Saturday, July 31, 2010

Interesting moves by Cards, Sox and Cubs

The one person who shouldn't complain about the departure of Albert Pujols' longtime sidekick Ryan Ludwick is ... Albert Pujols. The main reason the Cardinals traded Ludwick for semi-OK pitcher Jake Westbrook is that they are trying to clear salary so they can give Pujols one of the richest contracts in baseball history.

The Cardinals needed more hitting, not less. Still, it wasn't the worst strategy to offset their low-scoring offense by acquiring another arm. Westbrook does have talent. A move to the NL - and to a staff overseen by Dave Duncan - could prove to be most fruitful.

That trade is easier to figure out than the White Sox dealing prospect Daniel Hudson for mediocre Edwin Jackson. I don't blame Kenny Williams for refusing to mortgage the future to go after a one-and-done slugger such as Adam Dunn, though.

As for the Cubs dealing Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers in a classic salary-dump move that brought Blake DeWitt in return ... that's fine as long as Tom Ricketts uses the money saved next offseason. DeWitt is a left-handed, 5-years-younger version of Theriot. And if the Cubs want to bring Lilly back next season, they'll be able to.

On a personal note, I liked Lilly and Theriot. Lose or lose, those two always were available to the media after games to take the heat when many of their teammates would run and hide.

Theriot and I used to live in the same neighborhood about a mile from Wrigley, and when I asked him just a couple months ago about the house he bought, he said: "Oh, we haven't bought. We're renting." Good decision, it turns out.

Lilly ... well ... I'll never forget the way he threw his glove after Arizona's Chris Young took him deep in Game 2 of the 2007 playoffs. Talk about one moment that captured the very essence of all things Cub - truly a Cubbie instant classic!

Oh, and good for new Yankee Kerry Wood, too.
Paychecks aside, the guy has known mostly baseball heartbreak. Now he's on the best team in the world.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fred McGriff, meet Derrek Lee

Nine years ago - back in the days when a person could take a 6-ounce can of shaving cream onto an airplane without being labeled a terrorist - Fred McGriff refused to leave Tampa Bay to join the Cubs. He liked the comfortable life he and his family had built in Tampa and he merely was exercising his no-trade rights.

Chicago fans branded him a loser. How could he be willing to stay in a no-win situation instead of coming to Cubbieland to join a team with such a glorious history of championship baseball?

Wednesday, Derrek Lee refused to leave the Cubs in a proposed trade with the Angels. He likes Chicago, his family is comfortable here and he merely was exercising his no-trade rights.

Many in Chicago are calling him noble.

In sports, as in real life, it's all about perspective.

Lee went one step further, saying he hopes to sign a new long-term contract to stay with the Cubs - who, of course, have little choice but to say, "No thanks."

Derrek Lee is one of the real class acts to come through this town during my 16 years here. He just isn't a great ballplayer anymore. He's almost 35, the Cubs desperately need to get more left-handed and they can ill-afford to pay an eight-figure annual salary to a non-contact-hitting first baseman with warning-track power.

If the Cubs wanted Micah Hoffpauir, they could call him up from the bush leagues.

With Faux Mr. Clutch Aramis Ramirez saying he expects to exercise his $14.6 million option for 2011, the Cubs already are saddled with so many bad contracts for next year and beyond.

The Cubs should have traded Lee after last season, when he still seemed able to play a little and would have had actual value. The acquiring team could have sweetened his contract some and Lee probably would have agreed to go. There would have been much grumbling around Cubbieland, but it's almost always better to trade a player one year too early than one year too late.

Though Lou Piniella and several teammates said they were thrilled Lee's sticking around, Derrek did the Cubs no favors. Now they'll get nothing for him. It's their only choice.

Back to McGriff ...

He dd eventually accept a financially sweetened deal to join the Cubs in '01. The rest was history: The Cubs were still losers and Cubbieland got to see the most incompetent first baseman to come around these parts in many a decade.

Made everybody really appreciate Derrek Lee when he arrived three years later.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Poor Ron Santo

As we drove home from Milwaukee on Sunday night, my wife and I listened to the end of the Cubs-Cardinals game. Ron Santo wanted the Cubs to win so badly - a win he felt would have gotten them right back in the race - I actually felt sorry for him.

If only the Cubs cared as much as Santo does, maybe they wouldn't be hopeless.

Then again, the loss was good for Ronnie because it kept him from building false hope about the Cubs' chances this season. Or this century.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why is Lou still running Cubs?

On July 22, 1978, during Lou Piniella's heyday as a ballplayer, his Yankees were 11 games behind the Red Sox. They had no chance. None.

