Category Archives: MLB

Cubs Add Pena…Good or Bad?

It’s a good time to be a first baseman in the city of Chicago.

Jim Hendry (right), along with Scott Boras (left) help to introduce the newest Cub, Carlos Pena.

Both sides of town needed to solidify the position, and both sides of town signed guys who can play the position. The White Sox signed Adam Dunn, who is an average fielder at best, and they also re-signed mainstay Paul Konerko. Konerko will no doubt get the lion’s share of time at first base.

The Cubs, on the other hand, signed free agent Carlos Pena late Tuesday night, in an effort to kill two birds with one stone. They got a first baseman, and they picked up the left-handed power hitter that eluded them for so long.

Pena is coming off a worse season than Aramis Ramirez, if that’s possible.  He hit .196 and had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .222.  The low BABIP suggests bad luck.  So basically him and Ramirez had nearly identical seasons.  That, of course, means that they’ll both have fantastic rebound seasons….right???


The Cubs signed him to a one year, $10 million deal.  At first, that seemed strange to me, but after taking a closer look, it might not be so strange after all.

Let’s say the Cubs surprise the world and contend for the division this upcoming season.  More than likely, Carlos Pena will have something to do with it.  He hit 28 homers last season.  Far from a career high, but he should relish Wrigley’s small-ish dimensions, not to mention the wind blowing out.  In this case, the signing is totally worth it, and Jim Hendry will have made a good investment.

Let’s say the Cubs, as expected, struggle, but Pena plays well.  July 31st rolls around, and someone is in need of a lefty power hitter.  Pena would most certainly be traded, and the Cubs could demand a high price for his services.  Can we say, all together now, major league ready pitching?

Finally, let’s say the Cubs suck, Pena plays well, but no trade can be worked out at the deadline.  Pena leaves as a free agent, and the Cubs pick up a draft pick in the process.

Maybe, just maybe, this deal can’t go wrong for the Cubs.  Then again, there’s a distinct possibility that it could go horribly wrong.

Pena is a phenomenal fielder as well.  He’s a Gold Glove winner, and he only made six errors at first in 142 games at the position last season.  A good fielder is what they needed, with Ramirez and Starlin Castro on the left side of the infield.  Both of those guys are known to uncork some wild throws from their positions, and someone who can dig balls out of the dirt is an incredible asset.

I think the jury is still out, and will be for some time.  It may even come back a hung jury.  I think, right now, the positives outweigh the negatives for the Cubs.  On one hand, it’s a lot of money to pay for another potential lame duck hitter in the middle of the lineup.  On the other hand, he can’t be much worse than last year at the plate, and he does bring good defense to the table.

Here’s what I want from Pena: .250 average, .375 OBP, 162 or fewer strikeouts, 35 or more homers, and 90 or more RBI.  Give me that, and I’ll give him my stamp of approval (not that it means anything).


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Lovie Had Better Grow Some Hair…

…on his face.

What's wrong with this picture?

The Bears are 3-0, the only NFC team that can say that.  There’s only two other teams in the entire league that can say that.  Say what you want about the Chiefs, but the Steelers certainly are legit, and they don’t even have their quarterback yet.

The key to the Bears’ season, whether they make a deep playoff run or not, has nothing to do with the Tampa 2, Jay Cutler, or Juilus Peppers.

Nope, it has nothing to do with Devin Hester returning punts, Tommie Harris being inactive, or Mike Martz’s 400-page playbook. Continue reading

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Filed under Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, White Sox

Mannywood Comes to Chicago…Should Sox Fans be Worried?

By Brady Stiff

At long last, Manny Ramirez is coming to the South Side.  This deal has been rumored for weeks now, basically since the trading deadline passed without the White Sox trading for Adam Dunn.  Instead of sending a prospect or two back to Los Angeles, the White Sox will pay the rest of Manny’s salary, close to $4 million.

Will the dreadlocks come East with Manny?

Some might view this waiver claim as a victory for the White Sox, some might say they should have stayed away from Manny, but we all can agree on one thing.  There’s probably going to be plenty of fireworks at US Cellular Field, whether it’s Manny hitting homers or Ozzie Guillen letting Manny have it.

