Matt Snyder over at AOL Fanhouse made an interesting point the other day. During their initial podcast, he (as their resident Cubs fan) was asked if the Cubs can get back into the NL Central race.
He noted that the question he was asked included the word "can", which he took to mean "is it possible"? Well, all you have to do is look to your right to see that, as of this morning, it says "2.5" for us under the "GB" column, and since this is July, and not September 30th, it is quite numerically possible for the Cubs to win the NL Central. So he said yes, they can. But then Matt continued to say that if the question he was posed was a bit different, if he had been asked "will they" instead of "can they", he would have said "no", because the Cubs have not at any point in this season resembled a champion in anything.
This is all I have ever said on here the past two months, that the Cubs I have been watching day in and day out lack fundamentals, can't hit worth a damn, the manager has been sitting on his hands, and appearing confused, and the GM keeps making excuses while picking up the dregs of the rest of the league. Most, if not nearly all of you, have taken offense to me saying the same thing Matt is, which has disappointed me greatly.
I would have expected a bit more respect for a guy who has been watching the Cubs for 40 years now, and at least knows good baseball from bad baseball, and the baseball I have seen so far in 2009 has been bad. Many of you have leaned on the "early" crutch, as in "it's early, we're only 2.5 games out, we can do it". And I said, yes, we can, but that doesn't mean we will, because I have seen no evidence that the Cubs possess the character to do so.
But, at least, most of you were decent enough to not make this a personal issue. While I shake my head sadly for all of you who come out here for another glass of Kool Aid, at least if you came here and said "I'm sick of hearing Rob complain, he bums me out," well, that's a valid opinion, and I have no right to tell you what to feel. Point taken.
But then there's others who have suggested that I kill myself.
Look, you miserable drops of monkeyjizz...it really isn't fair, first of all, to come after me like that. My hands are tied. We made a pact here on GROTA, some time ago, that we would not make personal attacks in public. Yes, last week, it got pretty damn personal around here, with some of us in one corner, and some in the other corner, but at least we were decent enough to e-mail each other to express our anger. We didn't fight it out here. We understand that there are real boundaries in the world. There is the world out here that you all see, there is the next lower level - e-mails, which is somewhat private, and at the same time, direct and, not anonymous. Then there is REAL life, where a man stands before another man, and names will never hurt me, but sticks and stones and fists and kicks can break my bones.
But,there were no suggestions I take my own life, just suggesting I walk away from blogging on here. So, e-mail was the appropriate avenue for such things. It was a way for us to air our grievances, without standing next to one another, where human nature might have caused one or the other of us to do something we might have regretted. We agreed to disagree, and I believe the worst is behind us.
Funny thing is, though, it all relates to the small minority of you who sit there in your safe anonymity, in your mom's basement or whatever, and suggest I hang myself. See, once upon a time, I had my own blog, and I made the mistake of expressing a few of my liberal viewpoints, which were followed by two separate, distinct threats on my life! I felt that the other day we were inadvertently going down a similar path, because God forbid you ever ever refer to race, creed, religion, gender, or orientation on the internets. Fact is, considering some people's recent suggestions, along with encountering some ACTUAL violence last weekend in Chicago - I've been spooked out lately. But, I did not do the best job of expressing my concerns, which led to our own little personal apocalypse.
But finally, with all the background out of the way, let's deal with my business now, shall we? I do not have the ability to fire back at you on a one-to-one basis out here, nor is this the place for it. This is a Cubs blog, and here we will talk about the Cubs, and only the Cubs. At the present moment, they have won three in a row, A-Ram comes back Monday, and Ryan Freel, Neal Cotts, and Aaron Miles are no longer taking up space in our clubhouse. Frankly, all of that isn't quite enough to change my mind personally, but Cubs stock hasn't been this high in a while, and hopefully July will turn out to be a big month for all of us, and we will cover it ALL in gory and graphic detail, right here on GROTA, with Series Previews, Game Casts, Game Recaps, and our own observations, as well as our continuing Cubs 101 series, brought to you by the fine folks at Coast-to-Coast Tickets.
So if you persist on making suggestions that I do harm to myself, I suggest that you do the manly thing, and e-mail me personally at email@example.com. Because I gotta tell you, I'm NOT going to kill myself. If you want me dead, you're gonna have to come out and do it for me. I'll tell you where and when to find me, and I'll be waiting for you, all 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds of me, along with transcripts of the e-mails, and a guy with a videocamera, so he can take all the footage of me beating the living piss out of you and post it on YouTube for the rest of us to laugh at. Because I'm totally sick of your s**t, and if you keep invading my boundaries, if you're gonna talk the talk, walk the walk.
