"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

al yellon rants about the Cubs, the universe, and everything
:: welcome to 'and another thing!' - voted by readers as Best Cubs Blog 2004

:: Cubs' final 2004 record: 89-73, 3rd NL Central, -16. Last game: 10-8 win over Braves
:: Al's final 2004 record: 51-41, .554 (44-37 home, 7-4 road)
:: Cubs' 2004 record in all other games: 38-32, .543 (1-0 home, 37-32 road)
:: Next spring training game: Thursday, March 3, 2005, vs. A's at Phoenix, 2:05 pm CT
:: Next game: Monday, April 4, 2005, vs. Diamondbacks at Phoenix, 4:40 pm CT
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:: Saturday, June 07, 2003 ::

It Lived Up To The Hype

I, of course, with a season ticket, did not have to pay the scalper prices for today's game. But even those who did, must have felt they got their money's worth, as the most heavily hyped regular season game in many years turned out to be terrifically exciting, with a 5-2 Cub win, one they badly needed, being the result.

But first, a few stories.

As I walked up to the gate a little before 10 am, I had apparently just missed witnessing a taxi hitting a small boy running across Sheffield Avenue. The kid was moving, and though taken away in an ambulance, was apparently going to be OK. There were as many season ticket holders waiting as I've ever seen -- about 40 of us crammed into a very small space -- and a line going down the block on both sides.

My old high school buddy Mike had called me earlier in the week, said he'd be in town, and asked if I had any extra tickets, which I didn't. He said he'd take his chances with a scalper. About 12:00 he came in, said he'd been asked for $150 (not too bad considering I was hearing $250 earlier), had pulled out some $20's, and by the time he was done, had palmed one, and wound up paying only $125.

For once, that would have been worth it. Everything you'd hoped for in this game was there. Kerry Wood threw the best game I've seen him throw since the one-hitter he pitched two years ago. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens was firing 99-MPH fastballs and the Cubs were hitting some of them; he struck out only four (to Wood's 11), and still needs five more for 4000. In addition to Wood's great game, credit to Mike Remlinger for the biggest out of the day, a knee-bending breaking ball strikeout of Jason Giambi in the 8th, to a huge ovation.

You've surely seen the scarycollision that Hee Seop Choi had with Wood while chasing down a popup, which he wound up catching. He suffered a concussion and will be OK, though I'm sure he'll be out for a few days. That set up the next serendipitous occurrence of the day, when his replacement, Eric Karros, sent reliever Juan Acevedo's first pitch into the LF bleachers for a 3-run game winning HR. Karros now has 6 HR and 11 RBI, a very weird combination. I had gone to the men's room during the lengthy delay in getting an ambulance for Choi (Mike & I agreed that was the first time we'd ever seen one on the field), and while coming back up the ramp I happened to look across the street -- they had set up a huge video screen in the parking lot across from Murphy's, so I saw the replay of the collision.

It was also probably the nicest weather day of the year, with a gentle east wind and 70-degree temperatures, and the atmosphere was definitely playoff-style, with again a lot of Yankee fans. Honestly, they're almost nicer to deal with than Cardinal fans, because they're not there just to drink, but to support their team, and having been at Yankee Stadium a number of times, I can tell you they are knowledgeable, and passionate about the game and their team, and I can respect that. Many of them said they couldn't stay for the night game tomorrow, so tomorrow's game, though again a sellout, should be much more Cub-centric.

Though we saw no milestones today, it was more than satisfying, because frankly, the Cubs needed the win, and now can win the series with Mark Prior throwing tomorrow against Andy Pettitte.

:: posted by Al at 8:45 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, June 06, 2003 ::

Today, I had to work so I drove my car up to the ballpark and parked it on my break time, and then took the train back to work.

When I got off the train a little after 12:20, I thought I had been whisked to the 161st Street stop in the Bronx outside Yankee Stadium.

Where did these NY people get all these tickets? Man, they must have been burning up the DSL lines when they went on sale in February. I waited outside watching the line for a while and almost everyone had a tickets.com ticket (as opposed to box-office sale ticket stock). There were almost as many Yankee fans as we see Cardinal fans here when St. Louis is in town.

I give the Yankee fans credit. They're not all loudmouth drunks (though there were plenty of loudmouths -- one guy kept offering every woman he saw $500 to take off her shirt and pose for a picture with him. None accepted.). They love their team and they're into the game and a lot of them drove the nearly 1000 miles from the NYC area to see this series.

