Archive - Jan 2008

Ernie Banks.jpgHappy 77th Birthday Mr. Cub.

My close encounter with Ernie was well after his hall of fame career was over. Take the "wayback machine" with me to May 19th, 1979. A group of my University of Chicago Med School classmates went with me to see a Cubs game that crisp May afternoon. Some of you might remember that unmemorable team...Buckner, Kingman, DeJesus, Ontiveros and Foote.

We sat behind home plate but about half way up the grandstands and the group had an entire row. About the 2nd inning one of my friends gets up and has this weird grin on his face as he moved down the row. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed, coming up the aisle...Mr. Cub. That was cool enough, but he procedes to sit down next to me in the recently vacated seat from my friend. My classmates knew I was getting married in June and so I have to tell you that this was IMHO the worlds greatest batchelor party geeky me could have ever hoped for (although the Palomino Club in North Vegas would have been my 2nd choice). Ernie stayed there with me talking baseball for about 7 innings. Honest. I have a picture (that's me in the Cub hat) on my office wall to prove it. What does one talk about to his childhood hero? I don't remember much other than it was a very surreal experience. I do remember hearing him tell me his favorite number was 9 (not 14), as in 9 innings and 9 players on the field. Ernie philosophising Baseball Kaballah?

Ernie was still under the Cubs employ for PR functions in that era and my med school pals had set this up, hence the goofy grins when the group knew he was on the way up to us.

The Cubs were 3-hit and lost 3-0 that day to the Pirates. Jim Rooker over Mike Krukow. So much for surrealism.

To throw in my orthopedic two cents worth, Mr. Cub has had two total knee replacements (not by me, but I do know his orthopod) and they are working just fine. When the Ortho Academy meeting was in Chicago March 2006, Ernie was guest appearing in a promotion called "Champions for Patient Education" and was as bubbly as ever.

Drumroll...and You Tube tributes to good ol' #14. May you have many more very happy birthdays.

until we take a one game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central.

And just in case you forgot how bad that Kellie Pickler performance was:

Unfortunately (maybe fortunately), it doesn't have the follow-up interview.

January 30th

The folks over at Cubscast are doing something they've deemed "The Strodes". A little off-season diversion to recognize some of the best Cubs websites out there. Here are the categories:

Best Cubs Blog – Individual Author
Best Cubs Blog – Multiple Author
Best Cubs Site - Overall - Non-Blog
Best Cubs Rumor Site
Best Cubs Player Site
Best Cubs Humor Site
Best Cubs Merchandise/Memorabilia/Clothing Site
Excellence in Diction – Best Original Cubs-Related Word or Phrase
Lifetime Achievement Award

I mentioned it in the comments yesterday and we've already gotten some readers to nominate us for Best Cubs Site - Multiple Authors, Excellence in Diction (Cubbery) and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Arizona Phil.

While Chad's "Cubbery" sure seems like a runaway winner for Excellence in Diction, I do want to also mention Transmission's "womacked", as in "He really womacked the hell out of that ball". There's probably a few more out there like the Ryan Dempster Experience and so forth, but I'll let you guys do the pimping. "The Joe" nominated Carrie Muskat's mailbag column for Best Humor Site, which I thought was a nice touch.

Also, if you feel that we should be nominated for another category, we'd certainly appreciate it. And of course, if you feel other sites on the world wide web deserve a nomination, drop it in the comments over there.

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Also want to menton that Chicago Magazine put us in their top 171 Chicago websites. There were only about 7 other sports-themed sites mentioned and us and GoatRiders of the Apocalypse were the only two that feature mostly Cubs content. Here's the blurb on us:

"Curse, banter, and sound off about how this might be the year at The Cub Reporter, MVN.COM/MLB-CUBS, featuring Cubs-related news, rumors, updates and commentary from bloggers like "Arizona Phil", "Transmission," and "Cubnut."

First, I find it amusing that they must have stumbled onto us during this escapade. Second, apparently me and the good doctor are chopped liver, or, more likely we need more amusing pseudonyms. I'm either going with "Ryn-O-mite!" or "Rob G-Funk" (as suggested by Transmission).
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In Cubs news, Roch over at the Baltimore Sun says that talks with the Cubs and Orioles are still "active". And we have a random radio rumor that the Cubs and Red Sox have chatted about Coco Crisp.

Otherwise, I vote for Haiku Wednesday in the comments..

