Archive for the ‘Through Both Lenses’ Category

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

So You’re In A Pennant Chase

Congratulations, here take this bottle of Mylanta and a packet of Tums. This one is going to be a grind all the way to the end, so prepare your assholes, this is going to get really bumpy.

You see, apparently neither team wants to run away with the division. There have been ample opportunities, especially for the enigmatic Tigers who seem to like sweeping the Sox and then getting swept by the fucking Royals of all teams.

Oh the Royals.

Apparently nobody that is competing for the AL Central is allowed to beat them this year. They aren’t a good baseball team but for some reason they play the top dogs tough. I can’t explain it, it’s just baseball. Shit like that happens.

And that’s really what this article is about. We’ve got well over 130 games played now and it’s “a sprint to the finish” to borrow a tired term, but really at this point it’s less about the accumulated statistics of the past and the general randomness of the future. I mean, Dan Johnson pretty much saved the Tampa Rays season last year when he hit a home run when he and his team were down to their last strike of 2011.

Dan Fucking Johnson.

So how do you watch baseball in September with the finish line in sight? Let me guide you.

Rule #1, No cross sport references.

Your memory should recall 2008 and 2006 and 2005, so I know you, this is just a gentle reminder.

There is nothing like this. There is no sport like this, there is no month like this, there is no comparison for these moments that you the Sox fan will endure. This isn’t like any other sport, this my friends is a day-in, day-out grind that will leave you sick to your stomach most of the time.

The pay-off potential though? That’s big time. You remember it, when Konerko raises his hands and that fat-ass Jenks tries to jump and then Uribe comes running in and then the dog-pile ensues.

Yeah. That’s worth the 2-month supply of heartburn. Trust me.

Rule #2, Any one moment does not make a player better at baseball, it simply defines him.

Baseball in September is a unique creature. Teams live and die in September moments as they are scratching and clawing their way to a playoff berth. Legends are made in these next two months. Shit people in Chicago still love Crede, Dye and Rowand and they haven’t been relevant for years now.

Basically, you win now and you live forever.

Seriously, Bucky Fucking Dent has a career OPS of .618 and he’s a baseball immortal because he just killed the Red Sox. Cue Mazeroski, Boone, Gonzo, and the rest of the not-great-but-immortal gang.

So let’s say the White Sox win the world series on the backs of Dan Johnson, who hits a game winning HR to beat the Tigers in game-163, Gordon Beckham, who goes crazy in the AL-DS and CS, and Phil Humber who steps in the rotation and wins 2 WS games.

Their ability has not improved, they aren’t any better than they were entering the playoffs. As crazy (and extremely unlikely) all of that is, it doesn’t make them any better at baseball. Maz was 23 when he hit that crazy HR for the Pirates. You know what he did after that? He continued to not hit. He put up an OPS+ of 83. He was an awful hitter for the rest of his career. Baseball is littered with these types of stories. Don’t let this cloud your judgement of a player’s past performance. Don’t let “clutch” enter your lexicon quite yet. There are very few players who I would call clutch, and that is not a term anyone should use lightly.

Just, you know, be careful when you throw that shit around.

Rule #3, Honor the Pitcher’s Duel, and a brief guide to observing a pitcher’s duel.

There are a few types of “Pitcher’s Duels.” There is the legitimate kind where two aces run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 2 1/2 hours, there’s the lesser kind where two lesser pitchers run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 3 hours, and there’s even a version where two journeymen pitchers get together and go lights out crazy for 8 innings.

Here are the typical signs of a true duel:

  • Strikeouts – A true pitcher’s duel will have the SP’s throw up close to a K per IP. The strikeout is the calling card of an ace, a true ace. Great pitchers know how to miss bats and induce weak contact. Close to a K per IP is 6-7 K’s in 8 IP. Stuff like that. Weak grounders to the left side are important in context, but that can sometimes been chalked up to a poor showing by the offense.
  • Hitter Reax are important – Given the two offenses you’ll be watching, Tigers and White Sox, it is safe to go off the hitter reactions to gauge what kind of stuff the pitcher has. Both lineups have enough good hitters that if you see those guys taking awkward half swings and just looking like little leaguers playing wiffle ball that you know the pitcher has great stuff. Hitter reaction is key, if he’s early on an off-speed offering you know he was looking fastball, etc. etc.
  • Mind the sequencing – Chris Sale got into trouble last time because he threw too many sliders. Delmon Young saw too many of them and hit a really good slider into the seats. Sequencing is pitching. Pitchers need to have a proper attack to keep batters off-balance. It can be any mix of pitches (relative to the situation) so long as there is a mix. Pitching is like real estate (location, location, location), yes, but that only tells half the story. Changing the eye level is important. Mixing speeds is important. Throwing waste pitches is important. Maintaining top velo is important. Knowing what pitches are sharp and what you can get away with early in the count/inning/game and what are your put away pitches is important. Pitching is a composite of knowledge, talent, and pacing. And it’s more than that too. Pitching is hard to define, really. But when you watch a start, look at the sequence. Is he pitching backwards (throwing soft stuff first then whipping the fastball), is he following the old rules and establishing the fastball first, is he changing eye levels, is there a good mix going on or is he too reliant on one pitch? Watch. Learn.
  • Staying power – Endurance is key in a duel. 7 IP minimum. No 6 inning duelers, that’s mere quality. We want excellence in a true duel. 6 innings is fine for one of the lesser duels, but it won’t do in the true tests of Aces. Sale vs. Verlander on Thursday will give you the first real test of that theory.

Rule #4, Overreaction in the moment is fine, but keep perspective.

OMFG SALE SUX BRO

DUDE FUCKING PAULIE HAS NO IDEA AT THE PLATE, BUM

D-WISE HITTING MACHINE!

All of these are examples of people caught up in the moment, and that’s fine. September baseball is all about the moments that define seasons and legacies. The moment is primary this month.

HOWEVA

Sale does not suck, brah. Paulie has the best attack of any hitter I’ve seen this year, and Wise is not a hitting machine. Keep perspective when the moment passes. Understand what you’re watching, this is just the final act of a long season. All the plays before today count too. All the Royals losses in previous months, all those times that both teams got stuck in the mud at varying points, all of that is still a big part of the reason why the White Sox will win or lose the division.

Look at it this way, this month is right in front of you, and it’s paramount. Right now. The Cubs were white-hot in September in 2010 and it didn’t matter because they blew ass the other 5 months of the season. That shit matters too. That time you didn’t beat Luis Mendoza, that time when Cy Chen shoved it to you, that time Hector Santiago gave up a really, really long HR to lose the game? All of that matters, all of that counts, and all those lost opportunities are part of why the Sox are only 2 games up.

So if they lose the division by a game or two, don’t just blame the September losses. There were ample chances before this month to make the Tigers irrelevant (see the Baltimore series).

Similarly, don’t forget the contributions of guys like Rios, AJ and Konerko from the early months if another person rises up and carries the team to October glory. Peavy was spectacular early, and is still good late. Those contributions matter too.

Rule #5, don’t let anyone, even some asshole on the internet, tell you how to have fun while watching your team.

We’re all adults here, so everything is more or less a suggestion. I think these are helpful tips to keep in mind, but basically, it’s your team. Have fun man, enjoy this shit. It is an exciting time to be a baseball fan.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I know. The Cubs fucking suck. I get it. For those brave souls who would venture into Cubs September baseball, I offer you a congratulations of sorts. That kind of dedication is commendable in some respects. Some circles would call it lunacy, stupidity, and just plain pathetic. Me? I call it being a Cubs fan.

I digress.

You want to know what to watch for in September. Who are the kids that you should be paying attention to. What should you, the Cubs fan, try to find in the mire. Well, I can help you out with that. First things first though.

PUNCHING PEOPLE IN THE FACE ISN’T GOOD BASEBALL.

I can’t stress this enough. If I were on the Cubs it would take a lot of willpower for me to not go around and punch people in the face because of the frustration level would be building to a critical level. Seriously, I would probably go around trying to start fights out of sheer boredom and stupidity.

But I’m not a player, I’m just a fan.

Fan logic is the worst kind of logic. It’s blind and completely based on personal experiences rather than the realities of the game they are watching. For example, whenever a player is negotiating for more money the fan logic says: “I would play for free! These jokers are greedy and should just take whatever’s given to them.” The cousin to this logic is the ‘ole “draw parallels from their job to yours” technique, ala “I show up to work everyday and I play hurt.”

This is incredibly stupid. Nobody pays 40 dollars a ticket to see you work, let alone 30,000 people. Nobody tunes in to watch you work, let alone a million viewers. You have almost zero advertising value compared to a professional athlete, thus their rules are extremely different. Also, their job is incredibly difficult and requires a certain level of health to perform. Trust me, it ain’t easy being a pro athlete. It takes a shit ton of work.

Similar fan logic dictates that players should start fights when they are bad to light a fire under the team and that will magically lead to winning. I call this the “Da Fire and Passion” logic.

Baseball is a sport of relaxing and concentrating. As the original Baseball Annie once said, “Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate.” This applies to all of baseball. You have to find a good zone to be in. Trying harder rarely leads to better results, as odd as that sounds. Trying harder leads to becoming too tight, holding the bat too tightly and reducing the flexibility in your wrists which will lead to an almost zero percent chance of making contact. It means you’re pressing and that’s the wrong thing to do in this game.

So, punching someone in the face? Wrong thing to do in baseball. It’s cheap. What the Cubs did was bush league. It’s going to lead to some really bad blood for a few years. Harper said it best: “I think I’d be pretty [ticked] off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all [week], too, but you can’t lay down.”

Let’s get to the important hitters:

Starlin Castro

Did you notice that Starlin Castro’s approach got better? No? Ok. Well it did, in a tiny sample. Starlin Castro got to 500 hits, which is great. Castro’s defense has been improving, which is better. The approach has also changed and it looks like he has a plan at the plate, which again occurred in a small sample size. The approach would be amazing if he can hold on to the gains. Castro’s BA took a dip. This is fine. The power is showing up more often and his OBP has actually maintained itself from the early months.

Consider this:

From the first half to the second Castro lost almost 30 pts. of BA, but gained 3 pts. of OBP. Look at August, his BA was .252, but his OBP was 10 pts. higher than his May OBP when he was hitting .304. Castro isn’t a finished product, but he’s slowly putting the pieces together in his age-22 year. This could be big.

