The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Friday, January 23, 2004

Death in the family

Doyle Rodgers of Smyrna, Georgia passed away Wednesday. If you watched the Braves back in the early days of Superstation 17, you may know him as the Wolfman. Ever since I was a baby, I would see the Wolfman (later joined by his daughter Donna) shilling furniture on Braves games and all sorts of other random local programming. Each commercial would feature the Wolfman, usually with some corny prop or absurdly fake backdrop, encouraging you in his stilted delivery to shop at Gallery Furniture ("2511 Roosevelt Highway in College Park and 1600 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville") and Hey- Ask for the Wolfman! In later years, the Wolfman and Donna would joust back and forth. "Ask for the Wolfman!" "No, ask for Donna!" Touche.

I drove down around midnight last night and left some flowers in front of the door to the College Park store. I have no idea if the Wolfman and/or Donna are good people, although in my mind they are good natured and funny like they are on my TV. I also don't know why I miss the Wolfman so much. I guess I just appreciate people who are there for me, especially at the good times like watching baseball. The local rag reprinted a profile of the Wolfman from a few years ago. Its worth checking out even if you never saw the commercials, just for the stuff on the relationship between the Wolfman and Ted Turner back in their respective early days.

Thanks for 26 great years, Wolfman. You'll be missed.

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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Deja Vu all over again

I usually don't take the time to talk about other sports on this blog, but I have an actual rooting interest in the AFC championship this weekend. I grew up about an hour north of Indianapolis, my wife is from an eastern suburb of Indianapolis, and the University of Tennesse is one of my alma maters. That gives me a few good reasons to root for the Colts this weekend. I have actually liked , well, as much as I can like a football team which is no where near as much as I like baseball teams, the Colts since they U-Hauled to Indy in the dark of night seasons ago.

Peyton Manning has been on absolute fire in the first two playoff games, but I have the feeling they will fall short this weekend. First of all, New England is a damn good team and they are playing at home. Second, it will be cold and Peyton is a southern guy who now plays in a dome. I worry about his ability to adjust to the frigid temperatures. Lastly - and most importantly - this has too much of a Cub feel to me.

The Cubs had not won a playoff series since 1908 before knocking off Atlanta in the divisional series. Peyton had not won a playoff game in his life before downing the Broncos. To top it off Peyton also won a road playoff game the following week. The Cubs faded one step away from the promised land when vistory almost seemed assured. I just hope the same thing does not happen to the Colts this weekend.

Granted, the one big difference in these scenerios is that the Cubs were higher ranked and supposed to beat the Marlins. I have not seen a Vegas line, but I imagine the Colts are dogs in the game. Maybe being the underdog will serve them well. Tampa Bay won on the road last season to get to the big game. Come to think of it, the Ravens and the Patriots both won road conference championship games on their way to Super Bowl championships. Maybe I am overreacting here.

I guess that is the point. As a Cub fan, I tend to invent ways for the teams I like to lose rather than believing they are the best. Do other Cub fans live like this? I have not had a team I root for win a championship since the 1987 Hoosiers (and we won't even begin to discuss how bad the Hoosiers are this season). Am I like one of those girls who spends all evening watching a movie with the "nice guy" only to be called at 2:00 in the morning and persuaded to come visit an ex-boyfriend and bring his child into the world 9 months later? Many times I wonder why I (or people) in general put up with the crappy disappointment of lousy sports teams. Why they live in a world where they dream up reasons their teams will not win rather than being certain in victory. Maybe being a bandwagon fan has its advantages - well, besides the selling your soul part.

Here is to a Colts win this weekend and it starting a personl turnaround on the luck of my favorite sports teams.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

24 is starting to get good again

I have not posted much about 24 this season mainly because I have not written much about anything lately and the first couple episodes of the season made me think that Kiefer and crew were jumping the shark one hour at a time. The things that made the show so great in seasons 1 and 2 were becoming comical at the beginning of this season. How many times can 1 or 2 seconds be the difference between life and death for Jack Bauer? How many times can CTU be 1 or 2 seconds away from reaching Jack? How many times can Kim be mauled by a cougar? Ok, I made the last one up. Point being that instead of having genuine suspense driven by a good story, they went for cheap ploys on Jack's life. It is sort of like trotting out old players during the All Star game. When Ted Williams came out it was magical. After that it was just a hokey event designed to make moments happen rather then letting them moments happen. As an aside, this is one of my pet peeves with sport lately. Games start 30 minutes later than they should because networks are busy trying to create goosebumps.

