Tag Archives: Baseball

Posnanski profiles Epstein, points to hope.


Joe Posnanski’s profile of Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein provides a wonderful portrait of the changing culture within the organization.  It’s a hefty read, but well worth sitting down and contemplating for a while.  Here’s a snippet:

He sits now behind his desk at Hokoham Stadium in Mesa, and he finds himself unconsciously slapping down on a book called “The Cubs Way.” Outside these walls, a book called ‘The Cubs Way” would probably have a very different plot. It might tell the amazing narrative of black cats and Harry Caray and Wrigley Field day games and Steve Bartman and a team that has not been to the World Series since World War II ended, and has not won one since Geronimo died (yes, that’s right, Geronimo, the Apache leader).
This is a different kind of book. Epstein believes deeply in it. “The Cubs Way” was co-written by, well, pretty much everybody around here — all the managers and coaches and instructors and front office people in the Cubs organization. They gathered together for days and put it together. The book details the direction for the Cubs in every facet of the game — hitting, bunting, infield defense, outfield defense, pitching, strength and conditioning, everything you could imagine.

That’s right, Cubs fans.  Not since the days of near mythical Native American chiefs has the team been a champion.  However, things like that “Cubs Way” organizational handbook–not some sort of magical “curse-busting” skill inherent in former Boston Red Sox general manager Epstein–give me plenty of hope that the Northsiders will be a perennial contender within the next few seasons.

Most evidence–injuries to starting pitchers Matt Garza and Scott Baker and third baseman Ian Stewart, plus the team’s general lack of offensive talent–points to the team “earning” another high draft pick for 2014, but prospects like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler look like the real deal and will likely help form an offensive core with the Cubs’ budding stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Remember: Optimism.

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Anthony Rizzo Era Begins; Temper Your Excitement


Being a Chicago Cubs fan is a tough pill to swallow. After years of oppressive losing, we’ll get a ray of hope (in my lifetime those rays have been winning seasons like 2003, 2007, and 2008, and prospects like Corey Patterson and Felix Pie).  But none of those have yet brought us the baseball catharsis we all want: A World Series championship.  And who’da thunk it, shiny new beacon of light, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, will not singlehandedly bring that, either.

Rizzo’s first start for the Cubs is tonight at Wrigley Field against the New York Mets.  After lighting up scoreboards across Triple-A the last couple seasons, Rizzo has nothing left to prove in the minors.  Yes, he struggled last year while called up by the San Diego Padres, but since being sent back to their Triple-A affiliate and being traded to the Cubs, he’s been even better.  Those 23 home runs and 1.110 OPS are certainly exciting given how miserable the Cubs’ offense has been this year.

But don’t get too giddy.  After all, this is still the same Cubs team with a .342 winning percentage.  Even if he replicates his Triple-A production in the majors, Rizzo will only be worth a few extra wins from here until the end of the season.  He’ll also have to deal with crushing expectations from irrational fans and media.  I reiterate: The Cubs are going nowhere this year except the top of the 2013 Draft board.

Where Rizzo’s value lies is in how he fits into the changing organizational culture the Cubs — spearheaded by the new front office brain trust of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McCleod — have started this year.  For the first time I can remember, they have a stock of interesting offensive prospects — Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Josh Vitters, 2011 first round pick Javier Baez, and the newly added Cuban prospect Jorge Soler and 2012 first rounder Albert Almora — but the Cubs’ pitching prospect cupboard is laughably barren.  Even if all these hitters develop the way the Cubs hope (they would be lucky if one or two realized their potential), and they create a formidable core with 22-year-old All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro (some might), the team would still need a windfall of pitching help to contend.

So remember, even if Anthony Rizzo reaches star status, something that is never assured even for the best prospects, the Cubs won’t be much better until their other young hitters ripen and they import some quality pitching into the organization.  Relax, lay off the Kool-Aid, and enjoy what the kid can do on a diamond.

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Thank you, Kerry Wood, for not hitting me with your car (among other things).