What to watch for in September:

It wouldn’t shock me if Castro absolutely broke out in the month and tore it up. He looks relaxed at the plate right now, and it doesn’t look like he’s thinking about the approach, it looks like he’s just doing it. Look for his walk rate, his power, and his average. If those all take a positive up-turn in this month it’s not crazy to think that he can build on it and carry the gains into 2013. I’m not predicting a McCutchen break out year in his age 23 season, but I don’t think it’s crazy to see him turn in a .290/.340/.440 season next year.

Anthony Rizzo

The kid can play, and that’s a big relief. Rizzo had an awful year last year before adjusting at the plate and changing his stance. The swing is compact and it generates real power from the left side. The funny thing with Rizzo is that there isn’t a really good comp for him, so I won’t force it (#Goldstein). Rather, I hope he turns into Paul Konerko, a good sometimes great hitter with a terrific approach. He is having his struggles of late, but that’s to be expected. He wasn’t the guy who put up .330/.375/.567 in July, but he isn’t the .252./.300/.342 August guy either. Oddly enough, he might just be exactly what his .298/.349/.480 2012 slash line suggests: an above average 1B.

What to watch for in September:

Power. The old axioms suggest that power truly shows itself by a player’s age 25 year. Rizzo flashes it every so often as he is capable of hitting absolute screamers out of the park. It might not be in his swing to hit light tower shots, but a hint of the 30+ HR power potential would be nice to see in this month. Rizzo is a good hitter with power, rather than a classic power hitting 1B. I personally think he can be a legit power threat, meaning hit 30+ HR’s consistently.

Brett Jackson

Brett Jackson is hitting .191 and would strike out 220+ times in 500 PA’s and it is glorious. Jackson is an athletic prospect with a vastly under-developed hit tool. The approach, believe or not, is actually pretty good for a rookie. He will take the walk and he knows what he wants to hit. But wanting and doing are two completely different things. He has obvious speed, but his base running IQ isn’t there yet. He’s like the inverse of Scott Rolen in that regard, all speed no smarts.

What to watch for in September:

Assuming health…

I’m on the record quite a bit for hoping Jackson can be Tigers-Era Granderson, or Mike Cameron. Maybe he’s just Dexter Fowler (if you followed all of that, I love you).

Look for his hit tool to either improve or collapse. In an extremely small sample it’s trending downwards, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Pay close attention to the BB-K ratio and that Batting Average. It was the right move to bring him up and see what he is. Handling Major League pitching is a bitch, that learning curve doesn’t get much steeper. If he can be a guy who hits .250 with speed/walks/power, that’s a win. I don’t know if he can though.

Josh Vitters

Josh Vitters has a sweet swing, the type of swing scouts fall in love with. He’s also 1-for-27 against lefties and doesn’t fare much better against righties. Vitters is a project, and he always takes a step back before taking a step forward when he goes up a level. Age used to be strongly on his side but that time has run out. Vitters isn’t making good contact and he’s striking out at an alarming rate. He’s overwhelmed right now and just looks lost.

What to watch for in September:

He needs to hit the shit out of the ball to warrant any regular playing time. The Cubs could be looking at bringing Ian Stewart back again if they don’t think Vitters is ready. He doesn’t look anywhere close to ready either. I’m in the Chase Headley in 2014 camp, so anything Vitters does in the short-term is a bonus. He’s a bit statuesque at the hot corner, but he is sure handed. I don’t know about this guy.

…and the one pitcher worth watching,

Jeff Samardzija

Raise your hand if you thought Jeff Samardzija would turn into a reliable starter when he came out of Notre Dame.

Liar.

Shark is having a breakout year. No really, how many times can a reliever whose career was in serious question 2 years ago give you 165 innings of solid, sometimes good/great, baseball? Not too many. His periphs are solid, the velo is solid, and his control didn’t completely collapse.

His control hit a critical moment in June and he posted the ugly 10.41 ERA and saw his WHIP balloon to 2.06. When his command is there, Shark is a very effective pitcher. I do think the bouts of inconsistency are something Cubs fans are just going to have to live with, but he’s moved up from “Maybe a 5 starter” to “A 3 starter that sometimes pitches like a 2.”

What to watch for in September:

He’s not an ace, so don’t act like he is one. Even if he emerges as the Cubs best pitcher that still doesn’t make him an Ace (intentional capital A). You’re going to have to watch the command. I think he retains the solid control and maybe even lowers his BB/9. If he isn’t given the Strasburg treatment look at his armslot late into September. When it dips, his command goes away, when it’s consistent he can put up some good numbers. The fastball combos he employs are the key, coupled with his cute slider. The strikeouts are there, he needs to keep on limiting the walks.

 

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

 

Two shells of armor struggled against each other
Feebly in an antique arena.
Before them is nothing,
Behind them was nothing.
Only in this moment would we remember, for everything after is quick to be forgotten.
Transient warriors, fighting a meaningless fight in front of a crowd too apathetic for memory.
Yet it is in this moment that the memories of man would do well to remember.
Can something be savage and brutal
Yet sublimely beautiful?
Can a moment of slaughter and mayhem
Be serene and inspire awe in the hearts of man?
If so, this be the moment.
Remember it well, gentle fan.
For behind them is only tragedy,
And ahead is nothing.

The fuck is wrong with AJ?

It seems that I am the curse of baseball players. The harbinger of suckitude. The prophet of #slack. The fortune teller of doom. As soon as I give out some nice words about how a player is playing very well, he goes cold. I did it with Starlin Castro this year, and he struggled mightily before pulling out of it and recovering quite nicely. I did it with Shark too, praising his new found control only to see him shit the bed and issue 4 walks the day the article ran. The opposite is also apparently true as I talked shit about Ray Olmedo at Sunday’s Sox-Mariners debacle and then he channeled his inner Vizquel making diving stops and hitting line drives everywhere.

AJ is awful right now (which means that he’s going 8 for his next 12 now that this is written), and he looks so completely out of it, it’s disturbing. Pierzynski is a smart baseball player. The dude is also a hustle man which makes his production this year so nice. It’s not that he’s slugging .500+, it’s that he’s doing it while playing good defense at a premium position and making smart/grindy/hustle baseball plays.

Of recent vintage, however, he’s struggling with…something. I have no idea what it is, as much as we want baseball players to be automatic and impervious to everything around them, outside factors can and do affect players’ performance on the field. There’s no shame in that.

Robin and the rest of the White Sox front office knows more about, well everything baseball than I do. Specifically in this case you’re just going to have to trust their judgement the rest of the way. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing even more Tyler Flowers.

Starlin Castro

There’s absolutely no shame in being a shortstop that hits .280-300 with an OBP in the .330 range and a .430+ slugging. Add in the plus defense Castro has played this year and that’s essentially a perennial all-star.

Yeah. Plus defense.

While you were too busy freaking out about the 8 quick errors at the start of the season and trying to move the kid to the OF, Castro went on a particularly nice streak of good/great defense. We can go with the boring numbers like Range Factor and I can point out how he’s leading the league (meaning that he’s getting to more balls than anyone else in the league, at shortstop, mitigating the error count). I can also point to how his fielding percentage has been on a steady climb since he’s entered the league and that he’s probably due for a massive breakout year next year. But when you evaluate defense, metrics won’t do.

You have to watch (sorry UZR, suck it).

Until they come up with a better way to measure defense, the eye test is going to have to do it for now. Starlin’s thought process has changed since entering the league. Reckless abandon has turned into aggressive play, and that’s a good thing. Watching him think out there can be funny at times, but for the most part it’s refreshing given what we were subject to in the past.

Worst played games of the year

It’s hard to pick one, but we had two strong candidates in the past week. The Chicago White Sox and the Seattle Mariners had an epic struggle of ineptitude last Friday. Particularly the last two innings of baseball were a veritable LOLlercoaster of dumb baseball.

Brendan Ryan is an awful shortstop defensively and the display was out on Friday night. After choking away a 5 run lead with walks and really hard hit balls (by Mariners, oddly enough), the White Sox slap fought their way back, riding an error by Ryan, and then two outfielders collided on a fairly routine flyball, thus ending the game in favor of the pale hosed warriors from Bridgeport.

Not to be outdone the Cubs and the Brewers slacked their way to a slugfest yesterday. 12-11 was the final and while there were no errors in the game, there was a lot of lollygagging going on. Outfielders were jogging everywhere, the pitching was godawful and it just looked like everyone mailed it in. It’s fine, I get it. Neither team is going anywhere and it’s the last game of the series. It was just godawful to watch for almost FOUR HOURS (I did anyway, and then did again when my choices were College Football, Preseason Football, and old reruns of MacGyver. Not gonna lie, if it was Columbo I would’ve gone that route).

I say the award for the worst played game of the year goes to Sox-Mariners. This isn’t a sleight on the Sox, but mercy that game was funny and brutal at the same time.

Seriously, two grown ass men ran into each other for no good reason. None. Even my former co-ed softball team had better communication skills.

#RIPHammertime #SkyPoint

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on ’t?”

-Macbeth

It wasn’t right.

None of it was, here we were, two Cubs fans trekking into enemy territory sharing a moment over Phil Collins in a family car without our two compatriots. The whole situation stank but our noses had been out in the cold too long.

Our missing comrades would have given us legitimacy to the masses, a validation that we sorely needed. One was busy making an honest living and the other was at home nursing his injured back. We would continue on without them.

And here we were, two deviants acting nefariously, speeding towards uncertainty on the south side of Chicago, nervously passing the time, killing the hours before our own hour of judgment was upon us. Words were spoken but the meaning of those simple sentences is lost. Perhaps we discussed important things, but mainly we bitched about our MIA associates.

Our validation.

Our shields.

Onward, ever onward. Into the black and gray abyss, into the enemy stronghold. We dove straight into the heart of all that we were not, and we did so willingly.

How and why? Because we could, we had the means and it seemed like a good idea at the time. As we approached the steel and concrete colossus however, the idea that had planted its seed in our brains a scant few weeks earlier seemed like a harbinger rather than an inspiration. We arrived at the stadium known around this neighborhood as Comiskey II, two Cubs fans, armed with beer, and we dared not venture outside of the confines of the family vehicle with little sex appeal.

