Friday, May 29, 2009

If Lou explodes, he might not survive

One of the best baseball writers out there, Yahoo's Jeff Passan, theorized this week (READ IT) that the Cubs won't be right until Lou Piniella has one of his patented explosions.

As much as I respect Jeff - and as much as I always enjoy a column that makes readers (and fellow writers) react - come on!

Between Cra-Z Zambrano, M-80 Bradley, Terrible Ted Lilly and Rambo Dempster, the Cubs have more exploding parts than a box full of land mines.

Do the Cubs really need their manager to orchestrate some kind of just-for-show meltdown that everybody - players included - would see as phony?

Not to mention the fact that, at 65, Lou probably would do more harm to himself than anything else. 

I could see him throwing his back out trying to rip out a base or delivering his pasta baby right on the field after bumping bellies with an umpire or giving himself a heart attack going all Dibble on a Cubbie reliever. 

As Piniella said, he needs to be the calm one. He then said he was kidding. But he really wasn't.

The Cubs don't need Lou Gone Wild. They need Terrible Ted to pitch the way he did Friday in beating the Dodgers. And they need M-80 to get the kind of big hits he did a couple times last week. And they need Cra-Z and Rambo to break opposing bats as skillfully as they break Gatorade dispensers.

Explosive Lou? That's so 2007 (and, actually, much earlier). Ever so slowly - again, the man is 65! - he has moved past that.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chicago has a winner, and it's the team that just lost

Not the Bears, even with The Great Jay Cutler playing all 22 positions, making field goals, punting, returning kicks and refreshing the water jugs. He's gonna do all that, right?

Not the Bulls, with no inside presence, no go-to guy, no defensive stopper ... and a salary-cap situation that will keep things that way.

Not the White Sox, whose best players are getting old and whose young players aren't good enough.

Not the Cubs because ... do we really have to say it? They're the freakin' Cubs!

The Blackhawks, my friends.

If any Chicago team is to win a championship within the next decade, that team will have to be the Blackhawks.

Their season is over, but what a season it was. They finished second in their division to the great Red Wings, won two playoff rounds, stole a series from a team that had home-ice advantage, took the defending champs into OT three times in five games and on Wednesday almost staved off elimination on Detroit ice despite missing their goalie and top scorer.

Along the way, they made a town that once loved hockey start to fall in love all over again.

Unlike the Bears of '01 and '06, there wasn't a smoke-and-mirrors feel to this Blackhawks team. Unlike the Cubs of '07 and '08, the young Hawks quickly figured out how to win in the playoffs. Unlike the Baby Bulls of recent vintage, these Blackhawks aren't faux contenders. 

So can they grow up to be like the White Sox of '05? Well, sure. Why not?

The Blackhawks need to re-sign Nikolai Khabibulin. That Cristobal Huet played well Wednesday might make more teams interested in trading for Huet (and his salary), thus freeing up money to keep the superior goalie in net. They need another defense-first, kick-butt defenseman. They need a faceoff specialist or two.

Mostly, though, the Blackhawks just need more experience. They already have a ton of talent, most of it younger than 25. These kids aren't flukes.

Oh, there is one more thing: 

They need to be a little bigger, a little stronger, a little tougher, a little meaner and, well, a little crazier. Teams need to fear them more. I'm not talking about goons, because fighting is idiotic. I'm talking about intimidation and temperament. Just call it a you-really-don't-want-to- bleep-with-us attitude.

Hey, since we've already re-established that the Cubs are the Cubs and therefore have no chance in this or any century, wouldn't Cra-Z Zambrano and M-Bomb Bradley look good in Indian Head sweaters?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

This judge plays hardball

The Bald Truth

Fourteen years ago, a wise federal judge named Sonia Sotomayor wouldn't let Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the grinches who tried to steal baseball use replacement players to start the 1995 season.

Say this for Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee: She has displayed concern for the greater good, and she can't be bullied by the whiny, rich yahoos in the old boys' network.

The Balder Truth

Anquan Boldin is firing his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Word is, Boldin simply wouldn't do situps in his driveway.

Said Rosenhaus: "Next question!"


Heads are about to roll in the NBA, where far too many people apparently didn't get David Stern's Kobe-and-LeBron-in-the-Finals memo.

Magic vs. Nuggets, anybody?

I mean, is it possible for a series to generate negative TV ratings?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lou snooze, Lou lose

I like Lou Piniella as a person and consider him a good manager. Still, I have to wonder a little bit about the Cubbies' senior citizen skipper after a game like Monday's 10-8 loss to the sad-sack Pirates.

Fifth Inning:

After Micah Hoffpauir drew a leadoff walk, Ryan Freel bunted him to second. Why? 

Why sacrifice an out there, with No. 8 hitter Aaron Miles - whose bat is DOA every time he steps to the plate - on deck? And then, why let reliever Jose Ascanio bat for himself, especially when Lou planned on taking Ascanio out of the game immediately for another reliever, Neal Cotts?

Yes, Freel is even batting Calista Flockhart's weight. But he has been a tough out over the years; maybe he'd accidentally get a hit.

And why not use one of the available position players - Kosuke Fukudome, Mike Fontenot or Koyie Hill to pinch-hit for Ascanio? Sure, none of those guys is hitting a lick, but Ascanio had struck out in his only career plate appearance. Lou hesitated for about a minute before sending Ascanio to the plate ... and then decided the inning wasn't worth trying to salvage.
By the way, Miles struck out, Ascanio popped out and Cotts gave up three runs in the sixth to blow the game. 

Bad ... badder ... baddest.

Seventh Inning:

With the Cubs now losing 10-7, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto drew walks to start a possible comeback. After Hoffpauir grounded into a double play, Freel singled home Johnson. Miles somehow managed a soft hit, putting runners on first and second with the pitcher's spot coming to the plate. A single would draw the Cubs within a run, a double probably would tie it, a homer would give them the lead.

A right-hander was on the mound for Pittsburgh, so Lou finally would turn to one of his left-handed pinch-hitters - Fukudome, Fontenot or Hill - right? 

Wrong. Carlos Freakin' Zambrano. Who struck out on a wild swing. 


And the Cubs - with their $135 million payroll, their back-to-back division titles and their great expectations - are 21-22.

Most of the team's woes are the players' fault. Some blame goes to ownership; the state of flux is hurting personnel decisions. Jim Hendry isn't without fault. Bad luck, injuries and pressure have played roles, too. 