Promise. Hope. Those are two very dangerous words. Once the sheen wears from them, we’re often left feeling bitter and despondent; it’s part of growing up. Somehow, though, Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood navigated that arc and managed to remain beloved. On this, the day he retires from an often brilliant 14-year career, I feel it necessary to join the inevitable pack eulogizing his time on the mound.

By now, Wood’s star crossed baseball career has been well documented. He played a pivotal role on the surprising 1998 Cubs as a 20-year-old rookie, mowing down major leaguers like they were drunk softball players. By May of that year, he already displayed the promise few had before him.

On May 6, with just a handful of major league starts under his belt, Wood lived up to that promise. He blanked the Houston Astros in a 20-strikeout performance, a major league record. He was still a kid with months to go before being able to legally drink. Anyone who listens to today’s game against the White Sox will probably hear Cubs announcer Pat Hughes relay the sentiments of his late announcing partner, Ron Santo, that despite a soft single allowed by Wood, the “Kid K” game was the most dominant Santo had ever seen (I know this because Pat says it just about every time Wood pitches, or when the Astros come to town, or when he’s bored). The game was so dominant, in fact, that it demands gargantuan run-on sentences to properly explain it.

I made it home from school that day to see the ninth inning. I remember my nine-year-old imagination going wild; I thought my new favorite player was going to the Hall of Fame. I get the feeling today that most people eagerly jumped to that same conclusion. We were wrong.

Whether it was due to overuse at such a young age (likely) or “shit happens” bad luck (as he is a Cubs pitcher, just as likely), Wood did not pitch in 1999 because he needed the dreaded Tommy John elbow surgery. He showed rust in his 2000 return, but he still had two years of major league experience at an age when most pitchers are just sniffing Double-A. The awful Cubs teams he played for didn’t much help him, either.

After two more very good years as the team’s de facto ace, the Cubs were finally good again in 2003. Wood made the most of the opportunity to pitch in a pennant race. I was actually on hand for perhaps Wood’s second most dominant pitching performance of his career.

That day, September 17, 2003, was right at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. My school would do an annual Walk-a-Thon to Wrigley Field to raise money, and we got to see Wood pitch a gem against the New York Mets.

At that point in the season, the playoffs were still very much in doubt, with both the St. Louis Cardinals and Astros nipping at the Cubs’ heels. The three-team chase for the NL Central crown was overwhelming. I was nervous beyond belief, thinking I’d somehow jinx them.

Wood looked shaky in the first, but got out of a two on, one out jam with a double play. In the bottom half of the inning, the diminutive Doug Glanville, who looks no larger than my 5’10”, 135-pound frame, launched a leadoff homer to left, and the ballpark was jazzed. The lead gave Wood the confidence to make the Mets’ hitters look silly the rest of the day.  He pitched a complete game four-hitter while striking out 11 and I got to see my first ever win at Wrigley Field. More importantly, that game propelled the team to a run which would lead them to the playoffs.

Of course, Mark Prior and the Bartman game happened, but that’s beside the point. Wood had finally entered true ace mode that postseason and the team was going to “win the World Series” in 2004, according to Sports Illustrated. What SI failed to foresee was Wood’s health imploding. 2004 would be the last time he ever made more than 20 starts in a season.

Wood’s career appeared done after two more years of disabled list trips because of an arm that never seemed to work. He made a last ditch effort in 2007 to become a reliever to put less stress on his balky shoulder and elbow, and it worked. He won the Cubs’ closer job in 2008 and saved 34 games for the 97-win NL Central champions.

Early in that 2008 season, I was unlucky enough to see one of Wood’s only rough outings. He blew a save and took the loss. Grumbling as I left the park, I didn’t do my pedestrian due diligence and failed to look both ways before crossing Grace St., a couple blocks from Wrigley. I heard a screech of tires and looked at a car that was a couple feet away from hitting me. The driver? An upset Kerry Wood. I stared for a second, waved sheepishly in thanks, and he even cracked a small smile. I like to think that near accident fueled him on his way to becoming one of the National League’s best closers that year.