We used the rain as an excuse, but we both knew the real reason we didn’t want to go mingle amongst the people gathered at 35th and Shields.

We were afraid.

Afraid they would smell it on us, that they would know we didn’t belong. We didn’t want to start any trouble in the parking lot, out in the open, far, far away from any security, from any salvation.

But onward, ever onward we went, and when we had finally mustered up the courage to step beyond the steel confines of our vehicle, we knew.

We knew that they knew.

What are we doing here? Who are these people? Why is he wearing a White Sox construction hat? What devilish game of dice is going on in that corner? Where are we?

All silent questions shared between two friends in the light, grey afternoon drizzle. It was all so ugly, all so rough, it was all so south side.

And we waded through the cars, taking stock of the situation, counting the people in the lot who could kick our ass.

The number was uncomfortably high.

It wasn’t the carnie scene we were expecting, but the crowd itself had a unique flavor, an unspoken hardness about them that perhaps told more of the neighborhood than the individual. We stumbled upon some bastard game called “Bags,” we found grilles, there was even some sort of dentist carnival party happening a few rows across from us. It was all unsettling in a way.

What was most unsettling however, was that they knew. We weren’t safe here, before long the questions would start. “Where is your Sox gear? Where are you guys from? Are you guys Sox fans?” And then we’d be fucked.

We needed validation, we need salvation.

The fenced-in parking lot wasn’t quite a prison, given the location it felt more like a great big cattle chute that had ensnared us in its grip, and was holding us there until someone saw us for what we really were.

We decided to walk around, to look for a place to sit and relax for a moment, to get the stench of fear off of us. We needed to remain calm, lest we begin to arouse their suspicion. We needed to wait it out for Bob.

Who is this Bob? Truth be told I’m a little unsure myself, but for the two of us in that moment, Bob was the validation we sorely needed. Bob was a true and true White Sox fan, lives there, works there, plays there, will likely die there in Canaryville. Bob owns a “World’s Largest Gay Bar” shirt. Bob is for real. With two spare tix Raul alerted us that Bob was interested in tagging along.

Why not, it couldn’t hurt and I rather liked Bob. Or Vladimir as he is wont to call himself.

Vlad was coming, and he had his cousin in tow. Vlad was what we needed to survive.

We were still walking, still waiting for Vlad, when the phone rang.

“Meet me by the souvenir stand.”

Finally. We can relax.

We were deep in the shit, behind enemy lines and our only allies were members of the same clan that we feared.

It was a dire situation in the least.

We drank to assuage the fear, to beat back the panic, we drank to drink. We shared our spoils, provided by my fellow Cub fan. The time was drawing nearer, we were to begin our slow approach. The stadium loomed large, it was no friendly confines, and given the agenda we had laid out before hand, it never would be for us during our brief 3 hour stay there.

Time was running down, our fear gave way to liquid courage.

The absurdity of the situation didn’t hit until we started taking pictures of bronze men frozen in time, monuments to an era gone by. Fisk and Baines and Thomas and Minnie, they were all there, frozen. Dead eyes took our stock, judged us silently, and looked upon us with utter disdain.

It was clear that even with the newfound courage and credibility, they would still smell it on us.

It was at this point that Tony, my fellow Cubs fan, decided to become a Royals fan.

The rat bastard was going to out us, and then we’d be royally fucked.

There was no turning back, as soon as that sad sack franchise from Kansas City took the field it was over, Tony was cheering for nobodies, and people noticed. Of particular import was a family of four that was seated 3 rows in front of us. We could take them all, but surely by the time we would be wiping the blood off our knuckles the mob would’ve had their say, and we’d be at their mercy.

God save us, this man is going to get us killed.

Every Royals run put us closer to danger, each hit edged us closer to the point of no return, where sensible men acted irrationally and where violence reigned supreme.

We were dangerously close to getting fucked up.

And yet he pushed on, perhaps without fear for he showed none despite our trepidation at the start of the trip. Every play was a dance with death, we were playing Russian roulette with a large stockpile of both guns and bullets. Every cheer was a like the click of an empty gun chamber, and he pushed the dance dangerously close to disaster.

The youngest male member of the family was ready to scrap, the mind was ready even though the body would regret that notion gravely. He was no match for us, but he wasn’t my concern.  It was the endless mass of others that was my fear.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, to hear the press tell it the stadium is always empty and devoid of life. Not this night, no it was teeming with hard faces who faced hard lives and hard jobs. We were poking the hornet’s nest, and to this point the hornets hadn’t paid much mind to us.

As the Royals ground out a meaningless victory over a first place team, I was sure that our time was done, that Tony would say something, and I would pile on it, and our lives would be in forfeit.

Alas, we made it out of there alive somehow. We spat in the devil’s eye and came out alive.

We lived, damnit we lived.

On our journey back we decided that escaping danger once wasn’t enough, we would cruise Chicago’s 47th street and tempt the street demons to ensnare us, ruining our escape.

We were fools, children who hadn’t been burned and decided to tempt the hot coals once again. We drove and drove and we saw what many of our kind, Cubs fans, are too soft to see. We saw the real heart of Chicago, and all of its glory. Signs for mom and pop hot dog stands, chicken shops, front room bars, grocery stores run by 3 people, and the liquor stores.

Oh the liquor stores.

It was glorious, our perceived jewel was at its heart was as flawed as we are. This neighborhood encapsulated our experience, danger lurked somewhere beyond the safety of our vehicle, visible but seemingly far away.

All it took was one to break the charade.

We were at a red light, about done with tempting fate, when a lady of the night approached our car. Fear gripped me, and I sat there frozen as we made unfortunate eye contact.

Time froze as she sauntered over, preparing to lean in and perhaps grab our junk, ask us for a date, looking for a hit from the glass cock. As she made the final approach all thoughts raced through my head, and once I contemplated simply raising the window and looking away. But I couldn’t. I was caught and she knew it.

She had the face, the type of look that you couldn’t look away from. Age and wear were etched into her by a craftsman who’s hands were too rough, who was careless, who simply wanted to be done with the job. She was down on her luck, that was plain enough, she was also hardened by years of struggle that she wore so plainly on her face.

She was of the night, and the road back to the daylight was nowhere in sight.

“Hey look I’m not looking for a date-“

Green light.

Deliverance.

Salvation.

Onward. Ever Onward.

Ranking the greatest catchers in Chicago history.

This discussion was born on our facebook page. Given the surprising season that AJ Pierzynski is enjoying at the catcher position, it is natural to wonder where he sits in the pantheon of all time great catchers. It’s a fair question, there aren’t that many great catchers period, and Chicago has a particular dearth of talent there. I thought about including Negro League players but I left them off. The stats are too sketchy. I don’t doubt the talent at all, in the wake of baseball integration we got Mays, Banks, Billy Williams, Aaron, Campanella, to name a few. That’s a hell of a talent pool to pick from.

Let’s get straight into it:

1. Gabby Hartnett

White Sox fans will make the compelling case for Carlton Fisk to be the best catcher in Chicago history. It has to be Gabby though. As much as I love Fisk and his defense, Gabby’s bat was more valuable. He posted a 126 OPS+ for his career, and had a lot of peak value. From 1924-1930 he posted a .302/.378/.532 slash line with an OPS+ of 132. He also hit the most famous home run in Chicago Cubs history, the Homer in the Gloamin. He posted an oWAR number of 48.9, and a dWAR of 6.6 (BBR WAR, fangraphs will give you a different number) in Chicago.

2. Carlton Fisk

If we flip Fisk’s Sox years, 71-80 in White, the rest in Red, you can make a better argument for #1. He posted a 34.7 oWAR number in Boston, and a stunning 9.3 dWAR. Defensive metrics are a bit screwy, but Fisk was a premier defensive player while Hartnett was merely a good one. Fisk was a better player than Hartnett and if this were a pure player draft, he would be #1. I am, however, judging these players by their contributions made while in Chicago uniforms, and Hartnett has Fisk beat in that regard.

3. Sherm Lollar

Dude could hit and he wasn’t a slouch behind the dish. He was an integral member of the Go Go White Sox in ’59. Oddly enough, early on in his career he was regarded as an all stick, no hit catcher. He was a prospect in the Yankees system with Yogi Berra and his defense didn’t really take off until he landed with the White Sox and Paul Richards taught him how to become a better catcher. Bill James has written about the existence of baseball families in the scientific sense. I think it’s most pronounced in catchers. If I say he’s like Mike Piazza, you can think of Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, and guys like that. All hit, little glove guys who moved to another position. I think Lollar fits into the Bench category of all around catcher. He’s not on that skill level, but he did everything you could ask of a catcher. You know, he might even be mini-Pudge now that I think of it…

4. Cracker Schalk

The bottom half of this list of 6 is almost interchangeable. Almost. If you gave any combo of AJ, Randy the Rebel, Cracker Schalk, and Lollar, I wouldn’t contest it too hard. Schalk was a good/great defensive catcher with no stick. Cracker gets #4 from me because he was probably a better defender relative to era than AJ and Lollar, and he hit better than Hundley. He is also famous for being “the clean Black Sox.”

5. AJ Pierzynski

I wrestle with this one. Pierzynski is ultimately the more important player, and that’s why he ranks ahead of Hundley. If we’re drafting though, I am taking Randy over AJ. AJ has a much better bat, but Hundley’s receiving skills are elite, and he helped usher in the modern way of catching, one arm snug behind his back. To speak of AJ, he is a smart baseball player, and that will never show up on stats. He’s a lot like Ozzie Guillen was in that regard. Ozzie was never a prolific hitter, but he was smart as hell. He made the hidden ball trick work, he deked runners with uncanny ability, and he did things that didn’t show up on the scorecard to help the team win. AJ is that. It’s not sabermetric, and it’s not quantifiable, but I’ll be damned if anyone tells me otherwise. The man knows the game, and he has a great head for it. It’s that and the bat that puts him ahead of Randy.

