April 30, 2014


Baseball pitchers are not allowed to put "foreign" substances on a baseball.  Personal sweat, mound dirt and resin are okay. But pine tar is not.

Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda had been accused in two early season starts of having a substance on his palm. He claimed it was dirt. His opponents did not raise the issue. In fact, a few batters had no issue with a pitcher on a very cold day getting a better grip on the baseball; better he have control or it could be flying out of control at someone's head.

But Pineda was caught during his last start with pine tar on his neck. It was too obvious not to be called out. The umpires went to inspect the complaint, then tossed Pineda from the game.

Apparently, the unwritten rule is it is okay for pitchers to get a better grip but don't be too obvious about it. Some writers believe the rule is so abused that it has been nullified by passive consent. A few writers believe that MLB needs to allow an "approved" substance so this "cheating" will no longer be an issue.

Adding a substance to a baseball can make pitches bite harder on curves or sliders, which would be to the pitcher's advantage.

Purists will say that if steroids was cheating because a player was gaining an illegal advantage, than a pitcher with substance is also cheating so the sport needs to clean up its act.

The league should either enforce its rules or change them.

April 29, 2014


In trying to explain to the casual fan or youngster about baseball, specifically why some teams are better constructed than other clubs, I had to find some sort of common ground of experience for the analogy. One could go through the philosophies of drafting, development, old school power hitting vs. power pitching and sabermetrics, but that would be like trying to teach the principles of calculus to a three year old. The most apt comparison I can think of is pizza.

Everyone knows about pizza. And everyone has had different experiences with pizza, both good and bad. So here is how I explain baseball to the novice, via pizzametrics:

A baseball team, like a pizza, can be divided into sections or slices. The whole pie is symbolic of the whole team. The hidden parts like the tomato sauce is team clubhouse chemistry. The outer crust would be the managers and coaches who hold the team slices together.

Each team can be divided into starters and non-starters. Every team has to play 9 players at a time; and depending on how you look at it, four slices or half the team performance is at stake. If each starter is a slice of pepperoni, people understand that those slices could be bigger, smaller, burned or greasy depending on the oven. A good team probably has three quality starters so that is one reliable slice of the pie. Each position player is assigned to another slice: "strong up the middle" is a philosophy of having good defenders at catcher, short and second base. The outfielders could be herded on one slice. And your traditional "power corners" of first and third base is the last starting slice. Each of the starting slices are sprinkled with green onions (which represents money) since these players are the highest paid on the team. Onions are both sweet and savory like winning performances. The last starting pitching piece is for the fourth and fifth starters, who are not the "best" starters on the team. Instead of onions, their slice has pepper flakes because these players tend to run hot and cold and give fans heartburn at times.

The other players on the team are represented by sausage because in some respects, bench and bullpen players can be grisly veterans who have lost their starting jobs. Depending on the quality of the meat, you can get some good flavor from bullpen and bench players. For example, the best pieces would be in the end of the bullpen slice: where the 7th, 8th inning and closer reside. These are the relief pitchers who are specialized to end games; and who doesn't like to savor the last piece of pizza?

The other bullpen slice is usually made up of failed starters converted to long relievers or fringe minor league journeymen who can possibly eat up innings in case of blow-out games. You don't expect too much from this slice; and as the graphic shows, the edge may be more burned than the rest of the pie.

The non-starter fielders are clustered into one final slice. They are subs. Many teams now have filled their benches with utility players, guys who can play multiple positions. That does not mean that they are any better at playing the game than just a second first baseman. Since they are not starters, they tend to perform worse than the starters (hence, the burned edges like the long relievers in the pen). So they are paired with the pepper spice.  However, the stronger the bench or bullpen, the better the overall team will perform.

A good, competitive team may have six slices of the pie that are perfect.
A good team may have three slices of the pie that are acceptable.
A bad team may have six slices that are burned or undercooked or otherwise unacceptable.

By using the slice method to deconstruct your team, you can easily understand what is causing the bad taste in your mouth after a long losing streak. Pizzametrics is one way to digest your baseball!

April 28, 2014


After Matt Garza beat the Cubs 5-2, he spoke of his time with the Cubs.

CSNChicago reports that Garza stood at his locker and met with the media for less than three minutes. He insisted that this was just another game and that he was just trying to keep his mechanics in line and stick to the game plan. It was still enough time to deliver a few money quotes, because the Cubs still strike a nerve.

“It’s a lot of fun to win,” Garza said. “You go through three years of constantly hoping, you kind of run out of hope. You come to a team like this, where every day we’re going out to win. We’re not going out to hope to win.

“We’re going out with the attitude that we’re going to win. It’s a lot different. It brings up a lot more emotion, a lot better emotion than hope. It’s confidence. That’s what we’re playing with a lot right now.”

This is a constant drumbeat so far this year. Many different articles have quoted different players, including former Cubs, current Cubs and free agents that passed on the Cubs who all have put great emphasis on one thing: losing.

Jeff Samardzija must be channeling Garza about now. After three seasons of "rebuilding," the Cubs team as currently constructed is unwatchable. Fans have lost hope about the team even winning a series, let alone have a competitive record. Management and ownership does not seem to care, which adds to the depressing "no hope" bandwagon.

Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times was more harsh.

As if the Cubs have become baseball’s Alcatraz, where players do time until free agency or the inevitable trade while the lucky ones get reduced sentences by virtue of one-year flip contracts.
Just listen to Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza’s advice to Jeff Samardzija, who will be on the trading block this summer.

“All I can tell him is keep pitching; pitch your way out of it,” said Garza, who was acquired by the Cubs in 2011 to help the team win, but instead endured the worst three-year stretch in franchise history. “Keep your eyes focused, your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”

When the Cubs could not sell out the most important day on their home schedule, Wrigley's 100th birthday party, the rest of the season will be down hill from there. Hope is the expectation and desire that something will happen in the future. But reality is a cruel knife that cuts through the misty dream fog of a Cub dynasty. There is nothing that bodes well to change the rut the Cubs team is currently mired in. The best pitcher in the Cubs system, C.J. Edwards, has come down with a shoulder injury. That is never good with a young pitcher with whippy mechanics. Observers now have concluded that Mike Olt is not a third baseman but a DH stumbling about the infield when he gets a chance to play. The Cubs bullpen continues to be a messy AAA turn style. Fan patience has gone the way of hope.


April 27, 2014


The Dodgers put broadcast legend Vin Scully out to pasture. No, Vin is still doing Dodger games, but most of his fans cannot listen to him.

When the new Dodger ownership partnered up with Time Warner Cable to launch the new Dodger channel, the team got more than $8 billion in licensing fees. Meanwhile, the channel got stuck in neutral. The new channel wanted to extract $4 or more per subscriber per month from every cable and sat-tv operator in Southern California. That is premium ESPN carriage charges.

DirectTV and other cable systems balked at the fee structure. So, the Dodgers have basically blacked themselves out of their own local market. Only 3 in 10 Dodger fans can get Dodger games this season. It is quite the broadcast boondoggle.

But someone should have seen it coming.

Cable bills have skyrocketed in the last decade, mostly due to the increased costs in carrying sports and specialty channels. As a result of higher bills and a soft economy, more and more subscribers have cut the cable cord and dropped service. Many youngsters are now using their mobile devices as their entertainment platform of choice, so the cable industry is losing a key, long term demographic.

Just because a team has a product it thinks is a valuable commodity, you may not be able to sell it or distribute it.

So when the Cubs are counting on their new cable channel in 2020, and the expected revenue windfall, that can only be described as mere speculation. There may not be cable as we know it in 2020. It may be an a la carte subscription service which means expensive sports channel fees will evaporate. The market may have moved on to total mobility. Or baseball itself may be on the viewership decline. Or television advertising, the driving force behind big money deals, may also have bitten the bust.

The Dodgers have reached a stalemate with the cable companies. Neither side wants to give an inch. So, a majority of fans who thought getting rid of Frank McCourt as owner would have been a godsend for the franchise are getting bitten. The new owners did spend money like the Yankees, but now don't have the long term cable partnerships to sustain it. And the fans who want to watch the expensive superstars in the home white and blue, are left out in the cold. Bitter and angry. And missing Vin.

