"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, January 15, 2005 ::

Thank You!

The "Best Cubs Blog 2004" poll over at "The View From The Bleachers" wound up today and I am humbled to say... OK, I'm going to brag a little here...

I won!

Seriously, thanks to all of you who read my thoughts, comments, rantings and voted for me. If you enjoy reading all of this as much as I enjoy writing it... well, let's just say you like it a lot.

Final results were:
and another thing!  225 55% 
The Cubdom 65 16%
Ivy Chat 55 14%
Northside Lounge 28 7%
Cubs Now 18 4%
Rooftop Report 7 2%
Cubs Pundit 6 1%
Cub Fan Nation 2 0%

:: posted by Al at 5:44 PM [+] ::
Movie Review: "In Good Company"

It didn't start well. No, not the movie itself, but the theater. There was an idiot who decided he had to make comments on the stupid ads that all theaters are running these days. But someone sitting behind me took it upon himself to either talk to the guy or complain to management, and there were no further outbursts.

Then the projectionist fell asleep, or something, and the first few minutes of the film showed with a scrollbar across the frame.

Just about the time I was ready to complain, they fixed it, and the rest of the showing was uneventful.

The basic plot is: Dennis Quaid is Dan Foreman, an ad manager for a Sports Illustrated-type magazine called Sports America. The magazine is bought out by a conglomerate (Globecom, good generic name), headed by a Rupert Murdoch-type oddly named "Teddy K", and they replace the 51-year-old Dan with 26-year-old Carter Duryea, whose name is deliberately mispronounced by the people at the magazine. Duryea is played by Topher Grace (and please, how pretentious, if your name is "Christopher", which Grace's is, to call yourself "Topher"), and he looks about 16.

I don't normally make a lot of comments about a Roger Ebert review of a film I'm reviewing myself, but I have to here, because Roger must have been sleeping through it, or seeing a different movie than I did, because parts of his review were just plain wrong, as published in the newspaper yesterday.

At one point, Ebert wrote:

There is a bizarre episode where Carter takes Dan out drinking, in a club where patrons can observe each other via closed-circuit TV, and then hurries back to the office to join an X-rated chat room.

I don't know what movie Ebert was watching, but this scene was not in the film. And if you read the online version of the review, that sentence has been deleted.

Further, Ebert writes (and this is in both the paper and the website version):

[Dan] is concerned about [his daughter] Alex, especially after finding a pregnancy-testing kit in the garbage, but doesn't know how concerned he should be until her discovers that Carter, the rat, has not only demoted him but is dating his daughter.

The pregnancy-testing kit has absolutely nothing to do with his daughter (wonderfully played by the sensational Scarlett Johansson), but with his wife (Marg Helgenberger), who winds up pregnant, despite having two teenage daughters already.

OK, so Roger can't get them all right. He's further wrong when he says that a scene late in the film where Dan is at a "rally" staged for Teddy K, and he gets up and tells Teddy how full of it he is, is unrealistic. Given Dan's personality and how he winds up feeling he has nothing to lose, I found the scene a winner.

This movie has a lot to say about a lot of things: corporate America, how a younger generation relates to an older one, how people who find themselves declared irrelevant in corporate mergers have a tough time finding themselves in life even though they do have a lot to offer... sometimes the movie finds itself all over the place, and other times you think "Hey! This is exactly how life is!"

Worth seeing for the fine performances of Quaid, Grace, and Johansson, in addition to Morty (David Paymer), who finds himself let go and in middle-age, with nowhere to go.

This isn't the greatest movie ever made, but it's thought-provoking, at the very least, and worth the time -- and that's yet another Sun-Times error; they listed it as 131 minutes, but the true running time is 109 minutes.

AYRating: ***

:: posted by Al at 4:30 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, January 13, 2005 ::
Yet Another Sosa Rumor

Mike Kiley writes in today's Sun-Times that there is renewed interest in Sammy Sosa from GM Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals.

Bowden had spoken to Jim Hendry about Sosa a month or so ago, but at the time said the Nationals wouldn't assume any of the contract.