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January 29th

Every Day Is Like Sunday

Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune woke up on the morning of June 23rd, 1895, to discover that the day’s baseball game between the Chicago Colts (fore-runners to the Cubs) and the Cleveland Spiders was likely to be delayed. On account of police raid. As the paper reported, the Rev. W.W. Clark of the Sunday Observance League had demanded warrants for the arrest of team captain Cap Anson and the rest of the Chicago starting nine, for breaking the Sabbath laws.

January 28th

Jerry Crasnick has a story up at espn.com about the significant number of free agents still looking for work. "The game's rampant unemployment problem," he refers to it jokingly.

It's a long list--more than 90 players are still unattached according to ESPN's Free Agent Tracker--but 12 of the names on the list caught my eye:

Antonio Alfonseca
Paul Bako
Luis Gonzalez
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Kenny Lofton
Ramon Martinez
Damian Miller
Corey Patterson
Josh Paul
Neifi Perez
Sammy Sosa
Steve Trachsel

From the headline on this post, you can probably guess the question:

If you absolutely, positively had to make room on the current Cubs roster for one of these former Cubs, which one would it be?

Would it be Lofton, who, in his age 40 season, still turned in a .296/.367/.414 line for the Rangers and Indians and could keep centerfield warm until Pie grows into it? Of course it would be Lofton, so take him out of the equation.

Antonio Alfonseca
Paul Bako
Luis Gonzalez
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Kenny Lofton
Ramon Martinez
Damian Miller
Corey Patterson
Josh Paul
Neifi Perez
Sammy Sosa
Steve Trachsel

Now what you do say? And no, death is not an option.

January 27th

mlbtraderumors.com flagged this story by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, reporting that Adam Jones of the Mariners is on his way to Baltimore in a deal for Eric Bedard. According to Baker, Jones is scheduled to be in Baltimore Monday so he can take a physical. No definitive or semi-definitive word on which other Mariners might also be headed to the O's.

Baker's report is based on an interview between Jones and a baseball writer in Venezuela, where Jones has been playing winter ball. Said the player:

"(Mariners GM Bill Bavasi) called me yesterday and told me the news. I've got to go to Baltimore tomorrow morning and handle things there. I'm the centerpiece of the deal on the Mariners side. It's an honor to get traded for such a highly talented pitcher as Bedard is. He's one of the best."

Naturally, there has to be a little remaining intrigue in this never-ending story. In the last hour, Roch Kubatko of the Baltimore Sun posted this:

I would love to file an entry confirming the Erik Bedard trade to Seattle and releasing the names of the prospects that Orioles president Andy MacPhail acquired in return for the left-hander. Just one problem: Nobody on the Orioles' side is confirming that a deal is done. All we have so far is Adam Jones telling reporters in Venezuela that the Mariners told him that a trade was completed and he should fly to Baltimore. Pretty strong stuff. But the media here needs someone from the warehouse to provide confirmation, and it's not happening.

Obviously, with this being neither a Mariners blog or an Orioles blog, the primary reason to note any of this here is the possibility that having dispatched Bedard, Andy MacPhail might finally get around to moving Brian Roberts. Also, if the M's/O's deal is a reality, we Cub fans can once and for all dispose of any fantasies that the Cubs might actually have been able to land both players from Baltimore.

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January 25th

...the triumphant return.

- Earlier this week, Tom Verducci tackled the importance of rotation stability. A piece that easily could be re-titled: "The Value of Jason Marquis".

- Also at sportsillustrated.com, Joe Sheehan goes through his 2008 breakout candidates (I believe the article is on BP as well). Clip and save for your fantasty drafts.

- I'll be once again contributing to Wrigley Season Ticket 2008. An in-depth roster review of the 2008 Cubs with plenty of 100-year-World-Series-drought references and an article on our NL Central rivals. I believe you can pre-order now (available on Amazon.com as well) and it should ship near the end of March I believe. For the $10-$15 you'll end up paying, it's like TCR that you can take to the can (See if they put that in their marketing).

- Baseball America takes a look at the importance of velocity in pitching prospects. A quick look back at all the pitchers in their 2002 handbook that topped 98 mph on the gun and how they've fared and then a look a the 2008 prospects that have done the same. Zambrano made an appearance in 2002, Jeff Samardzija makes one in 2008. And we wonder why Hendry is in love with radar gun readings.

