Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

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


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.


Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks head coach.


Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.


Phil Jackson, former Bulls head coach.


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.


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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Quade Named Cubs Manager; Sorry, Ryno

New Cubs manager, Mike Quade.

The Cubs announced today that Mike Quade is no longer the interim manager, as he signed a deal to manage the big league club for the next two years.  This decision was made at the expense of denying the job to former Cubs second baseman, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and while most longtime Cubs fans are probably very disappointed in the decision, I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that the team will do just as well with Quade at the helm as they’d be with Sandberg.

Why is that? It’s simple.  The team went 24-13 after Quade took over for the retired Lou Piniella in August, and they were a completely different club.  They played with energy, didn’t make nearly as many dimwitted mistakes, either defensively or on the basepaths, and the pitching was phenomenal, particularly Piniella whipping boy, Carlos Zambrano (8-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA in his last 14 starts, looking like the player he was before Piniella was hired).  In short, they became fun to watch for the first time all season, and a lot of it stemmed from having a manager who wasn’t distracted by family issues and lame duck status (or maybe it was just the psychological warfare Quade’s frightening face provides) like Sweet Lou was.

Now, I’m sure Sandberg would do a great job managing in the big leagues, and he probably will be hired somewhere very soon — think of the poetic justice if he were hired, and won, in Milwaukee — but the fact remains that Quade spent even longer in the Cubs’ system, lorded over the third base coaching postion like some sort of Universal monster since 2007, and then took a team that traded away most of its productive veterans and made them into a winner for the last month and a half of the year.  He’s paid his dues and is just as worthy of a shot as Sandberg.

So now the work of turning the Cubs into a winner for a full year begins.  Quade will have his work cut out for him, as most of the truly productive minor league players from the last couple years — Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, and Andrew Cashner — are on the big league team.  They’re still pretty raw but will be good in time, and there are a few other players in the system who will be calling Wrigley home very soon, like outfielder Brett Jackson.  But the fact remains that the team is still without a true first baseman/middle-of-the-order power threat, and the budget will be lowered next year.  Maybe they will sign Adam Dunn, watch him strike out 8,000 times a year and be a liability at first in order to get some left-handed run production, but that is not a guarantee.  Either way, my optimistic prediction for next year remains: the Cubs will be a third- or fourth-place team, hovering around .500 as they develop their young players for a shot at winning in 2012 and 2013. And for those of you still smarting from the Sandberg snub, remember, the plan would be the same if he were hired.

So as a frustrated Cubs fan who would have loved to see Sandberg in the dugout, I still think GM Jim Hendry and the Ricketts family made the right choice.  Now, for the love of all that is holy, go win for once.

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Sweet Lou Rides Off Into The Sunset: The Aftermath.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella hastily announced yesterday morning that he was stepping down sooner than expected from his post immediately following yesterday’s 16-5 drubbing by the Atlanta Braves to deal with family issues, and despite the team’s infuriating mediocre 2009 and bottom-of-the-barrel 2010, it’s clear this man deserves all the accolades being tossed around.

Lou tipping his cap during one of many standing ovations yesterday.

And, of course, I have to look ahead at the floundering team’s future, which could be bright, given a few good breaks and a couple of years of player development.

But first, I want to thank Piniella for his almost four years managing Chicago’s National League ball club.  His first two years, 2007 and 2008, were excitement at its finest and despite the team’s poor playoff showings, it’s clear Piniella — and in some ways, his predecessor, Dusty Baker — changed the culture of the team.  Losing is no longer tolerated by the fans or front office.  Look at all the players jettisoned in recent weeks: Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Ted Lilly, and last week, Derrek Lee, and you get the idea that nobody in the organization will put up with the underperforming team and everyone wants to reload the minor league system to start from scratch.

And nearly all of that can be attributed to Piniella’s influence.  The man has always been a winner, with the exception of his tenure managing the once-awful Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays (and honestly, that was a no-win situation, no matter how you looked at it), and it showed while he was in Chicago.  He expected the most out of his players and punished them when they weren’t performing, like his demotion of opening day starter Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen at a couple different times this season.  Despite the team’s floundering throughout this season, I felt a tinge of sadness when Piniella announced last month his plans to retire following this season, but yesterday’s announcement shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given his two leaves of absence in the last month to  be with his ailing mother.

