Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Problem Isn't With You, It Is You.


I tend not to be as fatalistic as your average, run-in-the-mill Cubs fan. Don't get me wrong. Cubs fans, more than any other group of fans save those of the Cincinnati Bengals and Toronto Argonauts, are given ample opportunity to blow an aeortic valve every season. We pay a lot for the luxury of seeing our seemingly jinxed team drag us along on the inevitable journey toward underachievement tempered by already sullen expectations. Everytime we lower our expectations for the team as fans (in self-defense, similar to a fight-or-flight response), the more the Cubs prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Cubs management has not lacked effort and ambition in their offseason moves and in season tweaks. Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney have sought to strengthen Lou Pinella's daily fair by adding more left-handed depth in the line-up and power arms in the bullpen.

Maybe, just maybe, they were trying too hard this time.

With the impending and now complete sell of the team to the Ricketts family, I suspect the Cubs executives were trying to make a big splash on the field to bolster the price tag hanging on the franchise. With the Ricketts getting 95% of the team and a 25% stake in Comcast Sports Net for $55 million less than Sam Zell and the Tribune Company originally asked for, I'd say the Ricketts got a good deal and also that the Cubs front office didn't get nearly enough for what they paid.

The blame, in a perfect sports world, should always lie first and primarily with the players on the field. They are at the precipice of history on every pitch, at-bat, pop fly, and ground ball. Secondly, the neck of the manager should lay on the chopping block. It's his duty to put players into situations that best accentuate their talents; increasing their individual odds at success and ideally the team's odds as well. Next would be the front office staff, who are responsible for stocking the major and minor league system with players and all the necessary support staff.

However, if you haven't noticed already, this isn't a perfect sports world. This is in fact reality; A reality where, more times than not, blame is avoided or deflected. In those rare moments when a collosus of moral magnamity emerges to take the blows of fate for himself and his team, a dictionary of cliched responses usually accompanies the condemned to the press conference like a martyr on the way to the gallows with a bible in tote.

Are the blows of fate being tempered by some sort of divine benediction?

More infrequent than players and player personnel owning up to their deficiencies are fans that are willing to admit that they are some how complicit in this catholic overreaction; That they have possibly erected expectations too lofty for their team or any team composed of mortals to conceivably meet.

This, my friends, is what I believe ultimately ails our loveable losers on the northside of town. The less than stellar free agent signings over the past several seasons are but symptoms of a larger disease that has its origins amongst the throngs of fans that file through those green turnstyles daily at the National Leagues oldest ballpark. Desperation amongst the faithful has reached epidemic levels and the Cubs front office and players are not immune to this contagion.

Players are traded (Mark DeRosa?)that, under normal circumstances, wouldn't be traded to make financial and physical space for free agents that normally would be less than desirable options(Milton Bradley?). Spring training games in mid-February take on the tenor and tone of playoff action in early October. Baseball, a game conducive to a marathon mentality (because of the number and frequency of games)takes on the frantic urgency of a 100-meter dash or the Super Bowl inside the (Un)Friendly Confines.

This is in no way an excuse for ineptitude. Baseball players are paid vast sums of money to perform in pressure packed situations. Managers and front office personnel are generously compensated for their capacity to evaluate and manage talent. However, like any business that sells a product, demand for that product by the consumer will ultimately impact what shows up on the shelves.

The Cubs franchise has not lacked effort in their attempts to give their faithful fans what they want.

But if you try sometimes...

You might find...

What we may need, though, is to take one step away from the ledge and enjoy the privileged position we're in, having enough discretionary income and vacation/sick days available to spend summer days and early autumn nights getting hammered while we watch our boys march towards the post season at the world's most beautiful ballpark.

Maybe when we loosen our collars a little in the stands, our team will follow suit on the sod.

It's a hell of a lot easier to accomplish any goal when you're relaxed. That goes for winning the World Series as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gov. Quinn Visits United Way to Sign 211 Legislation




This morning, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Illinois) visited United Way of Metropolitan Chicago to sign into law a piece of legislation that will expand the Illinois' dedicated 2-1-1 health and human services information line throughout the entire state.