But Monday night, the manager had several chances to do something that might have made a difference. 

He went 0-fer. The losing streak is eight.

The Quote

"We cannot be perfect. But I hope whatever happened last week doesn't happen again. We didn't hit. We didn't win. We got swept twice. I hope that doesn't happen again. If it happens again, it would be ugly." - Alfonso Soriano

You mean, scoring five runs during a winless six-game road trip wasn't ugly enough?

The Quote II

"We play one week like we're a champion. And one week we play like the worst team in the league." - Soriano

And then you blow a lead, give up 18 hits to the Pirates and get booed by your own fans. So at least you're good at finding new lows. 

The Quote III

"Every team has a bad week or a bad month." - Soriano

Or a bad century.

Going on two.

Sorry, Fonzie, but that was too damn easy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A day Chicago sports fans would rather trade

The Bald Truth

According to sources close to other sources who once walked past still other sources on the way into an O'Hare men's room, the Cubs and White Sox agreed to terms of a Derrek Lee for Paul Konerko deal ... but each player invoked the no-trade clause in his contract.

Seems D-Lee and Paulie only want to play for contenders.

The Balder Truth

The Cubs scored 5 runs - total - in going 0-6 on their St. Louis-San Diego road trip. The White Sox blew a ninth-inning lead to Pittsburgh just three days after losing by 19 runs to the Twins. When I got to my car Sunday morning, I was greeted by a bright orange parking ticket; paying it will cost me approximately what I made working as a freelancer at the Sox game.

Still, all of us mentioned in that paragraph had a better day than the Blackhawks did.

I recorded the Hawks-Wings game on my DVR but decided not to watch it after I heard the score. Seeing the lowlights turned out to be plenty.

Methinks the Blackhawks were so distracted by their quest for retribution for Niklas Kronwall's Game 3 hit on Martin Havlat that they forgot they were supposed to actually be playing hockey.


As a four-decade hockey observer who roots for neither the Hawks nor the Wings, I've seen Kronwell's hit about 50 times ... and I am convinced it was devastating but absolutely legal. 

That realization makes me more ready to play hockey than the Blackhawks were.


On the positive side for Chicagoans, Jay Cutler is at least three months away from hearing his first boos at Soldier Field.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oh, does Peavy pitch, too?

The Bald Truth

The obvious story line from Friday's Cubs-Padres game was that Jake Peavy showed the Cubs just what they were missing.

Yeah ... he got a hit and scored a run.

The Question

OK, who stole the Cardinals' starting pitchers and replaced them with the 1970 Orioles' rotation?

The Baldest Truth

If you're like me, you're shocked - shocked! - to see Rich Harden go on the DL.

He's batting .200, so the Cubs desperately will miss him. 

The Quote

"That's just a great shot, man." - LeBron James, on TNT, describing his buzzer-beating Game 2 winner.

That's just great humility, too.


The Cavs blew a 23-point lead but won anyway to save themselves from almost certain doom.

The Blackhawks blew a three-goal lead but won anyway to save themselves from almost certain doom.

The Nationals, as usual, simply blew. They faced certain doom before pitchers and catchers reported.

And now we send it to Stormy Mist for the weather ...

Rough day for Peav-ed off White Sox

The Bald Truth

Jake Peavy, who allegedly was so in love with the idea of pitching on Chicago's North Side that he was heard singing "Go Cubs Go" when he thought he was traded to the Cubbies in December, told the White Sox on Thursday that he had absolutely no interest in being a South Sider.

That's more than your standard, garden-variety rejection, boys. That's like getting told you're too ugly to date Roseanne Barr.  

I mean the only way Thursday could have gone any worse for the White Sox would have been if ... I don't know ... they also lost at home to the hated Twinkies by a ridiculous score like 20-1 or something.

Thankfully, at least nothing like that happened.

Thinking Positive

As bad as the White Sox were against the Twins, they still scored only one fewer run Thursday than the Cubs scored in their entire series against the Cardinals.

Riddle Me This

Q: What do the following ballplayers have in common?

Alfns Srian.

Ryan Therit.

Miltn Bradley.

Gevany St.

Mike Fntent.

Aarn Miles.

Reed Jhnsn.

Ksuke Fukudme.

A: They all play for the Chicag Cubs: the team with absolutely no O.

Get it? No O! 

You don't get that kind of hilarity at, kids.


Really, can you blame Jake Peavy?

Why would he want to leave the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball to go to the homer haven that is U.S. Comiskular Park?

Why would he want to leave the NL, where he gets to face the pitcher every third inning - not to mention the weak No. 7 and 8 batters on most teams - to pitch against stacked AL lineups that include designated hitters?

He already has all the money he needs. Plus, he knows that if he waits long enough, the crying-poor Padres will be forced to trade him to one of the NL clubs on his preferred list. He is in control.

So why would Peavy agree to join a team that suddenly looks like a non-contender this season, a team that will be be dumping payroll in the offseason?

The big surprise wasn't that Kenny Williams made a valiant effort at landing the best pitcher on the market. This is the guy who has boldly traded for one big-name pitcher after another during his nine years as Sox GM.

David Wells, Todd Ritchie, Billy Koch, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez.

Yes, some of those blockbusters ended up being clunkers. But two - the deals for Garcia and Contreras - made the city's only championship of the last nine decades possible. 

Williams has vision and moxie and imagination. Oh, and cajones the size of cantaloupes.

No, the big surprise was that he actually thought Peavy would agree to the deal.

But hey, it was worth a try. As the lottery folks keep telling us, you can't win if you don't play.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Best of Pax, worst of Pax

The List I

John Paxson's Greatest Hits as Bulls GM, the job he has handed over to former assistant Gar Forman:

5. Getting the Knicks to take Eddy Curry - headband, saggy shorts, lack of work ethic and all.

4. Acquiring Brad Miller and John Salmons before the 2009 trading deadline. The Bulls wouldn't have made the playoffs without those two solid professionals. Hell, they might not have made it to March.

3. Hiring Scott Skiles as coach. You knew the players eventually would tune him out, but Skiles was the exact kind of demanding taskmaster a lazy, underachieving group of knuckleheads needed.

2. Crossing his fingers and toes, knocking on wood, rubbing his rabbit's foot, not stepping on cracks and whatever else he did to land Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft lottery.

