Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cards Pitcher Killed in Auto Accident

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that relief pitcher Josh Hancock was killed last night in a traffic accident. The 29-year old pitcher was part of the Cardinals 2006 World Series winning team and was a key part to their bullpen.

In 2002, Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died prior to a game against the Cubs in Chicago. Kile suffered from coronary atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart.

Tonight’s game between the Cubs and Cards has been postponed. A make-up date has not been announced. My thoughts and prayers are with Hancock's family and teammates.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Sad History at Short

One website that I don’t turn to nearly enough is Bugs and Cranks ( Their content is both entertaining and informative.

Earlier this week, Adam Goodson at Bug and Cranks posted a retrospective of Cubs shortstops over the past 15 years. In some respects, it makes for depressing reading. The Cubs have had some really bad shortstops during that time. On the other hand, it's exciting reading because it points out that there's really nowhere for the Cubs to go at the SS position but up.

I’ll let you read the names and analysis in Adam’s article, but here’s what the stats have looked like at the shortstop position for the Cubs over the past decade-and-a-half:

1992 .228 , 7 HR, 61 RBI
1993 .287, 4 HR, 54 RBI
1994 .278, 11 HR, 35 RBI
1995 .296, 14 HR, 69 RBI
1996 .211, 1 HR, 12 RBI
1997 .284, 9 HR, 41 RBI
1998 .219, 4 HR, 26 RBI
1999 .272, 15 HR, 43 RBI
2000 .276, 11 HR, 56 RBI
2001 .290, 10 HR, 66 RBI
2002 .248, 18 HR, 61 RBI
2003 .228, 20 HR, 59 RBI
2004 .266, 7 HR, 50 RBI
2005 .274, 9 HR, 54 RBI
2006 .254, 2 HR, 24 RBI

Of course, all of this may be moot considering that Lou Piniella has decided to insert Ryan Theriot into the SS position. Theriot was a SS during his college days and played quite a bit of SS in the minors before switching to second base. He’s been hitting well and he likely won’t field any worse than Cesar Izturis has so far this year. Theriot won’t put up big power numbers, but that won’t be anything new for Cubs shortstops. Over 15 years, the SS position has averaged just 9.5 homeruns per season.

I have lobbied for the past couple of years for the Cubs to get an elite SS. Someone like Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Tejada comes to mind. When they started spending money, my hope was that they would spend money on a SS. So far that hasn’t happened, but rumor has it that ARod will be opting out of his contract at the end of the year and is interested in moving back to SS. Just a thought…

Adam's entire article can be found here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Doctor and The Pitcher

Dr. Joseph Hecht, MD (AKA “Cubster”), the resident orthopedic surgeon over at The Cub Reporter has posted an excellent analysis of Mark Prior’s surgery. In the past, Dr. Hecht has been somewhat critical of Prior because he constantly has health issues, but invariably the doctors don’t find anything wrong with him. Considering the outcome of Prior’s surgery, I think Dr. Hecht may be changing his attitude toward Prior.

Dr. Hecht had this to say about the long overdue diagnosis:

My comment and questions: Something doesn’t mesh here. Why did one of the most highly regarded baseball pitchers since starring in college have to go through several wasted seasons without knowing what was wrong? Now we have a diagnosis, well actually three diagnoses. It seems like the saddest part of the problem was that it took much too long to finally get to this point. Why does this only happen to the Cubs?”

I echo Dr. Hecht’s questions and frustration. For at least two years (and possibly four) Mark Prior has been complaining of pain in his shoulder, and his velocity and effectiveness have gone out the window. Even as recently as two weeks ago, two different doctors recommended that Prior just rest and rehab his shoulder. When Dr. Andrews examined Prior, he didn’t find anything definitively wrong, but felt that exploratory arthroscopic surgery was in order. Why couldn’t anyone diagnose the problem and why didn’t someone suggest the surgery sooner?

I also found it interesting that Dr. Hecht believes Prior’s injury probably happened in 2003 when Prior collided with then-Braves second baseman Marcus Giles. Dr. Hecht makes this speculation based on the nature and extent of the injury Prior was diagnosed with. If the good doctor is correct, it just adds to my questions and frustrations over why all of this took so long.