It was definitely a playoff atmosphere, and unfortunately, Carlos Zambrano let the Yankees take an early lead with a Jason Giambi HR in the first (and Giambi put on quite a BP show, skying about a dozen balls onto Sheffield, the best BP show I've seen since the Mark McGwire days). The Yankees never gave up the lead in their 5-3 win over the Cubs today, which was delayed an hour and 25 minutes by a rainshower (I call it a shower, compared to the gusty storm that hit on Mother's Day -- it rained steadily but never too hard). The weather continues rotten here this spring, though it's supposed to be nice tomorrow. Despite the weather, nearly every seat was filled, plus plenty of people standing, though the 39,359 was not the largest crowd of the year -- smaller than Memorial Day. I expect tomorrow's crowd to be the largest of the season, and maybe the largest in a couple of seasons.

Zambrano settled down and threw four more good innings. I say four because he lost it again in the third, and then nearly got out of it with only one run scoring before Juan Rivera smoked a 2-run single up the middle, and that was the difference in the game. The Cubs made a game of it in the ninth, bringing up Hee Seop Choi with the tying runs on base, but Mariano Rivera played the "Here, hit it if you can" game with him, and struck Choi out on three straight fastballs.

The Cubs need a win tomorrow, so I'll settle for seeing Roger Clemens strike out nine to get to 4000. He can wait to get his 300th win.

Sammy Sosa needs three hits to get to 2000; that'd be another cool milestone to see.

There were tons of ejections today, lots of very drunk people, probably because they had an extra 90 minutes to drink with the delay. Tomorrow will be better, as the game is an early start, 12:15 Chicago time.

Sight seen: a skimpily-dressed woman with obviously enhanced breasts pranced by several times. The comment was made (and I can't remember who said it first, Howard or Jeff): "They must be corked." She and her boyfriend were among the ejectees.

:: posted by Al at 8:55 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, June 05, 2003 ::
Let's Talk Baseball

With all the hoopla around the Sammy Sosa incident, and the hype likely to now start about the Yankees coming to town tomorrow, I thought it would be nice to focus on baseball only (OK, with a couple of sidelights) in discussing today's easy 8-1 win over the Devil Rays.

Matt Clement started out shaky, but the defense bailed him out with a couple of early double plays and he got into a really nice rhythm, winding up throwing only 95 pitches in seven strong innings. I wasn't really in favor of allowing Joe Borowski to pitch the ninth, since closers often don't wind up throwing well in non-save situations. But maybe Joe hasn't been a closer long enough to get into this mentality; he threw only 11 pitches and so should be ready for the weekend.

Corey Patterson looked like he might have a shot at the cycle, doubling and tripling in his first two at-bats, but that's all he got, and the Devil Rays, looking like the young, inexperienced team that they are, threw a couple of balls away and that's what the Cubs needed for their game-breaking seven-run rally in the third inning. Only three of the eight runs were earned, and that's largely because of Tampa Bay 3B Jason Smith (remember him? He's the guy the Cubs sent there in exchange for Fred McGriff), who air-mailed a throw about 15 feet over Aubrey Huff's head at first base.

The Cubs hadn't had more than a one-run lead since a week ago yesterday, and this is the first more-than-one-run win since May 25 at Houston, and all of that is welcome news with the Yankees coming to town -- not because of the hype, but because they're a good team, and the club is going to have to play good ball to beat them; the Yankees rarely beat themselves.

Brian got tickets from Al Levine today so he sat in the box seats and Al threw two good innings. Amazing that the Cardinals, who need bullpen help, let him go at the end of spring training. Dave told us that the Cardinal organization treated Al really poorly. I'd imagine there could be a couple contenders that could use a good middle reliever like that.

Stupid marketing tricks: Bullfrog Sunblock is one of the Cub sponsors, and they will put up the UV rating and temperature on the message board before games.

Or more correctly, before night games. It's truly laughable to hear Paul Friedman announce every day that the UV rating is "low" for a night game. Not once have they actually given this information when it's been sunny -- and today was one of the few really nice days we've had so far this year.

Now -- on to the hypefest tomorrow!

:: posted by Al at 4:43 PM [+] ::
As If You Didn't Know This Already

Jose Canseco is a moron.

On ESPN's "Outside the Lines", he accused various entities, particularly the media, of going after Sammy Sosa because he's black.

This accusation is so ridiculous it doesn't even deserve comment, but just goes to show you why Canseco is being treated like a pariah by baseball. It's because he is one.

