Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Curse of Jimbo's

Unless something can be done to change destiny, Bridgeport institution Jimbo's will be closing its door on September 30th of this year. Jim Levato, the 70 year-old owner of the bar/restaurant, says landlord Ray Degrazia has ordered Levato to vacate at the end of his current lease. Jimbo's is a favorite pre- and post-game stop for Sox fans. Players, coaches, and even GMs would join the fans after games. Ron Schueler had his own stool.

Levato says he was notified of the decision by letter and he has been unable to reach Degrazia for an explanation. I think the explanation is obvious. Jimbo's pulls in a bundle. It's one of the few options in the area. My dad and I were always more prone to a stop in china town than at Jimbo's, but for many Sox fans Jimbo was the only place they'd consider for a pre- or post-game meal. This became especially true once a couple of other local bars were knocked down to make room for Comiscular in 1989. Add in increased attendance and attention after last year's World Series, popular outdoor seating, and a Bridgeport neighborhood that has become comfortable and inviting for visitors to the park, and Jimbo's became a gold mine.

The same gentrification, team success, and smart business development that made Jimbo's so successful, is also the source of its doom. I suspect Degrazia wants to cut out the middle man and start pulling in some of that loot for himself. Patrons interviewed for today's papers didn't seem interested. "I don't know the politics of it, but if they think they're going to put another place here and we're all going to show up, that's not going to happen," said Ryan Hopkins, a Sox season ticket-holder who has been coming since 1990, told the Chicago Tribune. And Levato promises to put up a fight. At the very least, Degrazia's lawyers say they'll negotiate with Levato to keep Jimbo's open into October if the White Sox make the play-offs.

I'm not sure how fans of the Sox and Jimbo's can help. If anyone has any ideas, please share. Letter writing campaigns; to whom and to what end? Petitions; again, with what goal in mind? Fund raising; to what, buy the building? This doesn't seem like a problem with a solution. Degrazia can make more money running his own place or converting to condos. Anyone who drives to the ballpark from the west has seen how Bridgeport has changed over the years. Degrazia is now sitting on a very valuable piece of real estate.

I do know this: as Sox fans, whether we went to Jimbo's or not, we need to find a way to stop this. It has curse written all over it. Finally, after 88 years, the Sox break their World Series drought. Unlike Cubs fans, Sox fans generally stayed away from blaming the futility on a curse. But the Black Sox scandal, and possible karmic retribution, lurked in the back of every Sox fan's mind. It would be fitting, but really suck, if the very next year something were to occur that required another near-century of karmic payback. Forcing Jimbo's out of business is just that kind of something. So, I really hope there is a solution to this mess, because I don't want my kids to be wheeling me to South Side Park in 2093 so I can see one more World Series before I die.

By the way, I owe a special thanks to Deadspin commenter Iron Chef Xenu for calling my attention to the story this morning.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


The answer to that question -- What would Jermaine Dye do? -- is usually get on base; often hit the ball out of the ballpark; and more than any other player in the AL, drive the ball with power. That's right, JD leads the AL in slugging percentage. And he's leading the White Sox' charge towards the post-season (that, by the way, is the kind of cheesy sports writer transition you can usually only find in the Sun-Times). Today, word is out that Ozzie Guillen may stick with Dye at third in the order, and slot Jim Thome and Paul Konerko in behind him. I would line them up Thome, Dye, Konerko, but the move is a good one. Dye needs the extra at-bats that come with a move up the line-up. And, the move reflects Guillen's respect for the RF.

I'm partial to JD because my tickets are tucked just inside the foul pole, down the right field line. In section 109, we sort of feel that JD is our Sock. And this weekend, section 109 led the hearty M-V-P chants that blossomed right after JD launched a game-tying homer in the ninth against the Twins. The chants haven't stopped since. Last night, JD once again carried the team to victory (even if Delmon Young's introduction to the outfield fence helped matters).

But is JD really an M-V-P candidate? The consensus right now seems to be that he is a legitimate guy to get some down-ballot votes, but that he's not really in the picture for the top spot. That's a load of crap if you ask me. Dye is suffering because he's not a household name. He's ranked 5th in the AL in VORP, a Baseball Prospectus stat that is supposed to measure a player's overall offensive contribution. Of the guys in front of him, three should leave the picture. Travis Hafner is a DH on a crappy team. Manny Ramirez is sitting when his team needs him most. David Ortiz is, sadly, in the hospital and has bigger concerns than collecting MVP votes. That leaves Derek Jeter. VORP doesn't take defense into account, but denizens of section 109 can tell you JD has played great D this year, and advanced metrics like Rate and Runs Above Average back this up. The metrics actually show Jeter has played pretty good D this year, as well. Still, Dye's defense further separates him from Manny, and keeps him ahead of the guys right behind him in VORP, like Vernon Wells.

In the end, I think Derek Jeter is probably the AL MVP at this point, but I also think the numbers show JD should be the number two candidate right now. And, they're close enough that there is time for JD to overtake Captain Charisma. So, yes, JD is a legitimate MVP candidate. Let the chants ring out. Maybe the rest of the country will notice.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Where's Bobby Douglass When You Need Him?

Bears' quarterbacks stink. It's a law of physics, like inertia or something. Jack Concannon, Bobby Douglass, Gary Huff, Bob Avellini, Vince Evans; it's not exactly the stuff of legend. Even the guys who have guided the Bears to a championship -- Bill Wade and Jim McMahon -- aren't exactly Joe Montana. Heck, Jim Harbaugh looks like a God among these men. Since Sid Luckman left the building in 1950, Bears' quarterbacks have stunk. I appreciate that the greatest quarterback in Bears' history is a member of the tribe, and, of course, we'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation, with your T formation. But it's time for Luckman to have some competition for the top of the totem pole. And who better to be that guy, than a man who clearly should be a member of the tribe with a name like that. That's why, no matter how bad he's looked this pre-season, no matter how many times he shatters his pelvis falling into a man-hole on his way to the huddle, I want Rex Grossman to take the field against Green Bay in two weeks and light them up. Eventually, the Bears may need to turn to Brian Griese to captain the ship -- whether because Grossman blows out his coccyx, or because the team gets repeatedly sued when his overthrows injure children in the stands -- but Grossman, not Griese, is the guy who might actually have a future. We've been down the road before with one-year caretakers who have success. Guys like Erik Kramer and Jim Miller had good seasons, but weren't a long term answer. Grossman could be. I know Grossman has stunk up the joint this pre-season, and Griese is the most popular guy in town right now, but I still say Grossman should be the starter in Week 1.

There is one pre-season game left -- this Thursday against Cleveland -- but the Drunken QB, Kyle Orton, figures to take most of the snaps in that game. We've learned all we're going to learn from the pre-season about this year's Bears team. The defense has looked mediocre, but we know from last year what this unit is capable of. The running game has looked anemic, but all three runners -- Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, and Adrian Peterson -- practiced at full speed for the first time yesterday, and Lovie Smith promises the team will run the ball with success in the regular season. The pre-season, Smith insists, was for learning more about the team's passing game. What we've learned is that Brian Griese gives the team a great fall back plan -- a guy who can step in and have success. But I for one want to see Grossman soar, or crash and burn, in the regular season, before the Bears put that fall back plan into effect.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Winning Formula

I don't often listen to Mike North. I'm more of an NPR guy in the morning (stupid pledge drive). But I was driving to the game Sunday (stupid triathlon -- I know I'm an idiot, but the Red Line sucks on weekends, and the season tix come with a parking coupon) and listening to the pre-game on WSCR, when they played a bit of a segment North did with Steve Stone earlier this week. North, who is either a moron or just says moronic things to be controversial, argued that losing Thome might be a good thing for the White Sox because it would force the team to revert to doing the little things that helped them win it all last season. Stone, as ever a voice of reason, pointed out that the Sox actually won it all last year by combining lights out pitching and a ton of home runs. Small ball, or smart ball, or pissing runs away, or whatever you want to call it, had nothing to do with it. The problem this year isn't the lack of small ball execution; it isn't the offense at all. The White Sox are the second highest scoring team in baseball. The problem is the pitching, where the Sox are ranked 15th in runs allowed; the Tigers are first, and the Twins are third.

But Sunday the Sox executed their winning formula perfectly. Mark Buehrle pitched 7.3 innings of one-run baseball en route to a 6-1 win. And the offense did its part as well. Yes, the Sox scored twice in the third with something approximating small ball (though even here, sacrifices and stolen bases were not part of the equation), but most of the Sox damage came by way of three homeruns. It's also worth mentioning that Scott Podsednik reached base in 4 of his 5 plate appearances, including a walk and a nifty bunt-single. Though he only factored in one run today, having the lead-off man on-base, be it Pods or Roblo Mackozuna, will lead to a lot more runs when Konerko, Dye, Thome, Crede and company go deep. What do I know; I'm just a Hebrew science minor. But it seems like a winning formula to me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ozzie Guillen: Evil Genius?

