Wrigley Talk Fridays: It’s a Way of Life

Gimme a W! Gimme a T! Gimme an F! What’s that spell? Podcast awesomeness! (image courtesy of I dunno)

There’s no question what sits atop the list of the Cubs’ needs. Starting pitching? We’ve got too much of that as it is. Bullpen help? We just threw $18 million at that problem. A power-hitting lefty? I give you, TYLERMANIA! For Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to break out of their slumps? They’re just saving their big hits for when the games really count.

No, what the Cubs obviously need is another podcast. Consider that need met. Cubbie Julie from LOHO and Tim from Aisle 424 have agreed to let me lurk in the corner for Wrigley Talk Fridays, the newest podcast that is sure to be hilarious informative well thought-out full of journalistic/blogger integrity at least a half hour long.

I know the entire world is waiting for the bowling/baseball comparison, but you’ll have to wait a few more hours for that one to materialize. In the meantime, as the Cubs look to raise the W flag against the D’backs (a 50/50 proposition at best), there is a 100% guarantee that the WTF flag will be flying high over the Interwebs. Listen live, call in (347-989-8945), or just check us out on iTunes (after the fact, of course).

Random Observations, Some of Them Cubs Related

A Mike Fontenot pop fly may have punched Starlin Castro’s ticket to the big leagues.

If you wonder what it would have been like if the Internet existed in the 1950s, consult MLB’s online policies.

Chester Taylor didn’t know he was supposed to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” until after the organ started playing. Santo asked him if he was ready to sing, and he just laughed. A lot. He genuinely thought they were putting him on.

I have every episode of Friends on DVR, some of them multiple times. Yet we keep on recording more for some reason.

At some point this year, the Cubs will score five runs in a game instead of 2 or 12.

Lou Piniella likes it when reporters talk strategy.

ESPN thinks you’re an idiot.

Marlon Byrd.

The Blackhawks are the best team in Chicago. The rest of the top 10 are high school teams, including the Niles North Chess Club.

Turns out, Paula Abdul needed American Idol a bit more than Ellen did.

Wrigley Field isn’t a bar. At bars, you can watch replays.

The next big name to be linked to PEDs will be a basketball player. A really big one.

It’s only a matter of time before Lucas makes another Star Wars prequel trilogy. 200 million people will pay to rip it apart.

I’m debating writing a post comparing baseball to bowling. It’s not the most interesting debate in the world.

I wonder if Red Sox fans got this mad when they moved their ace out of the starting rotation and then traded him for cash considerations to the Yankees.

Decisions, decision. The Evening Independent

Idol Eyes: Shania Week

Siobhan went to the yell one too many times.

Casey James and Shania Twain on the same screen? That’s a whole lot of beautiful, people. Give me a moment to prepare . . .

In the meantime, I just want to say that after a couple weeks of reflection (and a sudden reminder from Ms. Twain) that Simon was dead-on with his statement that Katie should have been singing country. Whether it’s right for her or not, who knows, but there is no one for country fans to vote for on this season, and Katie could have owned that segment.

Okay, I’m ready.

Lee DeWyze
Still the One
Shania gave Lee some great advice, although it forced him to expose a weak spot in his repertoire: the soft and slow vibe. Lee doesn’t have a middle ground between throaty emotional outburst and quiet contemplation. The first few bars were sleepy and sloppy, but once he opened up the song it sounded great. For the most part. Lee’ definitely come the farthest, although I still wonder what Alex Lambert could have been had America the slightest clue about who belonged in the top 12. Oh well.
Odds of Going Home: 9 to 1

Michael Lynche
It Only Hurts When I Breathe
Lee could learn a lot from Michael, because he lives in the soft, slow, and tender vibe. I don’t recall ever hearing this song, but I know it didn’t sound quite like this. Michael is probably the best of the group at putting his signature on a song. It’s weird, I think Michael is one of the best performers on the show, but I don’t know if he has a chance of winning this thing OR succeeding in the business. Then again, he could be the next Jennifer Hudson, I don’t know. I like the guy, though. I really like him.
Odds of Going Home: 6 to 1

Casey James
There was a brief moment, maybe 5 or 6 notes out of the mentor clip, when Casey and Shania harmonized together, and that got me a little excited. Casey’s performance did that too. Wow. I think Shania absolutely shot a bullseye through Casey’s psyche, and the truth of what she said came through in the song. He seemed like that guy who was a little worried the only reason he’s in this thing has been his looks. And he finally decided to express himself musically. And also looked amazing. Moving on . . .
Odds of Going Home: 8 to 1

