Category Archives: Chicago cubs

WINNER TAKES ALL? – I DON’T THINK SO

I often think that “winning  it all” is overrated in professional sportsimages-1 today. Like many of you perhaps, I am aware of the Vince Lombardi and Leo Durocher’s of the sports world, but really – is Winning (with a capital W)  all that necessary? 

When, for example, we gather our kids together to start Little League baseball…..what do we say to them?  We (hopefully) say – “Go out there and have a good time and just try your best”. Simple. We cheer their victories and console their losses by often pointing out what they did right during the game.

Why does this all of a sudden get lost when things turn to professional sports? Do we say – Hey, they’re getting paid all this money and they’d better win! No, that is missing the point. These players are being paid to entertain us in the same way that Paul McCartney or Taylor Swift is paid for delivering a concert for our enjoyment.

Would you say, for example, that the Pittsburgh Pirates images-3were not “winners” this past season – when they finished with the second highest win total in the Majors? How about the Cubs……are they Losers too? images-2Not to mention the poor Mets who ran headlong into a perfectly synced team in the Royals. And the list goes on……the Yankees exceeded all expectations. The Rangers, the Astros…….what can be said of them? Did their season mean nothing?

I kind of get it in football because they have such a short season and virtually every game played is do or die. But even there, it’s entertainment pure and simple. Well maybe not so pure given the propensity for NFL  players to be arrested for everything from murder to wife beating……but still if the Jets could beat the Patriots just once…..that alone should give every Jet fan a thrill and a moment to enjoy – in the same way every Met fan should tip their hat to “their” team and say “Thank you, job well done”.

FINALLY – NEW BASEBALL DYNASTIES ON THE HORIZON

We all have our favorite teams and players to root for. More than likely, we will continue to do so. But as genuine fans of baseball, we also need to acknowledge a changing of the guard and welcome new teams (potentially) into the fold as Baseball Dynasties. 

While we have witnessed the amazing run of the Yankees images-14in the late Nineties and early 2000’s, they have diminished in recent years to a shell of what they once were (and I say that as a fan of the team). Same with the Braves who put together a incredible string of Playoff appearances under Bobby Cox. The Giants and Cardinals are a close call in terms of a dynasty, but have fallen short of being able to put together a string of any kind.

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AMAZING NO MORE – THEY’RE JUST GOOD

photo_stengelIn the infancy of the New York Mets in 1962, Casey Stengel christened the team he managed as the “Amazing Mets”. And as only he could, he walked and clowned their way through one hundred losses that year. The city of New York could hardly care – National League Baseball was back!

Seven years later, the Mets would capture their first World Championship. Their next World Series title would not come for nearly two decades. What followed was a history most Met fans would like to forget. There was a ownership struggling with financial issues related to Bernie Madoff, ill fated and costly free agent signings, and general disarray along with ineptitude from the top down. When (Met fans rightfully asked) would they ever get it right?

Although he is locked away as a memory now, it was Omar Minaya, the team’s General Manager prior to current GM Sandy Alderson, who quietly began the process of signing images-38and cultivating a string of young and talented arms. Alderson followed up by refusing to deal any of these pitchers, even when the volume of dissent in the media was loudest. Similar to completing a jigsaw puzzle, Alderson brought the final pieces in giving the team the look and feel we see on the field today. Continue reading

THE OTHERS HAVE IT…….THE BLUE JAYS DON’T

What is the one thing that you never hear anyone saying about the Toronto Blue Jays? It’s not their awesome lineup…..we hear plenty about that. It’s also not their lack of star power……they have plenty of that too with Bautista, Price, Tulowitski, and Encarnation. It’s not any of that. What you never hear anyone say about the Blue Jays is that they are a closely knit team. And you never hear about it because they simply don’t have one (not yet anyway).