- Straight from the horse's mouth, the Padres definitely have interest in Matt Murton. Apparently Kevin Towers doesn't have the same issues as Hendry about talking about players on other teams. Or in the case of Mark Prior, actually talking to those players even though they're still under contract with another team.

The newest addition to the Cubs pitching staff, 37 year old (38 on April 2nd) Jon Lieber is apparently ready to pitch. His tenure in Philadelphia ended abruptly last season in the 6th inning, on June 20th, while backing up home plate on a play in Cleveland. It was one rotten day for him already as he had given up 7 runs on 10 hits and was on the hook for his 6th loss. Initially, and at least for the first few days, it didn’t look like anything serious, probably just the run of the mill lateral ankle sprain.

This was the initial report from the Phillies mlb.com site:

June 21st: Ken Mandel, of Philadelphia.Phillies.MLB.com, reports Phillies SP Jon Lieber (ankle) injured his right ankle Wednesday, June 20, while backing up home plate. Lieber had the ankle checked out and it turned out to be largely a muscular injury. Because of off-days, the Phillies should be able to give him extra time to heal and he won't be needed until Friday, June 29, at the earliest.

Mirroring this information, Will Carroll, from Baseball Prospectus, in his Under the Knife column on 6/22/07 said:

The Phillies are also waiting to see how Jon Lieber responds after spraining his ankle in Wednesday's start. He limped off the field after rolling the ankle running to back up home plate after a hit. It didn't look serious, but we should know more by the time his bullpen session comes up this weekend.

Day three injury update:

June 23: Ken Mandel, of Philadelphia.Phillies.MLB.com, reports Phillies SP Jon Lieber (ankle) had his ankle wrapped Friday, June 22, however, he is still expected to make his next start Wednesday, June 27.

Now we know that this was no conventional ankle sprain.

Lieber apparently was having some problems with his foot starting the first week in March in spring training (per a C. Muskat interview this year). Older pitchers expect to have a lot of aches and pains. Apparently it wasn’t enough of a nuisance to get an MRI at the time. Still, it certainly could have been that Lieber's foot was giving him some soreness at the start of the season with the tendon having degeneration, inflammation or wear problems and it finally ruptured with the June 20th injury.

Looking at Lieber’s last 5 starts with the Phillies, four were awful, including three-10 hit outings each over 5 innings and one 13 hit outing over 6.2 innings. Nobody was blaming those outings on a inflamed foot tendon and it must not have been overly obvious as in the midst of that ugly string on June 9th, he did throw a beautiful complete game 3 hit shutout against the Royals.

With an acute injury in Cleveland and significant swelling, MRI imaging of the foot/ankle was obtained and it showed that the injury was something fairly uncommon. He had a rupture of the peroneus longus tendon, well below the outside of the ankle as the tendon goes toward the bottom of the foot.

Then, after the Phillies team orthopedist evaluation, came second opinions by sub-specialty trained foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons.

Finally, USA Today reported:

AP--Jon Lieber will undergo season-ending surgery on Friday (July 6th) to repair a ruptured tendon in his foot.

Lieber was 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts this season. He was the Phillies' opening-day starter in 2005 and '06, but will become a free agent after this season. "He pitched some good baseball for us," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "If things had been a little bit different, he could've pitched better. He had the talent." Lieber will have the surgery at the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, the team said.

Jon Lieber had his peroneal tendon repair surgery on July 6th at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, The head of this center's foot and ankle department is Dr. Mark Myerson, who is one of the most renown foot and ankle surgeons and who apparently trained the Phillies local foot and ankle specialist (Dr. Steven Raiken). We are talking high end orthopedic sub-specialists here (their practices focus only on foot & ankle care). I'm not sure which surgeon did the tendon repair but it appears he was in very good hands.

More newswire stuff:

Philadelphia Phillies SP Jon Lieber (foot) had successful surgery, Friday, July 6, to reattach a tendon in his right foot, according to the Associated Press. He'll be in a walking boot for three to four weeks.

Sat, 14 Jul: Phillies | Lieber moved to 60-day disabled list

Tue, 7 Aug 2007: Phillies | Lieber cleared to begin rehab program

Finally, from C. Muskat, at the cubs.com site:

Lieber…finished his rehab in early October. Now, he said, everything is fine, and Lieber is back on his normal off season routine.

