Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The Womack Dividend
Multiple sources are reporting that the Cubs have acquired Phil Nevin in exchange for Jerry Hairston and cash.
So, the Rangers paid off the Cubs and took Hairston in exchange for a player they just benched. Looks like Jim Hendry is living up to his good reputation for ripping off teams who are in dire straights.
On the plus side, Todd Walker can return now to second base. Another plus is that Jacque Jones now has a platoon partner in right field.
On the minus side, that partner is Tony Womack.
Sale is Now Imperative
There's been a lot of "so what" among some Cubs fans with yesterday’s announcement of the Trib’s asset sales. There’s another part of the story that needs to concern Cub fans even more. Denis FitzSimons made some comments about the Trib’s Food Netowork investment:
The TV Food Network, which Tribune co-owns, is also not at the top of the list (of assets for sale). “We feel it’s more valuable to keep the cash flow,” Mr. FitzSimons said.
So, we conclude from this that cash flow from non-core subsidiaries is key. That makes sense with the Trib increasing their debt load. Quite simply, the way you pay back borrowings is with cash flow. More debt means a need for safe, steady cash flows.
But, there is another, possibly darker side to what was announced yesterday:
Tribune also plans to shave $200 million in costs over the next two years, which Mr. FitzSimons said would achieve by consolidating advertising and Internet services, greater collaboration, outsourcing and significant cuts in headcount.
So, cost cutting is also a large part of this. And when they say headcount reductions, what that really means is that management is trying to increase cash flows by reducing salary expense.
See where this is going?
If the Cubs are a non-core asset (Ariel Capital, a large Trib stockholder, says that they are non-core), and steady cash flows from non-core assets are needed, but overall cash flows will be enhanced by salary reductions, isn’t it logical to assume that some of those salary cuts will come from non-core assets?
Doesn’t that mean it’s more likely now than it was two days ago that the Trib could CUT the Cubs payroll in an effort to enhance cash flows to service debt? Of course it does.
This already seems to be happening with payroll lower than it was a year ago. And with Grag Maddux and Kerry Wood slated to leave at the end of the year, does anyone doubt payroll will go lower in 2007? And is this a reason Dusty Baker hasn’t had his contract extended? He makes close to $4 million per year. Ironically, that’s just about the amount of additional interest expense the Trib will incur on their newly issued debt from just the downgrade.
The Tribune Company is in a fight for its life. We Cub fans may be financing that fight and getting repaid with a further reduction in the quality of the product.
This team must be sold if we Cub fans are to get a decent return on our investment of money and level of interest (pun not intended).
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
A Little More
Crain's Chicago Business has a good, detailed follow-up to today's huge Trib news. Breaking it down:
-The Trib will issue $3.4 billion in debt to buy back stock.
-The Trib will save $54 million per year in reduced dividend outflows
-Bond rating agencies lowered Trib ratings three notches and threatened to lower to junk status if debt is not reduced within 1 to 2 years.
-The Cubs are not currently for sale, but other non-core assets, like the Food Network, are also not for sale unless "we could get the right price (Denis FitzSimons - Trib CEO).
Frankly, this sounds like a crazy plan to appease investors upset by a tanking stock price. There is not one thing in this plan that solves the Trib's real problems: Stagnant revenue growth.
FitzSimons is clearly a man with few ideas on how to turn this stagnant business around. Instead of generating revenues, he's using existing cash flow to finance buying up the share price.
Bully for the shareholders if that's what they want.
But, as soon as the buyback ends, the share will resume their slide. That means more buybacks or a refocusing on core operations. And selling of more non-core ops.
This event just made the Cubs sale more likely, not less.
Major TRB Ticker News
It was going to be time to comment on the 164,161 people who bought tickets this past weekend to see the Cubs play. It was going to be time to suggest, now that the holiday is over and pre-planned trips to Chicago are complete, that people aren't silly enough to buy that many tickets for this dreck of a team.
Instead, there is much bigger new:
The Tribune Co. ... authorized the repurchase of up to 75 million shares of its outstanding stock Tuesday. That number represents 25 percent of the company's outstanding stock, and is valued at $2.1 billion.
Repurchases will be funded through a combination of bank debt and publicly-issued bonds, the company said, and it will increase cash flow with at least $500 million in asset sales, which "could include certain non-core broadcasting and publishing assets as well as real estate and securities held for investment" according to a release.
As of yet, there is no MSM speculation on which assets will be sold. Even more interesting was how Fitch responded to the announcement. They followed Moody's and downgraded Trib's debt. Only Fitch gave them a triple whammy:
"The leveraged share buy-back represents a significant departure from Tribune's historically conservative financial policies and emphasizes the pressures that slower growing traditional media companies are under to boost their stock prices," Fitch said in a release.
Fitch cut Tribune's senior unsecured debt three notches to "BBB-minus," its lowest investment grade ranking, from 'A-minus." The outlook is negative, indicating an additional cut is likely over the next one to two years.
In other words, unless the debt level is cut, Trib debt will have junk bond ratings in the next 12 to 24 months. That could spur more asset sales than the announced $500 million.
Cross your fingers, Cub fans. It could be happening!
Friday, May 26, 2006
Seen This Show Before
There used to be this TV show I watched. Every plot was the same, it's just how they got from point A to point B was told with different comedic angles. The show also had lots of gratuitous shots of young, sexy women with varying degrees of exposed cleavage. Ultimately, I realized the show was mindless and stupid and after a while I stopped watching it.