April 26, 2014


Cub fans have to tolerate Cardinal fans. It is the nature of the rivalry. But being so bad for so long, it does not seem remotely fair for Cardinal fans to grouse about the start of their team this season. Oh, the offense has been bad; the new guys are bad; we are behind the Brewers of all people . . . .

Calm down you drinkers of the Muddy Mississippi . . . it could be worse.

April 25, 2014



Many thought Alfonso Soriano was a quiet diva in the clubhouse. He argued with his manager about not being told the day before he would not be in the lineup (so he could party more the night before). He seemed indifferent about defense; afraid of the Wrigley outfield walls. He seems only to want to lead off so he could see more fastballs to pad his personal stats. He landed a fat contract with the Cubs with a full no trade clause. He had no pressure to win in Chicago, so he enjoyed the country club atmosphere in the locker room.

But apparently, at some point, the constant losing got to Soriano. In the Tribune during the Yankees twin bill, Soriano was quoted as saying:

"I just want to play baseball and win, and that was not happening with the Cubs,” he said. "I was happy mostly when I played for them. But when I saw they weren’t putting out a team to win, I was like, ‘Man, this is kind of like a job now.’ I’d go to the ballpark, work, do my job and go back home.

“I didn’t enjoy it. Here it’s different. Now I’m having fun.”

This is the most damning quote I have read coming from the Cub locker room. 

Major league players have been playing baseball their entire lives. As soon as they could pick up a bat or throw a ball, they were hooked on the game. Their love of the game and desire to become the best made them into major leaguers. Soriano was greatly rewarded for his talents, but deep down he still has the childhood love (and respect) for the game. When he found his Cub situation becoming "a job," an assembly line monotony of losing, Soriano had enough - - - he waived his no trade clause to be traded to the Yankees, a team that is built to be competitive year after year.

And this puts Samardzija's situation on the same path. Samardzija has been vocally unhappy with the front office trading away most of the starting rotation in the past few seasons (Garza, Dempster, Maholm, Feldman) for prospects, leaving the team to struggle with a new pitching staff for the second half of the seasons. If you add young pitchers like Archer and Cashner to the mix, no wonder the Cubs pitching corps is depleted. 

Samardzija is pacing the halls until the day he can leave like Soriano's exit. He sees that the the Cubs are not going out to put a team with a chance to win this season. And that has to grind on a competitive athlete from Notre Dame who was drilled to play the game to win. It is not that Samardzija's attitude is a cancer in the clubhouse (since he has performed to expectations). It is the constant annual losing that is the cancer.

April 24, 2014


On the Cubs three-way at second base, the platoon of Bonifacio, Valbuena and Barney has left Mr. Fife out in the cold. He is becoming the odd man odd in this rotation. He made an error. He is hitting weakly. He is leaving runners in scoring position. He is the new Mike Fontenot.

It just shows how quickly a hustling, likeable player can fall from grace. It is no clearer than when you compare the situation to the Tigers, who are desperate for middle infield help due to injuries.

MLBTR tells the tale of the Tigers search for a short term shortstop. The Tigers' search for a replacement at shortstop led them to ask 46-year-old Omar Vizquel if he was interested in making a comeback, reported Paul Hoynes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  "They asked me if I'd like to come and take some grounders," said Vizquel. "I said, 'No, I've been retired for two years.'" This bodes badly for Barney and the Cubs. If the Tigers believe a 46-year retired shortstop is a better option than Barney, Barney has no trade value this year for the Cubs.

April 23, 2014


Well, duh.

“Nothing related to losing ever gets easier,” Theo Epstein said to CSNChicago.  “Losing sucks. When losing stops sucking, you should probably find another career.”

“We’re trying to build a really healthy organization,” Epstein said. “There’s myriad challenges that present themselves daily until you throw yourselves into those challenges and try to get better.”

“There’s 50 things a day that can come up that provide an opportunity to get a little bit better as an organization,” Epstein said. “That’s just one person. We have a hundred people working on this thing. So (it’s not like): ‘Oh…the losing. It doesn’t get any easier.’ It’s not like we spend a ton of time sitting around stewing about that.

“You just try to throw yourself into all the opportunities that present themselves to make us better, so that we can win as quickly as possible and for as long as possible.”

Epstein described a typical day: Visit Class-A Kane County. Watch draft video. Watch minor-league video. Read scouting reports and player plans. Talk to scouts and minor-league instructors. 

But what Epstein has not said is how all the front office and staff work is changing the losing culture of the organization. If you have one hundred people working on winning, why aren't the Cubs winning? There continues to be no time table for the turnaround, i.e. winning, at the major league level. People are not quite sure the Cubs have not hit rock bottom yet. Constant losing creates rabid pessimists.



Observers have said it was only a matter of time. The unorthodox throwing motion was going to get him.  Scouts have long been considered him an injury risk, with some mechanics experts pointing to the “inverted-W” formed by his elbows in the middle of his delivery as an additional red flag.

But it may not have been the motion, but the number of pitches that did Chris Sale in.

The White Sox placed their ace on the disabled list on Monday with a flexor muscle strain in his left elbow. It is the first time in the 25-year-old’s career that he has hit the DL and the first time he has had any issues with his elbow. However, early in his career he was shortly demoted to the bullpen due to arm concerns by management. Sale was upset with the move, and later regained his starting position.

A flexor mass strain is not a major injury. Sale will miss at least two starts. The season is still early but there fast start has had warning signs.  The White Sox boast the major league’s hottest offense in the early going, leading the majors with 5.45 runs scored per game, but Sale had, unsurprisingly, been by far their best pitcher, going 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA and his usual strong peripherals through his first four starts. But the bullpen has been a mess, and season ending dive for a fly ball has cost right fielder Avisail Garcia his season.

It was because the bullpen had been so bad recently (Robin Ventura used four pitchers to get out of one inning), Sale took it upon himself to duel with Boston's Jon Lester. Sale threw a career high 127 pitches in the loss. It was after that outing that he had more soreness than normal. An MRI revealed no ligament damage, but the team shut him down anyway.

The White Sox are in need of another starting pitcher before the Sale injury. Felipe Paulino has been horrible. But the White Sox, who have depth in middle infield spots, will not trade away valuable position players this early in the season. The front office is hoping that pitching guru Don Cooper will get some quality magic out of Charlie Leesman and any other AAA call-up during Sale's injury time.


Do not anxiously hope for what is not yet to come; do not vainly regret what is already past.

— Chinese Proverb

April 22, 2014



Yahoo Sports recently wrote about a Cub prospect doing quite well in the majors.

Despite averaging 94.5 mph with his fastball while posting a 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, Andrew Cashner recorded just 128 strikeouts over 175.0 innings last season after finally becoming a full-time starter. The K rate improved after the All-Star break, when he produced a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with a 61:19 K:BB ratio over 75.2 innings. In  Cashner’s first three starts of the season, he allowed just three runs over 21.0 innings, fanning 22 batters over that span. Cashner’s outing against the Tigers was especially dominant, as he tossed a shutout against Detroit, striking out 11 and yielding one lone hit (a single). 

Cashner's strike out percentage (27.5) is a career high. As any pitcher with a 1.29 ERA, Cashner has experienced some good fortune in the early going, as his .196 BABIP is especially good considering he also has a 2.50 GB/FB ratio. But all those ground balls should lead to few home runs allowed, and he also hasn’t given up many line drives (16.0%). PETCO Park has increased strikeouts by nine percent over the past three years, which is the most in baseball, so Cashner has that going for him as well. 

Yahoo Sports concluded that part of the reason the Cubs traded him was because they didn’t think Cashner could ever be a 200-inning workhorse, but assuming he can stay healthy, he has all the makings of being a top-15 starter.

Those are the kinds of stories you don't want to hear when the Cubs are having a drought finding quality, young starting pitchers from their system.

April 21, 2014


It is a small sample size, but it has big ramifications:

The Cubs have struck out as a team an appalling 27% of their at-bats.

The Cubs hitters have a combined NEGATIVE 0.5 WAR. The Cubs best hitter, Emelio Bonifacio has a 0.6 WAR to date.

The Cubs pitching staff has a combined 2.4 WAR.  Jeff Samardzija is the best player on the team, with a 1.4 WAR to date.

The Cubs are on pace to lose 114 games. The team record for losses in a season is 103 (1962 and 1966). The current team WAR confirms that trend as a team of replacement level players would win approximately 45 games, the Cubs are projected at 46-116.