Crystal Bowersox
No One Needs to Know
The biggest shock of this one is the song choice. It’s sort of a guilty pleasure of mine, but I didn’t peg Crystal as the “guilty pleasure song” kind of girl. It seems too light and fluffy for her. But I’m glad she’s taking on new things. I like that she made a personal statement in an Idol performance. I like that she played with the song so much almost to the point of improvisation. I’m just a little worried she’s about to get Daughtried.
Odds of Going Home: hmm . . . I don’t want to say. 7 to 1

Aaron Kelly
You Got a Way
Shania is a really good mentor. I mean, she’s one of the all-time hit machines in music history, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But up to this point all the singers clearly belong here. Aaron is just on a lower tier. But holy crap, he was leagues better than he’s ever been. The teeny boppers who’ve been voting this kid through every week won’t have to look back in shame upon their actions tonight.
Odds of Going Home: 6 to 1. Crazy, I know.

Siobhan Magnus
Any Man of Mine
Siobhan doing a straight-up rendition of Shania’s original hit. All she did was add a high note and a Broadway finale. For me, it was an absolute Twain wreck (blame Ellen for that pun). Her rhythm was off. Her delivery was as bland and soft as unsalted butter. The whole thing was a syncopative mess. (I was going to say syncopatory, but it turns out that’s not an actual word. Neither is syncopatorial. They are both such non-words that googling them results in zero results, which means this page should be the only result you’ll find. If you need a one-hit google term, you’re welcome.) They’ll go back and watch this and see what Shania saw: it was bad.
Odds of Going Home: 2 to 1.

Chicago Journalism 101: Emotion Police

Might as well let it out, Carlos. The media will say it for you if you don’t.

Carlos Zambrano has been demoted to the bullpen. Say what you will about the move’s usefulness to the team, but it’s a demotion nonetheless. Anyone with a Sesame-Street-level grasp of psychology knows that this would upset any professional pitcher. No pitcher greets a demotion to the bullpen with a “Hooray!” Pitchers who get promoted from AAA to the bullpen might be quite happy about it, but they’d be even happier if their organizations told them they would be starters.

I know this is simple, but since quite a few people in the Chicago media seem so oblivious to the facts, let’s go over what we know once again: Carlos Zambrano was a starter. Management demoted him to the bullpen. Not a soul alive needs to interview him to know that he’s upset about it.

But the Chicago media did ask him about it. In the same way they insist on asking athletes how they feel after losing in a championship game, reporters are contractually obligated to ask Big Z how he feels about the demotion. I don’t begrudge them asking, necessarily. They have to write something. But I hope they understand it’s a stupid question that serves as nothing more than a litmus test of Carlos Zambrano’s professionalism.

And Carlos answered. He’s not “happy happy,” but he’s happy. Are they happy? Not at all. The print journalists have been relatively quiet about Z’s responses, but the radio and television guys are going nuts trying to drum up “insider” stories about how angry Zambrano is and what the ramifications will be. Will he demand to be traded? Are the Cubs provoking him on purpose? Why do the Cubs feel the need to bend over backwards to pacify Zambrano? Will Jim Hendry wake up with Ryan Theriot’s head in his sheets? Does Big Z like Carlos Marmol or does he like him like him?

Let me get this straight just one more time: Zambrano gets demoted. Everyone in the world knows that will make him angry. Reporters ask him if he’s angry, and he very professionally, responsibly, and respectfully lies for the good of the team and to the disappointment of those who want to see him erupt so violently that O’Hare has to close until Hendry finds a suitable setup man.

I don’t get it. Z passed the test. He’s controlled his anger well enough to pitch and to avoid spouting off to the media. So the columnists, analysts, and hosts who rant about Zambrano being an over-emotional diva have nothing to complain about unless they’re actually suggesting Zambrano shouldn’t be angry.

If I’m following this right (which would be somewhat lucky, because I can’t stomach these moronic, sanctimonious imbeciles long enough to actually follow their logic) they used to criticize Z for not controlling his emotions. Now they’re lambasting him just for having emotions? Gotcha.

Personally, I think it’s time for the media to learn a little lesson in emotional health, courtesy of the aforementioned Sesame Street. And there’s an important lesson for us as well in what makes the media angry: not paying much attention to them.

Geovany Soto: Not a Swinger

I swear, this almost never happens.

Geovany Soto has been eating less; that was the real addition by subtraction we heard about all spring. He shed a few pounds (and a few eyebrow hairs) and gained a bit of his old agility and go-get-’em motivation. He added some mobility behind the plate by subtracting the munchies. Hooray for that, but burning through Cheetos isn’t the only thing Geo stopped doing.

