It’s a Brand New Me

Not exactly. But here are some changes I’ve made over the last several days:

One day I replaced one cup of coffee with a big glass of water. I was glad I did, but that particular change always results in the sudden need to, um, get out of the office ever 20 minutes or so. Still, it helped.
Another day’s change wasn’t especially good for me, as I think I pretty much decided to eat as much as I could every chance I got. Still, I was glad I did that, too.
I also started a new blog, one I had been putting off for years. Why I didn’t have a Cubs blog before now, I don’t know. But now I do. It’s called And Counting, and you can find it at countingonthecubs.blogspot.com
Then yesterday I slept for roughly 12 hours. Actually, I slept roughly for 12 hours, as the semi-hibernation was induced by migraines. But still, you can’t complain about 12 hours of sleep. Eat pizza, go to sleep, wake up and have breakfast? That’s change you can believe in.

A-Roid

At this point, no revelation in the Major League Baseball steroid scandal can come as a shock to anyone at all familiar with it. In fact, the parade of new names being linked to performance enhancing substances in sports has drawn on to the point of tedium.

So Sports Illustrated‘s breaking news about Alex Rodriguez testing positive for anabolic steroids and testosterone in 2003 (and this is breaking news . . . really?) has failed to unearth the foundations of my own personal grasp on reality. The guy used to be a bean pole, albeit a very talented one. Then he turned into a very talented hulking specimen of a man. Judging by the photos and the stats, it’s not at all difficult to believe A-Rod was on the juice. And Jose Canseco warned us it was so; we’d be fools to ignore his word.
Perhaps the biggest news of all in the report is the simple fact that the 2003 drug tests were supposed to be anonymous. That was the agreement between the players’ union and MLB–nobody gets named. It was a drug test test, supposedly. MLB wanted to gauge how many players were raging with ‘roids, and if it was more than 5% of guys on the major league level, both sides would agree to mandatory testing across the board.
But when federal investigators searched the lab containing the records, they were able to name names–this never should have happened. In a true anonymous test, there should be absolutely no record of whose sample is whose. Both MLB and the union should have insisted on providing their own clinicians to monitor the analysis to ensure accuracy and anonymity. They should have stipulated that the results of the tests be destroyed after a judgment was made on their results.
They should have, if they wanted to get away with their organized criminal fleecing of the sports world, been a little bit more organized in their crime.
Alas and alack, just like any crime movie worth its bloody betrayal scenes, the players, their trainers, and the owners and commissioner of Major League Baseball never really trusted each other enough to collude effectively on the steroid issue. They tried, though. 
As SI‘s story points out, Union chief Gene Orza allegedly tipped off A-Rod about upcoming steroid testing, just in time for him to get clean when it was his turn to step up to the cup during the 2004 for-real-this-time tests. And who tipped off the head of the players’ union? Only MLB people knew about it, so . . .
And the idea of anonymous testing in 2003, that was a brilliant bit of PR chicanery. “Hey, we’re working together to get a program in place . . . one that gives everybody one last chance to use substances that have been banned since 1991! Yay for us!”
Because let’s face it: the steroids era worked out for everybody for about 15 years. More homers. More fans. More money. Same primo level of zero accountability, as long as we stick together. They almost got away with making the public believe testing was serious while allowing it to continue (as long as you were a Messiah-level hero who, with a little chemical assistance, had the talent to rescue baseball from the anabolic mire, of course).
But they didn’t stay together. MLB had the testing done . . . nymously. Several people armed with either a conscience or a monetary motivation have leaked all kind of information: about Bonds’ grand jury testimony, about the NY Mets clubhouse, about A-Rod’s name being on this list of 104 players who tested positive in ’03, and about everyone Jose Canseco ever shared a stall with . . . the leakage goes on and on. Many people were smart enough to document their roles in the conspiracy that likely included everyone from the commissioner of baseball to the beat writers covering the Royals. There is a paper trail, a syringe trail, a urine-filled vial trail, that tells a story much more detailed than the Mitchell report. 
This is a Clint Eastwood film where no one is clean, but not everyone will bear the consequences. So why does this Cubs blogger care about it? Because it’s only a matter of time before some Cubbie names show up on someone’s records somewhere . . . probably starting with that list of 104 positive tests from 2003. The players’ names will continue to generate the buzz, distracting our attention from the really wicked ones who continue to get away with their sins.
The writers are the cowards . . . they’re about 10 years too late with this story that has been bulging for the taking, untouched for far too long. The government . . . idiots. They have allowed baseball and the sporting world in general a colossal free pass that has just pulverized the trust of fandom in general. And the owners . . . oh, the owners are the evil geniuses (comparatively) and Bud Selig is the mastermind. To hear him say it, MLB came down swiftly on the steroid issue the moment they first sniffed the clear on Barry Bonds’ breath. But I’d be shocked if he wasn’t pulling the strings of the entire operation a la Vince McMahon, the WWE CEO who practically forced his superstars to juice up–and got away with it, free, clear, and rich.
The only members of that group who could possibly redeem themselves are the writers. If they could somehow expose Bud Selig for who he is . . . if they could stop bowing down to his throne long enough to investigate his and the owners’ roles in allowing and even encouraging substance abuse . . . then I would forgive them. Then the Hall of Fame credentials they bestow on former players might have some meaning. Then, and only then, would I begin to trust a single word written or spoken by a Baseball Writer of America.
Maybe then, when baseball’s terrorists are brought to justice, I could begin to trust this game for the first time since I was a boy. 

