The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Tuesday, March 30, 2004
 

Darkest before dawn

Mark Prior and elbow are not two words I want to see in the same opening sentence of a news story, thank you very much. I am edging toward the doom and gloom camp, as each new day seems to bring a news story thats one shade gloomier than the day prior (sorry). Surely, surely the Cubs learned from screwing around with Kerry Wood's arm for nine months before taking decisive action, right? Right??

I'll repeat what I said the other day. We can win without Prior for April. We can't win without him for the whole year. Please, please let's not take chances to try to save face. Do whatever it is that needs to be done and get this resolved. Better yet, get in a time machine to last November 1 and get to work on it then.


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Yankees mired in last place


The '04 baseball season started this morning with the upstart D-Rays taking down the $180 million Yankees from Japan. This leads to me a rant on a couple of really dumb ideas. First dumb idea is starting the season a week early in a foreign country. Why is this being done again? Oh yeah, we have to promote baseball around the world. Novel idea Bud, but why don't we worry about promoting the game in the states first?


Baseball had fantastic post-season ratings last season (in no small part due to the success of the Cubs and the Red Sox), but for the last decade baseball is losing its fanbase to the NFL, NASCAR, NBA and college athletics. As much as I would like to claim baseball is still the national pastime, I cannot since the NFL has blown by it. Pundits will claim that the slow nature of baseball - well in their mind slow - lead to its demise to faster pace sports. I say it is because the execs at MLB could not market themselves to save their own lives.


The owners constantly tell the media how the "system" does not work and they need revenue sharing, salary caps, and other artificial means to reduce their costs and raise their profits. The NFL is touted as being a level playing field where a team can come out of nowhere and win the championship. Well, most analysts certainly did not predict the Marlins and Angels to win the World Series in the last two seasons.


Now, in the face of spineless leadership, perceived small market/big market divide and steroid accusations two teams ended spring training early, flew half way across the world for promotion. I just think they should do a better job of marketing in the US first. Of course, Bud probably has a plan and an agenda for these globe trotting missions. In fact, I expect him to request a new stadium with luxury boxes to be built in downtown Tokyo any day now or they may not come back next season. Why should they anyway, the Yankees will just win due to their massive salary - right Bud?

The return of 24


Longtime Lounge readers know that I am a fan of the show 24 on the Fox network. I have not written as much about them recently. This is because the show took 5 weeks off. Yes, you read right, 5 weeks. Now, there is a genius idea. Have a show that depends heavily on recalling what happened in previous episodes and keep it off the air for over a month. This show is so complex that people who have not seen seasons 1 or 2 would not be able to follow this season, but they decided to kill the show's momentum and air American Idol for a month. I would try to do a quick recap, but I frankly forget what is happening. Will Palmer become President, is he already, will the bomb go off, will Kim get eaten by a cougar? Who knows? Man, once I run the world, it will start to make more sense.

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Sunday, March 28, 2004
 

Georgia Tech to the Final Four!

At about 4:40 this afternoon, Keith Langford made two free throws to give Kansas a two-point lead in overtime in front of a dome full of vocal Jayhawk supporters. A half hour later I was riding through Georgia Tech's East Campus as horns honked all around us and bottle rockets wizzed over our heads. I can't say its as good as seeing the Cubs marching to the World Series, but its still a helluva fine feeling.

Tech will next face a battle-tested Oklahoma State that is coming off wins over 3 seed Pitt and 1 seed St. Joe's in the East regional. The game will pit Jeff Sagarin's #3 and #5 teams in the nation (#1 and #4 will meet on the other semifinal). I am trying to arrange a Miami-esque mad highway dash to get to the Alamodome, but whether I watch in person or on TV I know Coach Hewitt will get a great effort out of our guys.

To hell with Georgia!


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Rough sledding

Mr. Reliable is reporting that nobody can diagnose Mark Prior's Achilles issue or hazard a decent guess as to when he may return. As frustrating as this is, I don't see a reason to panic. Even if Prior misses a month or so, its unlikely to cost us more than a game or two in the standings. That's not something that will alone doom this team's chances. What is really important to me is getting him back at full strength, even if it takes a while.

Meanwhile, Jim Hendry sent Juan Cruz and Steve Smyth for Braves pitchers Andy Pratt and minor league second baseman Richard Lewis. I don't see the logic behind this one at all. Even if you are dissapointed with Cruz not developing into Curt Schilling just yet, there's still no reason to trade him for a guy with no speed on his fastball and no control with anything else. Considering that we are scrambling around for a fifth starter at the moment, its even more curious. Its not like he has collapsed. The Trib article cites his career 4.43 ERA as evidence that he has "slipped." Since the league average ERA over those three years was 4.24, that doesn't exactly strike me as a reason to give up on someone.