There is always a chance to over-reach. Nothing surprises us more than when we learn an agent or player believes he is worth an extreme amount of dollars than a general manager actually pays that eyebrow raising sum.

But the baseball off-season was harsh for a few players who did not get a new deal because of the CBA anchor of turning down a "qualifying offer" from their old team which would cost a new team their first round draft pick.

Kendrys Morales is still without a new team because he and his agent, Scott Boras, misinterpreted the free agent market. Morales, 30, would be in his prime contract years so it is up to his agent to maximize any deal. But the aspect of losing a draft pick to sign Morales turned off other teams.

He hit .277 with 23 HR, 80 RBIs and 2.8 WAR as a first baseman/DH for the Mariners. Those are respectable numbers, but not All Star numbers. 

According to the Tacoma News Tribune,  Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik recently told fans  that the Mariners offered Morales a three-year, $30MM extension after last year's All-Star break, but the talks never got serious. Several agents have been critical of an ESPN report where unnamed general managers discussed the deflated market for remaining free agents; the agents call it a violation of the CBA. The league is investigating the claims.

Morales and other qualified FAs won't sign until the "draft pick compensation" label expires after the June baseball draft. Even then, the market will not be in the $10 million/season range that Morales turned down last season.

There are fewer clubs willing to lose a first round compensation pick to sign an expensive free agent. There are only one or two clubs like the Yankees who are willing to risk giving $16 million qualifying offers to superstars like Robinson Cano in order to obtain a first round pick then go out and sign their own new free agent superstar because they don't really lose a first round draft choice.

April 19, 2014


Mark Potash of the SunTimes tries to get a handle on the Cubs baseball model.

He finds it waning at the moment.

Potash writes "While most Cub fans wait with anticipation for the Big Four — Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora — to lead a player-development renaissance that turns Theo Epstein’s woebegone Cubs into a perennial contender, there’s another faction of Cub loyalists that considers Epstein and Jed Hoyer flim-flam men whose baseball judgment is not nearly as keen as they would like us to believe.

"Edwin Jackson continues to be Exhibits A, B and C for that faction and that contention. The signing of a pitcher with such a well-established record of fool’s gold to a four-year, $52 million contract in January of 2013 reeked before the ink was even dry. A fairly predictably dreadful season in which Jackson habitually pitched poorly enough to lose — either falling behind early or blowing sizable leads — made it clear that Epstein & Co. were guilty of either signing a guy off some cherry-picked numbers or terribly misjudging Jackson’s ability to compete."

Potash knows that Cub fans will suffer through another terrible season while the touted minor league prospects learn their craft in places like Kane County and Daytona. 

Jackson may become the poster boy of what is wrong with the Cubs baseball plans. The system is lacking quality starting pitching, but the Cardinals seem to keep finding good arms like the 22-year-old Wacha who bested Jackson in the first St. Louis series of the year. And the issue is that the Cubs could have drafted Wacha, but instead chose Almora. The Cardinals picked 13 places later to select Wacha, who in less than two years made it to the majors.

Find talent. Evaluate talent. Draft talent. Quickly develop talent. Insert talent in majors. That has been the factory assembly line of young players being promoted to the Cardinals roster.

Even if you like the Cubs new focus farm system is encouraging, the emphasis has been on taking prospects who will take longer to develop than a Wacha. And that may be the flaw in the Cubs current model: not signing enough major league ready talent that need only one plus years in the minors for seasoning. 

But the Cubs will claim they drafted a slew of college pitchers one year. That is a true statement, but the team then assigned them to rookie and low A ball where some have been mired for years. At some point, caution has to be thrown out and the birds must leave the nest to see if they can fly at the next level of promotion.

It could be that since new ownership, the models keep on changing: first it was the continuation of the Tribune entertainment model; then it was the Boston Way; then it was the minor league way of the Rays; and now people think the Cubs should pattern their organization after the rival Cardinals.

But it seems the Cubs front office is desperately trying to hold back talent to build of a surge of great young players hitting the majors at the same time to overwhelm the NL Central. But trying to "time" the arrival date of a low minor league prospect is like trying to time the stock market. It rarely works.

The Cubs are steadfast that their baseball model will work. They continue to draft higher than the rival Cardinals, who continue to have their prospects beat the Cubs' prospects to the majors. It seems the Cubs are standing still while the Cardinals to continue to beat them to the punch.

April 18, 2014


When Tom Ricketts speaks, people in baseball operations must cringe.

The Associated Press quotes the Cub owner as thinking a move to the suburbs might be lucrative but says his team remains committed to refurbishing century-old Wrigley Field.

This was a reaction to a question posed to Ricketts at the MLB Diversity Business Summit. The question was phrased how, in the situation where the Braves are moving to the suburbs, can a team maintain a connection with the old ball park community. Ricketts said he has been trying to avoid that issue.

''We've been approached by several suburban sites and alternatives to move the Cubs to a new ballpark,'' Ricketts said, ''and although I haven't studied it thoroughly, I imagine that's probably an attractive proposition for us.

''But we've made it our priority to try to stay where we're at,'' he continued, ''try to stay in the city because of what it does mean to the neighbors and what it does mean to the city, both economically and just from the standpoint of quality of life in general.''

Since the Cubs won approval from Chicago's City Council last July for a $500 million real estate development project which would include installation of a 5,700-square-foot video scoreboard at Wrigley,and  a 650-square-foot sign in right field, the neighboring rooftop owners have balked at any plans that interfere with their current views and contractual rights. Ricketts has been trying to get a settlement on every issue prior to going forward with any construction, now a year delayed from the original time table.

Ricketts claims the proposed massive commercial real estate project will enhance both the city and the neighbors is just his one man view. Neighbors have been complaining about operations outside the ball park during his entire ownership tenure. Adding more commercial establishments, including more bars and restaurants, will not increase the "quality of life" of residents with more traffic, bigger crowds, more events, more garbage and less parking.

But even more off-the-mark was Ricketts comments in regard to his Cubs falling attendance, a drop to 2.6 million from 3.3 million in 2008.  He tries to spin it as a positive. 

''There are just way too many people in Chicago that have never been to a Cubs game,'' he said. ''We've worked really hard to get out to people, particularly on the South Side, and say, hey, bring your church, bring your school, just bring a group and we'll take care of you. I just want more people to at least come into Wrigley and experience it. And we have this opportunity right now where we do have a few seats open from time to time. We can bring people in and give them the Wrigley experience. And as we get better those opportunities will be harder to come by.''

It is a dumb on many levels. People who have not seen a Cub game is not because there has been a vast ticket shortage the past few years - - - it has been because the team has averaged 91 losses a season. Further, trying to get group sales from the White Sox's South Side seems like trying to steal your friend's date by hitting your head hard against a brick wall over and over and over again.

In the recent past, Ricketts has told the press that the Cubs are building "toward a great franchise." However, he has reigned in any spending on the major league franchise, with payroll dipping faster than attendance. He also scoffs that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are not doing a great job; he said "they could win 83 games in their sleep." That quote alone should haunt Ricketts through out his tenure because the management team has yet to post any consistency at that level of accomplishment. He also said that he would entertain selling shares of the Cubs in order to fund the renovation, but such a plan to sell his family stake in the Cubs would not be poured into the baseball team. Any proceeds of sale will go to the owners, who may or may not invest that money in separate business entities to develop the commercial real estate outside Wrigley Field. Those projects outside Wrigley Field will not generate any money for the Cubs. So, many people view these grand statements that these new revenue projects will bring a winner to Chicago as mere white lies and half truths since the Cubs are clearly a falling priority in the Ricketts' Lakeview real estate ventures.

April 17, 2014


By its very definition, "fans" is a personal opinion on one's own state of something or someone. Early in this Cubs season, the fan community has started to snark at each other on what it is to be a Cub fan. It is hard to debate conflicting religious tenets, but even for those who believe baseball is their personal savior, one must respect each other's views.

However, there are various aspects of being a baseball and a Cubs fan.

First, you may be just a fan of the game itself. You don't have a rooting interest in any one team or any one player. You watch a baseball contest for its purity. You just want to see a well played but exciting game.