You think I'm talking about the 2006 Cubs? Nope!
See, the Cubs have become Three's Company. Such a huge joke. And the same joke over and over and over and over. All they do is figure out a new way to make you laugh each day.
Aside: By the way, Dusty is Mr. Roper (the stubborn one), Andy MacPhail is Ralph Firley, and Jim Hendry is Larry (the guy who always knows the right way to do things but never sees it work out).
And, frankly, if you aren't laughing now, when will you start? Oh? You're just going to grin and bear it? Keep accepting the swill they serve us? Now you're in more familiar territory. Thank you sir, may I have another!
The unthinkable is happening. People are losing interest in the Cubs. Beyond the empty seats in Wrigley, you can tell interest is waning by one source: Bloggers are quitting on the Cubs.
Christian, the Patriarch of Cubs bloggers (and one of the first to recognize this miserable site), announced the other day that he's taking a break from the Cubs:
So the team isn't contending, it isn't one player away from contending, it isn't rebuilding. I don't know where it is in the success cycle, and I don't think *it* knows where it is. As a fan, that's a really frustrating place for your team to be.
It doesn't mean I'll stop paying attention, and it doesnÃ't mean I'll stop posting. But it does mean I'll being doing less of both of those things, and trying my best to care a little bit less about what's happening between the lines. I don't know how long it will last, but at least for the near future I have to unplug a little bit.
Andy Dolan over at Desipio is one of the best 'Net writers around. He's knowledgeable about the players around the league. He's a humorous read. He knows when to praise and when to bash. Now, it seems, he knows when to give up:
I make you this promise. If the Chicago Cubs actually give Dusty Baker a contract extension, I'm done. I'm gone. It's hard enough to find things to write about these jerkoffs as it is, can you imagine trying to do it if you knew you were going to have that fraud around for another three or four years? I'm serious, I'm already tired of writing about how terrible they are, what a completely overmatched simp he is and how torturous it is to watch the Cubs day in and day out.
I can't just slog through crap filled loss after loss and feign an interest. It's almost impossible to stress just how bad these Cubs are. They are hardly even competitive in games any more. They're not embarrassing. They're soul crushing. I've watched lots of bad Cubs' teams. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's them. I just can't do it anymore.
It's not universal. There is the other end over at Bleed Tribbie Ink where winning is important. Massively important. However, that massive importance is just marginally above loving gallows humor over the historic events unfolding before them on beautiful summer days, even if those events are negative (aside: I guess that means seeing the Cubs set a record for most losses in a season would be lovely to watch).
Ok, that's a small sample size. So, how are we to know how many people are really losing interest in the Cubs? With the tickets already sold for 2006, attendance is not a valid measure and total in the house is no longer announced. We need different metrics. Several have been suggested. Here are a few:
TV ratings - Probably the best measure. What makes this measure even better is that in Chicago, we have a control to measure against. If Cub ratings go down and the Sox ratings don't, we can tell that people aren't leaving baseball to surf the web or play their PSP, they are just not watching the Cubs.
Radio ratings - Same as above. And, with WSCR and WGN both having 50,000 watt clear channel frequencies, the comparable holds nicely.
Total vending income - Levy Restaurants own the concessions at Wrigley. If fewer people are at the game, doesn't it hold that fewer hot dogs, beers and pizza slices will be sold? In fact, because announced attendance is not an indicator, this may be a better measure. We'll try to report on this as I have an inside source at Levy.
What other metrics can we determine that aren't annecdotal (like empty seats)? Make suggestions via comments or e-mail and I'll do my best to get a measurement.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Goatriders has a new scribe, Chaos aka Tonker. If you want to learn how to become an ex-pat Cubs fan, click on the link.
You might also learn how to get a free omelet.
A Shoe Drops
We told you to watch for this, now it's happened. The Tribune's debt
has been downgraded by Moody's to Baa1 from A3. Reasoning?
Shrinking earnings, increasing its debt, spending cash on share buybacks.
While this only affects the Trib's long term debt, Moody's may still downgrade Tribune's short-term debt.
This will cost the Trib millions per year in additional interest expense.
One way to reduce that expense would be to pay down some debt. Anyone know where the Trib could find a few hundred million in cash to do that?
Stay tuned to places like Crains and watch for comments from Ariel Capital. If a sale of the Cubs is going to happen, the Ariel's of the world are going to be screaming loudest for it to happen.
Overheard ESPN's Jason Stark on Mike & Mike In The Morning this morning. He was saying that the Cubs are starting to think that 2003 was Mark Prior's peak and that he'll never be a dominant pitcher. The Cubs are now willing to trade him.
If Stark has this via a leak, and not his own conjecture, then the incompetence of Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry has just been broadcast to the universe for all to see.
Any used car salesman knows that you don't devalue a lousy car in the eyes of prospective buyers. You say little if anything and let caveat emptor prevail.
If MacPhail, Hendry and their minions leaked this info, they've just reduced what the Cubs can get in exchange for Prior. They've devalued their asset for absolutely no good reason.
Well, there is one reason. They don't want the Cub fan sycophants being upset that Mark Prior is traded. If they can convince the fan base that Prior is fools gold, then trading him doesn't hurt marketing.
I guess they value PR over wins in terms of positive marketing at 1060 West Addison.
