A Tale of Two Managers

Let's see if you can match up the following actual quotes from this past Sunday with the appropriate Chicago baseball manager:

1) Manager A: "We have to get better as a team… It's not about individuals. We have to get better with the little things."

2) Manager B: "I'm proud of how the team battled back, especially the way things have been going… We don't quit."

Interestingly, Manager A's remarks came after his team won 7-5 and continues to roll on with the second-best record in all of baseball. In contrast, Manager B's quotes were in the wake of his team losing its sixth game in a row by giving up a franchise record 8 home runs in a single game and their third baseman letting a routine pop-up bounce off of his head that allowed a Braves player onto base (who would subsequently score Atlanta's winning run). Is there any wonder why Ozzie Guillen (Manager A) is the most beloved coach in Chicago history this side of Mike Ditka while Dusty Baker (Manager B) is questioning whether he's going to still have a job by the All-Star break?

I'll be the first to admit that the Cubs' problems run a whole lot deeper than Dusty Baker. There are the injury problems, the naive belief over the offseason by Jim Hendry that there wouldn't be injury problems, and the lack of financial commitment by the Tribune Company to spend the money that is commiserate with a franchise that draws over 40,000 fans a game. However, Dusty's attitude that he and his team are merely the victims of bad luck doesn't address why he doesn't bench a veteran such as Neifi Perez when he drops a cut-off throw and airmails a ball over the catcher's head… on the same fucking play! I wouldn't expect Dusty to yell and scream when it's not in his nature to do so, but I do expect him to hold his players accountable rather than constantly giving them free passes.

In contrast again, when the White Sox looked complacent for a moment and lost only two games in a row, Ozzie was right there to wake them up with a profanity-laced tirade. Guess what happened afterwards: the Sox have come back and bashed in runs for two straight wins. Even after that success, Ozzie still believes that the team needs to have more practices regarding fundamentals when they get back home.

Ozzie has instilled the attitude that nothing is taken for granted on the South Side. His team knows that they need to go balls-out everyday or else they're going to be sitting on the bench. Dusty, however, still thinks this is just an unfortunate stretch for the Cubs. The problem is that this unfortunate stretch has lasted over 98 years, so Cubs fans have the right to be losing their collective patience.


Land-o-Links – 5/24/2006

Soul Patrol! Taylor Hicks is taking it home tonight. Until then, here are the links for the day:

1) Report Says High Gas Prices Not Caused by Gouging – Really? Gas prices fluctuate according to the normal rules of supply and demand as opposed to being controlled by the Pentaverate consisting of the oil companies, Karl Rove, the Queen, the Vatican, and Col. Sanders? I still don't believe it.

2) Three 6 Mafia to Peform During WWE's 'Smackdown' – Let's take a look at that Oscar scoreboard again: Three 6 Mafia 1, Martin Scorsese 0.

3) Thomas, Aldridge – or Maybe a Trade? – Isiah Thomas is the gift that keeps on giving. With the Bulls securing the #2 pick in this year's NBA Draft, we're guaranteed either Tyrus Thomas or LaMarcus Aldridge to fill our need for size or there's still the possibility of parlaying this pick into a trade for Kevin Garnett. Now, if we can only get Isiah to taking over the coaching reigns in New York, we can send Greg Oden a non-refundable plane ticket from Columbus to Chicago for June 2007.

And finally…

4) Another Win Bites the Dust – How many more blown saves will it take for Ryan Dempster to achieve LaTroy Hawkins status? I say another 2 and he's there.

Feeling Punchy Today?

A few thoughts on the world of sports from the past few days:

1) Punchless Cubs – I'll spare everyone an excessively long diatribe on Michael Barrett's cheap shot on A.J. Pierzynski. However, I will point out that I enjoy the North Side spin that this will somehow fire up the Cubs, as if having their starting catcher and best hitter since Derrek Lee's injury getting slammed with a suspension that could run a week or more is going to do a lot to "fire up" an already putrid offense. Just what the Cubs needed – Henry Blanco and his .051 batting average while the Cubs play Atlanta this weekend and then 16 straight NL Central games after that! Plus, regardless of team allegiances, the sight of Neifi Perez as a cleanup hitter should be mortifying to any baseball fan. Look, I know A.J. is an asshole, but Cubs fans need to take a step back and look at how Barrett's groundless punch has the potential to sink that lineup into an even greater abyss at the worst possible time.

