"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 29, 2005 ::

All Sammy, All The Time

Until this deal -- or deals, as I shall explain -- is finalized, I'm going to obsess a little about the Sammy-to-Baltimore trade... this is bigger than the Nomar trade, in many ways it can be argued that this is the biggest name involved in a Cubs trade since they dealt away Ron Santo and Billy Williams in the mid-1970's.

Yes, that's right, those two beloved Cubs, who we think of as bleeding Cubbie blue, didn't finish their careers on the North Side. Santo wore the mid-70's goofy-looking red pinstripes of the White Sox, while Billy was garbed in Charlie Finley's gold-and-green of the Oakland Athletics -- and became the only one of the much-loved Cubs of that era to make the postseason, with the 1975 A's (he didn't distinguish himself, going 0-for-7).

I got e-mail from Mike today, summing up his thoughts on the Sosa deal, and I think speaking for many of us, myself included:

The Trib said it perfectly in their headlines, this is a divorce. Despite the
painted-on good vibes displayed by Baker and Hendry at the convention, the differences were apparently irreconcilable. In this case, the correct aggrieved party is being cut loose. If speculation is in order, perhaps the purported meetings fell through, or were rejected. The goods we'll be getting in exchange do not seem of equal value, but the leavetaking is everything.

As to his legacy, a lot of the leftover bitterness will depend on his subsequent performance. If this does rejuvenate him, and he has two or three banner seasons, seasons he could as well have had here if he behaved less like a jerk, then it will be more difficult to be gracious. At this point, the greatest Cub in history is either Banks or Sosa, the tossup to be resolved by how this separation matures.

I do have to agree that I would not have matched either the Beltran or proposed Detroit-Ordonez deals.

Nor would I, and that brings me to the discussion of "deals", plural, because the Aubrey Huff rumors persist, and I am led to believe are more serious than might have been thought earlier today.

Let us hope this happens. Huff's a terrific player and would be a younger, cheaper, lefthanded, nicer version of Sammy Sosa.

We await developments.

:: posted by Al at 7:18 PM [+] ::
...
At Last

The distractions, controversy, bad vibes, everything that's haunted the Cubs since the end of the 2004 season, are apparently over.

Sammy Sosa has apparently been traded to the Orioles, pending the approval of the commissioner's office and passing a physical, for ... well, that's not completely clear. Jerry Hairston Jr. is one of the players mentioned, as are two Orioles minor leaguers,pitcher David Crouthers and second baseman Mike Fontenot. Orioles closer Jorge Julio may also be part of this deal... but...

Rumors are also flying on a Tampa Bay Devil Rays message board that the two prospects, plus an unnamed "top Cubs pitching prospect" would be sent to Tampa Bay for outfielder Aubrey Huff, and possibly relief pitcher Danys Baez, which is Spanish for "Kyle Farnsworth".

This would be a terrific deal -- the 2006 option year on Sosa's deal would apparently be voided, the Cubs would owe approximately $10 million to Baltimore, and would acquire a terrific young (28 years old) player in Huff, who would take over in right field. Huff hits lefthanded, hits for power and average and draws walks.

So how do I feel?

Well, it's a shame, really. Sammy Sosa has played thirteen years with the Cubs, and the only players who have been with the club longer in my lifetime are Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, should-be HoFer Ron Santo, and Mark Grace, all of whom are so identified and identifiable as Cubs.

Sosa should have been the same way. He's been so much loved over the last six or so seasons, because of the sunny personality he once projected, and because of all the home runs he hit -- steroids or no, and I suppose now we'll never know.

All the goodwill Sammy had built up after the 1998 season, and with his spectacular 2001 season, almost certainly the greatest offensive season in Cub history, started to fade away, first with his ridiculous "Sammy's in the house" proclamations when he arrived at spring training, to playing his boom box loudly in the clubhouse despite the fact that it grated on everyone else there, to the corked-bat incident in 2003, to injuries that seemed suspicious, and finally, with the well-documented walkout on his teammates, manager and we the fans on the final day of the 2004 season.

It is indeed truly a shame that Sammy could not finish what is certainly going to be a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs. Even with his clearly reduced abilities, he's going to hit his 600th home run this year, and possibly go on to 700 -- and that's part of the problem, as Sosa was quoted earlier this offseason as saying he wanted to play five more years so he could hit that many. No mention was made by Sosa about winning, which, after all, is what this game should be all about.

As was said on ESPNews last night (where I first found out about this deal), the Orioles have no pitching and aren't going to win the AL East or the wild card, not with the Yankees and Red Sox there, but Sosa will sell some tickets, and that's why Peter Angelos wants him, with Angelos' perception (rightly or wrongly) that the Washington Nationals will cut into his fan base.