If it seems like Soto has had his bat on his shoulder an awful lot this season, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. He’s always been a pretty patient hitter, but so far this season, Geovany Soto is swinging even less than normal.

In fact, he’s swinging less than anyone.

Of all Major League Baseball players with at least 30 plate appearances, Geo’s 27.5% swing percentage is the lowest. He sees 4.2 pitches per plate appearance, so I guess that means he swings about once every trip to the plate. I’m sure Vince Vaughn would want to give Geo a grand speech about using his great big bear claws to rip apart helpless bunny-rabbit fastballs, but I’m just fine with Soto’s wait-and-see approach.

His OBP is .527 thanks in no small part to his 14 walks. But when Geo does swing, he does some pretty serious damage, to the tune of a .537 slugging percentage. A 1.064 OPS isn’t too shabby. So why aren’t more people raving about Geo’s ridiculously good, too-hot-to-maintain start?

Well, maybe because he’s buried at the bottom of the order. Maybe because the Soto-take-a-pitch drinking game has effectively erased Cubs fans’ memories of all Geovany’s at-bats. Maybe because Lou pinch hits for him when he wants to give away outs late in the game. I don’t know. I guess I don’t care. I just want more of this getting on base/crushing the ball when he does decide to swing business.

And the winning. The winning is nice.

Thank DeRosa for Small Sample Sizes

MLB: Brewers vs Cubs APR 23
The truth hurts. So lie to me, Cubbies.

There’s a reason baseball is so fun to watch. Well, there are 225,658 reasons baseball is so fun to watch, but one of my favorites is the way it can take so long for the true balance of talent to bear itself out. Albert Pujols is as good a hitter as you’ll find, yet he makes outs in 53% of his plate appearances; despite that ridiculously good average, there were 15 games in 2009 in which he didn’t reach base. Tim Lincecum yielded a .206 batting average to opposing hitters last year, but there were two games in which he gave up 10 hits.

The numbers of any one game or any handful of games is likely to tell you a big fat lie about how good any one player or team really is.

Some games are more accurate depictions of talent than others, but you don’t really know which ones are telling you the truth until the season is over—and even then, most teams change composition over the course of the year, usually in an effort to get better, but often times due to injury, a player or team will get worse.

Statisticians can tell you the truth about any team, or at least a fair, objectively calculated, more-accurate-than-your-eyes judgment of a team’s potential. But watching a game has a way of reinforcing your hopes or deepening your fears. The Cubs drop 3 of 4 to the Mets, they suck, and I knew it. The Cubs sweep the Brewers, and they are the offensive juggernaut to put an end to the juggernaut business. Their pitching is outstanding. Carlos Zambrano is in the bullpen because the Cubs have at least 8 Cy-Young-caliber pitchers.

I don’t care about what’s accurate. It’s fun to watch the Cubs put a beating on the Brewers. It’s a small sample size, but it’s beautiful to behold. I might be furious, depressed, or elated when the sample reaches 162 games, but for this weekend I’m loving the lie.

That’s it, Milton Bradley, it’s On!

And just so you know, OBP is not a valid Scrabble word.

I’ve defended and ridiculed Milton Bradley over the past year, leaning heavily toward defending him. But his latest comments have me fired up. His Mariners are back in town to face the White Sox, so now that we’re in the same time zone, I’m issuing him a challenge.

It doesn’t matter to me that Milton said he was misrepresented or that the middle-aged white media couldn’t understand him (they couldn’t). I don’t care if he says he got along great with his Cubs teammates. His personality as a baseball player is of no concern to me whatsoever.

But Milton says he’s an 1180-SATs nerd. And he plays Scrabble. WHAT!!!?!!!?11! It’s so on.

If you really do play Scrabble on your phone, I hereby challenge you, Milton, to a game of Words with Friends for the iPhone. My handle is Adambuckled. The stakes: um . . . I don’t know. I really can’t offer you much. How about a glowing review of your ability to not make outs and a scathing diatribe against Paul Sullivan? Deal?

The gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you nerd enough to challenge me?

P.S. If you Google “Milton Bradley Scrabble,” Milton’s interview doesn’t show up for a long, long time. Apparently that was already a pretty popular search phrase.

Zambrano to the Bullpen: Please Tell Me We’ve Been Punk’d

Z-Ro. This move has no chance of working.