2) Sox and Hound – The thing I love about this White Sox team is that I expect them to make a comeback every time that they fall behind. Regardless of how large of a deficit, they always keep applying pressure to the opposition. Even after Frank Thomas returned to the Cell with revenge on his mind with two homers (for a guy hitting under .200) that would have sucked the life out of a lesser team, the Sox pressed back and won on a suicide squeeze play executed perfectly by Pablo Ozuna in the 10th inning. Great teams make those types of great plays.

3) Great NBA Playoffs, But No More Bron-Bron – I haven't enjoyed watching the NBA Playoffs this much since the Jordan Era. The Mavericks pulling it out in overtime over the Spurs in game 7 last night was a fitting end to a classic series. This sets up a Mavs/Suns Western Conference Finals matchup, where the over/under on total points per game is going to be 300. However, I was disappointed in LeBron James and the Cavs failing to get a defensive rebound for the last minute of Game 6 against the Pistons on Friday night. That guaranteed that Cleveland's Curse of MJ Making Craig Ehlo His Bitch would continue for another year – everyone who watched that meltdown on Friday instantly foresaw the Pistons' throttling of the Cavs in Sunday's Game 7. I have no personal love for the Cavaliers, but as a basketball fan I relished the prospect of LeBron facing up Dwyane Wade and Shaq in a best-of-7 series. I'll just have to take comfort in the fact that we're not going to see a snore-inducing repeat of a Pistons/Spurs NBA Finals. Regardless, this postseason proves that the NBA is back this year.

A Humane Society

Sadly, the one image that I'll probably never forget from this past weekend was the horrific sight of Barbaro coming up lame in the Preakness on Saturday. His injury turned out to be close to the worst-case scenario with a near-complete shattering of his hind leg. Normally, a horse suffering Barbaro's type of injury would have been euthanized immediately on the track and even after a promising surgery yesterday, he still has only a 50-50 chance of surviving.

The author Jane Schwartz wrote an introspective piece in the New York Times today examining why people care so much about an animal to which they have no personal connection. This brings up the larger point of how much people care about animals in general. For instance, while watching the season finale of "Grey's Anatomy", I felt ten times more pangs of emotion when Meredith's dog was put down (by Chris O'Donnell, no less – Hoo-Hah!) than when Izzie's not-really-boyfriend-but-still-the-love-of-her-life Denny Duquette died at the end of the show. I certainly don't mean that I would value an animal's life over a human's life, but I also doubt that I was the only person that felt that way after that episode.

The funny thing is that I used to think the notion of caring about an animal that much was crazy. Growing up, I never had a real pet other than a goldfish that might have survived about a week after I had won it from a carnie. My disdain for cats was once so deep that I was quoted as stating that felines were the "welfare babies of the animal kingdom."

That attitude changed about a year-and-a-half ago, when my wife convinced me to go to the Naperville Humane Society to take a look at some tiny kittens that she saw. Of course, a lifetime of cat-hating was pretty much wiped away once I had a few moments to play with a 3-month-old tabby named Tater Tot (props to the shelter for coming up with name – his stripes completely match the color of the delectable fried potato treats). After taking a day to think about what my wife and I were plunging ourselves into, I came back to next day to sign the adoption papers and he was brought home after his neutering.

About a week later, my wife came back home one day from work and found Tater slumping along slowly and barely being able to open his eyes. His fur was dried out and his weight had dropped to less than one pound. Terrified, my wife immediately took him to our veterinarian to see what was wrong. After an examination, the prognosis was not good at all – Tater was severely dehydrated and the vet didn't know if he would survive the night, much less be healthy long-term. For the next few evenings, we transported him back and forth to an overnight facility, where he would lay in an incubator and receive a catheter to keep him alive. Numerous tests were performed to see if Tater had certain diseases commiserate with his symptoms, but nothing came back positive. Even though that was the case, the doctors that looked at him all thought that his sickness was so severe that it was almost certain that he wouldn't make it.

During that time, I was a complete emotional wreck. I was someone that a couple of weeks earlier couldn't fathom the thought of even owning a cat, yet other than the day back in college when I found out that my father had cancer, that was the most scared I had ever been in my life. I reached the point where I wondered if we should just take Tater home so that he wouldn't spend his last hours in a hospital. My wife, bless her heart, was resolute, though: we were not going to give up.

