November 2, 2009

Rick Morrissey wrote in the ChiTrib that finally the Cubs were owned by fans. “The best comment, the one that cut to the core of what the news conference
was all about, came from Todd Ricketts, a member of the family that was introduced Friday as the new owner of the Cubs.

The question was how he came to be a Cubs fan, and it was asked with enough knowing sympathy the question might as well have been how he came to have that permanent tire-tread impression across his face.

“You get sucked in, and there’s no getting out,” he said. “You’re a Cubs fan forever.”

That’s it, isn’t it? You’re either born into the affliction or you walk blindly into it. One day you’re enjoying your first game at Wrigley Field, the next you’re trying to extract the dagger from your heart without bleeding on Eugene, the tearful guy next to you in the Andre Dawson throwback jersey who is holding four empty beer cups underneath a full one.

One day you’re minding your own business, not a care in the world, and the next you’re being sucked into the Cubs’ gravitational pull, with a decent chance of  cursing the day you were born.

OK, so the Ricketts family gets it. The three brothers and one sister understand what it means to live and die with this club. Now what are they going to do about it? How are they going to get the Cubs out of this 101-year “slump?”

Their answer Friday, in essence, was “family,” as opposed to “cold, corporate entity that is as cuddly as sheet metal.” And you know who you are.

“No. 1, we have one goal,” said Tom Ricketts, who will serve as the Cubs’ chairman. “There is no multiple agendas. There is no multiple business lines. There are not a lot of moving parts. Our goal is to win.

“Secondly, we intend to reinvest in the stadium, in the team, in the organization to keep building toward that goal of a consistent winner. Thirdly, we can think long term. We don’t have any quarterly results to worry about or a year-end return to think about. Our shareholders are our fans, and we’re going to work for them.”

To be clear, the Ricketts family assumed control of the Cubs from Tribune Co. in a $845 million deal that also includes Wrigley Field and part of Comcast
SportsNet Chicago.

You, Cubs fans, didn’t throw in anything other than every fiber of your being.

But the Rickettses couldn’t be clearer about their connection with the people who sit in the stands. Tom Ricketts met his wife in the bleachers during a Cubs game, and he and his siblings spent many hours there soaking in the sun.

That’s why there was such a warm feeling on a dreary, rainy Friday at Wrigley. Hope, the official sponsor of Cubs fans, could be found in the form of a family unit, not a business unit.

You couldn’t move at the news conference without running into a Ricketts, and if we don’t yet know whether that’s a good thing, we at least know it’s different.
Different, after more than a century of futility, is good.

What would be radically different would be a World Series title. Tom Ricketts talked Friday about building the organization into a regular playoff team. He said he wants Lou Piniella back as manager in 2010. He said he has no plans to bring in another baseball executive as an extra set of eyes for general manager Jim Hendry. He said the Cubs can contend for a World Series title next season with the roster they had this year, though he made no mention of surly Milton Bradley’s future.

Skeptical Cubs fans will note that all of his statements were made in the Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley and thus he might have been dipping into the grog before the media gathering.

The Cubs are not going to raise their player payroll much next season. In 2009, it was at $140 million, third-highest in the major leagues. Money hasn’t been the problem. The problem has been the people in charge of spending and managing that money. If the Cubs have another disappointing season in 2010, the family atmosphere that Hendry, Piniella and team President Crane Kenney find themselves in might not be so welcoming.

They should get one year to sort out the mess of 2009, or else. That’s how it’s supposed to work in the big leagues.

Although the first priority is a World Series title, the old ballpark needs an overhaul. When Tom Ricketts referred to the “special, unique magic that is Wrigley,” he was not talking about the trough urinals. Those will be some of the first things to, um, go.

The best plan would have every part of the park being introduced to the wrecking ball except the outfield bleachers, the ivied walls and the iconic scoreboard.
The family kept open the possibility of tacking corporate naming rights onto Wrigley Field. Save your outrage, folks. They can name it KFC at Wrigley Field, and it always will be Wrigley.

First things first — first place.

“We’re going to win the World Series,” Tom Ricketts said.

After 28 years of Tribune leadership, the Cubs have new owners. Those new owners are saying all the right things.

They’re saying the team needs to do a better job of finding and developing talent. They’re saying they’ll be sitting in the stands during games. They’re saying they don’t believe in curses.

That’s what they all say.”

Kevin Baxter reported from Philadelphia for the LA Times:

“Reporting from Philadelphia
You can tug on Superman’s cape. Even spit into the wind.

But hitting Alex Rodriguez with a baseball? That’s probably not such a good idea. Because he’ll make you pay.

Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies. They tried to intimidate Rodriguez by plunking him three times in two days only to watch him hit back Sunday with a tiebreaking double, sparking the New York Yankees to a 7-4 victory that moved them to within a win of their first World Series title since 2000.

“There’s no question I have never had a bigger hit,” Rodriguez said.

And it might never have happened had the Phillies just kept their baseballs to themselves. Rodriguez stumbled through the first two games of the World Series, striking out six times in eight at-bats. Then the Phillies hit him three times in his next six trips to the plate and, well, let’s just say that was a big mistake.

“That kind of woke me up a little bit and just reminded me ‘Hey, this is the World Series. Let’s get it going a little bit,’ ” Rodriguez said.