Two days later, Billy Martin was forced out as manager, replaced by Bob Lemon. The Yankees ended up winning the division, the pennant and the World Series.

Going into this weekend's Cubs-Cardinals series, Lou's Cubbies trail the Cards by 11 games.

Do I think a managerial change would turn the '10 Cubs into the '78 Yankees? No, I do not. And yet ...

Instead of letting Lou play out the string as a lame-duck skipper, why not at least pretend you're still trying to win?

I should feel sorry for all the chumps who paid big bucks for tickets to games the last two months. But in Cubbieland, you get what you pay for.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Adieu, Lou. Who's got next?

Lou Piniella didn't do his best work this year. But maybe if Aramis Ramirez hadn't waited until July to start hitting and if Cra-Z Zambrano had performed like a $91.5 million pitcher and if Jim Hendry hadn't saddled his manager with the likes of Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Aaron Miles, Milton Bradley and John Grabow, and if, well, you get the idea.

These last few years, those in my profession in Chicago have been pretty damn lucky, getting to deal with interesting managers such as Lou, Ozzie, Dusty and Jerry Manuel. The fact that Piniella was one of my favorite players when I was a Yankees fan as a teenager growing up in Connecticut made it even more fun to cover him as a manager. I got to know him pretty well and, while we certainly aren't friends, we have a very good working relationship.

I admit it: I like the guy.

Still, when the team hired Piniella back in the 06-07 offseason, I cautioned Cubbieland not to expect too much. Lou couldn't get to the World Series with either the mega-payroll Yankees or a Mariners team that included A-Rod, Junior, the Big Unit and several other outstanding players. Sure enough, he'll leave Chicago having never won a postseason game.

And so now the Cubs will get to search for their next savior. Let's handicap the field ...

RYNE SANDBERG: Most Cubbie fans love this idea, which cracks me up. Here's an organization that has had a past filled with futility, but the fans constantly want to dig back into the past for saviors. Can Ryno manage? Maybe, maybe not. Hey, he's worth a shot as much as the next guy. 3-to-2.

BOB BRENLY: He's an intelligent, strong, World Series winning manager and he's right under their noses. It's almost so obvious that he won't be the choice. Of course, Brenly could make a better case for himself if he could go into the Way-Back Machine and bring Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling - in their primes - along for the ride. 5-to-1.

JOE GIRARDI: Hendry wouldn't hire him four years ago when he was an even more obvious choice than Brenly is now. Besides, just because Girardi grew up a Cubs fan, it doesn't mean he'd rather manage the Laffable Losers than the Yankees. I mean, he did go to Northwestern, so you know he's no dummy. 10-to-1.

ALAN TRAMMELL: He's the classic example of a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - with the hapless Tigers early this decade - but who has gone on to grow and learn. In other words, just the kind of guy who excels when given a second chance. It's hard to believe the Cubs would be the team that gives him that chance, though. He's not "exciting" enough. 25-to-1.

JOE TORRE: He'd be right in line with the superstar managers Hendry has pursued in the past. He's also 105 years old. And he hasn't won squat without a $200 million payroll backing him up. This would be such a ridiculous hire that even the Cubs won't screw this one up. Right? 50-to-1.

GREG MADDUX: Even though Hendry reveres him - a little too much, methinks - he has neither the personality nor the experience for the job. And I think Hendry knows it. 100-to-1.

TALK RADIO HOSTS: Remember the College of Coaches? Well, how about the College of Radio Yakkers? I mean, they have all the effen answers! 500-to-1.

OZZIE GUILLEN. Maybe the only one who could handle Cra-Z. But he's too afraid of those Wrigley Wrats. He's also under contract to an owner who appreciates him and is with a franchise that has won a championship in the last century. 1000-to-1.

MIKE NADEL: Only if I get to make Erin Andrews my bench coach. 1 gazillion-to-1.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A little bird's solo flight

It was a big few days for this bald daddy.

I just got back from Seattle, where I was getting my little girl, Katie, settled in her new city for her new job. OK, so she's not so little anymore ... but my memories of rocking her to sleep when she was 23 weeks old are so vivid, it doesn't seem possible that she's 23 years old now.

My wife and I already miss Katie's laugh and her smile and her incredibly positive attitude and, well, everything about her. At the same time, we're excited about her new beginning - her first truly solo flight - and we know her future is filled with wonderful things.

Gotta run now. It's not easy typing on a tear-soaked keyboard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

13 sharp baseball observations

During a Southwest Airlines flight to Seattle this week, my daughter Katie inadvertently brought a large pair of scissors in her carry-on bag. The fine TSA folks operating the x-ray gear didn't detect the sharp implement. Obviously, though, Katie isn't a terrorist. I mean, it's not as if she tried to sneak a 4-ounce bottle of shampoo on the plane!