For all of Ozzie's craziness, he's always received lavish praise for his "brilliant" use of his pitching staff. Well, right now Ozzie, the White Sox, and all their fans are suffering the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. With last night's 5-4 victory the Twins took over the wild card lead from the Sox.

A big chunk of the blame is on Ozzie's use of his pitching staff. Javier Vazquez got two outs and gave up one run in the sixth inning before giving up a two-out single to Michael Cuddyer. At this point Ozzie went to the pen. So far, so good. Vazquez has demonstrated a tendency to melt down in the sixth. The problem is who Ozzie called for. I know it was only the sixth inning, but with the tying run at the plate, and the heart of the Twins line-up due up, Ozzie called for the White Sox worst relievers. First Neal Cotts couldn't get the job done against Justin Morneau. Then David Riske couldn't get the job done against Torii Hunter. I know the sixth inning is not when you traditionally go to set up guys like Thornton and MacDougal, but a "genius" like Ozzie should be able to think outside the box. I would have settled for Thornton and McCarthy even. And, I know MacDougal didn't get the job done later in the ninth, but it wouldn't have come to that with proper use of the pen earlier in the game. As is, the White Sox lost a one-run game to their key rival without their ace reliever ever taking the field, and with their two worst relievers on the field for the key sequence of the game. That's not so genius to me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Do I Really Want To Go There?

Dusty Baker was discussing Carlos Marmol's high pitch counts when he referenced Greg Maddux's early career, claiming Maddux once threw 167 pitches in a start. "If I left somebody out there 167 pitches, you'd lynch me," Baker said. But that's not how the quote read the next day in the Chicago Tribune. "If I left somebody out there 167 pitches, you'd [criticize] me," the Trib read. And thus began something of a firestorm about both race and journalistic integrity. You know I usually don't view the Cubs as a Chicago sports team, but rather as the live entertainment at a great beer garden. This, however deserves some discussion.

Did Baker intentionally bring race into the conversation by using the word "lynch"? Obviously, only Baker knows whether he intentionally brought race into the conversation by using the word "lynch". To argue he didn't is to denigrate Baker. He's a smart man. He may be overly committed to over-the-hill veteran ballplayers and no-hit middle infielders, ignorant of the benefits of drawing a walk, and yes, careless with young pitchers' arms, but he's no dummy. It seems to me that "lynch" is an unusual word choice there -- one that requires thought and is unlikely to occur carelessly or randomly. I suspect Baker used that word for a reason. And, I suspect that the connotation he was seeking was racial.

Again, only Baker knows why he brought race into the conversation, if in fact it was a conscious decision. Some have speculated that Baker is engaging in a long-term plan to racialize his eventual firing by the Cubs. Maybe he is, although I'm not sure how that would benefit him. Still, people wonder why else Baker would have discussed details of racist hate mail with USA Today earlier this week. But as some prominent scholars have pointed out, race and racism are dialogues in which this country needs to engage. There's no reason Baker should sit quietly when told, "'N-----, why don't you get another job?" Maybe Baker's revelations to USA Today weren't part of an effort to racialize his inevitable firing, but rather an intelligent, prominent black man participating in the important national discussion of race in American society and sports. Or, maybe not.

Either way, it's still not clear how, or even if, Baker's use of the word "lynch" is related to the earlier interviews. It could be a continuation or just coincidence, or maybe race was on Baker's mind after those earlier interviews, so "lynch" was a natural and casual word to surface in Baker's mind at that moment. Certainly, the Tribune should have run the quote unaltered so that readers could judge for themselves how the pieces fit together, and whether they even care. Better still, the reporter should have asked a follow-up question about why Baker, given the current environment in which race has become part of the conversation about the Cubs' manager, chose to use the word "lynch". Maybe he would have explained his usage. Maybe he would have expanded on the idea he was hinting at by using the word. Maybe he would have backed away. For now, we just don't know. But we do know the Tribune mishandled the situation.

An editor at the Trib said the word was changed to avoid injecting racial overtones into a minor baseball story. But who was the Trib protecting by making that decision? The readers? I hope the paper wasn't insulting it's readers so boldly. Dusty Baker? There's no incentive to do so. He'll be let go by the Tribune Corporation after the season. The Cubs' image? Now, we may be on to something. The Trib, of course, owns the Cubs. They have every reason to protect the Cubs' image as a warm, fuzzy, family-friendly entertainment option. An extended discourse on race in society and sports, focused on the Cubs' manager, probably runs counter to that image. Maybe the thinking was more innocent than that. But it points to a serious problem: as a reader, one can basically never trust anything the Trib says when discussing the Cubs -- their corporate interests are just too intertwined.

Honestly, I don't know how much Tribune's corporate interests infect the newsroom. I've worked in newsrooms where the editorial content was well protected from ownership's business interests, and I've seen situations where stories were squashed for all the wrong reasons. I'm also not sure how big a deal it is if we can't trust the local paper's coverage of the local team. But it is an example of the larger problem in America's current media landscape. Corporate interests have consolidated so many media outlets into so few hands, that we can rarely trust the independence of the voices we're hearing anywhere. Do we trust ABC's reporting on Disney, one of America's larger corporations? Do we trust CBS's reporting on Disney, or is there an incentive for CBS to lay off Disney, so that ABC lays off CBS's corporate overseers? The problem is even worse in smaller markets, where there are fewer voices. Local affiliates in small markets may be owned by less influential, out-of-market corporations, but if they are protecting local corporate or political interests with which they have ties, there are few alternative voices to discuss those interests honestly. If the FCC allows increased cross-ownership of television, radio and newspaper outlets within one market, then the problem gets even worse. Diverse, independent media voices are integral to the nation's civic life, and they are disappearing.

That's the end of my rant, but if you want to learn more about the fight to preserve independence and diversity in the media, visit here or here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chicago, We Have a Problem

I really, really, really don't want the White Sox to go into their most important series of the season without their top weapon. The White Sox won 7-5 last night, but lost Jim Thome. Thome will be out for Thursday's series finale in Detroit (is the monsoon happening their too?), and may miss the critical three game series against the Twins this weekend. Oy.

As for the win, Freddy Garcia got the runs he asked for, and he need every one of them. Yes, Freddy, we can all be winning pitchers when the offense puts up 6 runs in the first two innings. Seriously, though Freddy pitched pretty well after the first inning, and deserves better than 5 earned runs. It's a sham that we can say the bullpen threw 3 and 2/3 scoreless innings. The double off Thornton had nothing to do with the last two runs?

ERA is a bogus stat. Runs Allowed per Nine Innings (RA) is a little better, but neither means much of anything for relievers. Baseball Prospectus has a stat called Fair Runs Allowed, or FRA, that distributes credit for a run amongst all the pitchers involved. So, for example, Matt Thornton has a 3.35 RA, but only a 3.24 FRA. More often than Thornton costing the guy he replaced a RA, the guy behind him is costing Thornton a RA. Not surprisingly, Mike Macdougal, who has an RA of 1.50, has an FRA of 2.65. You see a usage pattern here. Thornton gets the guy ahead of him out of trouble, then puts a man on. Macdougal allows that guy to score, but not the guys he allows on. Actually, pretty often, these two guys just shut the door on opponents, especially Macdougal, but when there is a problem, it seems to be when Thornton gets out of the starter's jam, but Macdougal can't get out of Thornton's jam. While I'm perusing BP's advanced reliever stats, I'll point out a few other observations. A) The guys we're using now are the best bullpen collection we've had this year. Jenks, McCarthy, Macdougal, Thornton and Riske have been the Sox' best relievers this year. B) Jenks, Thornton and McCarthy have been awesome at getting out of jams, which to me is the ultimate test of a bullpen. Performance at the back of the bullpen is a key indicator of post-season success. As Ozzie says, this team will be dangerous in the play-offs. Now, about getting there . . .

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Least Likeable Bears Team Ever?

We root, at least I root, for the name on the front of the jersey, so to speak. So, I'd keep rooting for the Bears even if they stuffed as many convicts in the uniforms as the Cincinnati Bengals. But come on guys! You could make it a little easier to like you.

