Same As It Ever Was

Same As It Ever Was

Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010
10:25 PM

For most people, change, is something that is avoided like the plague. That is, in their lives. As far as how they view others, its completely different. Its far easier for someone else to change than it is for them. This is especially true when it comes to sports. In this age of instant gratification, success better be now or its, NEXT!

In relation to players, everyones a GM. A player isnt producing, get rid of him! Its just like you do with your fantasy team, easy enough. Well, as weve learned around here, long-term contracts have made that increasingly difficult. Once you sign someone to a big-money contract, youre usually stuck with him for the duration, no matter what his production is. (Alfonso, this is Carlos, get to know each other, when youre not counting your money.)

Most fans understand this, well I think they do. The Bradley situation with the Cubs was an extreme situation, one that could not be put in better perspective than by looking at the contract that they had to absorb with Carlos Silva, just to get rid of Bradley. Ouch! (At least it was a pitcher with a bad contract. Who knows maybe theyll get lucky. Doubt it!)

Still, player movement will always be part of pro sports, and through it, an organization can point to the good things that will come. For all but that one lucky team each year, it is also vital. It is part of what a team needs to get better and it shows the fan base that you are trying. In the fan relationship, that is a very important thing.

Once you become a fan of a team, you are there for better or worse. Sound familiar? Well, where I work, I listen to fans from all over talk about teams from every different sport. The one thing that sticks out is the loyalty that they feel towards their team. Obviously it is more fun when your team wins a lot, Ive listened to enough obnoxious New Englanders lately to understand that, but thats not going to be the reality all of the time. Fans want to be part of something, to share in the experience. The shadow a team casts in a community is a large one and there are many covered by it. A team is something that can unite and provide civic pride. I know sometimes it can be over-the-top, but, as always, its fun to win!

The team in Chicago that unites like no other is the Bears. My own opinion, and Im a sports geek who follows just about every known sport, is that the NFL rules. The NFL in the collective communities where it resides is the heartbeat, especially in one of the original cities, which has one of its signature franchises. With out a doubt, the most animated sports discussions in the bar almost always involve the Bears. I always tease that, instead of bed-time stories, the story of the 85 Bears is read to youngsters here. Why else would everyone know the story of that team so well, or revel in its accomplishments to this day. I have heard about that team everyday since I moved here! 15 years ago!

Well, 1985, in sports terms, is a long time ago. The fan base wants to live that story, since a large portion werent around, or were too young to comprehend what was happening. Not to mention, the ones who can remember, need a new story to tell! I know way too much about Mongo and McMahon!

That 85 team was never able to produce a follow-up to that magical season. Most of the fans I talk to dont blame the players on that team. They also treat the coach, Im sorry, Da Coach, of that team as a football god. The blame always seems to go a little further up. All the way up.

That brings us to the events of the last 3 years. The 2006 season was a magical time in this city. Led by a rampaging defense, the Bears were the toast of the town. Coming off a playoff disappointment in 2005, they were a force to be reckoned with. Alas, Peyton Manning ended that dream on a rainy night in Miami. The blame, all seemed to agree, was with the play of the quarterback.

So too, it would seem, to be for the results of the 3 disappointing, playoff-less seasons that have followed. At least that seems to be the story that comes out of Halas Hall. No matter the fact that for 3 years the defense has been living on its reputation, the problem here lies with the offense, so offensive coaches, adios! I wrote here last April that the big winners in the Jay Cutler trade were Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith.

Smith for the fact that even though there were grumblings after 2 playoff-less seasons after the Super Bowl tease, could throw his offensive coordinator under the bus this season if things went bad, and say that he needs a Cutler guy running the offense, his expertise is on the defensive side. (WOW! How did I see that coming?) With Angelo, its 2 extra seasons, because this season its the O coordinator, next year its Lovie. Look to his comments before the Baltimore game as proof. The talent is here to win.

Unfortunately, all of this is too easy to predict. Its been happening for a long time. Is that a coincidence? You tell me. What I know is that the fan base doesnt seem to be buying what its being sold. Theyre still Bear fans. That will never go away. Theyre loyal as the day is long. But, that loyalty is to the team on the field and WHOEVER can lead them to that next title. In the end thats what its all about. That this generation can have a team that it can embrace for eternity. After 25 years of no repeat, its a testament to their devotion that they are always there. What they want is a change they can believe in. Not a change that seems suspiciously like one that was done to save some jobs of people that are not living up to the hype. Bear down.

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

This June just keeps getting better and better for Zack Collins.

Collins was selected by the White Sox with the No. 10 pick in the MLB Draft, made it to the College World Series with the University of Miami, signed his first professional contract and now he is the Johnny Bench Award winner.

The Johnny Bench Award was created in 2000 and is given to the top college catcher in Division 1. Previous winners include Buster Posey and Kurt Suzuki.

Collins already had a haul of first-team All-America honors from Baseball America, D1Baseball, the NCBWA, Perfect Game and Rawlings.

Collins hit .363 with 16 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .668 slugging percentage. He also led the nation with 78 walks this season for the Hurricanes, which went 0-2 at the College World Series. Collins started 62 of 64 Miami games and made 59 of those starts at catcher.