Some thoughts after tonight's second loss in a row to a AA level team.
Kerry Wood either needs more rehab time, the speed gun in Florida is slow, or he's in big trouble. Last week at Wrigley, his pitches were in the low 90's. Today, the gun in the second and third inning was showing 91. Post TJ Surgery, Wood's pitches have had less movement on them. That means he needs that high 90's heater to offset his low 80's curveball. If he's at 91 on the heater, he's worthless as a starter.
With the possibility of a sweep by the Marlins, the probability increases that someone will have to pay for this ineptitude. Who will it be? It seems unlikely that the Trib will take the correct step and fire Andy MacPhail who has had 12 years to turn the franchise around. No, they need to keep him happy until Bud Selig retires, Andy becomes the Commish, and the Trib can have serious clout with MLB. Even if they sell the Cubs, having access to the Commissioner of Baseball is something any media company would want.
We know that the Cubs really, really want to extend Dusty Baker. As such, Ivy Chat introduces Jim Hendry's Contract Extend-O-Meter. You'll know at a glance the probability that Dusty gets a new contract today. Red Alert seems far off. We're in the blue right now, folks.
A few coaches are possible. Gene Clines? Larry Rothschild? Band-aids when a tourniquet is needed.
Curious that Andy is in Florida right now. The last time I recall the media mentioning him traveling with the team in season was in 2002 when Don Baylor was fired.
Something's gonna happen. As it won't be game wins, perhaps it will be something more beneficial long term.
Monday, May 22, 2006
A Big Save
Did you see Dusty Baker cheering Jacque Jones' homer yesterday? You'd have thought he won a pennant instead of one regular season, non-divisional game. I hear Dusty called the win their biggest of the year. THIS game? Why was this the biggest win of the year?
Because they came from behind to win a game that was lost until Paul Konerko decided not to make a strong reach for Juan Uribe's slightly off-target throw? Was it because Jones hit a homer off a lefty? Was it because the Cubs broke a losing streak of 2 games? Was it because they got one win against the World Series champs?
More likely, it was big because Dusty realized he hadn’t wasted time packing his bag for the Cubs' trip to Miami.
I thought about this yesterday, and Barry Rozner articulated it today. That win yesterday probably saved jobs. It may have saved the whole coaching staff and certain members of the front office.
And what the hell is Jim Hendry doing saying the timing isn't right to give Dusty an extension, but expectations remain that he’ll likely give him one later? That's insane. What this means is that Hendry has already made the decision to keep Dusty, but he won't tell us that right now.
Why not? Because Cub fans would be pissed right now. In other words, not because Dusty doesn't deserve it, rather because it would be bad marketing.
Hell of a way to run a baseball team. (Note: If you want some good marketing, run, don't walk, and go hire Whitey Herzog)
Just maybe the Cubs front office staff should show some leadership. If you've made a decision, don't wait until people won’t notice to announce it. Execute that decision and defend it right now. Then again, expecting real leadership at 1060 West Addison is something that's been lacking since Dallas Green left.
A quick note to Neil Cotts: Any left-handed pitcher giving up a home run to Jones might need some career counseling.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
More Amusing Than Sad
A tremendous athlete was forced to retire today. Barbaro, who tried to win the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes today, was diagnosed with a fracture above and below his ankle. Dr. Larry Bramlage, of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, called it a "life-threatening" injury.
Too bad that wasn't Michael Barrett.
This page has never been a big fan of Barrett. While he can hit decently, his hitting isn't good enough to make up for his poor presence behind the plate. There's a reason Henry Blanco catches Zambrano and Prior (every year or so). Barrett's a numb nuts. What's more ammusing is that Jim Hendry has had a woody for Barrett for years. Landing him in 2004 was a coup for Hendry.
I wonder if he still feels that way.
The Tribune has a nice gallary of the Barrett Fiasco today at Comiskey Park (until that cell phone company sends ME a check, the old name stays). Be sure to check it out.
As AJ Pierzynski calls Jim Rome a friend, see him clocked is always good times. But, he's just an ass. Barrett's an idiot. This team has a lot of idiots. Has had a lot of idiots. It's a common thread in the Hendry era.
Well, it looks like Barrett got what he deserved right back.
It does seem like even the most intractable members of Cubbie Nation are coming around to face reality. That's good, because just maybe some suits in Trib Tower, who do monitor Cubs blogs, will finally learn that change is needed. Just perhaps they realize that no change will start to cost them money (and a big "THANK YOU, WHITE SOX!" will be in order if this is the catalyst for change).
While a change in approach is clearly needed, firing an entire coaching staff mid-year would seem to be nearly impossible.
What's clear is that there needs to be a mandate to only play kids who will be here in 2007. If Dusty Baker won't do that, as he didn't last year, then he needs to go.
2007 started a few weeks back. Will the Cubs make the most of it? That's all there is left to watch until next April.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Thanks to Bud Selig, the Cubs can full expect to be 10+ games out of first place by Sunday. See, Selig, and his "regional rivalry" approach to interleague play, is not just hucksterism, it is simply lacking in sportsmanship.
In a true competitive system, each team that competes for a specific title would play as close to an identical schedule as possible. The NFL is as close to perfect as it comes. Each year, the only difference between the Bears, Vikings, Packers and Lions schedule is the location of the non-conference games, and two of the non-division conference games.
