Ten Minutes Til Midnight

From time to time this coming off-season the CCO will feature a “Feedback Column” for regular contributors to the site. This is the first of such columns and if you are interested in being put on center stage, feel free to contact me at neil@chicagocubsonline.com. Enjoy this column from Jim in Tinley Park, he makes a lot of good points….GO CUBBIES and remember 2007 will be here before we all know it.

With our miserable 2006 Cub season down to a few games, I correlate it to being at a New Years Eve party were there are about ten minutes left and you reflect on the good (for this season, very little) and the bad (plenty). At the end of Spring Training, I predicted a record of 83 and 79. I didn’t believe the Cardinals would be as formidable as they were during the last two years and I thought 88 to 90 victories would win the NL Central. I thought this team was one big bat short and other than Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux, I thought the starting pitching was going to be a problem. I was never impressed with Jerome Williams, and Glendon Rusch was a pitcher entering the 2006 season with a record of being 29 games under.500 for his career, not exactly promising. Sean Marshall, another question mark, was a Minor League pitcher who for the most part, had a good spring. For me, the highlights for this season were….

- The lead-off triple by our new centerfielder Juan Pierre on opening day at Cincinnati. I’ve always liked Pierre and I was thrilled that Hendry got him.

- The home opening weekend sweep of the Cardinals. The Cubs were in first place and they did everything right. Life was good.

- Greg Maddux during the month of April. Vintage Maddux.

- Cubs acquired Izturis for Maddux. With the season lost and with an eye on the future, Hendry did the right thing. Ronny Cedeno might not work out at shortstop. Izturis is gold glove caliber and we now have him and Derrek Lee as our top defensive guys in the infield. Sounds pretty good.

- Ryan O’Malley’s debut. RUDY! RUDY!

- The trade of Neifi Perez. That should say it all.

- The play of Ryan Theriot. So refreshing to see him out there rather than the rest of a weak lot.
So there you have it. My 2006 highlight reel!

Should he stay or should he go?

If he stays there could be trouble if he goes it could be double. I wonder if “The Clash” had Dusty Baker in mind when they belted out that mad note back in the early 1980′s. A lot of us wanted Dusty Baker jettisoned back at the All-Star break when the rumors were hot and heavy. Baker wasn’t fired for multiple reasons.

- Let’s face it; this cruel summer was put together by Jim Hendry.

- From this coaching staff, who would Hendry really want to play substitute teacher for the final three months? I don’t know about you, but having Sonny Jackson or Larry Rothschild at the helm doesn’t exactly make me feel any better.

- No horses, too many injuries. When Derrek Lee went down in mid April, this team was not close to being playoff caliber. PERIOD

- When Hendry got the full-time G.M. gig back in 2002, his first official act was to fire Don Baylor. Considering the despicable, racist hate mail that Baker has received and the racial taunts to Jacque Jones and to former Cub LaTroy Hawkins, it probably would have been too sensitive a situation for Hendry to want to be in. Since the Cubs were firmly entrenched in fifth place, letting Baker’s contract run out was the way to go. The image conscious Chicago Tribune, would have been swamped by the quota-loving, bleeding heart liberal types. Kind of like what Notre Dame had to endure after they dismissed Tyrone Willingham. You get the picture.

Wake me up when September ends

34 times already this year the Cubs have been beaten by 5 runs or more. That means over 1/3 of the time when they were trailing and going to bat for the last time in the ballgame; they would have less than zero chance of raising the W flag. This number of course is the byproduct of the following:

- 7 Different starting second basemen. Walker, Hairston, Perez, Womack, Bynum, Cedeno and Theriot. The top 4 guys on the depth chart here have since been traded or released, another had a blood clot and missed a few months and the other is a converted shortstop.

- 6 Different first basemen attempted to play after Derrek Lee went down in mid April. Walker, Mabry, Nevin, Blanco and Moore. Even Jerry Hairston, Jr., a.k.a the trivia answer, received some gratuitous playing time there for a few innings earlier this year.