Dr. Hecht’s entire article can be found here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mark Prior Really is Injured

The verdict is in on Mark Prior and as it turns out, he really is hurt. As I documented previously, Prior’s many visits to the DL (9 times over 6 years) have been attributed by some to nothing more than a lack of toughness on Prior’s part. But yesterday, Dr. James Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery on Prior’s shoulder and found three problem areas.

First, Andrews found a tear in Prior’s labrum. Considering the fact that surgery was not recommended until fairly recently, my guess is that the tear was small. As I understand, a torn labrum, especially a small tear, can be difficult to detect and often does not show up on an MRI.

Second, Andrews tightened up Prior’s shoulder capsule. You’ll recall that Prior was previously diagnosed with a loose shoulder. Apparently, it was looser that you would expect even for a pitcher and Andrews tightened up the capsule.

Finally, Andrews found a debridement of the rotator cuff. This involves cleaning out all of the debris inside the joint or on the bursal side of the joint. Having debris in the rotator cuff is not unusual, especially for a pitcher. But Prior’s was apparently bad enough to cause him problems, including a significant reduction in his velocity.

I don’t know if Mark Prior will ever become the pitcher he once was, but I’m actually kind of happy that the doctors finally found a problem. Perhaps this will quiet those who accuse Prior of being a head case. Prior will rehab for the next 12-18 months and then we’ll see if he can get back to his 2003 form.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cubs Odds & Ends

It’s April 23 and the Cubs (7-11)are in last place in the NL Central, 4 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers (11-7). The Brewers are in town to take on the Cubs in a 3 game series. The Cubs “ace” Carlos Zambrano will be pitching for the good guys against the Brewers #5 starter, Claudio Vargas. It’s still early in the season, but the Cubs need to start making a run just to stay in contention. They can’t win the division this early in the year, but they certainly can lose it.

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BREAKING NEWS: The Cubs announced today that Mark Prior will be undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder tomorrow in Birmingham, AL. Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery. The Cubs did not give a timeline for Prior's return and would not speculate on his prognosis.

This will be the first time Prior has had surgery, even though he has been on the DL nine times during the past six years.

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MORE BREAKING NEWS: Wade Miller has been placed on the 15-day DL and Rocky Cherry has been called up to take his place. The official report is that Miller is suffering from back spasms, but the speculation is that the Cubs are going to release Miller and they are putting him on the DL simply to give him time to work out a deal with another team. So far this year, Miller is 0-1 with a 10.54 ERA.

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You know how I love trade rumors. Here are five proposed trades from Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus:

1. Jacque Jones to White Sox for RHP Mike MacDougal
2. Jacque Jones to Phillies for RHP Jon Lieber
3. Jacque Jones to Angels for SS Erick Aybar
4. Cliff Floyd to Yankees for either RHP Kyle Farnsworth or RHP Scott Proctor
5. Matt Murton to A’s for RHP Joe Blanton

I wouldn’t call any of these trades likely, but I love the speculation. If I had to choose my favorite, I’d go with the Jones for Lieber trade. The Cubs need a reliable #5 starter and they could do worse than Jon Lieber. Of course, in recent days, the Phillies have decided to demote Brett Myers to the bullpen and insert Lieber into the starting rotation, so Lieber may not be available.

I hate to trade away Matt Murton, but Joe Blanton would certainly be a welcome addition to the Cubs starting rotation. If Matt has to go to break up the OF logjam, Joe Blanton would be a great guy to get in return.

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According to the Cubs depth chart on their site, Alfonso Soriano is the backup in CF behind Felix Pie. However, if tonight’s lineup is any indication, Soriano is now in the #1 position in LF. Soriano will be starting in LF over incumbents Matt Murton and Cliff Floyd. Is the CF experiment over for Soriano? Who knows? What is certain is that Soriano needs to start hitting. If moving him to LF will help in that process, I’m all for it.

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One of our favorites, Ron Santo, has been hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. Ronnie has had several health issues over the past several years including amputation of both legs due to Type 1 diabetes, heart bypass surgery in 2000 and he was diagnosed with bladder tumors in 2003.

Get Well, Ron!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cubs Loss to Braves Really Hurts

I don’t know what to say. I’m not panicking or jumping off the bandwagon, but tonight’s loss was disheartening. Zambrano gave up four runs in the first inning, but the Cubs kept fighting back. Unfortunately, every time the team fought back, one of the players blew the momentum. Izturis had a ridiculous error, Eyre couldn’t throw strikes when he had to, and neither Izturis nor Theriot could get timely hits, each leaving three runners on base.

