Friday, August 19, 2005

A New Wood

As the Cubs will not be playing meaningful games in October once again, this past week served as their playoffs as they went against the Cardinals and Astros. To try and pull fans back in the Cubs won five of seven against St. Louis and Houston. Don't get your hopes up, being 3 games under .500 and having five teams ahead of them is no reason to get excited. What is significant is Kerry Wood dominating out of the bullpen.
There is no doubt Wood hates coming out of the pen. But it is impossible to argue against the results. Wood has only allowed one hit in 7 innings while striking out 12. With Wood reaching 99 mph on the radar gun, he is finally showing flashes of his '98 self. Yes, Wood is the most expensive set-up man in the game but if he is also the best doesn't that matter more? Wood is a gamer and wants to be a starter. But as a reliever he is pitching in innings he rarely reached as a starter. Isn't there more drama to be found pitching in the latter inning than the first 5? With Wood and Ryan Dempster in the pen, the Cubs have finally found a way to shorten the game. For the first time in his three years managing the Cubs, Dusty Baker can actually trust his bullpen.
The challenge now is how the Cubs plan on using Wood next year. In his eight years with the team, in only 2 of them has Wood topped 200 innings. While Wood has been effective as a starter he has struggled with durability. My suggestion is not to make Wood a one inning reliever be it in a set up role or closer. Wood can give the team a lot more than that. Rather could the Cubs figure out a way to use Wood in a way closers like Mike Marshall and Bruce Sutter were used in the 70s, going more than an inning at a time. Imagine Wood entering in the seventh and closing the game out. This would truly allow Baker to not overwork his starting pitchers. There is no reason to think that a closer only has to pitch an inning at a time. With Wood and Dempster the Cubs could have two closers at the same time. The options are quite intriguing. Managers often like to think in conventional ways, but if Dusty Baker can think differently he could be hailed as a genius.
2005 will turn out to be another frustrating season for the Cubs. But for the first time I feel like there could be hope for 2006. However if Wood returns to the rotation, 2006 could be very similar to 2005. What Wood wants to do matters a lot less than what is best for the team. We have finally seen Wood dominant once again. The only way for that to continue is to keep him in the bullpen.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bear Down

Maybe Cedric Benson is smarter than I realize. After all, by remaining unsigned at least he cannot suffer an injury. Last year on the first day of training camp, Brian Urlacher pulled a hamstring. This year in the second exhibition game, Rex Grossman broke his ankle. For a team that was going to need some breaks to be competitive, this one was they hoped to avoid.
Last season became a wash once Grossman tore his ACL in week 3. The Bears shocked that a quarterback who had made all of three NFL starts could get hurt had no adequate backup ready. This past off-season when there were plenty of veteran quarterbacks available, the Bears passed. Jerry Angelo claimed to have faith in the current crop of quarterbacks. Obviously, Angelo did not want to believe that history could repeat itself. Clearly there is a reason that with Angelo as the Bears general manager, the team is stuck in neutral.
To underscore the absurdity of Angelo’s logic is that over the past three years the Bears have started 10 different quarterbacks. It is safe to say that Angelo has no ability to evaluate quarterbacks. This failure may well cost him his job.
After Friday’s loss to the Rams, Angelo was preaching the fact that at least there is a month until the season begins. That does not exactly imply trust in the current quarterbacks of Chad Hutchinson and Kyle Orton. For obvious reasons, I refuse to include Kurt Kittner. Of course, if Angelo actually had faith in his quarterbacks, he would have the confidence that right now any of them could start for the Bears and be successful. Suddenly, the team is grateful that the regular season does not start anytime soon. As a fan, I cannot say that inspires much confidence. Worse, for opposing defenses it does.
The optimism surrounding the Bears in this past off-season was due to the return of Rex Grossman and offensive coordinator Ron Turner. Turner, who was with the Bears in the mid ‘90s, did a solid job of making the Bears into a solid offensive team. There is only one hitch to his system, to be successful you do, indeed, need a quarterback.
It was under Turner’s tutelage the Bears had their last solid quarterback, Erik Kramer. 10 years removed and Kramer still has more mobility than current starter, Hutchinson. If Benson was signed at least the Bears could try and build around the run. But Angelo has botched that one so far as well. So without the starting quarterback and running back how far can the team go?
The Bears history is based on the running game. The reality is that the Bears have not had a quality running back since Neal Anderson in the late ‘80s. Is there any reason to think Benson will be different than Curtis Enis or Rashaan Salaam? Like those two, Benson has missed significant parts of training camp because he has yet to sign a contract. Now Benson’s leverage increases and the team needs to sign him quick.
I will give credit to the Bears for having their hopes dashed before the regular season begins. That is not easy to do. The team will go forward and talk about how everyone else just needs to step up and that the defense is still intact. Trite but true, there is one problem. To win games you have to score and that is hard to do without your top quarterback and running back.
Quick Thoughts: One day I do hope Terrell Owens can overcome his fear of speaking to the media…The Eagles and Owens realize they are both losers in the feud, right?…How long ago 1998 truly was, Kerry Wood reduced to a one inning reliever…I suppose it is safe to say that Billy Beane may have a clue as to what he is doing…Is there a better game to play than which player is going to caught next using steroids?…I am still not sure what is a bigger black eye for baseball: Rafael Palmeiro or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays…What would ESPN do without Terrell Owens?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Different Kind of Juice