1. Cleaning up the mess left behind by Jerry Krause. Most notably, convincing Jerry Reinsdorf to eat Eddie Robinson's eight-figure contract. This is the sports equivalent to brokering peace in the Middle East.

The List II

Pax's Greatest Misses:

5. Dumping J.R. Smith about 10 seconds after acquiring him in the trade that sent Tyson Chandler to New Orleans. Smith has gone on to be an outstanding player for a Nuggets team that has gone farther in the playoffs than the post-Jordan Bulls ever have. But hey, at least Pax got the great Howard Eisley in return.

4. Signing Ben Wallace, allegely the final piece of their championship puzzle. I'm proud that I was one of the few Chicago media types who didn't swoon the day the deal was made. (At the time, I heard much screaming from the masses about my negative attitude.) Wallace turned out to be a cancer who poisoned the locker room and openly pined for his former Pistons teammates. Making the whole scene even more absurd: The Bulls refused to relax their ridiculous no-headband rule for this supposed savior, who had been wearing a headband for years.

3. Hiring Vinny Del Negro as coach. There were far, far, far better choices out there - and there still are. The Bulls will need to hire one of them if they are to win anything.

2. Drafting Tyrus Thomas in 2006. Pax, who should have known better, fell in love with the athlete instead of selecting the guy I begged him to take, Brandon Roy. The latter already is a superstar; the former never will be more than an unreliable role player. But boy, it sure is fun watching Tyrus' 10 highlight dunks and 5 highlight blocks a year.

1. Failing to draft Dwyane Wade in 2003. Had Pax agreed to include Donyell Marshall in a deal with Toronto, they would have been in position to take one of the NBA's three best players. Instead, Pax kept Marshall (for a little while, anyway) and settled for Kirk Hinrich. How's that working for the Bulls so far?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Of Dontrelle, CC, Gibson, Kid K and an expensive Blackhawks mistake

The Bald Truth

Nice to see Dontrelle Willis winning - and smiling - again. 

When one of the sport's most charismatic and entertaining players is doing his thing, baseball is better for it.

Just Asking

Wow! Did you see the way the Cubs flailed away at those amazing pitches being thrown by the Cardinals' great Bob Gibson?

I don't care how many times you say that was Joel Pineiro. I'm saying it must have been Gibson.

The Balder Truth

Remember all that hand-wringing in New York over CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira

Well, don't look now, but CC won again Tuesday and has a 3.43 ERA to go with his 4 wins - as many as White Sox season-opening No. 2, 3 and 4 starters Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Jose Contreras combined. And Teixeira has 11 HRs (2 more than the combined total of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto) and 30 RBIs (more than the aggregate output of Soto, Milton Bradley, Reed Johnson and Aaron Miles).

Then again, the Yankees do have slightly higher standards than their Chicago counterparts.

The Stat Line

2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 HR, 1 BB, 0 K ... blown 5-2 lead in the 9th ... season: 1-2 record, 8.31 ERA.

Hmmm. Maybe the Cubs don't miss Kerry Wood after all.


The Blackhawks have been such a feel-good story in Chicago this year, it's easy to overlook their shortcomings. Well, here's a big one: Brian Campbell.

They gave an 8-year, $56.8 million contract to the allegedly offensive-minded defenseman who, it turns out, rarely scores.

Campbell was trying to make something happen in OT Tuesday when he gave away the puck, fell down, watched helplessly as the Red Wings took off on a 3-on-1 break and basically handed Detroit a 2-0 lead in the series.

He turns 30 on Saturday. And did we mention he still has 7 years left on that contract?

As great as the season has been, not everything is perfect in Hawkeyland.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jack Bauer's sports to-do list

If we're to believe where 24 was steering us at the end of another hellish "day," Jack Bauer will be back after doctors use his daughter's stem cells to rid his body of toxic pathogens.

Anyway, now that he's saved the world again, here are ...

Five things we can expect from Jack during his next day at the office:

5. Short-circuit all television satellite feeds into the White House, thereby protecting President Obama from exposure to lethal doses of the White Sox.

4.  Force Terrell Owens to listen to Paul Warfield, John Stallworth, Raymond Berry and other classy receivers who rarely dropped the football, never blamed their QBs and actually won something during their careers. And by "force," all 24 fans know what that means.

3. Administer truth serum to Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and so on and so on and so on. And don't worry about this being too difficult. If approached with syringes, these fine gentlemen aren't likely to resist.

2.  Make Brett Favre make up his mind. Do whatever it takes and use every means at your disposal. One way or another, the madness must end.

1. Stop terrorist attacks? Yawn! Really impress us and stop the BCS.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Boys will be boys

The Bald Truth

Not exactly a shocker that Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness.

I mean, how were all those boys supposed to concentrate while running next to such a hot babe?

They're only equine, you know!

The Balder Truth

The Cardinals aren't merely hoping Chris Carpenter stays healthy when he returns for Wednesday's game against the Cubs. They also are actively taking steps to keep him in one piece.

When Carpenter bats, sources say, he has been ordered to never swing. Also, our crack investigative team has learned that Tony La Russa has asked Bud Selig for permission to have Carpenter pitch from a protective bubble.


Spent the weekend chilling in the Detroit area with my college buddy, Chodz. He's a Chicago native who loves hockey and can't lose in the matchup between his old team, the Blackhawks, and his adopted faves, the Red Wings.

Frankly, he seemed a bit more excited about the latter than the former while watching Game 1 - and it's hard to blame him.

The Red Wings were so dominant Sunday that they stopped skating a few times just to make sure the Hawks were still on the ice.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Contreras, Theriot and other jocks worth rooting for

The Bald Truth

Here's something you don't see everyday: A ballplayer sending himself to the minors because he knows it's best for him and his team.

Once banished from the White Sox rotation, Jose Contreras could have gone to the bullpen to try to solve his problems. There, he would have continued to enjoy all the trappings that go with big-league life. Instead, he asked to be sent down so he could work things out while starting ballgames.

Here's a guy who came back much earlier than expected from Achilles tendon surgery because he wanted to help the team, and now he's making this sacrifice. It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for constantly poking fun at Jose's age, which is somewhere around 50. Give or take a decade.

Sure, he's still making his major-league salary, but in this era of egos run amok, Contreras' actions are pretty darn selfless.