Or, you may be a fan of the team like the Cubs. You may have been indoctrinated as a fan at an early age when a parent or grandparent took you to your first contest at Wrigley Field. You may have marveled at the miracle of a vast green park inside some brick walls of an old building in a tired city residential neighborhood. The game was faster, the players bigger and plays more exciting than the sandlot games back home. Your parent would have told you about the players, what to look for, and the history of the game and the team. And once you liked baseball as a sport, it is easier to follow it by following "your" team.

There are various levels of devotion. A fan may like the players on the team, but dislike their manager. Fans may like the team and the manager, but dislike or mistrust management. Or, the fans may have outright contempt for ownership like many Yankee fans had during the George Steinbrenner era or when Charlie Finley owned the Oakland A's. Then, there were some fans who liked their owner better than the team itself, such as many years when Bill Veeck owned the White Sox. Then, there were times when the fans did not like the players on their team such as when late in the Dusty Baker days, his players started to assault the respected team broadcasters. A fan can oscillate between the various plus and minuses of the entire organizational spectrum. Some fans may hold a grudge against management for not hiring a guy like Ryne Sandberg to manager their club. Some fans may hold a grudge against a manager for benching their favorite player. Some fans may head slap themselves after each odd managerial decision that cost the team a victory.

And of course there will be fans who will remain die-hard fans through the good, the bad and the ugly.

The 2014 Cubs bring out a range of emotions in the fandom. For some, the Cubs continue to be their beautiful baseball mistress who is having a serious bout of projectile vomiting. She will get over it some day. Some believe that that the team makeover is trying to put make-up on an old 500 pound sow.  It won't work. Some find dark humor in the badness of team play. The players can find work if keystone comedies ever make a come back. Others think that this is a long incubation process that will work in the near future. The same was said in the original Jurassic Park movie. That turned out well, if you were a meat eating dinosaur. A few think the Ricketts are way over their heads; they don't know how to run a baseball team let alone a business in the city. The new ownership may set back the franchise like P.K. Wrigley did - - - extending the non-championship for several more generations. The current roster may be filled with nice guys, but nice guys in life most often finish last. And who is to blame for that?  A little bit for everyone associated with the team, including the fans.

If the fans view their baseball team as a civic icon, then the fans should demand better of their players and ownership. If owners truly believe in winning (and not the mere marketing words to sell expensive tickets), then owners should demand better accountability from their employees, from management to the players. It seems obvious that all three elements of the baseball pyramid want the same thing: to win. Owners, managers, players and fans all want to win the World Series.  In Chicago, we know how nice that accomplishment feels when the White Sox won in 2005 (going a remarkable 11-1 in the playoffs).

So it not really fair to tell a fan he is not "supportive" enough of the current Cubs. Likewise, it is not unfair to say that the current Cubs have not earned the trust and money of loyal patrons. The sniping between Cub fans at the early stage of this season does not seem productive; it is just another in a long line of distractions which gets us from the true issue confronting everyone: winning games.

In order to keep one's sanity this year,  you may be just a fan of the game itself. You don't have a vested interest in the Cubs or its players.  You watch a baseball games for the good plays, the bad plays, the comedy of errors and the occasional win.  At the very least, you may just want to see a well played game played by some team on the field. Or something unusual like Monday's game in Denver where the Reds and Rockies hit 10 home runs in 6 innings before the game was suspended due to bad weather. If you don't find some alternative pleasure from just rooting for the Cubs to win, you may end up wasting another summer.

April 16, 2014


Tampa Rays manager Joe Maddon offered his take on the recent rash of Tommy John surgeries in the game. In an Associated Press article, Maddon said:
"Sometimes you have to look underneath the surface and I tend to agree it has a lot to do with youth sports and travel teams and multiple travel teams and kids pitching to win when they're really young and throwing too many pitches. I think the more recent epidemic curiously might be tied to what they're doing before they even get here professionally."
Having watched enough youth baseball in my time, I have to disagree. Youth leagues require their managers to keep pitch counts for their pitchers. They also have innings pitched limits and non-consecutive game start rules. The one point of agreement is that travel leagues and especially private club teams have caused young players to play more often than in the past; to some, it is a 12 month season of games and training sessions.

But the real problem of the increase in significant arm injuries is the fact that pitchers have been quantified by numbers. The radar gun turned many players into flame throwers and not pitchers. The concept that a player has a finite amount of pitches his body can take is a vague assumption that somehow has been repeated as truth by general managers. And yes, major league teams use pitch counts to control usage of their pitchers. And then pitchers have in the back of their mind to conserve their number in order to get enough innings to earn a victory. Then they stop throwing strikes to nibble the corners for chasers.

But some older pitchers have remarked that the real reason today's pitchers are not durable is the fact they train differently than in the past. Before the union and big money CBA contracts, professional baseball players were part timers. They all had off-season jobs in order to earn a living. Many of the players were factory workers or farmers. So during the off-season, they used their entire bodies in physical labor. This coordinated work was called being "country strong."

But today, the modern athlete is tuned in to be a gym rat with personal trainers and strength coaches. The weight training routines to build muscle mass is probably the worst thing to happen to pitching since lowering the mound. Old school pitchers were of two body types: the lanky string-bean who could throw all day because he was flexible and not muscle bound or the round beer barrel type who had large leg muscles with a simple torque turn to throw effortlessly. Fergie Jenkins was the first type; Rick Reuschel an example of the second type.

Jenkins has been quoted in the past saying that the problem with current pitchers is that they don't throw enough these days. They don't get their bodies used to throwing 9 innings per start (which pitchers in Fergie's era were expected to do). They may have actually more time off per start with the current 5 man rotations (up from the 4 man rotations of the 1960s-1970s). In today's game, a starter who throws 200 IP per season is golden; in the past, 300 IP was the norm for quality starters.

The reason that youth pitchers throw more innings as the reason that they break down as major leaguers is not the real problem. Before pitchers come to the majors, the team drafting them will have done due diligence and put them on the team's work-out development routines. If anything, based on historical statistics, it is the modern training techniques that may be the biggest cause of arm injuries in the majors.

April 15, 2014


At age 29, Jeff Samardzija is nearing his peak pitching years.

And he is clearly frustrated with the position he is in with the Cubs. He has put his house on the market; he has not signed a contract extension; he knows he will likely be traded this season.

He spoke to Dan Patrick this week on his off-day.

In the midst of another rebuilding season, Samardzija acknowledges that his time as Cub could end. 
"I don't know, I think it really depends on how this team turns out this season.  I think it's looking like it, but I don't want to say anything for sure because I don't want to be traded," he said.

However, the frustration is apparent. "I want to win," Samardzija said. "That's my number one goal. I don't care about anything else but winning."

The Shark has helped his cause in getting traded to a contender.  He has a 1.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in his first three starts of the season, but has no wins. He knows that his career cannot wait until the Cubs young prospects arrive in 2018 or 2019.With the rash of Tommy John injuries this season, Samardzija value will be high - - - if the Cubs pull the trigger early.

Samardzija is outspoken about the losing ways. This may be a good thing to remind young players that losing is not acceptable at the major league level. But at the same time, executives may classify the attitude as being destructive to long term clubhouse chemistry.

If the Cubs continue their annual strategy of tanking the season for high draft picks, then two Cub starters will be traded by July. Jason Hammel was acquired this off-season for that reason. That leaves Samardzija is the second viable trade chip.

But the Cubs have no one ready to replace either Hammel or Samardzija. You would have to get  major league ready AAA pitchers in return to make sense of such trades. Very few teams want to get rid of their quality and controllable pitchers.

We can see Samardzija brew a tempest in a teapot if the season continues on its natural course to a 95 plus loss record. At least the competitive fire still burns within him. And that is a valuable commodity in itself.


All season long, I have watched the Cubs "alternative" road uniform as the team struggles series after series. And my attention was drawn to the last two letters of the logo: B.S.

This whole season is wrapped up in a one large basket of B.S.

There was an internet report that the Cubs are close to settling with the roof top owners on the team's new signage demands. In truth, there was nothing to settle. The Cubs and the roof top owners have an existing settlement contract. It was the Cubs who want to unilaterally change it. And it is the Cubs who used the roof top owners demands to "abide by" the existing contract as an excuse NOT to start any renovation of Wrigley Field. The two items are unrelated so this is merely team B.S.