The White Sox will definitely be the biggest story on the Chicago sports scene as they try to catch the Twins, and I think Manny can only help at this point.  They’ve needed a legitimate DH ever since the beginning of the season, and this gives them exactly that.  After not re-signing Jim Thome in the offseason, they were left with the likes of Mark Kotsay at DH.

We all know that Manny is next to useless in left field, or anywhere on defense for that matter, but many still consider him to be one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time.  While he’s only played in 66 games this season, he’s hitting .311, with an OBP of .405 and an OPS of .915, which is among the league leaders.

We all know that there was no way Manny was going to return to the Dodgers, especially with the McCourt situation.  They simply wouldn’t be able to pay him, no matter how justifiable or unjustifiable his salary demands will be.  I have my doubts about the White Sox being able to pay him either, but they’re probably more likely to be able to, if I had to pick between the two.

Think back to 2008, around the trade deadline.  Manny was extremely unhappy in Boston and he wasn’t keeping any secrets about it.  He gets traded to the Dodgers, and propels them all the way to the NLCS.  A revitalized Manny Ramirez took the Dodgers to the playoffs and quickly past the Cubs before losing to the eventual World Series Champion Phillies.  If the same sort of thing happens to the White Sox, their fans will be quick to forget Manny’s past transgressions.

What transgressions you ask?  Well, there was that steroids thing.  Manny was suspended for 50 games at the beginning of last season, and even though he denies everything, served his time without incident and all indications are that he’s been clean ever since.  Why shouldn’t Manny get a second chance?  Alex Rodriguez is an admitted steroid user, and has won a World Series.  As is Andy Pettite.

With US Cellular Field being a hitter’s ballpark, Manny Ramirez should thrive in his new environment, as long as he can get along with Ozzie, Kenny, and Jerry Reinsdorf.  I don’t think Reinsdorf will be an issue, since he’s the one who had to sign off on paying Manny’s salary.

Never did I think I’d see the day where I watched more White Sox baseball than Cubs baseball, but I  think that might be the case this fall.

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What a Day to Start Writing Again

By Brady Stiff

I’ve been meaning to get back to writing now for awhile.  Today’s a perfect day to do it I suppose.

Earlier this afternoon, Lou Piniella announced that he’ll be retiring at the end of this baseball season.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should put an end to any sort of speculation that Ryne Sandberg or someone else might be taking over for Sweet Lou in midseason.

Lou Piniella announced today that he will retire at season's end.

I would have totally disagreed with firing Piniella during the season.  Yes, the Cubs have underperformed to date, but Lou may be the least responsible party for those struggles.  I’ve said it time and time again, baseball is the most individual team sport there is.  While you can win and lose as a team, so many times games come down to one at-bat.  Pitcher versus hitter.  If that guy doesn’t get the job done, on either end of the equation, his teammates can’t do anything about it.

We’ve seen good things lately from the Cubs, as they’ve started to score a few more runs.  Why?  Aramis Ramirez.  His numbers have skyrocketed with the temperature at Wrigley, and it shows with the Cubs’ newfound offensive production.  To win, you must have your middle-of-the-order guys hitting, and Lee and Ramirez have struggled all year.  If you add their batting averages together, you wouldn’t even get .500.

Speaking of Lee, he’s had a fine July as well, hitting just under .300 and raising his overall average to .244.

Back to Piniella, he’s done plenty of things to try to get this thing turned around.  He’s shaken up the lineup, played the kids, tried to be aggressive…everything but the kitchen sink.  The team always ends up shooting themselves in the foot with bad defense or a lack of clutch hitting.  It’s not Piniella’s fault.

Making the announcement now gives the Cubs plenty of time to figure out who his replacement might be.  Will it be Ryne Sandberg?  Bob Brenly?  Joe Girardi?  Your guess is as good as mine right now, but I do have a preference.

Some might say that making Ryne Sandberg the manager would be just a PR move, but I think it would be the wise thing to do.  Yes, that means letting Joe Girardi, the former Cub and World Series-winning manager sign with someone else.  Yes, that means letting Tony LaRussa re-sign with the Cardinals or someone else.  Ryne Sandberg is the right man for the job.

