Posts tagged sports

Shoeless Joe

An old essay by me. On loss, a road trip west and Shoeless Joe.

Hard to believe they’ve been gone almost two years already. I miss ‘em.

Nov. 22, 2011 baseball books slicedlife sports

Grantland

ESPN:

Bill Simmons, in association with ESPN, announced the first wave of writer and editor hires for Grantland.com, the much anticipated sports and pop culture web site. … With Simmons as editor-in-chief, Grantland.com is scheduled to launch in June with a mix of original columns, long-form features, blog posts, and podcasts.

Looking forward to it.

Apr. 29, 2011 journalism sports

Bethlehem Shoals on Derrick Rose

I have to be careful what I say about Derrick Rose. My opinions on him are heterodox, stubborn, and probably relevant to no one but myself. Basketball is sometimes best kept to one’s self, like shit you tell your therapist or your cat. However, today something dawned on me: How much of the Rose-for-MVP narrative is about him being the anti-LeBron?

Also of note: farewell, Free Darko.

Apr. 11, 2011 basketball bulls sports

The Baseball Theory of Life

Chris Jones:

Back in my besotted days, I came up with something I called The Baseball Theory of Life. […] I was young enough back then to think there was something fresh in employing sports as a metaphor for the rest of our existence. Now, I’m a little embarrassed by it, but I also like to think, on this rekindling night, that there was something to it.

Another great post.

Mar. 31, 2011 baseball inspiration sports

Bullish

I came across the name of a Cubs minor leaguer in a newspaper article last week, and I’d never heard of him. Not even in a fuzzy, didn’t-he-get-drafted-like-three-years-ago kind of way. A totally foreign figure. That hasn’t happened to me in years.

I haven’t followed the Cubs closely for a while now. I still read the stories and monitor the standings, but gone is the rabidity of my middle- and high-school years, when I’d inhale a dozen Cubs blogs a day and stay up way too late composing entries of my own. The Cubs were my life.

But I got burned out, I think. Maybe being so invested emotionally in the team in the 2000s did it. The club was so good for a few of those years (best record in the NL in 2008, several division titles, and then there was 2003…) that believing in a World Series run was actually rational for a change. So each time the team degenerated into a collection of spine- and brainless amoebas when it mattered most, a part of my soul blackened and withered. I don’t read any Cubs blogs now, much less write one. I can’t muster that old enthusiasm anymore.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve surely noticed that I often tweet about the Chicago Bulls these days, with the Cubs making only occasional appearances. It’s a kind of reversion to the pre-1998 me, when the Cubs were abysmal and the Bulls were, well, the Bulls of the ’90s. You can guess which team I, along with every other young kid in Chicagoland, gave my attention to. It was only after M.J. retired and Sammy Sosa made the Cubs relevant again that I really started following pro baseball.

Predictably, my attention has swung back the other way more than a decade later. The Cubs are in a fallow period, and suddenly, after years of floundering, the Bulls are championship contenders again. Derrick Rose — who entered the NBA as the Cubs began their downward swing and with whom I’ve always felt that weird we’re-the-same-age kinship — is an MVP candidate, leading the Bulls to (as I write this) the best record in the East. Plus there’s the nostalgia overload that was last Saturday’s ‘90-91 title anniversary event. I’ve been sucked all the way back in.

So when I hadn’t heard of that minor-league Cub, it startled me for a second, but no longer. I can name every Bull, something I can only mostly do for the Cubs, and that’s fine by me. So it is with interest and passion, beyond just sports teams. And who knows? Ten years from now I might be a whacked-out Bears fan or something.

I’ll always hate the Sox, though, no matter how bad the rest of Chicago’s teams. You’ve got to have some standards, you know.

Mar. 17, 2011 baseball basketball bulls cubs slicedlife sports

Ron

I never saw Ron Santo play; by the time I was born he was already long-retired. But for every year I can remember, he was behind the mic for Cubs games on WGN Radio, letting his Cubbie-blue blood on the air 162 days a year. Ron’s resolve was unparalleled, and if he could suffer through so many years of losing and misfortune, on the field and in the booth, through all the devastating Hall of Fame snubs, through the diabetes that took his legs, through the cancer that took his life, and still, after all that battering, radiate hope for the Cubs and the future, then certainly, no matter how dark the day, I could keep going, too.

I’ll always remember Ron, not because he was always insightful or witty on the air, because he wasn’t often either. No, I’ll remember his humanity, his wide-open heart, his unflinching courage, and his boundless faith in his beloved ball club.

A greater Cubs fan there never was.

Jan. 27, 2011 baseball cubs sports

The Knothole

Witness the crush of people in front of the 10-foot-wide window into Wrigley Field. Where they congregated before 2006, when the knothole in the outfield wall was carved, I do not know. But they are together now.

A friend and I went to the Cubs’ home opener a few years ago. We had no tickets and no plan, just too much time on a cool, spring afternoon and a desire to be there. We jogged to the Purple Line and got to Wrigley soon after the first pitch. The oscillating hum of 40,000 hopeful fans flooded our ears. We circled the ballpark, past the Waveland ballhawks perched on their folding chairs, and, in the distance on Sheffield, there they were.