While contemplating all of that, I'll fire off a baker's dozen thoughts about baseball at the break ...

1. Smart GMs of losing teams will do what Kenny Williams did last year (in acquiring Alex Rios) and add talented players for future seasons. It's one thing to throw away one bad season; why let it ruin an entire decade?

2. Aramis Ramirez, Faux Mr. Clutch, is at it again. Now that his Cubs are hopelessly out of the race - and with him having the right to opt out of his contract at season's end - he finally is hitting the way a cleanup hitter making monster money should. He did the same thing in 2006, getting hot just in time to get himself a huge new deal but not in time to keep Dusty Baker from getting fired.

3. It will be interesting to see which NL Central frontrunner, Cincinnati or St. Louis, will overcome major bullpen issues to take the division. Reds GM Walt Jocketty would love nothing more than to add a couple of the same quality arms the Cards no doubt want. Jocketty was great at making deadline deals before he was run out of St. Louis. Meanwhile, in the always-entertaining game within the games, it's Dusty vs. Tony - just as it was in '03 (with Dusty prevailing) and '04 (with Tony dominating).

4. The most overrated player in baseball in the season's first half: Joe Mauer in a landslide. The Twins can't afford to have their highest-paid player ever hit like Brian Harper.

5. If they can get reasonably healthy by mid-August and if they can hang close in the race, the Phillies will win the NL East again.

6. "This time it counts"? Yeah, but not in the ratings. Sorry, Bud, it's still an exhibition game. That's what happens when nearly 10 percent of the league's players are deemed All-Stars. It's pro sports. Everybody doesn't need to win a trophy.

7. The Padres authored the best story of the first half and I gotta admit that I'm rooting for them to hold on. It's pretty cool that even as management tries like hell to lose, the players just won't let it happen.

8. The Pirates should have to move out of PNC Park until they have a winning season. No team that bad should get to play in such a cool ballpark.

9. Ditto for the Orioles regarding Camden Yards.

10. Is it still Milton Bradley's fault that the Cubs suck?

11. Fear the Rockies.

12. Stephen Strasburg is the most-hyped 6-inning pitcher ever. Or at least since Greg Maddux returned to the Cubs in 2004. (And speaking of hyped, remember when Maddux was going to help teach Cra-Z Zambrano how to be more professional?)

13. Predicted playoff teams: Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Rays (wild card), Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies, Dodgers (wild card). One more prediction: This is Lou Piniella's last season in Cubbieland but Jim Hendry will be around for one more try in 2011. For better or worse on both accounts.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

If LeBron's a doody-head, Dan Gilbert's a double-doody-head

Just for the heck of it, let's agree that every single word Cavs owner Dan Gilbert says about LeBron is true:

LeBron is a self-promoting, narcissistic,disloyal, cowardly, heartless, callous, selfish, shameful, disrespectful, immature jerk who quit on the Cavs in the playoffs each of the last two years.

Now consider this:

Gilbert was ready to give one of the richest contracts in the history of sports to a self-promoting, narcissistic, disloyal, cowardly, heartless, callous, selfish, shameful, disrespectful, immature quitter.

What does that say about Gilbert's intelligence, management savvy and ability to judge character?

Gilbert now is "guaranteeing" that his gutted Cavaliers will win a title before the James-Wade-Bosh triumverate does in Miami.

I'd happily take that bet and give Gilbert 3-to-1 odds.

Hey, if I were a Cavs fan, I'd take him at his word and buy the most expensive season-ticket package the team sells - as long as the loyal, honorable, non-narcissistic Gilbert's guarantee is of the 100-percent-refund variety.

And speaking of money-back guarantees ...

My son Ben and his buddy, Billy, couldn't resist. A couple of weeks ago, each bought a 2010-11 season ticket to the Bulls on the chance that the team would land LeBron, which would have given the ducats some serious value.

Oh well ... at least Ben and Billy didn't buy 10 years ago in anticipation of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady coming to Chicago - the last time the Bulls cleared out salary-cap space for what was then hailed as the greatest free-agent class ever.

Besides, the boys probably still will be able to make a tidy profit on quite a few games - especially the two against LeBron's Heat (but probably not when the Bulls face Gilbert's 25-win Cavs).

Friday, July 9, 2010

D-Wade gets his man ... but first, another commercial

You know, ESPN couldn't have milked the LeBron deal any more if Jim Gray had pulled up a stool and started squeezing LeBron's udders.

So now the Heat has - or is it the Heat have? I never really know - LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh. Sources say they'll soon be joined by Aquaman and Wonder Woman to form the greatest Justice League ever!

