In Our Own Image

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano homers against the Houston Astros
Even I can run hard out of the box (which would be odd after a strikeout).
They make millions of dollars a year. They get paid those millions to play the game we love. They should consider themselves lucky to be professional baseball players and collect the hard earned money we shell out to watch them play the game we love. The least these players can do is to try their best.
Except, actually, that’s not the least they can do—that’s the most we could do. If we (and by we, I mean society . . . specifically the non-professional baseball playing segment of it) were to play baseball in the majors, we would absolutely suck. We wouldn’t be able to hit. We wouldn’t be able to pitch. We wouldn’t be able to hit the cutoff man. But we could try really hard. We could run out our ground-outs and pop-ups. We could make smart decisions. We could hustle. We could not admire our non-homers. We could dirty our uniforms. We could be scrappy.

For fans who wish we could play, it’s hard to forgive a multimillionaire for failing to do the things we know we could do or for making the mistakes we know we could avoid. So when Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez don’t sprint out of the batter’s box or when Ryan Theriot gets TOOTBLAN’d or when Lou decides John Grabow should pitch in a game we think the Cubs have a chance to win, we self-respecting Cub fans get a bit angry. I’ve been trying to figure out the reason behind the outrage, and the conclusion I’ve come to doesn’t reflect on us all too well.

The thought came to me as I was remembering the accounts and myriad replays of Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6. Pudge watched that homer. He jumped around and waved like a maniac. It’s the stuff of legend because he acted exactly the way any person capable of emotion would have . . . and because it won Game 6 of the 1975 World Series in the 12th freaking inning. Here’s my personal favorite recollection of that shot, courtesy of Good Will Hunting. It’s extremely NSFW, with a big stinking emphasis on the F. But I love the scene. Just don’t play it if you’re in an un-effing-friendly environment.

Anyway, I got to wondering: Pudge was waving because he wanted it to stay fair, but what if fair/foul wasn’t the problem? (It hit the foul pole, for crying out loud. How beautiful is that drama?) But what if it stayed fair and ricocheted off the Green Monster? Fisk could have been held to a single or even thrown out at second. What he did in that glorious moment—watched the ball and gestured emotionally—resembles pretty closely the antics of some of the most derided players in the game. What’s the big difference? The moment? The stakes? The results? Ultimately, I think the difference is the answer to the question, What would I have done if it were me?

We are proud people. As much as we want to live vicariously through the athletes who do what for us would be impossible, we just as badly want them to reflect the qualities we claim to possess in ourselves.

Sometimes it’s as simple as geography. I went to Valparaiso High School. Jeff Samardzija did, too. So I and all of my fellow Valpo Vikings wanted to see the kid succeed. It would promote the notion that somebody from our town could be great. Someone like me could be a big-league baseball player. As it is, I have to live vicariously through the graduates of Fort Osage High School.

Obviously our personal stock in our favorite players isn’t limited to such specific minutiae. If you’re a hard-working, blue-collar type, you’ll tend to admire the multimillionaires who aren’t afraid to sacrifice their bodies to break up a double play. The intense competitors in the stands greatly appreciate those players who, when they hit routine grounders to short, consider the dash to first a race against death. Perfectionists love a guy with ridiculously impeccable fundamentals. Dancing bears bow to Kevin Millar. You get the idea.

We feel strongly about players who do the little things because the little things are all we have. When a professional with all-world talent still manages to play with the heart and grit of one of us common slow-pitch softball junkies, it makes us forget about the salaries they make and reminds us of what we could have been if only Disney hadn’t lied to us about all that dreams-come-true mumbo jumbo. Living out our dreams through someone else is more believable when that someone does things the way we do. Watching them do something that goes against our character feels like a betrayal of our dreams, like they’re dancing on the graves of our aspirations. Lazy selfish ballplayers make lousy vicars.

Our desire as fans to cheer for athletes who conform to our own image causes us to place too much importance on rather insignificant details and arrive at inaccurate conclusions. That could have been a triple. He shouldn’t have dived headfirst into first base. Or he should have. He doesn’t care. He’s lazy. He only cares about his own stats. He’s a clubhouse cancer. If he was more like me, he’d be a much better ball player.

Let’s get one thing straight: if players were more like us, baseball wouldn’t be very fun to watch. I don’t fault anyone who likes a player for espousing their same values or work ethic or haircut. But we need to understand the difference between what makes us like a player and what makes him a good player. Sometimes they’re the same thing, but not as often as we think.