Let's face it Cub's fans this season has been a disappointment thus far. There is a good chance the Cubs may need more than Aramis to get out of this funk. After last season, I thought the Cubs needed to add some pieces to prove they truly deserved the title of World Series contender.
Their most tradable player was Mark DeRosa. There was a huge belief that he peaked and it was very unlikely that he would not match last year's output. I agreed with that belief. A player who never hit more than 13 home runs in the season and before the age of 30 didn't hit double digit home runs in his career was probably would not to have season that matched '08. In hindsight, the reason why they traded DeRosa made some sense. The Cubbies also dumped Jason Marquis (somehow one of the leaders in wins.) Chicago was trying to gain the pieces to trade for Peavy. Given Zambrano's emotional and recent physical issues, it was understood that Hendry felt the Cubs needed a true ace.
Another incredibly more important issue Hendry had to answer was the Cubs need for another bat. His belief that the Cubs lineup was too right handed bought in Aaron Miles and the infamous Milton Bradley. Here is where things go really interested. In addition to these acquisitions, the Cubs let go of Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward, and Hank White. Jim Edmonds was crucial for the Cubs last season. He had two clutch home runs against his former team; the hated St. Louis Cardinals. He also brought a number of exciting catches with him. However, he was at the end of the road, and there was no way the Cubs were going to resign him. Daryle Ward had a number clutch hits, but Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox more than replaced him. Henry Blanco on the other hand was the only man in history who could pull of a feathered mullet and tattoos. He was Big Z’s countryman. He gave guidance to Carlos. Unfortunately, he would have asked more money than the Cubs were willing to give him.
Essentially, Milton Bradley or “board game was brought into replace DeRosa’s bat in the lineup. Ideally, Fontenot would have replaced Edmonds production. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Fontenot instead of living up to the nickname of “Little Babe Ruth” has turned into “Mini Mickey Morandini” (or Mini Morandini for short). Kosuke Fukudome was expected to be much better than last year. So far, his fall has come sooner than last season. Based on last season, Milton Bradley was a great acquisition. He put up great numbers in Texas. He lead the AL in on base percentage and OPS. He even lead the majors in OPS+ which takes ballpark into consideration. One problem with Bradley was that he played more than 120 games in season only twice in nine seasons. Everyone knew about Milton being a head case. This season has only given further proof of his jackassery. In Zambrano’s own words, Milton is the living embodiment of a “screw.” Worst of all, this season he really stinks. To put things in perspective, Scott Podsednik was taken off the trash heap and he has a higher batting average, more RBIs, and only two less home runs. This is while playing fewer games than “Board Game”. I realize this is beating a dead horse, but if he played better we would probably forgive his idiocy.
Now, it is unfair to blame all of the Cubs problems on Milton and Hendry, but they have to take a huge chunk of the blame. The assumption was that the combo Bradley and Fontenot would make up 40 home runs and 136 RBIs. Fukudome was asked to bat 40 points higher than last season and produce more runs. Neither of these has happened. In my opinion only Fukudome’s hitting was the only thing that could be expected. One can say that the loss of Aramis was huge. Yes, his injury was huge loss, but it did not cause Soto bat around .220, it didn’t cause Fontenot to resemble former Cub Mickey Morandini. Soriano is a hacker that rarely thinks about pitches, so how would Aramis’ presence made any difference in his performance?
At the beginning of the season, I felt the Cubs would win 88 games and win the division. Hendry really didn’t improve the team. In fact, the team has taken a step back talent wise.
Sure, Edmonds was old and on a downslide, but it would have made more sense to find someone who could play in right field who could replace his power numbers. Everyone and their dog knew there was no way the Cubs could do anything but continue to play Fukudome. They had no choice but to platoon him with Reed Johnson.
