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September, 2008:

With one game left to play…

This afternoon’s game with the Milwaukee Brewers means little to the Cubs, even if it will help determine who will be their opponent next week. (Should the Brewers win the wild card, the Dodgers will come to Wrigley Field Wednesday. If the Mets take the wild card, the Cubs face New York Wednesday.)

The Cubs have had the National League Central locked up since Sept. 20 and home field advantage through the NLCS locked up since Sept. 22. Yesterday’s 7-3 win over the Brewers was the Cubs’ 97th of the season, ensuring that they indeed are the best Cubs team of my lifetime.  They are the 11th-best Cubs team since 1901 in terms of winning percentage (ninth, if you don’t count the two pennant-winning seasons during world wars, 1918 and 1945).

Only the 1904, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1929 and 1935 Cubs (plus the 1918 and 1945 Cubs) had better winning percentages than the 2008 Cubs now have.

The Cubs haven’t made consecutive postseason appearances since 1906-1907-1908. (The White Sox never have successfully defended a championship of any sort.) That all changes Wednesday when they open the NLDS.

Semi-retired columnist Bob Verdi expresses what really is so different about this year’s Cubs in comparison to the teams we’re used to: an absence of stars:

 Not in recent memory, with the postseason approaching, has it been said of the star-crossed North Siders that it would be a colossal disappointment if they somehow avoided the World Series.   
True, you heard those celestial musings in 1984 at San Diego, where they needed to win just one of three, only to fail grotesquely, thereby setting the table for another 0-for-California in 1989. Then there was 2003, when either Mark Prior or Kerry Wood surely would fire a clincher at Wrigley Field against the Florida Marlins. You know the rest. This marks the fifth year of a five-year forgetting plan.
But it feels different now, and not just because the law of averages is screaming to be obeyed. Even self-appointed experts who have no vested interest in the outcome of playoffs surmise the Cubs are locked and loaded. This is the best team in the National League, and there is no apparent dynasty in the American League should the Cubs not soil themselves trying for their first pennant since 1945.
 …

These Cubs will own the best record in the National League because they have been superior at home and effective on the road. But they will enter the postseason without a 20-game winner and perhaps without a .300 hitter. 

Who are this team’s stars? Derrek Lee? Maybe, but he’s had a disappointing season in terms of average, power and his knack for hitting into double plays. Aramis Ramirez? Sure, but his power numbers are down from when he averaged 33 home runs from 2004-2006.  Alfonso Soriano? When he’s healthy and on a hot streak, he’s about as good as anyone who’s ever played. When he’s not on a hot streak, he’s a strikeout machine and a defensive liability. Besides, this year is nowhere near the level he’s produced before. Geovanny Soto?  Maybe, since the Cubs haven’t had a catcher turn in numbers like this since Rick Wilikins’ inexplicable 1993 campaign. 

The Cubs truly are where they are thanks to the pitching staff. But even there, the star power is underwhelming.  Ryan Dempster was a mediocre closer a year ago, and now he’s 17-6 and slated to start the playoff opener Wednesday. Rich Harden was a nice acquisition, but he’s a six-inning  pitcher.  Ted Lilly won his 17th game yesterday, but he had to overcome a 1-4 start.

 The ace of the staff, Carlos Zambrano, has finished the year with a meager 14 wins, and except for his no-hitter two weeks ago, his final six weeks were subpar. In  Verdi’s words,  ”With his experience, and at his price, Zambrano should inspire trust. Instead, he is as reliable as Freddie and Fannie.”

I’m not so concerned about Zambrano. The Cubs beat the Mets in three, or the Dodgers in four, and it’s off to the NLCS!

Some help, please

If you have a moment, please take this survey.   It’s for a class I’m taking at Loyola.

The Mayor hates beer, John McCain ads, the Cubs and America too

No fun allowed at the bars!It’s not easy being Mayor Daley. Yesterday was difficult for the world’s “best big-city mayor.” First, he had to defend his brother from the cruel smears of the John McCain campaign. Bill Daley a lobbyist? How would you get that idea?Then, he comes out to defend his assinine proposal to cut off beer sales at bars in the Wrigley Field neighborhood during “clinching” games, i.e. games that would decide a series championship.Some would call (or more accurately, have-called) the Mayor a Neo-Prohibitionist.Bad Kermit of Hire Jim Essian! has no such political agenda, but he makes quick work of the mayor, pointing out that such a ban won’t solve anything.

  1. Cubs fans who have been drinking from 7:00 p.m. until 9:40 p.m. (a conservative estimate) aren’t going to magically sober up between 9:40 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. and decide, “Hey, maybe flipping over a car and lighting it on fire ISN’T a good idea. And neither is wearing these sunglasses indoors. And why is the collar on my polo flipped up? And these plaid pants aren’t ironic at all. They’re just stupid-looking.”
  2. People who want to continue drinking after the seventh inning are either going to (a) do what the people at Wrigley do and purchase enough beers prior to the end of the seventh to last them until the end of the game, (b) go somewhere that will serve them alcohol, expanding the net of drunks to a broader radius, or (c) get extremely belligerent with the bartenders who refuse to serve them alcohol.