It probably wasn't rational to keep pressing on – we had already spent more money than I had spent on myself in my entire life for doctors and Tater still wasn't showing any improvement after days of being in constant care. As a last hope, our vet referred us to a specialist at a 24-hour care facility. We took Tater there and all we could do at that point was to pray for a miracle.

Amazingly, the miracle came! Within 2 days, Tater's health had turned for the better against all odds. There wasn't any magic drug or treatment. What had brought him to almost certain death only a few days before just suddenly went away and no one could explain what had happened. Within moments after finally bringing Tater back home after he spent days tied to machines just to keep his vital signs stable, he starting jumping around and batting at shoelaces and strings as if he were completely normal. To this day, my wife and I light up everytime he comes into the room with his boundless energy.

The thoughts of those personally agonizing days have come up again in the wake of Barbaro's grim outlook. Schwartz compared the plight of Barbaro to the story of the 1975 Triple Crown contender Ruffian, where she suffered a similar injury that resulted in an emergency surgery that ultimately failed. According to Schwartz, "No one who was involved with Ruffian's treatment expected her to survive. Not in any rational sense. They operated on her in the hope that they might buy time for a miracle to take place."

Tater Tot is living proof that such a miracle can indeed take place. Let's hope that Barbaro has his own miracle.

The Beauty of Being a Sox Fan This Weekend

Since the days of the old Windy City Classic exhibitions where the White Sox and Cubs (or at least a bunch of their minor leaguers a la Michael Jordan playing for the Sox at Wrigley back in 1994) would play each other for charity to the advent of interleague play, there was always one thing in common with all of those games: Sox fans cared a whole lot more about winning those matches than Cubs fans.

I don't need to go into too much detail about the well-worn stories of the historic inferiority complex of Sox fans compared to our cuddly neighbors to the north with their gem of a ballpark and superstation-fueled national fanbase. I'll sum up those dark ages in this fashion: few things would get my blood-boiling more than traveling out-of-town, mentioning to someone that I was from Chicago, and then having that person ask about what I thought of the "Cubbies," to which I would retort something rhyming with that the team could go chuck themselves. It was the ignorance of general public believing that everyone from Chicago loved the Cubs that was more maddening to me than anything else. Since the Sox were more often than not out of the pennant race by June, beating the Cubs was the one thing that would matter for the entire year.

However, the Chicago Tribune's John Kass wrote a poignant column today which perfectly sums up how the baseball universe has turned since last October. We won the World Series, which pretty much washed away the outright bitterness that I always applied to these crosstown games. What matters more than beating the Cubs is staying ahead of Detroit (who is inexplicably crushing everyone this year) and Cleveland while making another run in October – and I can say that without a hint of B.S. Winning a World Series and having an even more talented team on paper the next season changes your perspective on things.

Meanwhile, what do Cubs fans have to look forward to? Watching the savior Kerry Wood get rocked for a homerun per inning in each of his outings? Hoping Derrek Lee comes back before they fall behind the Pirates in the NL Central standings? Praying that Mark Prior still has at least one or two functioning limbs? For the first time that I can recall, this crosstown weekend actually means more to Cubs fans than Sox fans. Sure, I still want the Sox to pummel the Cubs everytime in the same manner that I'd like to see the Bears beat the Packers or the Illini to oust Michigan, but the season doesn't hinge on this weekend anymore. For me, that's a beautiful thing.

Land-o-Links – 5/18/2006

I haven't written about baseball in quite awhile, so I hope to put together something tomorrow in anticipation of this weekend's White Sox – Cubs crosstown series. Until then, here are today's links:

1) Yo! I'll Tell You What I Want… What I Really, Really Want – This is particularly funny to me because I was seriously going to write about Earworms myself pretty soon, mostly because that goddamned (yet catchy) Shakira/Wyclef Jean song has been stuck in my head for about 64 consecutive days as of this post. By the way, this Disconnected in Suburbia blog (by Chronically Insane, one of Minneapolis Red Sox's friends) is fantastic reading and highly recommended.

2) 'American Idol' Resurrects Clive Davis Once More – It might be just me, but if I had to choose three "legitimate" business executives that I'm convinced have ordered hits Corleone-style, they would be: (1) David Stern, (2) Michael Eisner, and (3) Clive Davis. I've never had much of a problem personally with Stern or Eisner, but Clive has flat-out creeped me out for years. I thought he was on "American Idol" the last couple of nights to whack Elliot Yamin and then take the cannoli. However, Clive does have the distinction of being the first producer of a reality series about putting together a boy band where the leader of said boy band went so far off the deep end that it became the subject of an entirely separate reality series. Shit, that makes putting together platinum records look like child's play.