I feel like I’m insulting your intelligence by explaining that moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen is a bad idea, but I’ve heard enough support for the decision to warrant an official dissent. So hear it is:

This is stupid.

To reduntify what I’ve already said on Twitter, I’d love to play golf with Lou Piniella (and Jim Hendry and Tom Ricketts and whoever else thinks this is a good idea) just so I can observe that moment when he walks on to the green, eyes up the slope on a 15-foot putt, and busts out his driver in full swing. That is what putting one of your best starters (if not definitively the best) into the bullpen. Lou putting Zambrano in the bullpen is the equivalent of Maverick saying, “I’m too close for guns, I’m switching to missiles.” Yes, I’m just blogging my tweets now, deal with it.

I don’t care if he becomes the closer (he won’t). I don’t care if he’s the 7th/8th-inning setup man. I don’t care how many lefties are in the pen or how many of them are capable of getting outs on a semi-regular basis. Carlos Zambrano is most definitely one of the Cubs’ three best starting pitchers, and putting him in the bullpen is a waste.

Let’s look at the best probable outcome of this move. Zambrano becomes the 8th-inning setup guy for Marmol and pitches brilliantly. Zambrano records 35 holds for the Cubbies in 2010 (and yes, that’s a lot, the most you’ll ever see from any reliever). Zambrano pitches 80 innings from the bullpen. 80 freaking innings. He gets about 10 at bats. He’s great because you remember all of his appearances in all those late-inning, high-pressure situations. But he’s doing a job that’s not that valuable. Yes, it’s a job you want done, but it doesn’t take a pitcher of Z’s caliber to do it.

And you know what else you’ll remember? All of those mountains of innings racked up in the first 2/3 of games by pitchers inferior to Zambrano. What, you don’t think you’ll notice when Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva and (yeah, I love him to death, but it’s true) Randy Wells rack up sample sizes large enough to reflect the pitchers they really are? Trust me, you will. At that point, the fraction of innings Zambrano will have compiled will tell you very little about his value as a relief pitcher other than the fact that relief pitchers aren’t very valuable! 

This is having your CEO fold the laundry. This is buying a Slurpee with a $100 bill. This is playing your highest trump card to beat a deuce. It’s paying a lot for this muffler. It’s using a sledge hammer on a penny nail. It’s putting on your tux before you enter a chat room.

If Carlos Zambrano pitches as well as is humanly possible out of the bullpen, it still won’t amount to half the value of his contribution as a starter if he had a poor season. And if Silva and Gorzelanny will have to seriously outperform their projections to come anywhere close to a mediocre season for Zambrano. If those guys pitch well as starters and Z pitches well in relief, it will still prove that this move was stupid. It will show that either one of those guys would have almost certainly done well in relief and that the Cubs willingly shelved 75% of Zambrano’s value.

The only sliver of slack I’ll give Lou is the possibility that this is an extremely short term arrangement as Hendry tries to acquire another right-handed reliever who isn’t good enough to start but is good enough to excel in the bullpen. It won’t make this move any less stupid, but it will make it less damaging.

In the meantime, I really hope Ashton Kutcher has just Punk’d us, because this seems too overtly awkward and obscenely shocking to be true.

Idol Eyes: Idol Gives Up

It hurts to hear, doesn’t it, Tim?

Alicia Keys mentors the final 7 in the ways of inspirational, off-pitch singing. I can’t wait. So I won’t.

Casey James
“Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow,” complete with Huey Lewissian grit, Marty McFlyesque guitar solos, and Man-Barbie dreaminess. It started weak and pitchy and just fizzled out in a whimpering pile of yeah-yeah-yeah’s. Inspire-o-meter: 5
Odds of Going Home: a very sad 4 to 1

Lee DeWyze
The unpolished throaty wailer takes on a really curious choice of song from a clean-cut perfectionist of a musician, Paul Simon. “The Boxer” is not what I think of when the Inspirational genre gets discussed, but he did alright with it. I kind of wished he had replaced the lai-la-lai’s with “Lee DeWyze, Lee DeWyze, Lee-Lee DeWyze,” but he probably made the right call. Inspire-o-meter: 7
Odds of Going Home: 13 to 1

Tim Urban
Is Tim going to give the best performance of Inspiration Week? Oh . . . no, no, not at all. I don’t know what exactly you said to him, Alicia, but I think it may have been just the thing to get rid of this kid. His rendition of that silly little Goo Goo Dolls song was definitely not goo-good. Two words: Sha. Ky. Inspire-o-meter: the singing is a 2, but the fact that he is very likely going home is a 10.
Odds of Going Home: 3 to 1