On the other hand, talented people often think they’re above doing the things common people have to do to get by. And that sucks. But at some point, we need to realize that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we appreciate talent much more than character, hustle, grit, or work ethic. If Mr. Rogers were the starting second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and he made 6 errors in a game and went 0-5 with 5 strikeouts (but tried real hard doing it) we’d boo his face off. That’s a fact. But rousing applause will greet any Cub that hits two homers in a game, regardless of the little things he neglects and big blunders to which he’s prone.

Why? Because deep down we know the qualities we possess are much less valuable in a baseball player than the talent we lack. 

Nothing to See Here. So Let’s Do the Wave!

On Saturday, the wave broke out at Wrigley Field. This punky, spray-tanned castoff from the set of Swingers (not Vince Vaughn) served as cheerleader  drum major  douchemaster  moron-in-chief, eliciting a chorus of boos from dozens of onlookers . . . and, you know, the wave from tens of thousands of witless drones.

It’s bad enough this happened at Wrigley. Fans do a lot of unforgivable things in Wrigley. They throw peanuts at fans of opposing teams, even if it’s the team opposing the Blackhawks later that weekend. They stand on the ramps leading to the upper deck and toss food and water down onto the fans below. They hurl racial epithets at their favorite players. I guess they project quite a few things into the air, but usually they have the good sense not to include a successive parade of their butt-scratching hands in the mix. But here’s what made it worse:

All this went down with one out in the eighth inning of a tie ball game with the potential (and eventually the actual) game-tying run at second base. The wave is supposed to be the designated pastime of fans who have become bored with the actual national pastime. But to interrupt the most critical turning point in the game by conjuring the demonic ritual of wavus stupidus maximus takes some serious juevos (and just an extraordinary surplus of dumb). You’re telling me there was nothing else to grab the attention of these buffoons?

Allow me to offer up a photodump of evidence to the contrary:

Vince Vaughn set the tone by aiming for the upper deck with his ceremonial first pitch.

Look! There’s Soriano with a healthy knee and a newfound propensity for crushing the ball.

He even threatened to shoot anyone who even thought about starting a wave.

Don’t even think about it. I swear. Bang bang!

Theriot adjusted his pants. How can any of you think about anything else?

Marlon Byrd does a little dance move when they say, “Play ball!” It’s kinda cute.

Someone forgot to tell Kosuke April was over. He’s still a doubles machine.

Soriano’s underpaid bubble butt.

Now would be the time to look away.

Stephen Drew, not a fan of the floating strike zone.

My niece: a big fan of Dora.

Not too many pictures of the pitcher’s mound here. Mostly because they would all look like this.

This is the game getting exciting. If you believe in statistics, that is.

See? This game ain’t boring.

Take in the joy of a world where the wave does not exist.

If you wanted to start your waving as a performance art protest against Arizona’s immigration laws, this would have been a good time.

If the wave could stop this man from entering the game, it would become a staple at Wrigley.

But there are happy things to cheer about and watch. Soriano made the scoreboard do this . . .

Game tied.

The guy in front of me was very excited to see Marmah warming up. Everyone in the stadium not wearing a Diamondback jersey was glad to see it wasn’t Grabow. Seriously, he must have called him “Marmah” at least 267 times.

I mean, come on! His name is right there on the jersey, plain as day.

This is Tylermania! He’s glad to be in scoring position. He’s ecstatic that the bases are loaded for Derrek Lee. He’s a bit confused as to why the wave is going on.

Hey, wavers! The Cubs are winning now. Your efforts to ruin my day completely have been undone by the Cub offense. That should give you some idea as to how inept you are at life.

Where have I been the last seven games? 

What’s down there? What was left of the dignity of Cub fans? I don’t know. There was a pole there.

Marmah strikes out the side. Cue the song.

So there you have it. A bunch of pictures of things that aren’t the wave. Shame on the reprobates who dared create their own sideshow during the main event.

Zambrano and Soriano: Vastly Underpaid Cubs

Fonzie and Zambrano: I dub thee, FonZ.

If you’ve read the headline and the photo caption, you already think I’m either kidding or out of my mind. I’m not kidding. Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are vastly underpaid.