Kind of makes you want to root for the big lug.

The Balder Truth

It's also easy to to root for the Houston Rockets, who are without Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming but have taken the Lakers to a seventh game. You go, Luis Scola, whoever you are.

Also, the feisty, young Blackhawks, who are about to begin an epic series against the defending Stanley Cup champs. I'm saying Red Wings in 7, but I never thought Patrick Kane, Nikolai Khabibulin and the rest of the Hawks could get this far. So I'm prepared to be wrong again.

And ever-hustling Dodgers LF Juan Pierre, who has the impossible task of replacing Manny Ramiroid and is doing a great job so far.

And even Michael Phelps, who could have gone into a defensive shell in the wake of Bong-Gate but instead has handled his return to the pool with humor and class.


Speaking of class, I couldn't help but admire the words and deeds of Ryan Theriot on Friday.

The Sun-Times featured a column by Rick Telander, who theorized that the steroid culture in baseball condemns everyone - even a suddenly-home-run-crazy little Cubbie shortstop.

It was a legitimate point, but the headline - which screamed: "SMALL HITTER, BIG PROBLEM" - suggested that Theriot was sharing syringes with A-Roid or something. (As is the case with most columnists, Telander didn't write the headline.)

Unlike most athletes, who only look at the headline and get mad at the writer, Theriot took the time to read the entire column. And while he didn't like the feeling of being dragged through the mud, he was able to focus on reality.

"Once you get into the article - and I have read it a few times - you realize the point is a valid point," Theriot said. "It's more about what the game's come to. The headline could have been written a little differently. When you read something like that, it associates you with something you don't want to be associated with. 

"I feel I have lived my life the right way from day one. Hopefully, that will overcome a headline like that. It's tough when others make mistakes and you get drug into it."

He went on to say he hasn't even taken any supplements since 2005.

"The risk-reward wasn't worth it to even take that chance," he said. "My supplements for the last four or five years have been Gatorade and water."

Most of the time, I don't believe these roid-denying jocks, but you know what? I absolutely believe Ryan Theriot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Little Miltie: Everybody picks on me!

The Bald Truth

Oh, poor, poor me. I can't catch a break. Everybody hates me. The umpires always pick on me. Waaa! Waaa! Waaa!

Jeesh. Even those of us who thought umpire Larry Vanover did screw Milton Bradley with a Strike 3 call on an out-of-the-zone pitch last month are sick of this woe-is-me crapola.

Grow up, Little Miltie!

In a decision announced Thursday by MLB honchos, Bradley's suspension for getting into Vanover's face back on April 16 was reduced from two games to one.

Milton's reaction?

"I never get treated fairly." 


"Because I'm Milton Bradley, you know what I'm saying?"

Oh, do we ever. Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Look, those of us who have been around Chicago sports for awhile heard this same sad song in the 1990s. Back then, NBA refs had it in for poor, misunderstood Dennis Rodman.

Well, maybe if The Worm wasn't always cursing out, mocking and head-butting them, the refs wouldn't have been "out to get" him. 

And maybe if Milton Bradley wasn't always tearing the umps a new one, they wouldn't be "out to get" him.

Like ballers and ballplayers, umps and refs are only human. Treat them like dirt and they aren't likely to cover you with roses.

Act like a child and you get detention, Little Miltie. Deal with it.

(For more, here's the Bradley story I wrote for AP.)

The Quote

"I love Jim Hendry. He's the most honest, decent person I've ever met ... probably ... as far as GMs go." - Bradley, after the Cubs GM publicly backed his $30 million hothead.

Wow. Could Bradley possibly have thought of another qualifier to describe his love for Jim Hendry? Maybe Milt could have added "on a Thursday in Chicago"?

Lou-ism of the Day

Asked if this was the best bench he's had since he started managing the Cubs, Piniella said: 

"Oh gosh, they've improved the bench. I'm talking about the cushions."


After a few minor hiccups, it didn't take long for the Cubs to re-establish themselves as the class of the NL Central.

There are some very nice stories in the division. Some better-than-expected teams, too. The Cardinals, especially, won't give up or concede anything. But the Cubs have spent so much more money on so much more talent than every other club. And most times, talent does win out.

The Cubs haven't come close to having their whole team healthy this season and they've played pretty bad for long stretches. Yet their record is right where it was last year, when they won 97 games and ran away from the field.

It doesn't bode well for the rest of the division.

Of course, the Cubs actually going on to win a playoff game is a whole 'nother story.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ozzie tries to save baseball from itself

The Bald Truth

Just when I didn't think Ozzie Guillen could be any wackier, the White Sox skipper pulled off a stunt I never had seen before: 

He complained about a strike called by the umpire ... with his own pitcher on the mound.

Just minutes after Jermaine Dye was ejected for arguing a bases-loaded Strike 3 call Wednesday, Guillen could be seen jawing with ump Mike DiMuro. Reading Ozzie's lips, I thought I saw him complaining that Mark Buehrle's pitch to Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta was low - and Ozzie later confirmed it.

"I asked Peralta if that pitch was low and in, and he said yes," Guillen told reporters after his team's 4-0 loss. "They thought I was crazy because I wasn't protecting J.D., I was protecting the opposition. I was gonna send the message that ... I was here to protect baseball."

Actually, I think "crazy" just about covers it, Ozzie.

As usual.

The Balder Truth

Yahoo Sports is reporting that USC hoops coach Tim Floyd paid off the guy who delivered O.J. Mayo to the school.

If true, failing to adequately cover up these shenanigans will be Floyd's stupidest move since he had Kornel "The Hungarian Jordan" David playing at crunch time of Bulls games.


Here in Chicago, we've have the Unholy Trinity: A corrupt governor's office, a corrupt mayor's office and a corrupt county government. While everybody likes to talk about Blago and Hizzoner Daley The Younger, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger might be the unfairest of 'em all.

After running for election on a reform platform - don't they all? - Stroger has proceeded to spend like a drunk Illinois politician. Expanding the county government to immense proportions - think a Bartolo Colon-Roseanne Barr love child - he has spent and spent and spent and spent.

He spent so much that he realized the only way he could pay for all the spending was by raising the county's portion of the sales tax, giving Chicago the highest such tariff in the nation: a laughable-if-it-wasn't-so-sad 10.25 percent

With elections approaching, several county board commissioners regretted what they did and tried to repeal the tax, but Stroger vetoed the repeal. 