Why else was yesterday a rough day for the Mayor? Jason Kubel.  It looks like the precious Bridgeport bars might not have to worry about the Daley ban.

One good recollection

Goose blowing an LCS save (why couldn’t you do this in 1984?) With the closing of Yankee Stadium, I’m getting more than my fill of people’s recollections of their favorite moments there.  I’m tired of it. I guess no one can tire of Reggie Jackson’s three home run game in 1977 or the 2001 home runs to win over the Diamondbacks.

For former Tribune sportswriter Robert Markus, his fondest memory is pictured on the right, when George Brett met Goose Gossage in the seventh inning of  Game 3 of the 1980 American League Championship Series.

 There may have been longer homers hit in Yankee Stadium, but not many. There may have been more dramatic homers in baseball’s most famous venue. But there can’t have been any with more wrenching impact.

As for me, my memories don’t go back far enough to remember that game. Chances are that I watched at least a couple innings of the game because my favorite pitcher Tommy John was throwing (side note: the fact he’s not in the Hall of Fame is a greater injustice than Ron Santo’s exclusion). But I have no recollection of the event. The most memorable Yankee Stadium moment for me quite possibly also included a George Brett-Goose Gossage matchup:

I never went. I never really had any great desire to go, I guess. Sure, I want to see Fenway Park. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Dodger Stadium. Hell, I even marveled at the history at Three Rivers Stadium and Memorial Stadium when I visited. However, my dad probably influenced me when I was impressionable. He told me about his trips to Yankee Stadium in the summer of 1970, when he was still dating my mother who had moved home to New Rochelle. He’d leave work at Elston and Central around 3 Central Time on a Friday, and arrive at her parents’ doorstep at 4:30 AM Eastern Time. At any rate, some of their dates included going to Yankee Stadium, back when “it was still Yankee Stadium.”  His contention that it’s not the same park sounds about right to me.  Really, there’s no comparison between the old Yankee Stadium and the refurbished version. I’m sure the new park will be far more comfortable.

At any rate, Markus’ blog is a treasure because of his willingness to share some rarely revisited anecdotes.  Later on in his posting, he writes of the 1976 World Series, a Reds sweep.  The series featured Johnny Bench hitting to the tune of a 1.666 OPS, and Thurman Munson getting six consecutive hits, including a 4-for-4 in Game 4. (Munson’s record wouldn’t be broken until Billy Hatcher came along in 1990.)

Bench and Munson When it was over, the Yankees were dead, Munson’s ego lay in tatters at his feet, and Anderson had elevated Bench to the realm of the immortals. “Don’t ever compare anyone to Johnny Bench,” said Anderson, when asked to do just that. “You don’t want to embarrass anybody. When Johnny Bench was born I believe God came down and touched his mother on the forehead and said, ‘I’m going to give you a son who will be one of the greatest ball players ever seen.’”

Munson was standing next to Anderson at the time and was livid. “Nobody likes to lose,” he said, “but when I stand and hear the crock of shit I just heard, that’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve heard tonight. To be belittled after the season I had and the game I had tonight–well, it’s sad enough to lose without having your face rubbed in it.”

Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson and Sparky Anderson.  Tommy John, Goose Gossage and George Brett. No Derek Jeter and Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth fables.  There was a short time in the early 1980s when I wanted to be Robert Markus.  Maybe this was why.

Just thinking

bernankepaulson.jpg

The financial markets are in quite fragile condition, and I think absent a plan they will get worse. I believe if the credit markets are not functioning, that jobs will be lost, that our credit rate will rise, more houses will be foreclosed upon, GDP will contract, that the economy will just not be able to recover in a normal, healthy way.
– Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke

If it doesn’t pass, then heaven help us all.
– Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.
–Calvin Coolidge

Coolidge

In light of the lobbying of our Treasury Secretary, Fed Chairman and President (the one who wanted to be the torch-bearer of conservatism) for $700 billion of our dollars to reward to reckless (and in turn punish the prudent), maybe it’s best to turn to Calvin Coolidge, one of the more fascinating Presidents of the past century.

Coolidge wasn’t perfect, but his philosophy on governing was simple and refreshing.  If only more people shared the philosophy. Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama share it, instead choosing to favor excessive regulation, starting on the relative trivial issue of executive pay.

Did Coolidge’s policies set us up for the recession? Hardly. I’ll put it at the feet of Herbert Hoover, the Commerce Secretary who Coolidge reluctantly supported in 1928.

For six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad.

Hoover’s legacy

  • Heightened Commerce regulation, beginning during Coolidge’s Administration, when Hoover was in the business of offering poor advice.
  • The Smoot-Hawley Tarriff
  • The National Credit Corporation
  • The Revenue Act of 1932.

Any of this sound familiar?