Ode to Milton

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

Milton Bradley and Chicago were the thorns in each other’s sides in 2009. No one disagrees that things didn’t work out, but there remains wide disagreement as to why.

Was the fault Milton’s? Did the media intentionally provoke him? Did the racist and/or temperamental fans uncork his rage? Was it just the perfect storm of blame, like BP’s greedy recklessness meeting America’s insatiable oil dependence?

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes at all.

I don’t know, and I don’t really care to discuss Milton’s time in Chicago. But I do want to take a retrospective look at the decision to bring him to Chicago and the animosity people continue to have toward him. I’m not so interested in what went wrong as much as I’m wondering how I should feel about signing a guy like Bradley or toward Bradley himself now that he’s gone.

First the decision to take on Bradley’s baggage. Julie at LOHO wrote a fantastic post awhile back including a timeline of Bradley’s personal misadventures on and off the field. Jim Hendry knew about all of that, but was convinced by Milton himself that a new leaf had been turned. Was he an idiot to take that $30 million gamble?

I know the obvious answer to that question, so I want to ignore the financial aspect and the baseball statistics.  On a matter of basic human relations, is it dumb to trust someone with a checkered past and believe he or she can change for the better? I regret to confess my natural inclination: yeah, it’s incredibly stupid. But I also think you can’t afford to go through this life without extending a little bit of stupid trust to people who ask for and depend on it.

Now conscience wakes despair

That slumber’d,—wakes the bitter memory

Of what he was, what is, and what must be

Worse.

The cost of being burned by someone like Milton who disappoints your hopes and makes you look like a fool is smaller, I believe, than the price of quarantining yourself from anyone who has ever made more than their fair share of mistakes.

Obviously factors such as $30 million do make a difference in that philosophy. An ex-con wants to park my car? No problem. He wants to date my daughter? Not so trusting there, pal. But Milton’s not an ex-con, he’s just a troubled individual who wants to play baseball. In hindsight, I don’t mind that Hendry gave Bradley a shot. I wish it had gone better, but I hope it hasn’t destroyed his faith in humanity . . . or mercurial outfielders.

But now that our relationship as Cubs fans with Milton Bradley is over (or at least I thought it was), I don’t feel the need to close the book on my opinion of him as a person. Just as I would be willing to overlook the past transgressions of a player on his way to the Cubs, I don’t think it’s fair to define Milton Bradley by the things he did and said as a Cub—much less by the small sliver of his existence that the media reports.

A dismal universal hiss, the sound

Of public scorn.

Some people are waiting for an apology. That’s fair, I guess. Others just want nothing to do with him, and I can understand that, too. A lot of people, like certain fans in attendance at Seattle and Cubs color analysts, seem to have an active disdain for the guy. They feel how they feel. I feel better letting it go and wishing him well. That doesn’t make me a better person, but it does cut down on my stress level.

In some sense, I think Milton’s struggle is my struggle. There are things I’d like to change about myself, and I hope it’s not a waste of time. If I judge Milton as a lost cause, I don’t know what hope I can have for myself. I certainly don’t think my hatred or anyone’s will help Milton improve. And shouldn’t I want that for him? Or do the people booing Milton want him to stay who he is, or who they think he is, the vile enemy of all that is good and the rightful bearer of all blame?

I think a lot of people speak so loudly about Milton’s shortcomings so they can feel better about their own. In the grand configuration, I just think that kind of approach brings us all down. With all apologies to John Donne . . .

Any man’s downfall diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the crowd boos; it boos for me.

Source of Silva’s Luck: The Other Guy on the Mound

Silva avoids a pitch from the best pitcher he’s faced all year: Dan Haren (who’s having a sub-par year)

I’ve been wanting to post something about Carlos Silva for the last few weeks as his undefeated record begins to look more and more impressive (and the deal that brought him here appears increasingly miraculous), but I have hesitated because a) I didn’t want to jinx it, b) I don’t want to spew skepticism, c) I don’t feel the need to diminish what has been one of the few feel-good stories of the season.

