Thursday, July 23, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

Former major league player Jim Parque takes to the pages of the Sun Times today to discuss his use of performance enhancing drugs, specifically HGH. He tells a very personal, and likely a very common story:

I threw a slider, striking him out looking, but I felt a pop in my left shoulder. I returned to the dugout filled with adrenaline, but the fear of the unknown clouded my thoughts. I had sacrificed so much for my dreams -- no girls or partying in high school, a limited social life, sacrificing a normal life for the rigors of baseball -- and just like that, with one pitch, it was all gone.
With my career in jeopardy, I turned to performance-enhancing drugs, like some other players did. I never had needed them before, but with a shoulder that wouldn't heal, it was realistically the only thing I could turn to.

Work harder, you say? Take vitamins and get in better shape? Did it, and I was rewarded with pathetic Triple-A stats, a fastball now in the low 80s and an average high school curveball.

What Jim did, while unethical, was completely understandable. It was also not against the rules of Major League Baseball at the time.

But even if it was against the rules? So what? No one was harmed. He didn't commit a fraud on anyone. He used a medical option to try to repair a breakdown in his body. How is this different from Tommy John surgery? Why is taking a chemical solution perceived differently from a surgical solution?

Steroids hurt no one except, potentially, the user. And the user is potentially rewarded with millions of dollars for taking the risk. The fans are not harmed as they are only promised unscripted entertainment. The owners are not harmed as they get higher performing employees who can generate higher revenues. Perhaps one could argue that the record book is harmed by the performances of chemically enhanced players. But the record book is also "harmed" by the more effective surgical techniques of today compared to even the recent past.

But there is a greater point for Mr. Parque to understand. Other than a few media types and a few business owners who have a hypersensitive fear or liability, no one cares about performance enhancing drug use. In fact, the majority of us embrace it. Just look at all the hate fans are spewing at Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, right. There's no hate being spewed.

If you look at the players who have or have likely done steroids that are derided by fans, the derision is not drug driven. People don't hate Barry Bonds because he cheated, they hate him because he's a classless jerk. Sammy Sosa, had he not walked out on the team in 2004, could possibly have his dream of a bas relief of him engraved into the right field wall at Wrigley come true.

The extreme majority of fans don't care about steroids or how much you make from them. Just entertain us, that's all.

In fact, Major League Baseball, and all professional sports for that matter, could do everyone a huge service by announcing that they will un-ban all banned substances and that players can take anything they want so long as it is obtained legally.

Such a change would have saved Jim Parque the need to write 3,000 words in the Sun Times.

And don't even bother to bring up the trope of "we have to protect the kids." The "we" in that is the parents. It's up to the parents to teach their own kids what is acceptable and what isn't. If my kid follows Albert Pujols down the drug path, that's my issue, not Albert's.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's Lou Getting At?

Bruce Miles' game story of last night's snoozer in Philadelphia has an interesting observation and an interesting speculation:

Cubs batters failed to draw a walk as they managed just 5 hits while striking out 11 times.

Piniella had more to say to reporters after the game, perhaps even sending a message to general manager Jim Hendry.

"We're challenged offensively," Piniella said. "You don't score runs, you don't win no matter how good you pitch. I'll tell you what. We might need a couple of hitters at the (trade) deadline."

The lack of walks is all on Von Joshua, no? That could NEVER have happened under Gerald Perry, right?

But the "message" to Jim Hendry doesn't make much sense. Hendry may sign contracts worse than anything Tom Hicks ever authorized, and in greater volumes, but Hendry knows this team can't hit and he knows Bradley hasn't worked out. This feels more like Lou Piniella laying more ground work for him to retire at the end of the year.

"We were strapped for cash because of the ownership situation and unable to make the moves we needed to make. I'm too old and too tired to deal with this. The Cubs need some money back? Take my 2010 salary," Lou could say.

Given that next year's opening day outfield is nearly a lock to be Soriano in left, Fukudome in center and Bradley in left (unless he is on the DL), the opportunity to improve this team's offense is very narrow. It gets harder and harder to see why Lou would even want to come back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Score it 4 to 3 for $10 million

According to several published reports, Milton Bradley's contract was for two years with a 3rd year vesting if Bradley appeared in 75 games.

Well, with tonight's at bat, Milton has now appeared in 75 games. That means Milton's soft tapper to Chase Utley was worth $10 million. Actually, to be precise, Chan Ho Park's slider that Bradley took for a ball was worth $10 million.

Everything after that was free.

Or worthless.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

While the obsession with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing continues in full force, today is also the anniversary of another fun, far less famous event.

Twenty years ago tonight, the Cubs had just returned from a 7 game road swing through San Diego and Los Angeles. Waiting for them at Wrigley was the San Francisco Giants. While this game would be far less memorable than the five games the Cubs and Giants would play in the upcoming October, this game did have its moments.