You might recall that the Jays played a rather dismal first half of the season. Far into July, they were as many as seven games behind the Yankees. The wind had yet to catch their sails and it didn’t look like they were capable of creating a small draft themselves. Then ownership stepped in with an open checkbook and the willingness to give the team a makeover at the expense of their farm system. In came Tulo and Price and off they went as the Yankees couldn’t seem to run fast enough to get out of their way.

To be fair, often a team with a bunch of All Stars with $20 million + in yearly salaries finds it a challenge to blend together as a team. It’s also true that they haven’t been playing together as a unit for very long either.

Still, the Cubs, Royals, and Mets are clearly solidified as teams who work together to achieve a common goal. For the Royals, this is their second year with the same group of guys. In the crunch of the playoffs, good teams play with a bounce in their step. They scrounge for runs. They move runners over. They throw strikes. Toronto had none of this last night. It looks like it’s home run or bust. 

I’m not saying that the Blue Jays can’t  or won’t take it all the way. They could easily hit ten home runs over the next two games. But one thing you will not see is their team playing small ball – sometimes called Playoff Baseball. The players will always say it’s just another game we’re playing. But, it’s a different style of play that wins games at this point in the year. Good “teams” know that.

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IN A PERFECT WORLD – METS VS CUBS NLCS

Nothing could be better for baseball and especially fans of baseball thanimages-1 to have the Mets matched images-2up with the Cubs for the National League Championship Series. Of course, the Dodgers will have a say tonight  in whether or not that happens, but wouldn’t it be fun if it did?

We’d have two of the most rabid fan based cities going head to head with frenzied crowds in the stands every night with the National TV lights shining on them. images-38We’d have youth on both sides hungry for their first taste of team presence and victory. We’d have games played at reasonable hoursj where fans could watch and still get up to go to work the next day. We’d have the home grown talent of the Mets pitching staff facing the home grown hitting talent of the Cubs. We’d have the ghosts of Ralph Liner in the TV booth and Harry Caray in the radio booth……..

In short, it would be a baseball moment made in heaven. Greinke vs DeGrom…….that’s not so bad either. We’ll see how it plays out in just a few hours……

CENTER STAGE TODAY – THE CUBS AND WRIGLEY FIELD

With no disrespect to the New York Mets and what promises to be an electric Citi Field,  the centerj of the baseball universe today has to be Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs. Opened in 1914, this venue (along with Fenway Park and the old Yankee Stadium) stands as a Mecca for baseball fans – including myself in 2009 – across America. Even today, after the “lights came on” few years ago, a Friday afternoon game at Wrigley is reason to leave work early and bask in the bleachers Sun on Addison Street.

For Cubs fans, today is also a day to bask in the setting sun of a 96 game winning season (the third best in baseball) and to welcome home a team that carries with them a hope and a prayer that this just might be the season when all doubts spanning numerous decades are cast aside – and a long awaited Championship comes to the Southside of Chicago.

Excitement and drama of this kind draws itself from a long history that dates back to 1876 when the Cubs became an original franchise of the National League. Interestingly, they were known in those days as the Chicago White Stockings (not to be confused with the White Sox), not taking the name of the Cubs until 1902. And yes, the last World Series won by the Cubs was in 1945 – a drought long enough to span the years of the team’s oldest fans.

But today, all that changes or it at least moves to the back of everyone’s mind as Jake Arietta takes the ball  to face the St. Louis Cardinals, a team much different from the Cubs. For while the Cubs field a team stacked with very young home grown talent, the Cardinals present a team of veterans who have a storied history behind them with the second most Championships (only the Yankees have more) to face the hottest pitcher in baseball today. 

It doesn’t get better than this. The steel beams erected more than a century ago will be rocking and shaking at Wrigley today. You couldn’t tell a better baseball story than the the one being played out in Chicago this afternoon.

 

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MLB – YOU SUCK! (MY ONETIME RANT)

I don’t like to whine when I do this, but I’m sitting on my back deck in Catskill N.Y. The temperature is 57 degrees and AccuWeather says the wind chill is about the same. Trust me, it’s not. The East Coast is always damp at this time of the year and the chill as they say here “goes right through you”. Meanwhile……..