He may have left the Cubs for a couple years following the ’08 season, but I think everyone will forget that when they review Wood’s career. After all, he couldn’t stay away for long, and returned for the 2011 season after turning down far more lucrative offers from other teams. He missed Chicago and we missed him. This year may have been a bummer, but the man knows when to call it quits, and I cannot fault him for that.

Wood’s pitching was often electric, but his importance lies in his Wood Family Foundation charity work for Chicago children, his annual bowling tournaments, and adopting Chicago as his year-round home. He doesn’t just play there. He and his wife, Sarah, live and raise their children in the city. That is not something we fans overlook. It shows an investment in us, and that makes our investment in him easy. I’ll miss you, Woody. I’m watching the Cubs-White Sox game on WGN right now eagerly awaiting your final appearance. You may not be a kid anymore, but go ahead and add a few more K’s to your career.

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Some Advice to Dale Sveum on How to Succeed in Chicago Sports


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Cubs manager Dale Sveum, not a mustache enthusiast.

Okay, Dale, I know you’re only a few weeks into your first spring training as Chicago Cubs manager, but I need you to know you have already started on the wrong foot.

Don’t get me wrong.  The team is clearly trying hard and they’ve played well through a week of exhibition games (4-3 record after today’s win over the Brewers).  I’m glad you’re stressing fundamentals, and the future looks surprisingly bright with prospects like outfielders Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur (that’s “Caesar” to you plebs not in the know — get with the program, jeez) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo showing flashes of what we could see at Wrigley Field as soon as this summer.

But Dale, you have been misled.  You have not been taught the way of The Mustache, a Chicago staple more important than deep dish, hot dogs, or corruption.

Why is The Mustache important?  Here are four parades’ worth of reasons.

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Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks head coach.

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Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

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Phil Jackson, former Bulls head coach.

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Mike Ditka, former Bears head coach.

The evidence is pretty compelling.  If I were a lawyer and if I could think of some metaphor for championships in law, I would win that case.

All of Chicago’s other “big four” (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) franchises have won championships in the last three decades with one thing in common: the man in charge had a mustache.  Ozzie had some chin growth as well, but I’m making a point, so shut your mouth.

In case you’re wondering, it wasn’t having teams that had a game-changing offense/hot goalie combination (Quenneville), the best monthlong pitching streak in recent memory (Guillen), the triangle offense/Michael Jordan (Jackson), or arguably the greatest defense of all time (Ditka) that earned these men championships.  No sir, it was the Mustache.

The Mustache’s power over the men of Chicago is not relegated to sports figures, either.  You need not look further than Chicago police, firefighters, or my dad to see how deep The Mustache has ingrained itself in Chicago’s blue collar culture.

And let’s face it, Dale, that blue collar culture is your bread and butter now.  Those are the people who buy the team apparel, pass down stories to their inexplicably mustachioed children (we come out of the womb like that), and lie about back injuries to earn workman’s comp to pay for the games.  You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you, Dale?  Would you?

So here’s what I’d like to see happen, Mr. Sveum.  I’d like you to look in the mirror every morning and repeat, “Not good enough, not good enough,” until you have grown an 1800s prospector mustache and upheld the city’s mythos.  Your family may hate the way you look.  It may be itchy.  It may even look atrocious on you.  However, you say you want to make the Cubs win the World Series?  Then do it.

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See? Much better.

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My Return to Baseball Obsession


How exciting has this year been?

As a Cubs fan, one could argue I’ve never had anything to get excited about.  That has been especially true the last two years, with two fifth-place finishes, atrocious defense (and pitching, and offense, and…), and even an unexpected “retirement.”  Mikey Q’s Band of Bad Nicknames didn’t leave me hanging on every pitch, and I have paid as little attention to baseball as at any point in my life since puberty hit.

