Pictures: Four Days In September

Haven’t been posting here much often, but it’s not as if I haven’t been busy.

The Tribune has kept me a busy man, as has Bleacher Nation. You can read all of my stuff here.

But I wanted to share some photos from some recent Cubs games I have attended.

I might find myself posting here more when hockey and basketball seasons come around.

Until then, the best way to follow me might be on Twitter.

So long, sucker: Saying adios to Ryan Dempster

Pardon the dust. Or is that rust? Either way. Sorry, but it’s been a while since I’ve done any long-form writing of any significance.

Remember when I used to write every day? On different platforms? At all hours of the day and night? Those were good days. But with the job keeping me busy and Twitter giving me a platform to condense my thoughts into 140 character snippets, I really haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and put a string of coherent thoughts together and share them with friends, family, followers and others.

Today, I figured, would be a good day for that.

Somehow, the Cubs survived being held hostage by Ryan Dempster. And for that, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer deserve some sort of recognition from baseball writers when executive of the year voting comes around.

Dempster has always been a polarizing figure in my world. There was the good (the 2008 regular season), the bad (the horrific impressions of Will Ferrell’s impersonation of Harry Caray) and the ugly (Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS). And I was ready to put the bad and the ugly in the rear-view mirror had the Cubs been able to cash in on Dempster’s strong start to the season.

But in total Cubs fashion, it ended up reminding me of the bad and the ugly.

Dempster returned to being a polarizing figure on July 23 when the Cubs and Braves seemingly had worked out a deal to send Dempster to Atlanta in exchange for Randall Delgado.

Delgado, a right-hander with tremendous upside, was considered a steal for the Cubs. At age 22, he was talented, affordable and  — without the pressure of a pennant race beckoning on him — about to go to a team that was going to allow him ample time to grow into his own.

Instead, Dempster trolled Cubdom by flexing his 10-5 muscle and handing down a veto of the trade. Naturally, that set Cubs fans into two different camps. Of course, there could only be one correct side. Mine.

I’d like to make things very clear for just a moment.

Ryan Dempster led Cubs management to believe he would accept a trade to one of two teams — the Braves or Dodgers. Knowing this, the Cubs went out and negotiated a deal in good faith keeping Dempster’s interests in mind. Unfortunately, what TheoJed didn’t know is that Dempster only had his eyes set on joining one team — the Dodgers.

“All Dempster wanted to do was play with his friend (Ted Lilly). What’s so wrong about that?” they said.

“Nothing is wrong with that … when you’re 7-years-old,” I quipped.

Let’s use some common sense here. There is no way the Cubs and Braves go that deep without getting Dempster to approve a deal in the first place. We’re talking about Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, front office types who are at the forefront of a new age of general managers. This isn’t Andy MacPhail we’re talking about.

So, when you say “You can’t be mad at Dempster because he’s earned his 10-5 rights.” I respond, “You bet I can.” And here’s why. Let’s fast forward to July 25 when Dempster is upset at Dale Sveum’s decision to pull him early.

“I’m fine. I’m allowed to be upset. I respect (Sveum) a lot. That’s his decision. It doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. He’s just trying to do what’s best for the ballclub. Just the competitor in me wants to keep trying to pitch.”

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

Dempster invoked his no trade power and I didn’t have to be happy about it.

I think Lou Uhler put it best when he made the following analogy: “If you have a girlfriend, and your girlfriend breaks up with you, she has that right, but according to some, you should harbor no ill will.”

Fast forward to July 31 and the Cubs finally strike a deal to ship Dempster out of town. Both sides had to give a little, but it works out for all parties in the end.

The Cubs won’t get their guy in Randall Delgado, or their back-up choice in Dodgers up-and-coming pitching prospect Allen Webster. But they will get a guy who clowned Carlos Zambrano for being childish despite his own outbursts against watercolors and authority figures, out of the clubhouse for good.

Plus, the Cubs also received two warm bodies from the Rangers, one of which can field the third base position and hit the ball once in a while. He won’t be up for a few years, giving Josh Vitters ample time to get his act together and turn into a decent ball player.

And if that wasn’t enough, Cubs fans will likely get the last laugh on Troll Dempster.

Because lurking out west is this Albert Pujols fellow who plays on the Rangers’ biggest competition in the hunt for the AL Pennant.

Despite a slow start, Mr. Pujols is having quite the year. And judging by the .327/.433/.782/1.215 career line in 67 plate appearances against Dempster, I’m sure Mr. Pujols is glad to see Dempster take his talents to Arlington.

Have fun with that, Demp. And good riddance.

TheoMania: Here’s To The Next Step

At the end of American Pie, Kevin, Jim, Finch and Oz gathered at their favorite high school hang out the morning after losing their collective virginity on prom night and toasted to the future.

It was a symbolic moment for the storyline of that film and the potential for growth of an entire American Pie franchise that has yielded two (soon-to-be three) direct sequels and spawned four other films with the American Pie name and a similar premise despite different casts.

“Here’s to the next step.”

Those five words should resonate with Cubs fans. Because much like the gang losing their virginity on prom night, hiring Theo Epstein is only the first step in the grand scheme of things.

Epstein won’t walk into Wrigley Field and make the Cubs 25 games better. Cubs fans must be cautious when proceeding and realize the Epstein regime won’t bring an overnight success story. It’s going to take some time, but like the kids in American Pie learn, it will be worth the wait.