Anyone who has been watching over the past couple of seasons (and does not bear the surname Zambrano or Soriano) would dismiss this notion with all the scoffing he or she or it could muster. Carlos Zambrano is in the middle of a five-year, $91.5 million contract. Alfonso Soriano is still in the first half of an eight-year, $136 million contract. Soriano is a bum. Zambrano is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. The same labels must apply to anyone who would insinuate either one of them is worth that much money, let alone underpaid. It’s as simple as that.
Then allow me to oversimplify matters. Let’s look at how valuable Zambrano and Soriano have been over their careers according to what kind of salary they would have commanded on the free agent market every year. A caveat: no player makes his worth on the free-agent market. Well, few players. For every Jeff Samardzija signing an exorbitant deal before ever playing a major league game there are dozens of youngsters thriving in the majors for less than they are worth until they can break through the arbitrated ceiling of collusion. 
But let’s just say Carlos and Alfonso could have had an exception where each year they were able to sign a free-agent contract based on their previous year’s accomplishments. I’ll use one resource to keep it simple: Fangraphs.
Fangraphs uses a player’s offensive and defensive contributions (though for pitchers they use strictly their pitching numbers, an oversight that undervalues Zambrano’s contributions) to calculate Runs Above Replacement (RAR), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and the player’s free-agent value according to the going rate per expected win. You can read more about their methodology in their more-than-thorough explanatory series.
Let’s take a look at Soriano’s career numbers compared to the theoretical replacement player (of which the Cubs farm system has had myriad candidates . . . that’s not a compliment).
Alfonso Soriano’s value is, contrary to Cubs fans’ belief, greater than 12 cents.
 The bottom right-hand corner is probably making you swear a little bit. If he could have made free-agent dollars his entire career, Soriano would have earned $93 million, and he’s only been paid $48.3 million? That can’t be right. Well, it’s not entirely right. Fangraphs has pro-rated his $8 million signing bonus with the Cubs across all eight years of his contract, but his total salary numbers don’t yet include 2009, in which he made $16 million, 17 if you include the signing-bonus pro-ration. That would bring his total salary earned to $65.3 million. Add to that the fact that he’s probably already made in excess of $1 million this year (whoa, I know) and we can put his real salary for his career at a nice even (and evil) $66.6 million. 
I want to draw your attention specifically to 2007. Soriano made $10 million that year and was worth $22.8 million. Remember that? Cubs won the division? Went to the playoffs (and went home unceremoniously)? That $12.8 million savings (yes, savings) allowed the Cubs to also sign Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa, and Jason Marquis. Remember that? And do you remember 2008, when Soriano made $14 million and was worth . . . $14 million? The Cubs were pretty good that year, too. 
There’s no getting around the atrocity that was Soriano’s 2009, so I won’t try to. Fangraphs says the Fonz was worth -$3.2 million as a free agent, which I guess means he could have found a team who would pay him $3.2 million to not play for them. That’s pretty much as bad as you can be. At that point, Soriano crossed the overpaid line to the tune of $7.4 million. Even if he recovers, Soriano can’t be expected to live up to his $18 million a year salary over the next 5 years.
But my point is this: up to this point, Soriano has been worth $26.4 million more than he has been paid over the course of his career. Yes, he may close that gap very shortly, but consider this: as restrictive as you might think his current salary might be on the Cubs’ ability to sign free agents next year, the backloaded nature of his contract (and his outstanding play) put the Cubs in prime position to compete for a World Series championship in 2007 and 2008. In my opinion, that was worth the $18 mill/5 yr gamble. Now on to the Z half of FonZ.
Big Z. Big value. Relatively small salary.
Zambrano also signed a signing bonus that can be pro-rated as $1 million per year for each year in his current 5-year plan, so we can add $18.75 million for 2009. That puts Carlos’s career worth through 2009 at $98.5 million and his actual salary at $58.25. Two things to add to that: 1) unlike Soriano, Zambrano’s true bargain-basement days were also spent with the Cubs (he brought $28.2 million of worth before ever breaking the million-dollar level in total salary on the major-league level); 2) these value numbers don’t include hitting, and Carlos’s bat has been worth quite a few Runs Above Replacement at his position, a ridiculous amount that should put his free-agent value several million dollars higher over the course of his career.
Probably the most shocking thing to Cubs fans would be the 2009 value: Carlos was worth $16.2 million last year! Granted, he’s being paid to be worth more than that and his offensive contributions probably only would close half of that gap. But even missing time to injury and failing to reach 200 innings for the second consecutive season, Carlos is worth a boatload of money. Deemed a failure by almost everyone, Carlos’s 2009 was his most valuable in terms of net worth (not adjusted for inflation) of his entire career! In terms of WAR, it was his best season since ’06. Call him not an ace. Call him a head case. He is dead valuable to this team, even if he was ridiculously unlucky last year.
Z just had a hard luck year, and this year isn’t shaping up to be any luckier. Bloop hits, bad defense, and poor run support have conspired to reduce Carlos’s win total, but none of that makes him any less valuable.
In sum, FonZ might not be worth what they’ll make over the next several years, but in the big picture, these have been two players who have been vastly underpaid and extremely overcriticized. They both gave the Cubs a great shot at a World Series and could do so again. You’d think the world’s greatest fans would appreciate that.

