Sunday, January 30, 2005

Not this Way

What was supposed to be a season of high expectations, became an embarrassing, pressure packed, franchise changing 6-month long soap opera, featuring outlandish managerial comments, players feuding with announcers, players whining constantly to umpires, and false injury diagnoses. It all culminated with a near catastrophic fall from world series contender to a 3rd place wildcard finish. Seemingly taking the blame for all the 2004 failures was the team captain, Sammy Sosa. After being riddled by boos for the entire summer, Sosa skipped out on the team in the first inning of the final game of a lost season. What ensued was the fiasco that turned into the end of the Cubs' Sammy Sosa era.

For all us that grew with the Cubs back in the 80s, this is the end of an era. The last ties to the Harry Caray era are gone. Steve Stone is out. Chip Caray is gone. And now the only player that was a Cub in a game called by Harry has gone in an ugly divorce.

As a skinny kid in the Texas Rangers system, Sammy just wanted a chance. He finally got that chance after one of the most memorable trades in Cubs history. Sammy Sosa and Ken Patterson were sent to the northside, while George Bell went South.

In his first full season with the Cubs, Sosa showed all of his touted 5 tools. He blasted 33 homers. Stole 36 bases. Played solid defense splitting time between CF and RF. And he gunned out 17 runners from the OF. Yet, that wasn't enough.

Cubs fans wanted less free swinging and more walks. Two years later in 1995, Sosa did just that, putting together his 2nd 30/30 season to go with a then career best, 58 bases on balls. Yet, that wasn't enough.
Cubs fans wanted Sosa to develop all that superstar potential and lead the Cubs to the playoffs. Just 3 years later, Sammy obliged and began an unprecedented 5-year run as one of the game's top 5 offensive forces. In 1998, Sosa literally put a mediocre supporting cast on his back, with the best season in the prestigious history of the Cubs, on the way to the organization's first playoff appearance in 9 years. Yet, that wasn't enough.
Sosa was due a huge payday after being severely underpaid for 2 MVP caliber seasons. Three more years, and again Sosa outdid himself with his best season ever solidifying himself as a future Hall of Famer. He did all of this while taking a joke of an offensive supporting cast (hit between Ricky Gutierrez and Ron Coomer) to the 5th best record in the National League. Only Bill Mueller and Rondell White, of the regular players, still have ML starting jobs; and they missed a combined 150 games in 01.

For every person worshipping Sammy Sosa, there was just as many people who anxiously awaited his downfall. Over the years, I have heard Cubs fans use every excuse possible to try and justify their dislike for Sosa:

-"He beat his wife".....despite the fact that charges were never pressed, and his wife still denies it ever happened

-"His charity was a fraud"......though he was not directly involved in the operations and was never suspected of fraud

-"All he does is swing for the fences"......meanwhile, he had 5 straight seasons of 70+ walks, including 116 in 2001...while lowering his strikeout total each season.

-"He's not a team player, because he doesn't do the little things".....when no other middle of the order hitter in baseball tries to bunt, steal bases, or move runners along...and even though he finished 2nd in sac flies in 2001.

-"He doesn't come through in the clutch, and only hit HRs when they don't matter".......despite leading the league in walk-off HRs and the now defunct stat of game-winning RBIs for a 7-year span.

-"He strikes out too much".....even though 4 of the top 8 hitters in Ks are in the Hall of Fame

-"He's a cheater because he used a corked bat"......his apology and reasoning weren't accepted, even after none of his clubhouse or Hall of Fame bats had any traces of cork, and he continued to put up great numbers after returning from suspension.

-"He's on steroids".....even though he has no ties to the Balco scandal and has never knowingly been tested positive for steroids.

Well, all of those Sosa haters got their wish. Sosa's days as a Cub are over.

I am dumbfounded at the fact that Sammy Sosa has never gotten the support from his hometown fans that other superstar have had. Mark McGwire never got anything but support from Cardinals fans, despite becoming an oft-injured, all-or-nothing hitter in his final two seasons. Barry Bonds still gets the full support of the San Francisco fans, despite admitting to a grand jury that he indeed did use performance enhancing drugs. Heck, Cincinnati fans still love the biggest black eye on the game, Pete Rose. People still worship baseball heroes of the past who have proven to be alcoholics, womanizers, and racists. Yet, Cubs fans could never give Sosa the respect that he so dearly earned.

