Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Bulls won't do for LeBron

Man, do the Bulls want LeBron.

I mean, they're even getting the Blackhawks to clear oodles of cap space and gut a championship roster.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Minny's ballpark pleases, Joe Mauer teases

Very impressed with Target Field. Less impressed with Joe Millionaire.

Almost 16 years after I wrapped up my career as Minnesota's AP sports guy, I made my first visit to the Twins' new ballpark. My impression - and this is the ultimate compliment - it looks and feels like a ballpark. (It's not Target Field's fault that the fans do the wave.)

It isn't as busy and/or kitchy as the ballparks in Cincinnati, Texas, San Francisco, Houston, Arizona and Detroit are. It doesn't have stacks of luxury suites, as Cleveland's does. It is far more intimate than both New York ballparks, as well as those in St. Louis, Philly, Washington, Milwaukee, Seattle, Colorado and Toronto. It has a beautiful view of downtown, unlike the poorly aligned park on the South Side.

Target Field is on the short list of best newer big-league ballparks, right there with San Diego's and a tick behind the modern miracles in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Now if only Carl Pohlad had put a retractable dome on the place for those frigid days to come instead of insisting upon being buried with his billions.

As for Joe Mauer ...

Obviously, the man is talented. Handsome, trustworthy, loyal and a great dancer, too.

But shouldn't a $184 million ballplayer have more than warning-track power? I mean, did the Twins know they had the catcher version of Mark Grace when they gave him that deal?

Yes, Mauer is batting .300. It's a soft, soft, squeezably soft .300. It's the Charmin of .300 averages.

He came up in the first inning Monday with runners on the corners and nobody out and hit a sacrifice fly. Hey, that's OK. An RBI is an RBI.

Nearly midway through the season, it was RBI No. 34 for Joe Millionaire.

He also has 3 homers. And a .430 slugging percentage.

Toronto catcher John Buck: 13 HR, 40 RBI, .530 SLUG. All in nearly 50 fewer at-bats.

So step it up, Joe. Or Pohlad will reach out of his grave and yank back $182 million of that moolah.

And even rarer than a new ballpark opening ...

I got to see Jim Thome hit a triple. First one in six years for the Pride of Peoria. He also homered - No. 571 on his career - and drove in a pair.

The man can still hit and still has value, so why retire? The Hall will have to wait.

The Quote

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has been looking back at memorable moments in Twins history, and Monday's featured the 1984 late-season meltdown in Cleveland. The young Twinkies, surprising contenders in the AL West, led the Indians 10-0 but went on to lose 11-10 and were eliminated from the race. On one key play, third baseman Gary Gaetti fielded a grounder but misfired to first base.

Asked afterward about the play, Gaetti delivered one of the 5 greatest quotes in sports history:

"It's hard to throw when you have both hands around your neck."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cra-Z strikes again!

And that, my friends, is why he's Cra-Z!

I love all the trade speculation concerning Carlos Zambrano now. That's beautiful. I mean, yeah, opposing GMs must be begging Jim Hendry for a chance to land Cra-Z.

After all, Zambrano hasn't been good for almost two years, he has nearly $50 million remaining on his contract and he makes Barry Bonds look like Teammate of the Decade.

If that doesn't spell W-I-N-N-E-R, I don't know what does.

This season in Cubbieland is over; the White Sox have seen to that. And with a roster full of over-the-hill, overpaid losers, 2011 might be over already, too.

Tom Ricketts must be thinking about trying to get his money back. He should take his receipt to Costco; I hear they have the best return policy anywhere.

On the plus side ...

At least Cubbie fans who also love futbol still have Ghana to root for!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hey, didn't the White Sox used to suck?

All right ... who stole the 2010 White Sox and replaced them with the '05 model?

I just spent three straight days at The Cell, and I have to admit that I came away incredibly impressed with the home team.

White Sox starters are pitching superbly - the reason I and others thought they'd contend in the first place. Ozzie's wizards also are coming up with timely hits, making plays in the field and simply doing things right. The Braves, the latest Sox sweepees, came into town as the hottest club in baseball - and the White Sox made them look bad.

As I wrapped up my story for AP on Thursday - READ IT - I realized I won't see the White Sox again until the last week of July. I am going out of town this weekend and will miss the Cubs series, and I'm working on other things during the only week they are home in the period immediately before and after the All-Star break.