But let’s face it, all of us have that nagging itch somewhere along the cerebral cortex telling us this won’t last. You know how every cartoon has an episode in which the protagonist finds a map to some buried treasure or enter a contest with a ridiculously generous prize, and they come tantalizingly close to acquiring riches that will change their lives (and the nature of the cartoon) forever, but you know deep down the creators of the show will never ever allow them to get what they’re after?

Such is Carlos Silva’s season. We know he can’t be this good, right? Well, watching him pitch, especially in his most recent outings, it’s pretty obvious that he really is outpitching the expectations. That’s not a fluke, it’s reality. But the money stat everyone’s staring at, the booty to Carlos Silva’s J-Lo, is his 8-0 record. (His 2.93 ERA ain’t too shabby, either.)

As much as any of us know that the Win stat is the most overvalued, meaningless number in all of sports record keeping, 8-0 still looks pretty darn impressive. I, for one (representing millions, I’m sure), am scratching my head trying to figure out how Silva could be so lucky. Because he’s been good, but not 8-0 good.

The best explanation is his run support. The Cubs are scoring an average of 6.45 runs when Silva starts, and they’ve never scored fewer than 4 runs for him. Is that because of the huge psychological boost they get from knowing Big C is taking the hill? I don’t think so. Let me give you a list of names of some guys who might hold the answer:

Homer Bailey (twice). Felipe Paulino. Oliver Perez. John Lannan. Dan Haren. Chris Volstad. Jhoulys Chacin. C. J. Wilson. Adam Ottavino. Dana Eveland. No, those aren’t the leading candidates to fill out the N. L. All-Star pitching roster, those are the starting pitchers Carlos Silva has had to face so far this year. Here are their ERAs: 5.51, 4.01, 6.28, 4.79, 4.83, 4.08, 3.77, 3.62, 5.06, 6.34; a collective 4.70 opposing pitcher ERA. Silva’s opponents have combined for a WHIP of 1.46, .89 HR/9, and a 1.68 Strikeout-to-Walk ratio.

To put that into terms I can understand, the guys who have started opposite Carlos Silva have been overwhelmingly craptastic. Silva has better numbers than his opposition almost across the board. Almost, because he’s actually been inferior to his opponents in HR/9 (.9 for Carlos) and SO/9 (6.3). Silva has made up for that with a very nice 3.92 K/BB ratio and a low 1.064 WHIP.

Again, I don’t want to diminish the pleasantness of the surprise Carlos Silva has been. I’m really happy for him and for, well, myself and all Cub fans who want to see him succeed. I just want to point out that the 8-0 record and the gaudy run support has as much to do with the lackluster opposition as it does to whatever magic beans Jim Hendry received along with Silva in exchange for Milton Bradley. I just hope the sleepy giant doesn’t come crashing to the ground on his way down the beanstalk.

Yes, I know these numbers are tiny. Click the image for a better look.

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.

A Few Small Repairs

Warning WreckI’ve made a couple changes to the site. Not wholesale changes or even dramatic ones, just a few minor adjustments. And that’s not because the site doesn’t need work, it’s just . . . well, what am I gonna do? I’m not exactly chiseling rough edges off the Michelangelo. Oh, and I’m not raising payroll, either. But you know, I think these relatively small additions to life at And Counting might just help out.
The situation here isn’t all that different from where the Cubs are right now. Look, last offseason Jim Hendry made some moves that didn’t work out. You could call them great moves that went bad, or foolish risks that were doomed from the start. Actually, it’s really easy now to say that they were all ridiculously misinformed—but so is this blog, so who am I to judge?

This offseason, Hendry has subtracted just about all of last offseason’s moves (the Mark DeRosa toothpaste can’t be squeezed back into the tube). Bradley’s gone. Gregg is gone. The Aarons both Heilman and Miles. We bid farewell to Rich Harden and Jake Fox, and we’ll miss a little bit of Ted Lilly at the outset of the season. But when you look at the 2009 contributions of the dearly departed Cubs, is the absence of any of that really going to sting?