2-1-1 is an information and referral line to help people connect to needed social services provided by a range of non-profit and government agencies. With leadership from United Way, state agencies and State Senator Susan Garrett, Senate Bill 1922 gives residents in Illinois access to 2-1-1, an easy to remember, toll-free, 24 hour information line that connects people in need with health and human services.

Currently, primarily through United Way and state funding, 2-1-1 is available to about 76% of the U.S. population with 240 active 2-1-1 systems in 47 states. 2-1-1 call centers nationwide received nearly 10 million calls in 2007, a 27% increase over 2006. Due to the economic downturn in 2008, 2-1-1 centers reported a dramatic increase in calls by those seeking rental or mortgage assistance, paying utility bills, and assistance related to job loss. Because of the expanding reach and increasing visibility of 2-1-1, many 2-1-1 call centers lack the resources needed for adequate telecommunications infrastructure, to provide appropriate staff levels and training, to maintain 24 hour-a-day service, to ensure complete and accurate informational databases,and to reach rural populations.

Plans are still being developed to determine exactly which agencies will provide critical funds and services for the 2-1-1 programs. It is also being determined where the state's promised matching grant for health and human services providers fits into the state's 2010 budget. The governor hopes that the expansion of 2-1-1 statewide will eventually allow other health and human service providers such as suicide hotlines, rape hotlines, and the like to roll-up into this program, providing one centralized source for information to people in need of assistance.

Gov. Quinn also answered some questions regarding the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Board of Regents scandal. He dodged specific questions regarding whether he had plans to speak with the board members and ask for their resignations by the established Monday deadline. Gov. Quinn said that he would be in contact with the board members. When pressed on whether he would speak directly to the board members by Monday, Gov. Quinn began telling stories about Dick Butkus and his attendance at the 1961 Rose Bowl game (in which Illinois won.) He asked the reporter if she saw that game. It was obvious that the reporter was not conceived until well after 1961.

Gov. Quinn also addressed questions regarding MAP Grants for needy college students in Illinois. The state funding allocated to Illinois Monetary Awards Program (MAP) grants, college financial aid awards for needy students, was slashed during state budget cuts this year. As a result awards have been cut in half for all students and have been denied outright to over 130,000 students who applied after May 15, a significantly earlier cutoff date than previous years. Typically, Illinois MAP grants award up to $5,000 per year to the neediest college students in the state, provided they submit their financial aid applications by mid-August. This year, however, the deadline was moved up to mid-May due to budget cuts. Even students who applied on time will still receive reduced funding, as the current budget for the program can only cover grants for one semester of study. Students at community colleges, who typically apply for financial aid later in the year and often have access to fewer financial resources, are likely to be the hardest hit.

The governor stated that he will push the Illinois legislator to restore full funding for MAP Grants saying "If a student gets a scholarship the first semester they should receive a scholarship the second semester if they make the grades and fit the financial need qualifications."

I had the opportunity to have some light conversation with Gov. Quinn after the press conference. He is a very affable man with a prominent Chicago Irish accent (he attended Fenwick High School). The governor was noticeably tired, with disheveled hair and saggy eyes. We talked about Georgetown (his undergraduate alma mater) and their chances this season in basketball. We both agreed that Georgetown is guaranteed at least two Big East wins this season, both more than likely coming against my alma mater DePaul University. We also talked briefly about his membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the first greek-lettered fraternity turned high honors society.

Fun Stuff

During the press conference, Gov. Quinn said that the University of Illinois was founded in 1871 after President Abraham Lincoln signed a grant setting aside land and funds for the school. The University of Illinois was actually founded in 1867 as The Illinois Industrial University. It was one of the thirty-seven public land-grant institutions created shortly after Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862.

When asked about the University of Illinois Board of Regents Gov. Quinn compared this issue to a baseball game. "This is a nine inning game and right now we're in the bottom of the 9th." Sports, the politicians old friend and fallback.