On Friday, Cedric Benson left the sidelines during the Bears exhibition win over the San Diego Chargers. Benson was injured, not playing, and it was an exhibition game. But in the Bears' list of player regulations, it says that a player will be present on the sidelines during team games. So, Benson, no question about it, broke team rules. And, yes, it is a little perturbing that the team's 16 million dollar first round pick ignored team rules.

But which is a bigger betrayal of your teammates trust: leaving the sidelines of an exhibition game in which you're not playing, or telling on a teammate to the media anonymously? Look, I'm all for the media getting as much information as it can. It's their job, and we as fans gobble this stuff up. Brad Biggs, the Sun-Times reporter who broke the story, did his job well. But Benson's teammates knew this would turn into a maelstrom for him, and they started it with bad intentions. Some teammates have clearly made it a goal to make sure that Thomas Jones, and not Cedric Benson, is the team's running back. Of course, if they really all believed that Jones was as good as he is, they'd know that he doesn't need help winning his job. Unless they don't think the coaches will make the decision in the best interests of the team. In which case, who's not with the program here: the guy who left the sidelines of an exhibition game, or the teammates making it their mission to undermine the competition at tailback?

This isn't the first time Benson's teammates have lashed out at him either. Defensive players took extra shots at Benson all training camp until one freak collision separated Benson's shoulder. Maybe that's why Benson found sitting out the exhibition game with San Diego so frustrating. The sidelines were exactly where his teammates wanted him to be. You can see the scene now:
"Spanish! Do you trust that we have provided you with enough rope so that your cinder block will fall safely to the ground?"
"Y-Yes sir."
"Blue, do you trust that I do not want to see you die here tonight?"
"Yes, sir."
"Blue, you're my boy!"
"Thank you, sir. "
"Cedric, do you trust that we have provided you with enough rope?"
"Hell no!"

Mike Mulligan says all Benson needs to do is produce in order to win his teammates' respect. But his teammates refuse to give him that chance. It's not Benson's fault he was drafted where he was. He held out, but so do a lot of first round picks. Benson was not the last rookie into camp last year. And how much control do we really think rookies have over negotiations between his team and his agent anyway? It's not Benson's fault he was hurt last year. And it sure isn't his fault that Thomas Jones wanted no part of the team's off-season program. That's what opened the door for Benson in the first place. I think Jones deserves a raise for what he's done for this team, but how come his teammates aren't questioning his commitment after a summer in which he avoid Halas Hall like it was infested with plague?

We did learn one important lesson here. Rick Telander is a moron. (Is that really a lesson?) Telander argues that the only problems here are that Benson left the sideline, and that management is forcing it's darling on a locker room that clearly wants no part of him. Those who sold out Benson, he says, did nothing wrong. I've just made it clear I disagree with that. Plus, it's entirely self-serving for a columnist to argue that players who anonymously dish dirt on teammates aren't doing anything wrong. Anyway, Telander goes on to compare Benson to former first round bust Cade McNown. Who is Telander, the ladies auxiliary to the cadre of Bears veterans out to undermine Benson? McNown was given every opportunity to make something of himself and his team, and failed. Benson is a second year back who has looked pretty good in limited opportunities so far. The coaches -- who know better than the media, fans or players -- believe that if given the opportunity, he could take this team to a new level. Shouldn't we be rooting for them to be right? I just hope the Bears' players involved grow up and get behind their teammate, because right now, they're making it hard to root for them at all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

White Sox Shut Down by Male Model

Justin "Blue Steel" Verlander has seemed like a one-look failure against the Sox the first three times he faced them, but last night he broke out Magnum and shut down the Pale Hose. Still, it's not the offense that's worrisome. If the starting pitching doesn't improve, pretty soon, they'll be reading *our* eugoogaly. At the beginning of this 24 game stretch, I said 16-8 would put the Sox in a good spot for the stretch run. Some people told me I wasn't being ambitious enough. Now, the Sox need to go 6-0 over the remainder of this run to even reach that goal. It's not really losing a game to the Tigers, or even 2 out of 3 to the Twins, that's the problem. It's losing the make-up game at South Side Park to the Angels. It's losing 2 out of 4 to the Royals. Win two of those three losses, and the Sox need only take 2 of 3 from the Tigers and Twins to be where they want to be. That's a reasonable task for a play-off team. Still, the good news is that if the Sox win 2 out of 3 from the Tigers and Twins over the next six days, they'll probably still be in the wild card lead.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ozzie Guillen: Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a little crazy. We know this. He just reinforced it over the weekend. The highlights of tirade:

"[Henry] made some comment about us cheating? He doesn't even know what a field looks like." --Guillen, on Red Sox owner John Henry's suspicion that the White Sox were stealing signs against the Yankees

"When you play [expletive] [Johan] Santana, [Brad] Radke, [Francisco] Liriano, the guy from Cleveland ... [C.C.] Sabathia, all the other guys ... ah, [expletive]. If we played National League teams, the Central Division, we might win 150 games in that [expletive] league."

"They think I cheat? We faced two [expletive] good pitchers in the National League Central. Our division, they have to face [the Tigers' starting staff], then you go to the White Sox and face all our guys? When you're going to go to another team, you're going to go, 'Whew, where is Randy Johnson?' The American League Central? That's baseball right here. Go hard one after another . . . . Good, I hope [they keep accusing us]. What happened in the playoffs and World Series? We won 1-0, 2-1. We won so many one-run games, more than anyone in baseball last year. You look at our No. 3, 4 and 5 [hitters], they are the best in baseball. If we're cheating, how come we [don't] help Brian Anderson or [Juan] Uribe?"

"We're cheating on the mound? Our pitching staff gets beat up once in awhile. They're mad. They can't admit that a Latino kicked their ass."

"'Oh, no, I don't like you because you kicked my ass?' Please. That's competition."

"That's why I don't get along with too many managers. Because they hate my [expletive] ass, because I don't kiss their ass, and I didn't kiss anyone's ass to get this job."

"Then they have a Mexican win the World Series in two years. And they're saying he doesn't have experience, he never managed in baseball before. Well, too [expletive] bad."

"What's the difference? No one knows the difference anyway." --Guillen, after being reminded that he's Venezuelan.

A) I love how Ozzie throws Uribe and BA under the bus for their struggles.
B) How great is it that when Ozzie got rolling he forgot he was Venezuelan and not Mexican?

Ah, Ozzie. You may insist on subjecting White Sox fans to Scott Podsednik's incompetence as a lead-off hitter, but you do make the dog days a little more entertaining.

White Sox and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Ok, so it's a shitty title, but there's a lot to cover from the weekend in sports. The White Sox lost two out of three this weekend to the Twins, shrinking the Sox lead in the wild card chase to 1 game. There's no shame in losing to Johan Santana, but Vazquez actually probably deserved a little better fate. On the other hand, bad things happen, like Konerko's mis-play, and good pitchers bear down and get out of trouble. Vazquez does not know how to pitch out of trouble. Every game, once things start to unravel, they unravel all the way. It has happened a lot in the fifth or sixth inning, creating the impression that Vazquez can't get through a line-up for a third time. Sunday, however, things unraveled early enough that Ozzie left Vazquez in the game, and he pitched pretty well through seven. So, now it just looks like Vazquez is prone to that one big inning. I actually think it's a better problem to have -- a mental problem that can be addressed, and has been in the past with guys like Jon Garland. Anyway, as bad as losing two out of three felt, the Sox still lead the wild card chase by 1 game.

And, the Sox are only 5 games back in the loss column in their pursuit of the Tigers. They can do a lot to close that gap this week, starting tonight, when the Sox need Jose Contreras dominant ace more than at any time since last year's play-offs. The good news is that the Tigers just acquired Neifi Perez from the Cubs, which means they'll now be giving regular at-bats at 2nd base to one of the least productive players in baseball. He has a grand total of 5 walks this season, and an on-base percentage of .266. Only two 2nd baseman have been worse at the plate this year, Kaz Matsui and Anderson Hernandez, and neither one remains in the majors. Ozzie says, "If we go to the playoffs, watch out." He may be right because of the club's power, ability at the back of the bullpen, and potential in the starting rotation. This week may the Sox last, best chance to make sure they get the chance to prove Ozzie right.

Speaking of last chances . . . Rex Grossman's may be fast approaching. For right now the coaches continue to assert that Grossman is the team's starter and Brian Griese is the very capable back-up. And, despite Griese's superior play thus far in the pre-season, that's probably how things should stay until Grossman sinks or swims in the regular season. Grossman gives this team its best chance to be something special. But the media is starting to circle, and Grossman is clearly more likely to stink up the joint than Griese too. One suspects that once the regular season is underway, the coaching staff won't allow the quarterback play to undermine the team's defensive prowess, or potentially dangerous running game. But it's hard to read too much into Grossman's performance without most of the offense's top playmakers.