And finally…

3) Snoop Dogg Permanently Banned From the UK – In other news, Holiday Inn outlets and Tanqueray proprietors across the United Kingdom have filed for bankruptcy protection today.

Land-o-Links – 5/16/2006

I hope all of you got your helpings of "Grey's Anatomy" and "24" last night without any delays caused by Dubya. Anyway, on to today's links:

1) What Happened to Michael Jackson's Fortune? – This ought to be the first installment of a new E! or VH1 series about how celebrities have blown their fortunes, such as "What Happened to Hammer's Fortune?" or "What Happened to Gary Coleman's Fortune?" That's got to be better than another installment of some stupid list show that invariably concludes with a story about a Brad-Angelina-Tom-Katie cyborg baby.

2) Lost on Thursdays? – ABC might have finally figured it out regarding non-stop seasons. (Update: ABC has made it official that it will run "Lost" continuously and without repeats next season, but it's staying on Wednesday nights.  Instead, "Grey's Anatomy" is moving to Thursday.)

3) NU Probes Alleged Hazing – I'm proud to say that the representatives of my alma mater's athletic department actually have some class and dignity, unlike those Dookies and Wildcats.

And finally…

4) Ron Zook Rocks It, Dude, Totally (submitted by Minneapolis Red Sox) – Um, let's scratch what I just stated above.

Land-o-Links – 5/10/2006

The links are University of Illinois-centric today – there just happen to be a number of news items out there (nothing about Chief Illiniwek here, although I'll tackle that at some point):

1) U. of I. Admission About to Get Harder for Residents – It's really interesting to see how efforts to make the University of Illinois into a more selective and elite institution seems to be thought of as a bad thing. At least that's the impression that I got from today's front page Chicago Tribune article. Of course, they just interviewed complaining high school students, parents, and counselors while not bothering to talk to a single U of I alum or current student. I understand the dilemma here, where the academic goals of a public university might run counter to the notion that it's supposed to provide a taxpayer-supported service to in-state residents.

However, as an alum, I want Illinois to be perceived nationally to be at the same level as Michigan and Berkeley. In order to achieve that, Chancellor Herman's initiative to bring in more out-of-state and international students is necessary. Wisconsin is an example of a public school that has been beating us in that regard and it's reflected in our Big Ten rival to the north consistently being rated higher than us in the U.S. News rankings. The quality of our faculty and the GPA and test score numbers of our students are right in line with both Michigan and Wisconsin, yet the biggest difference is that those other two schools draw a large percentage of high quality out-of-state students, particularly from the East Coast, while our student body has consisted of over 90% Illinois residents for quite awhile. If we only draw people from a single region, we're going to be perceived as a regional school.

2) Eighth Annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge Matchups – Is it too early to start thinking about college basketball again? I don't think so. We get a home date with Maryland on Tuesday, November 28th, which should be a pretty good matchup. The Ohio State-UNC game on November 29th, though, will probably be the top non-conference meeting of the year.

3) Illini Ponder Chicago Tournament – More basketball: Illinois might set up their own basketball tournament to take place over Thanksgiving weekend at the new arena being built in Hoffman Estates.

And finally…

4) The World's Best University – A little pep-talk from a guy graduating this year that points out one of the things I loved about attending Illinois: balance.

Land-o-Links – 5/8/2006

I'm extremely disappointed in Kobe and Company for completely blowing their momentum from this past week. This isn't because I have any affinity for the Lakers – in fact, I can't stand them. I just wanted to see a Lakers-Clippers playoff series. To me, the gap between the Lakers and Clippers is the greatest disparity in terms of history and cachet in any pro intra-city rivalry. It would have been magnificent to see all of those pent-up emotions boil over in the playoffs with all of the games being played in the same building. Unfortunately, this second round of the NBA Playoffs is the biggest letdown in terms of a "what-could-have-been" sports matchup since the prospect of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series in 2003. Anyway, on to today's links:

1) Freakonomics: A Star is Made – Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, the authors of "Freakonomics," put together this short examination of how much natural talent really plays into performing at high levels in any profession. They also look at a statistical quirk as to how a disproportionate number of top soccer players are born in the earliest months of the year. By the way, if you haven't read "Freakonomics" yet, I suggest that you go pick it up ASAP – it's absolutely one of the most fascinating books I've ever read.