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

Quick note here because we are all eager to get back to our twitter feeds and wild speculation. Even though the Bulls will only have approximately $24 million in cap space, there is one situation in which they can sign a Tier 1 max player AND re-sign E’twaun Moore.

This all hinges on the deal (and discount) that Moore would give the Bulls. The Bulls have Early-Bird rights with Moore; that means they can potentially sign him to a deal and not eat into their cap space. There are a lot of rules into how this works and I won’t bore you with details, but the bottom line is that the Bulls can offer a 3-year deal for approx. $21 million or a 4-year deal for appox $28 million. If Moore accepts this contract, the Bulls just to have account for his ‘cap hold’ of $980,431 in free agency until the actual deal is signed. 

This potential deal would leave the Bulls approximately $23 million to spend, well above the $22.2 million it would take to land a Tier 1 (0-6 year NBA player) in free agency. This includes restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Again, this only works if Moore doesn’t want to test free agency, or doesn’t receive a better offer in free agency. If Moore wants more money, the Bulls have to use their cap space to sign him to a larger deal.

One important key to any restricted free agent like Barnes, the Warriors will have 3 days to match any offer sheet that Barnes signs. Barnes can’t sign an offer sheet until July 7th, so the Warriors effectively will have until at least July 10th to make that decision. This prevents any team like the Bulls ‘swooping’ in and landing Barnes while Kevin Durant conducts his meetings in the Hamptons.

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

NEW YORK – The Cubs didn’t overreact to getting swept in last year’s National League Championship Series, but the New York Mets did expose some underlying issues while a deep playoff run created a sense of urgency in Wrigleyville.

The Cubs spent like crazy on the free-agent market (almost $290 million) and wore T-shirts around spring training that literally put targets on their chests, knowing the look would go viral on social media and spark love/hate responses.

Making a statement? Sending a message? That’s so last year, when the Cubs were a team still trying to find an identity and learn how to win. The Mets are now the ones feeling the season-on-the-brink anxiety, desperate for offense and crossing their fingers that all those talented young pitchers stay healthy.

Maybe this becomes a turning point for the defending NL champs, beating the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday night at Citi Field to kick off a marquee four-game series in front of 40,122 and a national TV audience. Not that John Lackey – the playoff-tested veteran the Cubs signed to lengthen their rotation for October – felt any added significance in facing the Mets.

“None,” Lackey said. “It’s June, who cares? Big-boy games are totally different.”

Yes, Lackey was “pretty surprised” and a little miffed that manager Joe Maddon pulled him with a runner on and one out in the seventh inning and the Cubs holding a 3-1 lead. Joel Peralta failed this bullpen audition, walking Alejandro De Aza (.158 average) and giving up an RBI single to just-promoted-from-Triple-A Las Vegas rookie Brandon Nimmo.

Neil Walker put the pressure on highlight-reel defender Javier Baez, who fielded a chopper at second base, didn’t have a play at home plate and made the split-second decision to throw toward backpedaling third baseman Kris Bryant. The Mets showed last October that little things matter in big-boy games, and the throwing error from a Gold Glove-caliber player suddenly gave them a 4-3 lead.  

“Getting beat’s one thing,” Lackey said. “But when you feel like you kind of gave one away – or let one go – that’s a different kind of loss.”

The Mets (41-37) might not have must-win games in July, but they needed some good news in “Panic City.” Steven Matz, who set off alarm bells this week with the disclosure he’s been pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, managed to work into the sixth inning and throw 104 pitches, giving up homers to Bryant and Baez but limiting the damage to only three runs.

Yoenis Cespedes, who revived a lifeless lineup after last summer’s trade-deadline blockbuster, energized the Mets again with a big swing in the sixth inning, drilling a Lackey pitch 441 feet out to left field and onto the third deck, creating a 110-mph exit velocity with his 19th home run.

“New year, different team, different circumstances,” said Jake Arrieta, who lost Game 2 here last October, watching Daniel Murphy reach so far down for a curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, driving it out for a momentum-shifting, first-inning, two-run homer. “We’ll probably relive some memories that weren’t very exciting.

“You never want to lose one step from a World Series. But, again, we had a team that was very young with a lot of rookies contributing. We gained a lot of valuable experience from those games, regardless of the outcome. And we’re obviously better for it this season with some new pieces. We look forward to ending in a little different fashion this year.”

The Cubs (51-27) still don’t have the answer for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who finished off all four NLCS wins last October and is now 27-for-27 in save chances this season. Miguel Montero led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit walk and Ben Zobrist followed with a double into right field before those all-or-nothing contact issues resurfaced.

Familia responded by striking out Bryant swinging – all six pitches were marked as sinkers clocked between 97 and 98 mph – and intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo to load the bases. Maybe this exposure will pay off in the playoffs, but Familia struck out Willson Contreras swinging and got Javier Baez to pop out to end the game. The Citi Field sound system started playing Ace Frehley’s “(I’m Back, Back in the) New York Groove.” Not that the Cubs were having flashbacks.

“We know the feeling of getting eliminated, getting swept, but I think we’re onto bigger and better things,” Bryant said. “We’re ready for it. Different year, different players here, different attitude.”