But he has no Major League experience, you say?  You would be correct.  But he’s been managing in the Cubs’ farm system for four years now.  He spent 2007-2008 at Single A Peoria, spent ’09 at the helm of the Cubs’ AA affiliate, and is currently at Triple A Iowa.  He took Peoria to the Championship Game in his first season there, and he’s currently got the Iowa Cubs tied for first in their division.

He’s managed several of the young Cubs, like Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, along with more guys who could come up and play with the big club in September.

The Cubs have a great chance to get it right if they hire Ryno

My biggest reason for saying the Cubs need Ryne Sandberg is this:  They’re not ready to win now, and neither is Ryne Sandberg.  The Cubs are a team full of veterans and a few young kids.  The veterans’ contracts are expiring (at least some of them are), and I think they’ll let the free agents (Lilly and Lee) walk, rather than spend more money to keep them.  The Cubs’ farm system keeps improving, and I think Ryne Sandberg’s knowledge of the players would serve him well.

As a Cubs fan, I’d be content to let Sandberg take control, even if it means the team isn’t a legitimate contender for two or three years.  He’s going to get a Major League managerial job anyways, so it might as well be with the Cubs.  Give him time to grow with the young players on the roster, and help him turn the Cubs into a perennial contender that the fans deserve.

I’m resigned to the fact that the Cubs probably won’t win this year, though it would be nice to send Lou out as a winner.  I think it’s the right call to let him finish the season, and I think they have a chance to get it right if they hire Ryne Sandberg.

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Is the “C” Overrated?

My friends and I frequently get into sports debates that sometimes go on all night.  They’re not always about which team is better, or which player will score the most points.  They’re about things like the best sports movies of all time, whether Barrett or Pierzynski was out of line in 2006, and this one last night:

Is being the Captain of a hockey team overrated?

Before I get into the technicalities of being the Captain, I’ll compare it with other sports.

Jonathan Toews is one of the youngest Captains in the NHL, but is being a Captain overrated?

On our original site, I wrote a blog about respecting Derek Jeter despite hating the Yankees.  In it, I talked about how Derek always represents the Yankees in a good light, he sticks up for his teammates, etc.  Baseball in general doesn’t have a designated Captain on every team like hockey does.  Only a couple guys in recent memory have been recognized as a Captain.  Jeter, Jason Varitek with the Red Sox, and even Sammy Sosa wore a “C” on his Cubs jersey for awhile.

While captains in baseball are more of a rarity, I think they are nothing more than a rip-off of the NHL.  Naming a player on a baseball team Captain is nothing more than a novelty.

In basketball, the captains serve a little more of a purpose.  They meet with the officials for a pregame conference, and are expected to be the liason between the officials and the teams on the floor.  The captains are expected to be the even-headed players, and are expected to keep their teammates in line.  Each team may do something different, whether it’s voting on team captains or having the coach pick a captain, but captains do mean a little more in basketball.

In football, the captains go out for the coin toss, and after that, they’re not needed anymore. 

In hockey, the Captain is so much more than a figurehead on the ice.  The Captain is responsible for speaking with the officials about on-ice rules interpretations.  They’re responsible for representing the organization off the ice.  They serve as the liason between the players and management.  Maybe most importantly, they serve as the recipients of on-ice awards…like the Stanley Cup.

Think about all the awards presentations.  If I remember correctly, the head coach or manager is usually the one to accept a championship trophy.  But in hockey it’s the Captain who accepts the Stanley Cup. 

But is being named the Captain of a hockey team overrated?  I don’t think so.  Is it watered down because every team has one?  Again, I don’t think so. 

Maybe it’s just because hockey is steeped in tradition, but the concept of a Captain has held on through the decades.  It’s not always the best player on the team that’s named Captain, either.  Take the Blackhawks, for example.  Some would argue that Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa might be more talented than Jonathan Toews, but it’s Toews who wears the “C”. 

NHL teams are not required by any means to name a Captain.  For 11 seasons of their storied history, the Blackhawks did not have a Captain, including five years in a row from the 1970-71 season through the 74-75 seasons.

