Acceptance

The 2009 dream is over. Thankfully, we still have games to watch. But it’s time to face facts. There will be at least 102 years between Cubs World Series Championships.

The standard denial is to lower that number by one. It comes with the silly notion that a championship lasts for a year. Sorry. The sad truth of the Holy Grail for which all Cub fans pine is that a World Series victory is locked inside an instant. As the old French ballad goes, “Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment / Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.” For you who don’t parlez Français, it means the pleasure of a World Series lasts for but a moment, but the pain it causes lasts your whole damn life.

The Cubs won in the fall of ’08. The soonest they’ll win another is ’10. That’s the nicest way I can say the wait will be 102 years.

On the Brink

Lose tonight, and the foregone conclusion becomes plain old reality.

If the Rockies win tonight, 100 Cubbie runs won’t matter.

But if the Cubs win . . . and the *gulp* Brewers win, Chicago’s playoff chances live on in blatant desperation.

A lot of other people have a lot of opinions about a lot of other Cub-related issues. Right now, I’m just contemplating the moment and leaving rational thought for another day.

The Cubs’ Last Gasp

There is one last step in the grieving process: acceptance. I just want to say, I’m not quite there.

I don’t pretend to think the Cubs have a realistic chance of winning the rest of their games. Or the Rockies losing the rest of theirs. Or the Braves cooling off dramatically. Or the Giants and the Marlins both failing their way through the final week. Obviously that’s way too many individually far-fetched and collectively impossible contingencies to hope for.

But the off day shared by the Cubs and Rockies has given our playoff chances one more day on life-support. However faint the pulse, however rattling the breaths, this dying vegetable of a season is not yet clinically dead.

I’ve gone through all the other stages of grief. I can’t deny the fate of this team. I lack the strength to appropriately arouse my anger at Paul Sullivan’s feeble excuses for journalism. I have lost all bargaining power. I’m done trying to be positive. But I’m just not ready to check the box next to Acceptance.

I’m going to enjoy the gigantic deep breath that is this off day. And on Tuesday, I’ll hope the Cubs can make it through one more day. I won’t even think about Wednesday.

Holler if you’re with me.

Trade This: Z Shouldn’t Swap Teams. Catchers Maybe

For one night at least, Carlos Zambrano looked like a guy who deserved every penny of his $91.5 million contract, let alone the right to stay on this Cubs team. He might not be that guy, but he sure looked the part as he outpitched de facto Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on Friday night. Carlos matched the Giants’ two hits and drove in two more runs than they did during his complete-game shutout. And it left Len, Bob, and the depressed Cub faithful wondering why he couldn’t look like that more often.

As Koyie Hill congratulated him on the too-late gem, I wondered how much difference Koyie Hill makes for Zambrano and if he should become Z’s personal catcher. Baseball-Reference had some fun answers for me.

Geo has caught Z 14 times to Koyie’s 13 proving at the very least that Z does NOT have a personal catcher. The rest of the stats suggest he should. (Note: I don’t know the number of innings pitched or ERA, but what’s there is pretty telling.)

With Geo catching: 2.09 SO/BB; .273 BA; .351 OBP; .414 SLG; .765 OPS
With Koyie: 1.88 SO/BB; .215 BA; .315 OBP; .278 SLG; .593 OPS

The only number that’s more favorable with Geo behind the dish is the strikeout-to-walk ratio. Everything else points dramatically to Koyie being the ideal Big Z handler.

I just hope Lou (or whoever the manager will be) glances at these numbers at some point in the offseason.

We Could All Learn a Thing or Two from Aaron Miles

I’ve been pretty rough on Aaron Wade Miles this year. Heck, this year has been pretty rough on Aaron Wade Miles. He has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the 2009 Cubs, which, considering the number of Cubs having down or deplorable years, really tells you something.

But Miles hasn’t lost control of his emotions on the mound. He hasn’t spouted off to the media. He didn’t get busted for smoking weed at the World Baseball Classic or put on extra weight. He didn’t trade Mark DeRosa. He doesn’t hop before he catches fly balls. He wouldn’t hurt a fly on a Gatorade Machine. The only reason I and a teeming throng of others have lambasted him with gleeful mockery is that these are his stats.