Finally, Georgia Tech faces Kansas for a trip to the Final Four in about an hour, with leading scorer B. J. Elder prepping for his Willis Reed moment. I have been watching the talking heads unanimously predict a win for mighty Kansas (the fourth seed in case anyone forgot). This despite their 1-5 record against top thirty teams this year. I suppose I shouldn't get irritated about a lack of respect from the media since it will all be decided on the floor. Let's just hope Tech can overcome the loss of Elder and the home court advantage the comittee gifted Kansas with and book a trip to San Antonio. To Hell with Georgia!


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Sunday, March 21, 2004
 

Excitement

ITEM- Georgia Tech to the Sweet Sixteen
The Jackets edged Boston College 57-54 today. Thanks to Jarrett Jack and some help from Nevada and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, we're now the top seed remaining in the Midwest region. When you think about it, I am awfully lucky to have such a successful alma mater. After all, I could be like some folks who are actually proud to have an alma mater named after some general and expansionist who couldn't even win the Democratic nomination in 1844. Sometimes they even link to them on their blogs. Go ahead, check the Misc. Sites section on the left. I'll wait.

ITEM-Roll Tide!
This isn't the only Cubs blog loving March Madness. Friend Of Our Lounge Chris Yarbrough spent the weekend in Seattle watching his Crimson Tide take out #1 seeded Stanford. Is it possible to have a more exciting sports year than Chris has had? A few months ago we were at Turner Field and Joe Robbie Stadium watching the Cubs in the playoffs together. Now he is arranging a flight to Arizona for the Sweet Sixteen and a little HoHoKam Park trip on the side. He's posting a writeup on his wild weekend in Washington tonight, and that's his byline on the news story linked above too. Good times...

ITEM- Scott tries to get respectable
I've got to be perfectly honest- sports aside, the most exciting thing I've got going on right now is an attempt to buy a house. I've found one I'm going to try to make an offer on this week and since its about 40 times as expensive as anything else I've bought in my entire life, its freaking me out a little bit. If you've got any tips that you wish you had known as a first-time home buyer, let me know. If not, wish me luck.

ITEM- The Cubs
Would that there were some exciting Cubs news to share. Instead, we're in a lull. Two weeks until baseball and no real news out of Mesa. Two weeks... I can't wait.


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Saturday, March 20, 2004
 

The door is open

Just a quick note on Nevada's dismantling of Gonzaga today. This opens a door to the Elite 8 for my Fuzzy Bees. Its nice to have a 6 and a 10 seed lined up as stepping stones to the Midwest final, but its scary too. It seems like teams often stumble right when their bracket starts to open up. We didn't exactly blow the doors of Northern Iowa yesterday, so it would be nice to come out strong against BC tomorrow.

To Hell With Georgia!


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Thursday, March 18, 2004
 

The following column deals with some adult issues. Please skip the Northside Lounge today if you do not want to read some moderately mature subject matter.

Excuse me for asking

It was a simple, straightforward question for Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly.

"You've said if someone is unaware of things like sexual assaults occurring under their watch, they must be hellbent on not knowing, right?" I asked him in his office yesterday. "And a fourteen year-old girl says she was raped in your home, right? Well why wait to prove your innocence?" I then provided the name and phone number of Mike Marnell at Alverson & Associates, a private polygraph administrator in Denver, a short drive from his Cherry Creek home. I told him what Marnell had told me: If any person wants evidence that they are telling the truth, all he has to do is make an appointment and take a polygraph."

Reilly looked at the piece of paper as if it were a dead rat.

"Why wait to see if the police are going to charge you due to your negligence in allowing this girl to drink herself into a coma in your home?" I continued. Why not step up right now and be tested? You show everybody you're clean. It'll lift a cloud off you and a cloud off the game. It'll show your readers that you don't actually enjoy providing the opportunity for little girls to get raped in your home... or perhaps raping them yourself?"

Reilly began to grow aroused.

I tried to tell him how important I thought this was. How his readership is headed for the cesspool. Thousands of sex offenders have sullied the names of their employers by association. What could be more positive than SI's leading columnist proving himself cleaner than Drew Carey's fork?

Reilly looked at me as if I were covered in leeches.

"Why are you telling me to do this?" he said. "You don't tell me what to do."

I tried to explain that I wasn't telling him to do it, I was just wondering if he didn't think it would be a good move for him and the magazine.

