22 September 2009

The weak in sports (with apologies to the Doc)

If it's September, it must be time for the Cubs post-mortem. Though they'll finish in second place in the National League Central, they'll be way behind the Cardinals, who'll cruise into the division championship and the playoffs. Here's to a sweep of the Redbirds by the Dodgers, Phillies, or Rockies (who also look to win their respective divisions and/or the wild card).

It appears that the Cubs will finish right around .500, possibly the worst place to be for a sports team. If you're good, you can 'tweak' a team by adding a player or two. If you're godawful, you need an overhaul. What do you do if you're neither particularly great nor terribly bad? Count on some key players having better stats next year? Or roll the dice on two or three free agent signings? Is the team getting older and sliding, or the season an aberration? That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm not a general manager.

There were a lot of reasons for the mediocre season on the North Side-some key injuries, a general lack of offense for the first three months of the season, and one or two bad signings by General Manager Jim Hendry. One not-so-great pickup was former Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, who in his stint here proved to be quite hittable in those ninth-inning situations when you don't want your pitcher giving up long bombs into the third deck of the outfield seats. I'd rather have had anyone else from the Marlins pitching staff-Nolasco, Volstad, even, God forbid, VandenHurk (not our NatV, nor related-but if Natalie could get a baseball past a hitter in the 9th inning of a 3-2 ballgame, I'd sign her).

The worst signing by the Cubs, and I have to pile on, was that of outfielder Milton Bradley (yes, just like the old boardgame maker). This guy's been on a half-dozen teams in his career, and has been a clubhouse cancer in all of them. Naturally the Cubs signed him for three years and $30 million to be a left-handed power hitter and patrol right field. He provided below-average power, and was a dog in right field (on a team that has a piss-poor outfield trio to begin with). He's been injured a couple of times-no sin there but he did have a track record of injuries-but he's done not much but whine and complain about how he's been treated by the fans, media, and his team since about the end of April. He's even dragged out the old saw about being harrassed by the Chicago fans because he's black.

Please. Derrek Lee goes out every day, plays a solid first base, and hits for average and power. He's also black. Odd that no one yells racist comments to him. Andre Dawson played in right field back in the day at Wrigley. Fielded well, hit for power, and was the league Most Valuable Player on an epically bad Cubs team in '87. Also black. Also no racial slurs. Hmm. Interesting.

The Cub brass finally suspended Bradley for the rest of the season for essentially 'conduct unbecoming'. I'm sure they'll try to unload him in the off-season. Unfortunately he's still owed $21 million. Good luck unloading him! If I'm a GM on some struggling club, I'd tell the Cubs "Sure. We'll take him. Make sure you pin a check for about $18 million on him, 'cause we ain't paying him out of our pocket." or "Sure. We'll take him. In return, we'll send you our dog player with an oversized contract. Have fun trying to fix him." Or you release him, pay him his $21 mill, and explain to the new owners how you were stupid enough to sign this guy to that kind of deal and hope you keep your job. One of those three scenarios will play out soon.

It's the same in every sport that moves players around-often as not it's a crapshoot on whether the player you let go is really on the way down careerwise or not and if the player coming in is all that and a bottle of Mad Dog. But there are certain players in any sport a good GM should stay away from. Bradley was one of those.

Now the Cubs have a new ownership group. They paid $850 million for the team and the outdoor beer garden that is Wrigley Field. I guess I'll be curious to see how they run the organization.

What would I like to see?

-A purge of those running the scouting and talent development areas. The Cubs have a dismal record of developing players through their minor-league system. Other organizations are able to develop good pitchers and position players (have to give the Cardinals some credit there). The Cubs need to be able to identify both potential talent and players wanted in trades.

-Running the organization like a professional sports franchise instead of a giant beer bash. Outdoor parties are fun. 101 years without a championship isn't.

-I'd be accused to blasphemy in Cub nation, but I'd look seriously at getting out of Wrigley Field. I suppose it's a 'shrine' for baseball, but the place is a bit shabby bordering on being a dump. Put up a decent stadium close to the expressways. Put on an movable roof, a parking lot you can tailgate in, and good seating for 50,000 fans. They'd still fill the place. This won't happen anytime soon, I'd guess. Wrigley will collapse before the Cubs will move. There's no reason Milwaukee and Indianapolis should have better sports venues than one of the greatest cities on the planet.

I suppose you've heard enough. So ends a mediocre blog post on a mediocre team that had, when all is in the books, a mediocre season.

The Bears did beat the Steelers 17-14 on Sunday, though. Are they good enough to make the post-season? I dunno. Are they better than last year's 0-16 Detroit Lions? All the regular visitors here could have formed a football team that was better than last year's Lions.

yankeedog out.


  1. Cubs = Rabbitohs. Except we won a premiership in 1971. Just feels like 101 years ago...

    You're right, there's nothing worse than having a mediocre team so middle-of-the-road they need lines painted on 'em. Particularly in a salary-cap environment. Can't fix it without blowing the entire team and management up and starting again. And you don't even get the satisfaction of the team being genuinely horrible (as the Rabbitohs have often been) and getting some grim satisfaction out of that - or just booing the crap out of them.

    Parker Brothers sounded like a bad buy from day one. I don't know what compels team management to spend money on obvious busts like that with behavioural issues they're never gonna get away from and huge contracts they'll never be able to offload. Stephan Marbury comes to mind. Surely throwing the cash at a couple of decent prospects is a better move.

  2. Doc-38 years is a long dry spell all right. A whole generation of fans have grown up watching their squad be bad. I suspect the fans hang on in hope of being in on the party when the team wins a championship.

    Marbury-yes, there's a textbook example of a player with issues. The NBA has a fair crop of them-Sprewell, Artest, Marbury, even Iverson to an extent.

    Throwing money at draft picks is another issue. Too many draft picks (especially in the NFL) think they can hold out of training camp for more money, not realizing how much faster the pro game is versus the college game. Inevitably, the well-paid rookie has a crap season, playing 'catch-up' during the season-and NOT helping the team.