Last season, there were a number of wins by the Cubs where they had problems against the starter but were able to light up the other teams relievers. That is what we saw against the Indians. This season starters have gone further against the Cubs. This team needed another bat, not a replacement for DeRosa. If Bradley was supposed to be a left-handed replacement for DeRosa, then he was a clearly more expensive one. If they wanted another leftie in the lineup, they could have started Fontenot and still moved DeRosa to right field. That would have been a cheaper alternative for the same result. You don’t have to overburden your lineup with lefties if they are mediocre or bad. The Phillies’ lineup is an anomaly. There is no point trying to emulate the Philadelphia lineup. The Cubs were a good team. Still, I wanted to see the Cubs sign either Ibanez or Abreu(I was leaning towards Abreu). If Hendry had more patience, he would have be able to snag either for a decent cost, but here we are overpaying for crap the next few years.
The Good News
Randy Wells delivered 5 innings of scoreless baseball in his debut start. He managed to shake off 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 trailer-park skanks in the process (did I mention how much he looks like Kevin Federline?). Regrettably for him, the Cubs bullpen will not be mentioned under "The Good News" heading.
In a pinch hit appearance, Bobby Scales! collected his second ever major league hit - a triple. Considering all the hub-bub with the Rammy shoulder injury, the performance made by Scales today and in the near future might have a pretty big impact on the Cubs.
Milton Bradley went 1 for 4, raising his AVG to .150. (Pretty bad that a 1 for 4 day raises your batting average.) But the 1 was his 3rd homer as a Cub.
The Bad News
Angel Guzman and Aaron Heilman pitched 3 innings of relief and surrendered 3 earned runs in the process. I'm not too upset with Angel, who also struck out 4 and made one mistake, but Aaron Heilman walked Hart, advanced him to second with a wild pitch, and made it a moot point by surrendering a homer to Ryan Braun. Not a good night for Heilman.
The Ugly News
Aramis Ramirez, as you are already aware, dislocated his shoulder and may miss 4 to 6 weeks. I will remind you that last season the 97-win Cubs lost one of their best hitters for more than a month due to a broken hand and they still won 97 games. Just saying.
A-Ram's injury comes hot on the heels of the acquisition of Ryan Freel from Baltimore. Freel, as Rob eloquently noted, is really a guy you want on your team ... if you live in the year 2005. (In case you don't get it, that's a clever way of saying that he has lost some of his shine.) They amazingly acquired Freel for Joey Gathright, which makes no sense since Mr. G. was probably a week away from getting cut.
Freel is a guy who plays a lot of positions - he's logged more than 100 appearances (many of them starts) at second base, third base, center field, right field, and he's appeared in left field 75 times. When the 33-year-old is performing well, he's a patient-but-not-spectacular hitter who can steal a lot of bases. But with a career OPS of .731, he's the kind of guy who, like Theriot, bats leadoff or bats eighth and belongs nowhere in between.
With Ramirez missing a big chunk of time, this leaves the Cubs roster in a continued state of flux. Bobby Scales(!) was probably going to get demoted once Freel joined the team, but with Gathright gone and Ramirez hurt, Scales* will probably remain on the big league roster.
This leaves the Cubs still with their precious 7 man bullpen, and Wells pitched solidly enough to not only continue starting until Zambrano returns, but to be the first candidate to replace the inept Chad Fox at that point. Although, obviously, Wells will still have time to look like crap.
Anyway, I know that the natural reaction of any Cub fan is to immediately panic when something like this happens, but as I noted back in Spring Training the Cubs were built with depth this year. I'm not exactly challenging them to prove me right, but they could probably actually handle a few more injuries to their regulars before we should start getting nervous. But one thing this does mean is that there should now be slightly more pressure on the shoulders of Soto, Lee, and Bradley to start producing. If they can do that, then they'll be fine.
... a high blast, flying against the wind ... if it can just clear the wall in the outfield ...
... the ball is caught and a runner tags up. If the outfielder can just gun it to the infielder in time ...
Well, you get the point. It feels right now like the last two games have been won by inches. A few bad breaks, a few terrible calls, a few runs not scored and the Cubs could easily be 5-6 right now instead of 7-4. As a Cub fan living with perennial fear for my team, I can't help but worry about all these close calls. As a baseball fan watching a good team win close games, I can't help but be thrilled by the outcomes. It's a strange thing to be a Cub fan - I can't speak for you, but most of us are just a little crazy.
So what was the defining moment of tonight's game? Was it ...
- The bottom of the 3rd when, down 3-0, Kosuke Fukudome delivered again, this time an RBI double, keeping the Cubs offense alive in a game that could have fallen out of hand?