So I look at the additions, the small changes, the slightly altered logos and DISQUS comments of this 2010 Chicago Cubs team. Marlon Byrd. Xavier Nady. Clubhouse gallbladder infection, Carlos Silva. And let’s not forget new guy, other new guy, and the dude we got for Jake Fox. None of these guys are going to reconfigure the Cubbie universe. They won’t win Nobel Prizes. But the the Cubs don’t need wholesale changes. They just need to tread water.

If you want to see the statistical projections, you can check them out at ACB. The Cubs aren’t bad. They’re not as good as the Cardinals (who suck, by the way). They’re not as good on paper as last year’s paper team. They might not even be as good on paper as last year’s team was on the field.

But I like this team. I expect Soto to have better luck (let’s hope his eyebrows weren’t the source of his power). I expect Soriano to be healthier and better. I expect Zambrano to be worse and luckier. Marlon Byrd will be good. Someone I’ve never heard of will be good. The pitching staff will be the least of the Cubs’ problems. I expect the sportswriters to fade into the dingy background of the press box. I expect to be wrong about oh so much. But in the end, or at least on the way to the end, I expect to enjoy the 2010 season.

Jon Heyman thinks the Cubs struck out. I think the Cubs took two steps forward and one and a half steps back. If they can just stay afloat until June, Jim Hendry might make a real move, and this team just might kick a little ass.

Hendry Should Brush up on French History

The Chicago sports media have been reporting ad nauseam that the Cubs can’t make a free agent signing until they move Milton Bradley. Some say it’s the money. Some say it’s the uncertainty of the layout of the team. I say hogwash. We all know the Cubs have more money than you can shake Sam Waterston at. And it doesn’t make a ton of sense for Jim Hendry to postpone free agent signings for fear of running out of holes on his roster. Right now, no one is offering the Cubs anyone for Milton Bradley, let alone any player worthy of occupying an everyday position.

The Cubs don’t lack the funds or the foresight to sign the players they want—Mike Cameron and/or Marlon Byrd, Joel Piñiero, and Alfredo Amezaga are among the candidates—but somehow they seem intent on broadcasting to the world that they lack flexibility.

Ever since “Milton Bradley” and “must trade” became redundancies, Jim Hendry has looked like a trapped coyote without enough fortitude to gnaw himself free from the jaws of Milton Bradley’s contract. No GM who sees him in that light will ever want to A) take home a Milton Bradley steel trap, or B) help Hendry salvage any of his $21 million leg. The metaphor’s falling apart, so I’ll move on.

It’s time for a French lesson. I give to you, Jim Hendry, the legend of Carcassonne:

In 760, “Pepin the Short”*, King of the Franks, took most of the south of France back from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne. True to its reputation, it remained an impregnable fortress. After a long siege, the Franks had good reason to think that the inhabitants of Carcassonne would soon starve and surrender. But Dame Carcas, the widow of the Sarrasin lord of the castle, devised a plan to save the city. She had a pig fed with the last sacks of grain the inhabitants could find. When the pig was fat enough, it was thrown over the city’s ramparts. At the sight of such a well-fed fat animal, the astonished assailants concluded that the inhabitants still had enough food in stock to stave off famine and weren’t about to surrender any time soon. And so they gave up and quickly lifted the siege. Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city all day long to celebrate the victory. Legend has it that Dame “Carcas sonne” (Dame “Carcas rings”) is where the name of the city came from.

If Hendry wants to change the way other teams view his situation, and if keeping Milton Bradley really is impossible, he needs to throw a big fat pig over the wall. Give a free agent way too much money. Make a trade for a guy you can’t afford to sign to an extension. Do something no one not named Steinbrenner would be willing to do.

Hendry needs to show the rest of Major League Baseball that he has plenty of options, plenty of money, and no intentions of getting screwed over. A fat free-agent contract (something worth about 2 or 3 John Grabow’s) would send a message that the Cubs can afford to keep Milton Bradley and they aren’t preoccupied with moving him—even if the exact opposite is true.

Do that, and maybe then a GM who cares more about OPS than congeniality will extend his grubby little paws in the direction of Milton’s death grip.

*Paul Sullivan shall heretofore be known on this site as Pepin le Bref.