I was thinking of listing some of the things I’ve said about him, but that would betray my genuine intentions for this post (which is why I didn’t make a joke about whether or not he could hurt a fly on a Gatorade Machine . . . from now on, I’m just going to insert asterisks * in places I feel tempted to mock him). I want to commend Aaron Miles for conducting himself like a professional and, frankly, like a good man during this, the worst year in his career.

You can make fun of Miles for his size, but he’s probably the same height as I am. So I can’t make fun of him for that. And yes, his hitting has been miserable, although marred somewhat by injury for the first half of the season . . . second half, too, maybe? But other than that, he’s done nothing wrong*.

When Miles fails on the field* he never shows his frustration. Do you know how hard that is to do*? To keep your composure when you ******. Well, it’s not easy. But it is commendable. And I’ve just never detected anything in the way he carries himself (and believe me, I look for these things) that would identify him as the jerk I’ve secretly wanted him to be.

With a guy who isn’t producing, you want him to give you the Todd Hundley total package. If you’re gonna stink, you should be a jerk—it’s just proper baseball etiquette. But Aaron Miles is not that guy. He tries hard. You can tell he wants to succeed. He just doesn’t compound his baseball troubles* by making an ass of himself.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation when you’re less than your best (or less than your mediocre) ask yourself this simple question: What Would Aaron Miles Do? I’m so printing up WWAMD bracelets right now.

************

UPDATE: I was trying to think what the best way to handle Aaron Miles at this point in his two year contract would be. Although it would mean eating $2 million, I wouldn’t mind seeing him released. But as long as we have a couple weeks of games with no playoff implications, it might not hurt to give him the everyday job at second—or at least a handful of starts. As terrible as he has looked, I’m sure it’s next to impossible to get better on the bench. If the experiment went terribly, though, I’d have to continue the barrage of insults . . . no reason for all of us to suffer.

Heated Cub Bromance Boils Over

You’ve heard about his clashes with the fans. His squabbles with the Chicago press are well documented. And, until now, it seemed Milton Bradley stayed aloof from most of his teammates, creating an awkward tension in the Cubs clubhouse and on the field.

According to sources behind the scenes, the shocking untold story bears no resemblance to the image portrayed in the media. Milton Bradley wasn’t just close to his team . . . he got too close. The torrid bromance between Ryan Dempster and Bradley tore the clubhouse in two after a heated dispute over interpretations of the film He’s Just Not That Into You.

Players were forced to take sides after the split, and Dempster’s seniority and popularity earned him the lion’s share of support. Naturally, the breakup was hardest on the little guys.

One diminutive player who refused to be named cited the strained relationship as the reason behind his own struggles. “What those two guys had was special. Since they split, I’ve only had one, two hits. I can’t get my average above the Mendoza line, and I can’t listen to Streisand anymore. It’s just too painful.”

With Bradley suspended for the remainder of the season and almost certainly headed for a trade, it may be too late to recreate the magic. However, the research team at And Counting has obtained an exclusive copy of a tribute video created before the pair split and will post it here as soon as it becomes available. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here it is, the video of star-crossed love and tragic despair:

The Myth and Genius of Meaningless Games

Part of the grieving process of Cub fans is the ability to start to think positively again. Milton Bradley’s suspension has made that a lot easier on most of us, but let’s not lose ourselves by rejoicing in the negative . . . if we do, Milton Bradley wins.

I want to think instead about this last batch of remaining games in the 2009 season. Particularly, I’d like to focus on the phrase that pops up from the ground like a masochistic groundhog ready to announce six more months of baseball winter: “These games are meaningless.” Allow me to strenuously agree and disagree.

Yes, these games are meaningless, and that’s the point of a pastime! The word pastime originates from the English phrase “pass time,” meaning to occupy ones attention so as to distract one from thoughts of those things that make life suck. Essentially, all we’re trying to do by watching baseball is to better enjoy the journey of the big hand and the little hand in their circuit around the face of the big green clock in center field. We’re not in this for the meaning.

If we wanted meaning, we’d do something important, like not call off sick or volunteer at a homeless shelter or throw bags of tea at people trying to pass healthcare legislation. Not all of our lives suck, but all of our lives do have meaning (some good, some bad) outside of baseball. Baseball transports us away from the meaning. It’s guys with sticks and balls and more opportunities for sexual innuendo than any adult would ever need.