There were some very good signs this weekend, not the least of which came from the return game. Special teams are very important to a team that hopes to rely on its defense and running game to win games, and Rashied Davis and Devin Hester have brought a stability and dangerousness to the return game that Bears fans have become unaccustomed to seeing. Robbie Gould also added a 49 yard field goal.

Finally, I continue to voice my protest to reading anything into pre-season results. However, if there is one pre-season game that team's take seriously, it's the third one, which arrives this Friday for the Bears when they face the Arizona Cardinals. Not only will I be watching to see how the starters perform, but I might actually even care who wins, if for no other reason than to trash talk Deadspin about what will undoubtedly be another long season for his beloved Buzzsaw.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I Love Joe Crede

Give me a minute, I'm Hawkerventalating. It's a nice win. Not sure how the White Sox pulled it off. They were out hit, out homered, and out walked, which is a recipe for losing. Five double plays helped, obviously, especially Crede's clutch play to end the game. A lot is being made about Ozzie's decision to walk Mark Grudzielanek to get to Mike Sweeney. Sweeney was apparently 3 for 6 against Jenks going into the at-bat. Even Jenks said, "I glanced over and said, 'Really. This is gutsy. He's hitting .900 off me right now.'" Come on people. That is a meaningless sample size. Literally. Three for six means nothing. Clearly, setting up the double play, as well as the force at home, changes the likely outcome of the game far more than Sweeney's past results against Jenks in six whole at-bats. Regardless, the move paid off, as did a couple of other buttons Ozzie pushed. Podsednik scored on Konerko's double after running for Thome. And Ozuna looked great in the lead off spot. It won't happen, but I'm telling you, Pods ought to be on the bench with Mackowiak and Ozuna platooning in left.

The real test is just beginning, of course, with trips to the Twins and Tigers coming up. Hopefully, the real Mark Buehrle will be back for his start in the upcoming series. Yesterday was his first win since June. The whole team needs to be calling on its second, third or fourth wind to get up for the final 10 games of this key 24 game stretch without a day off. The Sox are now 9-5 through the first 14 games. I'd say 7-3 over the last 10 takes the Sox to their off day in control of the wild card race.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Thomas Jones: "This is my offense."

I can't believe you did this to me. You read my news. Actually, Jones' angst seems to be directed towards the team, not Cedric Benson, who temporarily usurped Jones' spot as the starting running back. Nevertheless, for a guy who doesn't want to talk about the RB controversy, Jones had a lot to say to Mike Mulligan today in the Sun-Times. Some of the highlights:

-- "You lose your job by performance. You don't lose your job by not showing up for the offseason program."

-- "My mind-set is that I am a starting NFL running back, whether I am on the Chicago Bears or any other team. I know the offense. I know the game. I am experienced. I am smart on the field and off the field. I work really hard in the offseason. I work really hard during the season trying to take care of my body. I am a starter in the NFL. My numbers say that."

-- "In my eyes, I am no different than Olin Kreutz or Brian Urlacher or Wale Ogunleye. I mean that much to this team. I am one of the core players here, and I feel I have proven that over the last two years."

-- "You don't lose your job because you didn't show up for a voluntary program. I say that over and over because it just baffles me sometimes that people don't understand that. You don't lose your job because you don't show up to an offseason program, especially after the good production."

-- "It's sort of a messed-up league because one minute you sign a contract, yeah, but you are outplaying the contract. You are playing like one of the top guys in the league, but you are not getting paid for what you are doing. It's frustrating for the player, but at the same time, a guy will play really good and he'll deserve a roster bonus in his contract, but they will cut him because they won't play him."

-- "And then game in and game out, you are the only guy really making plays. The next year they bring another guy in as if you are not the answer, and you were really the only bright spot that whole season."

-- "I feel like this is my group. I'm the oldest running back here."

-- "It's ridiculous. I feel like there is no question who the starter is, who the guy is. Everyone knows. It shouldn't be an issue. I am the starting running back. I look at it like this is my offense. [He laughs.] I mean, this is my offense.

So, Jones said quite a mouthful for someone who wasn't going to say anything. I actually don't care who the starting RB is, as long as the coaches pick the guy who they think gives the team the best chance to win. Nothing else should factor in.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Last Day Of Bear Camp

The title is sung to the tune of Second Week of Deer Camp, for what it's worth. Anyway, on to the news. Thomas Jones is back on the field practicing, although he's unlikely to play Friday. For some strange reason I find myself rooting for Cedric Benson in the battle of the backs. Maybe it's because I hate it when veterans pick on younger players. You're all professionals, not grade schoolers. Regardless, there is no way to paint Jones' return as anything but a huge positive for the offense.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure what to make of this story about Tommie Harris. If he's found his passion and is ready to play, then great. I'm not sure how a 3rd year pro coming off a great season loses his passion in the first place. Harris said he was afraid to fail before. I've always believed that what makes great athletes great is that they hate to fail. They're not motivated by a fear of failure, which can cause you to hold back. They're not motivated by a love of winning, which strikes me as soft and lazy. Rather, they're motivated by a hatred of failure. Anyway, I'm probably full of shit on this, so ignore me, but I hope Harris is no longer afraid to fail, but learns to hate failure so much that he'll do whatever it takes to overcome it.

You may run like Hayes, but you hit like shit.

Has the time come to bench Scott Podsednik? He was hitting just .206 (13-for-63) with an abysmal .484 OPS in his last 18 games through Monday. For the season, his VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, is negative. In other words, his performance this year is worse than you'd expect from the average guy available on the waiver wire -- the infamous AAAA player. The fact is, he's hurting the team at this point. Pablo Ozuna meanwhile has a .375 on-base percentage, and Rob Mackowiak has a .374 on-base percentage. I don't think Fields, Sweeney or Owens should get their first taste of big league ball as a full time starter in the heat of a pennant race, but the Sox appear to have two legit alternatives to Podsednik on the major league roster. Conveniently, Ozuna bats right handed and Mackowiak bats left handed. I legitimately think the time has come for an Ozuna/Mackowiak platoon in LF. Besides, that way I can start referring to the White Sox left fielder as Roblo Mackozuna, and that's just fun.

Five and Dive

Cue Javier. And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor. Javier Vazquez rarely misses his cue, and sure enough, last night after five strong innings, Vazquez handed the lead back to the Royals just moment after the White Sox tied the game. It's hard to blame Ozzie for leaving Vazquez out there; it was only a 2-2 game, but he does this EVERY TIME. Anyway, there's enough blame to go around. Jermaine Dye dropped a fly ball that cost the team a run. But, regardless of whether the team gave up 3 runs or 4, you have to get more than 2 runs off of Runelvys Hernandez. Going into last night's game, he had more walks allowed than strikeouts, and he had given up 17 homeruns in fewer than 60 innings.

Oh well, it's over now. But tonight's game is huge. The Sox have to quickly show that they're going to reestablish their momentum and take this series from the lowly Royals. One reassuring thing going forward: after Monday's blow-out win and Tuesday's loss, Mike MacDougal, Bobby Jenks, and Matt Thornton -- the surprise trio who have made the Sox pen one of the team's strengths -- have had two days to recharge for the remainder of this brutal 24 game stretch. Speaking of which, I said before this stretch that if the team went 16-8 during that period they would be in perfect position to grab the wildcard. At the half way mark the Sox are 8-4, right on pace, and gradually asserting control in the AL wildcard race.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's a "Jump to Conclusions mat".

It's a disease. After 30 years of Sox fandom, I expect failure. I was so sure that the Sox would piss away their weekend momentum, that for 20 minutes after I turned on the game last night, I thought the Royals were up 9-0. Obviously, that was not the case. Let's just keep taking care of business.
Some disturbing news: Jim Thome's wrist is bothering him, but he's playing through the pain. He swears it's getting better even as he keeps swinging the bat. I just hope that's still the case a month from now.
Looking way ahead: The Sox are going to try to sort out some of their logjam of prospects on the corner OF spots. Jerry Owens, Ryan Sweeney and Josh Fields all appear to be corner OF at the major league level. There should soon be room for at least one of them with the Sox. The Sox would be better served moving Podsednik to make room for Fields, by far the best prospect of the three. Sweeney has some potential too, especially as he begins to show the first glimmer of power. Eventually Dye will fade, as sluggers do in their mid 30's and Sweeney may be ready for that gig by then. As for Owens, I think he's nothing better than an extra OF. Some speed, some D, not much of a bat. So, if they can get another team to bite on his athleticism, and give up some real value in return, I'd grab it in a heartbeat.