I counted a dozen as we took our place behind them. Like us, they were ticketless and wanted only to catch a glimpse of their heroes, their fleet-footed gods, through the chain-link fence. They crowded around the knothole, peering into right field with faces pressed close, and chattered about the game and their lives. Most were probably homeless. A tall, thin man sporting Cubs hat and unkempt beard alternated between bites of a McDonald’s burger and swigs of something pungent from a bottle swaddled in a paper bag. An older woman, silver-streaked hair in disarray, held a small battery-powered radio to her ear, listening intently to WGN’s Ron Santo and Pat Hughes. Another, a rotund man with twinkling eyes, crooned softly in his hoarse baritone, the songs absurdist and surely of his own devising. No one seemed to mind.

When a Cub swatted a hit, fanned a batter or did something similarly momentous, the onlookers traded celebratory high-fives and exclamations, even with us. We edged closer every inning, sucked in by their charm. When a Brewer drove a ball into the corner and against our gate, we all spasmed in excitement as Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs’ rightfielder, ran toward us to retrieve the ball. We could hear the thunder of his feet on the warning track dirt, the grunt that escaped his lips as he threw the ball toward the infield with an audible whoosh of the arm. We were captivated; we were one.

Fukudome, a Japanese import playing his first game at Wrigley, stepped to the plate in the last of the ninth with two runners on and the Cubs down by three. The crowd roared and we rattled our fence, tingling from the electricity in the air. A home run was too much to ask for, we knew. Just get on base somehow, we prayed. Don’t let this end. The pitch hurtled toward home. Fukudome swung and the ball leapt from his bat, climbing high and toward the part of the outfield our little window would not allow us to see. It flew out of sight.

Then the crowd erupted. He had tied it! As Fukudome trotted around the bases, my friend and I celebrated with these eccentric strangers-turned-comrades, several of them dancing odd jigs, united by a brief but fantastic moment in time. One young man insisted on sharing a chest bump with everyone.

The game went into extra innings, but we had to leave before the conclusion. I had an evening lab and, the quarter having just started, I couldn’t miss the first class. We waved goodbye and walked to the El, still buzzing. The Cubs would lose a heartbreaker as I rode back to school, and the ballpark was surely filled with pained wails and moans. But for a few moments that day at the knothole, the Cubs brought us all pure, collective joy—and nary a bit of fatigue.

Jan. 11, 2011 baseball cubs slicedlife sports

Chris Ballard on Pop-A-Shot

For SI.com:

I have witnessed some unlikely sights in my day, but this was surreal. There on TV was Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most competitive man alive, losing a shooting contest. Not just losing, either, but getting his ass kicked. By a short, bald, middle-aged busboy.

Jan. 5, 2011 basketball sports

Bob Feller

Rest in peace, Bob, and thanks for putting up with a gawky kid reporting for his high school newspaper. That Echo story is buried in a closet somewhere, but here’s my Cub Town writeup from January 2007:

I had the pleasure of attending the 10th annual Opportunity Through Baseball Charity Dinner and Auction on Sunday night. The event is run by Robin Renner, Varsity baseball coach at Neuqua Valley High School, to fund his week-long summer camp for underprivileged youth in East Aurora. The camp is a spin-off of the nationwide Opportunity Through Baseball summer camp in Denver.

As I happen to know Robin, I was able to talk with one of the evening’s guest speakers, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.

Feller, far from feeble in mind or body at 88 years old, is quite an interesting fellow. Unwavering in his opinions on everything from baseball to politics (he later went on an anti-Iraq tirade during his talk), Feller exemplifies an old-time ballplayer, or even simply an old man: full of memory, pride, and, at times, disdain for what the game has become.

Pitch counts, five-man rotations, and a bullpen with designated relievers have all become standard practices since he left the game, Feller said. Lost today is the art of the complete game. “Back then, we paced ourselves,” he said. “Half of the kids today don’t even know what that means, to save up a bit extra for the 8th or 9th inning and the toughest hitters.”

When I asked him about the Veterans Committee, of which he is a member, Feller said, “We’re trying to get some veterans in,” in contrast to the perception that the Committee has no interest in voting in new members.

When I brought up Ron Santo’s name, Feller retorted, “I think Riggs Stephenson has a much better chance of getting in than Ron Santo. Ron Santo is borderline, and he may make it. I predicted it and hope he does. … I have put his name on my list … I hope he can make it, and I hope Riggs Stephenson makes it, as well as Lefty O’Doul and two or three others.”

Feller continued: “We’re going to find out in a few days who makes it, and I think we’re going to lower the standards, and when we lower the standards, I think [Ron] will have a better chance.”

Dec. 21, 2010 baseball cubs sports

Miami Heat Lose Again, Fall to 8-6

A bad loss at home to the Pacers. Eat it, Van Gundy.

Scott Raab’s next dispatch should be good.

Nov. 22, 2010 basketball sports

NU-Illinois

I’ve got the heat blasting as I try to warm myself. Before the sun set, the day was crisp but not too cold; afterward, I shivered often. Or maybe it was shuddering. I could have used a stiff drink, and not just to keep warm.

Illinois soundly beat Northwestern today behind a mind-boggling 519 rushing yards, including 330 (!) from Mikel LeShoure alone. NU could not stop the run, from the very start, and the Illini never stopped running—they threw 14 times for just 40 yards. Everyone knew what was coming, but it made no difference. Pathetic.