They have cut a 9 1/2 game deficit to 2 1/2 in the blink of an eye, so it will be interesting to see where they stand the next time I step foot in The Cell.

During the bad times, Ozzie Guillen did exactly what a good manager must: keep his team believing and playing hard. Now it will be interesting to see how he and his lads handle prosperity.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cubs reek, both night and day

My buddy Gordon Wittenmyer, the fine Sun-Times reporter who covers the Cubs, wrote an excellent piece on the difficulty of managing the hopeless North Side sacks: READ IT.

As always, there were references to day baseball at Wrigley Field as a possible culprit to the franchise's 102 years of futility. (Not blasting Gordon here; he was just listing all the usual suspects.)

Maybe in yesteryear, day baseball was a valid excuse. Day game after day game after day game in the heat of July and August wearing out the lads and creating too much of a grind.

OK. Possible.

(Never mind that the Cubs usually were out of the race each year before summer began. Maybe the mere threat of hot days to come made them wilt in advance.)

But in the post-lights-at-Wrigley era, and especially the new millennium? Please. The Cubs play plenty of home night games.

Last season, they played 77 total day games (home and road). The Twins played 60, the Cardinals 58, the Yankees 56.

Trust me: Those few extra day games weren't what made Milton Bradley implode, what turned Carlos Zambrano into Cra-Z, what made Kosuke Fukudome do his spin-a-rama whiffs and what made Jim Hendry try to justify his signing of Aaron Miles.

Like every other team in the majors, the Cubs never have to play a road night game and then travel to play a home day game. Their schedule simply isn't much of a grind ... not because of day baseball, anyway.

If anything, day baseball at Wrigley should be a major advantage for the home team. Theoretically, the Cubs know how to play tough sun fields, are experts at dealing with wind patterns and otherwise are accustomed to the uniqueness that is day baseball at Wrigley.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Admit it: Kaka is a foul name

I've found a new job, folks: World Cup referee.

Turns out I'm supremely qualified: I don't know anything about soccer, either.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Heimlich, anyone?

You know it's a crazy sports Sunday when the Cubs don't choke but Tiger, Phil and Ernie do!

A double celebration on U.S. Open Sunday

Tiger, Phil and Ernie are in the hunt ... and I'll be watching from my recliner, enjoying guacamole, chips and iced tea all day long.

For all the dads out there, here's hoping your Father's Day will be as great as mine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kobe to Ubaldo and everything in between

Of course, Kobe Bryant isn't the player Michael Jordan was, but maybe now we can say Kobe is 5/6ths Michael's greatness level, right?

Phil Jackson = Best Coach Ever (regardless of sport). If anybody has some kind of objective measurement to prove otherwise, I'm all ears.

Ray Allen choked. If only he had asked: "What Would Jesus (Shuttlesworth) Do?"

Great run by a great guy, my old Marquette compadre Doc Rivers.

Life isn't fair. How else to explaim a knucklehead like Ron Artest winning a championship in his one L.A. season but Karl Malone failing to do so?

Now that the NBA has gotten its annoying championship series out of the way, the official Kiss LeBron's Rump season can start in earnest.

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Open ...

Methinks it's time for Ryo Ishikawa to give that outfit back to the retired Florida grandma he stole it from.

I'd really like to play Pebble Beach someday. I just want somebody else to pay for my round. And for the two dozen Pro-V1s I'd lose. Is that asking too much?

While many golfers wore short sleeves for Round 1, Tiger Woods donned a long-sleeved fleece. Not that I'm calling any man who has been known to have sex 10 times a day with 10 different women a wimp or anything.

Other stuff:

Saying there is no need for four or more preseason games per team, the NFL finally is admitting it has been fleecing fans for decades.

The White Sox swept the Pirates! For the Cubbies' benefit, I repeat: The White Sox swept the Pirates!

I thought I was watching the World Cup, but the game on my TV actually had a score that wasn't 1-0 or 0-0, so I now realize it must have been something else.

I wouldn't have believed that Kosuke Fukudome led the Cubs to victory if I hadn't witnessed it for myself. (READ THE STORY I WROTE FOR AP.)

Both the coolest first name in sports and the most talent at his position. I mean, how lucky is Ubaldo Jimenez?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why can't Johnny count?