The Cubs continue to throw around the "burden" of ownership of spending $500 million of their own, private money, into the Wrigley Field rehab project. But his martyrdom is also B.S. because the actual Wrigley Field repairs is a small fraction of the total project cost which includes an entire block across the street from Wrigley Field (with a hotel, health club, parking lot and commercial space). Outside the ball park is the most expensive part of the project. And the cry of being beat up by the city and neighbors is another excuse, considering the city gave the owners a large real estate tax break for the Wrigley repairs and green lighted a zoning variation to build a highly dense commercial development in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The business executives and owners kept telling us that the team needs new revenue streams in order to be competitive. It cites the "bad" contract deals for local broadcast rights. But those contracts were known and accepted by the Ricketts during the purchase; and the same "smart" Tribune executives who structured those deals are still working for Ricketts. It is another excuse to defer away from the bad team creating bad ratings which is tanking Cub advertising revenues. The idea that the Cubs are "trapped" in bad TV deals until 2020 is weak considering the Tribune was able to field season after season of high payroll teams prior to the sale.

The story line continues to be that the young front office talent (Epstein and Hoyer) know what they are doing; they are the boy geniuses of baseball. Ricketts said they could win 83 games in their sleep. So why have the Cubs not come close to winning 83 games the past few seasons? Their Boston greatness has to be tempered by the fact that the Red Sox organization was already built up by Epstein's predecessor, and that the Red Sox ownership gave Theo a blank check to win. Here, in Chicago, there is no blank check. The baseball team is not a priority, but only a tenant at Wrigley Field's entertainment complex.

So it is really hard to watch the Cubs this season with all this B.S. surrounding the club. Unless you are a farmer with a million acres, the amount of manure generated by the team is monumental.

April 14, 2014


Bruce Levine was on the radio this morning. He agrees with my philosophy that there really is no good reason for the Cubs to build up their minor league system while still fielding a competitive major league team through development and free agency.

Levine notes that one reason could be the Cubs having financial difficulties.

The circumstantial evidence as set forth in this blog and other media reports lends some credence to that statement. A financially sound club would not be looking for outside investors. A financially sound club does not have the huge debt-to-equity ratio the Cubs have since the sale. A financially sound club would not have to cut payroll each of the past four seasons.

But part of "the plan" of the front office is to be "bad" in order to get high draft picks, and under the new CBA, a larger "signing bonus pool." So the team has decided that it was going to spend their millions on unknown kids and hope to "beat" the low odds that prospects will turn into impact major leaguers. One avenue of increasing the odds was merely adding more prospects to the system, through trading off 40% of the annual starting rotation (that is why Samardzija put his house on the market; and we assume Hammel was only renting.)

But Levine makes another good point. In these rebuilding years, the Cubs have been so bad that major free agents would not want to sign with the team. The Cubs could have offered the same amount of money as the Yankees for Tanaka, but the Japanese star did not need an interpreter to determine that if he wanted to be successful here, the Yankees were the better team and opportunity.

We all know about college football and basketball recruiting; it is a highly charged and competitive endeavor. But even in pro sports, recruiting is important. If members of your own team are unhappy, word will get around to other team's players. Even though there are a limited number of major league roster spots, even second tier free agents normally have a choice. (In fact, several decided to sign minor league deals with a good team rather than taking a full major league season with a team destined to be at the bottom of the standings. Example, former Cub Scott Baker.)

So, the growing consensus is that the Cubs have done a poor job of recruiting free agents. The team has focused on rehabbing broken pitchers with the prospect of flipping them at the trade deadline. And when it is time the prospects make it to the major leagues, the Cubs stigma may still keep free agents away.

April 12, 2014


In many old movies, a platoon was a bunch of soldiers trapped in a WWI trench, a foxhole or a tangled jungle, facing adversity of combat.

In baseball, the concept of a platoon is two players "sharing" a position. It is like using two part time employees at the fast food register instead of hiring one full timer.

The reasons for platooning players are plentiful. One, managers may adopt the idea that a left handed bat is better against right handed pitching and vice-versa. The team may think it can have a hitting advantage with a lefty and righty hitter sharing one position on the field. Two, no matter the batting stance, a manager may have two similar talent level players who do not have the skill set to start every day. By sharing the position, a manager may attempt to minimize a player's deficiencies (such as defense). Three, a manager may platoon in order to build up morale in the clubhouse. This harks back to Little League where "everybody plays" rule. Four, the general manager may have decided that it is cheaper to have a bunch of utility players sharing spots on the roster than spending premium money for actual starters.

With all those factors in play, the Cubs seem to be falling toward the latter.

The Cubs payroll continues to decline. The front office is not trying to win 83 games (as Ricketts said they could do in their sleep) because the club wants either to win big or lose big (to get high, guaranteed draft picks). One way to repress winning is to have a major platoon system because players will not get into a comfortable rhythm or routine. This is readily available with the Cubs currently averaging between 42 to 48 percent strike out rate during their early games. A platoon player wants to "make the best" of his playing time, and usually overcompensates toward failure.

The Cubs have many platoons:

CF: Bonifacio and Sweeney
LF: Lake and Kalish
RF: Ruggiano and Schierholtz
3B: Olt and Valbuena
2B: Bonifacio and Barney

The Cubs line up is 62.5% platoon which has to lead the majors.

You could probably add a platoon situation, or closer by committee in the bullpen with Veras struggling and Strop doing okay.

A platoon also indicates which players the front office believes are keepers. Those players are the ones not currently in a platoon situation: Castro, Castillo and Rizzo. These three players have to have above average performance to off-set the platoons. This is not basketball where three star players can carry a team to victory or the playoffs. You need probably seven good starters to be competitive.

So the Cubs continue to be a long way off on the competitive road.

April 11, 2014


If having a bullpen in flux was bad enough, the White Sox got hit hard with the season ending injury to the team's young right fielder.

Avisal Garcia injured his shoulder trying to make a diving catch. As a result,  he will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn left shoulder labrum. He was the White Sox acquisition in the three team Jake Peavey trade from last season.

In 341 big league plate appearances in his still-young career, Garcia has a .287/.323/.411 triple-slash. He was rated the game's 74th-best prospect before last season by Baseball America. The biggest loss for Chicago, of course, may simply be the playing time and development that the club hoped for from Garcia over 2014.

Jordan Danks was recalled from AAA Charlotte to take Garcia's place. Most likely, Danks will platoon in RF with Dayan Vicideo. This also means Alejandro De Aza will play the bulk of time in left field.

Most major league executives agree that the White Sox had a terrific off-season by rebuilding their roster with young talent. A few publications called the White Sox the 2014 "surprise" team. But losing a starting power bat is a set back for the season.

April 10, 2014


For the first time in history, online advertising revenues have exceeded traditional TV broadcast advertising revenues. CNET reports online ad revenue for 2013 at $42 billion vs. $40.1 billion for traditional TV outlets.

Some will say that this was a trend that is not surprising; the new media was going to catch the old media at some point in time.

However, it is a bad trend for those who keep to the old business revenue models.

The Cubs grand rebuilding plan centers on getting rid of its existing broadcast contracts in 2020. The Cubs would then form their own network to televise their games and promote all things Wrigley Field Rickettsland. But this is the old Yankees model, which, if you haven't heard, is not going so well in LA.

The Yankees were the first to create their own regional cable channel, the YES network. It generated more than a billion dollars a year into the Yankee coffers. It gave the Yanks a huge competitive advantage, especially overspending on free agents. But even the Steinbrenner kids saw the trend coming recently by selling off part of their network stake to other investors.

The new Dodgers ownership group decided to create their own network. The team partnered with a cable operator to create a regional sports network. The Dodgers reportedly will receive $8.35 billion over 25 years under the deal. The team used that windfall to restock its major league roster with expensive talent.

However, the Dodgers new network has hit an major roadblock as most cable distributors and satellite dish companies refuse to pay the $4 per subscriber per month charge the Dodgers channel wants as carriage fees. The cable operators have balked at paying such a high charge for a specialized sports channel. In fact, many cable operators have seen their consumer rates rise by the cost of ESPN channels alone. As a result, the industry has been averaging more than a million subscriber cancellations per quarter. It was also recently reported that the cable industry had it's first negative month where cancellations exceeded new subscribers by more than 100,000.