6. Randy Hundley

Elite defense, couldn’t hit for shit. If he could hit a little, if he could’ve been Yadier Molina, early years edition, he’s #3. He wasn’t Yadier though, he was Mario Mendoza. That’s a damn shame too. He was Russell Martin 1.0, a catcher who handled a workload that was too heavy for him and it ended up costing him. From ’66-’69 he averaged 153 games played. That’s sadistic managing.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

The stretch run

Pennant races are amazingly fun. We saw a surreal race last year as 4 teams played on the last day for 2 spots in hands down the most epic 24 hours of baseball I’ve ever seen. The White Sox and the Tigers are going to be in a dogfight for the division as both teams are pretty equal in terms of talent, which I don’t think anyone was saying at the start of the season. The x factors for the White Sox, more so than the Tigers, are health and defense. The White Sox rotation is turning out to be the fragile thing most of us predicted, Chris Sale is going through some dead arm, John Danks is done for the year, Gavin Floyd hit the DL with some arm issues, Phil Humber turned into a hurt pumpkin, hell, the only constant in the White Sox rotation has been Jake Peavy, which makes my head hurt every time I try to wrap my head around it.

The defense of late has been sloppy, which proves the point that defense can slump from time to time. Neither concern has mattered too much as the White Sox got lucky with Livan Hernandez-Fidrych II. There has been a lot of talk that the White Sox farm system is somehow vindicated because of the contributions rookies have given the White Sox this year. Of the three main arms that have stuck around, Nate Jones, Addison Reed, Jose Quintana, only Quintana has made consistent contributions to the big league club, albeit contributions that are a bit over his head. Eduardo Escobar has been a sum zero player this year, Dylan Axelrod was awful in his limited playing time, Pedro Hernandez got blowed up real good in his lone start this year, they haven’t all been gold. Quality does count some.

Addison Reed and the bullpen have issues to sort out as well, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this bunch. I think Addison Reed is going through an expected rough patch for a rookie.

Detroit has a stable of veterans and the best hitter and pitcher in the division. Their offense has stalled around the Miggy and Prince show, Austin Jackson and Quintin Barry are the only other regulars showing a pulse at the plate, with Austin Jackson having a breakout year. The defense hasn’t been as atrocious as I thought it would be initially, but the pitching around Verlander has fluctuated between awful and inconsistent.

Both the Tigers and White Sox are separated by the thinnest of margins. I fully expect this to be a seesaw battle that the White Sox should win, albeit with a high degree of difficulty. The White Sox rotation is starting to take the hits. To this point they’ve weathered the storm particularly well, but I’m still wary of the staff as a whole. I think the offense carries the Sox to a division crown.

How to watch the Cubs in the second half

The trade deadline is done. Cubs fans have a month to wait for September call-ups. Some of your favorite players are gone. So now what? Well, I’ll outline some things I’m looking for in August, feel free to follow the advice or turn off the Cubs completely. I won’t blame you if you did either.

I’ve heard a lot of things about Theo and the trade deadline/draft/prospects over the past few months that make sense on the surface but don’t really hold up to scrutiny.

  • The Cubs screwed up the Dempster to ATL deal – There are two schools of thought on this; They screwed up by not telling him ahead of time, or they screwed it up because they didn’t get a big haul from LA or Texas. Well, for starters Dempster was told well ahead of time that he was likely to be dealt to a contender if the Cubs liked the package. Dempster pre-approved certain teams and Atlanta was on the approved list. That list was a damn lie. Dempster’s list was all about the Doyers until the last possible second. He’s trying to do damage control to preserve his image in Chicago as a lovable ex-Cub. Don’t buy it, Jed and Theo were pissed with him about the whole ordeal and still are. Yes, he has 10 and 5 rights, but he straight up waffled on a great trade for the Cubs because he wanted to be closer to Ted Lilly.
  • Prospects don’t matter, prospect rankings don’t matter – Wrong and wrong. If you own a Baseball Prospectus from 2008, go to the back and find the top 100 prospect list. Go 1-50 and find the guys that didn’t make the Major Leagues. I’ll wait. As for the organizational prospect rankings, they of course matter. This pops up in relation to the White Sox and their wonder group of Rookies that they brought up. Let’s be honest, outside of Quintana the rookies have been pretty bad or zeroes. I outlined Pedro Hernandez above, nobody likes talking about Eduardo Escobar in the Rookie Wonder Group, or Dylan Axelrod. If the system had more talent, do you think they would have moved for a wife beater in Brett Myers, an injury prone 3B in Youkilis, or a headcase like Francisco Liriano? No, they’d make another call up from their deep system. The White Sox system has talent, all systems have talent, it’s just not very deep.
  • The draft is a crap shoot/Why did the Cubs trade for more prospects? – Let’s say every prospect has a 5% chance of making the major leagues. In a group of 10, .5 will make it. In a group of 20, 1 will make it. In a group of 100, 5 will make it. The bigger the pool of talent, the higher number of potential Major League contributors you’ll have. Not all prospects are made the same. Some have a much bigger chance of making the Majors than others. So doesn’t it make sense to acquire guys who have a better chance of helping your major league squad for a rebuilding team? The Cubs competitive window won’t begin to crack for another 4 years at minimum. Why not throw as many prospects as you can at the wall and see who sticks?

Starlin Castro and the lazy narrative

Starlin Castro set a new career high in HR’s, with 11. He should finish the year with 15-17 HR’s, and his SLG% is climbing with his average again. Castro’s Fldg % sits at .970 right now. It was .961 last year, and .950 two years ago. His Range Factor has also steadily improved. To listen to the lazy narrative told around town, he is regressing as a player because his batting average isn’t sitting at .300 and he’s made 15 errors. Most of the fanbase has already thrown the “Defensive Butcher” tag on Castro, and it won’t ever come off. What I’ve seen from Castro is a steady improvement afield, and a running in place of sorts at the plate. Castro’s walk rate hasn’t improved as much as I would like. His power has gone up as some of those doubles from last year are turning into home runs. Castro has a lot of work to do, and in August I’m looking for a better approach at the plate from him. He’s in between patient and passive right now. He needs to find that happy medium.

Synopsis

Overall, I’m looking for consistency from guys like Rizzo and Castro. August will be the month that I watch a lot of minor league ball. The pieces the Cubs traded for are intriguing. Vizcaino is the prize of the deadline, but he’s ouchy. Villanueva had an impressive debut last night, but that was in A ball, seemingly years away from the big leagues. The Cubs have talent in the system, this will be reflected in next years prospect rankings. They’ll acquire more next year via the draft and the trade deadline. For now, the things I’m watching in August are the same things I’ve been looking for all year.

Improvement by the youngins.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

This is Part IV of IV. Here are parts I, II, and III.

An Oral Tradition

The Misadventures of Paulie

Moe, I get so much from reading these stories, thank you.

But I still can’t forgive you for being a CUBS fan. Reading over your stories, I was reminded of some of my earliest memories, both at Comiskey Park. The first one was that I was being held in my Tio Chava’s arms and I started to cry when the fireworks show started. Comiskey Park’s power was shut off with only the emergency lighting for the entrances to guide the way. Then giant BOOMS and CRASHES and holy hell came raining down. I held on to Tio so tight and wanted to go home, this was the summer of 1970 or 71.

The other memory involves your abuelo, he came home from work one day and told me that he was going to the game and I could go with him if I got ready ASAP. While he sat down to wolf down his dinner, I scrambled to no success to find my shoes. Crafty that I was I decided I wasn’t going to miss out on Sox game, so I walked down to the garage and opened the back passenger door to his Ford Station Wagon, light blue in color, and sat down in the backseat and just waited for him to take me. Next thing I remember I’m awaken by the same thunderous explosions that made me cry a couple years earlier, but this time I knew exactly what it was. Someone from the Sox hit a homer and the scoreboard went off, I didn’t know who hit it or what inning it was. All I knew was that I had missed my opportunity to go to the game. Between the time I sat down in the back of the Ford and the fireworks, I had fallen asleep, landed on the back floorboard, driven to the ballpark and your grandfather didn’t even know he had a stowaway. There I was stuck inside the family sedan, that was now parked deep inside a sea of cars (now lot C), trying to make sense of it all. Here I was no shoes, missing the ballgame and I was 3 years old.

Couple of innings came and went, I saw people laughing as they walk through the parking lot, I would immediately duck so no one would see me. Then finally I saw a figure coming toward me, from a distance I recognized his walk, his body shape, even his clothes, it was a-Pa, he had left the game early to get a jump on the crowd and leaving before the game ended. I sprang from the back seat to the front driver’s seat waiting for him the open up the door. When he did open the door he started asking me questions about what was I doing in the car? Was anyone with me? How did I get here, etc…. I don’t remember answering any of his questions, all I knew was that my little adventure to sneak off to the game didn’t quite work out as well as I hope for.

Many years later I’m in my mid 20′s and I was curious to my father’s take on the story. He recounted that he indeed left early and walking up to the Ford, and to his surprised he saw me jumping up and down on the seat. He was so surprised to see me and puzzled that he did a complete loop around the car looking for one of my tio’s to pop-up. He was convinced that one of the Tio’s was playing a practical joke on him, using me as a prop to mess with him. He said I did answer his question and I recounted everything that happened. On the way back home I sat in the front seat all the way to 25-O-5 house, he carried me all the way back up the stairs, again no shoes. At the time all I wanted to know from him was when was the next Sox game and if we planned on going?

-Tio Paulie

Uncle Ruben clears his name

Moe – Love the article and I appreciate the shout out to my kids. I too remember those times I got to go to games at Comiskey with your Abuelo. I’m glad to say that I have managed to take Maya to games (when she was 3 months old) and again when she was 6 years old. Nael hasn’t made it yet, but will.

As you know, your aunt Hina doesn’t get the whole Chicago White Sox and Cub (Yeah I wrote it in that order) ‘divide’ and more importantly she doesn’t like baseball (at all). But she did read (and enjoy) your article as well.

To all others I feel I must clear up some things:
1. We live in Austin, Texas not Houston. If you know both places, you know why that’s important. I expect an official correction.
2. I NEVER threw at you in wiffle ball. They are wiffle balls and you cannot control them. But you still needed to learn about who owns the inside part of the plate…

I’ve read part II already and now I understand why you strayed. Unfortunately, in 1998 I was then living in Houston and could not keep you from the ‘dark side.’

Oh yeah, and remember, ‘Karko is pretty fast for a catcher….’

