, there is a major blind spot that is a result of that lack of official access.

I can't jump on the phone with the Cubs front office to verify if Kosuke Fukudome has been deported over a simple paperwork mistake, which leaves me to either run with a story because someone else has it or wait around and look uninformed or lazy.

I tend to be more cautious than I would like to be in order to avoid some of those mistakes - and I make plenty of my own to begin with, including two major ones this week alone - but this is apparently the tradeoff with the surge of web-based media.

Do I wish that it was easier to verify stories, regardless of how awesome they might sound when I see them on Ballhype? Sure I do.

Am I willing to trade that in favor of goofy stories about Ken Griffey Jr. throwing his jock at fans that are actually true? Not quite yet.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Toronto locks up stars to long-term deals

Just in time for the Blue Jays' home opener, the team announced long(ish)-term deals with two of their young stars - Alex Rios and Aaron Hill.

Here are the breakdowns on the payouts, according to the Toronto Star:

The team signed two-time all-star right-fielder Alex Rios to a US$64-million, six-year extension that contains an option for the 2015 season worth $13.5 million.

Second baseman Aaron Hill inked a $12-million, four-year contract that starts this season and contains options for 2012, 2013 and 2014. The options are not year-to-year – the Blue Jays must extend him for either one season at $8 million, two at $16 million, or three at $26 million.

The keys here are four- and six-year deals that will keep both players with the Jays long enough to make a run with their current lineup. Take a look - it's really better than you think if you haven't been paying attention.

Toronto GM JP Ricciardi stressed a desire to keep home-grown talent with the organization, which seems to be the best plan for the Blue Jays if they don't intend on spending money hand over fist to compete in the AL East.

Though, with the failing American dollar, give it a few years and watch guys clamor to get north of the border to cash in after their free agent year.

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Bill James thinks the Twins are dirty cheaters

I'm not the best person to ask about the Twins teams that won the World Series twice in 1987 and 1991 - my opinions are greatly colored by my own memories from watching the games as a kid and from rosy speeches given by co-workers when we lived in Minneapolis.

I guess that's why it was so shocking when I read Cameron Martin's piece at Bugs & Cranks about Bill James' suggestions that those teams might have been running on something other than team spirit and a little, old fashioned Northwoods hustle.

Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti are targeted because they had oddly sub-par seasons in 1984 before finding their form in time for the two championship seasons. I'll need to grab a copy of James' book to see if he's speculating about the rest of those Twins teams in addition to the two stars.

More from Martin:

Maybe I’ve been on Mars, but I’ve never heard Puckett’s name mentioned in the conversation about performance-enhancing drugs.

He’s become an easy target after his death, especially in light of the unflattering revelations about his personal life, e.g., he was arrested for groping a woman in the ladies’ room of a Minneapolis restaurant, but was acquited at trial. Puckett might have had his cheerful veneer pulled back after his playing days were over, but saying a guy died early because he was using PEDs? I mean, this isn’t Ken Caminiti, who was an admitted steroid user. It’s Kirby Puckett, a Hall of Famer. Who else does James think is in Cooperstown via the aid of performance-enhancing drugs?

As long as it's not Ryne Sandberg, I'll be able to continue to sleep through the night. If a guy who looks like his blood type was cheddar can be accused, who's safe anymore?

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Kerry Wood really isn't a huge AC/DC fan

One of the downsides of watching baseball on TV - and it's very minor - is missing the between innings theatrics. Sure, if it's a big enough show the broadcast team will usually run the tape back for the viewers, but that's pretty much a one-shot deal.

So, during yesterday's Cubs game, I missed Kerry Wood making his entrance en route to his first major league save. According to the Tribune, he entered to AC/DC's Dynamite, a selection he didn't make and didn't particularly care for.

Despite online contests to pick his entrance music, that was the best they could come up with.

Wood reportedly said he'd rather come in to organ music, like everyone else. Because nothing works the home crowd into a frenzy more than circus music. I'm all for tradition, but if that's the only issue, can't we get some James Brown or something?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Things are not pleasant in the 2K Sports family

It's only been a few days since Opening Day, but the posters to the 2K Sports forums are getting restless.

And more than just a little restless - users are getting banned here, people!

Logged under "The next new thread that is opened..." is this from one of the moderators, obviously sick of the gamers losing their minds that Kosuke Fukudome is still playing under an assumed name.

(For those who are totally lost, when new games come out for the next-gen, networked machines, content is updated, released and downloaded by people who own the game. After the season starts, roster updates are pushed through to update for trades, rookies, etc. This update is now a few days late and the fanboys are going bonkers.)

This little jewel from the moderator post is what made me giggle tonight:

I understand your guys frustration for the still lacking patch. But if you read my thread, I said it was imminently going to be released. It has been approved by Microsoft. You'll get it when they put it up.

You guys can complain all you want. But you're making my job a lot harder not putting all your thoughts in one thread. There is an official thread about the patch/lack thereof. The next people who open a new thread about the patch are going on vacation.

That sounds incredibly sinister for a moderator post in an open forum. I can only imagine the patience it must take to put up with spoiled 12-year-olds and angry gamers all day.