:: posted by Al at 9:39 AM [+] ::
Life - and Baseball - Goes On

There's not much to say about the Cubs' lifeless performance last night in their 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay, so instead I'm going to regale you with this joke that Howard told us. I guess this is an old one and a groaner, but Jeff, Mike & I had never heard it before.

An old woman took her parrot to the vet since it seemed very ill. After a brief examination, the vet pronounced the parrot dead. "Are you sure?" she said. The vet replied, "Well, there is one more thing we could try." He disappeared in the back room for a second and came back, followed by a big black Labrador. He put the dog on the table next to the parrot. The dog sniffed the bird from head to toe, licked it a little, then jumped off the table and ran back into the other room. "Well, that confirms it," the vet announced. "Your parrot is dead." The woman started crying, and said, "Are you really sure?" The vet replied, "Well, there is still one last thing." He went to the back room yet again and came back carrying a cat in his arms. He put the cat down next to the parrot. The cat sniffed the bird up and down, then jumped off the table and ran back into the other room. "That settles it," the vet said. "Your parrot is definitely dead." The old woman sighed. "What do I owe you?" The vet replied, "$300." The woman was shocked. "$300! That seems awfully expensive. What did you do that cost $300?"

"Well," the vet replied, "it's $100 for the office visit, $100 for the lab fee and $100 for the cat scan."

I warned you it was a groaner.

I also told you yesterday that I wanted to believe Sammy Sosa was telling the truth about his bats. After 76 other bats were examined by MLB, it turns out that indeed he was telling the truth. It does say that he was pretty stupid to even have a corked bat for "batting practice", because the altered bats don't really help balls go that much farther anyway, and I think he realizes he'll take at least a short-term hit in his image, and it's obviously hurt his concentration -- he looked totally lost last night. But I was gratified to see the crowd reaction. I think people in general are very forgiving, and we as Cub fans more than most. Sammy's meant a lot to Chicago, the Cubs and baseball and that's what people were reacting to last night.

As far as penalties, the official rules of baseball provide only for ejection from the game for using an illegal bat; rule 6.06 further says:

"...uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire's judgment, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc. No advancement on the bases will be allowed and any out or outs made during a play shall stand. In addition to being called out, the player shall be ejected from the game and may be subject to additional penalties as determined by his League President."

So MLB has a tough call here. Sammy came clean and told the truth; yet others who got caught with such bats had suspensions of several games. I'm sticking with what I said yesterday; even if a suspension is announced today, it'll be appealed, probably then reduced, and won't start till June 16 at the earliest.

:: posted by Al at 9:17 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 ::

There's not much more to say that hasn't already been said about Sammy Sosa being caught with a corked bat during last night's 3-2 Cub win over Tampa Bay; so I'll just add a few personal notes.

First of all, the ballpark is probably the worst place to be when something of this news magnitude occurs. Since Wrigley Field doesn't have a Jumbotron (and I'm not recommending that they get one, either) -- there's just the small message board to give information, and frankly, they almost never do. In fact, one of the between-inning ads that uses a bit of Cub history mentioned something else that Sammy had done in his career years ago, oblivious to the much bigger news going on last night.

So we were dependent on cellphone calls to get updates; Howard, who didn't make it to last night's game, was either calling us or we were calling him, getting information on what was going on. I did wind up listening to Sosa's postgame press conference and watched the rest of it at home. FSN's Dave Otto, a lousy game analyst but decent in-studio host, said that many players use corked bats for batting practice. That may be true, but if so, how one of them could have wound up in a situation where it could be used in a game is very suspicious.

I'd love to believe Sammy's claim that it was an "honest mistake", but I suspect MLB will suspend him. It's likely to be 10 games -- that's what they originally gave Albert Belle, the last really big star to get caught like this -- and probably reduced, as Belle's was, by appeal, to 7 games. And don't think this will happen right away -- I have to believe MLB will "allow" Sammy to play against the Yankees, and keep in mind the Cubs are making their first interleague visits to Baltimore and Toronto next week, and those clubs have sold a lot of tickets marketing Sammy's visit, so I suspect an appeal might be heard sometime next week, and any suspension could start during the Cincinnati series on June 16. The sport is so focused on money these days, that I'd say this is a very likely outcome.

Are corked bats so common that everyone does it? Probably. The one last night may just have been poorly enough made that it shattered, catching Sammy. Will it taint his accomplishments and career? I say no, and so did writer/historian Jerome Holtzman on our ABC-7 show this morning; but others disagree. We shall see. If it's true, damn, yes, I'm disappointed in him. He seemed to be living a very admirable life. I don't think Sammy Sosa needed to cheat, if in fact that's what he was doing. It's a shame, if it turns out to be the truth.