Kiley's article says that may have changed, and so there may be negotiating room.

Looking at the Nationals' roster, there isn't a single name that jumps out at you as a potential contract dump, nor is there anyone that I'd really be interested in seeing the Cubs acquire -- well, except Brad Wilkerson, but I doubt the Nats are interested in dealing him at any price.

Washington's management must make a splash with some star players, and they have already signed two players (Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla) to fairly large contracts, but neither Guzman nor Castilla carries the star power that Sammy Sosa would.

DC is a big enough stage for someone of Sammy's ego to feel that he'd be getting the exposure he wants. Kiley's article says that if the $18 million option that Sosa would have vest in any trade, could be negotiated down to about $8 million for 2006, then maybe a deal could get done.

In that case maybe the Cubs could pry Chad Cordero away from the Nationals in the trade, or maybe Terrmel Sledge, who had a .942 OPS in Triple-A in 2003.

Another option would come if they do free up at least part of Sosa's contract, Hendry could either sign Magglio Ordonez to an incentive-laden deal, or maybe even trade for another outfielder already signed with another club.

As ever, we await developments.

:: posted by Al at 9:22 AM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 ::
It's A Beautiful Day For Baseball!

As I write this the little digital thermometer which reads the temperature outside my window (and which, for $10, is pretty darn accurate) says it's 58.5 degrees, which is warmer than about 99% of Opening Days here in Chicago... and it's not raining at this moment and the snow is melting, so let's play ball!

Before the Cubs do that, though, they must get their house in order, and I'm not talking merely about the roster moves that I am confident Jim Hendry will still make, but also the necessary repairs to Wrigley Field itself, which will follow after the report the Cubs made to the city yesterday, detailing the fact that the concrete at the ballpark, which is aging, is not now in danger of falling down, but there is still the possibility that pieces of concrete could break off, as they did last summer.

What is likely to happen, according to the above article, is that better-fitting nets or screens, unlike the temporary nets put up in haste last summer, will have to be placed underneath the upper deck to protect people in the terrace reserved sections of the lower deck. Eventually, the Cubs will go about a program of replacing the ramps and other places where concrete has shown its age.

And, I believe, only then will the Cubs get approval from the city for their ambitious bleacher expansion and other plans for expanding the ballpark to the west.

Having driven by the ballpark several times this winter, I can tell you that there are barriers up on the Addison Street side which block the view from the street of whatever work is going on there. But there clearly is work going on, and I know the Cubs do this every winter. As I have written before, Wrigley Field is probably in as good or better shape than any ninety-year-old building in the city.

And knowing that a good part of the value and attraction of the franchise resides in the ballpark itself, I know the Cubs and Tribune Co. will do whatever they must, in order to keep Wrigley Field a viable baseball park for many years to come.

UPDATE: I drove by the ballpark again this afternoon and last year's nets are now down. There is scaffolding in the LF corner. So, clearly, work is going on, and just as last year, they may work all the way till Opening Day finishing it up.

Oh, and it's 60 degrees outside my window right now. It won't be this warm for a night game in 2005 probably till June.

:: posted by Al at 1:50 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, January 10, 2005 ::
Cubs Acquire Stephen Randolph

The Cubs sent a PTBNL to the Arizona Diamondbacks today in exchange for 30-year-old lefty reliever Stephen Randolph.

Well, I dunno. Randolph was bad in his debut year of 2003 and worse last year -- his walk/strikeout ratios are putrid (76 walks and 62 strikeouts in 81.2 innings), and he also allowed 11 homers last year -- though as the article on the Cubs website points out, only two were to lefthanded batters. Don't throw him against righties at all -- sixty of the 76 walks were to RH batters, nearly a quarter of all the right-handed hitters he faced. Yeesh!

Or maybe they want him as a lefty bat off the bench. He was 5-for-12 last year with three doubles.

But hey, the guy throws lefthanded. Unless the PTBNL is a top prospect, and I doubt he will be, this is a zero-risk trade.