Cubs baseball particularly provides an escape like no other. Cubs baseball is Fantasy Baseball. The scoreboard that time forgot. The enchanted ivy cascading down the outfield’s unscalable walls. The curse of a century. The men who become boys when they cross the magic white lines. Entire crowds erupting into song that would be entirely ridiculous in any other setting but here—in this movie, in this fairy tale, in this unending Disney flick—make perfect sense.

Meaningless? I should hope so. Yet, why do we care so much?

No, these games aren’t meaningless, they mean everything! I like the fall. My wife loves the fall. Leaves changing colors. Bonfires. Hayrides that sound enjoyable but quickly turn to itchy, blotchy, irritated regrets. It’s all wonderful. But world series championship or not, the end of baseball in the fall is the saddest point in my year. Because the game . . . every game, means something.

I love Darth Vader’s speech in Field of Dreams. It captures the emotional lure of baseball, the way we are inexplicably drawn to it. It is as American as the Declaration of Independence. And as old-fashioned. But baseball’s lore and history merely decorate the true meaning of baseball—the brick wall behind the ivy, the Vienna Beef beneath the pickles, relish, mustard, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and celery salt—relationships.

Like almost no other experience, baseball allows us to connect with friends, family, and strangers converging on a single, multi-faceted experience. The leisurely pace between each dramatic showdown allows us the time to talk, to listen, and to take in the richness of each other’s company. The game is an excuse to be together and to block out the nonsense that would deprive our lives of meaning.

Every baseball game I’ve ever been to has featured at least one meaningful exchange with the people around me (usually dozens of them). With my sons, with my wife, with my dad (who hates baseball, but enjoys Wrigley), with my mom (who loves baseball and got me started on this lovely doomed ride), and with people I know I can trust simply because of the round red C on their caps and the smiles on their faces.

This can be a lonely world. But not at Wrigley (unless, Mr. Bradley, you decide you want it that way). If that doesn’t mean something, then I don’t know what does. So excuse me if the lack of trophies, champagne showers, pennants, and parades doesn’t void my Cubs watching of its meaning.

As bad as this season has been, I don’t want it to end. Do you?

Milton’s Gone, and So Are Cubs’ Playoff Hopes

There are some facts about the Cubs that don’t need to be said. I’ve rounded them up here so they can huddle together in their unspoken misery.

  • Signing Milton Bradley was a mistake.
  • Suspending him was not.
  • The Cubs aren’t going to the playoffs.
  • Even the most jaded Cubs fans still harbored a tiny vigilante voice of hope deep in their hearts that was saying, “Let’s just wait and see how we* do this weekend in St. Louis.”
  • That voice is now muttering obscenities.
  • No matter the standings, it’s always nice to beat the Cardinals, especially after watching them prematurely rush the field in jubilant, firework-lit celebration.
  • Aaron Miles has had a bad year.
  • The Chicago media don’t like Milton Bradley. (Lesson to high-school jocks: Be nice to the nerds who don’t make the team and have to settle for praising you in the school paper; they will one day have the power to torture you.)
  • Jake Fox is a man’s man.
  • Only time will tell who overpaid more absurdly: Jim Hendry for Milton ($30 million) or the Ricketts family for this team ($845 million).
  • This season has been a disaster.
  • Someday we’ll go all the way.
*Yes, the voice deep inside the heart of skeptical Cubs fans refers to the team as “we.”

