Category Archives: Chicago Cubs

Dream a Little Dream

“What’s the skinny guy sayin’?”

Jake Plotner plopped on the bar stool next to mine in the cool darkness of the American Legion.  Jake’s a sixty-something fireplug with blue eyes and white flat top who claims to be the small town cousin of the late, great Chicago columnist Mike Royko’s alter ego Slats Grobnik. I cannot confirm the identity of either fellow, but they both enjoy a good conversation over a cold beer. Some say Jake retired from a local factory where he ran a press that punched tin can lids. My son Michael worked a similar machine one hot summer.

“Toughest job I ever had, Dad,” Michael said, this from a kid who detassled, painted barns and shoveled soybeans and other things for farmers since the age of fourteen.

Jake punched that press for forty years according to local legend.

Without a word the blonde bartender handed Jake a beer and the three of us stared up at the TV.

Thanks to the proliferation of 24/7 news channels Americans have a choice in how the events of the day are presented on TV. We have networks that lean conservative, liberal and the one that’s in every airport which appears to be simply dazed and confused at this point. But the channels do share a few things in common like banner headlines signaling “Breaking News: Kim Kardashian Divorcing after Seventy-Two Days of Marriage,” a plethora of “buy gold” commercials and talking head “experts” who seem to have so much time on their hands that they do not work a day job. Or maybe being an “expert” is their day job.

Give me a steaming cup of Joe and the morning paper.

I gestured at the flashing screen.

“He says since Congress hasn’t acted on comprehensive immigration reform he’s not enforcing the law to deport illegal immigrants under the age of thirty who meet certain requirements,” I said.

“It’s good to be King,” Jake said. “But heck, his party had control of Congress for two years and never did nothin’ about it. What’s ‘Mister Gentleman’s Quarterly’ got to say?”

A news ticker ran along the bottom of the TV highlighting civil war in Syria, Iranian nuclear denials and the announcement that a Reality TV couple was having a child. GQ appeared on cue, square-jawed with every black hair in place, sixty-something like Jake but not showing the wear and tear of forty years in a factory. He said something about not necessarily disagreeing with the idea of not deporting young illegal immigrants who fit the criteria but objected to the skinny guy’s unilateral pronouncement. GQ also called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Jake and I swigged our beers. The blonde wandered to the end of the bar.

“So they agree?” Jake said blue eyes wide. “We need new rules on this whole deal, right?”

“Yep.”

Jake brushed his flat top and shifted to face me.

“This is crazy. These guys agree we need to secure the border, be reasonable about the folks already here and set up a new system to make it fair for everyone who wants to come to the U.S. That’s what they’re both sayin’, right?”

“You’re correct, my friend,” I said.

“Then why the hell don’t they get it done?”

“Devil’s in the details, I guess. But some say it’s not good politics.”

“Come again,” Jake said leaning on the bar.

“Stirs the pot.  Fires up each party’s base. Helps get the vote out. It’s not about governing or doing the right thing like both sides claim. They don’t want to make proposals that the other can criticize and turn against ‘em.  It’s all about winning elections.”

“Geez,” Jake said, rubbing his chin, “with all the problems this is causin’ for all sorts of people, it’s hard to believe that even politicians can be that cynical.”

Our eyes met and we laughed.

“Another round,” Jake called to the blonde. “And for Pete’s sake…change the channel. I’d rather watch the Cubs lose than listen to any more of this.”

The screen glowed with green grass, blue sky and a Cub batter kicking the dirt after a swing and a miss.

“Hell, at least he’s swingin’ the bat,” Jake said, raising his glass. “At least he’s swingin’ the bat.”

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Filed under 21st Century America, Barack Obama, Chicago Cubs, Corrupt Politicians, Exploitation, Immigration Reform, Institutions, July 2012, Mitt Romney, Newspaper, Small town America

Seeing Cardinal Red

Bo Schembechler, the legendary football coach at Michigan, had just died when I had the following exchange with a close friend.

“Well,” I said, “maybe you can bury the hatchet with Michigan, now.”

“Louie,” he said, using my high school nickname, a signal as to the gravity of his pronouncement, like your parents calling you by your first and middle name, “you should know by now there is no possible scenario in which I will ever root for Michigan.”

“You gotta let things go, man,” I countered, a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black as you will soon learn. “I realize the history with Schembechler, but you tellin’ me you’re not going to root for Michigan if they’re the Big Ten rep in the Rose Bowl and we’ve got a chance to beat one of those arrogant West coast teams?”

“I will never root for Michigan,” he said, blood running hot, a man prepared to fight a war he cannot win, to hell with the consequences or logic.