- How about the bottom of the 5th when, down 4-2, Derrek Lee hit a 2-run double that tied the game for the Cubs?
- Perhaps it was the 7th when, after Neal Cotts walked 2 men on 8 pitches, Carlos Marmol stepped in and ended the Cardinals threat briefly keeping the Cubs in front 5-4?
- It probably was not the 8th inning when Marmol returned to pitch again (against my wishes, curse you Lou) and surrendered two doubles before hitting Khalil Greene. Although Kevin Gregg stepping in and extinguishing the threat gives him back some of the closer cred that he lost in the first week of the season.
- The top of the 10th when Alfonso Soriano made a good catch and gunned out Chris Duncan at second base?
- The bottom of the 11th when Aramis Ramirez sent 'em all home with a walk off homerun.
I'll let you decide which moment was the most important. The easy answer is the A-Ram homer. The tougher one is that none of it would have happened if those players - Kosuke, Lee, Marmol, Gregg, Soriano, and the unmentioned Aaron Miles - hadn't delivered.
So, the Cubs won again. They've now won 2 of 3 and have the chance tomorrow to send St. Louis out of Chicago as sad participants. I predicted previously that Dempster would have a great game; man was I wrong. He wasn't particularly terrible but his output definitely would have fallen under the meh-diocre banner.
Tomorrow his left-handed partner in crime will try to finish the job. As I said before, baseball is a game of inches. The Cubs easily could be down 3 games to 0 right now. As exciting as these close wins have been, I'm a little tired of living with these retracted-from-fear testes and I hope they win tomorrow by a mile. It'll be Lilly v. Wellemeyer. It shouldn't be close. ...I hope.
Did you know: The Goat Riders of the Apocalypse sponsor Aramis Ramirez's baseball-reference page? It's true. Also true is that GROTA was recognized as one of the great Chicago Blogs (capital C capital B) by Chicago Magazine. It's true! I read it on Aramis Ramirez's baseball reference page!
Sure, you know all that. Everyone knows that. But do you know why we sponsor his page? Do you know why, given alllllllll the possible Cubs - past, present and future - we could sponsor (Les Lancaster, Frank Castillo, Sandy Martinez...the list goes on and on), we chose Aramis Ramirez? Do you?
It's because he rocks. It's because he's the answer to the question "who's finally filled Ron Santo's shoes (so to speak*)". It's because of his 36, 38, 31, 27, and 26 homer seasons since coming over to the Cubs. It's because he's finally learned to consistently take a walk. It's because his defense has gone from poor to decent to pretty damn good.
(* yes, I know he wears shoes. I'm not sure where I was going with that)
The people who used to bitch that he doesn't hustle? They're in someone's crawl space. The people who claimed that he's selfish? They'll trapped under a stack of Tribune articles revealing that Aramis took less money to stay with the Cubs. Those people are trapped and can't get to food and are really hungry and have to pee and it's really sad. Because they're going to have to pee on themselves. And maybe poo a little.
If only that had realized that Aramis is the best thing to happen to the Cubs since Slammin' Sammy and Kid K. He's Mister Consistency and Mister Spectacular all at once (and Mister Clutch. Don't forget about Mister Clutch). He's the true heart of the Cubs and Cub fans should be praising Hendry for bringing him over from his Pittsburgh Purgatory.
Because he rocks. Here's to more of the same in 2009.
On Saturday's I turn off my brain.
It's really the one day of the week where I (and I'm sure most of you) can just kick back and enter a Zen-like state of complete boredom and minimal brain activity. Plus some of us have to recover from all that "studying" we did on Friday night.
Hence, I decided to take a gander around the media horn for some Cubs stories to stimulate and entertain you instead of trying to come up with my own unique content.
Over at the Trib, Paul Sullivan enlightens us about the massive turnover of players on the Cubs roster since 2007. According to Sullivan, massive turnover is usually a sign of a struggling franchise, but the Cubs have won two division titles and 182 games over the last two season. The only players who were on the 2007 Opening Day roster that are still on the Cubs as of now are Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Dempster, Zambrano, Lilly and Theriot.
While I personally believe constantly changing your roster (especially one that works) can be a bit of gamble to team chemistry and creating consistency, I can't argue against its success so far. During the Dusty era, he collected a set of "his guys" (think Neifi Perez) that eventually contributed to his downfall. While Lou has earned the trust of many fans, I have to take all this turnover with a grain of salt. Messing with success is like playing with fire...or chainsaws...or chainsaws set on fire.
Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner can't let go of this whole Mark DeRosa thing.
I love when journalists try to recycle a story and present it as being timely. Sure, there's not a lot going on in Cubdom right now, but can we leave this DeRosa thing alone. He's gone. There is nothing we can do about. Some people are unhappy, some people aren't. Everyone has a way of dealing with it. Maybe Cubs fans can't let go of DeRosa, but you have to let go of this story otherwise people will keep talking about it. Do you see the monster you're creating Rozner?!?!?!
On a side note, I want to make mention of Rozner's claim that Aramis Ramirez is "fragile". When he wrote that it might have been a mistake to "give $75 million to someone (Ramirez) so fragile", I felt like someone was trying to get away with a claim without checking their facts. Since 2004 (his first full season with the Cubs), Ramirez has played 145, 123, 157, 132 and 149 games. As someone in the comment section mentions, that's a 141 games-per-season average, which adds up to Ramirez missing about 13 percent of every season since he's been with the Cubs. Go back even farther and you'll see that Ramirez hasn't played less than 123 games in a season since 2000 when he only played 73. Fragile? I think not.
Back to the Tribune where Phil Rogers is reporting that the Astros might be moving to sign Adam Dunn.
I'm not really sure why Rogers describes this potential move as a "sneak attack", but I personally think people are sleeping on the Astros with or without Dunn. There's been some talk around here about the Reds, Cards and Brewers as being the biggest competition to the Cubs in the division, but I'm actually worried about the Astros for some reason. They have a solid group of big hitters (Berkman, Lee, Tejada, Pence) and perhaps the best starter in the NLC with Oswalt. I'm not saying the Astros can pose a serious threat to the Cubs yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were the ones right behind the Cubs for most of the season.
I'm sure there's more Cubs-related stories out there, but these where just a few that I happened to stumble across this morning.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go clean up all those "soda" bottles in my living room.
Remember way, way back in 2008 when Aramis was the most hated man in America (as determined by a very specific demographic). Well...that demographic and this guy. And, of course, the San Diego Chicken:
Yeah, he has his enemies. But here at Goat Riders, we love our Aramis. We love the doubles and we love the clutch, the homers and the hustle.
Wait, what? Yeah, I said the hustle. I'm almost certain Aramis, once known as a dragger of pianos, has decided that hustling's in his best interest. Can I quantify that? No. But I can't quantify that Theriot's a Gold Glove shortstop either, and...um, nevermind.
Last year Aramis made a big leap in the one part of his game that had been fairly mediocre in the past. In 2008, Aramis bested his career high in walks by almost 50%, posting a .380 OBP. With this came a dip in power, so his OPS+ of 128 was slightly worse than in '07, but the progress is still pretty nice to see. Seeing Aramis put the two haves of his game together next year could be quite fun and we could be looking at a legitimate MVP candidate...assuming osteoporosis finally catches up to Pujols, of course. A bold prediction to make about a guy on the wrong side of 30, you say? Perhaps. But let me make this bold prediction:
16 hustle points
And he will save a kitten. From a dog.
And then feed it a chicken. A live chicken.
That's just what he does.
Aramis: cock fighting and ball smacking and your 2009 MVP. Book it.
I'm glad you're all reading, and talking. This is good. A good thing, man. But good lord, I read some things that I never thought I would see here.
Just for the record, I never played pro sports, no. I spent 8 years in organized baseball and 9 years in organized basketball. I earned three varsity letters in high school. Like someone said, that has jack to do with what the Sorianos and Theriots of the world deal with. But I also have several years of college education dealing with the motivations of humans to act the way they act. I also have undergone over a decade of intense psychotherapy, and have read with no exaggeration about half the books they have ever written on the subject. It's fascinating, really, to get to understand why people do what they do. Maybe you think I should have read the other half of the books - or maybe you think I shouldn't have cracked open even a single one of them crazy-assed things.
But maybe, just maybe, you ought to consider the fact that the guys wearing the laundry of your favorite team are just people, have good days and bad days, have egos, rub against each other mentally, and otherwise affect one another. Someone else said if they had won the whole magilla, there would have been leadership. True, we would have talked about it, but, Dude, sorry, it just don't happen that way. If there would have been leadership, they would have won. Stuff just don't happen for no reason. There is ALWAYS a reason why things happen. Like I said, your Manager is fine for regular season leadership, but when the pressure is the greatest, then you have to have active leaders, too. We were hoping that Ramirez was that man. So far, at least, he hasn't shown it in the postseason, and his statements of the past week do NOT lead us to think that IF he gets the chance in the NLDS again in 2009, that things will work any better than they did in 2007 or 2008. That was my point yesterday.