Dan Persa, out for the season, was sorely missed. His replacement, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, played about as well as I’d hoped. He made the inevitable miscues, and his nerves got to him at times, but it could have been worse. The defense cost the ‘Cats the game, not Watkins.

I had seen the pictures of the Wrigley Field makeover, but only when you see the field in person do you really feel the weirdness. Wrigley hadn’t hosted football in 40 years, and seeing a big white rectangle wedged inside the diamond felt so very wrong. In my bleacher seat behind the east end zone, I sat stunned for a while. The goal post jutting out of the wall twenty feet to my left and the ushers dressed in Cubs garb made my brain misfire even more.

The setup grows on you, though. Wrigley’s still Wrigley. A couple of obnoxious girls seated behind me complained about the lack of a video screen—“How am I supposed to see what’s happening?” they said while the players stood so close they’d respond if you called their names—but Wrigley doesn’t need one. It demands your attention like few other parks; give it, and you won’t miss a thing. It’s a shame that many people choose to experience the world through screens when the magnificence of the real is right in front of them.

A few miscellaneous notes:

Nov. 20, 2010 football northwestern slicedlife sports

Wrigleyville Classic

Northwestern hosts Illinois tomorrow in the first football game at Wrigley since 1970.

I’ll be there, of course. NU at my favorite ballpark in the world? No way I’d miss it.

Nov. 19, 2010 football northwestern sports

篮球

I was 17 and playing basketball thousands of miles from home with kids whose halting English still made a mockery of my infantile Mandarin. But it didn’t matter; it never does.

It’s a hackneyed thread, about sports as a global language and cross-cultural connective tissue. It’s true, though.

What did they think of us? Two American teenagers, dribbling a basketball on an empty court outside a school in Beijing. Heads popped out of dormitory windows, from floors high and low, as if the students had been waiting for something to shatter the monotony of a languid mid-week afternoon. “What the hell?” they must have said, before rushing downstairs to play.

I most remember their faces, so exuberant and curious. We were just kids playing ball. Nothing else mattered.

Distant music flitted on the air as the sun set in China.

Sep. 29, 2010 basketball china slicedlife sports

Shoeless Joe

An essay I wrote for Eric Nusbaum’s Pitchers and Poets.

Sep. 9, 2009 baseball books sports

A Josh Wilker Reading

On the Chronicle podcast.

Aug. 20, 2009 baseball podcasts sports

Cubs to Fans: Buy Tribune Subscriptions, Move Up on Season Ticket List

Tribune Co. and the Chicago Cubs on Friday announced unprecedented plans to open the season ticket waiting list to the open market. Beginning in January, fans of the Tribune Co.-owned Cubs can buy their way to the top of the list with the purchase of subscriptions to the Chicago Tribune.

“Look: We’ve got some issues to work out,” said Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Sam Zell. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday amid falling revenues and the nationwide credit crisis. “And it’s not just us. Look at the financials at any paper. If we’re going to turn this industry around, it’s going to take creative solutions, like the one announced here today,” Zell added.

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said fans already on the ticket waiting list will receive points based on their current place on the list. “Some people have been on this list for decades,” Kenney said. “It wouldn’t be fair — or humane, really — to just wipe that all away and make them start over.”

To get more points, and move up on the list, fans must buy subscriptions to the Tribune. Further details about the system, which will be hosted on Cubs.com, will be released next month.

Zell would not comment on how the Cubs’ impending sale would affect the new system, but Kenney says the concept is not dependent on newspaper subscriptions. “We can make points equal to anything we want,” he said, “be it newspapers or straight-up cash.”

Cubs officials say a similar system will be implemented for the sale of individual game tickets. Rather than receive a randomized place in a virtual waiting room when the tickets are made available, online customers can purchase issues of Vine Line, the Cubs’ official magazine, to improve their place in the virtual line.

Dec. 13, 2008 baseball cubs satire sports

The Expanding Man

Several times each week, my legs grow agitated, as I suspect any anthropomorphic body part would if it too spent hours each day stored under a desk while important tasks are carried out above. “Preposterous!” my legs exclaim. “You know full well just how relative of a term ‘important’ is. Just think of all the ‘important’ things I can do!” I try to explain the valid reasoning and necessity of sitting at my desk, forcefully adding, “This is not a democracy.” But legs chafe at such tyranny, it seems, and before I can muster the militia to quell the treasonous revolutionaries, I am unwillingly out of my seat, walking out of the building and into the great unknown.

I try to console myself, choosing in my mind some plausible destination that I will, in truth, never reach. I instead wander aimlessly, led by legs that weave from street to street on naught but a whim. But frightened I am not. Perhaps I was once, but the legs always grow tired or bored after a time, and order is restored once more.

I’ve come to cherish such walks, in a way, when my feet carry me unimpeded over the always-growing mountain of tasks to be completed and down into the deep, fertile valley of boundless thought. My mind wanders in such times of quiet solitude.

Some of my most inspired thoughts and ideas come to me as I walk, and in similar situations that leave the mind free while the body performs some thoughtless, rote act. These thoughts may meander toward the Cubs, but they just as likely will not. I have spent the last several days searching for words to fill the void in my head where the 2008 Cubs ought to be, and inspiration eludes me. But tonight, my legs stirred once again.