"You're not my father!" he said, starting to yell. "Why do you tell me what to do? Are you trying to get me in trouble?"

I asked how he could get in trouble if he wasn't doing anything wrong.

"I don't need to go nowhere," he growled. "I'll wait for the police to decide what to do. If they make that decision [to test], I will be first in line."

But didn't he think a star stepping forward now, without being told to be tested....

"This interview is over!" He started looking around for security. "Over, motherf-----!!"

(Note to young sportswriters: Always make your rape question your last question.)

The funny thing is, I doubt Reilly is a sexual predator. He has never before been investigated in relation to a sexual assault. Most perverts his age have a rap sheet a mile long.

But plenty of people wonder: Here's a guy who preached long and hard about the evils of authority figures allowing sexual assaults to occur on their watch. Now junior high girls are being taken advantage of in his own home?

Reilly explained that he was out eating dinner when the alcohol was brought to the party, the girl drank to the point of fading in and out of awareness, and two football players raped her. What did he eat, Fort Worth?

He said the media's suspicions have hurt him. "They think everybody is guilty," he said. "They judge me, but they don't know me."

That's about when I offered up my brilliant public relations maneuver of having himself tested. Soon we were discussing my relationship with my mother.

Maybe Reilly feels he would be leaving the impression that he was involved if he had himself tested. But when I asked him if that's why he didn't want to do it, he again mentioned, rather crisply, "You're not my father."

No, but if I were, I'd tell him to get tested. And I'd say it to Kobe Bryant and Mike Tyson and anybody else who says he is innocent of rape. If they've got nothing to hide, why wait?

True, it would take some cojones. Of course, if Rick Reilly is guilty, he's been making use of those for some time now.


Hopefully you recognize the above as a satire of the hatchet job Rick Reilly did on Sammy Sosa last year. I came across the (real) sexual assault story concerning Reilly's home and figured what was good for the goose was good for the gander. At first I was going to actually e-mail Reilly with my suggestion that he visit the (real) polygrapher in the column and then write a non-fiction column like the one above once he (presumably) ignored my request. Ultimately I decided to just go with the fictional satire because I couldn't bring myself to treat a human being that way even if he had done the same thing to someone else.

Anyway, I can understand being suspicious of the numbers put up in the modern era. I wish baseball would have begun rigorous testing twenty years ago, but now is better late than never. That notwithstanding, there is just no call to corner someone with a "have you stopped beating your wife yet" question and calling it journalism. Here's to you, Rick, a class act all the way.


Edited to add: After writing this I came across an eerily simillar piece in the Google cache of the Chicago Media Examiner. If only John Kuczaj had the advantage of an actual sexual assault case to work with he and I might have produced the identical column.


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Wednesday, March 17, 2004
 

Fun with Advertising


My "new" job - well six months new now, deals with segmentation and classification of a bunch of grocery store shoppers. I guess it is generically defined as marketing analysis although I think we do much more than that. Basically if you shop in a supermarket owned by Kroger, I can tell you all you ever wanted to know about yourself. Anyway, given this job, I pay attention a lot more to grocery store layout and advertisements on television.


Monday night I was watching The Green Mile on ABC and saw an ad for birth control pills. Apparently there is a new pill with lower levels of hormones. Not being a woman, I never knew this was an issue, but if it was, I am glad it is solved. Maybe this invention ranks with the wide toaster that can handle bagels in terms of innovation and advancement of the human race. I don't know and I am not sure I care all that much.


During the next commercial break I saw something that really made me laugh - an ad for Herpes suppresion medicine. The thing that cracks me up is that there was probably a wide array of analyses that were performed to determine that both these products had a target audience watching these movies. Although it does scare me that not only is there a group of pill popping herpes suffers in the world, but the group is large enough warrant television commercials. Yikes. Personally I don't pay too much attention to these commercials - after all it is all about suppression.


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Monday, March 15, 2004
 

Omens

Last Thursday afternoon I was riding home with some of my colleagues from a two-day plant trip to Savannah. Its a good four hours from Savannah to Atlanta so I passed the time by flipping through my copy of the new Baseball Prospectus. I saved the Cubs section for the end of the trip, and so it was that I was reading about Felix Pie as our rental car took the exit from 285-W to 75-N. Something orange caught my eye over the top of the page, and I looked up to see what it could be. There, in front of me, headed southbound on I-75, was none other than the majestic mechanical marketing marvel... THE WIENERMOBILE!