From my perspective as an orthopedic surgeon, this was an injury I had to do some literature review to learn more, as I haven’t seen an isolated peroneal longus rupture. I've read the chapter in Dr. Myerson's textbook. I’ve seen and treated many peroneal tendon subluxations (partial dislocations) where the two peroneal tendons (longus and brevis) slip around the injured or stretched retinaculum that supports these tendons just behind the ankle. That situation was the infamous “bloody sock” injury that Curt Schilling had back during the 2004 World Series. Schilling’s memorable treatment was very unconventional as the former Red Sox team physician, Dr. William Morgan, put stitches through the skin deep enough to stabilize the slipping tendons as a temporary measure to get him through the playoffs. In the offseason, he had more definitive reconstruction of the injury.

Here is a link to the anatomy of the outside of the ankle/foot.

The peroneus brevis tendon attaches to the base of the 5th metatarsal and is responsible for eversion (outward rotation) of the foot. The longus tendon goes under the foot and ultimately attaches to the undersurface of the 1st metatarsal. This stabilizes the 1st metatarsal and foot from rolling over in both push off and landing, so it’s function is very important in pitching from a mound.

Lieber’s injury was a bit lower down (distal) into the outside portion of the hind foot, well below the ankle. I could see why there might be a delay in diagnosis and confusion with a conventional ankle sprain which is a lateral ligament injury (ligaments between the fibula and talus/calcaneus and tibia). Lateral ankle sprains will look similar to this injury with lateral ankle and foot swelling and an X-Ray that doesn't show a fracture. For most ankle injuries, it’s conventional to get X-Rays to make sure there is no fracture. MRI’s are usually not ordered unless the ankle sprain is taking too long to heal. Most severe lateral ankle sprains take 2-6 weeks to heal. In Lieber’s case, the correct diagnosis was made very quickly. So getting the MRI early on meant Lieber’s swelling and tenderness initially didn’t match up to where a typical ankle sprain should have been tender. Score one for the Phillies athletic trainer and Orthopod showing excellent clinical decision making, a very fine job indeed!

In the case of a peroneal longus tendon rupture, there is a tunnel/groove in the outer hind foot, which involves the cuboid bone where the peroneal longus tendon passes and often there is a spur or small (sesmoid) bone that can lead to friction and subsequent tendon rupture. One of the larger published series I found on this had only 41 patients of which only 11 patients had isolated peroneal longus rupture as Lieber had. So it’s a pretty rare (or at least not commonly diagnosed) injury. In the days before MRI scans (the early 1980’s) this injury had virtually not been reported on in the ortho literature. Also, I couldn’t find any previously treated professional pitchers with this injury, but the orthopedic literature suggests athletic patients do well when the tendon rupture is surgically repaired.

Thus, if you see Derrick Lee backing up the catcher on throws from the outfield when Jon Lieber is pitching, you’ll be a bit more understanding. That is, unless Jon Lieber has already let in 7 runs by the 6th inning.

January 24th

With the wind chill factor in Chicago approaching 137 degrees below zero and Spring Training still 21 days, 14 hours, 9 minutes and 41 seconds away, I found this fun little diversion courtesy of David Pinto at Baseball Musings.

Based on work by Cyril Morong (Beyond The Box Score), Ken Arneson (Catfish Stew), and Ryan Armbrust (The Pastime), Pinto has fashioned a Lineup Analysis machine. You simply feed nine players into the formula along with their OBP's and slugging percentages, and what you get back is a series of run projection numbers, based on various lineup permutations of the players you entered.

For yucks, I entered numbers for Soriano, Theriot, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, Pie, DeRosa and Soto, plus a generic Cub Pitchers line (.167 OBP, .207 SLG, based on the Cub pitchers’ ’07 hitting performance).

Here's a couple of videos sent to me the last few days. The first comes from Rich at Home Run Derby, who emailed me this video of Kosuke Fukudome versus Josh Beckett circa 1997. Maybe we'll see a repeat in October...

The second video is courtesy of one of our readers who wishes to remain nameless. It's a clip of Jim Hendry down in the Dominican Republic watching Felix Pie hit a home run. A rather priceless reaction by Hendry; good to see he's still a fan of the game even though it's his everyday job.

January 22nd

In his last 22 appearances in 2007, the Brewers' Chris Capuano went 0-12 (a franchise record 12 losses in a row) with a 6.08 ERA, which explains why he only received a $500,000 raise for 2008.