:: posted by Al at 5:31 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, January 09, 2005 ::
Theater Review: "Monty Python's Spamalot"

Lest you think that all of us in the bleachers are completely uncultured, most of us have been for years, big fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the British TV show of the late 60's-early 70's, and particularly of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", a film most of us (I'm almost embarrassed to say) have seen dozens of times, and often during a ballgame, lines from the film come out of the mouths of me, or Mike, or Jeff, or Howard...

It is along those lines that when I learned that this classic movie was to be made into a stage production, last summer, I suggested to Howard that we all go.

This turned into a production in itself, and after Howard was done working with group sales, there were approximately forty of us who met at the Shubert Theater in downtown Chicago for yesterday's matinee performance.

We here in Chicago are very, very fortunate that the Broadway in Chicago organization has brought so many first-class shows here, and in recent years shows like "The Producers", and now "Spamalot", have had their world premieres here, before going to New York and larger fame and fortune.

There are only two weeks left in the Chicago run of "Spamalot", before it opens in New York on February 14, and it is sold out (though I have heard you can get tickets the day of the show if you're lucky), but if you have a chance either here in Chicago or in New York, GO SEE THIS SHOW!

Go see it if you're a Monty Python fan. Go see it if you're NOT a Monty Python fan. Go see it if you like Broadway musicals, and go see it if you don't. This is how good it is: I'd go again tomorrow if I could.

This is nothing less than a rollicking good time, both true to the original film and stuffed with amazing new material that is faithful and true to the spirit of what Monty Python was and is -- silly comedy, political satire, parody of art forms, and intellectual humor, and we got all of this and more in the show. There was topical humor, local references, and updates of some of the original material, all of which I found to be in the spirit of Python, and in addition, the play riffs on a number of Broadway shows, also very recognizably.

If you are as familiar with "Holy Grail" as I am, you'll scratch your head wondering how they could make a stage play out of it, but they do. There are many scenes where the dialogue is 100% faithful to the original, others where it was successfully adapted, and then... well...

Then there are the songs. Of course, there's the "Camelot Song" from the movie, where the "Round Table" turns out to be a table of a totally different sort.

But there are many, many songs created just for this show, and the actress who nearly steals the whole show is Broadway and opera veteran Sara Ramirez, who plays The Lady of the Lake (yes, she's actually in the play, unlike the low-budget movie, where she was spoken of but unseen. Speaking of budgets, Howard remarked to me that a single day's gross receipts for each Chicago show is probably equal to the entire budget for the film). There are also "Laker Girls" along with the Lady. Ramirez has several parts and songs, and even a song complaining that she hasn't had enough songs.

They also did a nice job turning two characters into one -- "Dennis", the guy collecting filth who does a turn on King Arthur repressing peasants, and instead of that scene just fizzling out, he winds up becoming Sir Galahad. No, I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that, neither am I by saying that Python fans will not be disappointed by seeing how the play handles the cow scene at the French castle. And for fans of other Python material, songs such as "Fisch Schlapping Song" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" appear in the play, along with a brief cameo by "Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Play".

Several big-name film veterans are in this show. David Hyde Pierce, probably best known for "Frasier", plays Sir Robin (and others); Hank Azaria, a veteran of many films including "The Birdcage", is Sir Launcelot (and others), and in an inspired bit of casting, British actor Tim Curry, who first came to prominence among American college students like me in the mid-1970's for his role in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", is King Arthur.

They're all terrific -- even Curry, who at nearly 59 years old didn't take part in many of the dancing scenes.

Yes, I said dancing scenes.

And there's a song called "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" that had the entire audience howling and will go over even bigger in New York, I am absolutely certain.

Eric Idle of the Pythons, who conceived this whole show and did it with the approval, but not the participation (except for a brief voice-over cameo by John Cleese), of the other Pythons, gets a big "Hooray" from me, as does his lyricist John DuPrez. I'm sure this show will have a long run on Broadway, and eventually return to Chicago and other major cities with a national touring company.