With Selig-style baseball, we get drastically unequal schedules. The pinnacle of this starts this week. The Cubs get six games against the White Sox, while the Cardinals get to play the Royals for six. With the Royals behaving like a bad AA team, that should be at least 2 wins this weekend for the Cards if not three.
The schedule demands equity. There is a system in which equity is not only possible, but also actually desirable. It would enliven some of the rivalries that have lost luster over the years and make new ones by making them occur on a regular basis.
It's time to go to 15 team leagues, make each division the same size, make the schedules of divisional opponents identical, and make interleague play part of the natural order of business as it is in the NBA, NFL and NHL.
Until then, it's 10 back and the end of the division chase by Monday.
Then again, if the rumors are true that a White Sox sweep leads to the exit of Dusty Baker, perhaps the Cubs are in a win-win situation. If so, let’s hope the Cubs can actually win by losing.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Back From The Park
One game note first: No, Neifi isn't the dumbest person on the planet. Dusty Baker is for saying that Neifi's bunt was a smart play (note: If Dusty's saying this to the media and chewing out Neifi in the locker room, then Neifi is the biggest dumbass).
Now to the good of the day.
The seats were good. I passed on a chance to meet George Will who was at the souvenir shop at the south east side of Clark and Addison at around 12:45 PM. I did get a chance to talk to David Kaplan of WGN (he's helping a charity I volunteer for). I ran into a high school girl in the next aisle and didn't get arrested. I only spent $23.75 in the park. And, I think I met a good, long term business prospect.
Other than that, there wasn't much to cheer about after the top of the first. The entire ballpark was pretty much a good place to catch up on some sleep. Certainly the crowd wasn't making any noise to wake you up.
Are Cub fans are getting apathetic? Do you hear that lack of noise, John McDonough?
This could be a long, silent year.
Might be the best thing to happen to this franchise in a long time.
Off To The Park
Kerry Wood and this writer each make their first Wrigley Field appearence today. Ironically, had the Cubs been smarter, both could have happened earlier. If the Cubs hadn't wasted time throwing Wood in relief last year for a dead team in August, he'd likely have been ready 4 or 5 weeks ago.
And, had this team done a better job in the offseason, there might have been some tickets purchased by this household.
And rumors continue that Mark Prior will throw 45 pitches in the minors tomorrow. Gee. So exciting.
Well, the one thing to be certain of, no matter how bad the Cubs are, and they are really bad, the Nats are worse. On the plus side, we don't hear crap from Frank Robinson about how he feels down. Frank's a class act. He deserves better.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Crains' checks in on the Trib's April results:
In Tribune's broadcasting and entertainment business, revenue fell 3.9 percent to $115.7 million, compared with $120.4 million last year.
Anyone betting Cubs ad rates will reverse this trend? Trib stock dropped $0.47 today.
The stars continue to approach a divine correlation.
Minor League Report
From around the training grounds:
LVL PLAYERS AB R H BI AVG
HiA Fuld, Sam CF 6 3 3 2 .301 - 2B (5), 3B (3), HR (2), SB (9)
AA Patterson, Eric 2B 4 1 2 0 .305 - 3B, SB (14)
AAA Pie, Felix CF 3 1 1 1 .271 - HR (4)
LVL PITCHERS IP H R ER BB SO ERA
HiA Gallagher, Sean ........... 6.0 5 2 2 1 7 2.09 - W (3-0)
This Gallagher kid is worth watching how he progresses.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
A Waste of Newsprint and Ink
Phil Rogers does his best to defend Dusty Baker today. Good thing Dusty isn't relying on Phil in a death penalty appeal or Dusty would have veins full of sodium thiopental, pancuronium and potassium chloride.
General manager Jim Hendry is safe, thanks to the contract extension he received only last month, but you've got to wonder about manager Dusty Baker and Andy MacPhail
So, Jim Hendry won't be fired, but a new team president could be hired. Wouldn't said president get to hire his own GM? Who does Phil think owns the Cubs? The McCaskeys?
if Baker doesn't want to discuss an extension until after the season, or wants accountants to work overtime massaging the numbers, then it's time to find another manager and coaching staff.
So, retaining Baker has nothing to do with his ability to coax wins out of a $94 million payroll, or develop talent like Murton and Cedeno, or keep his pitchers off the DL. No, it's how long he takes to negotiate a contract. Brilliant.
I'd tell him to try new batting and pitching coaches (he ought to consider immediately promoting Von Joshua from Triple A to be the hitting coach).
Shouldn't a coach have ultimate control over his staff? And, if it is determined by Hendry that Baker is incapable of hiring an effective staff, isn't that cause for dismissal?
But the more I consider this morass of a season, it seems to me that the Cubs probably still need Baker more than he needs them.
Why? How does keeping him help in 2006. Phil tries to answer:
Baker has a tremendous dignity, which he wears on his sleeve. He has credibility from his playing and managing days. He gets respect from umpires and opposing managers.
What a joke. Baker gets respect from the umpires because he doesn't show them up or point out mistakes they make. That hasn't translated into any tangible benefits. Look at all the third strikes Moises Alou got called balls. Look at all the close pitches Kerry Wood got the benefit of the doubt on. Oh, yeah. Never happened.
Baker doesn't intimidate umpires. That's translated into fewer calls going the Cubs' way.
If he wasn't running the Cubs, who would be?