I've been fortunate enough to receive a visit from the Wienermobile on five occasions. The first was on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, GA while eating at the Baskin Robbins in 1995. The second was in the parking lot of the Disco Kroger on Piedmont Road in Atlanta in 1999. It appeared to me again just one year later on Peachtree Street in Buckhead. There was a three year drought before it drove by my side on GA-400 northbound moving toward Sandy Springs. Then finally, last Thursday it passed in front of my eyes once again.

A Wienermobile sighting is a rare and momentous event. Each one means something. Sometimes its hard to figure out what its trying to tell us, and sometimes its not. With me in the midst of the Cubs chapter in BP '04, the meaning couldn't be more obvious. Ray Kinsella never got such a clear sign. The Cubs are going to win the World Series.


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Friday, March 12, 2004
 

Santo Documentary

A friend pointed out that there is a new documentary about Ron Santo premiering in Chicago and Arizona in a few weeks. I remember the reception we got as we made Santo signs in the Turner Field parking lot and handed them out to people last October. It was clear from the tone of people's voices and the looks in their faces that Santo holds a place in the hearts of we Cubs fans that might not even be equaled by Ernie Banks or Harry Caray. He is a warm, wonderful man who happens to also be a beloved broadcaster and the fifth or sixth greatest third baseman in baseball history. How incompetent are the Hall voters anyway?

Anyway, veering back toward the topic at hand, its hard to imagine a film with such marvelous subject material being anything but amazing. I don't really expect it to open across the country or anything, so I can only hope there is a DVD release forthcoming. I can't find anything on the internet about a DVD, but surely they wouldn't leave thousands of Cub fans high and dry.

If anyone knows anything about the prospects for a wide release or (more likely) a DVD release, please post a comment or e-mail me. I am sure looking forward to seeing it. I must admit though, I do have one bone to pick with the film. The press kit touts appearances by such notables as Bill Murray, Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Tommy LaSorda, Willie Mays, and "renowned baseball analyst... Chris Berman." On what planet is Chris Berman a renowned baseball analyst? That's like calling Paris Hilton "noted scholar and chastity expert."

Cubs on TV
Don't forget to check out the Cubs and White Sox on WGN tomorrow. Did I mention that Comcast finally returned WGN to my cable lineup, just three years after replacing it with the Oxygen channel? Could they be making a late bid to avoid being replaced by Direct TV when I buy my house? Stay tuned...

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Thursday, March 11, 2004
 

Baker on walking


Dusty Baker said some pretty alarming things for the SABR type fan in the rags this morning. Jason over at Clark and Addison has a rehash of the exact quote and some analysis. I thought I would take a different direction with this though. Obviously, I am perplexed by the statements and worried about what this means to the Cubs, but given his thoughts, I am ready to give more praise to Jim Hendry. Hendry and Baker have most certainly talked about baseball philosophies in the past. Given that, I think the trade of Choi for Lee looks even better.


In order for a player to thrive they need to play. Seems obvious, but given Baker's hate of the walk, Choi might not have gotten his chance to play. Heck, Simon might have been brought back to get the bulk of the playing time. Therefore Choi never would have lived up to his potential in Chicago under Baker. Hendry then realized he had a tradeable player, so he made the move.


The good thing is that he was able to trade him for a proven MLB player who is only a few years older. The fact that he has a gold glove, a World Series ring, and wonderful power/speed combination is icing on the cake. I honestly believe that analysts try to judge trades too soon. They are always looking for the instant winner or more importantly the instant loser. A deal like this can not be evaluated right away. Five years from now, when Choi is a .420 OBP machine with power, this move still can not be fully evaluated. Trades are not a static, one size (or analysis) fits all scenario.


For Choi's sake, I hope he has a wonderful career when he is not playing the Cubs and I think he will be a productive player. But, given his strong suits and the preference of his manager, I think he never would have blossomed in Chicago. Given that, Hendry did great to get a player who can blossom in these situations. Now, his task becomes two fold. Develop players that continue to get on base frequently and either make more great trades for good players (more than likely to Oakland, Boston or New York)or ideally, change his managers opinion on walks. The latter is an uphill battle. Personally, I am just happy he is more than capable of doing the former.


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Tuesday, March 09, 2004
 

Sour grapes from Minute Maid Park

I'm a bit late on this, but it came up again on Baseball Primer the other day so I am going to deal with it now. There were a number of Astros fans on the internet last October making the argument that their team was actually the best team in the Central. This apparently was more entertaining for them than watching the Cubs in the playoffs. Their argument centered on the fact that Houston had a better run differential -Pythagorean projection, specifically- than the Cubs.