As I walk, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” plays in my head. It’d been lodged there, in my head, for a few weeks, but yesterday it suddenly broke free. Where before it was a soft buzz that occasionally floated through my mental chaff and into consciousness, “Blues” now plays endlessly, only dropping into the background, as if on some mental audio ducker setting, when I am distracted from it by thought or stimulation.

I’ll learn to work the saxophone
I’ll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

I walk, and I think. Why have I struggled so mightily to find words for the winningest team of my lifetime? I ask myself. It was pointed out to me last week that, largely, I only write posts of substance following a poor showing. That is, I thrive on the Cubs’ setbacks and, in turn, my own misery. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but it lands close to the heart of the matter. Have I become such a cynic that I cannot motivate myself to write anything positive, for fear that something dastardly is close behind to negate my enthusiasm, my hope, my carefully crafted words? Do I even have the capacity for optimism anymore?

The lake comes into sight. Perhaps my character has become irreparably flawed, I think, returning to my thoughts. Consider: Among Cub regulars, only Ryan Theriot (95) and Kosuke Fukudome (92) have OPS+ numbers under 100. Swap Mike Fontenot for Mark DeRosa at second, DeRosa for Fukudome, and put Jim Edmonds in center over Reed Johnson, and only Theriot has an OPS+ under 111. And that every starter in the Cubs’ playoff rotation recorded an ERA+ of at least 110. And that the bullpen, though a bit shaky at the lower rungs, is, among those due to throw the bulk of the innings, outstanding.

And I can muster nothing.

I’ve taken to appending “if they get there” to the end of all my statements regarding the Cubs and later playoff rounds, and it’s entirely indicative of the shell that surrounds me, deflecting unbridled passion and keeping me safe from its potential harm. Then something clicks. But is that shell, I ask silently, protecting or depriving?

Removing the scar tissue may leave me vulnerable, and may result in great emotional pain, but does not the chance at boundless ecstasy outweigh any cost? A life steeled against potential harm is steeled against both good and bad. What kind of life is worth living in anticipation of failure?

Maybe, I think, I can change. Maybe I can open myself to the world as never before, and leave both parties better for it.

You call me a fool
You say it’s a crazy scheme
This one’s for real
I already bought the dream

My feet slow to a stop. They’ve been carrying me along the lake. The sun has since set, but it is hardly dark. I look ahead, my gaze running parallel to the shore. Chicago, lit up in all its glory, dominates the view, and fireworks fly from Navy Pier into the night sky. I stand, and I watch. Minutes pass, and even as I turn toward home, I cannot tear my eyes away. Yes. Warmth fills me, despite the cold, and I smile.

This is the night
Of the expanding man
I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I’ll be what I want to be

Oct. 1, 2008 baseball cubs slicedlife sports

A Book Far From Closed

Holding baseball players to a higher moral standard is akin to, in Cub terms, expecting Kosuke Fukudome to win an MVP award with the Cubs. They are both ridiculous propositions that will ultimately leave you disappointed, should you foolishly believe in them.

JC Bradbury says it best:

Athletes and entertainers make horrible role models. This is not because this class of individuals are inherently bad, but that they are in the public spotlight for something other than their upstanding behavior. Therefore, it should not be surprising when they let us down in a way that many people around us do.

And yet, we are outraged when a baseball player violates the supposed sanctity of his sport and does what men have done and always will do — attempt to gain an upper hand on their competition through means fair and unfair, in the venues of business, sport or, at the most basic level, survival — as if their fame puts them above such petty human follies as cheating or poor decision making. These people are famous because they have extraordinary abilities — they can do things the average person cannot. If fame happens to coincide with virtue, then it is just that: happenstance. Neither one is a function of the other.

Steroid use, then, should come as no surprise, especially when the baseball world so blatantly turned a blind eye to the subject. Players are always looking for an edge, be it a result of diet, exercise or chemistry. Performance-enhancing drugs are a means to that end. That is not to say that all players are or were users — far from it — but that many turned to PEDs, as chronicled in the Mitchell Report, like many among the common folk turn to a new diet.

Famous athletes are, in general, no more immune to the allure of cheating than a student writing a paper. With steroids, the athletes, however, had only the associated health risks to worry about, if they were informed at all, before testing was instituted. Whereas penalties help to reinforce the moral judgment of the student, no such penalties burdened the ballplayer. A player can make a poor decision, just like a student — the difference is in the penalty, not superior morality.

Of course, just like that new fad diet, steroid and other modern-day PED use have a questionable impact on performance. Sabernomics has a large archive of material on the subject. How much of the performance gains are due to the rigorous training programs that so often accompany and are prescribed for steroid use?

But that is really beside the point. MLB is trying to wipe out a form of cheating, no matter the effectiveness of that form, acting shocked and ashamed that its players would stoop so low, forgetting its own failings. It’s a noble cause, to be sure, but with one fundamental problem: Identifying users. I’m no chemist, but surely it must be difficult to develop tests for drugs and masking agents known only to those who made them. The creators are always a step ahead — by the time a test is developed for one PED, another variant is already in production — as Game of Shadows makes clear. For all the rhetoric about the testing program being “flexible enough to employ best practices as they develop” (Mitchell Report, pg. 305), it’s unreasonable to expect MLB to root out PED use through tests alone. They may weed out the less-sophisticated juicers, but eradication will remain elusive.