2015 Major League Baseball Playoffs begin this Tuesday, October 6, and will conclude 6a00d8341c630a53ef010535c99713970c-800wiNovember 4th if the World Series goes seven games around the same time as the NFL season is beyond its half way point. If any of the East Coast teams venture forward in the Playoffs (Toronto excepted because they have a domed venue), it’s likely – again- that we won’t be seeing the best of the best able to perform at their best because pitchers will be struggling to get a firm grip on the ball especially for breaking balls, while hitters will be praying to God they don’t hit one off the end of the bat that numbs their hands and arms for a few minutes or so.

This is supposed to be the Fall Classic, but it’s not. It turns instead to a grind to watch (much less attend) these games. They start late and end the next working day past or close to midnight – forget the kids – the future fans of tomorrow – it’s the television ratings that matter.

The owners insist on a prolonged 162 game schedule – over six months – which I don’t mind because I can’t get enough baseball – and I get it – COLD-BASEBALLthe East Coast is not the center of the universe anymore – but isn’t it time to reduce the schedule back to where it was at 154 games? Sometimes, less is more. And if the almighty dollar rules baseball, as it does the NFL, then maybe this should be a chance (fat chance maybe) for the owners to step up and demonstrate that they mean what they say……….that it’s really all about the fans. I’d like to go to the Yankees one game playoff….I’m a fan…..but there’s no way I’m going to sit there and freeze my butt off. Don’t believe me?……watch on TV how many empty seats the fat cats leave empty…..

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. I promise I won’t do this again. 
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MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL – WHO’S THE MOST INTERESTING OF THEM ALL?

As we come down the stretch to close the 2015 regular season, let’s begin to take a closer look at the probable playoff teams entering the crapshoot ( I say crapshoot because I’m still not convinced that the best team always wins in a shortened format……but it is what it is so let’s get started……..

There are a few teams that I would dismiss from the category of “interesting ” imagesmerely because they landed where they were predicted to land……. at the top. These would include teams like the Cardinals who seem to have a endless supply of young talent within their farm system coupled with a good mix of veterans, the Dodgers ( God help Don Mattingly if he couldn’t win a Division with $300 million, and even the Blue Jays who, with the acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, were (remember) the pre season favorites. 

Then, we move into that middle category of “they should but  we see reasons images-3why maybe they won’t”.  This would include teams like the Pirates and the Royals. Both teams are going in but they haven’t been as explosive as they were predicted to be. And, both teams are sputtering to the end of the season and that alone makes them interesting. Remember, both teams came in “hot” last year. 

In a kind of limbo, I put the New York Yankees. This is a team that was notimages-13 projected to be here…..and yet they are. With a mix of veterans contributing and a splash of home grown talent like Greg Bird, plus the flexible and effective use of a excellent bullpen by Joe Girardi, they’ve survived. And that alone can be a forerunner of a team to watch.

Finally, we get to the teams who were categorized as ” not quite ready for prime time” but on the way up….. and yet here they are poised to make an impact on the Playoff Season. That would be the Mets, Cubs, and Astrosimages-16 (if they hang in there).  The Mets had a awful first half but Sandy Alderson put together some key moves that solidified a Division title thanks to the hapless Nationals. They have the “right stuff” in the clubhouse and a manager who has the respect and attention of his players. It’s a recipe for….”Watch out for these guys”.

The Chicago Cubs images-3have waited so long……and finally the day is here. Like the Astros, it could have been a “wait till next year” result with their stockpiled farm system. Instead, they are locked and loaded with power and decent pitching plus a fan base that is liable to explode if they can get beyond the one game playoff.

On paper, the Astros appear to have nothing except a brilliant starting logo4pitcher in Keutchel and  a true All Star in Jose Altuve. Yet, they led the AL West for most of the season with a zillion come from behind victories. Who would have thought in the beginning of this season……….but here they are as this year’s sort of “Wild Card” in the playoffs.