2) Homer No. 713 a Super-Sized Blast – Is there anything I care less about? I'm sick of it.

3) Conan O'Brien Speaks: 'Chicago is in our DNA' – Conan's in town this week.

And finally…

4) McNally Smith College of Music Announces 'Ice Cube Scholarship' – I thought all of us at Illinois were cool for going to a school that awards the Hugh Hefner Scholarships. However, at this point, I don't believe anything can beat being called an "Ice Cube Scholar."

Bulls Can’t Take the Heat but Summertime Should be Fun

It's been fun watching this young Bulls team mature over the last month of the regular season and through the playoffs. However, I think a lot of us were drinking a bit of Kool-Aid in believing that this rag-tag group could knock off a Heat team that boasts a starting lineup featuring two of the top five players in the NBA in Shaq and Dwyane Wade.

In the wake of being eliminated last night, though, the Bulls have a lot to look forward to this offseason. They have tons of cap space to pursue a free agent (NBADraft.net has a "State of the Cap: Chicago Bulls" article up on its wesbite) and at the very least a top-five draft pick via Isiah Thomas' gifts back to his hometown (for your pure entertainment for the day, please see the "State of the Cap: New York Knicks" entry) to add to a continuously improving young core group of players. Hopefully, the Bulls can address their two glaring needs:

1) Size in the Frontcourt – This has been the biggest issue for the Bulls all season and it was on full display in the last two games against Miami. I thought that Tim Thomas could have provided some help this year for the Bulls in that area, so I sent in a question to the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith on the subject. He posted a response to my email online, which essentially said that "you had to be there" and that Thomas was a bum. I'll trust Smith's judgment since I consider him to be the Peter Gammons of the NBA, but I'm still not completely sold after watching Thomas drain a monster three-pointer to save the Suns' season last night.

Anyway, a lot of buzz for the upcoming draft have the Bulls using their draft pick from the Knicks on LaMarcus Aldridge or Tyrus Thomas (of course, it will depend upon where the lottery balls fall in a couple of weeks). Either of those guys look great on paper. What I'm worried about, however, is the only reason that those players are rated so high is that the upcoming draft has a dearth of quality big men and that their athleticism is being touted more than their power games. In essence, Aldridge and Thomas both sound like Tyson Chandler at this point, which won't help the Bulls at all.

Ben Wallace is a free agent and would turn the Bulls into a bona fide contender for the NBA title immediately, but there's little indication that he wants to leave Detroit, which could become the closest thing the NBA has seen to a dynasty since the Lakers' Shaq-Kobe era if the Pistons go all the way this year. The other free agent centers on the market include Joel Przybilla, who doesn't exactly make my heart fluttering at the thought of glory again. However, a merely adequate big man might be enough for next season if the Bulls add a…

2) Gamebreaker at Shooting Guard or Small Forward – For a team that is overflowing with guys whose natural positions are at the two or three spots, the Bulls amazingly don't have a true gamebreaker among them. Sure, they have high-level players in Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and Andres Nocioni rotating through those spots, but none of them is a true go-to-guy that can create his own shot when the game is on the line. Every single one of them fits the wing man role perfectly, yet I don't see a #1 alpha-dog among them when it comes to taking over a game. In order to win in the NBA, you need that one player that can just break down the other team when necessary. Some Bulls fans think that guy can be Gordon, but the problem will always be that he's a 2-guard with the size of a point guard and is simply either really hot or really cold – the consistency that you need isn't there with him and I'm not sure that will ever change.

Therefore, it wouldn't be so bad if the Bulls don't end up getting the top-2 draft pick that they're anticipating in the lottery and instead have a lower pick where they take Brandon Roy. Out of the top prospects for the draft, he combines the right athletic size and fit that the Bulls need with a proven and polished game from leading the Washington Huskies in college. If there's a Dwyane Wade-type guy in the draft, Roy is it (and I'm not just saying that because he shredded the Illini in the NCAA Tourney this year).

As a result, the Bulls might be better off signing a mid-level center such as Przybilla or Nazr Mohammed in free agency while drafting Roy as opposed to using its draft pick on a big man. Besides, if the Knicks continue to bomb next year, we'll be in position to grab Greg Oden in the 2007 draft. In that scenario, a Bulls dynasty for the 21st century won't just be a pipe dream anymore.