About half the group walked a couple of blocks north for dinner, but as we had some time, I stopped in at the little shop adjacent to the theater to buy some souvenirs, which oddly enough for a major theater production, were just expensive, not ridiculously overpriced.

My kids both asked to buy a "I'm Not Dead Yet" button. So, I asked the man behind the counter for two, and he said, "You can't have them!"

At first I laughed because I thought he was just being in character with the show. And then I recognized the seller -- it was Walter, the guy who I buy scorecards from at Wrigley Field.

It was a wonderful afternoon of theater, and even though there's a bit of profanity and some adult humor and some women with HUGE tracts of land... this show is safe for children, too.

AYRating: One, two, five....

**** (oh, it's worth MUCH more than three!)

:: posted by Al at 7:55 PM [+] ::
Correction & Update Section

In my post this morning, I said that Carlos Beltran could buy half of his native Dominican Republic with the new $119 million contract he has apparently signed with the Mets.

Of course, Beltran is from Puerto Rico. I knew this, just had a brain fart.

As for the deal, it's way too much money, even for a player who could arguably be the best player in baseball.

This, to me, is very much like the A-Rod signing -- same agent, same M.O., Scott Boras convincing someone that he had to overspend to get the star player on his team, and within a very short time, two things became apparent:

1) the player wasn't happy at his new team;

2) the new team spent too much on one player and as a result, became unbalanced and couldn't win.

One other thing happened with the team A-Rod left: they instantly became a winner, because all the money they didn't spend on A-Rod was spread among several players, notably Ichiro, and they had a shrewd GM in Pat Gillick who made them a championship team for several seasons, before it finally fell apart last year.

The Astros could do the same, though their GM, Tim Purpura, is a rookie, and it'll be harder to replicate what Pat Gillick did in Seattle.

Finally, the Mets have spent more than $150 million on two players, one of whom (Beltran) will be under considerable pressure to be the star and carry the ballclub, something he's never had to do before (yes, he was such in Kansas City, but expectations there were never as high), and the other (Pedro Martinez) can be brittle and injury-prone.

Other than that, the Mets still have a lot of holes, and now don't have the money to fill them, either now or at trade time.

It says here that the Mets will regret offering this contract, maybe even as soon as mid-season 2005. It further says here that Beltran, in a year or two when the Mets still haven't won anything and he's tired of the negative NY press, goes to Omar Minaya and says he'll waive the no-trade clause that the Mets gave him, the no-trade clause that was apparently a big part of the reason he didn't take the Houston offer.

And now, dog & pony show over, the Cubs can turn their attentions elsewhere.

:: posted by Al at 2:38 PM [+] ::
Beltran Update

As of this hour, early Sunday morning, New York Newsday is reporting that the Mets are "only four or five million dollars away" from signing Carlos Beltran, after he let the Saturday deadline for re-signing with the Astros pass.

Much as I'd like the Cubs to have Beltran, the money mentioned in the Newsday article -- between $115 million and $119 million -- is too much, I think. Beltran's a good player, perhaps even a great one -- but a lot of this inflated value is due to his good playoff run, and not to the numbers he put up in the regular season.

The Mets have been desperate for a star to compete in the NY market with the Yankees, and Beltran fits their bill.

Whether a somewhat unassuming player like Beltran will be able to stand up to the pressure of being "the man" in New York remains to be seen. Personally, I think he'd be happier and more productive in Chicago, where though he might make somewhat less money, enough maybe to buy only half of the Dominican Republic instead of all of it, and not have to be the main man of the offense or the main media focus, as he will be with the Mets.

But that's up to him, and if the Newsday article is correct, we will find out later today. Articles like that aren't always right, so take what you read there with many grains of salt.

Finally, yesterday about 35 of us, including virtually our entire group from the right field bleachers, hied down in the snow to the Shubert Theater in downtown Chicago to see Monty Python's "Spamalot", the new musical VERY loosely based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I'll post a review later today.

:: posted by Al at 4:18 AM [+] ::

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