February 16, 2017


Spring training usually opens with hope and optimism.

But Cubs camp opened with the strange ramblings of its manager, Joe Maddon.

Maddon spent a great deal of time inarticulately trying to explain his tee-shirt slogan for the 2017 campaign. It left the packed room of reporters puzzled by his statements.

Maddon rambled on with his buzzwords for the new year: uncomfortable, authenticity and heart. In a long speech, he tried to communicate that he wanted his players to continue to feel "uncomfortable" in order for there to be growth. He wanted his players to retain their authenticity. Except, Maddon was not really discussing his desire that his players retain their reliability. He was off in his own tangent. He also stressed that he wanted the team to retain its Heart, which may or may not refer to the players resolve and love of the game.

Maddon, having won the World Series, could have been more reserved and stately in addressing the media. It raised immediate questions of whether Maddon's 2016 routine is going to work in 2017.

In 2016, Maddon kept his squad loose with antics, dress up days and pajama flights. He wanted his young squad to keep playing the game fun. It was a pressure valve release mechanism. The team bought into his management style.

But some writers question whether the "rain delay" players meeting in Game 7 changes the Maddon coaching chemistry. It was the players who were upset with Maddon's decision making in Games 6 and 7. The bottom line from numerous sources after the series confirmed that the players took it upon themselves to win the championship in spite of Maddon's moves. It was not a full blown mutiny, but it was the first crack in the genius armor.

Some pundits do not believe that grizzly veterans like John Lackey or Jon Lester are going to put up with the off-the-field clubhouse antics of magicians, side shows and zoo animal diversions. Some believe it is time to take the club to a professional level. The players are now veterans. They know what it takes to win a championship. They do not need to be coddled or treated like children.

And things may not be perfect in 2017. The Giants won a world series, then failed to get in the playoffs the next year, then won it all again the following year. Baseball is a game of attrition. The Cubs weathered Kyle Schwarber's lost season and Jason Heyward's batting slump. The Cubs lucked out with a healthy and productive five man rotation.

There were many questions that have not been answered by the Cubs. The off-season collection of cast-off starters to stock AAA Iowa enough to hold the rotation together for a full season when Lackey may be on his last fumes? Will Mike Montgomery become a quality starter or fade to an expendable arm like he did in Seattle? Can the Cubs pitching staff overcome the losses of Jason Hammel and Travis Wood's contributions? Will the young players like Schwarber and Javy Baez get enough playing time to soothe their egos?  Will Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to improve or will they have a regression year as the league studies their tendencies?

If Maddon continues to be the lovable, hippie uncle to his players, one wonders how long will it take for the players to zone out and disconnect from the Maddon circus wagon. The showman needs to show the baseball world that last year's managerial run was not a fluke. Early statistical projections have the Cubs sitting at 91 wins, which is more than a 10 percent decline from 2016. It is clear that media honeymoon period with the media is over. Maddon is going to get more criticism in 2017 than in the past. His team is expected to repeat, a feat that has not been accomplished since the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. This spring Maddon may need to re-invent himself to meet this challenge.

February 9, 2017


Why do people in charge of sports have an incessant need to tinker with the rules in order make themselves seem important?

Major league baseball is going to experiment with rule changes on how extra inning games will be played in the future.

One of the great assets of baseball is that it is timeless. The basic rules have been in place since its inception. The ebb and flow of the game, with pauses between pitches, makes it the most social of sporting contests. Fans can converse while watching the action. And the foundation of the game is the inning, three outs and winning at nine or extras. Baseball has no time limit. It is one of its greatest charms.

But that will change in an artificially stupid rule which demeans the most sacred aspect of the sport: statistics.

Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.

A derivation of the rule has been used in international baseball for nearly a decade and will be implemented in the World Baseball Classic this spring. MLB’s desire to test it in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this summer is part of an effort to understand its wide in-game consequences – and whether its implementation at higher levels, and even the major leagues, may be warranted.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.

So what? Fans love long, extra inning games. It makes managers work their rosters. It makes players do unprepared things - - - like infielders becoming relief pitchers or relief pitchers playing the outfield.

If MLB is so worried about long games (which must have some basis in their network television contracts), then shorten the game to seven innings (which be abhorrent to traditional fans). No, it must be that television broadcasters want nice, neat and tight 3 hour sports program blocks. But baseball is a round peg that you cannot fit squarely in a box.

This new rule of putting a runner on at second to start an extra inning is stupid. If you have a pitching duel of a zero zero tie after 9, why reward teams by gifting a runner in scoring position? Fans want the pitchers to battle it out to the natural end.

This new rule is as crazy as having the managers come to home plate if a game is tied after 9 innings to play three rounds of rock-paper-scissors. The outcome has little to do with the fundamental principles of the game.