Oh, lord. Who wouldn't? Phil mentions Lou Piniella. Ok, I guess. How about Whitey Herzog? Tom Kelly? Steve Stone (wouldn't that be entertaining!)? Davey Johnson? Dallas Green?
Think outside the recycled box. How about Ryne Sandberg. Jody Davis. Greg Maddux as a player manager. Andre Dawson.
Hell. How about JIM HENDRY. Make him manage what he's wrought. He did it at Creighton, why not here?
There is no shortage of candidates who would bring dignity, credibility from playing and/or managing days, and would get respect from umpires and opposing managers.
Phil's a dope. The whole column proves it. And he also continues to miss the point. Until Andy MacPhail goes, it's all just spitting in the wind.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Not Exactly a Permanent Tee Time
As the Des Moines Register is not on my mustread list, this article slipped through the cracks. Check these quotes about Kerry Wood:
(Kerry) Wood always wears No. 34 while on temporary rehabilitation assignments in Des Moines.
"I always hold No. 34 back," said Iowa Cubs media relations director Jeff Lantz, whose job description includes divvying out the uniforms when a new batch of 24 players show up each April.
Lantz keeps No. 34 in his office, just to make sure no one gets it by mistake. As long as Wood is a Cub, No. 34 will remain on permanent hold.
"I made doubly sure it was around when I saw during spring training that Kerry was on the disabled list," Lantz said. "Any time a major league guy starts the season on the DL, I try to hold their number back, because if they come here, they can wear a number that they're used to wearing."
Wood pitched in Des Moines on his way to major-league stardom in 1997 and '98. When he fires his first pitch tonight, he becomes only the fifth player to play for Iowa in six different seasons.
The others also are pitchers - Bart Johnson between 1974 and '79, Steve Rain between 1996 and 2001, Kennie Steenstra between 1993 and '98, and David Swartzbaugh between 1993 and '98.
I am soooo looking forward to Thursday.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Make Risk Their Business
Now that even the kind, but mislead, souls over at the Pollyanna sites have given up on this season, it’s time to discuss what we can do to prevent the Cubs from doing this poorly again. It all comes down to something called Subscription Risk.
Back in the mid 90’s, while working for the world’s second largest bank, there was a meeting to discuss Midwest-area large construction projects that might need financing. The bank was looking for more loan opportunities similar to its successful investment in the United Center.
What about DePaul? They’ve been trying to build a new stadium at Fullerton and Sheffield for a while, I piped up.
"How many skyboxes do you think it will have?" asked the project finance manager.
"Probably none." I said.
"Then we aren't interested," he replied. "Too much subscription risk."
What banks look for in any loan, is ability to repay the loan. The funds to repay the loan come from ongoing cash flow from operations. And those cash flows need to be stable over a number of years to repay a long loan like a mortgage.
Now, a bus parts manufacturer with long term clients, can safely rely on a high percentage of those clients still buying from them several years later. Not so for sports teams. The need for replacement bus parts is steady from year to year. With sports team, interest in the team, and the associated ticket sales, can wax and wane from year to year. With the majority of teams, ticket sales are not easily predictable over a long number of years.
Breaking it down, there are really two kinds of ticket sales:
2) Individual Game
Individual game tickets are clearly the most suspect in terms of sustained sales. There are so many factors that can limit ticket sales: Weather, opponent, and team quality to name a few.
Season ticket sales eliminate individual game risk and lock in revenues for a single year. A team can now accurately project a large part of a year's revenues, but also benefits by receiving a large portion of the revenue in cash before a single game is played. But annual subscriptions may not be sustainable over the long term. Team quality can have a large effect on season ticket renewals.
Now, let's look at the Cubs. How much subscription risk do they really face? Today was Mother's Day, cold, gray, temperatures in the 50's, and the team tumbling so bad Jesse White was scouting them. Today's attendance?
Today, people are more in love with Cubs games than Cubs wins. That means they buy tickets not caring (primarily) about the outcome. And that means one on the main drivers of subscription risk is negated.
So long as this team does not have significant risk for revenues, why should they place a more entertaining product on the field? We who care primarily about wins over asthetics owe it to ourselves to stop buying more tickets. Make the Cubs and the Trib compete for your dollars.
Make playing baseball at Wrigley Field as risky a proposition for the proprietors as it is for the customers.
Ain't it ironic? I get freebies (including parking) to go to my first Cubs game of the already over 2006 season, and look who is going to pitch!
Rumor has it that Prior is 15 days behind Wood and Wade Miller is 5 or 6 says behind Prior.
To bad none of them play first, center, right or third.
Friday, May 12, 2006
What Are You Prepared To Do?
It's been a good week to be insanely busy with real world work and have the Cubs on background mode. I guess the Cubs were so upset with the quiet on this page that they decided to make it possible to totally ignore them.
This is a team that is now 15th in the ML (ahead of Pittsburgh) and 28th in MLB (and Kansas City) in runs scored, 27th in OBP (Pitt, KC and LA Angels), 29th in OPS (San Diego).
There is not an adjective to describe how bad that is for $94 million spent on payroll.
The pitching is 19th in ERA, 16th in WHIP, and 21st in K/BB. That's not putrid, but expected when you have to have four rookies (but only three at a time) in your rotation.
The question to Jim Hendry is: Overpay to try to get better; Launch the coaches; Punt and plan for 2007.
If it's me, you might be able to do all three. It's time to let Dusty go and bring in an ass whipper who doesn't enable crap like Michael Barrett pulled today. You can plan for 2007 and improve at the same time by unloading Jacque Jones. I hear the Yankees lost their outfield.