Gov. Quinn had no comment when asked about the state of medicinal marijuana legislation currently being vetted in the Illinois legislature. Sorry Richey, I tried.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Vick Signs 2-Year Deal with Eagles



Suspended NFL Quarterback Michael Vick has landed with a new team -- The Philadelphia Eagles. Vick signed a 2 year deal with the Eagles on Friday. The first year of the deal is for $1.6 million with the second-year option worth $5.2 million, sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Vick can also earn an additional $3 million in incentives over the two years of the contract, sources told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli.

Vick can begin working out and practicing at the Eagles facilities immediately and will be eligible to play in the team's last 2 preseason games. Commissioner Roger Goodell has laid out a timeline in which Vick would be eligible to see regular season action no later than Week 6, depending on the nature of the reports from Vick's advisor and former headcoach of the Indianapolis Colts Tony Dungy, Eagles headcoach Andy Reid, and other individuals in place to monitor Vick's transition.

Now that Vick has found a new home the media and PR circus can officially begin. The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wasted no time reminding people exactly what Vick had done. "PETA and millions of decent football fans around the world are disappointed that the Eagles decided to sign a guy who hung dogs from trees. He electrocuted them with jumper cables and held them under water," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon told The Associated Press. "You have to wonder what sort of message this sends to young fans who care about animals and don't want them to be harmed." Vick was spotted at Chicago's O'Hare airport earlier this week, fueling rumors that the Bears might be suitors for the services of the free agent quarterback. Vick was actually attending a Humane Society event in a Westside community where he talked to local children about the dangers of dogfighting.

There have been a myriad of reports on fan reaction related to Vick's signing, both in Philadelphia and nationally. There have been threats from season ticket holders to sell their lot in protest. Some casual observers, who previously had a tacit interest in the Eagles franchise, have vowed to not become fully devoted followers of the team due to the quarterback's signing. It appears that the vast majority of sports fans and onlookers are of the mindset that, although Vick's crimes were heinous in their nature, he has paid his debt to society and now deserves the second chance opportunity that is loosely attached to the promise of the American Dream. Vick is aware of the fragile nature of this opportunity and vows to make the best of it. "I'm glad that coach Reid and the rest of the organization stepped forward," Vick said. "I'm glad I got the opportunity and the second chance. I won't disappoint.

The over 2-year long saga surrounding Michael Vick has brought many polarizing subjects to forefront of our societal vision. The rights of animals have converged with the rights of humans. The distinctions between what is legal under the law and what is proper due to our acculturation has been further confounded. Some believe that Vick should still be behind bars for his acts while others believe that he has paid more than a satisfactory price for his misgivings.

These opinions can never be reconciled because they speak to the conditional nature of the way we as humans distill justice, mercy, and forgiveness. Who is worthy of forgiveness is often a function of our relation to the criminal and their crimes. Fans of football who happen to also be animal lovers and animal lovers are calling for Vick to show more remorse -- to have a torturing sense of guilt for his heinous actions. I personally don't care if Michael Vick is remorseful. After spending 2 years in prison, spending several more years on probation, losing tens of millions of dollars in salary and endorsements, and being confronted daily with negative reactions from animal rights groups and citizens that love their pets like family members I have a feeling that Vick understands that what he did was wrong and will more than likely never again do anything remotely similar to the actions that have landed him in his current reality.

To say that Vick needs to show remorse is presumptuous and unempathic on our parts. Does he lose sleep at night from visions of ruthlessly hanging, electrocuting, and otherwise abusing those helpless dogs at Bad Newz Kennels? None of us can say because we don't know for certain what's in Vick's heart. Does the thought of those lonely nights in a Leavenworth prison bunk and the enduring pain and embarassment that he has caused his family, friends, and himself torture Vick constantly? None of us can say for sure that it does or does not but my educated guess would be that, yes, it does.