Not everything was bad. Neal Cotts looked good in relief, DLee and JJones went 2-4, Felix Pie hit a triple, and Mark DeRosa hit his 4th HR of the year.

Tonight’s loss was a tough one. None of the losses are good, but tonight’s particularly hurt. The good news is that the team has started to hit and scored six runs tonight. The bad news is that it still wasn’t enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Piniella Shakes Up Lineup

Lou Piniella is trying some new and slightly unorthodox twists to the starting lineup and so far the results are mixed. Yesterday, he started Matt Murton in RF and Jacque Jones in LF. Initially, I guessed that the change was due to Jones unbelievably weak throws in RF. I was under the impression that his arm (shoulder) was supposed to be healthy this year, yet he continues to throw the ball into the ground about 15 feet in front of him.

I’ve heard two other theories though (one of my own creation) that also make some sense. The first involves the really poor treatment that Jones has received from the fans in the right field bleachers. This harkens back to the racial slurs that were thrown Jones’ way at the beginning of last year. Jones is having another slow start to the season this year and the boo birds in right field have come out in full force. So the theory is that Lou is getting Jones away from the crowd in RF so he can concentrate on his game.

The theory I came up with is that the Cubs are showcasing Jones for a possible trade. As you may recall, the Padres were looking for a possible replacement in LF for Termel Sledge. And who have the Cubs played yesterday and today? Right, the Padres.

My theory has at least one hole. Going in to today’s game, Sledge was hitting .304. However, after an 0-5 day, he’s now hitting .259. Even so, Jones is still hitting worse than Sledge at only .235. If the Padres want to replace Sledge, my guess is that they’ll want to do it with someone better than Sledge.

Okay, before you start screaming about my shortsightedness, let me admit that I believe that Jones’ hitting will come around. Jones is the better ball player. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Jones isn’t helping the process very much.

Another twist to the lineup has been the debut of Felix Pie in CF. In case you were in solitary confinement, you probably already know that Alfonso Soriano pulled a hamstring yesterday and Felix Pie was called up from AAA Iowa. Lou batted Pie lead-off, which seemed odd to me. Are the Cubs trying to force a square Pie into a round hole, ala Corey Patterson? Pie went 1-6 in his debut and threw a laser beam from CF that saved a run and had the crowd oohing and ahhing.

Lou also made some unexpected moves with Ryan Theriot. While ARam has been out with a sore wrist, Theriot has been playing third base. Considering that Lou said in Spring Training that DeRosa would be the backup at third, it was a little surprising to see him use Theriot there. Then, when ARam comes back, Lou moves Theriot over to second base and benches DeRosa. That not a complaint. Theriot is playing well and Lou is playing his hot hand. It’s just surprising.

Today, as the game dragged on, as part of a double switch with DeRosa, Theriot ended up displacing Murton in RF. Of course, Murton is off to a rather slow start to the season, only hitting .231, so having Theriot in the lineup instead of Murton at this juncture is probably not a bad thing.

One other thought. I’ve been a Cubs fan for nearly 200 years (maybe a few less) and I’ve never seen Cubs fans so reactionary at the beginning of a season. An error by a player means the Cubs have the worst defensive team in history. A strikeout at a critical moment means a player is washed up and should be traded. Starting the season with a 5-8 record means the Cubs are going to lose even more games than they did in 2006.

Reasonable people can disagree about the future of this team, but to jump to unfounded conclusions is just foolish. Let the hitters get into a groove. Let the team chemistry gel and let the players get into a rhythm. Keep the sharp objects and high ledges at bay at least until June. The season is long and a lot can change in a relatively short time. Be patient…

Friday, April 13, 2007

MLB and the African-American Community

Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter has posted a very interesting article about MLB and its connection to the African-American community in America.

Right now, a debate is taking place around the country about the low participation among African-Americans in professional baseball as compared to other major sports like the NFL and NBA. There are very good reasons for the decline in participation, which Arizona Phil explores.

The other side of this debate involves MLB’s responsibility (if any) to be proactive in recruiting African-Americans. Is MLB doing enough? Are they obligated to do anything?

This article is especially timely considering that Sunday (April 15) is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson playing his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Read Phil’s story here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Case for Mark Cuban

I’ve been consistent in my support for Mark Cuban to become the next owner of the Cubs. Today, Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports lays out the case for why Cuban should be the team’s next owner, and explains why it probably won’t happen. You can read Rosenthal’s article here.