Almost Lifelike

I was going to try to post a thoughtful introspective about the pros and cons of keeping Milton Bradley and the basic question of who is more detrimental to a team: an underperforming player or a so-called clubhouse cancer. That kind of talk will have to wait, because I found this video on ESPN, and I think it’s hilarious.

I’ll entertain arguments from just about anyone on just about any topic, but I refuse to believe anyone trying to convince me that those aren’t Sid and Marty Krofft puppets. I’ll resist the urge to comment on Levine’s wardrobe. It really does a magnificent job of making fun of itself.

Will the Cubs Do a Complete 160?

There’s a fine post over at Cubscast in which Lou (the podcast host, not the manager) delves into the Cubs’ payroll numbers. It’s not real encouraging, especially if the Ricketts are at all financially strapped in 2010.

What remains unknown are all of the arbitration-eligible players including Carlos Marmol, Soto, Theriot, Fontenot, Jeff Baker, Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Heilman, Koyie Hill, and Sean Marshall. That’s 1/4 of our 40-man roster.

Add in those potential numbers to the running total and if I were Bradley or Zambrano, I’d start packing.

I’m sure they knew it, but the Ricketts family did not inherit a 134 million dollar team payroll. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s over $160 million next season, and of course this is without the addition of any outside players.

I’ve said before I think the Ricketts should be just fine since they bargained their way to a better purchase leveraged transfer price on the team. But still, they didn’t get rich by throwing money away. This offseason should be pretty interesting, though I don’t see Zambrano wearing anything but Cubbie blue in the years to come.

Milton, on the other hand, isn’t likely to stay. Most of the rumored trades would hurt the Cubs financially and on the field, although Ken Rosenthal believes many teams have interest and that the Ricketts won’t pay too large a portion of his contract. I just can’t see Hendry, Lou, or the Ricketts wanting to deal with the head-case headaches.

The winter meetings will tell us a lot. Or drive us all crazy, either way.

Worst Move of the Season WINNER: Milton Bradley

In purely baseball terms, the Milton Bradley signing didn’t hurt the Cubs nearly as much as is being reported. And signing him wasn’t the worst move of the season. Not benching him earlier or more frequently was not the worst move. Neither was the refusal to put him on the DL. This award goes solely to Milton Bradley himself.

The reason all the other baseball moves pale in comparison to Milton’s actions and attitudes is the simple fact that all the other moves could have worked out. Aaron Miles’s stats have never been as bad as they were this year. Milton’s numbers should have been better. The Cubs overall should have scored more runs. Relief pitchers can be unpredictable fellows, and the bullpen was far from being the biggest problem on this team. The one personnel move that had no chance of helping the Cubs immediately was the Mark DeRosa trade, securing its position as runner up.

But Milton turned on the fans early and often and withdrew from his teammates maybe as far back as spring training. He conducted himself like an angry child, not just in the heat of the moment but also in the daily grind of the season. That never works.  Its effect on this Cubs team is often exaggerated, but the effect it had on Cubs fans is inarguable. He made this season suck more, and he alone is responsible for his actions. Awarding the WMotS to anyone else would fail to hold him accountable for his egregious conduct.

So, Milton, take this award and put it on your mantel*.

*and by on your mantel I mean up your self indulgent ass

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Milton Bradley

I debated this last nomination. I have defended, advised, and mocked Milton Bradley ad infinitum. If all I knew about Bradley’s 2009 season came from box scores and stats, I’d say he had a down but not dreadful year. Obviously the 40 RBI total is way too low. But the stats themselves don’t scream “Train Wreck!”

Unfortunately for . . . humanity, the stats don’t tell the whole Milton Bradley story. A Lifetime movie of the week very well might. A lot of media members saw a Milton meltdown coming (and some did their best to fulfill their own prophecies). Cub fans in general were suspicious of the signing (a 3-year, $30 million deal, the math of which never seems to add up; he’s making $7 million in ’09). So you could blame Jim Hendry for signing Milton in the first place. But I don’t think that decision is in the running for worst move of the season.