Mr. Reformer isn't in the reforming mood.

But that's not the best part. This is: Stronger owes the United States nearly $12,000 in unpaid income taxes.

So, even as he demands that poor people (and others) fund his bloated government with a regressive tax that ranks No. 1 in the nation, he opts to ignore his own taxes until the feds catch him.


Talk about high aspirations: Stroger must be angling for a spot in President Obama's cabinet.

This is what we Chicagoans face every day, folks. Two consecutive crooked governors (both "reformers," don't you know), a mayor who values taking care of his cronies above all else and Todd "Tax Me? Tax You!" Stroger.

Of course, nobody is holding a gun to our heads to stay here, right? And the majority of our citizens keep re-electing these clowns. 

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us a gajillion times ... and we'll line up for a gajillion more opportunities to prove what fools we are.

How humiliating.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Putting more "dread" in Dubsdread

The Bald Truth

Played the new, angrier Cog Hill Dubsdread on Tuesday. 

It was quite a stern test of golf. 

I failed.

When I was assigned No. 9 as my starting hole in the shotgun format for the Media Day event, I knew I was in trouble. It's now a nearly 600-yard par-5 through a narrow corridor of trees - the toughest hole on the course.

I turned to the SouthtownStar's Tim Cronin (who literally wrote the book on the Western Open) and said: "I'll be playing it like it's a par-7."

His reply: "OK then, you might manage a bogey."

Or not. I shot a 10.

I won't go into my round's gory details, partly because I stopped keeping score pretty early in the proceedings. No use ruining a beautiful day on a beautiful course by counting all of my, um, birdies. Despite my wayward irons and far too much quality time getting familiar with the nasty bunkers, I enjoyed my afternoon.

Among the changes at Dubsdread: Many holes were lengthened and the bunkers were made far more penal. I thought owner Frank Jemsek simply was trying to Nadel-proof the course, but he assured us that the goal was less dastardly. He wants a U.S. Open in Lemont.

Rees Jones, the architect who oversaw the redesign, believes Cog Hill deserves to host the big event in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, Dubsdread will offer a sterner test for the top pros at the BMW Championship in September. Jones also said the changes would help make the course "more playable and fun for the average golfer."

Hmmm. I hang out with a lot of average golfers, and few if any of them will be forking over the $150 greens fee to play Dubsdread. 

As an average golfer myself, I can vouch for the fact that our kind is probably better off playing one of Cog's three other more user-friendly (and far more affordable) courses.

The Quote

"I don't think so." - Camilo Villegas, defending BMW champion, when asked if his famed "Spiderman" green-reading style would benefit the rest of us.

The Balder Truth

Also in attendance at Cog Hill were former Blackhawks great Stan Mikita and Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

Banks was wearing a cap with three Hebrew letters on it. At first glance, I thought the letters were Qof-Bet-Mem. That would have been phonetic for "Kaboom," which would have made sense for Bulls announcer Neil Funk but not for Ernie.

But the Mem looks quite similar to the Samech - the letter that sounds like "s." That made it phonetic for ... CUBS. Of course.

Despite my scorecard woes, I actually had driven the ball well most of the day ... until Banks greeted my group and chatted us up for a little bit. I guess I was nervous, because when I finally took my hack, I hit a grounder that Ernie probably would have turned into a double play.

I'm going with nervousness, because there wasn't a black cat anywhere around.

Happy Anniversary

Thirty-nine years ago Tuesday, Banks hit career homer No. 500 off Atlanta's Pat Jarvis.

Only 490 to go, Ryan Theriot.


I was in at least one bunker on 13 holes. Several times, I went from bunker to bunker. 

What a blast. (Get it? Oh, I'm so freakin' funny!)

Here's the deal: Choose the wrong iron on your approach or misjudge the wind even a little bit, and you're on blood beach without a shovel. Then there are the greens; they already seemed plenty hard, fast and tricky for the pros, but I'm sure they'll be even tougher come September.

Having said all that, Dubsdread was a pleasure to play because of the way it suits the eye and because of the challenge it presents.

I'm grateful that the Western Golf Association and the other fine folks involved with the tournament saw fit to invite me and my media colleagues.

Getting thoroughly humbled is good for the likes of us.

Lights ... camera ... Blackhawks!

The Bald Truth

This is going to have to be short and quick because I'm exhausted after watching the Blackhawks advance to the Western Conference finals with Monday's wild 7-5 win over the Canucks at the United Center.

The last time a large gathering of hockey players scored that often and quickly, Elisha Cuthbert was in the room.

Anyway, congrats to the young Blackhawks, the rare Chicago sports franchise that actually wins in the postseason these days.

Oh, Goodie ...

Now everybody who once stepped foot within a 300-mile radius of Chicago can claim to be a lifelong Blackhawks fan.

The Balder Truth

According to one report, Mark Cuban told Kenyon Martin's mom that the Nuggets player is a "thug." According to another, the mouthy Mavs owner called Martin a "punk."

Semantics, semantics.

According to my sources, Cuban actually called Martin a "fine young gentleman."

There. Am I back in the will, Uncle Mark?


Hey, Jose Contreras, you left some massive, formless object behind in Chicago.

Oh wait. That's Bartolo Colon. Never mind.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

DH or not DH? The answer: Yes

With all due respect to those seeking to "improve" baseball, there is no reason to take the bat out of NL pitchers' hands.

Latest case in point: Micah Owings, whose pinch homer Sunday tied it for the Reds in the ninth inning against the Cardinals.

(Unfortunately for Owings the Pitcher, he isn't as good as Owings the Hitter. But that's a whole 'nother issue.) 

Some baseball followers - including my friend, Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune - think the hamstring injury Carlos Zambrano suffered while beating out a bunt underscored the necessity to bring the DH to the NL.

I say it simply underscores that a good-hitting pitcher who has the power and timing to knock the ball out of the park should stick to trying to hit home runs, an activity less likely to result in injury. 

Cra-Z has no more business bunting than Adam Dunn does.

I don't want Owings trying to beat out a bunt, either. Or Yovani Gallardo, who last week helped the Brewers win 1-0 by pitching brilliantly and homering for the game's only run.

Let 'em hit. It's fun. 