That exchange pops into my mind with the St. Louis Cardinals facing the Texas Rangers in this year’s World Series. Within the realm of baseball, more than other professional sports, you tend to have National League fans and American League fans. The league within which your team resides often becomes the one you root for in the All-Star game and the World Series.

As many of you know, due to the crap shoot that is genetics and environmental influence, I am a Chicago Cub fan.  My grandmother, Alta Pemberton, her son and my father, Jim, bear responsibility for this affliction.  The tinged lineage traced to when Grandma was 8 and the Cubs won the World Series. That was in 1908, for those of you unfamiliar with the Cub’s sordid history. The woman lived to be 97 and never saw them win again.  A Cub addict, she sought company in her misery as she lured my father when he was a boy, then me, into the destructive disease cycle that is Cub fandom: Sky-high spring optimism, sweaty, dog days of summer doubt, soul crushing fall defeat and winter “hot stove league” rumors about free agent signings or bright minor league prospects stoking the embers of hope for spring training, the cycle repeating.

The ’69 collapse, the ’84 2-0 lead against San Diego slipping past Leon Durham’s Gatorade soaked glove, and, of course, the 2003 NL championship meltdown, low points with which we are all familiar. The 2003 loss and many Cub’s fans harsh treatment of Steve Bartman has created, in my mind, a deservedly bad Karma which may make the “Billy Goat” curse appear minor and prevent victory for another century.  The first thing Theo Epstein should do as GM of the Cubs is have a Steve Bartman Day and sincerely apologize on behalf of Cub Nation.  If Bartman is gracious enough to forgive, then perhaps we can reverse the Karma and at least lose in our normal, real world fashion of combining poor pitching with an accumulation of overpaid every day players past their prime.

But I digress.

I lived in Dallas for seven years in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. I attended many Texas Rangers games and adopted them as my American League team. It seemed a logical choice given my baseball pedigree. The Rangers were, in many respects, the Cubs of the American League, their teams generally filled with mediocre pitchers (Nolan Ryan, the exception) and not enough good day-to-day players to fill out a roster. They came to Texas in 1971 and did not win their first National League pennant until last year (division titles do not count., the Cubs have won a slew.) So I do not feel like a bandwagon jumper in cheering for the Rangers in the World Series. However, I’m primarily a Cub and National League fan and so, per baseball tradition, should probably support the Cardinals.

That said, like my Michigan hating friend, I cannot root for the Cardinals.

Is it, like my Illini fan friend’s loathing of the maize and blue, childish jealousy for their success?

Absolutely.

Is it due to their eighteen pennants, ten World Series titles, Cardinal fans witnessing championship teams over the last century filled with players like Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy and Daffy Dean, the Gas House Gang, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Ozzie Smith, Albert Pujols, coming to be known as the  “Yankees of the National League” and their many victories over the Cubs?

Yep.

Just as Michigan’s numerous Big Ten championships, major bowl appearances and consistent thumping of the Illini over the decades grates my buddy, the Cardinal’s success sticks in my craw.

It would be nice if I could give you a more logical, unemotional reason for my dislike. Great, if I could point to some dastardly deed or even a lightning rod owner like George Steinbrenner or tough talking coach like Bo Schembechler to hang my Cub hat on as a legitimate grievance against the Cardinals.  But I cannot.

Tony LaRussa is a class act. Pujols as well. The Cardinal’s organization is a tremendous corporate citizen within the St. Louis area and throughout the states of Missouri and Illinois.  Stan “the Man” Musial is an American treasure. No, like my friend and Michigan, my dislike is based purely on one of the seven deadly sins, envy. I’d confess to a high school buddy who is now a priest, but he can’t stand the Cardinals either.

As an example of how unhinged I can get when it comes to the Cardinals, I stood, along with a few other scattered Cub fans, and roundly booed a couple of St. Louis players introduced at halftime of an Illini basketball game. The Cardinals had won the World Series that fall and were making the rounds.  I could not help myself. It was an automatic emotional reaction. A friend attending the game with me, a Special Forces vet, coolly calculating our chances of survival when surrounded by cheering Cardinal fans, tugged at my shirt tail.

“Better take a seat, Mike,” he said, “you’re outnumbered.”

That all said, and the fact that I ‘m no longer a kid, I am trying to conduct myself in a more adult manner in regard to the Cardinals and channel my emotions in a productive direction. But given the odds that the Cubs will not beat the Cardinals on a regular basis, my options are limited.  So the best way I can see to maintain my position of total disgust with the St. Louis Cardinals, minus the venom, is obvious:

“Go Rangers!”

At least I know I have one friend who understands

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Filed under Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Friends, October 2011, St. Louis Cardinals, University of Michigan, World Series

Economic Theory and the “Cub Effect”

“Just win, baby.”