12 teams in the Big Ten ... and ten teams in the Big 12. Beautiful.

And that's barely the tip of the dyslexic fun as schools and conferences dash for television cash.

Yep, the BCS era just keeps making college football better and better.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cubs and Sox play for none of the marbles

Lou verbally attacked Stoney ... Ozzie and Kenny feuded ... Ted and Gavin almost threw no-no-no-no's ... Pierre performed prestidigitation on the basepaths ... Silva sounded ready to sue for lack of support ... A.J. tormented Cubbieland again ... Wells said "thanks but no thanks" when offered a new pitching plan ... Buehrle turned back the clock ... The Blackhawks showed off Lord Stanley's hardware ... Lou sat Tyler 2 out of 3 games but vowed for about the 10th time to play the kid more ...

All in all, a typically loony Cubs-White Sox shebang.

And when it was all over, the Lovable Losers and the South Side Stiffs had almost identical records that accurately reflected their futility.

We should have expected no more from two disastrous teams playing for the BP Cup, right?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chicago celebrates: There's a winner in town!

Huge night for Chicago sports, baby!

The Fire managed a 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids in thrilling MLS action!!!

What's that? There was a hockey game, too? And the Blackhawks won it, beating the Flyers in OT? Do tell.

Hey, big props to the Blackhawks. Anybody who paid any attention at all knew way back in October that they had the talent to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 49 years. But actually doing so took a lot of drive and grit and hard work.

And, in the case of Duncan Keith, a whole mess of teeth.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the office area of my 17th floor, North Side apartment listening to the revelry outside. TV news helicopters are flying over the nearby Wrigleyville area doing live shots of all the partying in the streets. Hopefully, stupidity and hooliganism will be at a minimum so fun can be at a maximum.

I've lived in many metro areas, I grew up near New York and I've covered championship events in just about every major city in North America ... and I consider Chicago the best sports town. It's nice to see folks here getting all revved up about one of the teams.

Three years ago, the Blackhawks were a non-story in Chicago. Tonight, they are The Story in Chicago.

Pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strasburg is great, hype is sickening

It was impossible not to be impressed with the poise and command exhibited by Stephen Strasburg in one of the most anticipated debuts in modern sports history.

And yet, I was happy the Nationals Savior gave up that two-run homer to Delwyn Young.

Just a few minutes earlier, Bob Costas was telling his MLB-TV audience that Strasburg might have even more than a Hall-of-Fame career ahead of him. Indeed, Strasburg, he said, might be one of the all-time game-changers for baseball history.

Then, of course, the incessant comparisons to Walter Johnson commenced.

All this approximately 5 innings into Strasburg's big-league debut. Oy. Thank you, Delwyn Young, for interjecting even a few seconds of reality.

Isn't it enough just to say how wonderful Stephen Strasburg is? Do we have to make him an all-time great already?

And so, Strasburg's sizzling introduction to American baseball fans provided examples of both the best and worst of sports today: Tremendous achievement ... and hype run amok.

I mean, I haven't heard an announcer go that batty about a rookie pitcher's performance since Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game. Before that, it was Mark Fidrych mowing down the Yankees.

We saw what all-time greats Kid K and The Bird turned out to be, right?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

1961: A long puckin' time ago!

The Blackhawks are one win away from doing something they haven't done since just a few months after JFK was inaugurated.

The last time Chicago's NHL franchise sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup ... the Bulls were still 5 years away from getting an NBA expansion franchise, Ron Santo was coming off his rookie year, the Bears had just drafted Mike Ditka, and American schoolchildren were taught that crouching under their desks was the best way to avoid being annihilated by Russian A-bombs.

Oh, and I was 6 months old. (I didn't have much hair back then, either.)

I'm not a Hawks fan, but I'm not a hater, either. So I'll say only this: It's time.

Win the damn thing already for all the fans who stuck with the team through thin and thinner.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How 'bout that? Bulls actually hire legit coach

As I wrote two years ago - the last time the Bulls had a coaching search - they waited so long that they might as well have held off a little longer to hire Tom Thibodeau, the best assistant available. Instead, they hired Vinny Del Snooze and then gave him no chance to succeed.

Well, the Bulls got it right this time.