And there is no disputing that the pitcher coming to bat creates all kinds of strategic challenges for NL managers - challenges their AL counterparts need worry about only in interleague games and the World Series.

I've yet to hear a convincing argument to bring the DH to the NL. Nor have I heard a compelling reason to step into the Way Back Machine and eliminate the DH from the AL. 

As it is, there are hardly any differences between the leagues. The DH is a big one - and, it says here, a good one.

I like watching Jim Thome hit ... almost as much as I like watching Carlos Zambrano hit.

A couple of years ago, Cra-Z suffered an injury because he spent too much time surfing the Web. I could be wrong, but methinks having the DH in the NL probably wouldn't have prevented that.

Can a big-money pitcher get hurt while hitting, thereby damaging his team's title hopes? Well, sure.

He also can get hurt trying to field his position. Should we set up a batting-practice screen in front of him during games?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Make the most of it, Manny

The List

Top five things Manny Ramirez will do on his "vacation":

5. Grow his hair until he can use it as a jump rope.

4. Go shopping for the Original Whizzinator. Remember: Accept no substitutes!

3. Ask the Dodgers for a well-deserved raise.

2. Join his buddy, Jose Canseco, at the local community center's Fun With Syringes class.

1. Get checked out by his gynecologist to see if the hCG worked. Here's hoping it's a boy!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Manny Being Flimflammy

The Bald Truth

Manny Ramirez suspended? I blame it all on A-Roid's cousin.

Ozzie Being Ozzie

"He should apologize to his wife. Seven million dollars? My wife would kill me."

The Balder Truth

You know the news on Ramirez news is big when it knocks the latest breathless Brett Favre update - he's staying retired ... for today, anyway - to after the first commercial on SportsCenter.

Ozzie Being Ozzie II

"It depends on how you look at the word 'cheating.' Cheating is when you get caught."


Well, folks, I'm shocked - Shocked! - that a superstar slugger producing big numbers in what should be the twilight of his career tested positive for a banned substance.

Shocked! Stunned! Flabbergasted! Flummoxed!

I mean, who would have guessed that one of our noble, athletic heroes ever would cheat?

But hey, at last Manny had a valid excuse: His dog ate the list of banned substances.

Any sucker who believes any of these flimflam artists - or their flimflammier agents - deserves to feel betrayed when the truth comes out.

Of course, that assumes that any fan actually gives a rat's rear about any of this any more.

Frankly, I'm numb to it by now, and I'm guessing you are, too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Favre's life

The Bald Truth

In my previous post, I likened Brett Favre to a punch-drunk fighter seeking one last shot at glory. That led some to believe that I don't think Favre should come back to play for the Vikings or any other team.

Hey, Brett Favre should do whatever Brett Favre wants to do.  If he wants to play for the Vikings and they want him, good for him and good for them. It says here that he'd still be in the upper half of NFL QBs, still be fun to watch, still be a great story.

As a bonus, he'll also drive my buddy Twin Cities Rick - a Vikings lover and Favre hater -absolutely bonkers.

I don't really understand the folks who get all bent out of shape about this kind of thing. There were people outraged that Michael Jordan suited up for the Wizards and that Bobby Orr finished his career in Chicago and that Jim Palmer thought he could pull an Orioles uniform over his boxers when he was 40.

Did any of these guys hurt anybody? Did any of them they damage his "legacy" - one of the most overused (and misused) words by today's columnists and sports-radio yakkers.

I mean, does anybody really think less of Jordan or Orr or Palmer today? 

Brett Favre's legacy will be fine, whether he plays another year or not. 

If he's great, we get to enjoy a legend one more time. If he stinks, we get to make fun of him.

It's win-win, baby.

The Balder Truth

According to reports out of Havana, a 65-year-old man broke his own world record by creating a 142-foot long cigar.

Sources say he immediately scored a date with Monica Lewinsky.


I'm still getting the occasional e-mail from folks wondering why my columns haven't been in their local newspapers. Four months after GateHouse decided that shedding my $8.9 million salary would be the answer to all of their financial difficulties, it's nice to be missed.

These days, in addition to my silliness here at TBT and looking for gainful employment, I'm freelancing a couple times a week for AP - the world's largest news-gathering service and my employer for the first 16 years of my career. 

Most recently, I covered Tuesday's Cubs-Giants game and also wrote a story about Bobby Scales, the 31-year-old who finally got to make his big-league debut after 11 years in the minors.

I'm also spending more time doing some of the things I like, such as hanging out with my wife and son, reading books and, now that spring has arrived, playing a little golf.

Wednesday offered a rare treat: a round of golf for four columnist (and ex-columnist) buddies. Our foursome at Buffalo Grove Golf Club: the Tribune's Rick Morrissey, the Daily Herald's Mike Imrem, the SouthtownStar's Phil Arvia and me.

I won't bore you with details except to say I surely would have posted the low score had rain not kept us from playing No. 18. 

All I would have needed was a hole-in-one from 425 yards. Talk about a gimme.

The Cubbies' day off

The Bald Truth

Lou Piniella gave a day off to just about every Cubbie with a pulse. While the Giants sent out their Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, Piniella countered with his No. 5 starter, Sean Marshall. Oh, and the Cubs would be without the services of their only two effective relievers, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg, because they had been used so much lately.

If the Giants had lost this game, they might as well have canceled the rest of the season.

And if the Cubs had won it, the question wouldn't have been if they'd win the World Series but if they'd sweep through the postseason in 11 games.

Giants 6, Cubs 2.

Whew! All is right in the universe.

The Quote

"I'm mad at him today. He gave me a day off. They have to pay me anyway, so why not play me?" - Alfonso Soriano, joking (I think) about Piniella forcing him to take a day off.

The Balder Truth

So why did Lou do it? Why did he all but throw Tuesday's game?

Well, because it's a long season. And good managers know they must be willing to lose a game in May to win a season.

Still, just because I understood his motivation, it doesn't mean I agreed with Piniella's strategy.

OK, rest a guy. Maybe even three. But five? Really?

I mean, why not at least play Milton Bradley, the left-handed slugger the team bought for $30 million specifically to give them a chance against a bat-eating righty like Lincecum?

Then there's this: Nearly 40,000 fans bought tickets to this game. They deserved to see their heroes field more than a spring training B-game squad. 

But hey, Piniella has tried pretty much everything else, right?