Cubs Twitter All-Stars

If we can’t win it this year, might as well irritate some Cardinals.
UPDATED 9/25 (this should probably be in alphabetical order. Instead, it’s in the order that I entered names. Sue me.)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Twitter makes winning fun and losing a little bit more palatable. If you tweet, you’re familiar (perhaps to the point of contempt) with the concept of Follow Friday. You also know that Tony LaRussa tried to sue Twitter. And you probably also know that these Cubs fans (among a plethora of others) rock, but here are some reminders why:
@ehudmh This is one funny (and insightful) dude. Never met a tweet of his I didn’t like.
@cubsjunkie Fun, feisty, and full of fascinating tweets. (Do not cross this woman: the animals obey her.)
@hey_sue She’s got a dry wit and a wry sense of teeny-bopper button pushing. #lovehertodeath
@jmkobus You never know where his tweets might lead you, but that place will be awesome.
@TweetsByDina High Queen of Haiku, wordsmith extraordinaire, and purveyor of sweet tweets.
@fuzzed18 An engaging and delightful fan who really keeps the social in social media.
@trishkaa If your life needs more sass and spunk (and it does) you need more of her.
@aaronswray His tweet stream will cleanse you from boredom. I swear.
@aleagueofherown Phenomenal tweets are just the tip of her awesomeberg. Twitter can’t contain the glory.
@ggci You want tweets with class and substance, he’s your guy. Then he’ll make you laugh til you puke.
@tom_reutebuch He’s all kinds of deep-fried awesome.
@wrigleygirl Like the stadium that serves as her Twitter namesake, she’s a national treasure.
@c1t1z3nx You know what that name stands for? It stands for fun and hilarity, that’s what.
@Aisle424 I miss Mike Royko. His tweets and blog posts are reminiscent of the genius of old.
@dwag29 She might live closer to Citi Field, but her heart is lost in the ivy.
@TheCubsInHaiku The finest Cubs tweets / Seven and ten syllables / Wit, faith, fun, and hope
@MOgulnick When she’s running the world, you’re gonna wanna say you followed her when…
@wpbc If it’s relevant, original, and memorable, there’s a good chance you heard it from him.
@CubsMagicNumber If you aren’t following her, your days should be numbered. Get it together.
@nearlynextyear He’s blessed with Evanstonian Eloquence and cursed with, well, the Cubs.
@herlihy If you could plot a person’s way with words on a map, his would be the Oregon Trail.
@cubscasthosts The only Cubs podcast I listen to. Their tweets will tell you why.
@Aaliyoda If you don’t like being informed, entertained, and engaged, stay the heck away.
@onetwittedcubs Author of One-minute Cubs blog (aka best minute of your day)
@Thankphil He’s an Iowa Cubs fan with major-league talent. Quietly one of my absolute favorites.
@areyoudrunk Only took 11 characters to prove this was one tweep I couldn’t help but follow.
@SarahSpain Yes, her picture is real. She’s also a sideline reporter for the Big Ten network & the funny and insightful host of Fantasy Players Minute.
@TheCubsGuy You must prove yourself worthy to read his Cubs tweets. You should be that lucky.
@hirejimessian Even more sarcastic than the name implies, his tweets and blog will leave you rolling.
@Purpl0704 A genuinely delightful Cubs fan and all-around fun person.
@CarrieMuskat We like to give the cubs.com writer a hard time, but her tweets are first-rate & informative.
@rudym55 His Cubs tweets are so good, you’ll be tempted to carry him off the field on your shoulders.
@blicdh Quick draw Kevin McGraw cheers for all the right teams and says all the right things.
@TheBlogfines If you’re a fan of Sharapova’s Thigh(s) . . . I don’t even know how to finish this. Go here.
@thezoner The dude is a Chicago sports blog factory, with best blog title ever: Pippen Ain’t Easy
@rpringle I won’t say I’ve got the fever for his flavor. I do, but I won’t say it. He’s much too classy for that.
@talkchibaseball Baseball bipartisanship at its very best. Truly a worthwhile follow and read.
@kerrence Wry, relevant, unpredictable, and all kinds of awesome.
@dat_cubfan_dave Puts a lot of thought and meaning into his tweets, good links, great follow.
@bleedcubbieblue If you don’t know Al Yellon or his powerhouse blog, welcome to the outside of the loop.
@martisnow Cub fan and Red Sox fan. Her heart is only half healed, but her posts are wholly awesome.
@proseandivy A fine Cubs blogger, funny tweeter, and fan.
@harrypav If ever someone tells you Cubs fans are stupid, point them to cubsfx and bask in the glory of Harry Pavlidis proving them dead freaking wrong.
@GatoradeMachine This tweep capitalized on a couple dugout incidents and was catapulted to fame. The fact that he’s hilarious (and real) didn’t hurt either.
@DietRite She (not her account) is named after Jody Davis. Need I go on? I should. She’s awesome.
@terilou6983 She’s smart, funny, and worth following for all kinds of non-Cub reasons, too.
@Eukadanz Follow Eukadanz if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Cuz your friends don’t danz and if they don’t danz then they’re no friends of mine.
@Ernesto_H Very fun and funny Cubs/Bears fan whose in-game tweets make me laugh regularly. And sometimes irregularly.
@ari_bo_bari Although her stat-loving allegiance spreads across four different baseball teams, I can only remember one . . . and the fact that every tweet is exquisite.
@TorturedFanBase There are some Twitter names that tell you everything you need to know about the genius behind them. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
@BluntChick I don’t even know if she’s sold-out as a Cubs fan, but she’s awesome enough to include regardless.(She actually is a Cubs fan and Hawks fan and growing steadily more awesome with every passing moment.)
@plamorte This dude is a deadly combination of wit, smarts, and Cub fanaticism. But don’t worry. Do not hold me accountable if you die laughing from reading his tweets.
@itsjenjen She describes herself as goofy, but I’ve found her to be elegant, delightful, and witty.
@ataccini She’s one of those people who you just know is way smarter than you, but she’s nice enough to pretend she doesn’t realize the discrepancy—and she’s way fun, too.
@acforever The name might imply he never shuts his windows, but he also never stops being edgy, funny, and bloggy: Check out the Cubbies Crib
@KariGoCubsGo She’s a nurse and a Sooner, and that’s OK with me. Bright, fun, and brimming with spunk.
@AngryHack This dude is out there in all the right ways. His avatar is green, I think, in support of Soto.
@adaveyouknow He’s Dave. You know? Nice and witty with a smooth layer of sarcasm.