Yeah, what could you get from the Yanks for Jones? Who cares? I'd settle for a Duke Brothers wager!
We'll have more hear in a few days about what WE can do and WHY it's important.
And, why it may be the only thing that gets regime change at Wrigley. Andy MacPhail has had 12 years. Time's up.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Terry Boers suggested on his radio show yesterday that Cubs players are upset that Cubs' broadcaster Bob Brenly is critcizing thir play. Well, here's the solution:
Fire Dusty Baker and give Brenly the job. The Cubs only have to eat 75% of Dusty's 1 year salary and they are already paying Brenly $750,000 in broadcasdt salary.
These guys are starting to make me sick.
With the arrival of Conan O'Brien's show in Chicago, it's time to talk about jokes. A big one is the Chicago Cubs.
First, Conan's show was quite good last night. While the Wheel of Wendt was pretty tame, the Mr. T segment and the "local Chicago chat" between Conan and his Max Weinberg was hilarious. Nice touch noting that Rep. Luis Gutierrez is in one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country.
As to the Cubs fans who booed when the White Sox were mentioned as the best team in baseball, SHUT UP. Frankly, they are. You make yourselves sound like the typical White Sox fan when you boo like that.
Oh, and Sox fans? You also booed when Conan mentioned the Cubs. That was stupid. Just laugh. Conan knows the Cubs are a joke. So should you.
Also from Conan's show was him taking batting practice at Comiskey. Anyone notice the handedness of the batting practice pitcher? Yes, he was a lefty. Maybe Dusty Baker will blame Jay Leno being unfunny on only having righties on his writing staff.
The only question remaining on this 2006 Cubs team is who stays and who goes? Dusty may not make the month. Fine. To bad Jim Hendry is sticking. What about Juan Pierre (the biggest disappointment since "free bacon" at Jewel), Greg Maddux and Todd Walker?
Bets are being taken that ALL of them will be gone by July 1.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
The Tribune published this letter in the "Voice Of the People" section of the paper:
Baker must go
I started to watch the Cubs again this year and got sucked into it again.
Then I came to my senses.
Would I drive a car that always broke down?
No I would get rid of it and get something that at least gave me some value and return on my investment.
Maybe the Cubs ownership should do the same thing.
Clearly the Tribune Co. has shown it is not afraid to spend the money to get the talent and the talent is there.
So what is the common denominator?
Well for the past year or so, besides ailing pitching (who is the trainer anyway?) and a third-base coach who thought he was running an express lane, it is Dusty Baker.
The letter makes some cogent points, but he misses the higher target.
What's the constant in the Cubs over the last 12 years? The majority of the time the Trib has been in ownership?
The conclusion of the letter is spot on:
...unless cash dries up from those in attendance, many of whom don't even care who is playing, the real Cubs fans will be waiting yet another 100 years.
If you are going to the games regularly, if you give blind loyalty and don't question management (not just Freddy Bynum), if you simply have hope things will get better, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. The team must be given an incentive to change.
This starts with fans saying they've had enough. It ends with the exit of Andy MacPhail.
Then, the healing can begin.
I almost figured I'd wait to post again until the Cubs won a game, but that might result in the end of this exercize in meaninglessness.
What we have here with this ex-team is a reversion to the mean. Sure, they were playing above .500. But they were doing so with an offensive performance so dismal that made it certain that below .500 was in the offing. As Phil Rogers noted yesterday:
In 2003, the Cubs were 11th in the National League in batting average and 13th in on-base percentage. They were sixth in batting and 11th in on-base in '04 and third in batting and 11th in on-base in '05. So far this year they are 14th in both categories, with a .247 batting average and .311 on-base percentage.
Anyone who says this team has talent is wrong. The talent is in the numbers. Anyone who says this team needs some luck is also wrong. The Cubs had luck for the first 24 games.
What this team needs is an overhaul. There are three position players worth keeping, and one of them is trying to make that only two. That would be Matt Murton, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and A Ram is cratering worse than Tunguska.
Keep the pressure up, true fans. Don't accept this crap team we've been given to "entertain" us. We finally have the MSM focusing on Jim Hendry and his negligence. Don't let up.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Check this line from the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles:
Cubs pitcher Mark Prior somehow gutted out a session of "long toss" and a brief period of pitching from flat ground Thursday at Chase Field.
"Somehow?" Sounds like Mr. Miles is adding a little editorial commentary sneak into his writing.
Given that this is sports and not hard news, let's see more of that!
The rest of the article is amazing for it actually quotes a live Mark Prior. What e says makes me conclude he's preparing for his post-baseball career by practicing comedy:
"(I had) food poisoning, flu, one or the other," Prior said with a smile of resignation. "They ran some tests, but I haven't heard back."
Do MRI's show flu or food poisoning?
"I was right there at the cusp of trying to get into some simulated games and moving forward in progression.
Now, I think (my return is) backed up to the latter part of this month, but I definitely think it's possible."
Great! I'm certainly, probably, optomistic that we'll ssee him again!
Thursday, May 04, 2006
And Now For Something From Exactly One Year Ago Today...
The Dead Cubbies Sketch
A customer enters a pet shop.
Mr. Shlabotnik: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.
(Broadcaster Ron does not respond.)
Mr. Shlabotnik: 'Ello, Miss?