As far as last night's game is concerned -- Mike & Carole both showed up late and wound up nearly missing all the first-inning brouhaha, and earlier in the day I had sent Mike a stinker of a trivia question I had found at espn.com, upon which he responded by e-mail "Jeeeezus H. Keeeeerist", or something like that.

Oh, the game! Well, ex-Cub Jeremi Gonzalez (he's the second straight pitcher whose name is pronounced "Jeremy" to face the Cubs with an oddly spelled first name -- Jeriome Robertson of the Astros on Sunday the other -- though to be fair, the native of Venezuela's name is properly "Geremis", and Americanized to "Jeremi". But I digress.), back in the majors after five years battling elbow problems (and he'll get them again, with that odd motion of his), threw well, and though the Cubs hit him, they only scratched out a couple runs.

I was astounded that Lou Piniella didn't walk Ramon Martinez with first base open in the last of the 9th and pitch to Damian Miller, who's in a horrendous slump, especially after Al Levine threw two pitches way wide of the plate. Incidentally, Al's a personal friend of Brian's (who sits with us), and he and Mike both pointed out that Levine always pitches poorly in Chicago. This was Levine's first career appearance at Wrigley Field.

Finally, it was tremendously cold last night -- probably the coldest I've ever been at the ballpark in the month of June. I was telling people that the reason was because someone at the Cubs heard that Tampa Bay plays poorly in cold weather. Oops, wrong Tampa Bay team.

But all's well that ends well. The Cubs won the game and held first place for another day. We await more information on Sammy's fate later today.

:: posted by Al at 7:54 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, June 03, 2003 ::
Interleague Play

Today begins the first round of AL/NL matchups, which will this year be compressed all into the month of June. This is the seventh season of interleague play, so it is now a significant part of baseball history.

Now George Steinbrenner is bitching about the matchups he got in interleague play, as the Yankees will play the Reds and Cubs while his closest competitors, the Red Sox, play the Pirates and Brewers.

I've heard this argument about a lot of teams ever since MLB went to the "natural rival" idea, which means the Cubs and White Sox, for example, play home & home series, while some other teams don't have that, and will play only 12 interleague games, as opposed to the 18 that the Cubs will play.

This is an excuse, in my view. You've still got to go out and win the games. The Yankees went into Detroit, in their own league, over the weekend, and had to play seventeen innings on the last day of the series to avoid losing the series to the worst team in baseball. And the Tigers won the same number of games in the month of May that the Yankees did -- eleven.

The Cubs face the Devil Rays, not a very good team, the next three days. If the Cubs are serious about contending this year they ought to win at least two of three, if not sweep.

But you still have to go out and win the games. I'd advise Steinbrenner, or any other team owner who thinks his team is getting shafted by the schedule, to shut up and tell his manager and players to just go out and win.

This ought to be quite a weekend at Wrigley Field. Dusty Baker has shifted the Cubs' rotation around so that both Kerry Wood (Saturday) and Mark Prior (Sunday) will face the Yankees. If this rotation is maintained, it means that a lot of teams will face Wood and Prior back-to-back over the next few weeks.

Just a few musings on a chilly, rainy June day. Tonight's weather will be more suited to mid-April than what it should be this time of year.

:: posted by Al at 9:47 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, June 02, 2003 ::
Today's FCC Ruling

As a liberal, I usually am opposed to whatever Republican-dominated Washington decisions are made, such as today's 3-2 decision by the FCC to allow the ownership cap for TV stations to be raised from 35% of US households to 45%, and to eliminate some of the newspaper/TV crossownership restrictions.

So I was surprised to read that there are a lot of Republican senators opposed to this and that they think they can pass a bill in the Senate that would reverse today's decision.

Even though this decision seems to concentrate a lot of power in the hands of a very few media companies, the reality of today is that information is much more decentralized than ever before, especially with the Internet. The fact that you are reading this right now is proof of that; ten years ago I wouldn't have had this outlet, which can be read by as many people around the world and on the same screens as information websites (and many of their links are on the left panel here) from the same large media companies that people seem to fear are going to "take over".

What this is really all about is saving over-the-air broadcast TV in this country, which has been losing market share for decades, and even if the stations are owned by a very few conglomerates, they still have to respond to their local audiences or they won't make any money, and so they'll have to hire local people to run them.

God, I sound like a Republican writing this. Someone shoot me.

:: posted by Al at 8:05 PM [+] ::
Catching Up

A few notes from the weekend...