There are many (seriously a whole lot) more Cubs fans I’d love to recognize, and I’ll add them as they come to mind (and as time allows). If you’d like to add anyone, please mention them in the comments, on twitter, or to your grandchildren. Just spread the love as you see fit.

More than anything, thanks to all of you who have added so much to A) the Cub game viewing experience, B) the magnificent world of Twitter, and C) my life in general.

Shawon-O-Meter: The College Years

People tend to overuse the phrase “you can’t make this stuff up,” generally to describe stuff that sounds made-up but isn’t. There are a lot of creative minds in this world perfectly capable of making up some really strange shtick. This USA Today story about the latest snag in the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family . . . I don’t care how creative you think you are, you can’t make this stuff up.

A formal objection to the Tribune Company’s sale of the Cubs has been filed with Delaware’s bankruptcy court. That objection was filed by former Cub shortstop, Shawon Dunston.

The one-paragraph document was handwritten (I’m presuming by Dunston himself). The crux of his objection is that the Cubs owe him money. The money they owe him is for a college scholarship . . . a college scholarship he has yet to use.

Before I go on, you should know that, if I’m being honest (which sometimes I am, but, in all honesty, not habitually) I’ll tell you straight out that Shawon Dunston is my all-time favorite Cub. If I get to pick a uniform number for anything, I pick 12. Not because of Dusty. Not because of Fonzy. Not because of Ricky Gutierrez. I pick 12, because when I was growing up, I tried to emulate Shawon Dunston. I loved his hustle. I loved his flair. I loved the way he’d try to check his swing by just letting go of the bat. As much as it is possible to love a baseball player you’ve never come close to meeting or seeing or communicating with in any way, shape, or form, I love Shawon Dunston.

That said, this is the craziest thing I ever heard. But I support Shawon in this. I don’t care if the Trib owes him the gum from a 20-year-old pack of Topps baseball cards, he has a right to make sure he gets what is coming to him. But this . . . a retired shortstop who hit .750 for his high school team in Brooklyn standing in the way of the sale of a storied baseball franchise and the most revered structure in sports for a deal that’s a 15% off coupon away from a billion bucks, just so he can be assured of free tuition if he so desires . . . that’s some crazy crazy right there.

I’ve seen Shawon Dunston make some amazing plays in the hole at short. I’ve seen him rifle fastballs that might have killed anybody but Mark Grace. I’ve seen him catch knuckleballing windblown pop-ups in old Candlestick Park that no human being before or after him could have tracked down. I’ve heard that Matt Williams could field ground balls with ping-pong paddles on his hands. Legend has it that Ted Lilly can stop a speeding bullet with a stern look. But if Shawon Dunston stops or even delays the sale of the Cubs over potential college money, it will be the greatest defensive gem in the history of sports, law, and butt pain.

Yes, having the Neverending Cubs Sale delayed would be frustrating. But if Shawon can do it, I will love him even more for it. Because right now, laughter is all we have.