Plans I’ve seen range from testing to education to player policing to Pigouvian taxes. I doubt education will be enough to stop the Quadruple-A players of the world from turning to steroids and PEDs in hopes of achieving their dreams of making it in the majors, and player policing would be disastrous. How long before it devolves into finger-pointing and unfounded claims based on grudges? I can only think of the potential for a devastating witch hunt. A Pigouvian tax, which would take money from users and distribute it to non-users, is again at the hands of testing. Unable to determine, beyond a doubt, who the users and non-users are, MLB could easily end up taking money from cheaters and handing it back to their undiscovered kin.


What people want is closure, to say definitively that the Steroid Era is over. It’s the same desire that drove so many up the wall after the Sopranos finale, the need to sit back and say, It’s over.

The whole thing is enough to make anyone’s head hurt, and it’s becoming increasingly possible that steroid use will not die out by MLB’s hand, but by the next big performance booster. Everyone must accept that, unless some clever and radical new mechanism is created and put in place, there will always be something out there, and there will always be players, like any average person, looking for a leg up.

Dec. 19, 2007 baseball sports

Tribune Executives Applaud Cubs' Poor Play

Calling Lou Piniella “the greatest manager this Earth has ever seen,” Tribune Co. executives praised the Chicago Cubs in a written statement for their foresight and lackluster performances during the first two games of the Cubs’ NLDS matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The statement, titled “Thank You, Lord, For Your Eternal Blessings And Lou Piniella,” was released on the Tribune Co. website late Friday night, and as a full-page letter in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune.

“We, the upper management at Tribune Co. who, in turn, represent the sentiments of everyone involved with our organization, would like to take a moment to thank the Chicago Cubs for being such a brilliant light amongst the dim-witted minds of traditional and lesser baseball men,” the statement reads. “Those foolish simpletons believe losing the first two games of a five-game series to be the worst possible scenario, a situation so dire as to quash the hopes of even the most faithful followers.”

“And we must admit, Lou and company, that at first we, too, were overwhelmed with grief and anger firmly aimed at your poor play. We asked ourselves, ‘Why should we be forsaken now? This season had been filled with so many blessings — chiefly among them the Milwaukee Brewers — why should they stop coming now, when we need them most?’

“But then, after a good night’s sleep and much thought, it occurred to us: This is Lou Piniella we’re dealing with, the man who took the Cubs from worst to first in a single year. Surely he must be planning something. And how right we were. We’ve finally unraveled your plot, a plan so dastardly that even we would never have dreamed it up!

“By losing the first two games of the series, you haven’t put yourself in the worst possible position, as the weak-minded fools would have you believe — in fact, you’ve put yourself in the best position possible! By losing two games in Arizona, you’ll now have to play two games at Wrigley, which means thousands of dollars, nay, millions, in extra revenue! Had you taken the easy path and won the first two, as a lesser team would, you would have only played one game at Wrigley, cutting the potential extra revenue in half!

“But you didn’t stop there. You’ve set yourself up for one of the greatest comebacks in history — from the brink of elimination to glory! Oh, the marketing goodness! Such a comeback would mean innumerable amounts of attention, which spreads the brand, raises TV ratings, sells more merchandise… Oh, we’re shaking with excitement! What a way to spend our last year as owner — with tons of money! And just imagine how much greater the second- and third-round comebacks will be. From three games down to victory, twice! Your names will surely be remembered for all time. Imagine the publicity, the euphoria, the MONEY!!!

“You truly are a brilliant bunch, and we all applaud your efforts. Lou, your legendary status as one of mankind’s greatest thinkers is all but attained. Now, with all of that meticulous planning and the first stage of implementation out of the way, all you’ve got to do is win. And that should be easy, almost too easy, in comparison.

“Right?”

Oct. 6, 2007 baseball cubs humor sports

Soto Writes to Piniella

TO: Mr. Lou Piniella
FROM: Geovany Soto
DATE: 9/14/2007
SUBJECT: On Playing Time, Common Sense, And My Right To Rule Behind The Plate

Mr. Piniella,

I know that I have hardly been with the club long enough for the casual fan to recognize my name, let alone recognize my abilities at and behind the plate. And for that I am deeply disappointed. Had I been heralded as the Chicago Cubs’ catcher of the future, as a prospect of a caliber above even that of the precious Felix Pie, I doubt I would have any cause to write to you today.

But that is the subject for another memo, for another of my superiors.

Instead, I implore you, Mr. Piniella: Right the wrongs committed by other, lesser men, whose eyes were blinded by foolishness, and anoint me, Geovany Soto, as the Cubs’ catcher of today and tomorrow.

By now, I would have thought that you, Mr. Piniella, would have realized your folly. I understand that, initially, you were apprehensive to give me, young and inexperienced in your eyes, playing time over veteran Jason Kendall, or even in place of that consummate professional, Henry Blanco. Believe me, I understand.

But I thought you would have moved past that phase. I thought that, once my world-class and PCL MVP-winning abilities became evident (and I believe they have), you would forgo any baseless prejudices and name me your starting catcher.

Or so I thought.