Step One

Theo needs to bring in his own people. Scouting and development peeps. Folks who know the ins and outs of talent evaluation in the international and Latin American ranks. The Cubs organization needs a rom-com like makeover under Epstein. The Cubs front office is among the most understaffed in baseball. It goes back to the old Tribune days of withholding funds from scouting and player development. Hence, you’ve had an organization relying on free agents and trades, rather than improvement from within. Thus, stunting the growth of the organization as a whole.

Step Two

Fire Mike Quade, a nice guy and baseball lifer who got to live his boyhood dream of managing his favorite team. However, his mismanagement of the pitching staff, line-up and players are fireable offenses. Hopefully Epstein realizes that and brings in his own guy who shares a similar vision. Is it Ryne Sandberg? Maybe. I didn’t want the Cubs to hire Ryno last year because I figured this team would be bad. And as a Cubs fan, one of the last things I wanted to do was grow a level of hatred for one of my favorite players and watch him suffer under a lame-duck GM.
Step Three

Epstein needs to have a sit-down with Ricketts, VP of player personnel Oneri Fleita, as well as scouting director Tim Wilken and discuss everything that is wrong with the organization. Everything. No sugar coating of the situation. The best thing about the Epstein hire is that for the first time since Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch were hired, the Cubs organization will get critiqued from a fresh set of eyes. An outsider with a vision of how a modern organization wins baseball games. Mr. Ricketts probably won’t like what he hears, but someone needs to drop the cold, hard truth on the fanboy owner.

Epstein’s Red Sox won 839 regular season games, had six 95-win seasons and — most importantly — won two World Series. They developed a boatload of prospects, some of which remain on the roster (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard) while others have been used in trades to bring in Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez.

Unfortunately, Epstein won’t be bringing any of those guys with him if and when he is introduced in Chicago.

But as a Cubs fan, I can’t help but be excited about the direction the team will go in, in an effort to recreate the Boston model in Wrigleyville.

So, here I am. Boasting in my morning after glory.

Here’s to the next step.

President Theo Epstein — Why Stop There?

“But what if Theo Epstein comes only on the condition you make him President?” you ask.

That sounds fine to me.

Does he need a presidential escort? If so, I’ll drive to O’Hare in my pajamas if it makes him happy.

He wants to be called Barack Epstein? So, be it.

How does Theo Obama sound to you? That works for me.

But why stop at President Theo?

Emperor Epstein has a nice ring to it.

Theo, The Sith Lord just rolls off the tongue.

Presidente. Prez. Chief. Czar. Shah. Premier. Prime Minister. Master. Whatever makes you happy, kiddo. Just as long as you end up working on the corner of Clark and Addison.

Somewhere, Crane Kenney is updating his résumé.

The courtship of the Red Sox GM almost sounds like something out of the olden days.

Tom Ricketts is asking for Theo Epstein’s hand in marriage. The Red Sox might ask for 40 acres of land and Ricketts’ finest mule in return.

And if that’s the case, as long as that mule isn’t named Starlin Castro or Brett Jackson, you’ve got to make the deal.

The Cubs would have to take John Lackey and the remaining $45 million left on his deal? Alright, you drive a hard bargain.

Though, Lackey’s 15-7 record, 3.17 earned run average, 1.20 WHIP in 31 starts (32 appearances) against National League competition make me wonder if a change of scenery out of the AL East and into the NL Central could rejuvenate what has turned out to be a free agent bust for Epstein.

Besides, the Cubs will need to fill the role of overpaid frontline starter once Carlos Zambrano takes his act to South Beach with Ozzie Guillen.

Long story, short: Theo Epstein is the ideal candidate to replace Jim Hendry as Cubs general manager. At age 38, he has proven he can handle the pressure of pleasing a rabid, irrational fan base by building two world championship teams and putting together a list of impressive prospects in the pipeline to win a few more.

Unfortunately, like Matt Garza’s 2008 ALCS MVP trophy, none of that helps the Cubs move forward in their quest to get out of the dumps.

However, what Epstein would bring to Wrigley Field is a baseball mind who would bring the archaic Cubs into the 21st century in regard to everything from sabermetrics, draft strategy, the emphasis on pitching and production from the farm.

Think Moneyball, with a healthy serving of HGH on the side.

The Red Sox have won 95, 98, 95, 86, 96, 95, 95, 89 and 90 games since Epstein took over after the 2002 season. While Boston has seven 90-win seasons in that time span, the Cubs have only one (2008) to go along with five seasons in which they’ve been above the .500 mark.

(Seriously, the standards are so low for some Cubs fans, pointing this out makes people believe Jim Hendry did an adequate job as GM. I digress.)

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if Epstein doesn’t come without a few black maks.

Carl Crawford is to Epstein what Alfonso Soriano was to Hendry.

JD Drew is what would have an oft-injured and over-hyped Milton Bradley mated with a lackadaisical Aramis Ramirez and was paid $70 million dollars.

$51 million to talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka and $52 million to sign him makes the Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster extensions look like child’s play, no?

Still, Epstein was able to overcome that with stellar draft choices such as Jonathan Papelbon (2003), Dustin Pedroia (2004), Jacoby Ellsbury & Clay Buchholz (2005) and Daniel Bard (2006).

That alone should send Cubs fans into a tizzy until this whole thing is resolved.

Now excuse me while I tidy up in the event Mr. President makes an announcement.

PHOTOS: Ottawa Pony League Tournament

If you thought my days of photographing youngsters playing hardball on the diamond were over, you’d be sadly mistaken.

The Ottawa Pony League took center stage last week, and today, it comes to an end with the championship of the double-elimination tournament taking place in about an hour or so.

Enjoy the slideshow and be on the look-out for more in the coming days.

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