Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Chicago Cubs are in first place. "What?" you scream. "Of all the places to read positive stuff that doesn't involve EBITDAs, Ivy Chat is off its rocker! They are 1/2 game back!"
Yeah, that's what the papers say. But like the inevitability of a Hillary nomination, that, too, is wrong.
See, all that matters is the total number of losses. At the end of the year, the team with the fewest losses wins, right?
Well, in the NL Central, the team with the fewest losses is the 2007 edition of the Chicago Cubs.
If the Cubs want to lock in that leadership, all that remains is for Jim Hendry to add one final piece. That piece can be at either center or right field. Candidates include Ken Griffey Jr., Jermaine Dye, and Torii Hunter. With the Twins winning their last two and the Tigers and Indians losing the same, Torii may not be available.
But, if Hendry wants to keep his job or get another GM job next year when new management sacks him, he needs to win this year. That means another big stick.
And Eric Gagne wouldn't hurt either.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Harry Potter and The Dumbledore Code
That's what they should have called th "The Deathly Hallows." While the book was very enjoyable, and a marked improvement from the bland "Order of the Phoenix" and the dreadful "Half-Blood Prince," it was a let down from a woman who started off as a mystery writer with the potential to be a modern Agatha Christie.
Either unable or unwilling to carry on the mysteries spun in the first four novels, JK Rowling substitutes the treasure hunt popularized by Dan Brown in "The DaVinci Code." But instead of just searching for one object, like Indiana Jones might, Harry Potter must search for eight objects. While this makes for a fun read, the book plays out more like a screenplay with several action set pieces than like a Potter novel.
Many characters that we have gotten used to receive short thrift in the book. Some make seemingly only cameo appearances. In fact, at the end, some familiar names get a single line of mention. In this way, the book almost reads like a piece of fan fiction. "Got to get everyone I love a quick mention!"
The biggest letdown has to be the lack of real loss in the book. No one really important to Harry dies. In that way, the book comes off, as Ross Douthat writes, "a children's story after all."
That's too bad, because Rowling is, indeed, a gifted writer. Her ability to plan out the series so far in advance and tie it all together nearly seamlessly (with only a need for tech talk at the very end about wands, blood, and spells that would make Brannon Braga weep) is stunning. That level of detail alone makes the books worth reading.
So, while the series never really surpassed the peak that was "Prisoner of Azkaban," it did close on a satisfying note. Here's hoping that the obvious openings created in the final pages for more books are taken. And, perhaps with less pressure and no movies to make off further adventures, JK Rowling can return to the quality that was the first three Harry Potter books.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
A little over four years ago, this blog started by declaring 2003 over in mid-July. This page also declared 2005, 2006 and 2007 over in May. In 2005 and 2006, Ivy Chat was right.
This year, Ivy Chat was wrong. Dead wrong.
What this team has done in the last nine weeks is nothing short of remarkable. And, it is a tribute to the skills of one person: Lou Piniella.
This team, as originally constructed, was horrendous. Back in March, Lou was either unsure of the team or simply willing to give Jim Hendry's assemblage a chance to play.
In early June, Lou had seen enough. He pulled Hendry and John McDonough aside and, one can only guess, said, "It's them or me."
Michael Barrett - Gone.
Matt Murton - Gone.
Jacque Jones - Benched.
Cesar Izturis - Benched and gone.
Scott Eyre - Benched.
That's 20% of the team.
But, it's more than that. Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Angel Pagan, Felix Pie, Billy Petrick and Carlos Marmol all got significant playing time. And they've all contributed. Imagine that under previous management.
But, wait, there's more!
If the Cubs do go on to take a playoff spot, and this curmudgeon now believes they will, it's the play of MVP candidate Aramis Ramirez that will be a big reason why. Ramirez has been outstanding this year. And he's been hustling this year in a way that would make Zig Ziglar jealous. That's all on Lou, too.
We fans finally have a manager who holds players to the same standard of play and professionalism that we would hold them to. As has been said before in this space, how refreshing.
The rest of 2007 will be enjoyable, and can be even better if Trader Jim isn't satisfied with his current roster. One more big bat, in center or right, and this team can really go places.
But, even if it doesn't, Lou has made it fun and respectable to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs again. Wishing and hoping is out of style. Excellence is expected.
By fans and franchise, alike.
And on Ivy Chat, the parrot has been reanimated!
Friday, July 20, 2007
Yeah, I'll probably be buyin the last Harry Potter book this weekend. I'm not going to venture a guess on who lives or who dies. I will venture that it will be revealed that Lilly Potter magically transferred her eyes to Harry. There's got to be a reason that every book has a line about Harry, "having Lily's eyes."