In a country that lauds montras such as "Equal Justice Before Law" and "Only God can judge us", where we fit young men and women with dog tags and ship them off to war as subjects in human dog fights, where we inprison and execute a greater percentage of our population that any other country on earth (save Communist China), it would befit all of us afford Michael Vick his second chance -- his ONLY second chance -- with deference and impartiality. Without regard for our own selective self-righteousness and convenient morality, we would ask for the same opportunity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zambrano hurt

Cubs starter and ace Carlos Zambrano was a late scratch for tonight's game in Colorado due to lower back stiffness. He is day-to-day. Shawn Marshall is making the start in Zambrano's place. The Cubs are expected to make a roster move before tomorrow's ballgame.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chicago Cubs @ Cincinnati Reds - 8/5/2009



6:10 P.M. CST

Great American Ballpark

Cincinnati, OH.

Rich Harden (7-6) vs. Justin Lehr (0-0)

Scouting Report

Rich Harden is 7-6 on the season with a 4.50 ERA in 18 starts. He's given up 91 hits in 98 innings pitched, 19 of which have been homeruns. Harden has issued 41 walks while striking out 115. Hitters are batting .245 against Harden on the season. Harden is coming off of a strong outing on Friday in Florida against the Marlins where he pitched 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 earned runs, walking 3 and striking out 11. In his last outing against the Reds on July 26th Harden got the win, pitching 6 innings, giving up 1 hit and 1 earned run. He did not walk a single batter and had 8 strikeouts.

Justin Lehr will be making his second Major League start two days after his 32nd birthday. Lehr was called up July 31st from Triple-A Louisville and started against the Colorado Rockies. Lehr recorded a no-decision, going 5 innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 earned runs. He walked 6 batters and did not record a strikeout. In his 4 year Major League career, batters are hitting .279 against the 6'2", 215 lbs. right-hander out of the University of Southern California.

Lehr, who was 13-3 with a 3.31 ERA this season in the minors, was named the International League's pitcher of the week last week. He began the 2009 season in the Phillies' organization, but was traded in May and began his third stint with the Reds organization in less than two years. Since returning to Louisville, Lehr was 8-1with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts and one relief appearance. His previous big league stops were with the A's and Brewers. In fact, the right-hander's last big league appearance was against the Reds with the Brewers on May 22, 2006.

Inside The Numbers

Rich Harden has a 2.19 ERA in away games and a 2.37 ERA in night games on the season. Harden also has a 2.38 ERA in the last 30 days. Harden should fair wll against the Reds right-hand dominant line-up. Right-handers are batting .223 against Harden on the season (.271 for left-handers).

Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has 14 hits in his last 39 at-bats (.359) with 3 homeruns, 10 RBIs, and 12 strikeouts. Lee is 2-9 with a homerun, 2 RBIs, and 5 strikeouts in this series against the Reds. Lee's numbers are staggering over the past 10 games and he did have a towering homerun to leftfield late in lastnight's ballgame. However, it appears that Lee is having a hard time picking up the slider in the last 2 games.

Second baseman Mike Fontenot is 5 for his last 14 (.357 batting average) with a homerun and 3 RBIs to begin the month of August. He's looked more comfortable in the batter's box, hitting pitches back up the middle and to right-center field. Fontenot has already matched his career high in homeruns and is 5 RBIs shy of tying his career high in that category. Look for Fontenot to finish this season strong as the Cubs push towards a 3rd straight Central Division title.

Last night, reliever Angel Guzman took his turn on the Cubs merry-go-round that has become the 8th and 9th innings. Guzman faced 7 Reds batters, pitching 1.1 innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 earned runs, both on a Wladimir Balentien 9th inning homer. He notched one strikeout. In 42 games, Guzman is 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA to go along with 12 holds and 1 save. He has given up 14 runs (all earned) in 47 innings pitched with 15 walks and 37 strikeouts. Batters are hitting .206 against the Cubs right-hander.

Prediction

Cubs win 5-2

News and Notes

Lastnight's winning pitcher Tom Gorzelanny grew up in the south suburbs cheering for the White Sox. When asked to rank his favorite teams as a youngster on Waddle and Silvy on ESPN Radio 1000 in Chicago, Gorzelanny replied, "The Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox,and Bulls -- the Cubs were pretty far down on the list." Welcome to the dark side Tom!

Centerfielder Kosuke Fukudome opened lastnight's game with the first leadoff home run of his career.