Alfonso and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It takes one to know one, apparently. photo adapted from colour-fool

Never in all my life have I laughed so hysterically at booing. Usually I frown on fans booing their own team or the players for whom they would normally cheer. I’m not sure what the desired effect is. Motivation? Vengeance? Catharsis? A chance to extol the virtues of the First Amendment, which allows us all the freedom to voice our thoughts in unintelligible groans to the full extent of our stupidity? Outside of maybe one of those options, I don’t think it works. If anything, it seems entirely counterproductive to the entire fan experience.

All of this is decidedly beside the point, because the jeers I heard yesterday were so hilarious. I watched and listened as a grizzled, disheveled man with trademark Kelly Leak sunglasses, a scraggly neck beard, and his own personal atmospheric system (consisting of nothing but alcohol fumes, body odor, and what I can only assume was the aroma of madly cavorting head lice) made his opinions of each and every Cubs player known to the world. He was a bit louder than most, but he obviously wasn’t alone; this is standard player introduction protocol. Ted Lilly and his non-setback back probably received the loudest ovation. Big Z wins the award for mixed receptions. But when Soriano’s name was announced, Shower McStinky had the quote of the day:

“Soriano is a BUM!!!!”

Peals. Of. Laughter. I mean, the guy was dead serious, but I couldn’t stop giggling. This man, who looked as though he were dressing up as Homelessness Incarnate for Halloween, was calling Alfonso Soriano, who will make $18 million a year through the 2014 season, a bum. It was kind of like when that grimy old lady called Buttercup the Queen of Putrescence.

But I understood the general sentiment, all comedy aside. Soriano had pretty much given the previous game away by failing to catch a fly ball that hit him in the glove. It may have been poor word choice, but I don’t begrudge the angst of the vagrant in training. But that was before the game.

I fail to understand, however, the complaints about Soriano after he went 2 for 4 with a run scored and a scorching line drive that almost put a baseball-shaped hole in Casey McGehee. It was right at the guy and absolutely uncatchable. But of course he struck out and didn’t run to first after the ball hit the dirt (maybe because he didn’t actually swing). So boooooo.

The fans weren’t alone in their inexplicable overreactions, however. Barry Rozner laments Soriano’s dreadful 2-for-4 performance with disgust intermingled with relief that a Cubs source said Fonzy has to bring something to the table or else. In a scathing chastisement of Soriano’s how-dare-he media evasion, Gordon Wittenmyer finds it titillating and scandalous that Soriano was removed from the game with the Cubs protecting a 9-4 lead heading into the 7th. ZOMDR!

Is this what it’s come to, people? A guy has a good game, and he gets skewered? Just because an outfielder doesn’t want to talk to a horde of petulant, seething junior-high media members you feel the need to change the facts on his performance? Rozner called Soriano’s I’m-gonna-get-you-sucka line smash a soft infield single. Wittenmyer pretended to know why Soriano didn’t talk to the media (because he was mad about being removed for defensive purposes . . .  I think it’s because he’s dating Elin Woods, did you hear?).

It might be a bit too early to judge the Cubs or any one player this season, but I’m not holding out hope that the media learns how to behave like real journalists, let alone adults. Maybe the fans can make better progress and actually judge things according to reality and not what they hear on TMZ in the papers.

2010 Cubs Predictions: They’re NOT Gonna Happen

More optimistic than psychic, all hope and no sense, these predictions are guaranteed never to come true. But if even one does, I will brag about it for the rest of my life. Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak (Also posted at LOHO)

This is the last worthless weekend that we’ll have to spend. All introductory east-coast-biased Sunday Night Baseball aside (that’s right, Yankees and Red Sox, we don’t care what happens between the two of you, no matter how much Joe Morgan insists that we must), Monday marks the dawn of the 2010 baseball season. So we’re running out of time to make bold  educated  sabermetrically generated half-baked predictions for what the Cubs will be able to accomplish this year.