-Tio Ruben

Family ties

Sitting in our office are two photographs from my youth. One is of Frank Thomas swinging off his front foot at a pitch low in the zone, the other is an autographed picture of Black Jack McDowell whose P’s look oddly familiar. I am indeed a Cubs fan, and an ardent supporter. I get teased about it in the family, but that comes with the territory. There are many things that I left out of this series, in the interest of time. Paulie, I do remember sitting underneath blankets in the upper deck of Comiskey as the temperature dropped to below 40. Ruben, after messing around with wiffle balls as an adult (and hitting a few friends), I can confirm, yeah those things are hard as hell to control. You’ll live on as a legend, however, in the same vein as Gibson and Pedro, a notorious head hunter willing to plunk his own young nephew to win the game. Them’s the breaks.

2003 and ever after

I was in a bar during game 4 of the 2005 World Series, taking pictures of the reactions that were sure to come. When Konerko raised his hands in celebration, I took a few pictures, then I went to a quiet place to call my uncle Pablo and congratulate him. I knew that somewhere, uncle Ruben was celebrating as well, and that fact was confirmed when he sent us a picture of him, in his White Sox uniform, posing for a company portrait. The engineering firm he worked/works for had a hand in building the Houston Astro’s Minute Maid Park. My uncle Ruben is a confirmed White Sox meatball.

2004 came and went, I was pretty numb to everything about that year. I had minor joy over the Maddux signing, the Garciaparra trade, but I couldn’t help but fight the feeling that the Cubs had missed catching lightning in a bottle.

I was right.

I won’t lie, I thought they would win in 2008, especially after an epic 5 day stretch against the Brewers late in the year. They had the best team in Major League baseball, and they had a World Series tested manager at the helm. It was the 100 year anniversary, I thought it would all fall into place.

I was wrong.

2009 was soul-sucking for a variety of reasons, most of them had to do with Milton Bradley. 2010 was forgettable and by 2011 I was settled in to a mindset that I would never see the Cubs win a World Series crown. I was on a plan to see my then girlfriend when Jim Hendry was fired, and then a few months later the Cubs hired Theo Epstein in the least Cub move of all time. Suddenly, there’s a plan in place.

I have hope.

Synopsis

Writing this has been therapeutic, and difficult. There’s a lot of buried emotion in those years, and there are a lot of things that I thought I forgot that, as it turns out, I’ll always remember. Walking the line on both sides of town has taught me two very important things: Stereotypes might begin with a nugget of truth, but they don’t always end up being true, and Chicago sports fans are the “most” of any fan I’ve run across. The most ardent, the most craven, the most defensive, the most intelligent, the most meatballish, and on and on. The smartest baseball mind I’ve run across in my very young journey belongs to a Cubs fan, our own Tony Leva (we would destroy trivia). Cubs fans aren’t associated with being knowledgeable about baseball for various reasons, I like to think our circle of Cub fan friends breaks that stereotype.

Cubs culture is bothersome, I hate “Go Cubs Win,” I dislike the cute bullshit that they do sometimes, but I fell in love with a team because of the product on the field, not the culture in the seats. The North Side is a completely different city than the South Side. White Sox fandom is passed down generation to generation. Old prejudices die hard with White Sox fans. The Cubs attract fans from everywhere, and that is due to both the neighborhood they inhabit, the WGN contract they have, and the ballpark. Wrigley gets a bad rep from us here at CAD T. WASP. I wouldn’t become despondent if the park was torn down to better the club, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be sad about it. It is a great place to watch a game, the simplicity of the park is what makes it for me, the baseball fan. If I had a family with young kids, I would go to Comiskey more often than not, there’s a lot for kids to do there. When I just want to watch a game, however, I love going to Wrigley. It’s not bombarding you with crap quite yet. It is a baseball monument, and there is a lot of history in that park, even if most of it is bad history.

White Sox culture is different than Cubs culture seems so obvious, but really the major difference is that we as fans worship different gods. We like to make out like one fandom is better than the other, but that doesn’t get to the heart of it. We are Chicagoans, and when Chicago roots for baseball, we do so in a language all our own. To talk baseball with a Chicagoan is to talk about the past, present, and the future. A true Chicago baseball fan honors the ghosts of the past with equal parts fear and respect. The White Sox honor the dead, the Cubs fear them. The White Sox god can be seen as cruel, but the Cubs god is a wrathful bitch loaded with all the right ammunition to take out the hopes and dreams of a fandom. In the end the baseball gods of Chicago are a fickle lot, sometimes you’re on your way to surpassing Rajah as the best right handed hitter of all time, only to have it taken from you mysteriously in the years that should be your prime, other times you’re a young pitcher under the tutelage of a sadistic manager who loves seeing triple digit pitch counts, snuffing out your flame twice as fast for it burned twice as bright. 

In 2005 a major portion of my family ended their wait. I saw the parade downtown, I saw the mass of people coming out to celebrate a Sox World Series. I saw the weight lifted from people as the trophy came around. I saw pure, unadulterated, baseball joy.

I’m still waiting for that moment.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

This is part III of a IV part series on Chicago baseball through my eyes. Here are Parts I and II.

Family Secrets

I never knew my grandfather as a White Sox fan until the last stages of his life. You see, growing up I only saw my grandfather watch Cubs games. This has been explained to me in several ways, which I always felt fell short of the truth. It’s easy to peg my grandfather as a simple man if you just looked at the facts of his life without experiencing any of them. He was a carpenter, he raised a family, a very successful and loving family at that, he was loyal and he loved his life. There’s a complexity to him that I never understood until I got older. I took a lot of his wisdom for granted, and looking back in hindsight, I can see that he was anything but simple. In previous posts I outlined how my grandfather was, in his own way, a big White Sox fan. He was, at his heart, a historian and perhaps that’s why I am so drawn to the past. As the layman historian he used to drop facts on me all the time. They were always on a wide array of topics. By trade he was a carpenter, to me (and the rest of the family, I’m sure) he was a sage. He told me once that he used to be young, reckless, and dumb. I can’t really imagine the last two parts.  He was smart, he was compassionate, he was a socialist that liked Reagan, a Catholic with big family values that loved Bill Clinton, he spoke with an accent but he had an incredible command of the intricacies and nuances of the English language.

In short, Abuelo was a badass, and I seriously doubt he was capable of hating a sports team. Sure, the White Sox moved to cable and he wasn’t about paying for TV, so it made sense that he stuck with the Cubs who stuck with WGN. I’ll maintain that he enjoyed both the Cubs and the White Sox, albeit at different stages in his life.

So, when I would cross from the air-conditioned back half of the house into the sauna that was the front room/”Master Bedroom,” I would hear Harry Caray announcing a Cubs game. I never hated them. I wasn’t aware that you were supposed to hate them. I didn’t know about the light/dark side because, well, grandpa watched them, so how bad could they be?

I’d find out soon enough.

Flirting with the dark side.

I stayed home on May 6, 1998. I forget the excuse, but I remember the reason. The Cubs were trotting out some pitcher whose career would come to define Cubdom for a generation, for better and worse. I was young, only 12, and I didn’t appreciate it the way that I would have if had happened in my 20’s. Kerry Wood is a polarizing figure in Chicago, for both sides of town. There is a faction that despises Kid-K, and I get that. He never lived up to what could have been and perhaps more importantly he is/was a symbol of all that was wrong with Cubbiedom.

I can’t hate the man. While he wasn’t the only reason I crossed the Sox-Cubs battle line, he was a major part of the eventual shift. You see, on May 6, 1998, Kerry Wood was, for 9 innings, the most dominant sunuvabitch that ever took the mound. I didn’t realize it then, I wouldn’t realize it until much later when I heard Steve Stone say that not even the ’27 Yankees would’ve hit Kerry Wood, but that man put on the pitching performance of my lifetime. I haven’t seen anything quite like that. 

[youtube http://youtu.be/RB3mcrWY6GM]
This video is both everything that is great and awful about Cubdom

Kerry Wood struck out 20. It wasn’t a perfect game, he gave up a hit (fuck you, Kevin Orie) and hit a batter, but to this day, I’ve never seen a pitcher fool batters that way. That video shows the final pitches of strikeouts, what you’re missing is how he set those guys up all day. I’ve watched the replay recently, and it was beautiful to watch him set up guys with tailing fastballs and finish them with a slider from hell.

Just like that, in the span of 9 innings, I was hooked. Sosa really just drew the line in. A lot of people came back to baseball because of the great, fake HR chase of ’98. I came back in full swing because I was ready to. Truth be told, I missed baseball a lot. It so happened that the Cubs were infinitely more fun than the White Sox that year. I grew to learn new names, a new branch of history, a new side of baseball that I wasn’t aware of. I traded the Black and Gray for Blue and Red, and I thought that 1998 was how it was going to be every year for the Cubs.

I was a kid, and kids are stupid about things like that. Kids take things for granted, they don’t understand the importance of certain events, or how special a one year run is. That’s fine, kids are supposed to be stupid about things like that because they’re too busy being kids. As a stupid kid, I even figured it would be fine to wear my brand new Marshall’s Cubs hat to my grandfather’s house as my Uncle, the White Sox superfan that lives in Austin (not Houston as I previously stated) was visiting. Why would he hate the Cubs?

What is that on your head?

I was an idiot. My personal introduction into the battle of Cubs vs. Sox was initiated by the look of bewilderment and disappointment that my Uncle Ruben gave me when I walked in wearing a blue hat with a red C on it. I walked into the same house where he let me recreate John Paxson’s shot with using a nerf ball and the oven timer, where we played wiffle, where he brought home baseball card packs and comic books for me, wearing enemy colors and I had no idea.

It is such an awful and quiet thing to fall…but far more terrible is to admit it.

The silence lasted for 2 seconds before he launched into me. I don’t remember exactly what was said, and it wasn’t profane or angry, it was genuine disappointment. For some reason, I was allowed to survive that ordeal, albeit as a baseball outcast. I learned a lot in those few months, as Sammy and Mac were launching meaningless home run after meaningless home run. I learned that there is a real hatred between some White Sox fans and some Cubs fans. I learned that once you cross over, you can never come back. I learned that I didn’t really want to either, that I was happy to be a Cubs fan, but most of what I learned was in hindsight. No one is ever really happy about being a Cubs fan. We cherish the high moments, sure, but for the most part being a Cubs fan is about pain. I’ve felt that pain, but it’s nowhere near the same level as others have felt it.