Anyway, another misconception I may (or may not) have caused is that I did not enjoy this season. I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed any season since 1984, how's that? What that means is, while I enjoyed 8-run comebacks against Colorado and pinch-hit bombs by the Fat Kangaroo like we all did, keep in mind that I tempered my enthusiasm against the notion that all of it meant nothing unless we won a pennant. I have written this column before - if you are a day-to-day kind of person, then the 2008 Cubs gave you more opportunities to cheer than most. But I'm not a day-to-day person, as you are about to see.
The biggest line of garbage from yesterday's comments, surprisingly, was NOT China's assertion that "we just lost six games to six very good pitchers". I had a problem with that, sure, but at least there is a grain of truth there...they were six decent pitchers we lost to. Otherwise they wouldn't be starting in the NLDS. No, the thing that is sticking in my craw now is the comment "All of this for 6 games? It's one week on the regular season schedule."
I'm hoping beyond hope that you meant to say something else, and it just came out wrong. God knows I do that all the time. So I'm giving you the benefit, friend. There's several ways we can interpret this particular comment, and the way I am interpreting it is "I enjoyed watching the 85 wins that we DID get last year, and the 97 wins we DID get this year, and this was just six games we lost. Every game is the same, to me".
Maybe I'm wrong. I HOPE I'M WRONG. I hope to gatdamn hell that isn't what you are saying. Because, come in close here, lemme tell you, come here...
PLAYOFF GAMES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REGULAR SEASON GAMES!!!!
I haven't named names, because I can't look into your heart and head and know for sure what you truly think. But just in case anybody actually AGREED with his/her particular sentiment, I am going to make this plainly clear to each and all of you. Here is the anthem, throw all your hands up, here is my manifesto:
If you truly believe that all games are created equal, that a 5-2 win in April against the Washington Nats brings you as much satisfaction than a win in the NLDS, that Jim Hendry, Randy Bush, Lou Pinella, Larry Rothschild, Alan Trammel, Gerald Perry, and the Cubs players are simply here to provide you entertainment on a day-to-day basis, that there isn't any master plan in place, no higher purpose to their efforts than just whether or not they can win on the day you come in or tune in...
...then I gotta tell you. You're NOT my friend, you're a freakin' mindless, drooling idiot who shouldn't be allowed to touch sharp objects. Your daddy shoulda wore a rubber. Your momma shoulda kept her damn legs closed. I will never buy you a beer, I will never ask you what time it is, and I don't want to share the same air you breathe. I don't want you reading this blog, and I don't want to have to deal with the inanity you might have to spew on the comments.
This is what Political Correctness has wrought. This is what happens when they abolished corporal punishment in the home as well as in the schools. This is what happens when all indiscretions are responded to by the "time out". This is what happens when they started letting kids hit off of a tee, letting coaches pitch to their own players during games, and stopped keeping score during games. A listless, namby-pamby psychologically fragile lot who are utterly incapable of keeping their eyes on the prize. A bunch of emotionally stunted consumers who only have the mental capactity to live for the now, and have no interest in tomorrow.
Go to BCB, go suck up to Al, go rub up against your own kind. The rest of us will stay here, and try to figure out how to fix this gatdamn thing.
You've got to give Rob credit. At a time when nobody really wants to think much about Cubs baseball, Rob was able to write an article that inflamed the Cub Fan Nation. And since content is king and it's easier than thinking of something on my own, I've decided to add a few thoughts to the debate.
First and foremost: no, Virginia, Aramis Ramirez is not a team leader, whatever that means.
Second: It would be nice to see Ramirez display some passion about winning. Don't get me wrong - I think everybody loves The Endorphin Rush of Victory, but I also think there are some players out there who gnaw their fingernails ragged because they're so anxious about winning. Sorry, but while they obviously all felt pressured to win, it doesn't seem that the Cubs have one of those guys on their team. That doesn't mean that I hate A-Ram, or want to see him traded - or punished - it's just that he's not that guy. Rob's article, in summary, is about just that.