If the LOHO NCAA Pick ‘Em Challenge has taught us anything, it’s that my annual tradition of picking Kansas to win it all is guaranteed to go dreadfully wrong every year (except in the occasional instance when I break from tradition and allow them to succeed . . . sorry, Jayhawks). And if it has taught us two things, it’s that I suck at predicting things. So here is a list of things I’m utterly confident will not happen, which is precisely why I am prognosticating that they will:

Alfonso Soriano will hit 40 homers. Do you remember last April? Soriano started the season hotter than a Gatorade-machine-bashing tantrum. And then he decided to test his knee reflex on the left-field wall. I’m hoping it was the injury that caused the precipitous production decline and not a failure to renew some Faustian deal with the devil. If I’m wrong (and I usually am) we’ll be seeing more of Tyler Colvin in left than anyone is really hoping to get. (Tyler Colvin’s mom excluded, of course.) If I’m right, Wrigley could be hosting its fair share of October baseball.

Ryan Theriot will collect 200 hits and 30 stolen bases. I’m not just saying this because he’s my starting shortstop in the SABR-jerk fantasy league (in which I don’t belong, but every basement needs a dweller). Well, actually, I am pretty much saying this because he’s my starting shortstop. But it could happen. I’m not expecting Rudy Jaramillo to work miracles up and down the Cubs batting order, but I do think he can help detect and correct problems a bit sooner. Don’t expect a power surge from the Riot, but you might see some better consistency from him and the rest of the Cubs bats. And the TOOTBLAN reduction will just be a freak aberration. I’m predicting big things from Theriot, and I’m predicting that most of them will come while he’s playing second base. Because . . .

Starlin Castro will be the Cubs starting shortstop by June 13. Why June 13? Don’t ask me to explain these things, I don’t know. But everyone in the Cubs organization thinks this kid is the real deal. And by June 13, most people in the Cubs organization will have their doubts about the Fontebaker project. Castro is going to shine at AAA, I can feel it. Or maybe that’s indigestion. Either way, I’m pretty sure Castro is coming, and he’s coming for good.

Carlos Zambrano: Cy Young Award winner, 2010. Big Z is good at baseball. Big Z is emotional. Big Z is occasionally a risk to himself and others. But more than anything, Carlos Zambrano is fun to watch. I’m not one of those who think his emotional outbursts have anything to do with the actual baseball results. If anything, I believe his excitability is more responsible for his success than his meltdowns. I think he’s been unlucky of late, and I expect that to turn around this year in a big way. But I expect a lot of things.

Carlos Marmol will earn 50 saves in 2010. He’ll probably also issue 100 walks, but this will be the year Marmol figures it out. Again. Without the World Baseball Classic and Groggles to torture us this year, the wild one will stay relatively consistent all season long. That means he’ll consistently work his way in and out of jams while no one ever seems to actually hit any of his pitches. Except with their elbows.

Carlos Silva and Milton Bradley will not only prove to be welcome additions to their new clubs, they’ll actually earn their contracts. No, wait, don’t leave! I swear, I’m going somewhere with this. Milton Bradley is a good baseball player. 2009 was not a good year for him, but the guy can hit a baseball (or watch a bad pitch go by). Seattle is the perfect place for him to shine, or at least where he can blend in with all the other rain clouds. And Carlos Silva has a chance to be a rock-solid fifth starter. Okay, maybe a moderately fluffy fifth starter, but Seattle paid us to take him, and he’ll earn that money. Wait, what does that even mean? Um . . .

Geovanny Soto will return to the All-Star Game. I don’t know what the stats will say when it’s all said and done, but Geo is going to have a hot start to 2010. He’s trimmed everything from his waistline to his eyebrows, and the net effect is going to be brilliant. At least as long as his mask covers up the eyebrow thing.

The biggest scandal to come out of the Cubs clubhouse will center around Mike Fontenot. Little Babe Ruth and another little person who frequents the place are going to have words, and it won’t be pretty. Which one gets run out of town is anybody’s guess, but I’m predicting the Cajun Connection stays in tact. (Help Wanted: Beat Reporter with penchant for drama)

Tom Ricketts will pour beer on a St. Louis Cardinal. It will be an accident, but it will happen.