Well, I am happy to say that the tide is turning. After breaking the bad guy out of prison, it was revealed that Jack was getting back into the graces of the bad guys in order to intercept a deadly virus. Nice little twist although some of the earlier actions of the characters (like why did Tony get shot when he knew the plan) will have to be explained. Possibly, I just missed some of the finer points and they will come out with a second viewing. Anyway, Jack went to purchase the virus and the show's most famous mole and the murderer of Jack's wife, Nina, showed up and took it away. The big question now is who is she working for, could it be the mastermind behind season 2, could it be an extension of the first season's plot or both. I am not sure yet. One thing for certain is that I am excited about watching the show again.

Vote for the best Cubs blog

Over at The View from the Bleachers there is a vote for the best Cubs blog. I am happy and humbled to say that we made it to the finals. Make sure to go over there and not only read a good blog, but put in your vote for the best among the Cubs blog army. Feel free to put a vote in for the ol' Northside Lounge (I figure we should be four since both Scott and I's fathers read this site....I think my dad still reads it).

There are a lot of quality Cubs blogs out there. Unfortunately, I only have a sampling of them on our side bar. I need to catch up with all the links. If I have not posted your link yet, it is not due to spite or lack of respect, it is probably because I spend more time reading about poker during the offseason than the Cubs. All you other bloggers out there, feel free to drop me a line and I will get a link up.

Final word on Rose

One of the annoying things about living in Cincinnati is that I get about triple the Pete Rose coverage as the rest of the country. I am sick of the story. I have made my opinion here known a few times about Charlie Hustle, so there is no need to rehash those words. One thing I will say for sure, Pete is in trouble in regards to getting on the writer's ballot for the Hall of Fame. Bud Selig is basically a media whore and I am sure he thought that Pete would make his confession, people would be forgiving, he could put him back into the game like the majority of people wanted, and he could ride off into the sunset with some form of legacy. The only problem was he bet on Pete being able to pull off the apology.

After the news broke, all of the writers who once said a confession was necessary for Pete to be in the Hall switched gears faster than a Rose bet when he learned a pitcher had back problems. They came out saying Pete was not contrite enough, was only doing this for the money, was not trustworthy since he had been untruthful for years (how they did not know this before is beyond me). Popular opinion might have actually shifted against Rose. This means that there is no way Selig puts him back in baseball because he now has nothing to gain. I might be far off in regards to Selig's motives, but I don't think so. Time will tell.

Finally, I will leave the true final word about Rose to my wife. I had on the Primetime interview and she noticed that his collar had the number 14 on it. "That is kind of stupid looking having your number on your shirt. That is like the guy who wears his high school letter jacket at college." Good call.

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Monday, January 12, 2004

In Roger we trust, if we are really gullible

Roger Clemens, a man who has made a career out of leaving teams in the lurch, left a team in the lurch today as he signed a one year deal with the Houston Astros. I wonder if he will demand an Astros cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. I suppose Clemens has the right to sign with whomever he wants and I obviously shed no tears for the Yankees, but I will say that this will make it even easier to root for his failure than it otherwise would be. Sadly, that failure is no sure thing. He made 33 starts last year and struck out over eight batters per nine innings. Only two pitchers in baseball struck out more in at least as many starts.

Meanwhile, the Cubs stand still. They've made moves- Hawkins, Floyd, Walker, Barrett- but only around the periphery. There hasn't been one bold move that turned a weakness into a strength, and time is growing short. I don't want to be writing epitaphs so early, but so far this is looking like offseasons after past Cub playoff runs. Let's hope I am wrong.

In other news, the revenue continues to pour in for the Trib. The Sun-Times and both report that the Cubs have reached a deal that will net them some $2M a year from the folks sitting out on the rooftops. When the team first said they would be erecting barriers to prevent the rooftops from "stealing" their product, I said the only thing that made sense was to share the revenue rather than throw up barriers and kill the goose laying the golden eggs. Score one for me!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Safe at home

I have gone to Times Square for New Year's Eve and lived to tell about it. Actually, I have gone about nine blocks north of Times Square for New Year's Eve, but I could see a tiny little ball descending a mile or so down Seventh Avenue and I was ahead of a few hundred thousand other folks so I say it counts. I have called Atlanta home since the day I was born and I love it here, but every time I visit New York City I find myself pondering Whether I can find a way to live there permanently. Manhattan is alive in a way I've never seen anywhere else and maybe one day I can live it for more than a few days at a time.