The pain is generational, it is inherent, it has delivered for 100+ years and will continue to do so for at least another 5. I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t know that I would become ostracized. I didn’t know that the Cubs didn’t have a prayer against the Braves that year. I didn’t know that wearing the other colors opened me up for all the jabs that would come later.

I should have.

Abuelo, the White Sox fan.

For about 2 years I got to watch Cubs games with my grandfather. It would be a sweltering summer day, they would be on in the afternoon, and I would brave the heat of his room to sit at the foot of the bed and watch Sammy and friends bash their way to a Wild Card berth. He was the one that educated me on Greg Maddux and the unfortunate defection that was to be blamed on Cubs management. He let me know about Mark Grace and Rod Beck. He gave me a crash course on Cubs history during those days. I was in church when the Cubs finally relented and lost game 3 to the Braves. I figured they would improve next year and be back. Like I said, I was a kid and took these things for granted.

1999 was utterly forgettable and should have been a sign of things to come. I was still a Sosa fan, so I followed his success and cheered him on. I followed the home run race in 1998 very closely. Somewhere I have a video tape of the line shot to left field that McGwire hit to beat Maris. I remember that the Maris family was in the house for it, and I remember him crying and hugging the family. I remember it was the Human Rain Delay, Steve Trachsel that gave up #62, I remember Sosa coming in and celebrating with Mark, and I remember being happy that I saw history. I thought I was watching a living legend in 1999 and that was enough to carry me through the year.

My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer at some point in 2000. Andrew Welebir said that I have a steel trap mind, and for the most part that’s true, but for me, 2000 was a blur. I don’t recall the exact dates of when stuff happened, I just remember the events, the hushed voices of the adults as they talked about what to do next. The stories of what had happened to my grandfather recently. My memories of my grandfather are herculean. He used to play catch with me bare handed. He had massive hands and he was apparently a great baseball player in Mexico. He knew how to do everything around the house. I learned that from pitching in every so often over the summer. He was crafty with a bit of a mean streak, he used to grease up the guard rails in front so that the kids wouldn’t sit on them. He put nails on top of our wooden fence so no one would try to jump it. Once, somebody blocked our garage so that my mother couldn’t park in it. Well, he went to the car, popped the hood somehow, and punched holes in the radiator with a screw driver. Another time my grandmother sent me to give him his coffee, which he took black with sugar. I was 4 and I couldn’t find him. So, I saw that the ladder was out, which meant that he was on the roof of our 3 story house. Naturally I left the coffee below and climbed the ladder after him to tell him that his coffee was there. All 3 stories. They say that he panicked at first, but I doubt it. He got me back to safety, unhurt, and never made a big deal about it. He was smart, crafty, and he had a huge heart. He had a deep voice that was laced with 50 years of cigs, and in the end that was his undoing.

I wasn’t alarmed until I heard that he fell from a ladder. Grandpa never falls from a ladder. He skin color changed. He stopped moving as well. My entire family had scattered to different parts of the US, and everyone started flying back in. Everything after that, was a blur. I remember the long nights of visits as relatives I hadn’t seen in years came pouring into the house to say their last goodbyes.

There wasn’t much happiness during that time. The one, shining beacon that I recall about September of 2000 is that grandpa got to watch a White Sox game with his boys, Ruben and Pablo. Now, there are many lessons to be taken from that time, and as I grow older I think about that period from time to time. The one that I will talk about here is that for my family baseball will always be the bind that ties us together. I had flirted with becoming a Sox hater, and as stupid as it sounds, that moment stopped it. That probably sounds stupid, that I took solace in such a small event, but that’s what my refuge was. He was happy for a moment, and so were they.

My grandfather passed shortly before midnight on September 10, 2000 and was declared dead on the 11th. Those are the only two dates I recall from that year.

The Aughts

In 2001 my Uncle Ruben was in town and we went to a White Sox game. The Cubs were off to a hot start that year and I casually mentioned to him that all they had to do was win 2 of every 3 games and they’d be on their way to 108 wins.

“That won’t happen, if the Cubs win 108 games I’ll give you 100 bucks.”

I didn’t get 100 dollars that year, but that was the first Cubs team that I learned to appreciate in the same way I appreciated the 1991-1993 White Sox. You see, that team managed to win 88 games using smoke and mirrors. That was the year Lieber won 20 games and Julian Tavarez fooled everyone for half a season. It was the Fassero-Farnsworth-Flash year, when the bullpen was looking to be fairly automatic. That was the year Bill Mueller twisted his kneecap in St. Louis and the year the Cubs traded for Fred McGriff. I recall a lot about that team because, well, I loved that team, and in retrospect they weren’t anything special. Ron Coomer was the third baseman after Mueller (pronounced, Miller) went down. In 2009 I recognized Coomer at a Jewel in the Gold Coast. What he was doing there, I do not know, but I know I saw him and was about to approach him before I realized that I could ID Ron Coomer, 1/2 of the least athletic corner infield tandem in baseball history (Matt Stairs is the other half).

I remember a lot of hope building in July before having it dashed away by the end of August. Julian Tavarez and Jason Bere struggled down the stretch, Kevin Tapani was pretty useless by then, and the infield defense was completely exposed. Tavarez was sinker reliant and you just can’t survive with bad IF defense.

2001 will be remembered for 9/11, and I was sitting in religion class, talking about the Qur’an when the assistant baseball coach came into the classroom to tell us that someone had flown planes into the World Trade Center in New York. Half the school went home, I was part of the half that stayed. My mother worked downtown at the time and they evacuated her building. When I got home we stared in disbelief at the images that were on the TV.

Baseball was suspended for a while before resuming again, one week later, as Sammy Sosa went running out to right field sporting the dual flag look, my painful lesson in Cubs futility continued. The slow march to a third place finish was complete, but I figured that this was a year that they could improve upon and that they would compete in 2002, because I clearly didn’t learn anything in 1999.

2002 was a building block year, however. The team was awful, save for the pitching rotation that featured Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, and some kid named Mark Prior. On May 22, 2002, Prior debuted as a professional, and once again I fell in love with a Cubs pitcher. He fanned 10 and the most enduring image of that night is the MARKKKKKKKKKK sign out in right field.

As bad as the offense was, the pitching showed a lot of life. 2003 was an odd off-season. My uncle Ruben, who had been in exile in Texas, was coming back to Chicago for a work project. The Cubs were predicted by some to win 90 games. Others predicted that they would lose 90 games. In typical baseball fashion, you really couldn’t predict what happened next.

Heartbreak

You always remember the firsts; the first kiss, your first real relationship, the first time you made love. The scars that are left after your first heartbreak are perhaps more visible than any other first. My heart still hadn’t broken as a Cubs fan. I was too young and their failures were too minor. Sure, they had lost to the Braves in 98, but I don’t think anyone expected them to win that series. They choked down the stretch in 2001 and failed to play good ball in 2002. These things don’t matter in the long run when it came to baseball. If 2001 was the first team I enjoyed, 2003 will forever be my first love.

Dusty Baker took over for Don Baylor, and if you loved good, smart, aggressive baseball, that was the team to love. It was our introduction to a power rotation of Wood, Prior, Clement, and Zambrano. The team was fun, it had personality, it had drama, and it had a spectacular finish to the regular season. Clement had a following that year, fans wore fake goatee’s to his starts as an homage to his particularly excellent chin hair. Zambrano came into his own that year, Wood was healthy and sometimes dominant, but the show was Prior.

I missed the Maddux years, so to date that’s the best pitcher I’ve seen over a full year in a Cubs uniform. The “it” pitch that year was the slurve and Prior had it. Down the stretch he was pure dominance. He won 10 straight decisions, put up a 0.69 ERA in August, held opposing batters to a .409 OPS that month, and led the Cubs into the playoffs. There are memorable moments, the Kenny Lofton trade, the Aramis Ramirez trade (which also netted them Randall Simon who famously hit a member of the Brewers sausage race with a bat), Tuffy Patterson’s opening day, Sosa’s corked bat, and of course, the Shawn Estes start.

That year wasn’t so much about dates and events as it was about the total package. That team felt right. They looked like they had the pieces to compete with anyone, and they did. I thought I was seeing a preview of the World Series when the Yankees came to town that year, and the Cubs took 2/3. The symbolic victories were everywhere that year, and heading into the playoffs I figured that they would roll right on through and win the whole damn thing.

That year was a lesson in ghosts and dates. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, they hadn’t won a postseason series since 1908, it went on and on. The most memorable Sun Times sports page was a picture of Wood-Prior-Clement-Zambrano with the headline, “Ghostbusters.” I believed it. They won a hard-fought NLDS against the Braves before taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the Marlins in the NLCS. I figured that Aramis Ramirez hit the most important home run in Cubs history in game 4, and in game 5 some kid named Josh Beckett blanked the Cubs, ensuring the Cubs would win the NLCS at home.

I remember the conversation I had with Uncle Ruben the day of that game. We were in the car and I said “We’re finally going to see a World Series in Chicago.” He nodded in agreement, what else could he say? It was Prior-Wood back to back. There was no way they Cubs would lose that series.

Your moments of deepest despair usually occur when there is a sliver of hope. It’s one thing to be beaten soundly into submission. It is a completely different thing to see the finish line, to see the goal, the summation of a cities hopes and dreams, and then be beaten soundly. I was at my high school girlfriends house, in her living room, watching Luis Castillo warm up in the on-deck circle. Prior was in cruise control, and the game was in hand. I was counting outs, wondering what it would be like to see the weight of 90 years of frustration be lifted. I wanted to be at Wrigley, to be there in that moment, to celebrate with strangers. I wanted to hear the ghosts be exorcised, I wanted to hear Wrigley strain under the weight of 44,000 people celebrating at once as a curse was being lifted. I wanted to live in that moment.