MLB needs an owner like Mark Cuban; a guy who understands his business, cares about his customers, and puts his money where his mouth is. He may be abrasive, but his heart is almost always in the right place. And there’s no doubt that everything he gets involved with prospers because of his involvement.

The “old boys club” of MLB owners should welcome someone like Cuban. If they are concerned about being embarrassed, then they should deal with current owners, like those in Florida, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City who have lined their pockets with revenue sharing money rather than improving their teams. Cuban may be a maverick, but he’s also a winner.

MLB owners would also be well-advised to look at the good of the game rather than at their petty insecurities. Cuban’s involvement in MLB will almost assuredly create more interest in the game and will increase the value of its franchises. If MLB owners are truly smart businessmen (which is debatable), they’ll welcome Mark Cuban with open arms.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Welcome to the Home Opener

We’re six games into the season and the Cubs have a record of 3-3. It’s still very early, but there have been some good things and some bad things that have happened so far.

Overall, the pitching has been good to very good. Carlos Zambrano looked rough in his first out, losing to the Reds on Opening Day 5-1. Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Rich Hill all looked terrific in their first starts of the season. Lilly and Hill each earned a win. Marquis deserved a win, but ended up with a no decision. Wade Miller looked really bad, as he lost to the Brewers 9-4.

The offense has looked just about as potent as expected. They’ve scored four or more runs in four of their six games. Obviously this is a small sample size, but so far, so good.

I’ve talked about this before, but the key to a successful season is to win series. On that account, the Cubs are 1-1. Win 2-out-of-3 in the three games series and don’t do any worse than splitting the two and four game series, and the season will take care of itself.

And that brings us to the Cubs home opener today against the Houston Astros. Ted Lilly will be on the mound for the good guys and Woody Williams will be going for the ‘Stros. Houston is in last place in the NL Central with a record of 1-5.

Go Cubs!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Enigma That Is Mark Prior

Mark Prior is no Ted Williams.

In the winter after the 1959 season, Williams offered to take a voluntary pay cut because of his poor showing the previous season. Williams poor performance during the 1959 season included a career low batting average of .254. Williams was embarrassed by his performance and despite 17 seasons with a batting average in excess of .300 (three of .400 or better), Williams volunteered to play for less money. He felt he had cheated Red Sox ownership.

By contrast, in 2006 Mark Prior suffered through an injury riddled season and appeared in only 43.2 innings over nine games for the Cubs. He went 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA. Even so, at the end of the 2006 season, after already earning $3.65 million for his 2006 performance, Mark Prior asked for a raise.

When Mark Prior was selected as the #2 pick overall in the 2001 draft by the Cubs, he was considered a “can’t miss” prospect. He had already pitched for two years at USC, including his junior year in 2001 when he led the Trojans to the College World Series.

It was said that Prior had perfect mechanics. Stories circulated about his work with former MLB pitcher Tom House that made House sound like a mythic figure who had “created” the perfect pitcher.

Prior joined the Cubs in 2002 after a whirlwind tour of the minors. He pitched in 116.2 innings that year, earning a 6-6 record and a 3.32 ERA. He was only 21-years old.

The 2003 season would only add to the huge expectations the Cubs (and the fans) had for Prior. The Cubs made the play-offs that year and came within five outs of going to the World Series. Prior had a magnificent season, going 18-6 with a 2.34 ERA. He pitched an impressive 211.1 innings, giving up only 50 walks compared to 245 strikeouts. Prior was a horse that year and the Cubs (particularly manager Dusty Baker) rode him for all he was worth.

With five outs to go in the 2003 NLCS, the wheels came off for the Cubs. They ended up losing the NLCS to the Marlins who then went on to win the World Series. Probably the most famous play of that sixth game of the NLCS is the infamous “Bartman play.” Coincidently or not, Prior threw the pitch that eventually became the “Bartman ball.”

Fate took a cruel twist in Prior’s career after that game. He suffered several injuries over the next three seasons and spent a great deal of time on the DL. Some of the injuries were obtained in the heat of battle, such as when a line shot off the bat of the Rockies Brad Hawpe hit Prior on the arm. But there were other injuries too, like when he strained an oblique muscle during batting practice (yes, batting practice) and when he was diagnosed with a “loose shoulder.” To my non-medical mind, a “loose shoulder” sounds like a symptom, not a diagnosis.