Maybe this strategy actually will help the Cubs win one stinkin' playoff game.

Or maybe not.

Oh My (Baseball) Gods

In what might be the most incredible thing to happen this entire baseball season, Rick Ankiel was able to stand around his locker and chat with reporters less than 24 hours after his horrific head-first crash into the center-field wall.

It's as if the baseball gods were apologizing for all the suffering they put him through during his years as a pitcher.


ESPN is reporting that Brett Favre will meet with the Vikings this week.

And this is shocking ... how?

No matter how punch-drunk the fighter is, he always thinks he has one more knockout in him.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Understand this, Joe: Don't shoot the A-Roid messenger

The List

Eight observations at the baseball season's one-month mark:

1. Hey, Joe Girardi, the Yankees need you to manage your ballclub, not the news. You might or might not win doing the former, but you sure as hell won't win trying to do the latter.

Girardi spent far too much of his Sunday ripping into Selena Roberts for writing a book about Alex Rodriguez and the publishers of "A-Rod" for moving up the release date after some of the book's passages were leaked to a New York tabloid.

"It's interesting how the book date got moved up," Girardi told the rabid New York press corps. "I don't understand why someone would write a book like this anyway."

Oh, please. Joe is Northwestern educated. He's a smart guy. He knows exactly why this book was written.

For one, because A-Rod, the highest-paid athlete in the history of team sports, sullied his name, his employers and his sport by taking steroids and repeatedly lying about it. For another, because the book will sell and make money for the publisher and for Roberts, a talented Sports Illustrated writer.

You know, money. That's the same reason Rodriguez plays baseball instead of working as an administrative assistant for a non-profit organization. The same reason, by his own admission, that he took 'roids in the first place. The same reason Girardi works as a manager for the Steinbrenners instead of working as a stockboy for a family that owns a chain of shoe stores.

As for the book date getting moved up ... hello! Again, money. Strike while the fire is hot. In November, most ballparks will be cold, but that didn't stop MLB from pushing this year's World Series into November - because of money.

Among other things, Roberts' book alleges that A-Roid took performance-enhancers since joining the Yankees - after he swore on a stack of syringes that he stopped juicing before he left Texas for New York. The book also suggests he took steroids back in his high school days.

Surely, A-Roid vehemently denied these ridiculous allegations once they became public, right?

Uh, no. He just said he wouldn't talk about them. Best not to be caught in more lies, I suppose.

"A-Rod" is important to baseball's history. And it will be one of the top selling books this year.

Surely, Northwestern Joe does understand all of that.

2. Pitchers should not try to leg out bunt hits. Carlos Zambrano did just that - not only tried but succeeded. The cost, however, could be high. The Cubs ace hurt his hamstring and will miss some starts.

His manager defended him for his aggressiveness, and I get where Lou Piniella is coming from, but really? He wants his $90 million pitcher doing this in an early-May game - especially when said pitcher has so much power that Lou has used him as a pinch-hitter repeatedly this season?

Next time, Lou, tell Cra-Z to swing the bat.

3. Cito Gaston had a reputation as a "push-button manager" his first time around in Toronto. So when the Blue Jays fired him a few seasons after he led a powerhouse team to consecutive championships, no other team was willing to hire him for an entire decade

Now Gaston is back running the Blue Jays and they are in first place. Once again, they have a high-scoring lineup, as well as one of baseball's best pitchers in Roy Halladay.

It must at least be possible that the manager is doing something right, no?

4. It's time for the White Sox to thank Jose Contreras for everything he did back in 2005 and then present him with lovely parting gifts.

No team needs an 83-year-old pitcher with an 8.31 ERA.

No contending team does, anyway.

5. Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle, Florida, St. Louis.

Well, maybe some of us at least picked the Dodgers to take the NL West.

(Not me, of course, but some of us.)

6. And speaking of surprises: Jason Marquis ... Colorado Rockies ... 4-1 ... 3.31 ERA. The Cubbie and Redbird reject has almost half of his team's wins. Wow.

7. Here's something a little less shocking: Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball. Period.

Based on what I've seen - dropped throws, failed scoops and muffed grounders - Pujols' fielding at first base is a little overrated. 

But there is nothing overrated about the man's .356 average, 9 homers and 29 RBIs for a surprise first-place Cardinals club.

8. Based on the early evidence, there is not one great team in the majors this season.

More than just a few bad ones, though.

Nice try, Bulls

The Bald Truth

When the Bulls were down 10 with 12.8 seconds to go, I was trying to figure out how they were going to make a 10-point play to send the game into the first of 10 overtimes.

It was that kind of series.

The Balder Truth

Congratulations to my old Marquette friend, Doc "He Was Glenn Back Then" Rivers, for his Celtics managing to survive the Baby Bulls.

Next up: The Orlando Magic. Not exactly a vacation at Disney World.

If Rivers' best player, Paul Pierce, doesn't do significantly better in the next round, the tired Celtics will get swept.

The Letter

From loyal reader and frequent e-mailer Ron Pritchard of Dixon, Ill.:

All of the "experts" that were screaming when the Bulls picked Joakim Noah are pretty quiet now. The kid's playing pretty good basketball. Same thing goes for those who thought the Bulls should have picked Michael Beasley. Derrick Rose didn't turn out too badly, either.

Second point first: Not too many "experts" said the Bulls should take Beasley over Rose. Beasley will be a very good NBA player but it's a point guard's league and most of us knew Rose would be a good one.

As for Noah, I have been one of his detractors and I'll admit he has exceeded my expectations. During long stretches of Game 7, he was the Bulls' best player - which probably wasn't a good thing for the Bulls. 

Still, at best, Noah is a one-dimensional "Worm Lite" - a rebounding specialist and defensive pest. 

I think it's safe to say we all can agree on this: NBA power forwards shouldn't shoot like girls.


Much has been made and will continue to be made of the Bulls' fight and grit and spirit in almost upsetting the defending champions.

Well, while I give them their props for refusing to fold and making this one of the most memorable playoff series in NBA history, let's get one thing clear:

These Celtics bear little resemblance to last year's champions.

Kevin Garnett is out and one of his top backups, Leon Powe, suffered a season-ending injury in Game 1. The absence of Garnett, especially, changed everything. Boston's defense is nowhere near what it was. 

I said it before and I'll say it again: The Bulls were the deeper, more athletic, more talented team. They should have won the series - especially after stealing homecourt advantage.