However, Lou is gone and he’s not coming back — and who could blame him?  Taking over for him is former third base coach Mike Quade, who has the dubious role of ushering this rookie-laden, offensively mismatched monstrosity into a very important offseason, during which the team will find his own replacement.

The team does have some interesting storylines to finish this lame-duck season.  Besides the ongoing managerial search (does anyone truly believe it’s going to be someone other than Ryne Sandberg?), we Cubs fans can look forward to seeing the possible first baseman of the future, rookie Tyler Colvin, transition from his roving position in a crowded outfield as he attempts to reclaim his grasp on a position he hasn’t played since his teens.  Rookie shortstop Starlin Castro could conceivably be the first rookie since Ichiro Suzuki to win a batting title — it won’t happen, but he’s definitely in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year award.  And, with September callups looming, prospects like starting pitcher Jay Jackson and outfielder Brett Jackson (trust me, no relation) could be on the field in coming weeks.

After the season’s over and Sandberg is installed as the next manager, some interesting things could happen.  The team has made no bones about the fact they’d like to be rid of the head case known as Carlos Zambrano, as well as light-hitting right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.  If the former is dealt, even in a desperation “if you take him, we’ll pay for everything” kind of deal, Jay Jackson might get his shot in the rotation next season, and if Fukudome’s out the door, Colvin could go back to his natural position and open the door for a lefty-swinging free agent first baseman like power hitters Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena.

No matter how you slice it, change is afoot for the Northsiders.  With their soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager, Piniella, out the door, it just goes to show how much different this team will be in the coming years.

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So Long, D-Lee. Thanks.

Derrek, you will be missed.

The increasingly hapless Chicago Cubs traded first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects yesterday, and while it’s nice to know his middling-to-bad statistics and large contract are off the books, it’s sad to see one of my favorite players of the last decade leave, because until this year, he’s put up some big numbers and been one of the most likable Cubs since being traded to the team before the 2004 season.

I understand baseball — hell, all of sports — is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and Lee’s .251 average, .335 on-base percentage, and .751 OPS have all been substandard this year.  However, I can’t stop thinking about the 2004 season when he started the year slumping horribly, then lit up scoreboards from June on, or the entire 2005 season when his MVP-like numbers were the only entertaining part of an incomprehensibly bad team.  Those types of seasons continued through the playoff runs of 2007 and 2008 and he was the best player on the team even a year ago.

But that’s over, and I want to thank Lee for his years on the North Side and all the fun, among other things, he’s provided this Cubs fan, and wish him luck playing for the NL East-leading Braves, while also taking a look into the future.

The Cubs got three young right-handed pitchers in the deal, and while none of them are ready for the majors just yet, they could be serviceable in the future.

The youngest and rawest is 19-year-old Robinson Lopez, a starter-reliever swingman who’s been roughed up a bit in Single-A ball, with a 4.37 ERA, but he has an ability to keep the ball in the park, as he’s only surrendered five homers all year.  If he can cut down on his walks (4.2 per nine innings, yikes), he could get to the bigs in a few years.

22-year-old reliever Jeffrey Lorick is moving quickly through the minors.  Picked by the Braves in the 20th round of last year’s draft, he’s already in his third stop in their system, but he, too, needs to cut down on his walks allowed.

Tyrelle Harris, a 23-year-old also picked in last June’s draft, is the clear centerpiece of the deal.  He’s moved with lightning quickness through the Braves’ system, currently pitching in Double-A, with an eye-popping 60 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched.  If he continues dominating batters, he could be in Chicago by next summer.

With this deal, the Cubs wrung the most out of the Braves that they were going to get, given Lee’s contract, age (he’ll be 35 next month), and underwhelming 2010 numbers.  I applaud GM Jim Hendry for being able to get even this much, and again, thank Derrek Lee for nearly seven years of being a reason to watch this miserable team I can’t pry my eyes from.  Seriously, this train wreck season can’t get much worse, right?

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