The fact that hockey players have to earn their captaincy makes being a hockey captain that much more special, in my opinion.  I think hockey captains mean more to their teams than any other captain, and it should continue to be revered as a great hockey tradition.

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Stealing Signs? OK in My Book.

….with a caveat of course.

No binoculars allowed!

You’d think the Phillies, a Major League Baseball team, could come up with a more creative way to steal pitch signs.  They were caught red-handed last week in a game against the Rockies when a member of the Phillies’ coaching staff was seen on camera peering through binoculars towards home plate.  Shane Victorino was seen on the dugout phone at the same time.

The Phillies claim that Mick Billmeyer, bullpen coach, was watching Carlos Ruiz catch with the binoculars.  Problem is, the Phillies were batting in the top of the second when Billmeyer was caught on camera, making it impossible for Carlos Ruiz to be doing the catching.


Mick Billmeyer, Phillies' bullpen coach, is caught on camera using binoculars, presumably to steal the Rockies' signs (Associated Press)

Apparently, the Rockies aren’t the first team to have concerns about the Phillies’ tactics.  According to this New York Times article, the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets have all expressed concern.

There’s that old expression that goes something like “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire”.  I think that definitely applies here, especially if they’re dumb enough to get caught like that.  Like I said earlier, you’d think Major Leaguers would know how to steal signs.

Stealing signs is without a doubt a big part of baseball, at any level.  My attitude towards it has always been that if a team is not complicated enough with their signs, or at least changing them on a consistent basis, then they’re asking for trouble.

From the NY Times article, “Players, managers and coaches are allowed to try to steal signals, but they cannot use cameras, binoculars or any method beyond their eyes to do so.”

So like I said, it’s part of the game.  But there are some unwritten rules of the game that deal with sign stealing.  Don’t steal signs before high school.  Even the most competitive of travel teams should still be playing for fun.

  1. You don’t look back at the catcher when you’re batting.  This is maybe the biggest no-no in the game.
  2. You don’t use anything more than the naked eye to steal signs.  It’s against the rules anyway.
  3. If you’re on second base, don’t make it obvious that you’re stealing signs.  This is why catchers go through a long series of signs when a runner is on second.

If you get caught doing any of the above, expect the next pitch to crack you in the ribs.

Of course, there’s a right way to do it.  My sophomore year of high school, I broke my jaw sliding into second base.  I was done for the season, but I still wanted to help the team.  I was coaching first base one day and I noticed I could see the catcher’s signs.  I came up with a way to notify the batter, but then they realized I could see.

I then started looking at the coach’s signals, and figured those out.  I tried to get every team’s signs for the rest of my high school career.

It took one team, our archrival, two and a half years to figure out that I had their signs.  They never changed, and by the time they figured out that I was stealing their signs, we were beating them by seven runs in the Regional Championship game.  It was actually kind of funny to see how frustrated they got.

Some guys don’t want to know what pitch is coming, but most do.  Not to gloat, but my teammates hit several home runs because they knew what pitch was coming, and they thanked me for it.

So, next time your favorite team is up by six or seven runs, you might wonder if they know the other team’s signs.

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Mariners Setting Dangerous Precedent

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Ken Griffey, Jr. was asleep in the clubhouse when a pinch hit opportunity arose over the weekend.

Two anonymous Mariners ratted him out to Larry LaRue, the Mariners’ beat writer from the Tacoma News Tribune.  LaRue then blogged about it, and it’s sparked a little bit of controversy since.

The news, however, isn’t that Griffey slept through an opportunity to get in the game.  The news centers around LaRue.  As any journalist will tell you, that’s the last thing they want.

Junior Griffey's sweet swing is missing from Seattle these days.

The Mariners are now apparently refusing to talk when LaRue is around.  Cliff Lee went out of his way to stop his press conference last night after realizing LaRue was in the room, and other Mariners followed suit.

Are the Mariners out of line when they don’t talk to LaRue?  I think so.  It’s a stark reality that players have to face the journalists who have written something negative about them all the time.  There’s being professional and taking the high road, and then there’s doing what the Mariners did. Continue reading

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