And he did, first belting a two-run home run Saturday for his first World Series hit then collecting his first game-winning hit in a World Series game on Sunday.

But while he’s clearly carrying a big stick, Rodriguez is also speaking softly. After all, no use waking up the opposition.

“I don’t want to comment about being hit,” he said in Spanish.

Manager Joe Girardi has no such problem. Not after seeing Rodriguez get hit three times and Mark Teixeira, who bats ahead of Rodriguez, get nailed twice.

“And we don’t necessarily like that because we need those guys,” Girardi said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s intentional. It’s pretty hard to hit people intentionally when there’s runners in scoring position.”

Yankees pitchers have yet to hit a batter in the Series.

Sunday marked only the second time a World Series extended into November and the game started in a mid-autumn chill in which temperatures dipped into the 40s. But the Yankees heated up quickly, scoring twice in an eventful first inning that included warnings to both benches after Rodriguez was hit in the back with the first pitch he saw.

The Phillies, facing CC Sabathia, who was pitching on three days of rest, got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on consecutive doubles by
Chase Utley and Shane Victorino then tied the score against Sabathia in the fourth.

Ryan Howard opened that inning with a single, ending a slide in which he struck out 10 times in 14 at-bats. He then stole second before scoring two outs later on Pedro Feliz’s hit.

Run-scoring singles by Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the fifth put the Yankees back in front but the Phillies came back to tie the score again with two-out home runs by Utley in the seventh and Feliz in the eighth.

The homers were the sixth and seventh of the Series for Philadelphia but all seven have come with the bases empty.

The Phillies turned to closer Brad Lidge to protect the tie. But after Lidge got two quick outs, Damon battled him through a nine-pitch at-bat before blooping a single to left. Pitching for the first time in 11 days, Lidge then hit Teixeira before Rodriguez drove a one-strike pitch into the left-field corner to send the Yankees back in front.

Jorge Posada followed with a two-run single to left-center field but Mariano Rivera didn’t need the extra runs, setting the Phillies down on eight pitches in the ninth for his 11th World Series save.

All of that means nothing if the Yankees don’t win once more, however.

“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Damon said. “We’ve won three games. That’s not what we set out to do. We would like the fourth.”

Rodriguez agreed.

“It feels good,” he said “but we have to stay focused. Those guys are the world champs. They’re going to come out fighting and so are we. So I’m just staying in the moment.”

Sean McAdam reported for the Boston Herald: “He is the body around which the Yankees universe revolves – good and bad. He never blends into the
background, never merely exists.
He is constantly, unfailingly, without exception at the fulcrum of it all. Nothing he does goes unnoticed, including when he does, well, nothing, as he did in the first two games of the World Series.
Games come and go, wins and losses are recorded, and through it all, Alex Rodriguez is part of the story. Often, he is the story.
When he hit, as he did in the American League Division Series and the American League Championship Series, he was the focal point. When he stopped hitting, as he did in the first two games of the World Series, he was still the focal point. A-Rod couldn’t disappear if he tried, though in truth, he doesn’t seem to make it much of a priority.
Last night’s Game 3 of the World Series – an 8-5 win for the New York Yankees over the Philadelphia Phillies – was a perfect case in point. Rodriguez was
everywhere, very much involved at the plate and in the field.
The first hit of the game? That would be a single by Jimmy Rollins leading off the bottom of the first, hit off the glove ofA-Rod. The first hit batsman of the night?
A-Rod naturally, struck by Cole Hamels in the top of the second. The first controversy of the night, involved, naturally enough, A-Rod.
In the top of the fourth inning, Rodriguez hit an opposite-field shot that struck a camera perched on the top of the right field wall. Initially, it was ruled a double, but in time, the umpires gathered and decided to use instant replay to determine the boundary call.
While the umpires gathered, Rodriguez stood on second base, waiting for the decision. It was not unlike Game 6 in the 2004 ALCS, when Rodriguez waited
for the crew to settle a dispute following his baseline collision with Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo.
Eventually, the umpires emerged from their underground lair and signaled homer. Rodriguez broke into his home run trot, one interrupted by a few minutes of deliberation.
In four innings, he was part of a little bit of everything: fielding miscue, hit batsman, disputed call, home run. One, neat, impossible-to-ignore package.
Typical A-Rod, at the center of it all. Sometimes, it seems as if the rest of the players are supporting actors, caught up in A-Rod’s drama-filled world, rounding out the cast.
It almost went without notice that the homer was Rodriguez’ first career World Series hit. It did not, however, go unnoticed that it was a huge hit for the Yankees.
Trailing 3-0 already, the homer seemed to stir the Yankees awake.
“It really got us going,” said manager Joe Girardi, whose team assumed a 2-1 series lead. “He’s a big reason we’re at this point, what he did in the first two
(playoff) series. He’s been huge for us.”
Said Rodriguewz: “I think I woke our offense up a little bit. It was a little weird to have the first home run – and the replay and the whole nine yards.”
That’s just it, of course. There’s never a little bit of Rodriguez, no incidental mention in passing. Somehow, he finds a way to be involved in a big way, “the whole nine yards.”
Care to guess which player was involved in the very first boundary call on instant replay, late in the 2008 season?
“Well, it’s only fitting, right?” asked the most conspicuous player of them all.


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