What I will also venture is that the book will be pretty mediocre. Which will be an improvement from books V and VI. In fact, it's going to be hard to surpass the awfulness of "Half Blood Prince." And entire series built upon solving fun mysteries and J.K. Rowling spends an entire book on flashbacks? Bleah. The "Star Wars" wand/blaster fight at the end of "Order of the Phoenix"? Pretty obvious the movies were influencing her writing at that point. That last section of the book read like a screenplay.
Ah well. The books are fun reads, especially the first three. Let's all hope "Deathly Hallows" is more "Prisoner of Azkaban" than "Goblet of Fire."
How nice it is to read this as opposed to being told to "have patience" and "believe."
See Ya, See Ya!
With Little Cesar Izturis now a Pittsburgh Pirate, can anyone still claim Jim Hendry knows what he's doing with a straight face? Izturis was traded for the dreaded PTBNL. That means that a no-name-garbage player was all that Hendry obtained for Greg Maddux.
If that's what you are going to get, why bother trading Greg in the first place?
More Balsa-Pyrite Combo
So, Kerry Wood is throwing 95 MPH just two days after topping out at 45 MPH.
Yeah, that sounds like something sustainable.
Monday, July 16, 2007
On The First Night Of Hanukkah...
You know how every holiday you get a gift you really don't want? Like a tie, or after shave, or argyle socks? Its a gift that you really don't want but you know, deep down, that it has a small chance of coming in handy some day?
Welcome to the Chicago Cubs, Jason Kendall, the newest nose hair trimmer that Jim Hendry has collected.
Kendall used to be a good catcher. He's not anymore. In fact, if you look at his stats, he's pretty bad. He can't hit. Can't run. Can't seem to walk anymore. I suppose the good is that he can't strke out, either.
Kendall does have one quality that made GM Pro Tempore Lou Piniella desire him.
Jason Kendall is not Michael Barrett.
That's how much Lou hated Barrett. The Cubs were/are willing to go with Jason Kendall, Koyie Hill, Geovany Soto, and Rob Bowen over Michael Barrett.
One hopes that Kendall rediscovers his 2006 season when he posted .295/.367/.342 because this year's .226/.261/.281 is putrid.
Maybe we'll get lucky. Maybe Kendall isn't a can of Simonize. Maybe he's a Big Toe?
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Never Turn Down a Free Pair
The bleachers at Wrigley lived up to their name today. Other than an evening in the Batters' Eye Suite last June and Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS, it had probably been a good 15 years since I'd made a visit to to that area of the park. So, when the Brother-In-Law called and asked if I and Murton's Eldest would like to attend today's game, who was I to say no?
What we saw, close up from our seats in upper center, was this:
That is the damage to center field caused by the Police concerts of last week. Damn good thing that a playable field to protect the multi-million dollar investments in human capital is so important to the idiots who run the Cubs. Let us all hope that the future owner, whoever that may be, isn't so hard up for cash that they risk the legs of a Felix Pie or a Jacque Jones for a few extra bucks.
Well, maybe Jacque, but no one who really matters!
When it became apparent that Jason Marquis brought a knife to today's gunfight, it seemed that the game would be over early. Especially with Alfonso Soriano certain to go oh fer batting fifth and not leadoff. But this team is in the middle of an outstanding stretch of baseball playing. You just knew Derrek Lee was going to get out of his non-homer funk today.
And, you knew that these were the Astros.
Yes, today was a fun day to be at the old ball park. And, given the good will throughout, we even ventured over to the left field corner and introduced ourselves to Al Yellon. Even Al noticed the Murtonian resemblances in the Seven Year Old.
This division is still going to come down to the GM who does the most to improve his team. And Bob Melvin up in Milwaukee sure seems to have more bullets in his gun - bullets like tradable talent and dollars available.
But Jim Hendry has pulled off some deals in the past. Usually one too few, but he has made some deals. As he's going to be out of a job in less than three months, maybe he'll actually go for broke this time.
With 15 days until baseball
Friday, July 13, 2007
Maverick Owner Targeting Cubs?
There's a great buzz over Mark Cuban and his interest in buying the Cubs as noted by Rick Morrissey in his column today. Rick touches on a number of points that are all true, but he seems to miss a big picture item.
