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Temporary Revival?

The Pittsburgh Pirates won their third straight game, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight 4-1. This puts them exactly one game over .500.

The Pirates haven’t been over .500 past the first week of the season in seven years, when they last topped .500 on May 29, 2004.

That’s how bad it’s been for the Pirates, whose fans have had nothing to cheer about since Francisco Cabrera’s two-RBI single in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. No winning seasons, just life as an also-ran for 19 seasons. In the 21 seasons prior, Pittsburgh won two World Series and six division titles. Pittsburgh’s a football town, sure, but baseball ran a close second.

These days, it’s not so much a baseball town unless locals are discussing Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente or Bill Mazeroski. It’s a shame, and I HATED the Pirates in their heyday of the early 1990s.

Baseball has some problems, and as tough as it is for small-to-medium market teams to be competitive, it’s not unheard of. Kansas City and Cleveland are enjoying a nice start, and Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, San Diego, Oakland, Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee have all enjoyed runs of at least a little sustained success.

It’s management that screws it up in Pittsburgh. They haven’t had a good ownership situation in some time, and while they have developed some of the league’s better players, they don’t hold onto them long enough to get any dividends out of them.

Improvement is incremental, but decline seems to be exponential until you hit bottom. One thing cascades into another into another, and soon you are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Or the KC Royals. Or the Cubs.

19 seasons of futility is pretty bad, though.

Everything feels brand new

Tomorrow, I’ll attend the Cubs’ Opener at Wrigley Field. That’s a different kind of day. Today, Major League Baseball’s first regular season games were today. Opening Day gives me a feeling of renewal.

Winter is irrevocably gone (even if there are predictions for a foot of snow on the East Coast this weekend). For the next six months, we will get the daily drumbeat of 12-15 games every day. Everyone’s rested, every team has delusions of grandeur unspoiled by reality, and no one’s in a slump.

It’s like the first day of school. No one’s behind on their work, no one’s overwhelmed by anything yet.

The other thing I like about the start of the season is hearing Vin Scully and Dick Enberg again. Enberg is sort of a neophyte, taking the Padres TV job last year after decades with NBC and CBS doing NFL, NCAA and some Major League games. Scully has been doing Dodgers games since they were still in Brooklyn back in 1950. At 83, he’s better than anyone else out there. Tonight, I listened to him a little driving home and then as I was fighting writer’s block here.

He started the game musing about the matchup of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw, how these two pitchers appear to be the aces of their respective team’s staffs for years to come. It reminded Scully of all the Koufax-Marichal matchups, or later the Drysdale-Marichal matchups. He totaled the times Koufax and Drysdale each went against Marichal. “And the only pair of Hall of Famers to face each other more often were Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver, who faced each other 17 times.” What a great setup to the game. Later, as Lincecum took the mound in the bottom half of the first, Scully explained how most pitchers’ stride is 80% of their body height. So a 6-foot pitcher’s stride is 4-foot-6 or so. Lincecum’s stride is 110% of his height. Again not a bad way to describe where he gets his power.

Not many announcers today provide context without over dramatizing every moment.

Dick Enberg is much the same way. He spent an inning of the Padres-Cardinals game talking about Jimmy Connors after Belleville, Ill. (Connors’ hometown) came up in conversation. You don’t hear much of that in NCAA Tournament games, or in NBA games or in football games.

Anyway, tonight I’ll go to bed excited that I’ll be at Wrigley Field again. I’ve been to games there every year since 1982. A lot of bad baseball, yes. But going there is like Christmas to me.

The Sports Bubble

Via waxpaperbeercup, I found an article on Hardball Times regarding the falling value of baseball teams.  According to Ethan Stock, franchise values have peaked and are poised to take a long fall.

The logic makes sense to me, and stock cites seven reasons:

  1. Weak Real Estate Market.
  2. Municipalities and State Governments More Reluctant tIo Build New Stadiums.
  3. Media of all forms in serious crisis thanks to collapse of ad revenue.
  4. Slowing of growth of “Rich Guys.”
  5. Diminishing of “Wannabe Rich Guys.”
  6. Sharp Reduction of “Super Rich Guys.” (i.e., potential owners)
  7. End of “Creative” Discounted Cash Flow Projections.

It’s enough to make me morbidly curious about what this means for Tom Ricketts and family as they are supposedly closing in on buying the Cubs.  If the Cubs’ sale breaks down, there are serious consequences for the Cubs.

Yawn?