You could easily put the blame on Lou, too. As I’ve noted, his lineup shuffles probably didn’t do a lot to help ease what has become a standard rough adjustment period for big-money free-agent Cub outfielders. I doubt sending him home and calling him a piece of tin worked motivational wonders, either. But in regard to Milton specifically, I seriously doubt Lou is to blame for Milton’s inability to handle life as a Cub.

I didn’t want to blame the fans or the media because, contrary to what either group might think, the Cubs don’t rise and fall according to the comments made about them. And just when I was about to give up on a Milton-related nomination, I suddenly realized who in this picture may have made the worst move of the season:

Milton Bradley. Duh.

The worst move of the season just may have been Milton’s decision to pour out the crusty contents of his heart to Bruce Miles (who, in one of the best pieces of sports journalism Chicago has seen in years, relayed the story in all its lamentable context to us); about how he doesn’t enjoy playing at Wrigley, how he understands why the Cubs are such losers, and how the management, the players, and the fans all breed on negativity. That move was stupid, ignorant, selfish, mean-spirited, pathetic, pitiful, and also not much good.

That interview was the culmination of a bad attitude that had been stewing within Milton from the day he first set foot in the left-handed batter’s box at Wrigley field as a Chicago Cub. He was ejected on a bad call, the first in a series of admittedly bad things to happen to him as a Cub, none of which outweighed the childish behavior exhibited by him all season long.

Plenty of Milton’s adversaries this year have been jerks worthy of criticism. But their collective wrongs do not make Milton right. And when Milton Bradley, in talking with Bruce Miles, turned once and for all on the fans, the city of Chicago, and the Cubs organization in general, he blamed me for this mess. He blamed you.

Bad move, Milton. Bad move. Was it the worst? I doubt Milton thinks so. What do you think?

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Incessant Lineup Changes

If the 2009 Chicago Cubs seemed frustratingly inconsistent (or even consistently erratic) that could be because they were never the same team twice. Okay, that’s a lie. In 161 games (the final game against the Pirates was cancelled) the Cubs fielded an unoriginal lineup 30 times. And that’s without taking the starting pitcher into consideration.
Now, I love originality. I’m somewhat obsessive compulsive about it. I don’t even like telling the same joke twice. Sometimes I’ll think of something funny at home and will intentionally avoid saying it to anyone so I can include it on a blog or an email or a tweet or something. It’s a problem, I know. I’m not working on it. The point is, I can’t remember ever criticizing someone for being original. But this time (and for the sake of consistency, why don’t I make it the first and only time) I’ll make an exception.
Lou, what the hell? There were only 22 lineups you considered worth repeating. Of those, only 5 were used more than twice. Three different lineups were so magical as to warrant 4 appearances. None were used any more than that. A total of 131 completely distinct batting orders (again, that’s not even counting the pitcher). Like me, Lou, you’ve clearly got issues. Mine are annoying. Yours may have lost your team a chance at the postseason.
I’ll give Lou a bit of leniency, though. There were certainly a lot of nagging injuries to account for. A lot of underwhelming performance from hitters. But the sheer variance throughout every stretch of the season has more to do with a stubborn affinity for change than overall roster changes and DL stints.
More than a few Cub fans share my ire in seeing hot hitting players inexplicably pulled from the lineup. I’ve already expressed my rage at seeing Bradley and Fukudome shuffled from the spots in the order that favored their strengths (2 and 1, respectively). And I believe I recall a few fans here and there mention some disdain over Soriano’s tenure as a leadoff man.
If you look through the different batting orders (which I have) it appears as though Lou was trying his hardest to avoid any repeats. Lou could have drawn names out of a hat and produced a more consistent lineup. But he just kept juggling, shuffling, switching, and experimenting. I can’t imagine any big league player thriving under those conditions. The only consistent part of Lou’s lineup cards in 2009 had to be the WTF? expressions on the Cubs’ faces as they stared at it every day.
I didn’t realize how scattered and random the batting order really was until today. But now that I know, I wonder if this trend collectively was the worst move of the season.
Bad move, Lou. Bad move. Was it the worst? You tell me.
Oh, and I’ll award a signed photograph of all of Aaron Miles’s home runs in 2009 to anyone who can correctly name any of the three batting orders (1-8) that were used 4 times each.
Other Nominees: