Cubs Fans, Bloggers React to Simpson Signing

I’m not an expert (read: I know absolutely nothing) about the baseball draft or ranking prospects, so I figured it would be an informative service to you, loyal reader, to put together a video highlight reel of the wide and varied reactions from across the Cubs community and the baseball world as a whole to the selection of Hayden Simpson in the first round. Enjoy:

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

They’ve done it like this. They’ve done it like that. They should try it with a Wiffle Ball bat.

If Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez could hit again, the comparisons of the Cubs’ offense to the effects of an enlarged prostate would stop. But until things get flowing properly, here are 10 suggestions to help the slow, unpredictable trickle of corner-infield hits to get back to the rushing stream of extra-base hits we all expected.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

10. Stop calling them D-Lee and A-Ram.

9. Let them use Wiffle Ball bats for increased bat speed.

8. Three words: Little. Jerry. Seinfeld.

7. Have them look in the mirror. That’s what they all suggested Milton Bradley do, anyway.

6. Last one to get a hit each game wears the Hello Kitty backpack.

5. Convince them that while their abysmal start has been an absolute joke, it’s still no replacement for Kevin Millar.

4. Give their mothers 10-year visas.

3. After three strikes: bring out the tee.

2. Substitute their advanced scouting videos with 15 hours of Lou Piniella saying, “Look, I don’t know what else I can do.”

1. 1980s campy movie solution: most triumphant video.

Harry Caray Was Awesome

This isn’t an anniversary of any significance that I know of. I was just remembering this morning how much fun Harry Caray was to listen to. Sometimes he personified excitement. Other times he defied explanation. But it was never, ever boring to listen to. For all his rough edges, he was a broadcasting genius and a marketer’s dream. And I miss hearing what he would have said about this team . . . or this world.

So here are two clips. The first, a video adaptation of a Harry Caray anti-Cracker-Jack rant, posted a couple of years ago by the folks at Just One Bad Century. It’s classic Harry.

And then there’s this footage of Harry singing the seventh inning stretch, despite his disdain for the marketing crooks behind sailor jack & bingo. Take special note of the production artistry of Arne Harris and the colossal fashion fail that was the mid-1980s.

We miss you, Harry.

Day-Off Reflections: Retroactive Perfection

The perfect reaction to a terrible call.

I didn’t even know who Armando Galarraga was until last night. From the 15 seconds of video I’ve seen of him (80,000 times in the last 12 hours) he seems like the greatest pitcher and finest human being ever to grace the city of Detroit. He’s being lauded as the first pitcher ever to record a 28-out perfect game, because Jim Joyce blew the call on the would-be final out.

Of course, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deprive Detroit of celebrating its first ever perfecto, the 21st in Major League history, and the third in less than a month if it hadn’t been for Austin Jackson’s convincing Willie Mays impersonation. And, yes, those last two links are to the same video. Jackson saved perfection a mere two plays before Joyce spread his arms outward and flew Galaragga’s dream into oblivion.

Baseball parlance holds that a pitcher throws a perfect game, but a lot of things—maybe an infinite assortment of things involving every person in attendance—have to align in impeccable harmony to bring a perfect game to fruition. There is usually some amazing defensive spectacle, such as Jackson’s back-to-the-infield basket grab or Dwayne Wise’s walls-be-damned miracle (MLB packaged both catches into one clip, conveniently enough). But the burden of perfection extends to the easiest tasks as well, such as an umpire’s routine semi-close out call at first or a third baseman’s ability to range to his left.

For those of you who remember Kerry Wood’s dominating tour de force, you know that what may have been the best pitched game in baseball history was two plays shy of perfect and one away from a no-hitter. A stray Kerry Wood fastball struck Craig Biggio in the 6th inning, but that’s not what broke up the perfect game. No, in truly undramatic fashion, Ricky Gutierrez singled to left on a ground ball just past Kevin Orie; in fact, it seemed like he got a glove on it. But the official scorer, the White-Sox-loving Bob Rosenberg, deemed the play exceeded the reasonable expectations of out-making and called it a hit rather than an error. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if that play was ruled an error. But I just can’t know.

Official scorers, though, don’t figure into perfect games because there can be no errors (hence the term perfect). This is what makes the not-so-instant replay discussions a tad silly. If video replay had been in effect and the replay booth could have informed Jim Joyce of his wrongness mere seconds after he breathed the word safe, he could have inhaled it right back in, changed the call, and allowed the celebrations to ensue straightaway. That would have been perfect.

Much to the ire of fans of Tigers, amazing feats, and general statistical justice, baseball’s officiating policy is far from perfect. Armando Galarraga needed it to be, but it failed him. That can’t be undone. Galarraga himself and all his fans can convince themselves that they really did see a perfect game, but they would have to overlook the glaring imperfection known as the human element. Instead of the 21st perfect game in MLB history, it’s the 237,992nd game to be marred by the flaws of everyone involved. Instead of Call your sons, call your daughters, it was Call the $*&*# batter OUT, *&@!-$^%&$#!!!

Even if Bud Selig overturns the call and rules the game technically perfect, the moment, the unforgettable calls, the leg-breaking celebrations and the unstained memories of how it all went down so perfectly, can never be brought back from the imaginary land of Should-have. You want to throw a perfect game, you need everyone to be perfect. You have to make perfect pitches. Your teammates have to make perfect plays (and score at least one run). The other team needs to be perfectly inept against your efforts. And an incredible amount of luck has to run perfectly in your favor as well.

And last, and in last night’s case least, the arbiters of the game need to fairly and accurately call every batter out. The errors of the umpires and administrators of the sport itself stubbornly remain major players in a game where they’re not welcome. I feel for Jim Joyce and the suffering he and his family have encountered because of one mistake, but he’s part of an umpiring union that refuses to progress in a sporting organization with no detectable interest in improving. That’s not a moment of weakness. That’s full-on commitment to imperfection.

Just imagine if Armando Galarraga played a sport in which everyone was dedicated (or at least moderately agreeable) to getting absolutely everything right. That (and a 1908 reprise) would be perfect.

You Can Catch It All on WGN

Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks - Stanley Cup Game Two
Cubs on WGN? Niemi says NO!

Taking in Cubs games on WGN, both good-old channel 9 and AM 720, is a tradition that goes back as long as I’ve been a Cubs fan. (I’m aware that the Cubs existed in broadcast form before I began caring about them in 1981, but I honestly don’t care about that, do you?) But tonight, the radio broadcast will be on WIND AM 560 to accommodate the Blackhawks. Apparently, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Philadelphia is more important than Game 3 of the potential second consecutive sweep of the Cubbies in Pittsburgh.

I’d have to agree with appearances. This isn’t the first time the Cubs have been preempted on their own flagship station. Before the early ’90s sent the Bears station hopping across the left side of the Chicago radio dial, they would occasionally bump the broadcasts of their younger ursine brethren. But those were regular-season affairs for both teams, and it usually brought a sense of relief.

It seems like just last week that Cub fans couldn’t wait for the 2009/2010 Bears to take the sting away from the 2009 Cub season. But that season had barely begun before we were waiting for the 2010 Cubs to alleviate the woes of another failed Bears season. Somewhere along the way, though, the 2009/2010 Blackhawks skated through and shattered the mediocrity threatening to take over this city.

And now they have a chance to claim WGN, the Stanley Cup, and the hearts of Chicago fans. I hope they do it in convincing fashion (aka making those sorry schmucks in Philly wish they had just dropped the series to Boston to save them from the embarrassment brought on by the team with the best jersey in sports).

Whether you tune in to hear Z return to the starting rotation or Lord Stanley’s Cup return to Chicago, I hope you enjoy the sound of the state of Philadelphia bowing in humble desolation. Go HAWKS!

Issue One: Suck or Cynic?

No, seriously, get off my lawn.

I hated it when I was a kid, but I’ve grown to love The McLaughlin Group. Led by curmudgeonly debating dictator John McLaughlin, this talking-head free-for-all might carry the blame for the parade of political punditry running through television around the clock, but that’s only because they do it right. They step on each other’s sentences and stumble their way through a bipartisan spectrum (composed of drastically slanted extremes). It’s entertaining, informative, and everything a political talk show should be.

Be that as it may, Johnny has drawn lighthearted criticism for his less-than-subtle manner of implying his cynical opinions are superior to all others, a caricature made famous by Dana Carvey and imitated by Cub fans everywhere.

I’m probably just as guilty as anyone of dismissing dissenting opinions, so don’t read this as a personal attack just because you know I know you’re wrong. But there’s something I find so irritating about the cynicism that follows a Cubs loss, bad inning, John Grabow run given up, Aramis Ramirez strikeout, Lou Piniella managerial decision/quote/shaving holiday . . . you name it. And, yes, I even get irritated at myself for succumbing to it. It’s the attitude that I can draw sound conclusions about this team or this player based on the last game, at bat, series, or even two weeks of play. 
We all know that’s not true, but when a small sample agrees with our general conclusions, it’s oh so tempting to set our opinions in stone. And then laminate them.
The first week of the season, everyone jokes about it. Samardzija’s ERA is infinity. Marlon Byrd is on pace to hit 456 homers. The Cubs will go 0-162. But after the first month of the season, and especially after the first two, fans tend to forget how unreliable small samples are, especially the fans who don’t know what constitutes a significant sample.
The Cubs are 1-7 against the Pirates. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Cubs have a woeful record against the Pirates this year. Are the Pirates better than the Cubs? Let’s entertain the thought. Here are some other imaginary conclusions we can draw from the Cubs/Pirates season series: 
  • The Cubs are 23-22 against the rest of baseball, so the Pirates must be the best team the Cubs have played this year. 
  • The Pirates are 15-30 against non-Cubs teams, so the Cubs must be the worst team the Pirates have played, including the Astros who have yet to lose to the Bucs and have lost just one to the Cubs.
  • Somehow the Cubs are an otherwise above-.500 team that is also the worst opponent the Pirates have faced, so the Pirates must have the toughest schedule in all of baseball. Ever.
  • Xavier Nady is an unstoppable force, he and his 1.065 OPS against the untouchable Pirate pitching staff.
  • Marlon Byrd doesn’t hustle nearly as hard as Alfonso Soriano.
I won’t go on. No one believes those conclusions, but for some reason, “The Cubs suck” is the most obvious fact ever presented before the public eye because of the Cubs’ 8 games against the Pirates, even though it doesn’t really agree with what the other games have told us. The Pirates have the second worst pitching staff in the National League (Milwaukee is the worst). Although the Cubs have absolutely pounded on Brewer pitching, the Pirate hurlers have been tougher on the Cubs than have all but three opposing staffs. It doesn’t make sense. And, in small samples, neither does baseball.
To be fair, the optimists who get overly excited when the Cubs are on a hot streak (read: me) are just as deceived by recency and selective sampling as the cynics who proclaim doom every time the L flag flies over Wrigley. But cynicism especially irritates me because it’s the cop-out attitude. It’s safe. It’s the defense mechanism of every fan.
Anyone quick to judge the Cubs as uber-sucky, other than opposing fans who frame their identities around criticizing the very team they hate (and really, this has to be the most pathetic segment of sporting society), is happy to be proved wrong. Generally, Cubs fans aren’t happy to see their team fail, so the doubters take solace in the fact that they saw the collapse coming. If the Cubs lose: “I knew it, and you’re an idiot if you’re surprised by this.” Cubs win: “Yay, I was wrong! This won’t last.”
See how that works? Call the desired outcome impossible, and you’ll never be disappointed. The only problem is, it doesn’t mean you’re a good prognosticator, it just means you’re skilled at covering your butt.
The people calling for Lou’s head because he leaves starting pitchers in too long are the same ones who get irate when he brings in the wrong reliever. The people saying Lou was a fool for starting the all-bench lineup are the same ones who, 24 hours earlier, were begging him to shake things up. They have to blame unexpected results on someone, and the unpredictability of baseball isn’t an option. It’s this: Lou sucks. The Cubs suck. If I can’t get the outcome I want, at least I can feel better blaming it on the people stupid enough not to be as cynical as I am right now.
Well, that sucks. I’m not saying everyone has to predict the Cubs to win or to bounce back. I’m not saying the optimists are right and the pessimists are wrong. I’m just saying the cynics, in this case and in life in general, are taking the easiest path, especially when it’s based on only the most recent or selective observations. If you think the Cubs suck (and their record agrees with you) I’d hope you’d form that opinion from something more than the final score to one game or even eight.
I’ll leave you with two things: 1) MLB’s collection of highlights carrying the Starlin Castro tag; 2) Exit question: on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the suckiest team in the history of spheroidal suction and 10 being the metaphysical pinnacle of baseball existence, how good do you think the Cubs are?