You pick ‘ em…….I’ll pick ‘ em……Vegas will pick ‘ em…..the so called experts will pick ’em……..but you know what……as Yogi Berra said….”It ain’t over till it’s over”. Only then will we know who’s got the right stuff in 2015 and who doesn’t.

THE 163rd GAME – BASEBALL’S CRAPSHOOTI

In less than a month, after concluding a six month 162 game season, four teams will take the field for the 163rd time. Two of those teams will be heading home – their season over a mere three hours later. For the other two teams, they’ll be boarding a plane to the next city to meet one of the Division winners in a best of five series away from their home field. One game decides their season – sudden death as they say in the NFL – do or die. 

This may work for the average fan and it’s destined to be a ratings bonanza for the television networks……….But is it really good for baseball?

If the regular season ended today, the Texas Rangers would visit Yankee Stadiumimages-4
images-14 to play the Yankees. Cole Hamels would be the “no brainer” starter for the Rangers. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi will have to choose between Tanaka (a proven big game winner in Japan ) and Evaldi, a fourteen game winner so far, but with a somewhat bloated over four ERA. No matter, for both teams it’s a crapshoot.

Meanwhile, over in the National League the Pirates would fly to Chicagoimages-2images-3 to face the Cubs. In this matchup, the Cubbies winter addition of Jon Lester – the man hired to put them over the top- would be tested as he will be pitted against the ace of the Pirates staff – Garrett Cole. A suspense driven game to be sure…….but consider this…….

If not for the greed of owners and baseball itself, there are better ways to end a six month season. However, it would involve shortening the season to (perhaps) 154 games. This would allow for a two of three series to decide which of the wild-card teams move on.

The loss of revenue for those eight games – but really only four home games for each team – is easily offset or at least reduced by the addition images-31of two extra games for the TV networks to fight over. But the real bonus is that baseball will revert back to their original 154 game schedule and there would no longer be a need to argue about whether Roger Maris really broke the Babe’s record in the coming years. The asterisk would be gone.

Rob Manfred  (upper right) has a vision for baseball. His agenda should include adding a new format to the playoff schedule. Owners will resist but fans will rejoice…….and isn’t that what it’s supposed to be all about……the Fans…..or am I mistaken in that?

BASEBALL AND THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL RACE

When you think about it, there are a host of parallels between teams in the race for a World Series title this year and the announced candidatesimages-13images for the 2016 Presidential Race to win the White House.

There’s Hillary Clinton and the New York Yankees. Each has a veteran battle tested team of players along with the ability to make last minute moves by tapping into what seemingly is a endless supply of cash. Each can afford to just play decent ball while the other contenders knock each other out of the race.while they sit calmly on the side. Follow the prescribed message…..say little….do little…even though there are holes in the bottom of their “lineup”…… It may be the only chance they have……

Then there’s Donald Trump and the Houston Astros. Both come out of the box  strong. 150px-Houston-Astros-Logo.svgimages-1All the talk is about them being the surprise and upset team of the season. But the question is……do they have the staying power to not only compete – but to win it all………….the feeling here is that both will fall and fall hard very soon as the “establishment” competition (read Angels and any other Republican candidate) brings them back to reality.

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There’s also  Jeb Bush and the San Francisco Giants.images Each comes from a pedigree of recent winning teams and instant name recognition. But except for fans in their own camp, maybe people are looking for a a real change and their chances of a repeat are slim to none.

And finally, images-2images-3we have the hapless Mike Huckabee and Chicago Cubs. It’s hard to find two perennial losers like these two but here we go again with promises of a “new beginning” and better things to come. So far, not so much…….for the Cubbies there will be next year but for Huckabee there’s only a chance of seeing him again as a (predictable) commentator on CNN or FOX.

So who are the winners and who will be the losers? Therein lies the mystery and intrigue of both baseball and politics. You never know when someone will catch lightning in a bottle and win the grand prize like the Royals last year or Obama in 2008. Let’s just see how it plays out……and remember……cream always rises to the top.