Broadcaster Ron: What do you mean "miss"?
Mr. Shlabotnik: I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!
Broadcaster Ron: We're closin' for lunch.
Mr. Shlabotnik: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this baseball team what I watched not half an hour ago from this very stadium.
Broadcaster Ron: Oh yes, the, uh, the Cubbie Blue...What's, uh...What's wrong with it?
Mr. Shlabotnik: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'Ere dead, that's what's wrong with it!
Broadcaster Ron: No, no, 'Ere uh,...ere resting.
Mr. Shlabotnik: Look, matey, I know a dead team when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.
Broadcaster Ron: No no ere not dead, ere, ere restin'! Remarkable team, the Cubbie Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!
Mr. Shlabotnik: The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead.
Broadcaster Ron: Nononono, no, no! 'Ere resting!
Mr. Shlabotnik: All right then, if ere's restin', I'll wake him up! (shouting at the batting cage) 'Ello, Mister Jacque! I've got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for you if you show...
(Broadcaster Ron hits the cage)
Broadcaster Ron: There, he moved!
Mr. Shlabotnik: No, he didn't, that was you hitting the cage!
Broadcaster Ron: I never!!
Mr. Shlabotnik: Yes, you did!
Broadcaster Ron: I never, never did anything...
Mr. Shlabotnik: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) 'ELLO HENDRY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o'clock alarm call!
(Takes team out of the cage and thumps it on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)
Mr. Shlabotnik: Now that's what I call a dead team.
Broadcaster Ron: No, no.....No, ere stunned!
Mr. Shlabotnik: STUNNED?!?
Broadcaster Ron: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Cubbie Blues stun easily, major.
Mr. Shlabotnik: Um...now look...now look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That team is definitely deceased, and when I watched it not 'alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein' tired and shagged out following a prolonged at bat.
Broadcaster Ron: Well, he's...he's, ah...probably pining for the fjords.
Mr. Shlabotnik: PININ' for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did they fall flat on their back the moment I got 'em home?
Broadcaster Ron: The Cubbie Blue prefers keepin' on it's back! Remarkable team, id'nit, squire? Lovely plumage!
Mr. Shlabotnik: Look, I took the liberty of examining that team when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in First Place was that it had been NAILED there.
Broadcaster Ron: Well, o'course it was nailed there! If I hadn't nailed that team down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its bat, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Shlabotnik: "VOOM"?!? Mate, this team wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through it! 'Ere bleedin' demised!
Broadcaster Ron: No no! 'Ere pining!
Mr. Shlabotnik: Ere not pinin'! Ere passed on! This team is no more! He has ceased to be! Ere expired and gone to meet 'is maker! Ere's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'Ere rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'em to the perch 'ere'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! Ere off the twig! Ere kicked the bucket, Ere shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-TEAM!!
Broadcaster Ron: Well, I'd better replace it, then. (He takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I've had a look 'round the back of the shop, and uh, we're right out of teams.
Mr. Shlabotnik: I see. I see, I get the picture.
Broadcaster Ron: I got a Cardinal.
Mr. Shlabotnik: Pray, does it play right field?
Broadcaster Ron: Nnnnot really.
Mr. Shlabotnik: WELL IT'S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, IS IT?!!???!!?
Broadcaster Ron: N-no, I guess not. (gets ashamed, looks at his feet)
Mr. Shlabotnik: Well.
Broadcaster Ron: (quietly) D'you.... d'you want to come back to my place?
Mr. Shlabotnik: (looks around) Yeah, all right, sure.
Thanks to Monty Python, John Cleese and Michael Palin for the source material and to the 2006 Chicago Cubs for dying early once again.
Until Contract End Do They Part
With each passing day, the disaster that is Jacque Jones becomes more and more apparent. However good he was at one time, he is barely passable as a major leaguer now. Beyond his inability to put bat on ball, he's starting to make Cubs fans pine for Moises Alou and his baserunning blunders (always followed by a tantrum). See, at least Alou could hit.
You really can't blame Dusty Baker for trotting Jones out every day. It's not Dusty's fault that someone signed Jones for three years. It’s also not Dusty's fault that said signor did not give Dusty a platoon bat to go with Jones. Jacque's inability to hit left handed pitching is not exactly a secret on the level of the Coca Cola formula.
Interestingly, the guy who is responsible also has a three-year contract. Yes, Jim Hendry, the man who is about to oversee his fourth consecutive year of diminishing wins, is signed to be here in Chicago just as long as Jacque Jones.
It will be fun to have these two guys hitched to each other as a permanent reminder of ineptitude.
Some News Is Bad News
We now have a Mark Prior sighting:
Mark Prior was missing (from the Cubs' clubhouse in Chase Field) and no gear was in his empty locker. He is dealing with a physical setback that has nothing to do with his right shoulder rehab.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Prior is battling food poisoning that he picked up here in Arizona. Rothschild added that Prior will resume his throwing program once he is able, but no one can be certain right now when that might be and how long it will take him to feel at full strength again.
No timetable? From food poisoning? Sounds like someone is covering for something else. Notice in the Kiley piece no one states that the food poisoning is the direct reason for the delay.
If you take 4 to 6 weeks from the start of mound throwing to a return to the majors, the earliest one could expect him is July.
What's becoming more and more obvious is that Mark Prior's career may be in jeopardy, and the reason could be his fall 2003 pitching.