The numbers speak for themselves. Any person with access to the simplest of statistics could tell you that I am, by far, the worthiest choice. The more advanced the statistic, the more convincing the argument. As a man of great knowledge and reason, Mr. Piniella, you should have long ago realized that fact yourself, or had the wisdom to seek out those already enlightened. I do not mean to belittle you — that is far from my intention — but I am deeply disappointed that you would let a player with talents such as mine rot on the bench for days on end, all while the Cubs remain locked in a bitter struggle for first place. I ask what I do of you not simply for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Had I been playing in regularly this season, the Cubs’ magic number would have reached zero weeks ago. Of that I am certain.

Consider this, Mr. Piniella: During my earth-shattering, PCL MVP-winning 2007 season, I batted an astonishing .353/.424/.652 with 60 extra-base hits in only 110 games. While I was feasting like no other on minor league pitching — and while I have sat idly, talents wasted, in the major league dugout — my competitors have turned in pathetic performances on all counts. My PCL OPS was nearly two times the MLB OPS of Kendall in 2007, and that girly-man, hoping his bushy goatee will somehow make up for his all-too-apparent deficiencies as a man and ballplayer, could not throw out a base stealer even if he had a gun to his head, and the penalty for failure a messy, messy death. I, meanwhile, have thrown out a full third of all would-be base stealers.

And Henry Blanco hardly deserves a mention; the man is a broken down shell of his former self. How can one such as him even compare to the eternal greatness that is Geovany?

But wait, you say, let’s not compare apples to oranges here. Minor league numbers aren’t the same as major league numbers.

And you would be right; I knew you were a wise man, Mr. Piniella. But, to wit, examine these numbers: Jason Kendall has a paltry .215 EqA this season, and Henry Blanco sits at a disgusting .138.

But I, Mr. Piniella, finished the minor league season with a translated EqA of .299, which is better than any mark posted by a Cub on the major league roster with significant playing time.

In short, Mr. Piniella, you are leaving your best hitter, better even than your beloved Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, in the dugout. It makes me want to both weep and vomit.

But I know you are not one to speculate with “theoretical numbers” and “projections.” You want cold, hard results. And that, too, I understand.

So look no further than my major league statistics. You have only given me, unfortunately, 17 at-bats with the Cubs, but in those 17 at-bats I have hit .353/.450/.588 for an OPS+ of 163. There is no way around it, Mr. Piniella: I am the superior player, one who is tired of the ignorance of those who make the decisions.

I will have my rightful claim to the catching throne! Nobody will stop the almighty Geovany Soto! If you will not listen, Mr. Piniella, I urge you: Step aside, lest I am forced to take my wicked bat, forged in the deepest depths of Hell, to your head and reduce you to ash.

I hope that your sensible nature will prevent such an unfortunate incident from ever occurring, but be warned nonetheless.

Signed,
your catcher,

Geovany Soto

Sep. 14, 2007 baseball cubs sports

VROOM! VROOM! BZZZZZZ!

My body reacts pretty strongly to mosquito bites; I’m currently sporting bites on my legs that look more like welts—crimson-colored blotches each about the size of a dime. Not fun, especially since those cursed buggers seem to nail me every time I go outside in the evening.

But more importantly, the things itch like crazy! At times, I’m tempted to dash to the garage, grab a chainsaw, and methodically remove affected appendages. “HA!” I think to myself. “I’ll stop the itching and reduce my bodily surface area, making me less vulnerable to future attacks!” Oh, don’t worry—I always stop myself well short of the garage, but at times like those, it’s hard to convince myself that, really, the saw is NOT the best option.

I’ve also found that the Cubs induce just about the same reaction. I watch them get multiple guys on with less than two outs—and leave them stranded. Again. And again. And again.

And with the Cubs, I can’t just coat them in Cortaid like I do my legs. I can only sit and watch, irritated beyond belief. Trying times. Very trying.

But at least, despite all their recent struggles, the Cubs are still only a single game back. For now, I guess that will have to do.

Aug. 9, 2007 baseball cubs sports

Journey to the Deep

Creeping silently through a passageway, winding slowly downwards, that seemed to grow hotter with every step, the 2007 Chicago Cubs dripped with sweat—from the heat of their rapidly approaching destination—but shivered with enough fear to make blood run cold. Darkness, inky as the deepest depths of space and thick as fog, filled the hall like water fills the oceans; the flashlights that hours ago ceased spewing light had been discarded miles back. There was no comfort to be found.

Time bent. Hours faded into minutes, minutes into seconds. Light became nothing but a word and a vague memory. The 2007 Chicago Cubs trudged forward.

With a thud, the team was forced to a halt: The passageway had ended. The team searched the wall frantically for a door. A handle was found, and with the creaking of something ancient the door swung open.

A bright light pierced their eyes; the burning pain seared; men cried out. Slowly, the pain faded as eyes adjusted, and the team looked worriedly upon the waiting room. A single candle sat neatly on a simple wooden stool, yet the room, a giant cylinder, felt like a furnace. The team scanned left and right, but the room was empty save the flickering candle in the center.

“Is anybody there?” the team asked timidly as it moved into the room.

Silence.

“Can we get some water? Or at least a fan?” the team said.

Nothing.

“Sigh … all this way for nothing. Might as well head back.” The team turned to exit—and found only a wall, solid as rock. The door was gone.

“What the… Hey! What’s going on here?! We came all this way to die, cooked alive? We want some answers!”