Of course, me “not paying attention” still means being commissioner of a fantasy baseball league, daily visiting Bleacher Nation and Bleed Cubbie Blue, and generally trying to be more knowledgeable than the “average fan,” because I simply MUST be smarter than everyone else, DAMN IT.

In these two years, I’ve traveled further down the rabbit hole of studying filmmaking, fallen in love with hockey, and written hundreds of pages for drafts of my first full length screenplay while preparing for a move to Los Angeles, where I’m totally going to make it big time, yo.

Then all this happened.

Pardon me, Cardinals fans, but I couldn’t bring myself to link the video of them celebrating making the postseason.  Besides, the MLB website has literally 40+ pages of video links for their postseason highlights alone, so you have enough to make you happy; and don’t complain if they lose the World Series, because they’ve spent all of October getting the not-shitty end of the “anything can happen in a short series” stick, despite playing far superior competition. Rant over.

Anyway, that last night of the season.  This was mere days after seeing Moneyball — which was great, by the way — so I figured I’d try to smoosh as much Cubs baseball into my night as possible.

Then I learned WGN wouldn’t be broadcasting their final game.  I took my relatively minor annoyance — Hell, Ryan Dempster gave up approximately 800 runs that game, so I didn’t miss much — and turned my attention to the Red Sox-Orioles and Rays-Yankees games.

This guy might be my favorite player right now.

Wow. Just wow.  Magic happened that night, and the “good” (read: lesser millionaires) guys beat the giants of the sport, sending the Rays, a team I enjoy watching far more than the now-dull Red Sox, to the playoffs.  It doesn’t matter they lost to the Rangers in the division series; they brought back a fanatic from the brink of joining the ranks of the casual.

It wasn’t over when my posteason ponies lost, though.  Given the Beantown Bunch’s, ahem, improbable September collapse, rumors began circulating the Cubs were courting Boston general manager Theo Epstein to bring Chicago into the 21st century by doing things like building through the minor league system.  Hell, if that were the only qualifier, the Cubs haven’t even been operating in the 20th century.

I spent a week or two doing the “yeah, okay” skeptical face (SIDE NOTE: Why is the sixth Google image for “skeptical face” a picture of a nude girl taking a picture of herself in a mirror?), then things started to turn.  There had been rumors swirling that Epstein would ride into town on his magic carpet (powered by that mystical force, logic), but once the team had officially asked permission to interview him, my excitement truly began.

I want to play the Indiana Jones theme over this.

Epstein’s hire was leaked to the press, and I rejoiced. Then, as if to personally destroy me, came nearly two weeks before the teams could “agree” to make it official, thanks to the not insignificant nudging of Papa Bud Selig.  The compensation for bringing Epstein still has not been decided, due to much hemming and hawing from the Red Sox ownership, but now that Theo’s had his introductory press conference as the Chicago Cubs’ president of baseball operations, this deal can’t exactly go south.

My reasons for excitement are clear.  Here is a guy who, in nine years running the Red Sox, made the playoffs six times and didn’t even come close to falling below .500 at any point.  Without even taking into account the two World Series wins, if an NL Central team were to win 86-98 games a year, as Boston did under Epstein, they’d probably make the playoffs nine times out of 10.

The Cubs are far away from where the Red Sox were when Epstein took the reigns, but if he — plus Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, his two buddies from San Diego who will reportedly join him as GM and assistant GM, respectively — can have the kind of drafts he did in Boston, the Cubs can be competing in a couple years and I can hopefully know what it’s like to see my team consistently playing October baseball.

I can’t explain Mr. Epstein’s philosophies as well as he can, so here is a brief overview of his appearance on yesterday’s Chicago Tribune Live.  It’s nice to see someone who’s energized and prepared ready to step in, instead of this.

It may be impossible to save the 2012 season, but this is the most excited I’ve ever been for a team I know will be utter dog shit.  That said, though, please put together a winner soon, Theo.  After all, “Baseball is better when you win.”

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