Al Davis of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders?

Yes, but not recently.

Jim Hendry, fired GM of the Chicago Cubs?

No, but close.

It was Cubs manager Mike Quade last week.  The Cubs were in the midst of winning twelve of fifteen and four straight series for the first time since September 9 – 21, 2008.  Not coincidentally, the stock market lost its gains for the year, gold prices spiked and calls of a second-dip recession surfaced.

What, you say? You an economist, Mike?

No, but I did minor in the field and spent a good part of my youth drinking beer and watching Cub games. This combination, along with years of less than thoughtful analysis, have yielded what I call the macroeconomic theory the “Cub Effect.”  (As a note, this should not be confused with the sociological theory, the “Ex-Cub Factor.”)

That makes me as credible as the myriad of talking heads populating TV.  Their economic judgment as feckless as the Cub GM who traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.

Still skeptical?

In 1907 and 1908 the Cubs won the World Series.  In the winter of ’07 a financial panic brought the country to the brink of an economic meltdown.  The 1929 stock market crash? Cubs in World Series.  The Great Depression ?  Cubs made three appearances.

More recent history? Remember September, 2008 ?

Quade was the third base coach with future Hall of Fame manager Lou Piniella at the helm. Carlos Zambrano was a productive, if flaky, left-handed pitcher, not a troubled man in need of counseling.  Rich Harden, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster pitched in, along with a bullpen which included Kerry Wood and Carlos Mamul.  In the field, Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot and Alfonso Soriano enjoyed solid seasons.  They even picked up fading ex-Cardinal Jim Edmonds in hopes a guy from a team with a winning tradition might rub off.

It worked.  The Cubs won 97 regular season games and clinched their division on September 20th.  All was well in Cubbieland.

The financial world, not so much.  Five days earlier Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The next day the Federal Reserve approved an $85 billion loan to American International Group (AIG) to avoid a similar fate. The day the Cubs clinched, the Treasury Department pitched the notion of a troubled asset relief program (TARP) to Congress.  Five days later Washington Mutual Bank was shut down by the Office of Thrift Supervision.  Not long after the Treasury Department entered into a $312 billion loss sharing arrangement with Citigroup to absorb the troubled Wachovia Corporation.

The Cubs won five of their last nine, resting the regulars in preparation for the playoffs.  Lilly finished with 17 wins, Dempster 16,  and Zambrano 14.  Rich Harden was a solid fourth starter, while out of the bullpen Woods had 34 saves.  The Cubs were confident as they looked forward to the division series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 1st in Wrigley Field.

On September 29th the U.S. House of Representatives rejected TARP.  The stock market dipped like a knuckleball, losing seven percent of its value within hours.  People cashed out and fled to the safe havens of money markets and savings accounts.

The Cubs were poised to make a run to their first championship in over a century and, per the “Cub Effect” theory, the global financial system teetered.

But then the Cubs lost game one.  Dempster, pitching like a congressman up for reelection, low and in the dirt, walked seven.  He gave up four unearned runs capped by a grand slam by “little known” (to us self-absorbed Cub fans) James Loney.  Manny Ramirez homered late.  Dodgers 7, Cubs 2.

The next day, October 2nd, the Dodgers scored five in the second inning.  The Cubs infield, imitating the political leadership in DC, committed four errors,  one apiece by each player, the blame spread equally. Dodgers 10, Cubs 3, Zambrano taking the loss.

On October 4th in LA, the Dodgers eliminated the Cubs, 3-1.  The game was not without controversy, adding to the Cub’s litany of historic “what ifs?”  In a daring dash, the Dodgers Russell Martin took third base on a hit by Ramirez.  Replays showed Martin out.  But as fate would have it, the umpire saw it different.  Both runners scored minutes later when “little known” Loney stroked a double to right field.  Soriano capped the nightmarish season ending series for the Cubs by striking out.

The day before, Congress approved and President Bush signed into law the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act which established the $700 billion dollar TARP fund.  The stock market continued its tumble to 8,000, but TARP provided banks a life line and a year later the market was above the 10,000 mark and the financial world back from the precipice.

In January of 2009 the Rickett’s family bought the Cubs, but the team finished second in their division.  A worn out Piniella departed before the end of the season and Quade took charge.

The economy stabilized.

The situation today is not so dire as 2008.  The Cubs are 18 1/2 games out of first.  But the European banks are a worry, nobody is hiring and we are on shaky economic ground.

We cannot take any chances.  Mike Quade needs to knock off the “just win, baby” talk  and direct his players to take one for the world economic team.

Just lose, baby.  If anyone can do it, the Cubs can.

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Filed under August 2011, Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Economic Theory, Economics