Third: The Cubs haven't had that guy in a while. I think it's no coincidence that, in terms of field commanders, the team has been lacking of one since perhaps the 2003 season.
Fourth: Having a "field commander" does not necessarily equate to victory. Just ask Mark Grace.
Fifth: The concept of leadership in sports is misunderstood by the average jabrone such as myself.
I have to agree with Maddog about a few things. He's right - good teams get beat. There is no sure-fire formula toward winning a short series. The Cubs didn't lose because Aramis, or Lee, or anybody else lacks this special fire that we so desperately want to see. But I don't think Rob was saying that they lost because of it ... he's just disappointed that Ramirez doesn't seem to take losing personally, like some of us do.
So, what is the value of a team leader, then? What exactly does he do? What should we expect from him? How does he help win a short series?
The short answer is that teams that play loose play better. I don't think anybody would contest that the Cubs were playing the game tight. A team leader's job is one part keeping the team loose, two parts secretly battling an ulcer because he wants to win so badly himself, and seven parts swinging the bat moy clutch in big games and close situations. In other words, being the field captain carries an awful lot of responsibility.
Who knows if having that guy on the team would've made any difference? Being a leader doesn't mean you have these mystical powers to always get the big hit or win the close game. But having that guy around is important. The Cubs need that guy. Unfortunately, they aren't easily available. That doesn't mean the Cubs can't win, but when they do, it will be because somebody stepped up and played the hero.
Somebody probably won't be Aramis. Or Derrek. But both Ramirez and Lee are important, both will have to play well, and the entire team will have to get used to playing under a microscope and winning in spite of the scrutiny.
or: No Women Were Harmed in the Creation of this Post
It takes a lot to get me to stand aside long-time Sun-Times sportswriter Carol Slezak. Most days, when she isn't whining about how hard it is to live in Wrigleyville because, you know, there's so damn many Wrigley Field patrons some days, she is on her usual soapbox about gender inequity in sports. If I had a chance to ask her one question, it would be: "Carol, are you really a FemiNazi, or does the paper force you into it?" It really could go either way, except you do have to take into account the fact that, yeah, she once (and still might) lived in Wrigleyville and she's not a Cubs fan. I mean, for the rents and the crowds and the Trixie/Chad factor, I wouldn't live there unless I was a) a Cubs fan, or b) a patron of the lively independent art scene.
How's THAT for an euphenism?
Anyway, today she chose to address the response A-Ram gave when he surprisingly won the Hammerin' Hank award, or whatever it was called. (BTW: the award is of such little consequence that the process behind it isn't worth discussing). And, today, Carol was Right. She couldn't have been more right. I'm just taking her premise today a bit further.
See, A-Ram was asked the inevitable question, considering he was being honored for his hitting prowess, whether his sucktastic hitting performance was to blame for the cleen sweep in the playoffs. He did stand up and answer the question. In and of itself, his answer was well-reasoned, articulate, and logically correct. No, he stated, he was not to blame for the loss, any more than Soriano, Dempster, Marmol, et. al. It was a team loss, reasoned Mr. Ramirez, and indeed it was. If he was running for Mayor, or examining for the Bar, I would be inclined to have him continue with his line of reasoning. In otherwords, no, in samewords, his answer was very reasonable.
But it ain't what Carol wanted to hear, and I agree. It isn't what I want to hear out of him, either.
Our team is staffed with a lot of talented guys who, unlike years past, understand situational baseball and are not utterly consumed with their own stats. This is wonderful, well and good. Gone are the Sosas and Farnsworths and Trachsels and Barretts and Neifi! Dusty Baker is running another team into the ground. Sarge is where he belongs, away from us.
This is what we all must consider when we discuss Jim Hendry and the job he has done. Sure, we haven't won anything of consequence yet, and the farm system is pretty meager, even though we haven't self-depleted it as trade bait like a lot of big-market clubs tend to do. Sure, we aren't there yet, but take a minute and think back to, say 1999, or even 2005, and think of the last time you were watching us and really, truly wanted to pull your hair out (Game 2 excepted)? Most of the pieces are pretty much in place.