Being a Cubs fan is about pain. Real, baseball pain. You will never be comfortable in any game situation, as much as you put up the front that you don’t believe in curses, a part of you does. Your baseball soul has withstood so much, yet you feel like there is still much to endure. I got that lesson that night, as I saw a team collapse under the weight of a symbolic play in left field. When Alou slammed his glove, I knew it was over. I knew that they would play tight from there on in, and I slowly realized what it was to be a Cubs fan.

What secret dreams men hold in their heart aren’t divulged until the realization of that dream. There is no crying in baseball, yet if it were to ever happen, if the Cubs were to ever win a World Series, I would weep like a child. That is the dream that I hold in my heart, at the bottom of my baseball soul, I just want to see one. I thought I would that year, and when it all came crashing down, when the cameras cut to a crowd in disbelief, when you could hear the players in the dugout as 44K went silent, my baseball heart broke in a way that I didn’t think was possible. I looked at my then girlfriend, I said I was ok, and I walked home.

When I got home it finally hit that this was going to happen again and again.

When I got home, I cried like a baby.

Part IV, the finale, will be out tomorrow.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too”

-Stevie Nicks

This is part II of IV in a mini-series about growing up Chicago, baseball style. Pt. I can be found here.

There are some great Chicago sports myths out there. MJ would’ve won 8 if he never retired, easy. Bear weather. Ruth called his shot to spite the Cubs. Ozzie ball. My favorite of all time is the eventual crowning of the 1994 Chicago White Sox as World Series champions. Nothing would’ve stood in their way en route to title #3 as they would’ve eventually done battle with the Montreal Expos.

There’s a lot of would’ves in that previous paragraph. Very few things are certain in a baseball season. The White Sox were 1 game up on a young Indians team at the time of the strike, and who knows what happens in the playoffs. What I do know of that season is that the 1994 team is one of my favorite teams in baseball history. That lineup was disgusting and Frank Thomas was living up to his moniker, “The Big Hurt.” The man was mashing at a historic level. He was carrying a 1.217 OPS through 113 games, with 38 HR’s, 109 bb’s and only 61 k’s. During the first phase of his career he was on track to perhaps becoming one of the best hitters in baseball history. He was walking with Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, Greenberg, Foxx, and a host of other legends, both living and dead. As a young baseball fan he was the bond that connected the current with the past.

That team was perfect for a little kid. You had the fast guys like Raines who ran everywhere, you had the mashers like Thomas for the HR insta-gratification, you had the good pitching in Fernandez, McDowell, and Alvarez, you had a little dash of everything with them. All the previous White Sox teams seemed to be building to this moment, to this season, all of it pointed to 1994 as the moment that the White Sox would shine.

I bought in, and I do think they win that division in retrospect, but it would have been a great pennant chase down the stretch (remember when Thome was a 3B? Jeez). Tony Gwynn was hitting .390 and he was chasing Teddy Ballgame. Matt Williams was on pace to surpass Ruth and Maris as the single season HR king. The Expos were kicking ass. Randy Johnson was just starting his enlightenment.

And then it was gone on August 12, 1994.

All of it, all that baseball, all that love and family ties, all that had been built up in my baseball heart, was shattered as Bud Selig announced that there would be no World Series played that year.

There are a few traditions that I still honor from the early days of my baseball fan youth, I don’t drink at Chicago home games. I watch the All-Star game, and I always watch at least one World Series game with my pops. As a family, we would watch the World Series together, and if I was lucky, my grandfather would be there too. Well, all I heard that season was how the White Sox might make it to the playoffs. Which meant I would get to see my hometown heroes play in a World Series game with the paternal figures in my life. That was going to be heaven right there.

I first read about the strike in Sports Illustrated for Kids (and yes, I did have a subscription until I was in 6th grade. Then it was plain ole SI for me), and I didn’t think anything of it. There’s no way they would cancel the season.

Well, the commish said no mas, and I said “Fuck you, baseball,” for a while. I flirted with coming back in 1997, but it definitely wasn’t as a White Sox fan. A funny thing happened after the strike, the White Sox got worse, gone were the hopes of a World Series title, and I was bitter about it. I didn’t turn to the Cubs immediately either. If anything, I was just an observer of baseball at that point. I wasn’t all in with it, but the Cal Ripken streak did help a lot.

My friend Sebastian lived on my block in Cicero. His family was full of Cubs fans, around April of 1998 he started telling me about this kid the Cubs had that was a Texan with a power arm like Nolan Ryan. Now, my favorite pitchers during the Sox years were Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Black Jack McDowell. Two of those guys have a lot in common, and anytime the good name of Nolan Ryan is invoked, I’m intrigued in the message. I figured I’d watch his next game and see what was up.

I got to stay home on a Wednesday to watch a Cubs game. I forget the excuse I had, I think it was a weak cough.

The date of that game was May 6, 1998.

Pt. III will be out next week

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Growing Up Chicago: Baseball Edition

Choices

In Chicago there is an arbitrary choice to be made as you grow into maturity. Most of the time the choice is made for you, as it is usually dictated by family, geography, or your personal circle of friends. Here, in this city, you find your sports identity by the teams you root for. There are of course, the obvious stereotypes that no one can escape. Bears fans are all meatballs, as noted by the SNL skit that gained popularity so many years ago. Blackhawk fans are super protective of their sport and claim superiority over all. Bulls fans are black or just Jordan fans. And then there is the complexity that comes with baseball.

You see, it’s not just laundry that you root for when it comes to baseball. Woven into the fabric of Chicago baseball fandom are certain beliefs, ideologies, and two very distinct cultures that divide the chasm between north and south. To be a White Sox fan is to live a completely different existence than a Cub fan. Both fandoms do similar things, both are prone to the same idiocy, to the same level of fanaticism, to the same level of baseball enjoyment, but both do it in completely different ways.

I’ve walked both lines; I’ve seen both fandoms ride the emotional rollercoaster that is a baseball season. I’ve seen the ugliness, the beauty, the simplicity, of being a Chicago baseball fan, and beneath the complexity is a simple love of game that I argue extends deeper than any fandom in baseball. I know the east coasters like to claim superiority in this regard as well, but I will respectfully maintain that the Chicago baseball fan is more ardent, more invested in their team’s success on average, than any other team.

Here’s why.

Southwest Side

I was born at Mt. Sinai hospital kitty corner to Douglas Park on the city’s southwest side. For me, the choice of baseball fandom was made for me. I was born into a White Sox family. My mother’s side of the family moved into the city in mid-1960, first into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and then into La Villita, both eventually became the strongholds of Mexican American culture. Being from the South Side means that you are a White Sox fan, no questions asked. I really couldn’t name you any Cubs fans from my blocks on 25th and Drake, and then when we moved to Cicero in the early 90’s I knew of only 3 Cubs fans in the entire town.

For my family, on both maternal and paternal branches, baseball is our unifying bond. My father’s family could (and sometimes did) field a baseball team on their own. My father played ball, all his brothers played ball, all my cousins at some point played ball, and it was what they did, what we did, together. I was very different from my cousins. For starters I was born here; they were born on the family ranch in Mexico. To them, I was an American; I would never be Mexican enough to truly fit in with them. Baseball is all we have in common, and it’s really all we needed to have in common.

My mother has 4 brothers and one sister. All four, at one point or another, played ball. This is largely due to my grandfather, and it is indeed the root of my baseball tree.

Abuelo

When my grandfather made a permanent home on Chicago’s lower west side, he made a choice that our family, for the most part, honors to this day. He became a White Sox fan. My grandfather took me on a lot of rides around the city. He was a carpenter until they told him he couldn’t be one anymore and it was time to retire. In his retirement he took up a lot of home improvement tasks, which required a lot of running around to different mom and pop hardware stores around the city. The deal I had with him over the summer was this: I would help him run around in his hot ass steam mobile of a car, he would drive me to baseball practice. It was a fair deal all things considered, I learned a bit about home improvement, I got to see more of my neighborhood, and I spent time with my gramps. I learned a lot in those car rides. He used to quiz me on Mexican culture and baseball. He would tell me about the time Wilbur Wood started both ends of a double-header, he had Moose Skowron stories, he knew everything about every neighborhood we walked into, and he loved Brown’s Chicken.

By far, those car rides were my favorite part of summer.

This used to be Moose’s bar, “They Call Me Moose.” My grandfather always accentuated the o’s, making it sound like the Youk chant.

I grew up in White Sox culture, I wanted to play for the White Sox in my little league, and I have pictures of Frank, Black Jack, Tim Raines, and other White Sox players from the early 90’s. I actually had an 80’s Ozzie Guillen figurine, my family owns a few of the Old Comiskey seats. Hell, I played in the same South Cicero little league as his kid, I met the man before I understood what it was to actually meet him. I have a surprising amount of White Sox street cred thanks to those early years, and it’s because of my family.

Legacy

White Sox fandom is passed down from generation to generation. My grandfather passed it down to his kids, and my uncles are passing it on to their kids. My cousin Luca isn’t even a real toddler yet, but he’s being groomed to become a White Sox fan. Oh, and he lives 700 miles away from the South Side Mecca, he’s being raised in Washington DC.

My other cousins Maya and Nael were born to perhaps the biggest Sox fan in the family. There’s even a rumor that he planned Maya’s birth to coincide with a brief relocation to Chicago for work purposes. Maya was born in Chicago and is being groomed for White Sox fandom. She hates the Twins and she isn’t even 10 yet. They live in Houston, and the fandom is still being instilled in both Nael and Maya.

That is the framework for my youth as a White Sox fan. I had no real choice but to become a White Sox fan. And I was an ardent supporter. Trust me; I didn’t go forth unwillingly into the black and gray. I dropped my first f bomb in 1993 when the Blue Jays defeated the White Sox in 1993. I do love those early 90’s White Sox teams; they were fun to a young kid. Frank Thomas is still my favorite baseball player of all time, Alex Fernandez, Ron Karkovice, Bobby Thigpen; all those guys will live forever in my baseball heart. Speaking of Karko…

Sounds of Comiskey

I’m told that my first baseball game was at Wrigley, but my early childhood baseball memories were formed at Comiskey II. I’ve been to Comiskey I, but those memories aren’t there. What I do recall from my early formative years as a baseball fan all tie into Frank Thomas, Nancy Faust, Ron Karkovice, and Gene Honda.

Now, if you don’t know who Gene Honda is, read this, watch this and come back to me.