People are cutting their cords with traditional telephone and cable companies. This trend is clear. People are finding the alternative entertainment media of Netflix, YouTube and internet streaming a cheaper alternative to expanded cable.

The Dodgers current network can only get to less than a third of the metro LA households. Ratings are down because of the lack of traditional free television (paid advertising) stations. (It is not as bad as the Astros regional cable network which recently had a 0.0 rating for a game last week. The Astros network gets into less than 500,000 homes, but since the team has been bad for so long, game telecasts easily get beat by old syndicated reruns.)

Ricketts' plan is to have a Cub network cash money machine by 2020. There is no reason that consumers will be willing to pay for such a channel. The Dodgers and the Astros are prime examples of how the old revenue model is no longer the great game-changer.

April 9, 2014

0-4 TO DC5

After Edwin Jackson gave up four runs in the top of the first to the Pirates, I flipped the channel and landed for the rest of the evening watching a documentary about The Dave Clark 5.

For anyone under 40, you may not know about this respected English band. I was aware of the band but not its full history. It was part of the British Invasion of the early 1960s. But one has to go back in time to understand the gravity and legacy of five musicians from Great Britain.  After World War II, there was a stark contrast between America and Europe. Europe had a long recovery from the war damage (physical, mental, emotional). The U.S. had pushed through to the new American Dream: a college education, a job for life (professional careers), a house in the suburbs with a picket fence, a car and a family. After World War II, music began to be defined by the singer like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. However, hip middle class kids began to gravitate toward jazz clubs and blues. It took Elvis Presley to meld the styles of his gospel upbringing with R&B to find a mainstream audience in rock 'n roll. As every child tries to separate himself from his parents, music is often the vehicle of choice and change.

So when England was in the midst of reconstruction, the new American music of rock n roll of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Motown and the blues made a similar impression on British youth. Dave Clark and his fellow young gym rats heard this new music decided to form a band. Now, historians today look back at the 1960s as a turbulent time, but for those who were actually living in that decade found it to be a place of hope, inspiration, opportunity and change. Musically, those were the notes for DC5. They had a British pop style that was accented by strong harmonies,  R&B vocal riffs and a mellow sax tone. Clark and keyboardist-vocalist Mike Smith were unheralded great songwriters of their generation. They compiled 13 hit albums in their first 4 years. They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show 18 different times. They were as popular as the early Beatles, as the DC5 record label stated they had more than 500,000 people signed up in their U.S. fan club alone.

Current musicians continue to be in awe about DC5. First, the band's songs were written from drum beats (Clark was the drummer). Most bands develop their songs with chords on guitar or piano. Second, they sounded the same live or on their vinyl records which meant they were all very good musicians. It also meant that Clark was a master studio recording technician. Third, they were very polished with a clean cut image which helped with their global popularity. Part of the reason also was that every song they wrote had a catchy "hook" which fans in any land could sing. Fourth, Clark was light years ahead of other music superstars in the business side of the industry. He was the first to "lease" the band's recordings to record companies, thereby holding on to both the copyrights and publishing rights to all their songs. Even Paul McCartney laments to this day that he does not have the publishing rights to his songs. Clark was also smart in how the band toured - - - they had their own airplane to go from city to city. They also made it clear they would have two days off a week to relax while on tour. They would also take week vacations between long segments of their live tours. The road was a grind but they scheduled enough off time to make it work. This common sense approach to the business side was made possible by the fact that the band did not have a manager or a team of professionals guiding them in the process. Clark handled it himself which protected the band from the usual pitfalls and downfalls of successful acts in this era. Fifth, Clark was very inventive with the stardom that fell upon him. He worked with all artists from Sinatra to Motown singers. He is also credited with having the first "music video" played on American television on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sixth, the band decided early on that they would stop performing while they were on top (in popularity). The did so, and went on to make a couple of well received movies and television specials.

The Dave Clark 5 is not forefront in popular culture today is that they had basically the same run as the Beatles (ending in 1970), but DC5 stayed away from the politics that would define the last stages of the Beatles and other rebellious British bands. Those artists would garnered headlines for political action and the current vision of what the 60s were all about have been kept alive in the cultural consciousness. DC5 kept to their upbeat vision of their world. And since they controlled their own music, they did not allow it to be split into commercial advertising snippets. So Clark and his band members faded into the annals of music history.

Gene Simmons was quoted in the documentary about the influence of DC5. He said you can hear their influence in any major band today; the chord progressions to the build up of snare drum beats into group harmonies. Even Bruce Springsteen said his band was like DC5. DC5 was a musician's music band. Looking back at his career, Clark was years ahead of his time.

This was a success story from an era where freedom of expression, limitless possibilities and talent willing, popular success were all available to anyone. Prior to World War II, England was a very class based society. But once the blitz hit the country, everyone was the same in the ruins of their great cities. From the worst moments came the hope of a better future.

Once the documentary was over, I turned back to see the Cubs had tied the game 6-6. But baseball did not interest me at that point. There were too many new facts to process on the influences of one band to the current music scene.

When the Cubs game started last night, there was probably less than 2,000 people in the stands. It seemed like another cold and listless night for the home team. Here in the 20teens of history, there is a growing vision of a dystopian future. Higher unemployment, low paying jobs, bankrupt cities and states, high crime rates, failing education skills; the end of the traditional American Dream. In this current backdrop, the Cubs continue to try to sell the upbeat hope, optimism and future of the franchise. But they are trying to catch a star in a bottle when the team's popularity is sinking like a stone in an ocean of apathy.

In most areas of life, timing is everything. People have at least one grand opportunity. It is those people who understand the opportunity and clear vision on how to achieve what they want to do will succeed to their expectations. It seems more and more people now see that the Ricketts family had a grand opportunity when they purchased the Cubs, but did not fully understand the opportunity or how to achieve lasting success. As a result, more people see the franchise through dystopian glasses.


ESPN's Buster Olney reported that at least one MLB executive has proposed a radical solution to a mild problem.  Olney's source stated that the game should be changed to seven (7) innings.

It would sure solve the 8th and 9th inning closer problems for many clubs.

But it really makes no sense.

Here are the issues MLB is stewing about:

1. The games are too long in duration. Most games now run more than three hours.

2. MLB  is having trouble attracting young fans. The next generation has a perceived shorter attention span.

3. Teams are struggling with injuries, especially with pitchers.

First, the broadcasters would probably like to block out two and half hour blocks on a consistent basis to throw in another syndicated program with possibly more advertising profitability in some markets. However, baseball prides itself on being a historical game - - - which has not changed its basic format in more than 125 years. In that way, people can make player comparisons between eras. A 9 inning game is the standard for all pitching and hitting records.

Second, a study last year indicated that in a three hour game, there is only about 18 minutes of actual "action" on the playing field. If someone wants to speed the game along, batters should not step out after every pitch and/or pitchers should actually throw the next pitch within a few seconds. The expanded use of replay will add several minutes to every game. But, for a fan in the stands, baseball is a "social" game where you sit with friends with the ability to converse between the action. The next generation may have a problem with such basic social skills as conversation, but that is hardly a reason to upend an entire sports legacy.

Third, the specialization of the game is actually hurting the contest. Old school players from even the 1960s and 1970s were expected to start and finish each game, especially the pitchers. Hall of Fame caliber pitchers like Nolan Ryan or Fergie Jenkins expected to throw complete games. Many teams only had four man rotations and limited bullpen arms. But the game got caught up with the numbers of pitches, pitch counts, wear-and-tear on arm strength to morph into a controlled restriction of pitchers ability to pitch complete games. The advent of the bullpen specialist, from the long reliever to the lefty strike out guy, to the set up man and closer put starters on the course to pitch 100 tosses or 5 or 6 innings a start. The amount of pitching changes also slows down the game. Despite all the metrics to keep pitchers healthy, there is no clear evidence that pitching less actually helps.

On the flip side, many owners would want their fans to stay in the ball park as long as possible to purchase merchandise and high-priced concessions. Modern ball parks open the gates earlier or have upscale restaurants to draw fans in both pre-game and post-game. For most fans going to a game, they have already made the decision to make "a day of it."  So, MLB focus on time of game is more to do with their network partners than ball park fans. But many clubs have learned recently that there is more money to be made in broadcasting than in attendance.