Though Clevelanders are downright pissed at him right now, LeBron actually was kind of unselfish with this decision. Really. He could have made more money with the Cavs, could have scored more endorsements with the Bulls and could have been an international icon with the Knicks. He really did choose the most likely championship situation. How 'bout that?

D-Wade didn't have to change teams. He added the best teammate in the league. He increased his odds of multiple titles significantly. And he came out of it with the biggest paycheck of them all. Oh, and Florida doesn't even have a state sales tax.

Yep, the man is so smart, it's almost as if he went to Marquette!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From incomplete Bull to goofy golf

It's hard to blame Reinsdorf & Co. for failing to land any of LeBron, D-Wade or Bosh. I mean, they had to take the chance and all it really cost them was Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and a decent chunk of self-esteem.

It's not like 1998, when they ran the best coach in history, the best player in history and perhaps the best sidekick in history out of town - thus breaking up one of the best dynasties in history at least a half-decade prematurely - so they could get lousy and load up on high draft picks and free agents only to end up with Curry, Fizer, Floyd and Mercer.

And Kornel David, of course.

Oh, and don't forget that the Bulls could have had D-Wade all this time but Pax refused to trade Donyell Marshall for the right to move up in the '03 draft. How'd that work out?

On a more important note ...

One reason I like golf is that something unique seems to happen every round. I got an urge to play a quick 9 Wednesday so I went to the closest park district course. I got paired with 3 other guys and it was fun - albeit hot as h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

Anyway, we got to the 8th hole, a short par-3. One of the guys put his tee shot on the back of the huge green, which would have been great except the flag was at the front, about 65-70 feet away.

Eventually, the other 3 of us joined him on the green and as he walked up to his ball, I laughed and said: "That's a gimme. Pick it up."

And you know what? He did. Put the ball in his pocket and walked away. Pretty sure he marked a 2 down on his scorecard, too.

Jeesh. Even Tiger doesn't try that kind of cheating.

This has been a LeBron TV Production

I was really surprised to hear that LeBron will announce his big decision in prime time Thursday on ESPN. I mean, to this point in his life, everything he's done has been so understated.

My sources tell me it's between the Grizzlies and the Bucks.

Kid all you want about the speculation and hype and rumors and such. All I know is that it can't be easy for LeBron to decide between playing one more year for the Vikings or riding tractors in Hattiesburg.

If the Bulls miss out on LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh, word is that they already have a contract ready for Ron Mercer.

Did I say the Grizzlies or Bucks? Now that Vinny Del Negro will coach the Clippers, how can LeBron resist being the No. 1 attraction for L.A.'s No. 4 pro hoops team? And psssst ... my informant tells me that LeBron will command even more money than most of the UCLA and USC kids do.

ESPN's hoops expert, Chris Broussard, put his reputation on the line Tuesday by predicting LeBron just might end up in New Jersey. Unless he goes to New York. Or Miami. Or Chicago. Or re-signs with Cleveland. Seems that Broussard's segment ran out of time before he could name the other 25 teams.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wake me when LeWhatsHisName chooses a team

Today's high-5:

1. Just heard that LeBron to Chicago is "a done deal." Also, that LeBron is leaning toward joining D-Wade in Miami. And that LeBron is buying the Bobcats and will talk Michael into coming out of retirement. And that LeBron wants to play wide receiver for the Browns. And that LeBron is forming his own sports network, LeSpn. And that LeBron said he'd come to the Bulls only if Reinsdorf brings "that funny-looking Crumbs dude back." And that LeBron is so angry at the way the French soccer team behaved at the World Cup that he's changing his name to TheBron.

2. Elin is going to get $750M of Tiger's dough? Jeesh! That's three times as much as I had to pay Chicago in parking tickets last year!

3. I like the team Walt Jocketty built for Dusty Baker: fundamentally sound, nice power, a little speed, decent rotation, excellent blend of veterans and kids. Not sure if the Reds have quite enough in the bullpen to win the division this year, but it's not as if the NL Central is crammed full of great teams. Here's what I wrote Thursday for AP from the Cubs-Reds series opener: READ IT.

4. The only way the stock market can do any worse than it has lately is by losing a series to the Pirates.

5. Earlier this week, I got to play the Skokie Country Club, one of the true classics in the Chicago area. With its tricky, fast greens and grippy rough, it was a bear for us media-day hacks - and it will be quite a test from the tips for the Western Amateur field next month. A three-putt bogey on my final hole condemned me to a 100, a cruel ending to three straight days of mostly fun golf in three different states - Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Oy, am I a glutton for punishment ... one shank at a time.