Still nothing.

“Well, if we’re going to die, let’s at least die somewhat comfortably,” the team said as it walked over to the stool and reached out to move the candle.

But the moment the team touched the candle, the flame roared, shooting up tens of feet in the air like a fountain. The team was thrown backwards, from both the force and surprise. Peering up from the hard, hot ground, the team watched in utter amazement and horror, unable to look away, as the flame morphed into the shape of a man in brilliant shades of red, orange and spurts of blue.

The room grew hotter still, and the team could find no words.

“Why have you come here and disturbed my peace?” the flame-man bellowed after what seemed like, for the team, hours of silence. His voice was steeped with rage, and the spurts of blue grew larger.

“W-w-we n-need answers and g-guidance,” the team stuttered fearfully, eyes on the floor.

“HA! You must be desperate indeed to come here. Few even know of this place, and fewer still dare enter. Now, tell me: What drove you to the deepest depths of the earth and my domain?” said the flame-man, intrigued by the tired heap before him.

“W-we have lost one of our best men, and everyone is scuffling. We were doing so well… What is going wrong? What do we need to win?”

“It has been many, many years since someone last came to me, but I have waited, according to the agreement made ages ago,” the flame-man said as he sat down on the edge of the stool, which did not burn. “And I am not one to go back on my word. I will give you the answers you seek, as I have always done.

“There is but one price. One of you must stay behind, to do with as I please. It is all I ask.”

There was a long pause before a voice rose from the team, saying, “I vote Ronny.” Murmurs of agreement filled the room, and Ronny Cedeno, with a stunned look on his face, was deposited neatly in front of the flame-man.

“You have paid the price, and so shall you receive your answers,” the flame-man said. “Leave now, and when you reach the World Above you will find what it is you seek.”

The door had reappeared, and the team filed out, unsure of what it would find.

After what seemed like days, the team saw a light appear ahead—the outside world. It grew larger with each passing step, and before long the team broke into a sprint.

Sitting at the entrance to the long, dark passageway sat a plain package. The team quickly unwrapped it, hands shaking with excitement. Small enough to fit in a hand, it was held up for all to see.

And the players gazed upon it, and in doing so, gazed upon themselves.

Aug. 8, 2007 baseball cubs sports

A Modest Proposal to MLB: For Preventing Disparity and Eliminating the Abuse of Steroids in Baseball

Probability says that every major league team has the same chance to win the World Series: 1/30.

But history says otherwise.

Some teams have yet to win a title—like the 45-year-old Houston Astros—while others have not tasted glory in nearly a century. And though the days of the dynasty seem gone, parity remains elusive. The last time the Kansas City Royals, for instance, even qualified for the postseason was over 20 years ago; Milwaukee last played in October in 1982; and the former Montreal and current Washington franchise last saw the postseason in 1981. Five other teams have currently gone more than 10 seasons without a playoff appearance, and Baltimore and Tampa Bay have waited nine seasons.

One-third of all MLB teams have not been to the playoffs in nine or more years. Simply put, this utter lack of competitive balance is unacceptable. It is detrimental to the health of the game; it alienates fans; it shrinks revenue for non-playoff teams; and the longer this lack of parity continues, the harder it will be to overcome the perpetual deprivation of competitive balance.

There can be but one solution, then, a simple proposal that will bring not only parity, but also an end to the widespread drug abuse that has long plagued baseball, and the exploitation of youth across the globe, from Little League to the Dominican.

Advances in genetic engineering and cloning technology mean player homogeneity is closer than one might think. If each roster is filled with genetically identical players, with skill sets honed to specific positions, there can be no question of parity on each squad. Of course, some will inevitably be better than others—genetically identical does not equal physically or mentally identical—but mandated rosters of clones will nearly eliminate the type of talent hoarding seen in New York and other large-market cities.

But to prevent a crafty owner from exploiting the system and giving his team an inherent advantage by signing those clones that are inevitably better, every player will be assigned a rating, as assigned by a computer using a mathematical formula, and each rating will correspond to a specific salary. Free agency will be no more; contractual value will be handled systematically. Each team, then, will be allotted a set number of players at each rating, so as to prevent any one team from having too much talent.

Further, each clone will be in service only during his prime years; once one grows too old, a younger clone just entering his peak years will replace him. Minor leagues, then, become obsolete—new players will be handled by MLB’s cloning contractor—allowing teams to focus on the present state of their major league clubs and creating further parity. Dominican academies, a current source of talent for major leagues clubs, would become unnecessary, and the exploitation of young men that often results from them would be eradicated.

MLB’s steroid problem would be immediately eliminated as well, for each clone would be genetically designed to produce excess amounts of testosterone and other hormones vital to muscle growth, making steroids, like the minors, obsolete and irrelevant.

To create further competitive balance, all existing MLB ballparks should be replaced within the decade with indoor, climate-controlled, neutral parks devoid of any advantage to hitter, pitcher or fielder on either team. So as to not give preference to a “home” team, first at-bats will be determined by coin flip prior to the start of each game. Fans will be separated from the field by a transparent, soundproof barrier in order to prevent the crowd from influencing the outcome of the game in any way.

Strict rules for groundskeeping will also be implemented. No more than one rock or dirt particle exceeding two centimeters in size may be found within one square foot of dirt. Grass must be exactly seven centimeters high.