Derrek Lee led off the seventh inning by hitting his 150th homer as a Cub, passing Mark Grace on the teams all-time list.

Cubs closer Kevin Gregg will be available tonight out of the bullpen in a save situation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Chicago Cubs @ Cincinnati Reds - 8/4/2009



Chicago Cubs @ Cincinnati Reds

Great American Ballpark - Cincinnati, OH.

6:10 P.M. CDT


Tom Gorzelanny (3-1) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-8)

Inside The Numbers

Evergreen Park, IL. native and Marist High School grad Tom Gorzelanny will make his Cubs debut tonight in Cincinnati. Gorzelanny, who came over from the Pittsburgh Pirates along with left-handed reliever John Grabow, is 3-1 on the season with a 5.19ERA. Gorzelanny has pitched primarily out of the bullpen after struggling early in the season and being demoted to Triple-A, amassing 8.2 innings this season and giving up 6 hit and 5 earned runs. He has a 3.86 ERA on the road this season and right-handed opponents are hitting a minute .143 against the 6'2", 200 lb. lefty. Gorzelanny should be able to get off to a good start in a Cubs uniform against a sputtering Reds ballclub.

Johnny Cueto will be looking to end the Reds current 7 game losing streak when he toes the rubber tonight. Cueto comes into tonight's match-up with an 8-8 record and a 4.06 ERA in 21 starts. Opposing hitters are batting .262 against the righty. Cueto has not faired well in home night games this season, with a 4.20 ERA at home and a 4.15 ERA at night. In his last start against the Cubs, Cueto took the loss going 6.0 innings and giving up 9 hits and 4 earned runs. He walked 3 batters and had 4 strikeouts. The Cubs batters should be patient tonight against the Cincinnati starting pitcher. In his last 51.1 innings pitched he has walked 23 batters and given up 37 earned runs.

What To Watch For

Joey Votto

Reds First baseman Joey Votto has 5 hits in his last 25 at-bats over the past 7 days with only 3 RBIs and 5 strikeouts. However, he is batting .337 (30 hits in 89 at-bats) with a .584 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching on the season. he's batting .333 with 2 RBIs and 2 strikeouts against Gorzelanny this season. If the Cubs can manage to keep runners off of the bases in front of Votto they should be well on their way to sending Dusty Baker and his Cincinnati ballclub to their 8th straight loss.

The Cubs Big Boppers

Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are a combined 30 for 80 (.375 batting average) with 5 doubles, 5 homeruns, and 11 RBIs against Johnny Cueto this season. The Cubs should be able to get to the Reds starter early and often tonight. The question is -- can the bullpen sustain the lead?

Kevin Gregg

Should there be a save situation, Cubs fans will see a different fireman for the second night in a row. Cubs closer Kevin Gregg will be held out of tonight's game with a tired arm. Gregg has yielded 10 home runs this season -- the most by any reliever in the National League and tying Orioles right-hander Brian Bass, a middle reliever, for most in the majors entering Monday. On the road, Gregg is 11-for-16 with a 4.17 ERA and has allowed a .260 average with seven home runs. In contrast, at Wrigley Field, he's 10-for-10 in save situations, has a 2.92 ERA and has held opponents to a .213 batting average with three home runs.

John Grabow will be the Cubs primary set-up man. Carlos Zambrano, who only went 3.1 innings in his last start, may be used to bolster the bullpen for tonight's game.


Interesting Note

Cubs reliever John Grabow, upon his acquisition from Pittsburgh, requested # 34(the number formerly worn by Indians closer and Cubs "legend" Kerry Wood) from Cubs clubhouse manager Tom "Otis" Hellman. He was told that number 34 was unavailable (along with Wood's old locker in an already petite home clubhouse). Grabow took number 43 instead. Could there be plans in the works between Cubs brass and Kid K for a return to Wrigley Field? Not likely given the 2 year, $20 million pricetag currently hanging on the 1998 Rookie of the Year.

Next Up

The Cubs will retire # 22 in honor of Mark Prior and Kevin Hart.