Kip Wells, Troy Percival, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Gary Bennett, So Taguchi, Jim Edmonds, and Walt Jocketty may be gone from Saint Loo, but Yadier Molina isn’t going anywhere.

In this country the accused are innocent until proven guilty; in Houston, some are even invited to coach at a team’s mini-camp.

Sarasota, Florida and Goodyear, Arizona are vying to be the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds, which is more interest than the Reds see from the people of Cincinnati all summer long.

In arguing that Freddy Sanchez should be compensated like the Major Leagues' other, top middle infielders, Sanchez’s agent forgets that his client doesn’t actually play for a Major League organization.

Finally, I’m not sure what it says about me that I agree with Jay Mariotti, but I do know that it doesn’t feel good.

January 21st

The Cubs and reliever Michael Wuertz agreed to a one-year deal worth $860,000 today, continuing Hendry's policy of avoiding arbitration. Wuertz, who made $415,000 last year, had submitted a $975,000 figure, with the Cubs offering $750,000.

Regardless of how arbitration might have gone, the Cubs get a premium middle reliever for under a million bucks. Wuertz's ERA+ numbers for the last two years are 174 and 134. As the relevant mlb.com article points out, last year he ranked second in the league in percentage of inherited runners stranded. Finally, Dan Szymborski's "ZiPS" projection system puts Wuertz's 2008 ERA at 3.33, second on the team behind Howry. The awesomeness of Wuertz's contract only escalates when compared against Hendry's pattern of signing veteran middle-relievers to three-year, multi-million dollar contracts.

The last Cubs player to go to arbitration remains Mark Grace in 1993.

January 19th

On Saturday Texas Rangers observer Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report reacted to this story at mlb.com regarding the Cubs' interest in 30-year-old outfielder Marlon Byrd and the possibility that Matt Murton could be headed for the Rangers.

Newberg theorizes that Murton could join David Murphy in a platoon tandem that would man left field for the Rangers. But Newberg believes the Rangers would have to package at least one solid prospect along with Byrd before the Cubs would bite.

"...Murton is probably out of position anywhere other than left.

"That defensive limitation is the only reason I can conceive of that the Cubs would entertain the idea of moving Murton for Byrd, who is adequate in center field. While both players can probably help a contending team in 2008, the four-year age difference would be significant for a team looking not so much at what sort of noise it can make this season but more at a longer-term fit, like Texas.

"Whether you believe Byrd's breakout in 2007 (.307/.355/.459, 70 RBI in two-thirds of a big league season, but .269/.310/.417 after the All-Star Break) was a mirage, it's hard to argue that at age 30 he's a player to build with (especially now that his ability to play center field is no longer pivotal here). On the other hand, with Chicago believing it can win now and wanting a right-handed hitter capable of sharing center field duties with 22-year-old lefthander Felix Pie, Byrd makes some sense. I just can't imagine the Cubs would trade Murton for him without demanding a legitimate prospect tossed in."

January 18th

The 23rd annual Cubs Convention begins Friday night. As usual, it’s sold out. If you have passes, enjoy yourself and, if you’re so inclined, please add your observations to the Comments.

If you don’t have passes, you’ll want to steer clear of the Chicago Hilton and Towers. It would be a shame for an innocent bystander to get stampeded by several thousand people racing for an autograph from Jody Davis or Andy Pafko.

On an unrelated note, Paul Sullivan, writing on the Tribune Hard Ball blog (and quoting from Baseball Prospectus, believe it or not), alludes to the Cubs’ latest brainstorm—a ticket offer that will be extended exclusively to people already on the season ticket waiting list which could take up to 540,000 seats out of the pool that would otherwise become available to the general public when individual seats go on sale January 28th.

Cubbie baseball--there's nothing else like it.

January 17th

Milwaukee's signing of outfielder Mike Cameron, made official on Monday, was just the latest maneuver in what has been a busy off-season for GM Doug Melvin.

The Brewers bid adieu (lot of French people up there in Milwaukee) to the following key players from the '07 club:

  • Relievers Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink, who left for big free-agent money in Cincinnati and on Chicago's South Side, respectively. (Melvin made Cordero a competitive offer but has acknowledged he may have bungled the negotiations.)
  • Longtime Brewer Geoff Jenkins, whose $9MM club option was declined. Jenkins signed with the Phillies.

Here's who the Brewers have added:

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