Sosa deserved better. Never has there been a player who has worked harder for himself, for the Cubs, for the city of Chicago, and for the game of baseball itself. This is a man who helped bring baseball back from sports armageddon. Dominican born and raised, Sosa carried the American flag around the bases after his first HR after 9/11 to show his support for a country that has allowed him the opportunity to play the game he loves for millions of adoring fans. Sosa went out and gave his all every single day. He brought enthusiam to Wrigley, by sprinting out to his RF position to start every home game, always with a huge grin on his face. He constantly thanked the fans of Chicago for supporting him, and did everything in his power to send each and every fan home with a similar grin.

So, this is how it ends? The most productive player in Cubs history gets traded, and the majority of people in the city of Chicago don't even bat an eyelash. Some fans are even happy at getting rid of a Chicago icon. When all is said and done, it comes down to not sitting in the clubhouse for the only meaningless Cubs game in 2 seasons.

All parties involved should be ashamed at the way things have transpired in 2004-05. There was never any effort by the organization to dispell the rumors that management wanted Sosa out of town. There were lies all over the media that the Cubs fully expected Sammy to man RF for them in 2005, and would only be traded if the team were made better. Sosa deserved better. He deserved a final chance, in the last year of his contract, to take an at times woeful organization to an elusive World Series. He deserved to go out in gracefully like Michael Jordan and John Elway. He deserved to watch his jersey number get raised up the RF foul pole with other Cub greats. He deserved to hear a non-stop ovation from the fans appreciating his tenure as the best Cub ever. He deserved to go out a champion. Not this way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Today, I am ashamed and embarrassed that I am a Cubs fan.  In the 2 game series with the Cardinals, the Cubs acted like a collective group of gutless crybabies.  I know this was a "big" series, but there is no excuse for the lack of professionalism this team showed Monday and Tuesday, and have shown for most of this year.
Carlos Zambrano is an emotional player who is known to rub people the wrong way with his yelling, strolls around the mound, and stares.  But Monday night, he crossed way over the line.  He inexplicably hit Jim Edmonds to start the game, then gets upset because Edmonds blasted a HR on Kenmore on the very next pitch.  He complained about Edmonds not running the bases, but I saw nothing wrong with that.  The Cubs have a few players who like to admire HRs and hop when they get a hold of one.  Carlos could have ended it there, but instead he goes to the Dikembe Mutumbo like finger wagging.  And after giving up the 2-run HR to Rolen, he then officially threw in the towel, intentionally hitting Edmonds again.  Carlos lost the game for his team, and then with nobody up in the pen, essentially quit on them.
Today, it was Latroy Hawkins with his insane outburst with the homeplate umpire.  I still don't even know what that was about.  To be honest, I turned off the TV before the Pujols AB and took a walk, because I couldn't watch the Cubs blow another huge lead to the Cards.
But the Cubs have a little history with unprofessional behavior on the field.  Early in the season, Kerry Wood was lifted from the game and stormed the homeplate umpire.  Kent Mercker did the same later in the season.  And now Latroy Hawkins.  Hell, even go back to last season with Antonio Alfonseca and his belly bump.  Moises Alou has repeated whined to the umpires about balls and strikes.  Zambrano has shown up teammates with his antics.  Todd Walker has mouthed off to the media recently about teammates and playing time. 
I hate to say it, but maybe Larussa was right.  Maybe Dusty does need to control his team better.  He had a chance to quiet the whole rivalry, but instead spouted back with the "he needs to worry about his own team" comment.  Dusty has a reputation for being a player's manager, but it's about time he steps up and becomes a leader.  I don't mind him sticking up for his players to the press, but he needs to get in some faces in the lockerroom.  Dusty is an old school man, and even though I hate the old school thinking....he needs to tell his players to respect the game they are so privaledged to play.