While I was gone, Pete Rose has shocked the world by admitting that he not only bet on baseball but the Reds as well. There are few subjects I am less capable of objectivity on than Rose. I have read extensively about him and his gambling problems, and his behavior over the years infuriates me to the point that I can't understand why anyone would ever defend him.

I am pleased to see that some writers including the crazy old man himself have finally been pushed over the edge by this latest ugly episode of the Jerry Springer show that is Pete Rose's life. It is for the best for baseball, the Hall, and my blood pressure that they choose to not vote Rose in. Still, I find myself wondering why this was the straw that broke the camel's back for people. Rejecting Rose because he broke rule 21-d is a perfectly rational argument. Rejecting him because you don't like the nature of his apology is just silly. Politics make strange bedfellows, so I'll accept the 'nay' votes of these misguided sportswriters, but I still wish they were doing it for the right reason.

Footnote Hall-of-Famers
On a trivial side note, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor were elected to the Hall of Fame the other day. I don't object to either one I don't see either as an inner-circle Hall of Famer either. As you probably know, Ryne Sandberg narrowly missed election with 309 of 506 votes, 71 short of the cutoff. Sandberg was the best second baseman in baseball both with the bat and with the glove in his decade of prominence. He won nine gold gloves at one of the toughest defensive positions, even as he put up a career 114 OPS+ and six seasons over 130. I think he is an easy choice, but they've been screwing an even better Cub in Santo for decades so this shouldn't come as a total shock. Hopefully they rectify both situations as soon as possible.

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Monday, January 05, 2004

Prominent doctor admits guilt - looks forward to practicing again

Dateline: Salem, Oregon

Leading cancer researcher Dr. Edward Tulip admitted after 14 years that he did indeed remove cancerous tumors from patients while drunk. Even though Tulip professed his innocence over and over again in the press and to personal friends - he signed an agreement years ago to avoid prosecution on the condition he stopped practicing medicine. Admitting his past wrong doing looks to be the first step in the process towards letting Dr. Tulip practice medicine again in the United States. More importantly, the leading researcher on colon cancer could be eligible for a Colon Researchers Hall of Merit (CRHOM) for his work. Leading experts have agreed for years that Dr. Tulip deserved the recognition on the merits of his work, but he remained ineligible due to the rules of the CRHOM body which states that all doctors must have a working license in order to receive enshrinement.

This looks to fire up, once again, one of the most hotly debated issues in America over the last 10 years. Citizens have been split on the fate of Tulip since his initial banishment. Todd Slavinsky states, "Look at that Freud guy, he did a lot of cocaine in his lifetime and he was given awards based on his body of work. When judging science, consideration should be given only to their work on the playing fields of the mind." Mario Lanza strongly disagrees with this statement. "It is quite a simple issue really, you have to have a license to get enshrinement, Tulip lost his license due to the incident, so he should not get to be honored." Most Americans feel that a compromise could be in order where Dr. Tulip receives his recognition but is never allowed to practice medicine again.

The reported drunken surgery is not the only mark on Dr Tulip's record. He served three months in a half way house for tax evasion. The IRS found him guilty of not recording thousands of dollars he received in federal grant money to conduct his research.

The case against Tulip looked to be an open and shut case. Special prosecutor Charles Porter put together a famous Porter Report outlining the events of those fateful surgeries in striking detail. In addition to wire and phone taps, he interviewed friends of Tulip who saw him drinking at the bar before surgery and vomiting after completion of the procedures. Opponents of the Porter Report point out that these friends had grudges against Tulip since they were not as good in their fields. One of the eye witnesses also confessed only to have accounts of academic fraud stricken from his record in return. "Regardless of the motives or records of these men, their testimony is accurate and damning to Dr. Tulip", said Porter in an 1992 NOVA interview.

Many wonder why after 14 years is Tulip so ready to admit his guilt. Cynics within the field of medical research think they have the answer. "Just look at the growth of neuro and cardio science in the last 20 years. Colon study is no longer the favorite past time of med students. Dr. Herbert Giles (commissioner of the American Society for Specializing in the Care and Treatment of Colon Cancer - ASSCATCC) realizes he needs a little boost in the field. On Tuesday they will announce the researchers into the HOM and then on Thursday he can announce that Tulip can practice again paving his way for recognition next year. If anyone needs good publicity, it is those guys", stated Dr. Jennifer Ault. Ault is of course referring to the labor relations between colon specialists and hospitals in the last 20 years.