To start, the Cubs slept walked through the first eight inning with only 4 hits. Paul Kilgus, in one of his "better" games, only gave up three runs. But, in the bottom of the ninth, against Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian, Mark Grace and Damon Barryhill recorded babc-to-back one out singles. Following a Lloyd McClendon pop out, Dwight Smith smacked a single to right scoring Grace. Future Cub (and Milton Bradley clone?) Candy Maldonado had a throwing error that allowed Berryhill and Smith to move up to second and third.

Curtis Wilkerson then laced an 0-2 pitch to left scoring Berryhill and Smith to tie the game.

It remained tied into the 11th. What follows is the full bottom of the 11th inning. What makes this so memorable is not the comeback as much as the shouting match Cubs manager Don Zimmer got into with a fan. All this guy was missing was his "It’s Gonna Happen" sign. The audio is clear on EXACTLY what Zim says to the guy. Keep watching after the Wilkerson at bat because the guy chirps again, and Zim lays into him. Again.

Also notable is that Tim McCarver, doing the broadcast with Al Michaels and Jim Palmer, is remarkably coherent. Although I’m not sure I agree with him that Ken Oberkfell didn’t need to be guarding the lines against Les Lancaster.

Enjoy the video.

Friday, July 17, 2009

And That's The Way He Died

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cool Site Of The Day

Nearly 40 years ago, a nearly 2 year old boy went to his dad's closet, grabbed one of his dad's ties, and wrapped it loosely around his own neck. The kid wanted to be very formal for what he was about to witness.

A few minutes later, Neil Armstrong took a small step off the footpad of the LEM.

Forty years ago tomorrow, that journey to the Sea of Tranquility began.

In honor and commemoration of Apollo 11, the John F. Kennedy Museum has created The site is self-described as a real time, interactive recreation of the Apollo 11 mission. Looks very cool.

And that now 41 year old kid won't have his tie on at 9:56 PM on the 20th.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why The Cubs Might Declare Bankruptcy

Upon arriving back in town from a sad, unexpected trip to California, news of the possibility of the Cubs making a Chapter 11 filing became front and center. Why would the Cubs do this?

Well, the main reason would be to allow the Cubs to break or revise certain contracts into which they have entered. Just look at GM's bankruptcy:

Once the world’s largest and most powerful automaker, new GM is now leaner, cleansed of massive debt and burdensome contracts that would have sunk it without federal loans.
Concessions made by the United Auto Workers union just before the company entered bankruptcy protection have brought GM’s labor costs down to where they are fully competitive with Toyota Motor Corp., Henderson said.

What contracts could the Cubs be trying to get out of?

Well, there are several that would be desirable. Alfonso Soriano's, Milton Bradley's and Aaron Miles's come to mind. Jim Hendry's wouldn't be bad to dump, either.

But, unfortunately, those aren't the contracts the Cubs are trying to get out of. Most likely the real reason is buried in paragraph 12 of a 15 paragraph article:

(T)he Cubs are a key Tribune Co. asset. And when the company was taken private in 2007, the company's subsidiaries, including the Cubs, provided a guarantee to its senior lenders. That guarantee connects the Cubs to Tribune Co.'s creditors.

What this means is, that in the event that the Tribune defaulted on debt obligations, the Trib's creditors would have access to the Cubs as a source of repayment for that debt. In more plain English, creditors could take the Cubs to help cover unpaid debts. Such a guarantee would not be canceled by a sale of the team.

Placing the Cubs through a bankruptcy would be a way to formally eliminate that guaranty. Once this occurs, no Trib creditor could argue in court that even a post-sale Cub franchise is still obligated to support ongoing Trib debt. The court would formally and legally eliminate the guaranty.

Sounds like a pretty smart move. For that one purpose. But letting a bankruptcy court get their mitts on a major league baseball trademark? The Chicago Cubs at the whim of a judge? Potentially very scary stuff.

Reader Aisle 424 reminds me of a fact that I was thinking about when I got the idea for this post but failed to include when I actually typed it.

Another contract that could possibly be canceled by the bankruptcy filing is the broadcast contract between WGN and the Cubs that was the subject of contention between the Ricketts and Same Zell a few weeks ago.

In actuality, this in not likely because the Cubs and the Trib could mutually cancel the contract without court assistance before the club is actually sold.

But, perhaps, having a court bless the contract termination is another benefit that the Ricketts (and Utay) would like to have to eliminate more potential post-sale SNAFUs.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

BREAKING: Zell's Pretty Smart

While good friend CCD over at Wax Paper Beer Cub talks some details on the Ricketts plan, Sam Zell quietly lined up a second buyer!