Why, I've never been so insulted in my life!

Well, it's early yet. The title is probably how a number of incumbent Bears' starters are feeling right now, and the response is about what the Chicago media is telling them. The Trib laid out some of the key issues today facing the Bears as they break camp, and the issues looked a lot like the ones we mentioned yesterday. It's not bragging; the issues are fairly obvious. Whether your name is Cedric Benson, Rex Grossman, or Mark Bradley, the Chicago media wants to know when you're going to be unseated. Look, either this is a Super Bowl contender because Benson, Grossman and the other guys the coaching staff is entrusting with this offense are difference makers, or this is a team with a lot of holes and question marks. The one question that makes sense is asking which wide out is really ready to start. The coaches seem to have high expectations for Bradley, Berrian and Davis. Whoever steps up should win the job. But the coaches have made it clear they believe that Grossman and Benson give the team the best chance to make it to the next level. If they play poorly enough, or miss enough time with injury, that the coaches feel compelled to insert Griese and Jones in the line-up, that's a bad sign. It means the team is not as good as the coaches believe it could be. Why is anyone rooting for that scenario?

A lotta accidents around here for a quiet neighborhood.

The hot debate seems to be whether the NFL should cut back, or even eliminate, pre-season football. On Mike & Mike this morning, their listeners voted 52 to 48 percent against eliminating the pre-season entirely. That's pretty close for a radical change. But with guys like Clinton Portis getting injured, there are a lot of angry, scared fans. News out of Chicago is that Mike Brown could play with his tweaked (technical term) Achilles tendon, but he may still sit out most or all of the pre-season. It raises the question, if pre-season football is of so little utility that a team may hold out a healthy player for fear of injury, then what's the point? The answer is also the reason that the NFL will never shorten the pre-season. NFL owners get to charge season ticket buyers full price for seats and parking two extra games a year. And, since the players would make the same amount regardless of how long the pre-season was, the games are largely free for the owners to put on. It's a great gig for the owners. Do you really see them giving that up? Meanwhile, anyone who the Bears' coaches feel can get by without pre-season games, I'm all for them sitting them out with "injuries".

Monday, August 14, 2006

Huh? Just, huh?

Asked about what the Sox have to do to make the play-offs Ozzie Guillen responded:
''If you continue to win series, you will be in the playoffs,'' Guillen said Sunday. ''You would have to be in the playoffs. We have 46 games left, and if we play .500 the rest of the way, we would win 90-something games. If we can't get in the playoffs with 95 wins, just call my helicopter and I'll go home.'' Generally speaking, I think he's right. If the Sox win their remaining series, then they should make the play-offs. But .500 the rest of the way would give the Sox 93 wins, not 95, and QUITE FRANKLY (stupid Stephen A. Smith making me yell), that could be the difference between getting in and not. So, winning series will get the job done, but .500 probably won't. Far more importantly: helicopter?!? What freakin' helicopter? And where is he flying to in it? Venezuela? That seems like a long trip. Even when Ozzie makes sense he sounds crazy.

Sweep, sweep, sw...

You get the idea. The chants were flying free on Sunday afternoon at Southside Park. Detroit Sucks! Let's Go White Sox (insert rhythmic clapping)! And, of course: Sweep, sweep, sweep . . . It did feel good to finish off the three game sweep of the Tigers. I particularly enjoyed Sunday's game, which presented the chance to see Jenks close it out without the acid build-up of a close game. I know it's exactly the kind of usage that causes fits for performance analysts, but from a fan's perspective, it was nice to see the big man work, without worrying that the Sox were about to blow it. Meanwhile, solid outings Saturday and Sunday from Buehrle and Garcia. Buehrle seemed to have good stuff, but never really settled in. Garcia seemed to have nothing, but settled in nicely. The results worked out both ways. I almost cost the White Sox the game Saturday. I explained to my wife that Sean Casey is one of the most overrated players in baseball, just before he launched a home run about one section to the right of my seats. Of course, I also warned Red that Casey would do that immediately after I called him crap. Fortunately, I can never be right when speaking to my wife, and my other proclamation was that the team that hits the most homeruns in a game almost always wins. So, of course, the White Sox won Saturday without going yard. I'm not complaining. Meanwhile, the Tigers and Red Sox get to beat each other up now, so that's solid. Let's just hope we don't choke it out against the Royals.

Run Away, Run Away!

This has nothing to do with sports, but Michael Chertoff, the U.S. head of homeland security, says American officials need more authority in order to battle terrorists. "It's not like the 20th century, where you had time to get warrants," he said. Stupid Constitution. It would certainly make my job easier if we did away with Due Process rights. But in the meantime, which would I like better: Toronto or Vancouver?

Bear Down

I thought no one stepped up in the battle for the #2 wide out spot last Friday. But I may have overlooked the obvious. Rashied Davis, who was obviously the Bears' best offensive weapon against the 49ers, may have done enough to inject himself into the picture. WR seems to be mostly about athleticism and attitude, and Davis has each in spades, so maybe he can overcome his relative lack of experience at the position. Still, with all these high draft picks wandering around Bourbonnais, it's hardly what the Bears' brass predicted. They also didn't predict that the RB situation would turn into such a headache. Maybe it's not so crazy that the Bears solve both problems at once by dealing Thomas Jones for help at receiver. Not likely in the NFL, where trades go to die, but also not crazy.

Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast. It jumped up a notch. It did, didn't it? Rick Morrissey says the Bears have a QB controversy on their hands. Of course, he also says that right now, if someone did a poll, most Bears fans would pick Griese over Grossman. His own paper did do a poll, and Grossman got 33 percent of the vote to Griese's 24 percent. Morrissey's questionable fact checking aside, he's probably right that there is a controversy brewing, especially after each QB's performance against the 49ers. Still, I'd rather let Grossman start the season at the helm. He might combust, but he also gives the Bears their best shot at the Super Bowl. Griese can probably lead this team to the play-offs, but no further. Besides, the NFC North stinks, so even if Grossman starts slow, Griese can take over and lead the team to the play-offs. So, no controversy, just the best depth at the position that the Bears have had in years.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Playing the Feud?

Is there, or is there not, a feud brewing between Ozzie and his shortstop, Juan Uribe? Everyone says no, but Ozzie spent five minutes Friday going over a barely coherent (that may be redundant in Ozzie's case) spiel about how Uribe might have told the trainers he's ready to play, but he hasn't told the boss (that would be Ozzie), and if he wants to play he better tell the boss. Uribe for his part says he's not yet ready, but will be soon, and when he is, he'll definitely let Ozzie know. QUITE FRANKLY (sorry, I'll stop yelling -- I channeled SAS for a minute there), I can't figure out what the hell anyone is saying in this mess. But I do know this: the Sox are in a pennant race. If Uribe is ready to go, and gives the team the best chance of winning, then he needs to be on the field. There's no time right now for Ozzie to stroke his own ego. The time for that was last weekend.

Familiar Formula

A great start to the Tigers series. The Sox followed a familiar formula to victory Friday: great starting pitching and plenty of power. Like it or not, that's how this team wins games. Everyone knows this team is going as far as its starting pitching carries it. But the starters should have something of a cushion because the line-up can pound the ball. For all the talk of execution, this team is dangerous because it has more guys who can hit the ball out of the park than anyone else in the league. If the top of the line-up can just get their butts on base, then those homeruns will win even more ballgames. Since 2004, the team that hits the most home runs in a game has won 75% of the time. That's a great stat for Sox fans. So, let's hope the Sox can repeat that familiar formula today.

Well That Sucked

Rex Grossman leading an actual NFL caliber offense? Uh, not so much. Mark Bradley, or anyone, stepping up as the #2 WR? Uh, not so much that either. The only thing I was hoping to see that I actually saw was Griese commanding the offense. If Grossman can't translate practice field success to the real thing, then Griese can be a better-than-caretaker alternative. I'm not saying the time to make a switch is anywhere near at hand after one bad quarter of pre-season football, but it's good to know Griese is there if the Bears need him. I'm also not that worried about the D's lackluster performance. We know what that unit is capable of. My only real concern on that front is that Vasher's injury not be the kind of thing that lingers. Like I've said before, pre-season football's importance is overrated. And at least this way we'll have lots of things to watch for in the Bears' next game.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Go Sox

I'm swamped at work today, so this will be a very short post. It's great to win a series over the Yankees, no matter how much of a gift last night's victory was. Also, I love the Kansas City Royals. The Red Sox had the easiest looking schedule of any contender coming out of the break. However, after losing series to the Devil Rays and Royals, the Red Sox now have the hardest schedule remaining. The Sox and Yanks have comparable schedules. The Twins have things the easiest. None of which matters if we don't keep winning ball games and series. So, here's hoping they keep it up this weekend against the Tigers, and, uh, go go go go White Sox. We're proud to have you out here in the middle west.