It's always nice to be home, after travel. I love to travel, see places either I haven't been in a long time (like my reunion), or visit new places, and showing my kids my old school was a real thrill. It blew them away too; I don't think they really had any idea what to expect from a college, and now they have had a little taste of it.

During the reunion I was talking with an old friend who I had met the very first day I was there in 1974; I hadn't been that close to him over the years, but we did always enjoy talking at reunions. His name is Michael Fleischer. As we were talking about politics, someone joked with him, "You're Ari's cousin, right?" His answer: "No, he's my brother." We thought he was pulling our chain, but Michael is indeed GWB's soon-to-be-ex-press secretary Ari Fleischer's brother. Only then did I notice the physical resemblance.

Yesterday started the first of thirteen consecutive Cub games, home & road, that I will attend -- the rest of this homestand, and the Baltimore and Toronto stops on the upcoming road trip. Yes, we're going full steam ahead to Toronto. A friend at the reunion, who lives there, confirmed what our other friends who live there told us: that the SARS scare is all media hype. Sure, we'll wash hands more often, but other than that, I plan to approach it as any other vacation destination. Toronto's a great town and we plan to enjoy it to the fullest.

I hope the Cubs do not sign Matt Williams, who was just designated for assignment by Arizona. Matt appears to be done, and nice guy and friend to Dusty Baker that he is, I don't think he'd help the Cubs. I wish they'd go ahead and pull the trigger on a deal for Marlins 3B Mike Lowell, because the Dodgers and Yankees are hot on his trail too. There's been some talk that the Cubs are also scouting Aaron Boone of the Reds, and that'd be fine with me also. Much as I'm a fan of Mark Bellhorn, he hasn't been hitting, or hasn't been allowed to hit because he's anchored to the bench, so let's make the change.

Finally, sadly, the Butcher of Meigs Field, Richie Daley, was given court go-ahead to finish the demolition of Meigs by a state appellate judge on Friday. I was pleased to see in today's Sun-Times that actor Harrison Ford, an avid pilot, ripped Daley for doing it, especially the way he did it.

And in the end, that's what was the worst thing. Reasonable people can disagree on whether that site should be an airport or a park. I happen to believe an airport is a great asset to the city. But tearing it up in the middle of the night is just cowardly, and that's about the nicest thing I can call Daley.

Ex-Cub Jeremi Gonzalez, once a highly-touted prospect, finally back from arm surgery, starts for the Devil Rays tomorrow against Matt Clement, in the first interleague matchup of 2003.

:: posted by Al at 8:29 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, June 01, 2003 ::
A Long Day...

... and so, I'll post a lot more on the reunion weekend tomorrow. Got up very early because we had a 45-minute drive to the airport in Syracuse, made into an hour-plus drive by an absolute deluge of rain.

Being late, I rushed to buy a newspaper. Paid for it and left it on the counter, so bought another one, so I could catch up on yesterday's box scores and other news. Incidentally, one of the pitchers for Louisville (Reds farm club) against Syracuse in Triple-A action tonight is Jaime Navarro, believe it or not.

You know, I'm all in favor of stopping terrorism, as you know, and the new TSA people are very nice and efficient at airports, but frankly, it is absolutely ridiculous for them to stop every single person and make them take their shoes off and swab them down, at an airport as small as Syracuse. It has been proposed that a voluntary system could be devised, where you would submit to a very indepth examination of yourself, and qualify for a pass that would let you wait in shorter lines at airport security. I'd be happy to do that if it were approved; I'd even pay a small fee. The TSA people would then be able to concentrate on trying to find the real bad people trying to get on planes, rather than make blue-haired old ladies take their shoes off.

Anyway, not much to say about today's very bad 9-3 Cub loss to the Astros, other than the fact that I regaled everyone in the bleachers by showing them my ID badge from the reunion, which contained my senior year yearbook photo. That was much more entertaining than watching Kerry Wood implode yet again. And, not much to say about yesterday's 1-0 win either, except to note that it was not even the longest 1-0 game in club history (they played a 17-inning 1-0 game back in the early years of the last century).

He'll have to be on his A game to face Roger Clemens Saturday; Clemens will again be going for his 300th win, since he failed to get it today in the Yankees' wild 17-inning win over the Tigers in Detroit. That ought to be a terrific afternoon of baseball! Clemens also needs nine strikeouts to get to 4000 for his career; we're going to have a pool in the bleachers. I'll pick Corey Patterson, probably.

Much more tomorrow.

:: posted by Al at 5:34 PM [+] ::

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