The Toyota sign will shoot fireworks after every homer, and neither the city of Chicago nor the Wrigleyville neighborhood will have the slightest problem with it. White Sox fans will be equal parts furious and smug about the North Siders stealing their tradition while Cub fans will use the occasion to vaguely remember that the White Sox fanbase does, in fact, exist.

The Cubs will win the World Series. Of course they will. This is the year. Also, world peace will finally be achieved and the season finale of Lost will make total and complete sense.

Okay, that’s all I got. Gimme your predictions, and make sure they’re no less likely to occur than mine. I don’t want to be upstaged in my wrongness.

Random Cubs Facts, Opinions, Fabrications, and Outright Diversions

Firing Jim Hendry is a bad idea.

Jay Leno is not as unfunny as people give him discredit for. He’s also not as funny as Conan.

1998 was the best year of my adult life. The home run race was a part (nowhere near all) of that. I wouldn’t change a thing.

If the Cubs win the World Series this year by cheating, I will celebrate until I collapse in an unethical heap of exasperation.

If the Cubs win the World Series this year through methods of interrogative torture that cross lines even Jack Bauer wouldn’t step over, I would have second thoughts.

I do not endorse cheating, torture, illegal steroid use, or the designated hitter.

Wrigley Field is unique and one of my favorite places in the world. So is the house I grew up in, but I’m glad my parents remodeled.

If Wrigley had a JumboTron that could replay controversial calls, they’d have to stop the game every other inning to rid the playing field of angrily discarded beer cups.

Everyone’s at least a little racist.

Ryan Theriot isn’t getting any better.

Put an @ before someone’s user name to make sure they read your tweet. Use @@ to attack them with a giant 4-legged robot.

Going two-sies in the Wrigley troughs is a breach of etiquette.

The best Cubs-related movie of all time is Die Hard.

Dick Stockton will be the play-by-play guy for every Cubs 1st-round playoff game from now until the end of time.

I looked up the word curse in the dictionary, and I don’t see a single definition that doesn’t apply to the Cubs.

I love the Cubs, I hate the Cardinals, but to each his or her own.

Former players are entitled to their opinions about steroids, but I expect them to be no more objective than they were when they argued with umpires.

Parking at Wrigley has the exact same cost-to-pain ratio as getting a root canal.

Just once I’d like to catch a foul ball at Wrigley Field.

Alfonso Soriano will be great again.

Carlos Zambrano is the best Cubs pitcher, and he’s worth every penny.

The Cubs will win it all in my lifetime.

I am not to be trusted.

The (Off) Season of Sharing

While things have been fairly slow on the Cubbie front, it’s been anything but in the offices of And Counting. Don’t let the recent post stoppage fool you. I’ve been working like a dog (mostly on things of no interest to you whatsoever). And I’ve also been lending my services to a couple of other blogs I think will be of interest to you.

First there’s the Cubs blog of epic renown, A League of Her Own (affectionately known as LOHO or Cubhalla). I’ll be posting there on my patented irregular basis, beginning with this weekend’s look into potential candidates to join Rudy Jaramillo on staff with the Cubs. There’s an inspiring cast of regular contributers and discussion generators over there, and I highly recommend making it a regular stop on your quest to flee productivity.

I’ve also begun contributing to a growing Chicago sports site, 312 Sports, where I just posted a somewhat statistical look at Rudy’s effect on Soriano while in Texas.

I’m thrilled, honored, and falsely humbled to be a part of both blogs and to expose even more people to my verbose rants and musings. I won’t stop posting unique content here, but in the spirit of sharing I thought I’d begin a new trend of highlighting great content from other Cubs sites. Here’s a link from a blog I thoroughly enjoy, waxpaperbeercup, who offers some encouraging news on Starlin Castro, a rising star in the Cub farm system (who also is one letter away from being named after two dictators).

Alfonso’s Oil

In Paul Sullivan’s latest bout of actual news, he writes that Alfonso Soriano’s knee might be in for some serious treatment. Or it might not. The Cubs are considering subjecting the most tragically expensive knee in the Chicagoverse to arthroscopic surgery that would sideline him for *gasp* two weeks.

Or they won’t. For now, Soriano’s just getting the continued therapy and workout sessions that have worked such wonderful magic thus far.