Bear Down

The Bears open their pre-season schedule tonight against the 49ers. Few things are less important than pre-season football games, and yet few things are taken as seriously by fans and analysts. Besides, the NFL is back, and I'm so excited I could plotz. Anyway, the attention tonight will clearly be on the offensive side of the ball. I want to know:
Will Grossman and the offense look like a real NFL offense?
Will Griese show the command of the offense necessary to make him a true insurance policy?
Will Bradley seize his opportunity to grab the #2 receiver spot?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Um, About That Trade . . .

Baseball Prospectus ranks Chris Young the #2 CF prospect in all of baseball, and points out that the Sox would probably be better today with Young in CF and McCarthy starting instead of Five and Dive. Hard to argue with that. We were supposed to be trading a bit of our future for a better chance at repeating, but this trade may be hurting us in both the short and long terms. Oh well, at least we fleeced the Phillies.

BP is a pay site, so I'm going to cheat just this once, and give you the full text below:
Chris Young, Diamondbacks
Age: 22.9 Hitting .276/.366/.542 in 92 G (AAA)
With Brian Anderson's struggles, one gets the idea the White Sox would be a better team right now without Javier Vazquez, and with Young patrolling center field. After being hampered by a wrist injury early in the season, Young has found his power stroke, blasting 20 home runs in his last 74 games. A dynamic power/speed combination, Young has 30-30 potential in the big leagues and is a very good defensive center fielder, though his arm is a tick below average. While he'll never hit for a high batting average, Young more than makes up for it with outstanding secondary skills. More than half of his 102 hits have gone for extra bases, he's drawn 49 walks in 369 at-bats and he has 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts. He should be handed the Arizona center field job in spring training and has strong Rookie of the Year chances.

That is pure poppycock!

Hawk was channeling White Goodman last night as he expressed his frustration with the strikezone as applied to Garland's showdowns with Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu. It bugs me that the team, and its announcers, are so worried about the umps right now. You still have to make the pitches. Last night Garland didn't, and the Yanks will be patient and make you pay. Still, we had Thome up with the winning run on in the ninth. So, could have, would have, should have.
Meanwhile, I was also distressed to hear Sox fans this morning on AM 1000 saying that they were rooting for Johnson to no-hit the Sox. A) This team's offense is such that it can always come back and win (You play . . . to win . . . the game!). B) Their reasoning seemed to be that they were angry at the team for the way it's playing. That is also pure poppycock. The team is playing as hard as it can, if not as well as it can. And no matter how they're playing, if you're a fan you root for them. I don't like Podsednik as a ball player, but I still root for him to get on base and make something happen.
That said, it seems Ozzie does still like Podsednik as a ballplayer. He just wishes he'd get on base more often. It's a new concept. Pods should try it.
Put it all behind you though, because tonight's game is huge, both for Vazquez individually and for the Sox as a team. Here's to hoping Ozzie has McCarthy ready and waiting in the sixth. Just in case.

Under Center

I'll allow Bears camp to distract me from baseball for a moment. Rather than a QB controversy brewing, as some anticipated, it sounds like the Bears grow ever more convinced that Grossman is their guy ahead of Griese. I have no problem with that. Griese is reliable. You know what you'll get from him. He's a great back up because you'll get solid production if he is forced into action. And, if Grossman blows up, Griese will steady the ship when he takes over. But this team has Super Bowl aspirations. With that goal in mind, I'd rather have the guy who has more of an attacking mentality, and more of the skills with which to attack downfield. Given the team's large investments in each guy, both monetarily and reputationally, I feel comfortable that ability, rather than finances or the GM's ego will drive the decision. No matter how the season goes, and no matter who is under center, the locker room will back him as long as they trust that the coaching staff is going with the guy who gives the team the best chance to win. What? What I thought we were in the trust tree in the nest, were we not?
(Yes, that is a quote from Old School. I saw Talladega Nights last night, but one viewing is insufficient to fully grasp the quotable lines. So, a tribute to Ricky from Frank instead. BTW, my buddy over at Your Blog is an Empty Room has posted his thoughts on the movie. They are questions worth pondering.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Frank and Beans

I just noticed the phallic nature of the Yankees rotation. Last night they pull out Wang for a start, tonight they're inserting Johnson, aka "The Big Unit". C'mon! Now, some of you may think that this is all very funny. Not I. I think Joe Torre should be ashamed of himself. In spite of the juvenile snickers of some, this is a serious matter. That seducer and despoiler must be stopped; he's extremely dangerous.

Where There's Smoke . . .

. . . who knows whether there's fire. But there are certainly plenty of rumors about Joe Girardi, and his potential departure from Miami/arrival in Chicago. As an aside, can you think of a flight more likely to get delayed than Miami to O'Hare. Seriously, you'd be lucky if you arrived within a decade of schedule. Anyway, the Sun-Times is reporting that rumors about Dusty's eventual firing in Chicago are putting pressure on Girardi in Florida, where he's vehemently denying that he has an out clause, explicit or otherwise, in his contract. Perhaps that's why his relationship with Marlins ownership is deteriorating. A team spokesman felt it necessary to "report" that Girardi would be managing the team on it's current road trip, after Girardi and owner Jeffrey Loria played the feud. The fight started because Loria was yelling at the umps from his seats behind the Marlins' dugout. At one point Sunday, the Marlins scheduled a press conference for that afternoon, but that was cancelled after Girardi met with Loria behind closed doors. The two things might or might not be related. At this point it would be a surprise to no one if Girardi does end up managing the Cubs next year. Now, if Prior or Wood makes more than 20 starts for the team next season, that would be a surprise.

Go Team

Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! Nor was it over when the Sox went to the ninth against Mariano Rivera trailing by a run. Rivera, who apparently struggles against teams with the word "Sox" in their names, coughed up a game tying homer to Paulie, and I, for one, was feeling pretty good. Actually, I felt pretty good for most of the extra inning affair, even when Scott Proctor was doing his Cy Young impression. Ironically, and this is why I spend most Sox games doing a Leo Mazzone impression on my couch, I lost faith entirely in the 11th. I loved Iguchi's huge clutch hit. There is nothing more clutch than getting on as the lead off man late in a game. I loved Thome drawing the walk and moving Iguchi into scoring position with no outs. At that point I figured one of the next three guys was bound to come through. But after Konerko flew out, I realized that Alomar, not Pierzynski, would follow Dye, and I became convinced that Dye was about to bounce into an inning ending double play. Fortunately, Dye had a really futile and stupid gesture planned -- just to continue with a theme -- and we could all go home happy. Well, stay home happy in this case, since my season ticket plan only includes Saturday and Sunday games. In any case, it's hard not to feel optimistic on a day like today.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oh, I See. It's a Conspiracy!

What a fool I am. I thought the White Sox undoing last night had to do with Mark Buehrle getting lit up like a Christmas tree. (Jose Molina is petitioning to face Buehrle every night). Or, perhaps it was Scott Podsednik's inability to get on base at the top of the order. Or, maybe it was Buehrle's sudden inability to locate the strike zone in the seventh. (Or his first baseman). Or, even, it could have been Ozzie's stubborn refusal to use his talented, and under-utilized bullpen when his starters start to unravel late in a game. (More on that later). But, no. Apparently the Sox lost because of QuesTec -- that ominous machine that has haunted the confines of South Side Park this season. "When you have both sides complaining about the strike zone, what does that tell you?" Buehrle said. "[The umpire] was consistent, but I live on the corners. I need those corners. When umpires know that QuesTec is being used, you're not going to get the corners." And yet Escobar and the Angels bullpen kept the Sox bats mostly quiet, including racking up 10 strikeouts on the night. So, it must be a conspiracy against us. Hawk certainly saw the light. He claimed the umps were making Buehrle throw the ball
"through a teacup" to get a strike in the seventh inning. ENOUGH! The Sox lost a winnable game last night without Jenks, Macdougal, or Cotts ever setting foot on the rubber. Maybe the Angels would have put the Sox away in the seventh anyway, but when Buehrle started unraveling, Ozzie should have been ready with his pen. After all, Macdougal was this team's key deadline acquisition. Hard to contribute when you don't get in the game. This is nothing new. The Sox pen has seen the least action in the league. Ozzie leaned on his starters just as much last year and it worked. So, maybe it's just my imagination, but I feel like the starters have watched good starts unravel late a lot this season. How many times have Sox pitchers reached "quality start" stats, only to lose that quality start late? It feels like a lot, and last night is one example. I know someone at Baseball Prospectus keeps that stat, maybe I'll bug them to print it. In the meantime, Buehrle and Hawk need to keep digging into this QuesTec conspiracy. How many times have we been here before? So close to the truth.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Everybody Loves the Cubs