A seven inning game would have great ramifications on the sport. It would reduce the innings by 22.2 percent. It would reduce the amount of plate appearances by each player by at least 22.2 percent. With less innings to play, there will be a lesser need for 25 players on the roster. One could easily see a team wanting to save money by cutting a bullpen arm and a bench player to have a 23 man roster for the season. There would be less opportunity for scoring (home runs, triples, etc.). The average starting fielder may not even reach 500 AB in a season.  All of the historic records would become meaningless in any comparison arguments. Baseball would effectively close its books on the past.

The bottom line is that money will make the final decision. If MLB and owners believe it is in their best profitable interest to shorten the game to seven innings, it will be done. But it would seem that decision would be the ultimate Hail Mary pass.

April 8, 2014


Apparently during watching the Cubs home opener, SunTimes columnist Rick Telander gagged on the barrel of the pistol in his mouth when he heard one of the most nonsensical things out of the mouth of Tom Ricketts.

In a radio interview, Ricketts was asked why the Cubs can't field even an "average team" during their rebuilding process. Ricketts responded, ‘‘Eighty-three games? Theo and Jed could do that in their sleep!’’

So in his column, Telander proposes to put Theo and Jed to sleep.

Telander is cynical about the four years of Ricketts mouth dribble about  ‘‘starting over,’’ ‘‘rebuilding,’’  and ‘‘trying to do it the right way’’to explain away the bad teams that haunt Wrigley Field the past four years. The first week of the 2014 season is a mirror image of bad play from prior campaigns.

If Theo and Jed are the boy baseball geniuses who can win 83 games in their sleep, then why have the Cubs averaged 94 losses in the past 4 years?

Telander is blunt with his assessment of the situation:

I will ask this again, as I have asked so many times in the 4½ years the Ricketts family has owned the Cubs: What other service business gets to stay open while it serves its clientele botulism-tainted meat, delivers termite-laden lumber, provides worm-infested seed corn?

Telander also laments that the recent discussions taking up  all our "Cub time" is the team business, lack of capital improvement money, rooftops litigation threats and new expanded brick walls of construction projects around the park . . .   but those discussions are never about winning baseball!

Ricketts said fans will be really excited ‘‘when they see the plan in action.’’ Telander, and many other long term fans, do not believe in the final execution of any plan if the owner is a hapless sap who cannot comprehend the mediocrity that is before him on the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field.

Very few people now buy the idea that the ONLY way for the Cubs to become competitive is to tear down the entire organization and rebuild ONLY from the minor league system like a small market, financially dependent team. Those are two separate aspects of running a baseball club: a major league team that is the focus of both present  fan support and revenue generation and minor league affiliates where the club develops future talent. There is no reason to sacrifice the present for the sake of an uncertain future. But that is the core element of the Cubs plan.

It is all about the future prospects, the future ball park amenities, and the future championships  . . . but nothing about the present mess costing Cub fans premium prices.  At the turn of the last century, snake oil salesmen used to be run out of town for charging the public big money cures for colored tap water illusions of good health.

April 7, 2014


Sunday was the best weather so far this season.

But of the 26,712 announced as tickets sold Sunday, it was estimated that 14,000 showed up. This was the smallest paid crowd on a Sunday at Wrigley Field since May 10, 1998 (26,710)

The no show rate was 45.5% of tickets sold. Wow.

If we take the estimated "season ticket holders" of only 16,000, that means only 10,712 non-season ticket holders bought tickets to see the game. Which means approximately 6,000 season ticket holders (37.5%) failed to show up for the game. But the no show rate was higher!  That means at least  8 percent of non-season ticket holders who specifically bought tickets for Sunday's game decided at the last minute to NOT go to Wrigley Field.

Sunday's attendance was also down 12,000 from Opening Day, which itself was a 31.7% drop at the turn styles. There appears to be no groundswell of public wanting to "celebrate" Wrigley Field.


Ryne Sandberg did a Sunday radio interview on WSCR.

Sandberg said that he got into managing as his kids were grown and leaving his house. He wanted to see if managing was something that suited him. So he went to the low minors, rode the buses and emersed himself in the job. He said that without six years in the minors, he would not have had the chance to learn to communicate with players on a daily basis and hone his skills as a manager in any given situation. He also indicated that the minor league tenure helped him set his managerial tone. He said without the minor league experience, he would have never been able to become a major league skipper.

It was a trial and error approach. Initially, Sandberg, who was a quiet leader as a player, was a boisterous and angry Larry Bowa-type manager. He got into umpires' faces. He got tossed. He had to learn how to control his emotions.

Players from the Cubs minor league system respected Sandberg as a manager, player and a teacher. And that is one thing that most people outside the Cubs organization classify as Sandberg's greatest trait: the ability to develop young players.

Baseball historians in the future may point to one or two events that shaped the continuing decline of the Cub franchise: the P.K. Wrigley ownership era, the Tribune ownership era with Sam Zell, Dusty Baker and the Bartman game, and perhaps the Cubs not hiring Sandberg to be their major league manager.

Corporate executives always preach that a company's strength is its "human capital." That means the workers who know the company products, services, methods and profitability centers are as valuable as the end product. You don't have to train a novice when you already have an expert on staff.

After 5 years in the Cubs minor league system (at all three levels), Sandberg had the expert knowledge of every prospect in the system. Most had played for him. Most knew what he expected from them. He taught them how to win as a team. These are all qualities that clubs want in their managers.

But the Cubs passed on hiring Sandberg. The reason was clear: Sandberg would have been a too popular figure in the Cubs organization. Sandberg would have public opinion on his side. He would not be "controllable" by the front office. They feared Sandberg could second guess the team's roster selections, free agent or trade moves. They did not want Sandberg to have a say in personnel moves because that would weaken their own authority.

Sandberg starts his first full season as Phillies manager. The team has decided to make one last championship run with a very old roster of veterans. But one can tell that Sandberg's hire is for a longer term, as in 2015 the Phils will start a massive rebuild with young players. Sandberg is the guy who can build a team around young players.

And this was the Cubs missed opportunity. Even with the Cubs tearing down their major league roster to "rebuild" the minor league system, a Cub manager named Sandberg could have gotten the most out of the old Hendry regime's minor league talent at the major league level. He would have stressed the fundamentals (which he does in Philadelphia: he said during the season he does an infield drill every three days; pitchers bunting drills; outfielder throw days, etc.)

During the opening home stand, the Cubs have reverted back to bad defense as Castro missed two easy grounders, and baserunning gaffes began to reappear with frequency. Renteria, who also had six years of minor league managing experience with two teams, may be a nice guy, a cheerleader, but he does not have the professional player status as a Sandberg. And at a certain level, major league players will only respond to coaches who have the credentials to back up what they are telling their team to do on the field.

In Cub lore, the missed opportunity is a recurring theme. By not hiring Sandberg, the Cubs missed a great opportunity.


The Ricketts have not calmed or put out the flames of last week's stories about how the family may seek minority investors for the team.  The reason given by their PR people is that such a minority stake would help pay for the Wrigley renovation.

As previously posted, I don't think that would be the case in the conventional sense on how most people understand "Wrigley renovation."

To most people, Wrigley renovation means capital improvements to Wrigley Field itself. That means concourse reconstruction, new locker rooms, new public bathrooms, and the signage inside the ball park.

But the Ricketts lump their outside the ball park real estate project as part of "Wrigley Renovation." The zoning petition put together Wrigley signage and repairs, the triangle parcel and the new commercial development across the street in one package. Each one of those land developments is owned by a separate legal entity controlled by the Ricketts family.

Looking at the story from an investment viewpoint, the Ricketts out-of-pocket investment in the Cubs was about $100 million. The rest of the purchase was financed by debt as demanded by Zell and the Tribune.  If Forbes valuation of the Cubs is right at $1.2 billion (and many people dispute the calculation and assumptions), if the Ricketts sell a 10% stake in the team for $120 million, they would be getting a 20 percent return on their investment.

It would get the family back its cash investment with a profit. It also would further put the Cubs baseball team on its own financial ledge. It is doubtful that the Ricketts personally guaranteed any of the existing Cub debt because of the unique collateral pledged in the deal. So the family has pulled its money out and now can wait for the team to generate dividends in the future.