Because of the odd types of injuries Prior has had and the number of times he has been on the DL in the past three years, fans have turned on him. They’ve questioned his desire to play and his commitment to the game. Others have questioned his toughness and his durability. And many have questioned his character. Which brings us back to Ted Williams.

By offering to play for less money after suffering through a sub-par season (at least by his standards), Ted Williams showed a tremendous amount of character. He showed that he expected more out of himself and he showed that he understood that his employers expected more out of him. He took personal responsibility for his poor performance and offered to make up for it by accepting less money.

What did Mark Prior show when he asked for a raise after his horrible 2006 season? At first, I just wrote it off as “that’s baseball in the 21st Century.” Even if that is true, it doesn’t excuse Prior’s request. If Prior had taken personal responsibility for his poor performance, if he had acted with strong character, he wouldn’t have asked for a raise.

Mark Prior is an enigma. It is difficult to really get your hands around him. He lacks character, but he was a hell of a competitor in 2003. He has pitched horribly over the past year, but he still shows a ton of potential. He’s washed up, but he’s only 26-years old. For every negative thing you can say about him, Prior has a positive characteristic waiting just around the corner.

When it was announced at the end of Spring Training this year that Prior would start the year at AAA Iowa, he said that he’s just an employee and it was now his job to go help his team win. He also joked about making the AAA all-star team and said maybe he would be chosen to pitch in the Futures Game.

Even his comments are enigmatic. I don’t know if he’s being a jerk or just making a joke. In a way, I guess he’s doing both.

Mark Prior is young, talented, and has already proven that he has the stuff to be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues. He has also proven that he is injury prone, has a sense of entitlement, and has been unable to duplicate the form he showed in 2003.

As a Cubs fan, I would like to see Prior return to dominance. As a baseball fan, I’d like to see him live up to his potential. As a human being, I’d like to see the hardships Prior has endured over the past few years help to build some character in the young pitcher. That’s a tall order for any player, but if Prior needs a role model, he might want to take a look at Ted Williams.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cubs Lose Opener; Trib Co to Sell the Team

The Cubs lost today 5-1 to the Cincinnati Reds. Oh well. It was not the opening day I had hoped for, but it’s just one game. Remember, the Cubs won the first game of the year last year and then look what happened. Maybe today’s loss is a good omen.

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The Tribune Company announced today that they will be selling the Cubs at the end of the 2007 season. The announcement came as part of a larger announcement involving the sale of the media company to billionaire investor Sam Zell. Zell did not indicate why he did not want to also purchase the Cubs, although he already owns a stake in the Chicago White Sox and that may have played into his decision.

The Cubs are expected to sell for in excess of $600 million. I believe the sale will include ownership of Wrigley Field, WGN television and radio stations, and a stake in Chicago’s Comcast Sports Network, although the linked article does not comment directly on that.

So who will be the next owner of the Cubs? I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that my vote would go to Mark Cuban. For all of his self-promotion, I like the way he has run the Dallas Mavericks and believe he would be an owner that the fans would love and appreciate. Cuban is commited to winning, but knows how to run a business as well. It would be interesting to see what he does running a team in a league that does not have a salary cap.

Other people who have been rumored to have an interest in the Cubs include former owner of the D-Backs Jerry Colangelo, conservative newspaper columnist and TV political pundit George Will, actor and minor league team owner Bill Murray, and Don Levin, owner of the Chicago Wolves minor league hockey team.

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By the way, if you read yesterday's post and took my advice to read Transmission's excellent article at TCR, then I only have one thing to say: April Fools!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Season Is Upon Us

Your attention please: The season is officially underway. Right this very minute I am watching the Mets vs Cardinals at St. Louis. It’s exciting. What a fantastic time of year…

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Transmission over at The Cub Reporter has written one of the finest historical pieces I have ever read about the Cubs. It should be good. Not only is Trans an excellent writer, but he also has a Ph. D. in history. Dr. Trans article can be found here. If you want a real treat, I encourage you to read it.

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Our beloved Cubs take the field tomorrow against the Reds at Cincinnati. The game starts at 1:10 CDT. The best part of the year is about to begin. Strap yourself in. Following the Cubs this year should be a wild ride.