Only one model of bat may be used, and gloves will be standardized based on position. Balls will be used once and then discarded to prevent the introduction of any foreign substance.


Only with the strict implementation of these and other similar reforms can competitive balance truly exist. Only then will the probability of winning truly be 1/30. Only then will the critics who decry the dominance of a small group of teams be finally satisfied.

The result will be a bland game lacking in the personality and aesthetic beauty that fans want and love and, as far as I’m concerned, without that which makes the simple game of bat and ball “baseball.”

Mar. 18, 2007 baseball satire sports

Life, Baseball and Cynicism

I have a condition. If it has a medical name, I don’t know it, nor do I particularly care to. If gets the best of me sometimes, despite my honest attempts to ward it off.

It’s a malignant disease, really, spreading through mind and body a little bit more each year. Though it has been frequently beaten into remission, it always comes back stronger and faster than before.

I call it the fanatically abject syndrome, or fan’s disease for short.

Fan’s disease is a terrible affliction, and anyone who has been let down year after arduous year is at great risk. Whether from home, work, or play, disappointment is the leading cause, and few have not felt the disease’s wrath.

The disease strikes early, usually before the age of 10, when the harsh realities of the world first become evident and crush impossible hopes and dreams. The result is devastation, and fan’s disease firmly grabs hold.

But even after hope and faith are lost, the disease can still be beaten. Good fortune helps stave off the effects, if only for a short time. Joyous events like marriage and the birth of a child beat it into the deepest crevices of the mind, alongside things like birthdays, anniversaries and the collective works of James Joyce.

But fan’s disease can never truly be beaten, even by the greatest of accomplishments; it will always slowly creep back to drain the hope from your soul.

In late 2003, the disease within me was greatly diminished—maybe even close to final subversion, which remains ever elusive.

But then the NLCS happened.

Despair took hold. After so many years, to be so close, but turned away a mere arm’s reach from glory. 2004 rattled the ailment, but by season’s end it was back and unfazed.

It’s still something I struggle with today. I don’t aspire to be negative, but years of disappointment have left me jaded. Some of you took exception to my comments about Mark Prior, and thinking about them now, I wish I hadn’t written them. I’m a fan first and analyst second, and sometimes that fact, when amplified by cynicism, becomes terribly clear. I’ve grown frustrated with Prior, but now thinking with a far clearer and less reactionary mind, I’m not ready to give up hope.

So thanks for keeping my head held high where it belongs, not down in the muck that is fan’s disease.

After all, without a dream to chase, what’s the point of living?

Mar. 6, 2007 baseball cubs slicedlife sports

The Lament of Ron Santo

Committee, committee, committee,
I really should grab and then hit thee.
Oh, you snub me again:
Will the pain never end?
Five more and I’d truly be happy!

Feb. 27, 2007 baseball cubs limericks sports

Waiting for a Just Reward

I sit and wait—always waiting.

Oh, what did I do to deserve such a fate!?

12 … 11 … 10 …

The clock ticks.

9 … 8 … 7 …

I can feel it: The end is near! This tortuous ordeal will soon be nothing more than a specter of the past, a memory that will disappear into a deep abyss, gone forever.

6 … 5 … 4 …

Will it finally be my turn to leave this white, black and blue prison, this purgatory, a stale, stagnant place that threatens to drain the hope from my very soul?

3 … 2 … 1 …

I have waited long enough; I will be a slave to time no more. It is my time now to choose as I please, to ascend to greater things. Now I go!

0 … Click To Try Again … 30 …

I sob silently.

The waiting will go on. My grain of sand waits, packed tightly among others, for a trip to the Promised Land, waiting for what may never come.

29 … 28 … 27 …

Why does time mock me so? Does it lord itself over me for sport or out of sheer malice? In a way, the life of a Cub fan is encapsulated in this day: Waiting—for a win, for next year, for happiness.

26 … 25 … 24 …

My time will come, I suppose, and the reward will be all the sweeter, the land of milk and honey richer than any could ever envision.

23 … 22 … 21 …

How can a little box, a box I cannot even hold in my hand, be so cruel? Its feigned sincerity and petty excuses …

20 … 19 … 18 …

The prime games will quickly sell out, while I wait—always waiting—for the screen to change, to bestow its blessings on a kind and gentle man.

17 … 16 … 15 …

Until that time comes, I sit and stare, stuck between heaven and hell, in the Virtual Waiting Room.

14 … 13 … 12 …

I’ve waited for a championship my whole life.

11 … 10 … 9 …

Surely I can wait a few hours for tickets.

8 … 7 … 6 …

Maybe this time I’ll get through.

5 … 4 … 3 …

Just maybe.

2 … 1 … 0 …

And then:

Bliss.

A schedule appears before my eyes, 81 joyous possibilities that dazzle the mind and remind why I suffer through this every year. I can hardly contain myself—baseball is almost here!—and I am helpless no more. No computer or cruel browser window can hold me down, or shatter me like glass. I am in.

My time has come. Now, I wonder, will the Cubs’ come, too?

The choice is made, payment is sent, and then…

Welcome to the Chicago Cubs Virtual Waiting Room!

30 … 29 … 28 …

Again, I sit and wait—always waiting…

Feb. 23, 2007 baseball cubs sports