Since the majority of the "renovation plan" is outside of Wrigley Field proper, this means that in order to go forward, the Ricketts would need to invest their own money in those projects (as commercial banks will not lend more than 75% of the construction value of any project). The payroll savings from the past few seasons from the Cubs could pay for the interior Wrigley Field repairs and construction projects. The new signage with sponsors should pay for themselves.

So the ability to get $120 million in cash out of the Cubs investment so the Ricketts can put that into the outside the ball park real estate projects may be the key to understanding what may be going on. For $100 million could meet the thresholds to borrow to build the triangle building, and hotel-commercial-parking structure across the street.  In other words, Ricketts plan may be to move its existing investment in the Cubs to their new real estate venture. And this may be why the Ricketts are gun shy to do any work until they get everything they want from the city and neighborhood. They don't want to give up any equity in the Cubs unless they have to in order to fund their real estate projects.

Over the weekend, one potential investor was named by the media: Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha is his generation's prudent investor. The Ricketts are also from Omaha. Buffett likes to say he will only buy companies that he understands, and that he always looks for a good return on his investment. Owning a baseball team is more a luxurious hobby than a prudent investment. It is an entertainment product with a growing feisty fan base. Buffett has recently dabbled in some risky businesses such as buying chains of newspapers (and winding up closing several papers because they were not profitable). Buffett taking a stake in a baseball team would be another odd divergence from his normal investment philosophy.

But adding an investor-celebrity like Buffett would give the Cubs management the aura that "they must know what they are doing" since a man like Buffett has bought in to their business model. But at this point, a business model that relies mostly on public relations and marketing is soon to fail when the actual business to build an entertaining and championship caliber baseball team.

April 6, 2014


I have seen a player wear the wrong uniform number in a game, but not the wrong uniform.

Junior Lake made the fashion faux-paux during the Pittsburgh series. He came out wearing the wrong uniform.

How could that happen?

Why didn't anyone notice?

The clubhouse attendants get the lockers in order for the players. The equipment managers pack and unpack the uniforms and place them in the lockers. Everyone is supposed to be on the same page.

So how could Lake wear the wrong uniform?

A prank. The press reports afterward did not indicate Lake was made the butt of a brutal joke.

Did the equipment people put the wrong uniform in Lake's locker? Well, yes, Lake had to have access to it. There may have been two uniforms in his (and everyone else's) lockers.

Why didn't the players next to Lake tell him he was suiting up wrong?

And this gets to the inner circle of a baseball locker room. Fans hear from the press (and various former players) that the locker room is the players room. Team leaders have great control and influence over the culture and professionalism of this fraternity house. A good, tight, professional, no nonsense locker room is good - - - the Yankees have maintained one for decades.

So besides Lake dropping the ball on his uniform snafu, so did the unnamed leaders in the locker room. One can imagine that the Cubs locker room may be like the ante room of a funeral home - - - the players expect the worst this season after the brutality of the past three campaigns. So there may be a lack of focus during the pregame. Everyone may be just looking after his self (because of all the press about the youngsters on the way.)

Or maybe many of the Cubs are blind. (Which could solve the riddle of the horrible RISP problem.)

The Cubs did not need another example of being a baseball laughing stock. But in pure Cub fashion, this team seems to gravitate towards badness like a moth to a light bulb.

April 5, 2014


In every business, there is an element of risk for a chance of reward. Risk takers have an endorphin rush of wealth if they hit their marks. Risk takers can also lose it all if they miss their marks.

For everything written about the Cubs since Ricketts took over ownership, they took a risk when they purchased the Cubs and its rickety old ball park (no pun intended). With each major roll of the dice, there is a decision, an outcome, an effect.

The first decision that Ricketts made was to take the highly leveraged structured deal proposed by Sam Zell. This high debt ratio has caused the team to divert millions annually for debt service. It has also limited any additional borrowing for capital improvements. It has also placed the team on the MLB watch list because the debt exceeds league standards (and MLB is afraid of teams going bankrupt and ownership being changed by the fiat of a bankruptcy court judge.) The deal has created a very weak financial team.

The second decision that the Ricketts made was the caveat that the family would not put any more investment money into the team. That meant that the Cubs had to sink or swim on its own revenues. This is also tied to the deal because the Tribune is a 5% partner, who would not contribute any more capital to the venture. As such, the Ricketts acquired the team with a very high payroll and very high debt service. After the first year, attendance has started to rapidly decline. With no infusion of new cash into the team, the team has to cut expenses and player payroll is the biggest slice of that pie.

The third decision that Ricketts made initially was to keep the Tribune's management team in place. In essence, new ownership kept old ownership executives who pumped up the deal in place instead of hiring their own independent baseball talent. In some respects, that has caused problems because the operating structure of the team was split field operations and business operations (dominated by Trib executives). One would assume that those Trib executives would hold fast to their prior view that the Ricketts got a good deal for the club, despite the set backs and onerous contract details.

The fourth decision that Ricketts made was hiring Theo Epstein to take over baseball operations. The Boston Whiz Kid was the hot commodity when he was booted from Bean Town. As a result, the baseball operations swelled with new hires, creating a two tier system of Tribune management and scouts and Theo's new crew. Epstein was not used to a financial restraint in Boston, where he could write big checks to gloss over bad free agent moves or obtain high price talent to fill gaps in the roster. With the Cubs, he was handcuffed by the financial deals in place. As a result, a new plan was adopted which was called the rebuilding program.

The fifth decision that the Cubs made was to tank seasons. By trading off veteran talent for prospects, it reduced the payroll of the team. By reducing payroll of the team, the Cubs could balance off falling revenues. By not signing free agents, the Cubs avoided the long term deals that lead to dead money payroll landmines. By filling a roster with journeymen players, the Cubs have sunk to the bottom. From their, the front office has used high draft picks to select "quality prospects." The whole rebuilding process is developing their prospects.

The sixth decision flows from the last one. The Cubs have put all their chips on their prospects becoming impact major league players, under six years of team friendly payroll control. The front office says trust us, we know what we are doing, but statistically, the odds are greatly against them. Only 6% of prospects become major leaguers. The various reasons for failure are injury, unable to keep up with competition, being blocked from promotion by better players, to family and personal matters. At this point, the Epstein-Hoyer team has not promoted one of their developed draft choices to the majors. The big roll of the dice is whether the team can field a roster of home grown talent that is competitive in the NL. Other teams, like the Royals, have tried for decades without much success.

The seventh decision is a confrontational one. The old Tribune guard was used to flexing the Tribune's muscle in the city. Politicians used to fear a major metro newspaper's power to control public opinion and election endorsements. But quickly, the newspaper and media properties have lost their clout as their readership and viewership have declined with the rise of the Internet. The Cubs grossly misunderstood their position when they first asked for public funds to rehab Wrigley Field. Then, they doubled down on trying to push through a massive real estate development project under the guise of "saving" historic Wrigley Field. The team has continued to alienate the neighborhood. The Ricketts want to have more events at Wrigley; they want to transform the intersection into a year-round party zone of their own new restaurants and taverns.  Party at Cubs park is a major theme the business side of the organization is pounding on a daily basis in the minds of the public. Competition is one thing; but acting like a bully to muscle concessions from the city that the average businessman could not get is a risky proposal because the ire of the voters could lead to changes in ward.

The eighth decision was rather childish. The Cubs will not do any restoration work inside Wrigley Field until everyone agrees with their grand plans. It is like a kid on the playground upset with the scoring of his fellow players - - - so much so he takes his ball and goes home. It is like holding Wrigley Field hostage from itself. Even the most supportive Cub fan base question that tactic because they cannot understand why work on the public toilets, a new clubhouse and batting cage have anything to do with advertising signage or building a hotel across the street. Overreaching one's position is also risky: if your position gets to an absurd level, even supporters will turn on you.

The most current decision the team has made is to celebrate Wrigley's 100th anniversary with so much merchandising and special events that it makes all the talk merely white noise. It shows that ownership has continued to de-emphasize "baseball" as the foundation for coming to Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field is its own brand for special events, concerts, corporate outings, tours and other sporting events. It is being positioned not as the cathedral of baseball, but as an revamped entertainment complex like the Allstate Arena or United Center. It spanks of desperation to try to increase revenue at any cost. But that ties into the financial questions and decisions made above.

At this stage, all of the Cubs plans are one big crap shoot.