“Son I want to tell you about Rafael Palmeiro, the sweet swinging first baseman who became the fourth player in baseball history to reach 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.” Call me crazy, but I do not believe too many fathers will be describing Palmeiro in that light.
Palmeiro made history twice this year but it will be the second event that is most remembered. In fairness, we will never know if he would have reached the 3,000 hits and 500 home run milestone without using steroids.
As Palmeiro closed in on 3,000 hits many analysts including Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune stated the Cubs worst trade of all-time involved not Lou Brock but their young first baseman. How were they supposed to know at the time that Palmeiro would meet up with Jose Canseco in Texas and suddenly become a power hitter? It is not just the players that have looked foolish, it is teams and general managers as well.
Maybe the greatest impact the steroids scandal will have is that the statistics that are supposed to define baseball will lose some of their significance. But then the reality is that the numbers have always been somewhat hollow and overstated. Baseball was segregated until 1947, for decades players used amphetamines. From the beginning, the game was never clean. The allure of individual success glory has driven many a player to cheat using any means necessary.
It is impossible to measure how much steroid use helps a player. But obviously the players feel it is giving them an advantage or they would not be using them. Players would not risk their long-term health unless short-term glory was possible. When you look at some of the recent home run totals that have been reached, it is hard to argue that steroids did not play a role. Consider the fact too that many of the top sluggers have been linked to steroids.
The game has proven to be bigger than the individual players. Baseball’s popularity increases even while those who helped win back the fans see their names disgraced. The only losers have been those linked to using steroids. Mark McGwire had a magical season in 1998, hitting 70 home runs. Now he cannot even talk about the past. Maybe there is justice after all. The juice that helped McGwire reach his numbers now prevents him from enjoying the memories.
As bodies build up, they seemingly break down just as far. McGwire’s exit was quite haste and Barry Bonds has yet to play a game this season. Aging gracefully does not always seem to happen.
I love baseball but realize the numbers I memorized as a kid are merely statistics They can help tell the story of an era but do not make a player special. Of all the records witnessed, we just did not realize there was one group that was far from exclusive: Those on the juice.Quick Thoughts: Has there ever been a less interesting 5-team trade in the history of the NBA? Really is shocking that the Atlanta Hawks are a mess….The daily Terrell Owens updates during the Super Bowl were one thing, having them during training camp is ridiculous…Hockey should go away every other year…Winning the N.L. West is going to be like going to prom with your sister, it does not count…The Red Sox are really doing society a favor by introducing such phrases as “Cowboy Up”, “The Idiots”, and “Manny Being Manny”…There aren’t too many people laughing at Billy Beane right now…Only for Mike Tyson could going into porn be a step up.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Me Posted by Hello

Life as a Cubs fan

I like to consider myself an intelligent human being. Yet every summer, I love and die with a team that last won a World Series in 1908, and has not even played in a Fall Classic since 1945. It is clear expectations are low when all my dad hopes for is the team to be competitive in consecutive seasons. 2004 marked the first time the Cubs had back to back winning seasons in over 30 years. My dad who was born in 1949 has only seen the Cubs make the playoffs four times. There is no need to even point out how many straight years the Yankees have made the playoffs, let alone number of World Series won.
All I could feel last October when the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series was jealousy. That and the knowledge that now all the media attention would be focused on when the Cubs would actually win a World Series. If Sox fans had to suffer through years of curse talk, Cubs fans have had the knowledge that the team was often too bad to be cursed. Hope may spring eternal but summer has Cubs fans thinking of next year.
Even when the Cubs win they lose. Witness the complete collapse of 2003 and 2004. The closer the team comes, the further away victory feels. The 2004 team whined and complained so much, I was happy when they collapsed the last week of the season. At least as a Cubs fan rooting for a loss is quite easy.
Once again, the Cubs have tantalized this year. When the season was as its most bleak, they actually went on a winning streak. Hopes rise because, well, us Cubs fans are pretty gullible. For a history that has been quite bleak, every year Cubs fan believe. I am starting to see less of the beauty in having hope and more of the foolishness. When the same thing happens yearly, you should start to expect it after awhile.
A few years ago after getting so frustrated I actually tried to stop rooting for the Cubs. I mean why stay in a relationship going nowhere? Of course, somehow in sports it is impossible to break the ties that bind. If only in 1984 I had known I was making a lifelong commitment to the Cubs. Back then when the Cubs blew a 2-0 series lead against the Padres NLCS I thought to myself, “No big deal there is always next year”. Cleary, I had much to learn.
I live in Connecticut now and still cannot escape the Cubs. I follow every game and read the papers daily. I am in an unhealthy relationship and I cannot escape. I tried to leave and returned without receiving any promises. At 26, the Cubs have made me a jaded sports fan. Worse, I know I am one winning streak away from believing this could be our year.
Quick Thoughts: Remember the days when coaches honored their contracts?…There is delicious irony in Lou Piniella getting out of his contract in Seattle only to wind up in Tampa Bay and have his team quit on him…Maybe it is because I work for ESPN but I love Terrell Owens…Sign God has the best sense of humor of all: The self-proclaimed “Chosen One”, Kellen Winslow missing the entire 2005 season due to a motorcycle accident….Sign II God has a the best sense of humor: Barry Bonds’ 2005 season…Mike Tyson will be in the ring again, after all when does an athlete stay retired?…Shouldn’t Mark McGwire be running a weight loss center?