Friday, July 16, 2004

With all apologies to Maddox, I have a rant!
I can't believe this season!  Injuries are starting to piss me off.  Not once has the Cubs' projected 25-man roster played together.  Mark Grudzielanek, Jose Macias, Mike Remlinger, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Joe Borowski, Todd Hollandsworth, Tom Goodwin,  Sammy Sosa, Todd Wellemeyer, Alex Gonzalez, and Kent Mercker have all spent time on the DL.  Hell, the Cubs have barely been able to field a full 25 players with the various day-to-day injuries that the team has seen, before or without going to the DL.  Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood, Todd Hollandsworth, Kent Mercker, Todd Walker, and Ramon Martinez all have been unavailable for days at a time when they weren't even on the DL, leaving the Cubs at least a man short for most of the season.
Now last night!  Mark Prior goes down in the 2nd inning with elbow soreness.  Now, I'm not the type of person to assume the worst, but there's no way in hell Prior takes the mound again this season.  In fact, the Cubs would be stupid to even let him pick up a ball again.  He missed the first 2 1/2 monts with elbow soreness, that was originally supposed to be a 5-10 day achilles injury, and now a month later has elbow soreness coming back. 
I'm a grown man, but was almost in tears last night.  The 5-man rotation was together for the 1st time all season.  It lasted a whole, 1 2/3 innings, a whole 5 outs, a whole 8 batters!  Thanks for the teaser!  With all due respect to Glendon Rusch, who pitched his tail off last night, that leaves the Cubs with holes in the bullpen, rotation, SS, and on the bench now that Hollandsworth probably won't see the field again with some kinda of freak nerve damage crap.  What's the point of getting Nomar now, when he still only gets the Cubs back to the number of holes they had before 8:30 EST yesterday?  What's the point of anything when you are down 7 games in the division, and face stiff competition from a ton of teams in the wildcard race, who haven't been as cursed as the Cubs? 
I would kill for a little f'n luck right now!  I never believed in the goat curse, but damn, this is getting very frustrating!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Trade Rumors

This time last season, the Cubs were a team in playoff contention with clear cut needs. It was no secret that the 2003 Cubs had huge holes to fill at 3B (with the ineffectiveness of the 3-headed monster of Mark Bellhorn, Jose Hernandez, and Lenny Harris) and CF (with the injury to Corey Patterson). The Cubs filled 3B with a young, underachieving yet talented player, who had the potential to be a long-term solution. They filled CF with a free agent to be, leaving the position open for their injured player to comeback this season.

Turn the page to 2004. The Cubs are in a similar situation. In contention for the NL Central division, and even moreso for the Wildcard. But still, the team has distinct holes to fill in order to become title contenders. Those positions this year are SS and Closer. Shortstop has been the offensive equivalent of 3B in 2003. Closer has been the equivalent of CF last year, with the incumbent at the position being lost for a huge chunk of the season.

Rumors are flying around that the Cubs are interested in the likes of relievers, Eddie Guardado, Ugueth Urbina, and even Shawn Chacon. Accompaning rumors have circulated about SS, Orlando Cabrera. Well, how about using last year's formula to give this year's team a boost?

Like 3B last year, the Cubs have nobody ready to step in and man the SS position for the long haul. And like CF, the Cubs have an injured RP who is under contract and can hopefully resume his duties in 2005. My proposal:

Atlanta gets: Bobby Brownlie, Francis Beltran, David Kelton, and Ronny Cedeno
CUBS get: John Smoltz and Rafael Furcal

Why this works: The Braves need to cut payroll, and Smoltz is due $12M if he finishes 50 games this year. Atlanta was burned by the aging Maddux accepting arbitration, and won't let it happen again. Furcal is in the same boat as Ramirez was for the Pirates. Young, great potential, couple of good years, but too inconsistent to warrant a team cutting payroll to pay big bucks in arbitration. The Cubs get a dominant closer for this season and get a possible long term solution for SS and the leadoff spot.

Why it may not work: The Braves are just 2.5 games out of first place. They are 9-2 in their last 11, playing good baseball, and their ace, Ortiz is starting to dominate. They get Giles and Ramirez back after the break, and play the Phillies and Mets (2 teams ahead of them) 7 times and the rest of the games before the deadline are against last place Montreal and Pittsburgh.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Injury Bug and Lemons.


It's a week from Memorial Day. The season is more than 1/4 over. The ace of your pitching staff has yet to start a game. The perfect compliment to that ace, and toughest pitcher in baseball to hit, has missed 2 starts and been lifted from another after just 2 innings. Last year's most consistent set-up man has yet to pitch an inning. The projected tablesetter of the offense, has played just 4 games. The potential Gold-Glove winning SS, is out 6-8 weeks with a broken arm. The left-handed specialist battles back pain all season, but can't take it anymore, and also has to miss at least 2 weeks. Even Superman himself had an allergic reaction to kryptonite causing him to miss the next 2-3 weeks.


It's a week from Memorial Day. The season is more than 1/4 over. Your team has the best record in the National League. Your starters lead the league in ERA by a wide margin. The bottom 2 starters are both in the top 10 in the majors in ERA and opponents BA. Your aging LF, has found the fountain of youth, and is among the league leaders in HRs and SLG. The gamble you made at catcher is paying off to the tune of having one of the top 3 offensive players at that position. The 30 year black hole at 3B has been filled by a 25-year old fulfilling his unlimited potential.