It had been pretty much assumed all winter that the Cubs were going to deal Sammy no matter what, and now it appears that it was indeed a matter of waiting for the right deal to materialize. Yesterday, a "mystery team" got involved and it seems clear now that it's Tampa Bay -- this essentially becomes a three-team deal, presuming it comes down the way the rumors have it.

For the Cubs, as I've said -- it removes the controversy and distractions, it provides (with Huff) a suitable, if not better, player than Sammy Sosa, and ought to silence the critics out there who said that the Cubs didn't do anything this offseason. I do cringe a little bit when people say that Hairston could "solve" the Cubs' leadoff problem, and I can't imagine Todd Walker will be too happy to see Hairston in spring camp.

But for me, I'm happy. Now the Cubs can become a team -- and as I've pointed out, it was made perfectly clear at last weekend's convention who the bulk of Cub fans want to be the leader of this club -- Nomar Garciaparra.

Goodbye, Sammy. You did give us some memories. But it was time for you to go.

:: posted by Al at 5:40 AM [+] ::
...
:: Friday, January 28, 2005 ::
Jumping On The Bandwagon

OK, it's a very small bandwagon and it's not going very fast -- yet -- but as in recent weeks, the Chicago Bulls, after six years of playing like a not-very-good high school team, have started playing both good and exciting basketball, my son Mark and I hied ourselves down to the United Center to see them play the Charlotte Bobcats last night.

Why the Bobcats? Because Mark asked to see the Bobcats, to see highly-touted rookie Emeka Okafor play. (He didn't, much. He scored only four points.)

And before I tell you about the Bulls' exciting 101-93 win over Charlotte, I have a rant.

What's with these nicknames? Charlotte had a team, the Hornets, which left and moved to New Orleans. New Orleans had a team, the Jazz, which up and moved to Utah. Therefore, we are left with "New Orleans Hornets".

We all know that "Utah Jazz" is one of the most illogical team names ever. Well, at least since "Los Angeles Lakers", who started in Minneapolis, a place where they actually have lakes.

And then the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, a place where the only "grizzlies" are at the zoo.

So here's my suggestion: Give the New Orleans team back its original nickname, which fits. Give Charlotte's team back its original "Hornets", call the team in Utah the Grizzlies (at least they have some there), and Memphis can be the Bobcats, which is where this discussion began.

Sure, that's silly, but no more silly than "Utah Jazz".

Sticker shock: it now costs $20 to park at the United Center. Of course, you pretty much have to, because parking on the street there is not advised -- though I did see a couple of people walking from the game to street-parked cars.

When the Bulls were introduced, it was a flashback to the championship era, because they use exactly the same video on the scoreboard, and the same music, and call Eddy Curry "The Man In The Middle", which he sometimes even is, and then you expect the last announcement to be "From NORTH Carolina..." but no, it's "From Kansas, Kirk Hinrich."

I shouldn't disparage Hinrich, because he is clearly the leader of this young team, but he didn't do much in last night's game, scoring only six points and shooting 2-for-11.

And therein lies the lesson of last night's game for Dusty Baker and the Cubs.

What has been working of late for the Bulls (and if they win their game on Saturday, they'll wind up January 14-2, which would be the third-best month in club history), using guys like Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon to balance their scoring, didn't work last night. Those three were cold in the first half and didn't play at all in the fourth quarter.

Instead, coach Scott Skiles benched all his starters and played Othella Harrington, Tyson Chandler, Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin and the charmingly-named Jannero Pargo, who had played in only four previous games all season.

Pargo was "en fuego", as they say. He shot 7-for-10 for 14 points, all in the fourth quarter, and pretty much singlehandedly won the game.

I was also impressed by Argentine import Andres Nocioni, who led the Bulls with 17 points and plays with intensity and energy that seemed to rub off on the team and the crowd.

Naturally, though, what was the loudest cheer of the night? After the game was won, when the Bulls crossed over 100 points, thus winning Big Macs for everyone in attendance.

So -- what's the lesson for the Cubs? That you can't put yourself in a mindset that only one way works. If Dusty Baker establishes someone as a closer and he doesn't work out, don't keep sending him out there to get pounded! Are you listening, LaTroy Hawkins?

Last night's attendance, announced as 19,439, is about 4,000 short of United Center capacity -- we had decent seats about 20 rows behind the west basket -- but there seemed to be a brisk business at a concourse table selling season and group tickets. In the NBA's weak Eastern Conference, the Bulls ought to make the playoffs -- they currently hold the sixth seed -- and frankly, there is only one team in the conference, the Heat, that is clearly superior to the Bulls.

So, suddenly, winter sports are interesting again in Chicago. Go out there and see a game, if you're in town. It's entertaining and these guys are fun too root for, and for a change, they're winners.

:: posted by Al at 1:05 PM [+] ::
...
:: Thursday, January 27, 2005 ::
It Won't Be Long Now...