The Chicago White Sox had a pretty good team in 1992; they finished the year at 86-76, third in the west, and had the pieces to put something real together over the coming years.

I was 6, and extremely unaware of it all. I knew the entire starting lineup though, and most of the pitchers because of one man, Gene Honda.

Honda has a voice made for PA announcing. It’s deep, hard, and (perhaps I’m just projecting this), extremely South Side. My uncles and I would play wiffle in our backyard, and the Gene Honda voice was so ingrained in me, I recited the 1992 White Sox batting order by heart as I was up to the plate (as an aside, my Uncle Ruben would always throw at my face when I was facing him in wiffle. It was mortal combat with that cat, but I do partly credit him with giving me the quick twitch muscles I developed). Ron Karkovice is my favorite Gene Honda name of all time. Frank Thomas was another great Honda name, but the way Karkovice rolled through the stadium, with punctuations on both K’s, was hypnotic. It’s forever engrained into my baseball brain. It’s not leaving either. I’ve tried to imitate it at various points, but it’s nowhere near the same. Honda had IT. It’s gotten to the point where I would pay good money just to have Gene Honda record my voicemail message. He still does work on the South Side, Konerko is becoming another Honda favorite of mine. The voice has smoothed some over time, but it still carries in that ball park. He’s become a central part of that culture, he is a part of south side fandom.

That goes for Nancy Faust too. For me, I can’t declare it a real Sox game unless the pitcher is forced to exit in the middle of the inning to the tune of Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye (if it doesn’t start at 1:44, skip it to that point), played on the organ. HR’s, early exits, batting music sometimes, funky moments in-game, it was all punctuated by Nancy Faust (I have to admit, even as a Cubs fan, I haven’t seen much in sports that is more gripping than hearing 40K cheer along with an organ in a playoff game. Hearing the slow “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, gooooodbye,” is just chilling). For 41 years, ending in 2010, she was a big part of those parks, Comiskey I and Comiskey II.

Good Guys Wear Black

As for the actual teams I grew up rooting for, it was a blast to be a White Sox fan in that era. Baseball cards were still around (I had a Thomas 1991 Upper Deck card that I loved to death), the teams at that point were building towards something, and the new park for all its faults, was fun to go to with my family. That 1993 team is still one of my favorite teams of all time. I remember the scoreboard animation they had for “The Big Hurt,” a muscular slugger charging his bat with lightning and unleashing holy hell on a baseball, with his nickname flashing in the background. The screaming baseball is one of those things 8-year-old Moe never forgot.

There are a lot of memories of that early 90’s Sox run that I won’t forget. Tim Raines gunned a sucker out at home plate in 1991 and blew out his finger gun before holstering it. I don’t really remember anything about that play but his bravado (as an asshole high school player I pulled the same shit 12 years later, finga gunz and all). I recall the Wilson Alvarez no-hitter in 1991, I remember Joe Carter catching the last out in 1993 and the heartbreak that came with that.

I definitely remember 1994, when everything about my baseball world and my family life changed.

Part II will be out tomorrow.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Let’s just get this out-of-the-way now. It absolutely chaps my ass when people make fun of anyone who struggles with English, especially when you can tell the person is seriously working on improving their English. Melky Cabrera got it on twitter a little bit after his interview on Fox and MLBTV.

He speaks some English, but needs an interpreter. Big fucking deal. Yeah, he’s been here for 10 years, but it’s not like he doesn’t speak ANY English, he just doesn’t feel comfortable enough in his ability to handle the language to speak it on a live broadcast to 10 million fans. Is it really that outlandish that he would prefer to speak through an interpreter? I know that if I lived in Germany for 10 years I would still request an interpreter for interviews and the like. I’ve found that if you really want to get great content, you have to make the person being interviewed as comfortable as possible. It’s obvious that his handle of Spanish is much better than his English skills, so wouldn’t it make sense that he’ll give you better content speaking his native tongue?

Starlin Castro redux

It seems that I could run a variation of this sentence every week, because for some reason a certain section of Chicago baseball fan refuses to see the improvement that Starlin Castro has made mid-season afield and in the batter’s box. The pitcher’s have repeatedly adjusted to Starlin Castro as the league has more tape on him, and he’s been adjusting back in a lot of ways. The questions about Castro are still legitimate, but instead of seeing an improvement in the player, certain radio personalities and fans refuse to acknowledge that fact and are deeply entrenched in the camp that only recognizes his flaws. Let’s run down the list:

  • He doesn’t walk enough – I agree. Starlin’s OBP and walk rate saw a mini collapse early in the season. At one point his errors doubled his walk total, 8-4. That’s just awful. However, why would you work around Castro carefully when you have the likes of Ian Stewart and Joe Mather hitting behind him for protection? Pitchers have attacked Castro, and he’s had to learn how to adjust to that. If you look at his splits you can see his boom months and his bust months. It sure looks like he’s on a downward trend by month, but look at the numbers over the past 28 days. 6 BB’s in 90 PA’s is an improvement. Now, it’s a tiny sample, but it’s something to be optimistic about heading into the second half. His walk rate is trending upwards as he makes the adjustments back to the league.
  • He makes too many errors – I loathe the error statistic. In the era of evolving statistics, we still live in an era where people rely on the simple ones to prove larger points. Yeah, he made a lot of errors early, but since then he’s improved in that department as well. Errors are in line with last years error count, but his fldg. percentage improved, his range factor improved, and above all, he looks more comfortable out there. He looks like he’s covering more ground, he looks like his throws are better, he looks like his footwork is better, he looks more comfortable at short.
  • Where’s his damn power? – His slugging percentage is down, but it looks like he traded some doubles for HR’s this year. He’s on pace to hit 14 HR’s as a 22-year-old. In the Majors. As a shortstop. Who’s main tool is the hit tool. Now, I don’t think he’ll ever hit over 30 HR’s, but mid 20’s isn’t out of the question down the line. The canned response to this is that he isn’t physically growing anymore so how can he develop more power? It comes with knowledge of the pitchers as well. Reps are important, and he’s getting his early developmental reps at the major league level.
Look, narratives are fun, and they can be a useful crutch. Above is the canned narrative of Starlin Castro. People won’t enjoy him until he becomes equal parts Ozzie Smith/A-Rod/Nomar/Jeter. That won’t ever happen. He is a kid that can hit. That’s it. He’s flashing improvement in his game even as the league has figured him out a bit. He’s still learning, and it’s showing in the results. I just wish more people looked instead of going off early season struggles.

White Hot White Sox

Heading into the second half, perhaps now is a good time to say I was wrong. I had this team pegged for 80 wins, and it’s still possible that they collapse and hit that mark, but it’s gone from likely to unlikely over the course of a season. I blame Alex Rios and his “every other year is good” bullshit act he likes to pull. And De Aza. That guy…

It’s the White Sox division to lose at this point, they have the second best run differential in all of baseball, a solidifying starting rotation, a bullpen that is requiring less heartburn medication by the day, and a really solid lineup. Konerko/Dunn/Rios/Youk is better than Miggy/Prince and friends. Now, Verlander is still the king pitcher, and it all depends on what the Tigers do at the deadline, but you know what, I think the White Sox might just pull this off.

I’ll save my Kudos for Kenny until after the season, but start getting excited Sox fans.
Ed. Note –  NORTH SIDERS, I AM INDEED A FUCKING CUBS FAN! THERE’S MORE CITY SOUTH OF MADISON THAN THERE IS NORTH OF IT, AND SOMETIMES CUBS FANS LIVE SOUTH OF MADISON. AND WEST OF CALIFORNIA, WHICH I IMAGINE YOU CALL “THE BADLANDS.” PLEASE, STOP ASKING ME IF I’M A WHITE SOX FAN!

Summer Cultist

I’m a devout summer cultist, which expands far beyond the constrains of simply enjoying baseball. For me, baseball is love and life, but I’ve said that already. No, I enjoy it all, the summer grilling season is by far my favorite cooking time of the year. When you attend a cookout with a skilled grill master tending the meat, your nostrils get it first. I know that when Raul is working it, I can almost taste the meat as the spices hit the air and permeate his backyard, then the smell of meat hits and it’s a wrap. I love that smell.

If anything, the All-Star game is a brief pause at the midway point of Summer. It’s a gentle reminder that our time in the sun is halfway over. The days are getting shorter and our time with this baseball season is shortening as well. There’s more behind the season than there is in front. As a baseball fan, that fact cuts both ways. The baseball is going to get better as certain races start coming on down the stretch, but I know that it’s going away soon, and the sentimental bastard in me can’t help but look at the finish line.

It’s going to be exciting, in Chicago and in a host of other cities.

  • Will the Nats pull the plug on Stras? – Yeah, I think so. Whatever they decided was the innings cap should be the limit. They’ll have to be careful from here on out so they don’t ride him too hard. The White Sox pulled a good move with Sale, they are picking spots to skip him. I think the Nats are going to have to consider doing the same thing soon.
  • Will the Tigers bounce back in the second half? – Yeah, but I don’t know if it matters. The White Sox are a good team, and I think they can hang with the Tigers step for step. It would take a white hot stretch for the Tigers to wrestle the division away. If they get a decent starter, like Garza, then I can see the scales tipping in their favor, but as is, I don’t think they have enough.
  • Will you stop using lists in these posts? – Probably not. I like them.
  • Will Rizzo continue to hit in the second half? – Yeah, but don’t lose your shit if he slumps. It’s baseball, players have bad stretches. I believe in his bat, and he has a lot of acumen at first, which surprised me. I can see him having a really good career down the line.
  • Will the Red Sox make the playoffs? – No. I’m going to say no. I say the Rays and the Tigers are the two Wild Card teams. I don’t like this Red Sox team much. I don’t like the manager, I don’t like the pitching staff, I just don’t like it.
  • When will the Phils compete again? – I would say not soon. Old team got really old really quick. They’ve been bit by the injury bug and that offense is just awful. I think the window has closed shut on them and it’s got the alarm armed.

Baseball season is half over, that’s a blessing for certain Cub fans, but I’ll miss it when it’s gone. The Bears will take over Chicago soon and I’ll go back under my baseball rock for a moment and become a total meatball Bear fan (LINE STUNTS!). But for now, I’ll enjoy the summer while it lasts.