Derrick is right. It was exciting to see the Netherlands beat the Dominicans tonight, for two reasons:

1. I was happy to see Randall Simon is still alive, even if his sausage-assaulting days are past him.
2. Carlos Marmol can go back to Mesa and preserve his arm, compete for the closer’s job and stay the hell away from Felipe Alou.

However, I checked in with the hometown newspaper in Der Nederlandse to see what the reaction would be. Why, even in the good ol’ USA, an American soccer upset measures something here.

OK, I see some coverage here, from San Juan. Can’t decipher it. Don’t know Dutch.

However, on the front page and on the sports front, not a word. Gene Kingsale is not yet a household word in Amsterdam. Too bad. I was hoping the Dutch people would get on the Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame bandwagon. His work with the Dutch staff thus far might be reason enough to send him to Cooperstown.

Anyway, the Dutch will be in Miami this weekend. I only wish the Italians could have joined them.

Too quiet

 

Why would you cut that off, Carlos?

Why would you cut that off, Carlos?

When Carlos Zambrano reported to camp, he brought a mustache along, apparently just for the ride. After a couple days of sporting the baddest-ass facial hair in the game of baseball this side of Jim Essian, he shaved it off.  Damn shame, because what else have we Cubs fans to talk about?

I would blast some of these guys for not posting much or for whining over and over and over about how boring spring training is this year. But they’re right. This is the most boring spring training I can remember. Let’s look at the past story lines, shall we:

1982: Enter Tribune Company, Dallas Green, Lee Elia and “Phillies West.”
1983: Ron Cey and Steve Trout are the big acquisitions.
1984: Cubs have new manager, founder, fight and get some new players via trade.
1985: Holy crap! Here’s a Cubs team favored to win the pennant! Oh and is Shawon Dunston a stud or not?
1986: Can Trout, Sutcliffe, Eckersley and Sanderson stay healthy?
1987: Holy crap! Andre Dawson is a Cub! (and Ryne Sandberg tries a mustache)
1988: Mark Grace, Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, Don Zimmer, Goose Gossage, Greg Maddux… there’s some intriguing new names.
1989: This Mitch Williams guy is a little nuts; Rookies Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith; Palmeiro and Moyer bitching about being traded to Texas.
1990: Holy crap! Cubs have a nice young team!
1991: Jim Frey spends money — George Bell, Danny Jackson, Dave Smith sign for the big bucks. Gary Scott gets set to man third base for a generation month. 
1992: Cubs trade George Bell during spring training for Sammy Sosa.
1993: Cubs add Candy Maldonado, Jose Guzman, Randy Myers and Dan Plesac; they only lose Maddux and Dawson.
1994: Say what you will, but Tom Trebelhorn was entertaining.
1995: Replacement players! Then, strike is over! Exciting.
1996: Return of Ryne Sandberg.
1997: Cubs bring back Shawon Dunston. Kevin Orie gets set to man third base for a generation year and a half. 
1998: Harry Caray passes away; Enter Rod Beck. Kerry Wood to make team?
1999: Holy crap! What the hell happened last year?
2000: New manager and preparations to go to Japan.
2001: Todd Hundley is the new catcher. Yay? Look at the young ones: Bobby Hill, Hee Seop Choi and Corey Patterson!
2002: Moises Alou is a Cub. Hendry trades Tavarez and Willis for Clement and Alfonseca. Oh, and this should be a good team, right?  Prior’s first spring training.
2003: Dusty Baker is new manager.
2004: Maddux back with Cubs. Holy crap! Cubs favored to win World Series! Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett new acquisitions.
2005: Holy crap! After disappointing finish, Cubs should be healthier than they were last year, right?
2006: Dusty Baker has become a caricature of himself; this should be fun.
2007: Lou Piniella, Ted Lilly, Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa the new guys.
2008: Kosuke Fukudome makes Cubs debut. Oh, and holy crap: the Cubs are favored to win division! 

This year new faces like Milton Bradley, Aaron Miles, Joey Gathright, Aaron Heilman and Kevin Gregg pale in comparison to the big prize we anticipated: Jake Peavy.  The Cubs should win the division easily by virtue of every other team getting considerably worse.  I’m still shellshocked from the quick exit from the playoffs last year.  October really can’t come soon enough.

I guess the new owner will be exciting, when and if the deal goes down. If is always a question, as Chuck pointed out.  TD Ameritrade stock is down 35 percent over the last year.

That all said, it is NICE to see a live baseball game on WGN tonight. Even if the only team ever to intentionally blow a World Series is beating the Cubs by a run.