Should the Cubs Add Some Pudge?


Over at the Cubscast message board, fan desperation has gotten to the point of debating light-hitting backup catchers. The Cubs let Hank White fly (along with this $3 million option el grande) and instead took a flyer on Paul Bako. Both catchers are now making $750,000 in one-year deals, Blanco signing with the Padres. Neither catcher is an accomplished hitter. Both are getting up there in age. Blanco is clearly the better defensive backstop. But all in all, neither one screams “difference maker” in what is already a backup role.

I agreed completely with Hendry’s decision to decline Henry Blanco’s option. In world of constricting financial belts and pending mega-franchise sales, every last million bucks is critical. But one story had me wondering if the Cubs didn’t jump the gun on signing Bako’s three-quarter million contract. 
Word on the Hot Stove Blvd. is that the Marlins are pondering a $1 million deal to Pudge Rodriguez. Florida, whose entire team payroll could barely pay Mark Texiera’s taxes, have a chance at landing a perennial all-star catcher (who is, admittedly, pretty much all out of ennials) for a cool million. But the Marlins have to turn over their couch cushions to see if they have the money. The Cubs, on the other hand, could snatch up Pudge in a move that, compared to the Bako signing, would be an absolute steal (and if Bako was behind the plate, there’s no risk of getting caught).
So why not? Why not make an attempt to sign his Pudgeness? Even if Hendry had to eat Bako’s contract (and, let’s face it, he could eat it for breakfast and still have room for crullers) the move would still be well worth it.
The Cons: His bat has slowed down, his arm is not the cannon it once was, and who knows when the after effects of ‘roids will do in his kidneys. Plus, he might not show the Cubs the same generosity that the Marlins could expect. And after this winter, wouldn’t you give someone a discount in exchange for 90-degree weather?
The Pros: Every aspect of his game is still twice as good as Bako’s (although Paul reportedly has impeccable kidneys, some insiders calling him a nephrological marvel, a true renal genius). Rodriguez admits he can’t play more than three or four times a week. 
I’ve weighed both sides, and while the cons win by word count, the pros take it in a landslide in terms of baseball sense. I would love having a backup that can actually hit and that could spell Geo on a more consistent basis down the stretch in a season. Make the move, Jim. To make the Bako contract easier to swallow, I will send you $5 myself. I know, generous. That’s how bad I want this championship.

February 6, 2009 question

Only Charles knew that Bill Gates was the source of yesterday’s inspiration. And for that, Charles wins an all expense paid trip to anywhere in the world . . . well, a virtual tour anyway. /inspiration.

Okay, on to today’s news, which includes a celebration of Pat Summitt’s 1,000th career coaching victory as head of the Tennessee Lady Vols. One thousand wins is a so amazing it’s a joke. It’s not the kind of thing that happens in real life college basketball, it’s something you could duplicate on the Easy level of a video game. But the gigantic 1K figure isn’t the most astounding part of what that woman has done as a head coach. The number that will make your jaw drop so low you could fit a basketball in there is this one:

186. That’s the number of times the Lady Vols have lost with Pat Summitt on the bench. Wins: 1,000. Losses: 186. That’s an 84% winning percentage. To put it in Vegas terms, if you bet against the Lady Vols, you are gonna lose. And if you bet on the Lady Vols, you’re not gonna make a lot of money. Congratulations, Ms. Summitt. You are ridiculous. Here’s today’s question:

What character did Bronson Pinchot breathe life into (over-the-top accent included) in the 1986 television sitcom, Perfect Strangers? (spelling counts: whoever comes closest wins it all)

February 5, 2009 question

I could tell you what the folks at theInternet.com gave as an answer to yesterday’s question, but it would pale in comparison to trivia’s resident expert in all things Russian, who for anonymity’s sake will remain nameless. Here’s what Elena had to say:

Sputnik simply means “satellite,” both man-made and “natural”—as in “The Moon is the sputnik of the Earth.”

But that’s not all. Outside of space travel, “sputnik” has a down-to-earth, everyday meaning of “co-traveler,” someone who is going on the same road with you side by side. “Put” in Russian means “road, way,” and the preposition “s” means “with.” The last name of Russia’s fearless leader, president turned prime-minister—Putin—has the same root.

You may have read from the early history of the Soviet Union, some writers, artists, musicians were denounced (some killed) as “poputchiks”—“fellow travelers” who just tagged along with the regime’s agenda, without showing due enthusiasm.

So, I gave credit to everybody whose answers fit somewhere into Encyclopedia Elena’s definition: Gopal, Karen H (the H stands for Half-Hearted Communist), and of course Elena. So here’s today’s question:

Who said this: “The market does not drive scientists, thinkers, or governments to do the right things. Only by paying attention and making people care can we make as much progress as we need to”?

February 4, 2009 question

“Let’s Stay Together” and Al Green sauntered past Don McLean on the charts back in the day, and here’s who knew: Kristin, Robbie, Julia, Maridee, and Kyle.

And speaking of old school R&B, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced yesterday the crowning achievement of the Iran space program, the deployment of Iran’s first satellite. U.S. intelligence officials were initially distressed about the development, believing the same technology used to deploy Omid (Farsi for hope) might later be used in an attempt to deploy nuclear or biological weapons. Further investigation, however, revealed that Iran’s claims were exaggerated.

They actually just acquired their first satellite TV deal at $9.99 a month* from Dish Network. According to one anonymous insider close to the negotiations, Ahmadinejad fumed, “The infidel dogs would not give me a digital converter coupon. Now they can eat the dust of my feet in HD, baby!”

Here’s today’s question:

What is the English translation of the Russian name, “Sputnik,” assigned to the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth?

Great Start

My change for today was to get to bed early. You see, at a quarter after midnight, I’m beginning to realize why they say it’s important to make your goals specific.

February 3, 2009 question

I apologize to all of you for wasting your time with the easiest question of all time. Yes. Al Gore said that. And no, he did not create the Internet, invent the Internet, or even use the Internet until 2005 (I have documented proof*). Everyone got this right, so I’ll give sole credit to Kristin who responded first and made me laugh.

In part due to my retroactive angst in remembering Al Gore’s most grandiose of claims, I got to thinking about global warming, and not just because of the foot and a half of lake-effect snow predicted to fall on me like so many pieces of crumbling sky. I was just wondering why this era of globalwarmophobia has coincided with the incomparable financial success of the major oil companies. The value of shares in Exxon Mobil seem to be directly related to the level of panic on the faces of Al** Gore and the Green*** Team. But I can’t figure out how carbon emission fears could drive up the price of fossil fuels. Is it possible that the oil companies were concerned about waning supplies, so they actually bought pseudo-scientific studies that would scare people into using less oil, so that they could, in turn, drill less and profit more? No. That’s silly. Here’s today’s question:

What song replaced Don McLean’s “American Pie” atop the U.S. pop charts on February 12, 1972?

*By “documented proof” I mean a sarcastic hunch.
**Big clue, part 1
***Big clue, part 2

Groundhog Day 2


Last Groundhog Day, I made a commitment for the month that I found far superior to any batch of New Year’s resolutions I had ever concocted. The plan was to make one change every day for the entire month. I didn’t commit to making the changes last. Some stuck. Some didn’t. But I pretty faithfully picked at least one thing every day to change.

I had no idea where the process would lead, but every step of the way was exhilirating. Not all the changes were earth-shattering. One day, I decided I needed to stretch in the morning to get the blood flowing. Another day I ate an apple instead of a cookie. Somewhere along the way I decided not to say anything negative about anybody. I took a break from the computer. Oh, yeah, and on one of the last days of the month, I resigned from my job of almost 10 years.
The more comfortable I became with change, the more I realized that big changes needed to happen. I loved it. It was amazing. It seriously changed my life.
But I gradually stopped making changes. And now I miss them. I miss the daily realization that something about me needs to change, at least until I make it all the way to perfect (which, Heather reminded me, will happen after I flatline).
And I can’t recommend anything with more sincerity and gusto. That’s right, long before Barack Obama made change fashionable, I got hooked on it myself for a whole month. Change, even for its own sake, is brilliant. Try it . . . for a change. Yes, I know that was cheesy. I’m okay with it.

February 2, 2009 question

Happy Groundhog Day, everybody. So much water cooler talk, so little energy. I watched the Super Bowl . . . ish. Saw a few ads. Missed the Boss. Loved the end of the game. Hated the refs. Amazed at how uncomfortable The Office can make me. Ready for baseball.

Now, on to The View. Guesses came from two main schools: those who think it’s new and those who think it’s been on for way too long . . . okay, maybe both those schools are in general agreement. But we had quite a few guesses from 1990 land and then another big batch from post 2000 ville. I was of the second school, thinking that this particular daytime talk show was one of the after effects of 9/11. But, alas, we can’t blame the terrorists for this one. Barbara and friends have been chatting it up since 1997. Nobody got it exactly right, but these three came within a year:

Kyle, Jacqueline, and Paul C (the C stands for Chatfest). Here’s today’s question, and let’s settle this once and for all:

Did Al Gore really tell Wolf Blitzer, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet”?