- 15 Different starting pitchers, many of whom made their MLB debut this year. To begin the season, Zambrano, Rusch, Maddux, Marshall and Williams consisted of the starting five. You know, until Prior, Wood and Miller would return from the DL. The MRI twins were useless and Miller has pitched only 8 innings. Maddux, for his sake, was mercifully traded to the Dodgers, and Williams was claimed off waivers by Oakland, Rusch was exiled to the bullpen in between two DL stints.

- 11 different players batted in the two hole. Everyone who has played second base in addition to Barrett, Murton, Izturis & Pierre had the chance to hit there. Nice continuity Dusty.

- 15 times the Cubs have been shutout this year. I guess Dusty couldn’t get a quote from Hank Aaron on that.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT?

I’m willing to bet the Baker Bunch will be tail lights on Monday, October 2. Who gets the next shot at being the Cubs Manager is anyone’s guess. The possible list of applicants:

- Joe Girardi
- Fredi Gonzalez
- Bob Brenly
- Ron Washington

Of the four, only Bob Brenly has won a World Series ring as a Manager. From 2001 thru 2003, Brenly, led the Diamondbacks to three consecutive winning seasons, winning no fewer than 84 ballgames. During that time, Arizona won the NL West twice and in 2001 they beat the NY Yankees in the World Series. Brenly, was fired after 79 games in 2004. That was the year, Jerry Colangelo was loosing his ownership shares and the new group started to clean house.

Joe Girardi seems to be the people’s choice and has done an awesome job as a rookie manger for Florida. Girardi, a former Cub, would seem to be a perfect fit considering his Illinois roots, Cub pedigree and Haray Caray predicting over the super station that Girardi would make a fine manager one day.

Fredi Gonzalez and Ron Washington are third base coaches for Atlanta and Oakland respectively. Both have been in the mix for previous managerial openings the last three seasons.

Since the Cub brass is committed to Jim Hendry for the next two years, let’s hope that he has learned from his mistakes and will not:

- Count on Kerry Wood & Mark Prior to anchor the rotation. The days of these two “horses” are over. If signed, Wood may get a shot at a bullpen job and Prior is no better than a # 5 guy.

- Sign any injured pitchers that can’t be ready to pitch by Spring Training. This affinity of his for wounded arms, shoulders and elbows has been a disaster for the rotation and has mixed results for the bullpen during the last two years. Only Ryan Dempster came off surgery on time and has managed not to reinjure himself. Scott Williamson and Chad Fox were for the most part only able to pitch one game before taking the next two games off. That of course, in Fox’s case was proven when Dusty Baker let Fox pitch in consecutive games early last year when he then proceeded to blow out his elbow thus ending his season.

Here’s hoping that Hendry:

- Signs Juan Pierre to a deal. After a slow start, Pierre came on strong and catches everything that touches his glove. Hendry also paid a big price to get him.

- Works out a deal with Aramis Ramirez. I know he didn’t exactly take charge in Derrek Lee’s absence, but he was never a number 1 guy to begin with. His former team, the Pirates, were never above .500 when he was there. But, this guy is young, he can slug and his defense was very good this year.

- Make a splash in free agency. Sign either Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano. I think they could find a spot in the lineup for either one.

- Needs to make plenty of trades. Other ball clubs have budget issues and sometimes they deal players that are deemed too expensive. Some of these players can cost you very little in return. Hendry acquired Ramirez and Lofton from Pittsburgh for Bobby Hill back in 2003. That following winter he snatched Derrek Lee from Florida for Hee-Seop Choi. This is what Hendry does best. He prays on fiscally challenged teams and swings a deal. The Cubs have plenty of players that aren’t exactly guys you must have. Of course this doesn’t apply to Derrek Lee or Carlos Zambrano. I would also include Ramirez and Pierre to the keeper list but their current contract status remains in question.

The clock is ticking ever so close to midnight. Instead of drinking champagne this year we are drinking whatever non playoff teams drink. I want to drink champagne again. I want to hear “We are the Champions” in the back round. How about you?

Quote of the Day

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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