I got to know Thibodeau two decades ago when he was a young assistant for the expansion Timberwolves under Bill Musselman. Even back then, he was prepared and hard-working and had a nice feel for the nuances of the game. He has served under several top coaches since then and has been an instrumental asset for Celtics coach Doc Rivers these last few years.

As they prepared to fire Del Negro, Bulls honchos intimated that they wanted their next coach to have significant NBA head-coaching experience. It's good that they changed their minds. Why limit the pool? Just because Vinny had never coached so much as fourth-grade girls basketball, it didn't mean they had to go to the opposite extreme and exhume Red Auerbach's body.

I mean, Phil Jackson had been "only" an assistant before he became the Bulls' coach, and that turned out pretty well.

It took the Bullish braintrust a ridiculous amount of time - 2 freakin' years - to find their man, but find him they did.

I guess the saying is right: Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

Another Chicago sports day from hell

The Cubs were helpless against a pitcher who had been 0-7 this season, losing 3-1 to the awful Astros.

The White Sox were hapless against a pitcher who had been 0-11 since last August, getting humiliated 10-1 by the inept Indians.

The suddenly vulnerable Blackhawks fell behind big, lost Game 4 to the Flyers and now the Stanley Cup Finals stand tied at 2-apiece.

But hey, at least LeBron is leading on Bulls fans, so it's all good.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who's more wrong, The Ump or The Genius?

Bud Selig's decision to let Jim Joyce's call stand - thereby denying Armando Galarraga a perfect game - was the no-brainer of the millennium.

The commissioner simply can't be changing umpiring decisions 12, 18, 24 hours after they happen.

I mean, even a manager who often insists upon batting his pitcher eighth knows that, right?

"If I was Mr. Selig," Tony La Russa says, "in the best interest of the game, the guy got it and I'd give him his perfect game."

Ugh. Never mind.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cubs appreciate losing Blackhawks, raining Pittsburgh

Wednesday sure was a nice night for sports ...

Nice of the Blackhawks to lose to the Flyers, guaranteeing an extended Stanley Cup Finals and keeping the Cubs and White Sox off the front pages of the Chicago newspapers for a little while longer.

Nice of Ken Griffey Jr. to wake up long enough to announce his retirement.

Nice of it to rain in Pittsburgh, preventing all those Pirates fans - like, 2,000 of them! - from celebrating yet another win over the Cubbies.

Nice of Jim Joyce to admit perhaps the biggest umpiring gaffe since Don Denkinger's 1985 all-timer: "I just cost the kid a perfect game."

Nice of Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga to provide the perfectly classy quote about Joyce's screw-up: "He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody's perfect. Everybody's human. I understand."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of Blackhawks, Pujols, Marquette memories and Cubbie angst

Took a break for a bit. It was tough to sacrifice the huge paycheck I usually get for my work here at TBT, but that's the kind of guy I am.

Anyway, a few random thoughts ...

+++ As impressive as the Blackhawks have been - which is plenty damn impressive - it's still too early to assume they'll beat the Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup in the Color TV Era. Many, many, many times throughout history, a team has gone up 2-0 only to lose a series. In fact, the Hull-Mikita-Tony O-Martin-Pappin-Stapleton Blackhawks of 1971 did just that. So I'd advise Blackhawks fans - both longtime loyalists and Pucky-come-latelies - to enjoy every moment, cheer on the lads and keep their playoff beards growing.

+++ Nice to see Mark McGwire fix Albert Pujols because, you know, Pujols was nothing before Big Mac saved his career.

+++ Ubaldo Jimenez = Bob Gibson. Except Jimenez is dominating from a regular-height mound in a hitter-friendly era.

+++ The Nationals have handled the Stephen Strasburg situation perfectly every step of the way. Folks who disagree understand neither modern Major League Baseball nor economics.

+++ Those who know me well know that I root for no pro teams. Still, I can't acknowledge the pending Celtics-Lakers championship series without wishing best of luck to my former Marquette colleague, Glenn "Doc" Rivers - surely one of the worst soccer players ever to take Charlie Nader's team sports class.

+++ The Pirates beat the Cubs 6 times in May. They beat the other teams on their schedule 5 times. If you're waiting for a punch line, I don't need to provide it. The Cubs already have.

+++ And speaking of punch lines ... Aramis Ramirez is only one hot streak away from hiking his batting average all the way up to .175.