-If you told me before the season that the nightmare would come true, I would have led the cry for a firesale.
-If you told me before the season that the dream would come true, I would have led the line for World Series ticket sales.
-If you told me before the season that both would come true, I would be led you to a psychiatrist.

Yet, it is true. The Cubs are in first place having had 7 injuries to major parts of the team's success. Through all the injuries the Cubs have stayed together thanks in part to their great leader, Dusty Baker. I'd always heard that he was a "players" manager, but I never knew what that meant until now. He has been the rock of a championship caliber team in search of leadership. The Cubs have played with the hand they were dealt, and have succeeded. In fact, you could say that they have taken lemons and turned them into lemonade.

Speaking of which, the Cubs bench, which calls themselves the "lemons" have been absolutely outstanding! The lemons are hitting .271 with 3 HRs in a pinch hitting role, a drastic improvement over the 2003 benchwarmers.

Todd Hollandsworth- 6-12 as a PH, with 2 HRs. Thrust into a starting role for the injured Sammy Sosa, Holla has gone 10-29 (.345) as a starter in May.

Ramon Martinez- In 19 starts for the injured Alex Gonzalez, Ramon hasn't made us miss Gold Glove caliber defense, committing just 2 errors and turning 11 doubleplays in 19 games.

Tom Goodwin- 5-14 in a starting role in May, all the while playing good if not, spectacular defense.

Jose Macias- had a 4-game stretch where he started for the injured Todd Walker at 2B. Was an amazing 11-20 over that stretch, setting the table for 4 consecutive Cub wins.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Baby Steps

Mark Prior threw off a mound for the first time since late March. He threw about 10 pitches. Prior described his throwing session as "a baby step", as he threw at "t-ball speed".

"Progress is that I at least had a release point where I had an idea of where the ball is going and the long toss felt pretty good," said Prior, rehabbing from an inflamed right Achilles. "My arm strength is getting closer to where I would like it.

"Obviously, I'm not at a point where I can throw in a game," he said, "but I think I can get on the mound and start moving in the right direction."

Monday, April 12, 2004

A Tale of Two Offenses

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was a the age of foolishness.....

Yep, that has been the Cubs offense in the first week of the season. On opening day, it was 7 runs, on 10 hits and 3 walks against the Reds. The keys to the victory were the 5 hits and 3 BBs/HBP which led to the Cubs scoring 4 runs with 2 outs. The team was patient, waiting for the Reds staff to make a mistake. The big blow was the Moises Alou 3-run double after a 6-pitch at bat. On Sunday the Cubs scored 10 runs, on 14 hits, and 3 walks. This time, the Cubs mixed a patient approach with aggressiveness to destroy mistakes early in the count. They jumped on Russ Ortiz and the Braves to the tune of 6 for 9, with 2 HRs, 2 doubles, and 2 RBI singles. Even the 1st pitch outs were positives as Hollandsworth moved Ramirez (who led off the 2nd with a double) over to 3rd with a groundball to the right side, and Kerry Wood got down a perfect sacrifice bunt.

Sandwiched in between these two offensive outbursts were 4 games in which the Cubs scored just 10 runs combined, and went a whopping 4 for 29 when putting the first pitch in play! The lone hit of those 4 to go for extra bases was a gift, thanks to Adam Dunn's matador defense. The 4-game stretch also included 18 innings of just 1 walk against a shaky Cincinnati pitching staff.

Folks, it looks like we are gonna have to get used to "Jeckyl and Hyde" like offense from the Cubbies. The team will struggle and shine together, because the majority of the everyday lineup has the same exact makeup. Most of the regulars fit the same profile: Aggressive fastball hitters, like the ball middle in, very pull conscious, susceptible to breaking balls low and away and fastballs up. Yep, the formula for facing the Cubs hitters is go fastball away early, causing them to roll over and ground to the left side if they swing. If they take the pitch, get ahead and go with the breaking ball down and off the plate, and get the swinging strikeout. If the Cub hitter gets a hit, it will probably be just a single. Only Sammy Sosa has shown the ability to consistently drive the ball to the opposite way for extra bases, and even he doesn't keep the go to RF when he's in a slump. Guys like Gonzalez, Ramirez, Alou, and Patterson should never see a fastball middle in. If an opposing pitcher is hitting his spots, it will be a long day for Cubs batters.

Which team will show up today, when the National League Central Champions return to beautiful Wrigley Field for the first time today?!?!?!

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