It will be interesting to see what GM John Paxson does from here. The Ben Gordon decision will be excruciating - and I just don't see how they keep him. From there, questions abound.

If Gordon leaves, who will take the big shots and score the big baskets for this team? (Rose, perhaps, if he continues to develop?) If the Bulls do figure out how to bring Gordon back, how do they find enough money to pay the superstar perimeter player and stud inside presence they still need to be taken seriously as contenders? Is Luol Deng as big a dog as he appeared to be these last two seasons? What can John Salmons and Brad Miller do for the team over a full season? Will Tyrus Thomas, who is due a fairly sizable raise, ever really be a player? What kind of coach is Vinny Del Negro?

Optimistic Bulls fans look at this seven-game loss to the Celtics and see a team ready to break out. But I look at the Bulls' parts and still see a team nowhere near as good as the Cavaliers, Magic and Celtics (with Garnett). They're a superstar or so behind the Heat and Hawks, too.

Although that's progress from earlier this season and last year, let's not forget that it was only 2006-07 when the Bulls won 49 games and were considered a team ready to break out.

Instead, they just broke.

Pax has a lot of work yet to do ... and not a lot of room under the salary cap and luxury tax to do it.

Losing this epic series to the Celtics probably will be as good as it gets for most guys on this team not named Derrick Rose.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cubs No. 31: Right Number, Wrong Call

Here are Pitcher X's numbers:

++10 seasons.

++Average of 13 victories per year with .543 winning percentage.

++3.61 ERA.

++One Cy Young Award, 2 All-Star Game appearances.

++One 20-win season.

++Zero seasons of 200 or more strikeouts.

++Zero seasons of 270 of more innings pitched.

++One postseason appearance, going 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA in two starts as his team lost series.

If one is in a generous mood, one would call those results "good." Nothing more, possibly less.

And certainly not worthy of having one's number retired!

Well, congratulations to Pitcher X, a.k.a. Greg Maddux

He is going to be celebrated Sunday at Wrigley Field because ... um ... why?

Because the only categories in which he ranked in the Cubs' top 10 all-time were losses, home runs allowed, games started and strikeouts?

No, because he happened to have worn No. 31, that's why.

It's the same No. 31 that was worn by Fergie Jenkins, a true Cubs great whose number should have been retired before Maddux ever threw his first big-league pitch.

What Jenkins did in a Chicago uniform was so superior, Maddux almost should be embarrassed to share the spotlight Sunday. (But really, he has nothing to be embarrassed about because this was the Cubs' call and not his.)

Here are Fergie's facts and figures:

++10 seasons.

++Average of 17 victories per year with .559 winning percentage.

++3.20 ERA.

++One Cy Young Award (and 3 other top-three finishes), 3 All-Star Game appearances.

++Six straight 20-win seasons.

++Four straight seasons of 260 or more strikeouts.

++Seven straight seasons of 271 or more innings pitched, including four straight of 308 or more.


And don't forget that while Jenkins was sent packing by the Cubs in 1974, Maddux left on his own accord after the 1992 season. Yes, the Cubs were cheap and stupid. No, I don't blame Maddux for bolting. But it was his decision to go to Atlanta and become an ex-Cub.

Then, when Maddux returned to the North Side in 2004 to join The Greatest Rotation Ever Assembled By Man Or Beast, he proceeded to go 38-37 over the next three seasons with a 4.26 ERA while never helping the Cubs reach the postseason.

Please, the point here isn't to denigrate Maddux. It's to wonder why the Cubs feel the need to include him in the long-overdue ceremony to retire Jenkins' number.

A cynic might suggest that there are racial overtones to the whole thing, given that Maddux is a popular white guy and Jenkins is a black man who was busted for cocaine possession in 1980.

Sorry, but even I'm not that cynical. I choose to give the Cubs the benefit of the doubt and say race wasn't part of the equation. I simply am convinced that the Cubs want to please as many people as possible. I also believe the Cubs still feel guilty about letting Maddux get away to spend the best part of his career in Atlanta.

There's nothing wrong with those reasons from a marketing standpoint, I suppose, but they're hardly reasons to honor a pitcher who ranks 13th on the team's all-time wins list. In their long, inglorious history, the Cubs have honored only four players by retiring their numbers, and now they're going to do so for a pitcher who ranks 30th on their all-time ERA list?

On his Hall of Fame bust, Jenkins' Cubs hat is proudly displayed. Maddux? His Cooperstown bust will be topped by Atlanta's "A." Let the Braves retire No. 31. (In fact, they will in July.)

Yes, a lot of Cubbie fans think Maddux is "classy." OK, so should the team retire the number of every good guy who also was a good ballplayer? Come on down, Shawon Dunston!

Yes, a lot of Cubbie fans from the Harry Caray Era - when the team became a phenomenon and when going to Wrigley became an event - adored Maddux. OK, so should the team retire the number of every fan favorite? Hello, Mickey Morandini!

Frankly, there are a few players not named Maddux that the Cubs could honor with number-retirement ceremonies. 

One could make a darned good argument for Mark Grace, who ranks in the team's all-time top 10 in games, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs and walks. He also was very popular with fans for more than a decade. It's borderline criminal that the list of those who have gone on to wear Grace's No. 17 includes Bobby Hill, Calvin Murray, Adam Greenberg, John Mabry and Felix Pie. I mean, compared to those nobodies, the latest No. 17, Mike Fontenot, is Hall of Fame material.

(Hey, maybe the Cubs are waiting to retire No. 17 until they can honor both Grace and Fontenot!)

Based on statistics and impact alone, Sammy Sosa is a no-brainer. The stains of steroids, bat-corking, selfishness and petulance make retiring his number tough to justify. Somehow, he deserves having No. 21 worn by wacky Milton Bradley.

How about Kerry Wood? Classy. Charitable. A leader. Loyal. One of the most exciting pitchers of his time. A guy who repeatedly overcame adversity and almost singlehandedly carried the team to its only postseason-series victory of the last century. His proponents could point to his strikeouts and his successful shift to closer - not to mention his four postseason appearances, a figure unheard of in modern-day Cubbieland.

Still, given his history of injuries and his unimpressive victory total, retiring Wood's No. 34 would be a stretch, right?

Well, sure. But he still is every bit as deserving as Greg Maddux.