Tribune Co. has agreed to terms for the sale of the Chicago Cubs to a group led by private equity investor Marc Utay, giving the company two offers to submit to the bankruptcy court, two sources familiar with the sale process said on Tuesday.

On Monday, a source said the Ricketts family had agreed to terms for the purchase of the team for slightly less than the $900 million it offered in January.

One of the sources reporting the Utay group's deal said the new offer is "a higher price but less cash upfront" than the Ricketts bid.

"I don't think it's completely over yet," said the source, who asked not to be identified because the sale process is ongoing. "By the same token, Ricketts has a real edge here."

Very, very smart. One of the reasons that the court could reject the Ricketts bid is if the court determined that the value the Trib was receiving for the team was too low.

Zell has a ready answer for that. A higher bid, but with less cash up front. This makes a fascinating choice. Does the court take teh higher value, but place the debt holders at greater risk as there's actually less cash at closing to pay the debtors, or, does the court approve a plan that gives the debtors less cash on Day 1, but substantially more at day, say 1,825 (5 years).

If reader/counselor/friend theHawk is out there, would you care to comment?

The Ricketts are STILL not a lock to own the team yet!

Monday, July 06, 2009


Exactly 1,351 days ago, this blog mentioned that the sale of the Cubs was a real possibility. Let's see what Crain's said back then:

Tribune Co. CEO Dennis J. FitzSimons is considering selling assets to prop up his company's shares, and that's got some wondering if the Chicago Cubs could go on the block.

Investors expect Mr. FitzSimons' search for salable assets to focus on holdings not fundamental to the company's primary businesses of publishing and broadcasting.

Selling the Cubs "makes more sense now than it has in a while," says John Miller, a vice-president at Chicago-based Ariel Capital Management LLC, Tribune's fifth-largest shareholder. "They're trying to get the stock turned around, so they tried buying back their shares, and that didn't work. Now, they move on to non-core assets, like the Cubs."

Asset: Chicago Cubs (100% Tribune-owned)

Estimated sale value: $400 million to $550 million

Why sell? With Wrigley Field expansion set to begin and attendance at all-time highs, the team would fetch a premium. Tribune could demand long-term broadcast rights in any deal.

Why not? Tribune bought the team for $20.5 million in 1981, so the tax hit could be large. "They'd also be very wary of ever being in a position to bid for the Cubs' broadcast rights, no matter how far in the future it is," says Barrington Research Associates Inc. Analyst James Goss.

The names have changed, the reasons for the sale are very different, and, despite the economy, the price is nearly double what was predicted.

My comments? Just as true then as today:

All we need is some gasbag come in here and start screaming that Wrigley is too small with too few skyboxes. Next thing you know and the Cubs are playing in Barrington at ReMax Field.

Get your hopes up, but have them tempered by reality.

Despite what Dave Kaplan is saying, we have no idea if Tom Ricketts is the next John Henry or Dan Snyder. Living across the street from the ballpark is meaningless. Not meddling in baseball affairs beyond hiring the right president and GM is what this guy has to do.

The exit of the Trib is cause for celebration. The entrance of the Ricketts is cause for hope. It is NOT cause for a coronation.


Prove to us you are worthy and you'll have our support. Trust is earned, not gifted.

Is It Over?

Trib reporting that the Cubs sale process is over:

Tribune Co. has reached a deal to sell the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to the Ricketts family, a source familiar with matter said this morning.

The two sides finalized a sale agreement over the weekend and have forwarded the contract to Major League Baseball, the source said.

The deal must be approved by other baseball owners. With Tribune Co. operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the sale also will need court approval.

The source said the sales price is "close" to the $900 million bid the Ricketts family offered earlier this year that won an auction for the baseball team, stadium and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, a regional cable television sports network.

I wonder how "close" they got? My guess is somewhere between the $850 million the Ricketts said the team was worth post-"discovery" of the TV contract issue and the $900 million that they originally agreed.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Leading Off...

He's a little older than 13.Nice work by 27-year old Sam Fuld last night. That's the way to have a major league season debut. It's also the way to lead off. Many noticed this, including Bruce Miles with some not so veiled criticism of the guy Fuld replaced in the lineup:

Fuld also saw a total of 26 pitches in his 5 plate appearances, showing ideal patience for a leadoff hitter. That's something rarely seen in Soriano, whose batting average has plummeted to .230 after a miserable June in which he hit .198 and struck out 23 times while drawing 10 walks.

Soriano's on-base percentage, a vital statistic at the top of the order, has sunk to .296, the lowest of any of the Cubs' everyday players.

"I talked to (Soriano Tuesday) and told him about players around the league getting some time off and that it might have helped them," Piniella told reporters before the game. "I told him that's what I planned to do. So we'll see."

Give him another day off, Lou.

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