I tend to think he's got the same problem Rick Sutcliffe had. Remember, Sut pitched on a bad leg for a year. In doing so, he hurt his shoulder. That could be what happened to Prior in 2003. He had a bad Achilles that summer. It's possible he threw out his arm in the process of pitching through the Achilles problem.
I don't blame Dusty Baker for pitching Prior. I don't blame Mark for trying. Hell, had they won the Series in 2003, I would have been satisfied if Prior never pitched again as he would have been carried off the battlefield on his shoulder. Uh, shield.
Chuckspectations for Prior are now shifted to somewhere between July and never.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
So, Dusty Baker says the Cubs can't hit against lefties because the don't have a lefty batting practice pitcher.
Yes, it's not because Dusty and his coaching staff can't teach (as they've admitted), it's not that the players are just bad, it's that the Cubs don't have a left handed Joey Amalfitano or Cookie Rojas to lob meatball pitches for 30 minutes every day in the pregame.
Sounds more to me like Dusty is back to making excuses for losing by throwing management under the bus. While Jim Hendry certainly deserves to be time laying in traffic, hearing Dusty start making excuses can only be a harbinger of a lot of bad days ahead.
While Kerry Wood continues to progress to the point where he could be back in the Cubs rotation within the next ten days (and back out 30 days after that), the silence on Mark Prior is scary.
Remember the Tribune daily Prior Watch? This year, nothing. Not even a whisper.
While I didn't believe it in Spring Training when news of the latest (continued) Mark Prior injury was hidden, I am now starting to believe that we will not see Mark Prior throw of a major league pitching mound until 2007.
At the earliest.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Today was the day that the Tribune Company held their annual shareholder's meeting. In order to save $200,000, the Trib held the meeting "in a converted TV studio inside Tribune Tower." They need to save $200,000? I winder what Trib brass now thinks of Glendon Rusch's contract!
Well, at the meeting, Trib CEO Dennis FitzSimons acknowledged the company's weak stock price makes asset sales the least of the Trib's problems. The company is now potentially vulnerable to a hostile takeover bid.
Granted, with the McCormick Foundation in control of over 35% of the stock, a takeover is unlikely. But a major push to grow revenues, lower debt and increase the stock price is clearly the company's focus for the foreseeable future.
It's hard to see how a $200 million, flat revenue (read: minimal growth) business like the Cubs fits with those goals.
The stars continue to align.
Set The Way Back Machine To 1978
Back in 1998, George Lucas let loose the first trailer for "The Phantom Menace." While the movie ended up sucking, the trailer took me back to 1977 and the Edens Theater in Northbrook where I saw Star Wars for the first time.
I don't know if this movie will be any good, either. But this trailer takes me back to that same Edens Theater just as Lucas did.
Here's hoping Bryan Singer gets this one right.
'E's Merely Warming Up
This kind of performance? Versus the Pirates? Don't Pirates usually bring parrots? Last year, the Sketch was posted the first week of May. Could that happen again this year?
...and I attended the Bulls playoff win over the Heat yesterday. Some advice for Jon Shoemaker, the Bulls manager of creative services:
What were you thinking when you made that Benny Jr. tape? Never, NEVER show that again. And same with Mini Benny.
...so has Matt Murton ever had a bad at bat?
...but three rookies in a starting rotation to anchor a $90 million plus payroll is deserving of a contract extension?
...then again, Sean Marshall just keeps impressing more and more and more and...
Monday, May 01, 2006
Change of Heart
After reading many of the reviews of United 93, I decided that I would go see it. I fully expected an emotionally draining experience. What I saw instead, was a documentary film for a little over an hour, and then a testament to the bravery of a group of desperate people who were more afraid of passively awaiting death than taking their lives into their own hands.
What was fascinating was who emerged as the real hero of the day. FAA director Ben Sliney, who plays himself in the movie, is the movie's only star. He took it upon himself to initially order a nationwide ground stop on all departing air traffic. Then, he also made the call to order all planes in the air to land and all inbound international traffic to be turned away. The movie portrays Sliney as making these decisions in the best interests of the country and not waiting to see if he had the proper authority to make such broad decisions. Mr. Sliney needs to be recognized in this country for what he did.
As to the actual passengers on the United 93 flight, they are not depicted as heroes. They are depicted as ordinary people who, when they became aware of the true intentions of the hijackers, did what they did in an attempt to save their own lives.
As information slowly works its way around the cabin, one of the passengers says, "This is a suicide flight." At that point, the passengers realize that they counterattack or perish.
Perhaps this is the real message of the movie. True heroes don't have to be thinking about some greater good when they act. They don't think about self-sacrifice to save others. Heroes simply act. Maybe heroes aren't born, but are created by circumstance. Yes, there is also clearly the message that terror will always fail when fear can be overcome. But perhaps the idea that people acting in their own self-interest can also be heroic is the larger idea.
I also kept thinking how smart it was to have few recognizable actors among the cast. Thinking about Brad Pitt leading the charge against the terrorists would make you think about how you are watching a movie and lose focus on the events (got that Oliver Stone and Nicholas Cage?). Because the actors were unrecognizable, all I kept thinking was that these were the real passengers. And, because of that, this was the chance for these people to finally say good-bye to their families and loved ones. They were deprived of that chance on September 11, 2001.
Paul Greengrass has brilliantly allowed these people to get that opportunity back.
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