... till we can see baseball. The Cubs today announced their spring training broadcast schedule, which includes nine games on radio, and eight on TV, two of which are national broadcasts on ESPN or ESPN2 (all games 2:05 CT unless indicated):

Thursday, March 3 at Oakland Athletics (WGN Radio)
Sunday, March 6 at San Francisco Giants (WGN Radio)
Monday, March 7 at Texas Rangers (ESPN, 1:05 p.m. CT)
Saturday, March 12 vs. Los Angeles Angels (WGN-TV, WGN Radio)
Sunday, March 13 at Los Angeles Angels (WGN Radio)
Monday, March 14 vs. Chicago White Sox (Comcast Sports Net)
Saturday, March 19 (split squad) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (WGN-TV, WGN Radio)
Sunday, March 20 at San Diego Padres (WGN Radio)
Wednesday, March 23 at Arizona Diamondbacks (ESPN2)
Saturday, March 26 at Colorado Rockies (WGN Radio)
Sunday, March 27 vs. San Diego Padres (WGN Radio, Comcast Sports Net)
Monday, March 28 vs. Seattle Mariners (WGN Radio)
Friday, April 1 at Seattle Mariners at Las Vegas (WGN-TV, 9:05 CT)
Saturday, April 2 at Seattle Mariners at Las Vegas (WGN-TV, ESPN2, 3:05 CT)

:: posted by Al at 3:40 PM [+] ::
...
:: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 ::
A Sign Of...

... well, something, anyway.

If you've poked around MLB's website or any of the team websites, you know that the drop-down menu where you can link to any team, has for several years been listed by city. This was the case even during the transition time between the move of the Expos from Montreal to Washington -- there were listings for both Montreal and Washington until the Montreal link was finally removed -- though if you click here you can still find the Expos' old site, frozen in time as of last November or so, almost like an archaeological artifact.

But then came the curious case of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Mighty Ducks, or whatever they're calling them these days.

For a while, the drop-down list changed "Anaheim" to "Angels", but left the rest of the list alone. Now, going to MLB.com gets you a drop-down list with team names only.

This isn't a big deal, except if you were used to seeing the city names in alphabetical order, with "Washington" last.

Now it's in alphabetical order by team, so "Yankees" is last in the list. Takes some getting used to.

Eventually, this "Los Angeles" thing will work itself out, and I wonder how much MLB is going to have to pay to the current owners of losangelesangels.com, currently a site where you can buy retro baseball attire.

I suppose the court cases will eventually be settled in favor of MLB, as the NFL's Los Angeles Rams (yes, for you young'uns, there did actually used to be NFL football in Los Angeles) played in Anaheim for years, with no one particularly caring about the name.

The first evidence of change will be when the Angels are televised on ESPN. What will the scorebox say? "ANA"? "LA"? "LAAoA"? "LAA"? And if "LAA", will the Dodgers have to be identified as "LAD"?

Stay tuned for more madness.

:: posted by Al at 2:39 PM [+] ::
...
:: Monday, January 24, 2005 ::
A Grand Chicago Tradition

As most of you know, we had anywhere from 12-15 inches of snow here Friday and Saturday.

When this happens, Chicagoans get tough. They spend hours shoveling their cars out of their parked snowbanks on the streets.

And then, they'll use various household items to save their parking spaces. This is highly illegal, and Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has been on a crusade to eliminate the practice, though in a recent column even he waved the white flag. As long as everyone respects everyone else's property and doesn't let this go on for weeks on end, I say, it works for me.

And if you don't believe me, check out this photo:



2800 block of N. Southport, Chicago, January 24, 2005



:: posted by Al at 3:06 PM [+] ::
...
Monday Notes

Joe Aiello at The View From The Bleachers e-mailed me the other day, asking for some comments on my blog, baseball and the Cubs, in light of my winning honors as Best Cubs Blog 2004.

My answers are posted at TVFTB today, so I'll give Joe a plug; head on over for the interview.

Also, it was revealed Sunday why Nomar Garciaparra wasn't at the convention. He and wife Mia Hamm attended the UNC-Miami basketball game in Chapel Hill, NC.

Lest you think the two of them just blew off Cub fans for college hoops, there was a good reason for this trip -- UNC was honoring Mia for being one of the greatest athletes ever to attend the school, plus there was a dinner and halftime honors for Mia and her USA soccer teammates for winning the Olympic gold medal.

I'd say that's a pretty good reason. Here's a bit more about Nomar and Mia's trip to Chapel Hill.

And Nomar did go to several schools as part of the Cubs Caravan in the two days before the convention, so it's clear that he does want to give back to Cubs fans, and did so, unlike a certain other star player who, when he has come to the convention, has ducked out quickly on his way back to the Dominican Republic.

:: posted by Al at 1:06 PM [+] ::
...

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