Aaron Kelly
Aaron < R. in the battle of the Kellies. When I hear a 16 year old is taking on R. Kelly, I get a bad case of the heebie jeebies, I’m not gonna lie. Aaron’s singing didn’t help. If you believe it, you can achieve it? Hmm . . . I don’t know how well you believed it. The judges, at this point, are trying to salvage the integrity of the show by being nice to these people, but this season is a disaster. Inspire-o-meter: 4
Odds of Going Home: Justin Bieber to Reality

Siobhan Magnus
Mariah and Whitney in one song? I hope you brought your claws, Siobhan, because one of those two ladies is bound to rush the stage and Kanye you into next week. All joking aside, this was a terrible song choice and a pretty boring performance. Without the intrigue of hitting the high notes, the song is completely without quirk, so Little Miss Quirky really should have picked something else and skipped the NyQuil bottle I have to assume she chugged before hitting the stage. Although it is pretty hilarious to say Siobhan is being too dramatic on Inspiration Night. Inspire-o-meter: 4
Odds of Going Home: 4 to 1

Michael Lynche
Remember when Chad Kroeger took an artistic break from the indie/alt-rock shackles of Nickelback and really let the art of Spider-Man consume him? “Hero” was not a great song for Michael. I thought maybe he could breathe life into it in an Andrew Garcia “Straight Up” kind of way. But it made him sound like a vocal lightweight. You really don’t want to leave people thinking, “Well, he’s not Chad Kroeger.” Okay, maybe you do, but not in the way we were thinking it. Inspire-o-meter: Nickel
Odds of Going Home: Scary

Crystal Bowersox
Well, Crystal you really had to hear and see. Her “People Get Ready” was pretty much just a warning that the tears were a-comin’ for her and for you. Pretty amazing. Inspire-o-meter: Damn, girl.
Odds of Going Home: Nil

Cubs Flashback: Ozzie’s Right. We are Stupid.

Without the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to post something original, here’s a rerun from last year . . . kinda suits the occasion.

Seriously. Ozzie is on to something.

When the White Sox first made Ozzie Guillen their manager, my instant response was one word: Genius. I didn’t think he was a genius, I just thought the move was genius. If any person in my lifetime has embodied what it means to be a part of the White Sox . . . thing, it was Ozzie. Perfect guy for the job. Perfect face of the organization. Perfect person for Sox fans to love and Cub fans to hate.

But something happened in the years that followed: Ozzie grew on me.
To be perfectly honest, I have come to acknowledge that Ozzie Guillen really is a managerial genius. I’m not talking about his X’s and O’s (whatever that term really means in baseball). I mean, Ozzie is the quintessential baseball evil genius.
Ozzie works the Chicago media (and, at times, the national media) like marionettes in his diabolical hands. He takes pressure off his players when they need that. He puts pressure on his players when they need a kick in the butt. He enters into the psyche of opposing teams and fans. And when he’s really backed into a corner, he can just ramble on unintelligibly for five minutes—and like an R.E.M. song or a Tarantino film, people just kind of get it, even though they don’t know why.
After the Cubs/Sox series, Ozzie responded to a Lou Piniella comment about the Sox and their inability to draw fans for anyone but the Cubs. His words: “Our fans aren’t stupid like Cubs fans. Our fans know we’re [expletive]. Cub fans will watch any game, because “Wrigley Field is just a bar.”
A lot of outrage exploded throughout Cubdom, but I’ve got news for you, Cub fans, and it really shouldn’t be news: Ozzie is right. We are stupid, and this team is [expletive] right now. Heck, not even right now. Have you glanced at the sports section in the last century? Cub baseball is not where it’s at. We’re idiots. We’re dumb. We’re mindless. We’re dreamers.
And proud of it.
Look, only an idiot would have anticipated that Rudy would see on-field action for the fighting Irish. Only a moron would have placed his money on Milan to win the 1954 Indiana high school state basketball championship. The dummies picked David over Goliath. Cheering for the Cubs is not smart.
But we do it because we long for that feeling of overcoming the odds (which were actually pretty good heading into the season). We cheer for the underdog (even though the Cubs have paid enough, but haven’t won enough, to shed that tag). We show up to watch an expletive team and put ourselves through expletive for the chance at seeing history, affixing ourselves to it, and proclaiming to the world, “Holy expletive! The Cubs won the Series!”
It is stupid. It is far-fetched. It is a terrible commentary on our intellect. But it is our hope, and it’s all we got. Well, that and a mighty fine bar in which to drown our sorrows.