Not that it matters. The playoff picture doesn’t have the Cubs in it right now. I believe in divine intervention, so I’m not ruling out anything. But surgery seems like the best option . . . for Soriano or just about anybody who thinks extra stretching and ice baths are gonna fix this multi-million-dollar problem.

You Can Schedule a Make-Up Game, But You Can’t Make Them Play

In a display of passive-aggressive nonviolence, the Cubs staged a sit-in at Wrigley Field today.

Said Alfonso Soriano, “We were promised a day off on September 3, and a day off we shall have.”

The Cubs adamantly refused to raise a glove in defense or a bat in anger. Seen pacing placidly in the dugout, Lou Piniella seemed to understand the protest, even if he didn’t agree with the tenets of the players’ beliefs.

“Look, I’m not the Dalai Lama.You gotta talk to the players about that. We’ve seen our fair share of good baseball this year, and we’ve had some bad baseball. That . . . I don’t know what that was, but it wasn’t baseball.”

The White Sox seemed just as confused as anyone. At first, they didn’t realize they were allowed to score while the Cubs weren’t playing. But by the middle innings, a few White Sox leisurely circled the bases, some of them with their wives, children, and pets. Ozzie Guillen was, predictably, the only South Sider who wasn’t left speechless.

“I don’t know what they were doing, but I figure, why not win a game if they’re gonna let you? It was like that scene outta Bad News Bears when the coach’s kid hangs on to the ball and the fat catcher runs around the bases, you know? Hey, we tried to give up some runs just to make it look real, but I don’t think Lou wanted to let that happen. He put Aaron Miles at the plate. I don’t know how to let Aaron Miles score a run. We’re not allowed to put a tee out there and he’s too small to try to hit with a pitch. It’s not my problem. Let the Ricketts family sort that out.”

It is not yet known whether Aaron Miles was in on the civil disobedience or if he was simply doing his best to reach base. As for the rest of the team, they plan to return to their baseball playing duties tomorrow after the team travels to New York to play the Mets.

Ten Things Cub Fans Can Still Look Forward to in 2009

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. You can take that truthism as a blessing or a curse, depending on your state of perpetual hope or interminable anguish. On the positive side, here are 10 things we still have to look forward to in a season most of us wish would just die already:

10. The return of Bobby Scales. It’s hard to remember the adrenaline shot the substitute teacher gave the Cubbies in his last fill-in stint in the majors, but I seem to recall feeling happy for a few days. I’d welcome another dose right now.

9. The unconditional release of Aaron Miles. I hope life treats him kind, and I hope he has all he dreams of. I wish him joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish . . . he was gone. And I-yee-I-ee-I will always *deep breath* loathe you-whooooo, and I will always . . . sing it, Whitney.

8. The sale of the team. It’s still not over. It won’t guarantee success. It won’t become final final until after the season is done. But I can’t wait to put the biggest distraction of the season (yes, even bigger than Milton Bradley) behind us.

7. One more game against the White Sox. Losing will be fuel on the depressing fire. Winning will do little to lift my spirits. But when the game goes down on Thursday . . . aw heck, never mind. I’m not looking forward to this at all. I hate it when we play the Sox pre-October.

6. The Wild Card. Will the Cubs win the wild card? Probably not. But the wild card race should be fun to watch. The National League is really just not very good this year, which makes that last playoff spot all the easier to grab. I’m not so much of a purist that I don’t enjoy a whole scrum of teams battling over a playoff spot they don’t deserve.

5. The eruption of Mt. Lou. You. Know. It’s. Going. To. Happen. I’ll bring the popcorn.

4. Randy Wells. I’m genuinely excited to see how Randy Wells finishes out this year. He may have seen his Rookie of the Year chances sail into the left-field bleachers, but he still has a chance to reach the teens in wins.

3. Aaron Milesless baseball. Even if he doesn’t get released, the expanded September roster now gives Lou no excuse whatsoever to ever put Aaron Miles on the playing field. If I see him so much as lift the Hello Kitty backpack, I’m launching an investigation into Lou’s sanity.

2. Da Bearsssss. Bearss. Ditka. Cutler. Bearss.

1. That guy. Somebody always has a good September. A lot of times it’s Soriano. Soto had some good moments in last year’s last month. In case you forgot, many people were ready to write off Zambrano’s 2008 until his no-no on September 14. It might not save the Cubs. It might not add to the wild card drama. But there will be somebody who makes September memorable.

It’s reason enough for me to keep watching.