Friday, June 08, 2007

Young Players Scare Me

I watched the Rule 4 draft yesterday on ESPN 2 and it made me realize two things. First, the baseball draft isn’t quite as exciting as the NFL or NBA drafts. For the most part, nobody has heard of most of the people being drafted. Of course, there is a small group of people who follow HS and college baseball players, but overall, the players being drafted are a mystery.

The second thing I realized is a little difficult to talk about. Quite honestly, it’s a little embarrassing. Even so, the truth is that young players scare me. I never really realized it before, but I don’t like the idea of playing young, unproven players.

For instance, Felix Pie’s potential excites me, but I’m more comfortable slowly working him into the line-up than I am handing him the starting CF job. Let him pinch hit, pinch run, or go into the game as a late inning defensive replacement. Ease him into the line-up. After he proves himself in limited duty, then consider giving him the starting job.

I’m not saying that the way I feel is right. In fact, as I said, I’m a little embarrassed to feel this way. Until yesterday, I didn’t think I felt this way. But when I think about how I would like to see the Cubs build their team, I want a proven veteran at every position.

If every team followed my ideas, players like Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Tim Linecum would be the budding superstars that they are. They would be either riding the pines or making a name for themselves in AAA. Obviously, not a good idea.

My head knows that teams need to play their prospects to and give them a chance to shine. My head also knows that from a business standpoint, every team needs good, inexpensive players to keep their payroll in check. But my heart is afraid of young players. What if they don’t pan out? I know, I know. I’m trying…

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gary Sheffield is a Racist

Gary Sheffield is an idiot.

In a recent interview with GQ magazine (as reported on, the Tigers loud mouth opined why he believes more blacks are not playing baseball. After much thought and research, the esteemed Mr. Sheffield came to this conclusion: Blacks can not be controlled as easily as Latinos.

With a monumental chip on his shoulder, the man who never stops talking said:

"Where I'm from, you can't control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end, he is going to go back to being who he is. And that's a person that you're going to talk to with respect, you're going to talk to like a man.

"These are the things my race demands. So, if you're equally good as this Latin player, guess who's going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys."

In just two simple paragraphs, Sheffield insulted blacks, he insulted Latinos, and he proved once and for all that he is a fool.

First, speaking for his entire race, the man that never met a microphone he didn’t like says that to be a man, you must be uncontrollable. Real men, according to Sheffield, do not conform to the norms of the workplace. They do not take direction from above. They demand respect and get it by being uncontrollable.

Sheffield goes on to prove his point by saying that he knows a lot of blacks who are MLB-caliber baseball players, but who choose to sit at home rather than be controlled (and significantly enriched). According to Gary’s logic, these players are better men than he is because he is being controlled as an MLB player.

Of course, his comments are obviously insulting to Latinos, who are apparently willing to do anything, including sign under market contracts, just for the privilege of playing baseball in America. Never mind that some of the highest paid players in MLB are Latinos. The facts don’t bother Gary. Why should they bother you?

Another fact lost on Gary is that in the NBA, the league that has the most control over its players, blacks are the overwhelmingly dominant race. Apparently you can be a man and still be controlled if you play basketball, but not baseball.

Over the years, I have tried to like Sheffield. Whenever I’ve seen him play, he has played hard and has had a burning desire to win. I’ve also always been amazed by his bat speed. But you can’t make stupid, racist comments like he made and still get the respect of the fans.

Can you imagine if a white player (maybe John Rocker) had said the things that Sheffield said? He would be crucified in the media and would likely even be suspended and/or fined. But in this case, I guess it is viewed as just Gary being Gary.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kerry Wood and What Could Have Been

Kerry Wood was going to be the savior. He was every great pitcher rolled into one. He was going to be the ace of the Cubs staff for years to come. Baseball pundits marveled at what the Cubs could accomplish with Wood and Prior heading up a rotation that also included a promising young right hander named Carlos Zambrano. As Cubs fans, we were on the verge of truly halcyon days.

Of course, the halcyon days never came. Wood and Prior kept company on the DL and Zambrano is currently in the midst of a meltdown, perhaps triggered by his own injury. And for Cubs fans, all of the years of futility just go on and on.

Looking at Wood today, it can be easy to forget the promise he held as a 20-year old fireballer. It can be easy to forget that at one time, he was the most promising pitcher in all of baseball. It can also be far too easy to forget that Wood is just a man. At one time, we expected Kerry Wood to be Superman. As it turned out, he had a super arm, but it was connected to an ordinary man who had physical limitations and was subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else.

Buzz Bissinger has written an excellent article about Kerry Wood and his struggles and his disappointing career. It makes for good, albeit sad, reading.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Blow Up The Team...Or Not

As the Cubs season continues to circle the drain and it seems like things just can’t get any worse, things do get worse. In the midst of a loss to the Braves, Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett decided to spice things up with a fight that left Barrett with two black eyes and a split lip, and both players a little lighter in the wallet. It was a stupid display by two guys with more emotion than brains.

Predictably, the Cubs blogosphere started calling for a trade of one or both of the players. Then the knee-jerkers started calling for a wholesale dismantling of the club including trades of Derrick Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano. I wasn’t surprised to hear people call for the team to be blown up and for the Cubs to start over, but I was surprised at the number of normally reasonable people that joined in the chorus.

So I decided to give some serious thought to the calls for wholesale changes. What if the Cubs were to trade away their best players and start over? Would it make sense? Certainly, it’s going to be difficult to field a team that is going to do worse (or much worse) than the current crop of players. So, is the call for blowing up the team legitimate?

In a word, no.

If you’ve read previous articles on this fine blog, then you know that I am in favor of making changes. In order to improve the team, I feel the Cubs need a reliable bullpen arm, a good hitting SS, and perhaps an outfielder (CF or RF) with some pop in his bat. In order to get those pieces, I can see the Cubs trading any or all of Zambrano, Jacque Jones, Matt Murton, Ceasar Izturis, Cliff Floyd, and Scott Eyre. Throw in some minor leaguers if you have to. But parting company with the nucleus of the team – Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano – doesn’t make any sense.

Think about it. If you trade Lee, are you going to get a player (or even two players) that will equal his offensive production and fielding prowess? I don’t think so. And if you don’t, why would you trade him?

Ramirez and Soriano may not have the defensive upside that Lee has, but will you be able to replace their offensive production? Don’t be fooled by Soriano’s slow start. He was a 40/40 man last year. He hasn’t forgotten how to hit.

So the question is, will the Cubs be better as a team if they trade Lee, Ramirez and Soriano? No they won’t, unless you are in favor of a long rebuilding process.

The only way you can justify trading any of the Cubs big three is if your plan is to build the team to be a winner three or four years down the road. In that case, the Cubs can use Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano to attract a lot of really good young prospects. The Cubs could load up on young players with the hopes of building a team that can win in the future. I’m not in favor of such a plan, but it is a possibility.

The Cubs as currently constructed are not that far away from being a contender, especially in the NL Central. A couple of key moves and the Cubs are right back in it. I completely understand the frustration of watching this $110 million team struggle through the season, but dismantling the team is not the answer.