Baseball Prospectus's Transaction Analysis column has finally reviewed the Cubs' deadline deals. The reviews are not glowing. To begin with, Caesar Izturis stinks. Any illusions to the contrary are attributable to the lingering stench of former prospect-dom. And while a team can absorb the weak bat of one no-hit, slick fielding middle infielder, as BP puts it: "If [the Cubs] . . . think that, because Izturis is under contract through 2008 (counting a team option the Cubs might forego), they'll have a particularly slick-fielding middle infield combo of Izturis at second opposite Cedeno, then they're just begging to suck." Really the upside for Cubs fans is that with Maddux out of the way, the team has more slots to spend sorting out which guys will contribute to the rotation next year. That's not a veiled shot at the team. They're out of contention this year, and they need to sort through the likes of Mateo, Prior, Marmol, Hill, Ryu, Gallagher, Wells, Shaver and Guzman. That's actually a lot of passable options.

Whatever Works For Him

Sandy Alomar will be behind the plate tonight catching Mark Buehrle. I don't believe in the power of one catcher to improve a pitcher's performance. I think work such as that in Baseball Prospectus's Baseball Between the Numbers has debunked any such myth. But if having Alomar back there coincides with some consistency from Buehrle, then hey, I'm all for it. I don't care if the reason is Alomar's game calling, Buehrle's comfort level, or pure luck. So, if Buehrle looks good again tonight, then a tip of the cap to you, Miss Corningstone, or Mr. Alomar, whichever.

Let's Ask Doug Buffone For Advice

Vince Lombardi once said, "Football isn't a contact sport, it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport." Bob Dylan once wrote, "The times, they are a changing." Ron Burgundy had never heard that song. And neither, apparently, has Don Pierson. Pierson seems to invoke the sentiments of Lombardi today in the Trib, as he argues that Bears fans should be excited, rather than dismayed, that Cedric Benson injured his shoulder Friday when he bounced off of Mike Brown and Brian Urlacher after a short reception. Pierson has the luxury of taking such a view right now because it looks like Benson won't be gone too long. Still, I don't think a few anecdotes from a few decades back shed much light on how much hitting today's NFL players should be doing in training camp. These guys are in much better shape coming into camp than their predecessors were. And, I'd trade whatever miniscule margin in tackling ability is sacrificed by not hitting in camp, for having our best play makers on the field when the season starts.

Maybe They Were Taking Shots at Benson After All

By the time Friday's night practice had ended, Adrian Peterson served as the Bears' starting tailback and undrafted free agent Andre Hall, signed just Thursday, was his backup. Cedric Benson had left the field with a shoulder injury after getting popped by Mike Brown and Brian Urlacher. Throughout camp, Benson has taken his share of hits. Some have suggested that the defense is getting a little extra rough with Benson because of lingering animosity regarding Benson's hold out last season, and the respect in the locker room for Thomas Jones. Well, this is getting to be ri-god-damn-diculous. Benson is a member of the team, and one the coaching staff believes can be a difference maker at running back. Lovie Smith downplays the talk, but Benson for one seems irritated: at the end of one practice, Benson bowled over safety Chris Harris and spiked the ball. Brown, showing the leadership for which he's known, when asked about the play responded: "You're asking the wrong cat." Nice. Way to show concern for your teammate. Anyway, if the goal was to open the door for Jones to regain his spot, that mission may have been accomplished. The Bears are preparing to be without Benson for weeks. The Bears are saying all the right things about it being a freakish play, but no one else has been hit like Benson this pre-season, so this "fluke" injury couldn't have befallen any other player. It all just smells fishy, like a turd covered in burnt hair. Elsewhere in the Bears' backfield, fullback Bryan Johnson left Saturday's practice with a hamstring injury.

Weekend Update with Kevin Nealon

It's hard to complain about taking two out of three on the road from a good team like the Blue Jays, but still, when we beat Halladay, I thought we might get the sweep. I left town for Washington DC with the Sox trailing 3-0 on Friday evening. I returned as the Jays wrapped up their won win. I'm afraid I may need to leave town if we're going to win again this year. A couple of observations from the weekend series: apparently execution is overrated when you have two guys like Thome and Konerko getting on base and hitting for power in the middle of the lineup. Dye certainly contributed on that front as well. Also, and really I'm burying my lead here, Don Cooper may be the magic man. Staying tall and closed apparently was enough for Javier Vazquez to transform into Cy Young. If he can become a consistent force in the rotation, that could be all the difference in what figures to be a very tight wild card race.

Friday, August 04, 2006

60% of the Time

This has nothing to do with sports, but it makes me happy to know that I can get a Sex Panther Cologne t-shirt if I want one. You know, I'm kind of a big deal.

The All-Powerful Oz

Joe Crede has come a long way. Until September of last year, Sox fans booed him routinely, and if you asked them what position was most in need of an upgrade, they would all have answered: third base. Remember, everyone wanted to replace this guy with Aubrey Huff last year. Well, no more. Starting down the stretch last year, and really hitting stride in the post-season, Crede has been on a roll. And he hasn't slowed down this year. He's posting the highest on base and slugging percentages of his career. Combine that with his gold glove caliber defense, and he's a big part of the Sox success this season. Well, according to Ozzie, it's all because of Ozzie: ''Joe Crede has had the season he's had because Ozzie Guillen is the manager,'' Guillen said. Um, how is that exactly? I guess Crede only pawn in game of life. We all know what a great manager Ozzie is, and if you don't, ask Ozzie . . . or Hawk. Actually, this raises a real dilemma for Hawk. He has massive man love for each of Joe Crede and Ozzie, so who would he credit for Crede's success?

Everybody Loves A Winner

New research shows that the Sox are now tied with the Cubs and Bears for the most-watched team in town. Until last season, the Sox lagged significantly behind. You can make a number of different things out of these numbers. You can make an argument that the Sox success has drastically shifted the balance of popularity in town, and that another season or two like 2005 and 2006, and this could become a Sox town. You can make an argument that since as many people are watching the Cubs as the Sox even though the Sox are the defending champs and the Cubs, well, stink, the Sox success has not come at the expense of the Cubs, but merely created more baseball fans in town overall. You can also make a hat, brooch or pterodactyl. Personally, I don't think the Sox success hurts the Cubs at all. People will show up to Wrigley. But before when Wrigley sold out, or the Cubs were away, Chicago fans simply tuned out. Now, they're more likely to go to a Sox game. As much as I'd love for this to become a Sox town, I just don't think the current upturn in popularity for the Sox is the leading edge of a major shift.

Nevermind that sh*t! Here comes Mongo!

Or, rather, here come the contenders in the American League. The Sox tonight begin a stretch of 24 games in 24 days, and 20 of them are against play-off contenders. We'll know where the Sox stand at the end of this stretch. Sixteen wins should put them in front of the wild card chase, but I'm not basing that on anything more than my gut reaction. I just hope they don't get too caught up in how tough a stretch this is. The team excelled in May and June when they went 18-11 when playing 29 straight against opponents who were above .500 at the time. The next two nights, with the back end of the rotation due up, could be crucial for setting the tone.

Car vs. Deer

What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on here? Champ Car driver Cristiano da Matta has undergone surgery for a blood clot near his brain, after his car collided with a deer during testing at a circuit in Neenah, Wisconsin. His car hit a deer on a race track?!? Holy crap! First off, that has to be a shock to the system. Second, you would think there would be precautions against deer getting on the track at Road America because the course is surrounded by heavy woods, and well, THERE ARE CARS ON THE TRACK GOING REALLY, REALLY FAST! Third, there has to be video out there somewhere. Please, someone find it ASAP.

Need Any Help? Oh, All I Can Get.

The Bears have spent the last six years desperately trying to fill their need at wide receiver. They spent 13 draft picks between 1999 and 2005 on wideouts, and this summer we're all hoping one of them finally works out. It started in 1999 with D'Wayne Bates who is out of football. The rest of the list isn't much better: Marty Booker, Sulecio Sanford (who?), Dez White, Eddie Kennison (traded pick for him), David Terrell, John Capel, Jamin Elliott, Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, Bernard Berrian, Mark Bradley, and Airese Currie. The good news is that Berrian was back practicing yesterday, showing no signs of the injury he suffered when a pass unexpectedly hit him in the hands on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Detroit S**ks

The only relevance of this story to Chicago sports is that I grew up going to Bulls, Hawks, and Sox games where we chanted Detroit S**ks. So, any opportunity to pick on a Piston . . . Dale Davis, the Pistons reserve center, was arrested in Miami Tuesday after a fight with police that ended with him getting tasered. Awesome.