I'd still prefer to have an enjoyable, bug-free gaming experience, but it's not like I'm going to raise holy hell about it on the message boards. That's what this blog is for...

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SI's virtual vault

While most fans have already found their way over by now, here's a post for the late adopters.

Sports Illustrated has gone against the grain and is offering up their old issues in digital form.. wait for it... for free!

Aside from the cheap giggles of browsing a periodical centered around sports and crammed with cigarette and alcohol ads, I've wasted a few hours at this point cross-referencing SI with critical junctures in my life.

What was going on the week I was born (not a damn thing) and the summer that followed (World Cup in 1978)? How about my first weeks of college? What about the last weeks that were a booze-soaked spiral?

It's strange to see articles I remember reading in my room during junior high school or picking out the pictures I cut and pasted to my walls.

Safe to say, if you're a red-blooded American sports fan, you'll find something after digging around for just a few minutes.

I have to say that while searchable content is great, my favorite feature are the full issues available to digitally thumb through page by page. If you have some sick time, you might want to take tomorrow off and just camp out with a cup of coffee, your laptop and your PJs.

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It appears that the Brewers have hired a nerd

In a story that flew under my radar, Milwaukee catcher, Jason Kendall, is batting ninth to start the season in an attempt to gain a competitive edge in the National League this year. It was a little confusing to figure this out from the stands during yesterday's game.

According to the Brewers' web site, the idea was kicked around initially in Spring Training, when Ned Yost told reporters:

"We've done studies on this. It's not just that we come up one day and say, 'You know, Jason Kendall's gonna hit ninth.'

"You've had a lot of smart people looking at it and crunching numbers and seeing if, numbers-wise, it made sense."

To me, this sounds like the Brewers have a new stat nerd in house and after breaking down his numbers, they found a way to shake up the established baseball world. From the rumors I've been hearing, sabrematicians looooove shaking up baseball's old guard.

The idea is that with a contact hitter like Kendall, you double up your leadoff-hitting potential by having the catcher bat last before you hit the top of the order. That's great, but I don't quite understand the idea of taking a player who your team values for his ability to put the ball in play and moving him to a spot in the order where he'll see the mathematical minimum of at-bats.

Then again, the Brewers are 2-0 this year, so I'll just shut up now.

Update: One of the Ballhype users had this waiting for me in my inbox and it lines up with this discussion, so I'll add it here.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bill James blames fate for Cubs woes

When the best mind in factual, rational, statistical baseball concedes the Cubs have awful luck, the team is pretty much screwed from the word go, huh?

Please Bill James - throw Chicago fans a bone next time, will you? Can you at least blame a farm animal? Oh wait, you did - you blamed good, old-fashioned stupidity in not getting on board sooner.

From the Freakonomics blog:

Q: Why can’t the Chicago Cubs get into the World Series? Is it the small park? Low salaries? The curse of the billy goat? Does sabermetrics provide any insights?

A: Talking about the origins of it — the Cubs fell into a trench in history in the late 1930’s, when almost all baseball teams built farm systems, but the Cubs for several years refused to do so. This put them behind the curve, crippled them for the 1950’s, and really the organization did not fully overcome that until about 1980.

Since 1980 they have had several teams that could have wandered into a World Series, with better luck. They haven’t had any one overpowering team — like the 1984 Tigers, or the 1992 Blue Jays, or the 1998 Yankees — that was so good that it demanded a seat at the Last Banquet of Fall. And, unless you have a team that good, you’re at the mercy of the fates.

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)

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They're taking our jobs!

I'm catching a few innings of the White Sox and Indians game in Cleveland tonight during dinner and noticed a strange ad placed on the backstop.

Just to the left behind the plate, on the rotating marquee is an ad for border patrol officers. Apparently they're hiring, so there's a web site for you if you really have an ax to grind with Mexicans who are crossing illegally.

Is this the best audience to be flashing that ad in front of? Especially considering that of all sports, baseball (probably) has the largest percentage of Latinos? Tell me that the border patrol is all about keeping terrorists out of the country and not the Mexicans and I'll stop listening to you, because you are a liar.

Or running for office in a Latino district.

* Off topic, but worth updating is the little typo problem with the Ernie Banks statue at Wrigley, which was apparently fixed this morning.

I assumed it was an April Fool's joke, so I was letting it be until I went to the game today, but the story was apparently legit.

Well, OK, then. I'm sure someone's third-grade teacher is very, very proud this morning. That and it just goes to show how observant and intelligent TV news reporters are... or not.

(Images taken for Siberian Baseball)

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dutchie Caray is pissed

Note: I mistakenly trash-talked Comcast here, when the video clearly says, "AT&T." My mistake, I confused this with part of the Comcast media blitz. It doesn't make Dutchie any less angry or Comcast any less awful.

For a few weeks, there were some annoying commercials running in Chicago that were trying to push Comcast AT&T on us using a Harry Caray impersonator - is assume it is John Caponera again - and apparently his widow, Dutchie isn't very happy about the results.

Not that anyone should blame her, as Caponera's act seems like it was based after watching Will Farrell's impression and taking it further over the top.

While Comcast AT&T says they cleared everything with Caray's estate, they also said that they had appeared at my apartment to set up the cable when they hadn't, so I don't think Comcast has the best track record with the truth.