But we all know there's something missing - if your gut doesn't tell you that, then maybe the results do. But I've been loving reading some people's reasoning behind the consecutive failures - and by 'some people', I mean the Cubs Braintrust. "We lacked a lefthanded hitting presence. We didn't see a left-handed pitcher in three games. That's why we need lefties with punch." Uh, oookay. Don't I recall, just last year, that even though we were a stacked righthanded lineup, that Lefties Shut Us Down? So why is it such a bad thing that we didn't face any this year? "We hit lefties better this year!" As we should. But as it turns out, our LHP-RHP splits aren't gigantic. Makes me think that whole line of reasoning is a reach.
We all know that the most feasible route to address issues is to find new players. Fine, so we construct our thoughts in that manner, and in an attempt to be the most impactful, we tend to specify by naming names. "We need a Leadoff Hitter like Brian Roberts," you surmise, or "We need a Front of the Rotation Starter like Jake Peavy". That might be a bit simplistic though. What we're missing, regardless of what number he has on his back or what glove he uses, is an Alpha Dog. A Field Leader. Our Leader is the fat old guy wearing #41, sitting on the bench, making water commercials. And, that's not so bad, and in the regular season, as we've seen, it tends to work more often than not.
And forgive us all for not knowing this beforehand, because damn, we've hadn't much experience with this kind of thing. In a 162-game season, the guy in the dugout Can Lead. But in a Best-Of short series, the guy standing on the top stoop isn't able to react quickly enough to exert his will, in an attempt to stem the tide. Maybe Game 1, 4th inning, when Dempster was getting his nutts squeezed by the home plate umpire before he served up the four-ply tissue to James Loney, maybe Lou shoulda went out there, Representin' Tha Cubbz, protecting his pitcher and tore a new poophole into the guy. But he didn't, because the New Lou doesn't Do That anymore. He hasn't had to - why start in Game 163?
Well, Lou, we don't have any other leaders on the team, so you're as close as it gets. So, do I blame Lou for not arguing the calls in Game 1? (Yes, but...) No, he shouldn't have to start a melee to pump his club up. If they can't rise to the challenge themselves, they're doomed. And doomed they were.
We have no on-field leaders. The closest thing we have is our oft-injured phenom-turned-closer. Since he only plays one inning, and that's only if we have a lead, Kerry Wood is pretty ineffective in the role. The next closest thing is our second baseman, who, face it, is no superstar. Mark DeRosa was brought in to provide roster flexibility, not leadership.
Is that Hendry's fault? In one hand, no. He's paid 4 of his players Superstar Money, any and all of which should be accompanied by Superstar Leadership Performance. But on the other hand, he's picked the wrong 4 guys, it seems. We've discussed the quiet, gentlemanly Derrek Lee, and the quirky Alfonso Soriano already. The third guy is Carlos Zambrano, of course, who seems to be losing the War between "Fiery Force of Nature" and "Batshit Crazy".
Our last, great hope was Ramirez, and based on his regular season performances since joining us, he is our best hope. He is our best clutch hitter. Hell, he is our best hitter. He has overcome his lazy reputation and his tendency towards malingering injuries. He comes to play every day, and he has nearly climbed to the summit of his game.
He just seems to poop himself on the big stage.
So we finally get to where Carol comes in. Once again, ARam's response was reasonable. It was a team loss, everyone shares blame. It was a nice answer that would have went over just fine if it had come out of, say, Lou's mouth. Or Theriot's. Or Marmol's. But not from the guy who is as close to a superstar and a leader that we have on the team. That's what Title IX Carol and I think.
As irrational as it sounds, it would have went over better if he HAD taken the lion's share of the blame. We want our superstars to take losses personally. We want him to internalize. We want this thing to eat at him every day between now and next April. We want to believe that, as he spends his entire winter in the Dominican, devoted to his cocks, that every time he watches his kids dive into the pool, or watches his chicken peck the other chicken into submission, or watches his wife lie down in their sweaty, mosquito-netted love nest, that he sees his distant cousin Manny running around the bases like a silly-ass preschooler with his arms out at his sides like an airplane, making humming pb-b-b-b noises with his mouth, his greezy-ass dreadlocks slapping against his neck as he's taking food out of our mouths and the very Blood of Life out of our hearts!
Maybe you don't have to SOUND like a leader to be a leader, but I doubt it. So whatever Hendry does this winter, if he can ever buy, trade, or develop that big stud hoss with the red ass who hates losing and isn't gonna tolerate it anymore from himself or any of his men, now is the time to do it. Maybe Geo Soto is gonna be the guy, but naaaah...he looks too much like Rico freakin' Suave to ever pull it off...