We're #1!

The Sporting News has named Chicago the #1 sports city in America. The rankings are based on things like team performance and fan fervor. So, the Sox contribute by winning the World Series and the Cubs contribute by playing their games in front of a packed beer garden. Not much more to say other than: doesn't #20 seem a little high for Cleveland?

Winning Ugly

The White Sox uni's from 1982-1986 are among three finalists for the ugliest baseball uniform ever over at ESPN's Page 2. Also, coming under fire in the article: the Sox uni's from the late 70's with the wide collar, and the number on the leg design from the late 80's. Apparently, the Yanks may have more World Series trophies, but the Sox have a two decade dynasty in the ugly. Well, maybe the Padres could have given the Sox a run for their money in the 70's. I have love for all of the Sox uni's that are under attack. I own a Fisk jersey with a big floppy collar, and the 1983 Sox were my first baseball love. But let's be honest here, the White Sox definitely wore pajamas for 10 years in the late 70's and early 80's . And I, for one, love them for it.

A Last Look Back at the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline was frustrating for many Sox fans. The Sox failed to add a big bat, though arguably, with the relatively useless Scott Podsednik in LF, they stood more to gain from a bat than anyone else. Meanwhile, the Tigers added Sean Casey (more on him in a moment) and the Yankees -- who join the Twins, Tigers, and various colors of Sox in battling for three play-off spots -- added Bobby Abreu, Craig Wilson, Sal Fasano and Cory Lidle. There is no question that the Yankees did wonderfully at the deadline. They replaced useless parts like Melky Cabrera, Shawn Chacon, and an over-the-hill Bernie Williams with quality. But in his outstanding analysis on Baseball Prospectus today, Nate Silver, calls the Sox acquisition of Mike Macdougal pretty good and pretty significant considering the interchangeable, and highly questionable, parts being cycled through the Sox pen. Keep in mind, Macdougal doesn't just replace Riske, McCarthy, Thornton or Cotts as a set-up man, but he allows them to slide down a role and remove Sean-Boone Logcey from the Sox bullpen entirely. Meanwhile, Silver says the Tigers actually cost themselves runs over the remainder of the season by taking at-bats away from Chris Shelton and Dmitri Young, and giving them to Casey, who is mediocre, and benefited immensely from his hitting environments the last few years. I have been arguing, and hoping, that the Tigers cost themselves as much as a win or two down the stretch through their acquisition. Silver doesn't see the drop-off as being that significant, but we can always hope.

Ryan Sweeney

Kevin Goldstein on Baseball Prospectus ranked Ryan Sweeney as the #11 corner outfield prospect in all of baseball. Goldstein is high on Sweeney's ability to get on base as a 21 year old playing in triple-A. That's a pretty aggressive assignment for a guy that young. But Goldstein wonders whether Sweeney will ever develop the power at which his long build hints. Sweeney has yet reach double digit home runs in a season. And, we're all full-up on corner outfielders who don't produce runs, thank you very much. (Yeah, I'm looking at you Mr. Podsednik). Goldstein concludes, "There's still time and projection in him, but expectations have been lowered somewhat." Well I say, he can't do that do that to our pledges. Only we can do that to our pledges.

This Might Work at Comiscular

Things apparently got out of hand at a soccer game in Brazil recently. The match was halted twice while fans threw portable toilets into a moat which separates the field from the crowd and set them on fire, sending plumes of smoke over the stadium. This raises an interesting question: wouldn't a moat be a good idea at South Side Park? I'm a Sox season ticket holder, but we do have a history people.

Fixing Javier

Don Cooper apparently spent the last couple days fixing Javier Vazquez's delivery. Everyone knows about Vazquez's tendency to explode like Bluto ("I'm a zit. Get it?") in the sixth inning. Cooper, who is baseball current mound magic man (that sounds dirty), believes he can fix it by getting Vazquez to keep his arm angle up on his slider late in the game. Sounds good to me, but I've never thrown a slider. And, what do you say Ozzie doesn't use McCarthy on Friday so he's available to pitch the sixth and seventh on Saturday. You know, just in case.

No Thome + No Konerko = No Win

Last night's game was most notable for the strange apocalyptic weather that moved through Kansas City. Freddy Garcia made a couple of bad pitches to a hot young hitter, and the Sox played without two of their three most important players. Word is that both Thome and Konerko will be back on Friday, and let's hope that they are. For all the talk about execution, this team's offense has thrived this season because guys get on base and hit for power. The Sox lead baseball in runs scored, are 6th in on-base percentage, and 2nd in slugging percentage. Thome and Konerko are 1st and 3rd on the team respectively in on-base plus slugging. They, along with Dye, will determine this team's fate during the next two months. Oh, and Juan, USE TWO HANDS!!!

But They Still Have Elton Brand

Sam Smith today described Team USA as "a good preseason viewer's guide for the 2006-07 Bulls." Now I'm as excited as anyone for the upcoming Bulls season, but Sam, Team USA still has Elton Brand. Over the years the Bulls managed to turn Elton Brand into P.J. Brown. Not the same thing. Smith's point is that Team USA plans to play intense, scrappy defense this time around, and the Bulls plan to do the same thing this season. But in Team USA's case they plan to combine scrappy defense with an assortment of offensive weapons. In the Bulls case they plan to use scrappy defense to cover for a complete lack of offensive weapons. I have high hopes for this team, but I really don't think a team with multiple players who can pose a threat in the post will provide much insight into the Ben Wallace era here in Chicago. So, let's keep our expectations realistic.

Typical Bears Wide Receiver

I enjoyed this news item from today's Trib regarding Bears training camp: Bernard Berrian continues to stand out in the battle at No. 2 receiver, though he went down briefly in pain after getting hit on the fingers with a pass.
Sure sounds like a Bears wide out to me: injured getting hit in the hands with a pass.

Hawk Watch

Last night's White Sox game was irritating. I don't really want to talk about it. So, before I do, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite topics: Hawk Harrelson. Not that Hawk is one of my favorites, rather I really enjoy talking about how annoying he is. Hawk, why do you insist on making everything about you? Last night's Danger Duck Trivia Question had to do with Gaylord Perry's final season. Perry wrapped up his career in 1983 with the Royals. So, of course, Hawk launched into a story about the White Sox facing Perry that season, which is an excuse for Hawk to state that he was good friends with Perry. Hawk said that when the Sox faced Perry that season, Perry told him before the game that he wouldn't even try to get hitters out that night, but rather would let the hitters get themselves out. Hawk claimed that for the first 2 or 3 innings that night -- the first time through the order -- the Sox potent line-up proceeded to pound ground balls straight into the ground, or pop-ups straight into the air. Hawk said he enjoyed a good laugh as he let Don Drysdale in on the secret in the booth. Finally, the second time through, the Sox line-up figured out what was happening and quickly sent Perry to the showers. This story served Hawk well. He got to name drop both Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale, and demonstrate what a great buddy he was with each of them. The problem is: Hawk made the whole thing up. The Sox faced Perry once during his Royals tenure. After working a 1-2-3 first inning, Perry gave up two runs in the second (obviously, still making his way through the Sox order for the first time), and then settled down to pitch eight strong innings. I love retrosheet. The Sox wound up winning the game off Dan Quisenberry in the 10th, but the details of the game itself aren't important. What is worth pointing out is that rather than say something about Perry, or simply describing the action on the field, Hawk fabricated an entire event just so he could talk about himself and what good friends he was with Perry. The man has no shame. The time has come for someone to put his foot down, and that foot is me.
(Note: The Sox faced Perry one other in time in 1983, when he was still with the Mariners, but that game doesn't fit Hawk's tale either.)
(Update: It turns out that Perry was all over the place yesterday. In this LA Daily News column Kevin Modesti explains that Perry's cheating, which consisted primarily of greasing up the baseball, was ok because it required skill. Steroids on the other hand, he argues, are wrong because "jamming a needle in your backside while hiding in a clubhouse bathroom stall is the act of an oaf, a dullard and a coward." Personally, I'd rather spit on a baseball than stick a needle in my butt, but I wouldn't do either in front of 30,000 people. Nothing against Perry though, we're willing to trade looks for a certain... morally casual attitude.)