A month ago, Rob Neyer used the same point in his argument that the Astros should be considered the favorites going into 2004. A couple weeks ago, Baseball Musings says that only the Cubs "luck" saved them from an eight-game swing in the standings and a Houston division title. I'm not here to argue about who should be the favorites, but I would like to do my part to dispel the myth that the Astros were a far better team than the Cubs last year.

Cubs 88, Astros 87
Here we have the final standings for the first and second place teams in last year's NL Central. The doubters point out the Astros superior run differential. Fair enough...

Cubs 85.4, Astros 94.2
Here are the win totals for each team as projected by a slightly modified version of the Pythagorean formula. Wow, the Astros must have really been much better than the Cubs! After all, they did a much better job scoring and preventing runs than Chicago. They deserved to win the division by a whopping nine games!

Not so fast. Team's don't score or allow the runs you would expect based on their underlying stats. Sometimes hits cluster together, and sometimes they don't. Let's take this projection back another step by basing it on the actual singles, doubles, walks, homers, etc. that each team's hitters and pitchers produced and allowed.

Cubs 89.0, Astros 90.9
What do you know? The Cubs weren't all lucky after all. Given the performances from hitters and pitchers underlying the runs scored/allowed numbers, the Cubs should've had 3.6 more wins than the Pythagorean record shows while the Astros should have had 2.3 less. So were the Astros 1.9 wins "better" than the Cubs once you take out luck? Not quite...

Cubs 87.1, Astros 88.4
Now we've made a final adjustment to account for the quality of competition that these two teams faced. Both teams fattened up on the weak sisters of the NL Central, but the Astros schedule was slightly weaker cutting their final margin to 1.3 wins.

What does it all mean?
Ultimately, what really matters about the 2003 NL Central race is the fact that the Cubs won it. However, if you want to use last year's outcome as a starting place for projecting this year's results, you would be well advised to try to get past wins and losses and get at the root causes of what will happen. If you want an accurate answer though, you need to look past the Astros gaudy Pythagorean record and see that underneath it all, the difference between the quality of last year's Cubs and Astros wasn't all its cracked up to be.

(The stats for this article came from Baseball Prospectus's Adjusted Standings page.)


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Monday, March 08, 2004
 

CBA Roundtable

The Godfather of the Cubs Blog Army has put together a roundtable discussion on the '04 Cubs, featuring the best and brightest of the CBA as well as Chris Yarbrough. My answers are up in the first group today and tomorrow with a second group (which may or may not include Dennis) to follow tomorrow. I hardly think Ruz needs us feeding him hits, but go check it out anyway.

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Thursday, March 04, 2004
 

Miscellaneous


1- Does anyone know what I did to create this block of white space? I can't seem to get rid of it.
2- Work didn't release me until the final inning of today's game, so I didn't get to see Corey's homer. I wasn't too blown away by the lineup- is Alou really going to hit ahead of Lee?- but its far too early to worry much about that.
3- Following up on the passing of local Atlanta television celebrity the Wolfman, it seems his furniture store will be showing a tribute spot in his honor. Its good to see this local tradition will be carrying on.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
 

Don't forget to ask for tomorrow afternoon off

Just a quick note to remind you that the Cubs will be on ESPN live, tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. EST from HoHoKam Park in Mesa. I am not sure I'll be able to get away from work, but if I do maybe we can set up an AIM chat with some people. According to the Daily-Herald we'll probably see Matt Clement for the Cubs. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

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Monday, March 01, 2004
 

Welcome Katelyn Kottlowski

Yesterday I became an uncle for the fifth time over as my brother in law and his wife welcomed Katelyn (I don't think they have decided how to spell her name yet, so for now, I will pick this variation) Kottlowski into the world. Luckily enough, the little one was born on leap day meaning only one birthday every four years. Personally, I think it is a pretty cool little trait to have through life although I am not sure her parents feel the same way. The family had a baby pool over Christmas to pick the date and sex. Yours truly actually picked a girl on the 29th, so I have some money to look forward to. Don't tell the IRS about my $15 windfall. Add to it that I actually hit a straight flush playing online poker yesterday and it was a lucky day. Since this is a Cubs blog, I suppose I should add a Cub slant to this. Last August we went to a ballgame against the Dodgers. Kerry Wood was pitching that day and I commented that if he pitched a perfect game, they would have to name the child after him. Turns out he stunk that day so they were safe. I think the ballpark did have some effect on them though. My niece was given the middle name of one of the most popular Cubs in recent history: Grace. Is this a coincidence or did Wrigley Field produce some magic for the parents to be? I tend to believe the latter.

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