Because of the nature of the Tribune Company’s ownership structure, they almost certainly have to sell the Cubs at the highest possible price. This isn't just like two neighbors agreeing to buy/sell a used car to each other at a cheaper price than the seller could get off Craigslist. Sam Zell can't simply sell the Cubs to John Canning because they are friends. As a publicly traded company and/or as an ESOP, the Tribune has a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders to get the maximum value for the team.
There's a similar situation going on right now. For comparison, just look at ABN Amro's attempted sale of LaSalle National Bank to Bank of America. There is an ongoing shareholder lawsuit that has questioned if ABN was getting maximum value for LaSalle. This is holding up a billion dollar transaction.
Now, imagine if Zell, Bud Selig and Jerry Reisndorf (as the local kingmaker and senior partner overseeing Sam Zell's ownership stake in the White Sox) want to sell to Canning in a sweetheart deal – Slightly lower cost because of the ease of getting Canning approved as a buy by Major League Baseball. Now, let's say that Cuban goes public with his bid amount and his bid is worth more than a Canning's. Wouldn't Trib shareholders have the same basis for a lawsuit against management as ABN shareholders?
I'm not saying Cuban will get the team. I'm saying: A) His involvement makes things very complicated for Selig; and B) Don't count him out just because Reinsdorf and Selig don't like him.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Looking to the Second 46.3%
There are plenty of reasons to be positive or negative on the Cubs' chances over the final 75 games of the season. The biggest reason that success will be unlikely is also the biggest reason to be bullish on the future: The coming sale of the Chicago Cubs.
The revisionist history being spilled out by John McDonough and his lackeys is disgusting. The Jacque Jones trade was nixed by Jim Hendry is the spin now. That means that the stories that the Commissioner's Office kiboshed it were wrong as were the stories that Owner Pro Tempore Sam Zell stopped the deal.
Well, the first story tends to have the most truth to it and what follows is all spin.
So, Sam Zell told the Trib that you are not spending next year's money this year. Not money that he won't be responsible for and will only reduce the profit from the sale.
What this means is that players who can be added to the 2007 Chicago Cub roster have to be either very cheap or in the walk year of their contract.
The pool of players who could be traded that fit that description is very limited.
While Milwaukee and St. Louis (who the Cubs are closer to in the standings than they are to the Brewers) will have the capability of adding nearly anyone, the Cubs will get looks at the Bobby Abreus and the Yorvit Torrealbas.
How much confidence does that inspire.
So, while 2007 remains a remote possibility, there is a larger fear. And that fear is that the sale drags out.
There are a lot of players who will be available this winter that a new owner could sign to make a splash. How does Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Tejada at short sound? How about Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter for center? Ken Griffey for right? These guys could all have new addresses next year. By December.
The sale better close by November 1 or 2008 could be lost as well. The final insult to the fans of Chicago from the Tribune would be a protracted sale. Get this thing done and let everyone move on. 2007 is already held hostage to the sale. Free 2008!
Saturday, July 07, 2007
It's been forever since the blog was active. Actually, there is a good reason for the darkness, but that will be coming news in a few days. While this writer has been busy learning markup languages, the Cubs have actually gotten smoking hot. And how they've done so has been rather shocking.
Despite subtracting from their offense via the deletion of Michael Barrett, the offense has improved. Over the last fifteen games, median runs scored is 5. That's up a full run from their season median of 4.
The pitching has also been spectacular. Median runs allowed is a obscene 2. This means that, in 53% of the Cubs last 15 games, the opponent has scored two or fewer runs. Hard to lose when a team is doing that.
All this has translated into a team that is over .500 and is actually challenging a Brewer team that is young, but extremely talented. How did a team that was left for dead in May recover in six weeks? Simple.
Lou Piniella said to Jim Hendry, "You're fired."
Remember that closed door meeting with Lou, Jim, and John McDonough? It certainly seems like Lou said, "Get rid of these guys or I'll start blabbing to the press that you guys are morons. See, I've got a three year contract compared to your two (Hendry) and your 'interim' thingy."
So, out goes Barrett. Jacque Jones couldn't be less popular than an sun lamp in Palm Springs. Cesar Izturis and his gold glove were transmuted into lead. Scott Eyre was given a mop needing the Scooter Libby treatment to get off the bench.
Lou has said that crappy play will not be allowed. If a guy can't play, he'll try someone else until he finds a guy who can.
Bravo. Instead of the Dusty Baker, "I need my horses" crap, we get the desire for change. We get rid of, "keep the faith" and get "baseball by scientific method."
There are still a lot of reasons why this team will likely not win any sort of post season birth, and we'll explore those over the All Star Break. But, for right now, this team is worth watching again. In July. For the first time since 2004.
That's something to be pleased about.
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