In a statement to be released on Thursday yet leaked to the media Dr. Tulip answered the question on many minds. "Why did I wait this long. Well, I felt that the punishment and the crime did not fit in this instance and proclaiming my guilt would not have helped me earlier. Also, I just feel the need is here to wipe the slate clean. Oh yeah, I am also truly sorry and stuff." It is probably no coincidence that if Dr. Giles allowed Dr. Tulip to practice medicine again he would go on the CRHOM ballot one year before he would be taken off forever since his groundbreaking work was published 20 years ago. If he is not elected next year, then his only means to get the prize would be through the former winners. This route would be much harder for him.

Although he does have advocates among the living CRHOM members. Dr. Jack Morgan, one of Dr. Tulip's partners in a 1980 Philadelphia research clinic, has been one the his greatest allies over the years. Some insiders claim that he one man who has been pressing Dr. Giles the most for his reinstatement. Even if the reinstatement is a certainty (as it appears now and was reported by the website over the summer), some will argue that Tulip is not a clear cut CRHOM member as some claim. "He basically had three or four years of great research and then hung around toward the end of his career until something worked. I would call him an ordinary scientist for a extraordinary amount of time," said CRHOM researcher Ronald Steffens. In the end though, that argument does not hold up to scrutiny.

Regardless of the fate of Dr. Tulip one thing is certain, he is ready to throw himself on the American people. "I am truly sorry for the things I have done in the past. I realized I have lied to you for years - but now, I am admitting my wrong doings and hopefully we can all move on. By the way I also looked at a classmates' answer during a math test in 6th grade, jaywalked in New York City, clubbed a man just to watch him bleed, and defaulted on my student loans. For all of those things I am truly sorry. I hope you all can believe me." After making his confession to the waiting public on Thursday night, it is thought that Dr. Tulip will apply once again to be the head of colon surgery in his hometown of Salem.

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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Lightning in a bottle

As time leaves the year 2003 in the rear view mirror and heads into 2004, the Cubs have the making sof a very good team. The major questions at this point are 1.) Will the pitching be as dominant as last season and avoid the injury bug 2.) Will the bullpen be better down the stretch and 3.) Will the offense be better. Questions 1 and 2 are for another time. A big determining factor into question #3 will be if Hendry can catch some lightning in a bottle in regards to catcher Michael Barrett.

Using the insanely useful Baseball Reference Website I found the 10 most comparable matches to Barrett's offensive production through the seasonal age of 26. The collection of batsmen will never be confused with the '27 Yankees or even the '90 Yankees, but it does contain some interesting names. Included are Charlie Moore, Orlando Cabrera, Greg Gagne, Ray Fosse, John Grim, Joe Garagiola, Shawon Dunston, Bruce edwards, John Edwards and Milt May.

I thought it would be interesting to see what these comparable batters to age 26 did in their age 27 season. It might give us a glimpse into what to expect from Barrett. If this sounds like a familiar thought, well it is. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA does about the same thing except they use a different similarity measure for batters and more than ten comparable players. I am not going to argue that this way is better - because it isn't, but given BP is not out yet, this is a fun little exercise.

After crunching the numbers, I was surprised to see the aggregate performance of these 10 men actually decrease from age 26 to 27. Their combined line (BA/OBP/SLG) was .268/.316/.401 at 26 compared to .253/.302/.393 at 27. Of course with only 10 men this exercise is subject to outliers. Ray Fosse's performance fell off the face of the earth later in his 20s due to a collision with Pete Rose- you (and Pete probably did) can bet on that being true.

One thing about Barrett's skill set that makes me hopeful he can overcome this slide is his walk rate. The last two seasons, he has been near or slightly above the league average in walk rate (10% in '02 and 9% in '03). A lot of the guys on his comp list were absolute hacks. Pitchers probably noticed this and started to get them out on junk making their early seasons the most successful.

Also, last season a ridiculously low percentage of Barrett's balls hit into play (21%) became hits. Ron Shandler and his crew hypothesize that batter hit rates will not regress to league average like pitchers (see Voros McCracken's work on DIPS all over the 'net for more information) rather they will regress to the individual batter's established performance. Barrett's previous hit rates were 31%, 28%, 27% and 29%, so he should get some more balls to fall in play.

Looking at a limited number of comparable players brought forth a mixed bag of results for Michael Barrett. On average, the 10 selected batter actually had a decrease in performance from age 26 to 27. Looking further into numbers produced a reasonable assumption as to why this happened - lack of plate discipline. Barrett's recent league average walk rates mean he might be adjusting to pitchers better than his matches. All in all, I still think this is a good low risk move for the Cubs. I feel that being healthy and getting some balls to fall will make Barrett more productive than he was last season - even if the odds are not in his favor.

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